Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Ulster Museum controversy (11)

Over the past few weeks I have been deeply disappointed by the standard of the newspaper reports about my suggestion that the Ulster Museum consider how alternative views on the origin of the universe and the origin of life might be accommodated in some way within the museum.  Much of it has been inaccurate and that has been deeply unfortunate.

Moreover there has been a tendency for shoddy and inaccurate reporting to be copied by other journalists and this has led on to more inaccurate reporting.  In this way myth takes over from reality.

I have also been deeply disappointed by the nature of some of the letters and e-mails I have received.  These range from the e-mail that started with the greeting 'you moron', through to those that simply addressed me with foul language.  A few of those who disagreed with my suggestion did so in a rational and reasonable manner but most were characterised by a prejudice and intolerance that did not speak well of the authors.

We need to have a society where it is possible to have a reasonable discussion about issues such as museums or culture, indeed that is an essential element in a shared and better future, but some people seem incapable of reasonable discussion.  We may disagree with others, whatever the issue, but surely we can disagree without being disagreeable.

It is clear that some people want me to enter into a public debate on evolution, creationism and intelligent design and that is something I have no intention of doing.  There are well-known scientists who advocate each of these viewpoints and I leave it to them to debate the matter. 

The core issues that I raised with National Museums Northern Ireland are (1) how museums contribute to good relations and to a shared and better future and (2) how museums and other cultural institutions implement the cultural rights of the people of Northern Ireland.


  1. So, you still don't really address the issue. You don't want to debate the issue because you know that even the most amateur scientists will wipe the floor with creationism as an explanation for the existence of all that we know.

    Now here is a question for you. If this has to do with cultural representation and equality and has no purely religious and anti-evolution, then what would you say to a display about homosexuality in our museums? Answer that question. I bet you don't and I bet you even don't allow my comment. There is a large homosexual community in N. Ireland and their views are not represented in our museums. Can you please write to the museum to ensure adequate representation of their views?

  2. Pensterx - I have addressed the issue I intended to address. I may not have addressed the issue you wanted me to address.

    I do not intend to debate evolution / creation / intelligent design because that would become a distraction from the real issue, which is about representation in a museum. Furthermore, as I have already stated, my own views on this are irrelevant.

    There have been some interesting debates between scientists advocating different views on evolution / creation / intelligent design. Moreover, whether you like it or not, there are scientists who advocate creation or intelligent design and there are also scietnists who have highlighted their concerns about aspects of evolution.

    It is rather presumptuous of you to think that you can read my mind and know my reason for a particular decision. I suppose what you have is a hypothesis, if even that, but certainly not a fact!

    The issue of homosexuality is irrelevant in that there is no section in the museum on heterosexuality. As regards the people who feature in the exhibtions in the museum I have no idea how many of them were or are heterosexual or homosexual.

  3. I'll have to call you on several points here.

    I'll start with science. Yes in science people challenge theories and when the challenge is shown by the evidence then the theory is revised or rejected and an new theory is formulated. If the challenges to evolution were proved by the evidence, science would have no problem correcting the theory. That is how science works. In reality there has been no strong evidence to disprove evolution or big bang cosmology. Indeed we have seen "Christian Scientists" promoting work for which there is absolutely no evidence and indeed feeding it too creationists as "evidence". One example of many would be "tired light theory" to explain why the night sky is not dark, as it should be if the universe is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. This has been shown to inaccurate and yet is still trailed out by Christians trying to argue science. Another is Carbon Dating is inaccurate. Carbon dating only dates to approx 6,000 years but what Christians don't say for example is that there are several forms of radioactive dating which have all been shown to concur with each other to great degrees of accuracy and date to millions and billions of years. It often amazes me how Christians will actually lie and deceive (things I thought were sinful in christianity) in order to maintain their position. Scientists do highlight concerns about evolution but these are "don't know issues" that we have yet to explain. Just because we can't yet explain them does not mean the theory is untrue. That is how science works. We continually question and seek knowledge and do not simply fill gaps with the "God did it" gambit.

    Just because scientists believe in creation does not add weight to the argument. Numbers do not decide what is right or wrong in science. Evidence does. If everyone stopped believing in Pythagorus' theory, it would not mean that it was wrong. The head of the human genome project is a well known Christian. So what? The difference is that is estimate for the length of time that humans have been on the earth is not 6,000 - 10,000 years but more like 100,000 years. He also accepts evolution. Science can never conclude that the universe was created but it does show that it did not occur according to the description and time lines given in a bronze age Jewish text. The best we can say at the moment is that the big bang occurred, when it occurred approx 13 billion years ago. We simply don't have the physics to describe and understand what happened before this and just because we don't does not mean we have to fill that lack of knowledge with a god.

    Regarding homosexuality. Correct, there is no exhibit on heterosexuality, just as there is no exhibit on religion in the museum. By your own logic Creationism/Intelligent design should not appear in the museum as there is no exhibition on religion offering different creation theories. Creationism/Intelligent design cannot be put in a science section because it is not stand science or remotely scientific. Essentially Creationism should be a stand alone exhibit (like an exhibit on homosexuality) as there is no comparative exhibit to display it alongside.

    My choice of homosexuality was chosen precisely because your religious belief concentrates specifically on it and abhors it. Thus the protests at Gay Pride marches etc. I would place good money that we would never see you promote an exhibition of homosexuality at the museum.

  4. Pensterx - I understand perfectly well the relationship between a hypothesis, a theory and a law. I am also very much aware of the THEOREM of Pythagoras, not the theory!

  5. Pensterx - I merely pointed out that your reference to the 'theory' of Pythagoras was wrong and that it was actually the theorem of Pythagoras! It just goes to show that you are just as fallible as anyone else.
    As regards the rest of your reply, your comments are becoming rather tedious and bizarre. The engagement is therefore closed.

  6. Dear Nelson,

    Whilst I admire your genuine intention to work for the rights of the peoples and cultures around you I trust that you also remember that the State has a responsibility not only to protect rights but also to lead those people. That includes duties to provide the people with the best education possible for the betterment and improvement of those people.

    Although it is true that there are a small number of dissenting scientists the fact of the matter is that they are an overwhelmingly small fraction of the scientific community. They self-exclude themselves from participation in that community preferring instead to attack it via a public and press that is not properly resourced to understand some of the issues involved.

    The language of these so called 'disputes' has been seen time and time again over the last few decades in attacks on evolution, global warming, vaccines and areas of biomedical science. Many of these attacks come from well meaning people, but people who are nonetheless in error. This damages all our efforts to make both ourselves and our world a better place for all and for future generations.

    Unfortunately this specific scepticism towards evolution is very much a late 20th century phenomena and only marginally rooted in serious theology. Since before Darwin theologians have not accepted what we would now term a 'Creationist' perspective on the Genesis texts in the Bible and for 150 years now multiple and desperate areas of science repeatedly come back and independently tell the same story of the universe - its great age and evolution as a vital part of its natural processes. Scientists are all but universal in accepting the evidence of this, theologians with rejoicing in it and seeing God's hand at work throughout.

    Your citizens indeed may have a 'right' to have the views publicly aired, but that 'right' doesn't make those ideas any less wrong and in need of leadership in a better direction.