Northern Ireland’s Leading Political Party is Creationist
By Roger Stanyard, British Centre for Science Education
[This report was originally published in 2007 but was revised significantly in November 2010 because of continued concerns about the spread of creationism and Intelligent Design in the province, We do not expect that the problem will go away.]
We have several reports on creationism in the province such as Paisley's Party Backs Creationism in Schools (updated 2010), Update On Northern Ireland (2010), the Centre For Intelligent Design (2010) and Northern Ireland Creationist Flareups.)
Whilst not openly saying so openly, it appears that the teaching of creationism in Northern Irish schools is the official party position of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Although the party’s 2007 Manifesto is entirely silent on the issue, the evidence over the last few years suggests that there are very strong pressures within the party to get creationism into schools. Indeed, on the 26th September 2007 the Belfast Telegraph quoted an unnamed DUP spokesman as saying that teaching of creationism in schools was “in keeping with party policy”.(1) The words are mealy mouthed to put it mildly but it looks near-impossible not to interpret them as meaning it is party policy.
A new generation will emerge from Northern Ireland's schools.
The DUP is the largest Northern Irish political party in terms of the number of seats it has both in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in Westminster. It holds 36 out of 55 Protestant seats in the 108 seat in the Assembly and 8 of the 18 Northern Ireland seats in Westminster. It is believed that around half or more of DUP MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) are members of the tiny Free Presbyterian Church although the latter’s membership is less that 1% of the population of the province.(2)
As is the case in the USA, getting creationism into Northern Irish schools appears to involve a considerable degree of sneakiness as well as extreme language and paranoid claims by its proponents. The martyrdom complex is openly displayed as well. However, the DUP’s position undoubtedly reflects the rampant belief in creationism amongst evangelicals in the province so the DUP is not working in a social vacuum. As there is no official, public, DUP position on the matter it is not clear how widespread the support for creationism is in the party. The evidence so far suggests that a core of, maybe, around half a dozen very senior politicians within the DUP, are actively promoting it.
We have detailed the role of an organisation closely connected to the DUP, the Caleb Foundation elsewhere in this wiki. The issues can't be understood without seeing what Caleb is and has been up to but this report concentrates directly on DUP activities over the last few years.
Northern Ireland's experience of construction a large and famous vessel that didn't float and had a shortage of lifeboats could prove handy.
As has been repeatedly pointed out, the former head of the DUP and first minister in the province, is a young earth creationist. As far back as the 1970s, he was calling for the teaching of creationism in Northern Irish schools. He is, of course, The Rev Ian Paisley. Widely regarded in the UK as a byword for sectarianism and intransigence, Paisley appears to have kept quite in public about the matter in the last couple of years. From his beliefs and his past public statements on creationism, though, it is very difficult to believe that he is not active in supporting the teaching of creationism in state schools. His church runs a number of private schools that teach creationism.
Who is Behind the Plan
The core activists within DUP members of the legislative assembly appear to be a group of about half a dozen religious fundamentalists. The most active of these, perhaps the leader of the group, is David Simpson who also happens to be an MP at Westminster. What isn’t clear is whether he has been charged by the party to get creationism into schools or just representing a movement within the DUP. Nevertheless, Simpson is a very senior person within the DUP.
David Simpson, business studies qualification who thinks all science is wrong.
Others in the faction include Mervyn Storey, David McConaghie and, until he died, George Dawson. Edwin Poots may also be a member of the group. He's certainly a young earth creationist.
David McGonaghie, no known science qualifications but an expert on the subject
They have been described as Unionism’s new puppet masters. Simpson, Dawson, Storey and McConaghie have also been described as “the gang of four” whose principal objective its to advance the cause of an ultra-conservative and fundamentalist unionism by creating an interlocking power base for themselves that takes in all parts of the unionist community.
Mervyn Storey MLA: No qualifications beyond GCE/CSE who thinks science shows the world is 6,000 years old.
Simpson and his friends, though, are not really representative of Protestantism in Northern Ireland. Most Protestants (or unionists if you like) are simply not religious fundamentalist. The two main Protestant denominations, the Anglican and Presbyterian churches, are not fundamentalist.
The late George Dawson, yet another scientifically illiterate DUP creationist.
They certainly does not represent the religious at large – the biggest denomination is the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover a lot of Unionists are wary of the DUP because of fears of it having a hidden religious agenda. One suspects that in the pursuit of votes, the DUP is exceedingly careful in trying to play down much of its deep roots in religious fundamentalism.
It is our job to make sure everyone knows that creationism runs deep in the DUP mindset.
Edwin Poots, Farmer, young earth creationist
, school governor, Minister of the Environment and Deputy Mayor of creationist town council. He thinks the Big Bang was an explosion.
Edwin Poots was appointed minister of the Environment in the Stormont executive in 2009. His portfolio of responsibilities include the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and mineral exploration and extraction. One can only wonder, tongue half in cheek, that the Survey and licence seekers will be forced to work under the belief that nothing is more than 6,000 years old.
Chief demagogue in Northern Ireland has long been the Rev Ian Paisley who has spent some 50 years turning the province's difficulties to his advantage. Despite (or, perhaps because of) all his blustering, bullying and bigotry, Paisley is the ultimate failed politician - just one year in executive power in a power sharing arrangement which kept him away from any real power (and from helping wreck the province yet again). There is a strong case that Paisley is the worst politician the UK has ever had and he doesn't give a damn.
Paisley's mind never escaped the smallness of his home town, Ballymena. Politics to Paisley was only ever about preserving his Protestant Scots Irish "culture", never about running anything for the public good. He always remained the swaggering loud-mouthed loyalist bully boy, a blaggard and bounder right down to his phoney Bob Jones University PhD,
Ian Paisley, own denomination, own political party, own ideology, own vocabulary (no) and out of executive power nearly all his working life.
It remains unclear to us how much active support Paisley gave to the creationist movement within the DUP; almost certainly it paid him to publicly distance himself. But the DUP is Paisleyism, still dominated by members of his dogmatic church, still an exclusive and openly triumphalist Protestant club built on sectarianism, riddled with Orangemen, still deeply conservative to the point of reactionary and, one suspects, with Paisley still pulling the strings in his retirement.
One obvious concern about the DUP apart from the ignorance of its creationist politicians about science, is that so few of its politicians simple to have what today is a basic qualification - a university degree (of any sort). About 45% of young people today take a degree. It's just about reaching the stage where it is the norm. In the extensive research I undertook over 4 years on creationism in the province, I never came across even one Northern Irish politician with a post graduate degree. Nowadays, if you are a bright spark, post-grad qualifications are de rigeur. Presumably the problem relates to the pretty obvious fact that people who have brains have been fleeing to province for 40 years (and there is no culture of determined hard working immigrants either).
The Petition to Get Creationism Into Schools
The issue of teaching creationism in Northern Irish schools began to emerge around late 2005 or early 2006. The professional creationists from the mainland of the UK and North America had been highly active in the province (they still are). It appears that a petition was raised amongst school students to get it taught.
According to the Caleb Foundation, the petition attracted 900 signatures and seemed to have largely centred on the Methodist College in Belfast.(3) The irony is that the Methodist College (also known as Methody) is not, strictly speaking, a state-owned school, although it does receive public funding.
The role of the Methodist College is significant. During 2005 one of the leading creationists in Britain, Paul Garner of the Biblical Creation Society, was active in the school. It appears that he was pushing creationism to students. Methody is an exceedingly high ranking school. The evidence we have is that the sponsor behind the event was the school's Christian Union.
It appears that Garner was given access in state schools to children as young as five during his 2005 tour of Northern Ireland (see http://justscience.1.forumer.com/index.php?s=d6fb516b0914851e0b318a49ebc71751&showtopic=562&hl= )
However, BCSE has found another interesting connection. Nathan Anderson, currently (2010) the head of Queen's University Belfast's creation society and responsible for education in the university's Student's Union. Anderson was a sixth former at Methody in 2006/7 and was openly pushing to get creationism (specifically Intelligent Design) taught in schools - the matter was reported twice in the News Letter. Anderson is also today involved in Creation Outreach Ministries.
The petition was certainly comprehensive in its sweep. It called for the teaching of creationism throughout the province’s education system including at university level, Specifically it states: “I agree that intelligent design should be taught as science in schools in Northern Ireland as part of the curriculum from key stage 1 to university level alongside the theory of evolution.”
The issue was rapidly taken up by George Dawson (who has since died), Mervyn Story and David Simpson.
Few appear to have taken notice. At that time the Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended for a good few years (since 2002). However, whilst Dawson was not a Westminster MP, he had powerful and strong connections with the fundamentalist movement within the province. As we shall see, those connections are very close in nature to those of the other DUP politicians who now are pushing creationism.
Dawson issued a public statement on the matter in February 2006. He tried to dress it up as an issue of teaching Intelligent Design. It was, though, transparently not. The same sneakiness of the Intelligent Design movement was blatantly obvious. The first paragraph of the statement shows why:
“A DUP delegation comprising Upper Bann MP David Simpson, George Dawson MLA and Mervyn Storey MLA has met with a group of concerned pupils and their parents to discuss the question of how subjects like biology, physics and geography are taught in schools across Northern Ireland. These concerns relate to the way in which the age of the earth and the origins of life including mankind came about and the theory of evolution verses intelligent design.”
Intelligent Design accepts the old age of the earth. The give away is that the paragraph refers to geography and physics. These are simply not the subject matters of evolution. You simply don’t need to know anything about the theory of evolution to get qualifications in these two subject matters – at any level. What is being talked about here is nothing but young earth creationism.
This sort of scam to deceive s pretty common amongst creationists.
The language then became extreme. Dawson claimed that not teaching pseudo-science (bogus science, if you like) was “institutionalised bullying”. The martyrdom complex again:
“We had a very good meeting today with both parents and pupils. They expressed their deep concern at the way in which these subjects are taught and of the way in which young people can be made to feel as though they were the subject of institutionalised bullying.”
The extreme language continued with claims that students’ faith was being denigrated by science (science doesn’t give a toss whether someone is Protestant or Catholic, btw) and that the “education authorities were guilty of indoctrination”.
“It is clear that in our schools the faith of many thousands of pupils is being actively denigrated on a daily basis and that the schools system is being used by education authorities to indoctrinate people against their own religious convictions. This must stop.”
Notice the seriously aggressive Peep O'Day Boy demand that it “must be stopped”. The tirade went on even though it is blatantly clear that Dawson didn’t comprehend the difference between Intelligent Design and creationism.
“We are aware that already a petition is being circulated by pupils around some schools in Northern Ireland calling for a change to the curriculum to include equal time and legitimacy for other interpretations of the age of the earth and the origins of life – in full harmony with the available scientific data.”
No. There are no such interpretations (theories) in science.
Dawson claimed that his position had cross party support and as well as support from Catholics. However, no evidence was presented to substantiate this absurd claim. Worse still the petition to which he was responding to, may have had no more than 900 signatures on it – not a lot for a province with a population of 1.7 million. One must therefore conclude that Dawson was befuddled about what the ninth commandment meant.
There is no opt out in the ninth commandment for Evangelical Protestants and certainly not for ones in Northern Ireland.
Dawson then outlined what he and his associates were doing to get creationism into the classroom: “Our Party have written to the education Minister requesting a meeting on this vital matter. We have also written to the Chief Executive of CCEA [Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment] requesting a meeting in order to establish just how exactly they plan to address this unacceptable situation.”
Again, this statement seems to very strongly suggest that teaching of creationism is DUP party policy.
The extreme, uncompromising (and, indeed, frightening) language continued with claims that not teaching creationism was “coercion” “bullying” and was “undermining parental authority”.
“When pupils complain of bullying, when parental authority is actively undermined and when teachers are faced with departmental coercion the time has come to act. We are today calling for a proper root and branch review that will bring an end to this situation.”
Parental authority has nothing at all to do with the matter. Sound science is determined by the scientific method, not by parental authority or evangelicals in an obscure and tiny province. What is taught in schools is within an agreed curriculum that is the same for all pupils whatever their or their parents' religious opinions are.
Dawson never presented the slightest bit of evidence to show that science teachers in Northern Ireland are being coerced into teaching sound science rather than creationism.
The giveaway, though, is his use of the word "bullying" - it's utterly unsubstantiated. It's the language of a demagogue (and in breach of the ninth commandment). Not clever and very, very transparent.
What does anyone expect given that the DUP is the creation of the biggest demagogue in the United Kingdom over the last 50 years, Ian Paisley.
The Connections to Protestantism
Dawson at the time was grand master of the Independent Orange Order and Chairman of the Caleb Foundation. The Caleb Foundation has actively and strongly lobbied to get creationism taught in schools and is riddled with obscure fundamentalist preachers. He was also treasurer of the fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant Society. Dawson had no background in science at all. His degree was in English and history. (Being scientifically illiterate doesn't seem to bother any Northern Irish creationist.)
It appears that Dawson pulled together much of the evangelical movement in Northern Ireland through the Caleb Foundation. Dawson was also a member of the Free Presbyterian Church. Thus his connections to evangelical churches and the political process were very wide and far-reaching. In effect, he was one of the leading voices and leaders of extreme religious fundamentalism in the province.
To put the matter in perspective, Dawson’s position went well beyond reflecting the beliefs of the Free Presbyterian Church. The fundamentalist constituency which he helped built and run is much larger that that.
The issue of creationism in schools was subsequently headed up by David Simpson. He looks to be a very powerful man in the Democratic Unionist Party and is also an MP at Westminster. Simpson basically ousted David Trimble as Ulster Unionist Party MP for Upper Bann in the 2005 general election and probably killed the party off in the process. He is seen as seriously politically astute (but idiotically bonkers when it comes to science).
Simpson is a member of Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church. He has been a very successful businessman and is believed to be a multi-millionaire. However, he appears to have no background in science. After leaving school his education was at the College of Business Studies (now part of Belfast Metropolitan College).
Amongst his political achievements to date has been the negotiation of local tax relief for Orange halls. That is just blatant pork. The Orange movement has been in decline for years and the tax relief looks to be nothing more than a financial subsidy and a returned favour for supporting the DUP. As a Westminster MP, it appears that Simpson has also acted on behalf of creationists.
Dawson had a fine line in absolute BS. Writing in Paisley's old rag, the Newsletter, in June 2006, about the Giant's Causeway, he claimed that "it is interesting to note that 44 per cent of the people of the United Kingdom (as identified in a BBC opinion poll) accept a "young earth" interpretation of the origins of the world". Except, of course, the BBC commissioned work showed nothing of the sort. Even in Northern Ireland, no more than 9% of the population are young earth creationists. (See our report on the Caleb Foundation.)
Stitching up the Education Minister
Quick primer on education in Northern Ireland. Education is essentially segregated in the province with Nationalists going to schools owned and controlled by the Catholic Church (but financed by the taxpayer) and Unionists go to "secular" schools which are controlled by the politicians. There isn't a cat in hell's chance of getting creationism into Catholic schools; what we are discussing here are the "secular" schools.
On 21st September 2007 Simpson received written relies from the Assembly Minister of Education (Catriona Ruane, Sinn Fein) a series of questions, one leading on from the other, about teaching of creationism. The Minister has had one of the hardest portfolios to handle as it involved sweeping reform of education in the province. There is some speculation that Simpson was trying to exploit her position as a Sinn Fein politician in an Assembly that its mostly Unionist. Sinn Fein is not creationist - despite its lack of originality and bone headedness, it simply isn't that stupid.'' However, Ruane, to say the least, was soft peddling in her handing of Simpson.
Simpson’s requests for information from her make for disturbing reading. The first of the six questions asked her that as a result of the revised curriculum “to detail the teaching materials that will be made available to teachers in Northern Ireland wishing to teach scientific theories of origins other than evolution.”
Ruane’s reply is also disturbing because it shows that schools are basically free to procure creationist material and was unspecific about whether this applied to science: “It is up to schools to decide what teaching resources they wish to use to deliver the curriculum, in accordance with the needs of their pupils and the ethos of the school. A range of organisations produce teaching materials that schools can choose to avail of.”
Simpson then stepped up the stakes, specifically referring to the theory of evolution and GCSE qualifications:
“….under GCSE science specifications allowing for the explanation of theories other than evolution to explore the development of life on earth, what resource material will be made available to teachers wishing to explore other such scientific explanations with pupils”.
Ruane then repeated her previous reply. Simpson’s third question, though, is seriously alarming. It suggests that the aim of the DUP is to reduce the GCSE science qualification to worthlessness by allowing creationist pseudo-science explanations to have the same marks as science explanations.
Specifically he asked her “to confirm that pupils who answer examination questions outlining (i) creationist; or (ii) intelligent design explanations for the development of life on earth, will not be marked lower than any pupil who answers giving an evolutionist explanation.”
Ruane’s reply was as equally alarming as it suggest no commitment to keeping creationism out of the science lesson at all: “I am not involved in the setting or marking of public examinations. I am informed by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment that public examinations are based on specifications which form the basis for teaching and learning throughout the two years of Key Stage 4. These stem from criteria agreed across the Regulatory Authorities. However, not every area of a specification lends itself equally well to an examination question. Therefore every pupil’s examination answers are marked solely in accordance with the awarding body’s Mark Scheme for the relevant question.”
She was passing the buck.
Simpson then stepped up the stakes again in what subsequently looks to have been the killer question, asking “what training will be given to teachers to help them to explore scientific explanations for the development of life on earth, other than evolution.”
Ruane fell for it hook, line and sinker, replying: “Teachers are currently involved in a phased programme of training to support the introduction of the revised curriculum. Any in-service training for teachers follows the requirements of the statutory curriculum and GCSE specifications which do not include any specific reference to alternative explanations of the origins of life. The Education and Library Boards have not received requests from any school or teacher for support on this issue.”(4)
If, of course, you force science teachers to study, learn and teach bogus science (creationism) you are going to get the stupidest and most incompetent science teachers in Europe as nobody with a degree in the natural accepts creationism. You'll have to get PE teachers from Creation Outreach Ministries to teach science.
Within a few days DUP local politicians had put in train events that would lead to such requests. It does not look to be a coincidence at all. The DUP dominated Lisburn City Council voted to write to secondary schools in its area “asking what plans they have to develop teaching material in relation to 'creation, intelligent design and other theories of origin.”(5) Council member Paul Givan (DUP) headed up the proposal. According to press reports he claimed that he was not suggesting that Lisburn City Council dictate what schools should dictate (it can’t, it doesn’t have responsibility for them) but he believed that under the revised curriculum there was as opportunity for alternative theories to be taught. Givan clearly demonstrated how Ruane had been caught out by Simpson when he (Givan) claimed that Ruane had made the same point in the Assembly.
Paul Givan MLA and creationist who can't pronounce Neanderthal
Givan is a member of the Free Presbyterian Church and is also believed to be a school governor. He also had the support of Ulster Unionist Party politicians on the council. It should come as no surprise that Givan has no background in either science or education. His degree is in business studies and his full time job is in public relations.
Givan became notorious after he was unable to pronounce the word "Neanderthal" in a BBC interview alongside biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins had to repeatedly ask him what he meant by what sounded to be "Ian der Thal" He genuinely didn't seem to know what Neanderthal was (school boy stuff), even though he was trying to argue that Neanderthal man showed mainstream science to be wrong. To this day Givan is ridiculed about this and many refer to him as "Ian de Thal". He's a figure of fun in the anti-creationist movement.
Still, Givan has moved up in the political world since this report was initially published here. He's now an MLA in the regional assembly.
The Role of Answers in Genesis
The professional creationists were also active in Lisburn (part of Belfast) in September 2007. Paul Taylor of Answers in Genesis UK was at Wallace High School there on the 15th of the month. He was at Hillsborough Free Presbyterian Church on the 14th and 16th September and at Lisburn Free Presbyterian Church on the 16th. Hillsborough is in Lisburn. The three days are what Answers in Genesis describe as a Creation Weekend,
According to Answers in Genesis, his presence in Lisburn may have influenced Givan’s motion. Taylor claims that he was presented with a clock by the mayor of Lisburn, Councillor James Tinsley (DUP), who welcomed Answers in Genesis to Lisburn “as providers and preachers of biblical truth”.(6)
Lisburn’s Deputy Mayor Ulster Unionist Ronnie Crawford has also jumped on the creationist bandwagon. He called for cross-party support for Givan’s proposal and pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI was a firm believer in creationism.(7) Well, no he isn’t. Nothing could be further from the truth. Benedict has come down massively against young earth creationism (and against Intelligent Design). Indeed, the Catholic Church made up its mind in the 4th century AD that biblical literalism was a very bad idea and has never changed its mind.
That Lisburn should be a centre of creationism is, perhaps, bizarre. Fundamentalism in Northern Ireland is somewhat of a product of small town and rural life, of less well educated Protestants. Lisburn, in contrast, is a rather pleasant and leafy suburb of Belfast, a nice place to live and work and inhabited by the more prosperous and better educated.
One of Lisburn’s DUP councillors is Edwin Poots. As Minister for Arts and Culture in the Northern Ireland Assembly, he backed Simpson’s questions to Catriona Ruane about creationism. He is a former Apprentice Boy member and is also a school governor. His background is in farming and he has been through an agricultural college. He is a deacon in the Free Presbyterian Church and a member of Lisburn Orange Lodge. It thus appears that Poots is one of the core of the DUP pushing the creationist agenda. He has made it clear that he is a creationist.
Still, the local schools apparently told Givan and his creationist pals to go stick their heads up the proverbial dead bear's bum and mind their own business. It's not surprising. What Givan and his pals were doing was an attempted witch hunt against teachers and schools that taught evolution.
According to the local newspaper, Lisburn Today, 23rd Nov 2007, one of the Catholic head teachers was particularly scathing. Dr Seamus Quinn of St Patrick's High School put it bluntly: "St Patrick's is not and will not be teaching in our science classes the religious dogma of certain fundamentalist Christian Sects from America who are promoting their own agenda. "Lisburn wants to be known as a centre of educational excellence and not a medieval and inward looking town." In English: "Prods push off."
Mervyn Storey MLA is vice-chairman of the Caleb Foundation, a senior lieutenant in the Independent Orange Order and a member of the Apprentice Boys. He does not have a degree in any subject. He is a committee member of Ballymoney Free Presbyterian Church.
In mid-Summer 2007 Storey intervened in a meeting of the Assembly’s education committee to demand that the Education Minister (Catriona Ruane) bring forward proposals “to ensure that scientific explanations, other than Darwinian evolution, are taught in schools as scientific explanations”.(8)
However, Storey’s track record in pushing creationism is more substantial than this suggests. Storey appears to have no background in science at all, having had no more that a secondary school education. He does not appear to have a degree in any subject. Yet Storey appears to have set himself up as an authority on the geology of the Giant’s Causeway, one of Britain’s best know geological features (and a major tourist attraction).
The Giant's Causeway Connection
In a letter to the pro-Unionist News Letter (10) newspaper published on 6th June 2006 George Dawson stated: “Over recent months myself and colleagues, David Simpson MP and Mervyn Storey MLA, have been pressing government on the need to ensure that interpretation at the new Causeway interpretative centre is inclusive of the views expressed by Rev Dr Greer and elaborated upon in the article by Dr Tas Walker. This is a matter of equality and tourism opportunity. In equality terms it is incumbent upon government not to discriminate against this equally scientific viewpoint and those who believe it.”(9)
Robin Greer was then a minister at Tandragee Presbyterian Church but later became a full time creationist as a speaker for Answers in Genesis UK. That didn't last long and he returned to Northern Ireland and is now a full time pastor there, pushing, it appears, creationism at every possible opportunity. Some regard him as the leading creationist in the province. Oddly, whilst he has a good background in science (master's degree level, biochemistry) he insists on using the title Dr. His PhD is a worthless piece of paper from the now closed European Theological Seminary. It appears to impress creationists - suggesting the obvious, that they are not very bright. (See http://creation.com/robin-greer.) Greer now appears to be working closely with Creation Outreach Ministries
Tas Walker has been pushing idiotic science about the giant's Causeway from some years. He's an out and out creationist from Queensland (most of the leading Australian creationist are "banana benders" as well). His name crops up time and time again in relation to the Causeway. He's got his own website - see http://biblicalgeology.net/Geological-Histories/Giants-Causeway.html which spews fourth bogus geology (shredded by BCSE members, btw). Greer has been pushing Walker's bogus geology.
Walker does have a first degree in geology (earth science) which he apparently took to prove creation science. His PhD, though, is in mechanical engineering, which immediately invokes Salem's Hypothesis. He was with Answers in Genesis until they all fell out with each other and he then joined Creation Ministries International. He has never worked as a professional geologist.
Interestingly Dawson and his pals have been claiming that their effort to get creationism into Northern Ireland schools is based on a petition which turns out to have 900 signatures on it (out of a population of 1.7 million) but in this letter claims that creationism has the support of 44% of the population of the UK. Strange isn’t it - the support seems to waver so much. 26 million or so in one claim and 900 in another? The statistics seem as flaky as the science qualifications of Messrs Dawson, Storey and Simpson.
The Giant's Causeway - world-class tourist attraction in breach of Evangelical fundamentalists' human rights because it is more than 6,000 years old.
In an article dated 3rd June 2006 Greer claimed that the Causeway was formed 4,500 years ago during Noah’s flood. Greer pushed the pamphlet on the Causeway by Tas Walker of Answers in Genesis. Presumably Greer was angling to get Answers in Genesis material in the Causeway Centre. Greer’s arguments about the age of the Causeway, no doubt entirely lifted from the AiG material are risible. Science strongly suggests it was formed about 60-65 million years ago.
To illustrate the utter idiocy of Greer’s geology, I quote from his News Letter article: “Since there were torrents of water around at the time of the Great Deluge this lava was able to flow huge distances. The lava flowed over the flooded land causing lots of steam which bubbled under the lava The surging water quenched these lava lakes. The lakes solidified into basalt which cracked into long columns as it contracted….” Alas for Greer’s credibility, the presence of water does not make molten basalt “flow”. Indeed, if anything, the presence of water accelerates its cooling and reduces the flow. Greer is not a geologist and has no training whatsoever in the subject matter.
BCSE member Dr Stephen Morton (a real scientist who didn't purchase his PhD from a dodgy diploma mill) is systematically shredding the geology of Greer, Walker and associates. His work is being published in Earth Science Ireland, which is available, free of charge, online. Issue 6 of its magazine can easily be accessed through http://www.habitas.org.uk/es2k/. Click onto the left heading Magazine, then issue 6 and then go to page 37 where he has a splendid report on the Causeway "Facts meet fantasies and the Giant's Causeway".
Like the mainland of the UK, Northern Ireland has some of the world's most interesting geology - one of those accidents of geological history is that Britain and Ireland are at the edges of a tectonic plate so they have, essentially, been pushed around, uplifted, eroded, deposited and whatever for a very long time. The geology changes spectacularly over short distances.
In issue 8 Steve takes a broader look at Northern Irish geology in clearly what is an attempt to debunk creationists before they turn out more utter rubbish. Called "Look around you" (on page 35) he rips into the creationists again over such geological features as the igneous Mountains of Mourne. He takes a well aimed swipe at Andrew Snelling and creationist claims about fossil sorting. At the time of writing Steve is working on further articles showing just how bogus the creationist geology is.
The Geological Society was also forced to debunk the bogus creationist claims about the Giants Caussway - see http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/geoscientist/page3473.html for an easy to read shredding of the "creation science" explanation of how the Causeway as formed.
It also made a formal statement about creationnism: ''"This Society upholds the right of freedom of belief for all. The freedom scientists enjoy to investigate the nature and history of the Earth is the same freedom that allows individuals to believe - or not - in a deity.
Science's business is to investigate the constitution of the universe, and cannot pronounce on any concept that lies "beyond" nature. This is the meaning of “agnostic”, the word coined by former GSL President Thomas Henry Huxley, to describe a scientist’s position of being “unable to know”. This Society has therefore long operated according to the view that religion and science only become incompatible with each other when one attempts to trespass upon the domain of the other.
The idea that the Earth was divinely created in the geologically recent past ("Young Earth Creationism"); attempts by Young Earth Creationists to gain acceptance for what they misrepresent in public as corroborative empirical evidence for this view ("Creation science"); and the allied belief that features of the universe and of living things are better explained as the direct result of action by an intelligent cause than by natural processes ("Intelligent Design"), represent such a trespass upon the domain of science.
The Geological Society of London is the oldest national learned society for the Earth sciences in the world, and embodies the collective knowledge of nearly 10,000 Earth scientists worldwide. On their behalf it wishes, during the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth, to place on record the following facts as being long established beyond doubt.
- Planet Earth, along with the other planets in the Solar System, was formed approximately 4560 million years ago.
- Life has existed on Earth for thousands of millions of years. It has evolved into its current form by a combination of genetic variation and natural selection - and is likely to go on doing so for as long as it continues to exist.
- Close study of the structure and organisation of living animals and plants clearly indicates their common ancestry, and the succession of forms through the fossil record, as well as the genetic record contained in every living organism, provides powerful evidence of the reality of evolution.''
It is worth pointing out here that BCSE is only aware of one working British geologist who is a young earth creationist. He's an assistant manager of a roadstone quarry in Northern Ireland and his creation science appears to be no more than "I am satisfied " that creationism is right.
There is basically no-one in Northern Ireland who is a creationist who has a clue about geology.
However, there is a bizarre twist to this all, though. Dodgy dealings. The original Causeway centre was burned down in 2000 and was replaced with temporary buildings. In September 2007 Environment Minister Arlene Foster (DUP) provisionally approved a privately financed visitor’s centre. Both the developer, Seymour Sweeney who is a member of the DUP, and the DUP have denied that Sweeney has given financial support to the party. Nevertheless there was an unholy row about the matter, including the precise relationship between Ian Paisley Jnr (Ian Paisley’s son and also an MLA) and Sweeney.
The Belfast Telegraph reported on 25th September 2007 that Ian Paisley Snr has been closely involved in the whole affair and that involvement seems to suggest that he intended to use Sweeney’s Causeway Centre, with Sweeney's consent, to promote creationism.(11)
According to the newspaper, Sweeney made an application in 2002 to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant for the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Trust, a charitable body intended to oversee his visitor centre. Sweeney named Ian Paisley Snr as one of three people who would shortly be trustees of the trust. The application was turned down in 2003.
The Belfast Telegraph also stated that the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Trust remains in existence, but is described as a dormant company in returns to the Government's Companies Registry. The Belfast Telegraph did not state who the other two trustees were to be. However, it also appears that Paisley Snr has been a fierce critic of alternative public sector plans for a visitor centre which he has described as “fool’s gold”.(12)
The stakes for the creationists are very high. The Giant’s Causeway attracts some 500,000 visitors a year and is Northern Ireland’s largest tourist attraction. Both for school children studying geography or geology it is a major element in field studies. Getting creationism into the new Causeway visitor centre, believed to cost around £20 million, will be a huge coup for the creationists. No wonder they have put so much effort into it. Again, it is exactly the same game being played by fundamentalists in the United States with the Grand Canyon.
The Causeway is owned by the National Trust which has also severely criticised the Sweeney plans. Indeed, the civil servants who advised Foster came down against it. UNESCO seem to have formed the view that the private development would interfere with the World Heritage Status of the Causeway.
The relentless pressure by DUP creationists to get creationism into the visitors' centre continued in 2010 and is detailed in our reports Update on Northern Ireland and the Caleb Foundation
Whilst not an MLA, Pastor David McConaghie is believed to be Simpson’s chief of staff, press officer and speech writer. McConaghie is a minister in Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church and a founding member of the Caleb Foundation. He is a member of the Evangelical Protestant Society which is yet another fundamentalist movement in Northern Ireland.(13) He has been pushing hard for some years to get creationism into the classroom. McConaghie is a senior lieutenant in the Independent Orange Order. He is noted for his very aggressive and semi-articulate “style” of debating. His debating style is basically to shout people down. There is no doubt that he is deeply anti-science.
He was minister of Maghaberry Elim Church before switching to Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church. He is seen in some circles as one of the contenders to replace Ian Paisley as moderator or the Free Presbyterian Church. However, McConaghie has also been deeply involved in politics. In 2005 the Times described him as a “DUP apparatchik managing the campaign to unseat David Trimble in the Upper Bann constituency.”(14) He was also the fundamentalist Evangelical representative on the Northern Ireland Civic Forum.
The Evangelical Protestant Society is a fundamentalist organisation with deep connections to the Orange Order and the Independent Orange Order. The Society published the Bulwark magazine. Whilst it has a strong presence in the evangelical churches in the province, it also has influence within the mainstream churches there as well Nevertheless, it appears to be controlled, or at least strongly influenced, by the same group controlling the Caleb Foundation.
Dawson and McConaghie were (and the latter still is) members of the ruling committee of the Evangelical Protestant Society, behind the ‘Bulwark’ magazine. Recently the United Protestant Council, based on the mainland of the UK, split over membership of the Orange Order. The EPS then formed its own version of the organisation which meant that Dawson and McConaghie were central players in this as well. The tentacles spread far and wide.
So, what has emerged is a picture of a group of highly influential people within the DUP and with exceedingly strong and wide reaching connections with the Orange movement, the Caleb Foundation, the Free Presbyterian Church and the creationist movement who are hell bent on wrecking the province’s education system. Between them, none has any more knowledge of science than a duck's bum.
The Rampancy of Creationism in the Province
Its worse that that, though, because the group is being perceived as the very top layer of the DUP movement, a clique or whatever you might want to call it, that is set to take control of it. So why the obsession with creationism? Well it looks as if most of the Evangelical churches in Northern Ireland are now basically creationist or thoroughly riddled with it. The only one that is not is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland but even there creationism is very widespread. The denominations that are basically creationism free are the Catholic Church (whose members are highly unlikely to vote DUP), the Anglican Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church. (There will be a few camp creationists amongst these, though.)
The rest are pushing creationism hard – the Brethren movement, Baptists, Elim Pentecostal, Congregational, Congregational Reformed, Free Presbyterian, Reformed Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian, Free Methodist, Independent Methodist, Independent Evangelical and Baptist churches and so on. Nobody should doubt that creationism is now widely accepted amongst such churches. A Protestant church in Northern Ireland is seven times more likely to be creationist than the national norm for the UK.(15)
One also has to remember that church going in Northern Ireland is far more common that it is on the mainland of the UK. Some 45% of the population attend a church at least once a month according to 2007 research by Tearfund(a figure probably close to that of the USA). The comparable figure for England is 14%. However the Northern Irish percentage is dropping fast so is already significantly out of date. The percentage of non-believers in Northern Ireland is 14% which is significantly higher than the number of creationists. (15)
The professional creationists visiting the province attract very large audiences. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has attracted nearly 2,000 at a single event. Ham described that event, in March 2005, as the largest creationist meeting in Europe.
Worse still, it is the smaller, creationist denominations that are growing and, it appears, some very fast. It is exactly the same pattern as on the mainland of the UK and in the United States. The DUP creationists are basically pushing for votes amongst the new and growing denominations such as the Pentecostals and the Brethren. Whilst the fundamentalist movement in Northern Ireland has its roots in rural areas, it is increasingly an urban phenomenon. Given the geography, that means Belfast. Again, we see the US experience being repeated.
Nor is it confined to the rough parts of Belfast. The fundamentalists are too clever by half. Perhaps the largest single church pushing creationism is the Brethren Crescent Church in the heart of the prosperous university area. This attracts mostly young people, many of which are students at Queen’s University or up and coming professionals. Monty White is due to speak there in October 2007 and, from past experience, is likely to draw and audience of around 1,000 plus. One of the lay preachers there is Professor Norman Nevin, generally regarded as one of Britain’s leading geneticist. That gives the fundamentalists serious street credibility amongst certain elements as Nevin has come out as a creationist.
We've got a very big report which covers Nevin's involvement in creationism - see Centre for Intelligent Design. What we suspect will happen is that c4ID will try to pull the wool ovr the eyes of the public by using Intelligent Design as a smokescreen. The BCSE is nit fooled by any of this BS. Nevin is an unreconstructed creationist.
It is astonishing that a person of such repute should be dabbling with such a deeply anti-intellectual and anti-scientific movement. Th province is flooded with pastors with degrees in theology from the creationist European Theological Seminary – including the pompously self-titled the Rev Dr Robin Greer. Its degrees are worthless. It offered bachelors degrees for £250 and PhDs for £500. To give some indication of he worthlessness, it costs Oxford University, on average, some £36,000 to provide a student with a first degree. That, Professor Nevin, is the quality of education that your fundamentalist movement is being judge against.
The bizarre side of this is the Queen’s, Northern Ireland’s best university, is increasingly being seen as a Catholic/Nationalist university. Protestants increasingly take their degrees on the mainland of Britain and don’t go back to the province. Half of people in Northern Ireland who take a degree do so outside of the province.
The professional creationists are not going to leave the still deeply troubled province alone. Monty White, then head of Answers in Genesis, undertook a 12-day tour of the province in October 2007, one month after Taylor’s visit to Lisburn. Amongst other professional and senior creationists that have been active in the province are Phillip Johnson (Discovery Institute), Stuart Burgess (Truth in Science) and Andy McIntosh (Truth in Science).
The issue of creationism in Northern Ireland is not going to go away. Whilst Ian Paisley has stepped down as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, its influence with the DUP remains well organised and entrenched. Its members within the party look highly inclined towards the formation of a theocracy in the province. They are not inclined towards the compromises and coalition building that is the bedrock of stable democracy,
The would-be theocrats may be riding off the back of more pragmatic DUP politics but they have thoroughly organised themselves within major movements of Protestantism – the Evangelical churches, the Orange movement (including the Orange Order, The Independent Orange Institution and the Apprentice Boys) and theological training schools. Their current target is education. The main Orange Order has broken its long-standing official links with the Ulster Unionist Party and is now, at least partially, linked to the DUP through the joint Loyal Order initiative. The party has probably killed off its worst enemy, the Ulster Unionist Party. Even the deputy first minister of the province has described the DUP as the Taliban, specifically referring to the “free Presbyterian fundamentalists”.(17)
What doesn’t appear to stack up is the argument that the DUP is now a broad-based organisation. Its electoral successes in 2005 and 2007, which established it as the dominant Protestant party in the province, were more of a protest vote against the Ulster Unionist Party and its “compromises” with Sinn Fein than a ringing endorsement. It attracted the “no” vote, “no” being the favourite word in Ian’s Paisley’s lexicon.
It looks largely irrelevant that Ian Paisley has been forced to step down as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church because of his decision to share power with Sinn Fein. The Free Presbyterians within the DUP have built up an alternative power base within conservative Protestantism. The Free Presbyterian Church is simply too small, exclusive and inward looking to be the underlying power base of the DUP once it obtained real political power in the province.
Whilst the DUP was formed as the political wing of the Free Presbyterian church, Paisley had moved it to more broader appeal in the 1980s. What he didn’t do was pull in the Orange Order. That has changed. What now looks to have emerged is a Free Presbyterian and fundamentalist agenda within the DUP which has much deeper and stronger foundations. Unionist politics looks to be being reorganised along the lines of the Moral Majority in the USA. Fundamentalism is being thoroughly politicised in Northern Ireland.
(1) See Tussle of Biblical proportions over creationism in Ulster schools, Belfast Telegraph 26th September 2007 - http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/article2999003.ece
(2) I have identified the religious position of 22 of which 12 are members of the Free Presbyterian Church.
(3) See http://www.calebfoundation.org/page6.htm
(4) The full written answers can be seen at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/qanda/2007mandate/writtenans/070921.htm#4
(5) See http://www.lisburntoday.co.uk/news/CREATION-MOTION-PASSED-BY-COUNCIL.3233193.jp
(6) See http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2007/10/02/creation-row-ireland
(7) See http://www.lisburntoday.co.uk/news/CREATION-MOTION-PASSED-BY-COUNCIL.3233193.jp
(8) See http://stormontwatch.blogspot.com/
(9) See The views of all must be taken on board, the Telegram, 6th June 2006 at http://www.newsletter.co.uk/letters-to-the-editor/The-views-of-all-must.1546647.jp
(11) See Twist in Causeway plan row by David Gordon, Belfast Telegraph, 25th September 2007 - http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/article2996386.ece
(12) See http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/Main/CalebFoundation for further details.
(13) See Trimble has back against the wall in election fight, The Times, 24th April 2005 - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/election2005/article384963.ece
(14) Source: Unpublished research by the author.
(15) See http://www.ark.ac.uk/publications/updates/update41.pdf for a detailed analysis of church going in Northern Ireland.
(16) See the BBC news report McGuiness labels DUP Taleban, 27th June 2006 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/5120648.stm
Are Religious Politicians Nutters? BBC Northern Ireland William Crawley's blog considers the issue at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2007/12/are_religious_politicians_nutt.html#more Follows on from Edwin Poots MLA claiming he is a creationist.
Stephen Moore responded to our comments through his web site at http://www.dunlucechristianfellowship.com/?page_id=65 but he has now removed the comments. His pressure group opened a web site with nothing worthwhile on it: http://www.causewaycreation.com. That's also now a dead link suggesting that the Causeway Creation Campaign is now dead. the Causeway Creation Committee never appeared to consist of anyone but Moore and his wife and Moore admitted he had no science qualifications at all (see http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/the-creation-of-a-new-giants-causeway-row-13498454.html?startindex=-1).
Here is an interesting commentary on the opinions of a rather obnoxious American (I think) creationist about the Giant's Causeway. The big difference between Northern Irish and American creationists is that the former think evolutionary biology leads to Catholicism whereas the American bigots think it leads to communism.
The DUP creationists continue to push in the Northern Ireland Assembly: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/qanda/2007mandate/writtenqfora/wq8.htm#4 (possibly now a dead link)
Professor Ian Montgomery of QUB lays it down in no uncertain terms that the creationists are both idiotic and will bankrupt the economy of the province: Creationism undermines our knowledge-based economy