Creationism and the Ulster Museum
On Sunday's programme, we'll debate the Northern Ireland culture minister's suggestion that the newly refurbished Ulster Museum (pictured) should include exhibits that recognise "alternative" accounts of the origins of the universe. Nelson McCausland's letter to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) does not explicitly mention "creationism", but he has not challenged that reading of his proposal.
Wallace Thompson, chair of the Caleb Foundation, a fundamentalist Christian campaign group, will be my guest on Sunday, alongside Professor Peter Bowler, a leading historian of science now based in Cambridge. The Caleb Foundation say they wrote to Nelson McCausland and to the NMNI chief executive Tim Cooke some weeks ago to express their concerns about the Ulster Museum's Nature Zone exhibits. They regard Nelson McCausland's controversial intervention as a direct and positive response to their initial communication with the minister.
In a press statement, Caleb say, 'We fully accept that the theory of evolution is the view of the majority of scientists, but it is important to note that evolution is a theory and not a fact. A visit to the Ulster Museum would not give that impression. Indeed, the very clear assertion is made across the entire "Nature Zone", that evolution is a fact. This, presumably quite deliberate, error is further compounded by the complete absence of even the merest mention of any other theory of origins such as the Biblical account of creation, for which there is strong scientific evidence.' (Read their statement in full here.)
A 2009 survey by the public theology think tank Theos suggested that 25 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland believe the universe is less than ten thousand years old.
Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins, and other science campaigners, have argued that a modern museum's science exhibits cannot be determined "democratically". An "alternative theory" (whether it is creationism or astrology) may enjoy some measure of popularity with the public, but that popularity cannot be taken as grounds for including the theory in a scientifically-respectable exhibition.
Those, then, are the two contrasting positions we will be debating on Sunday. The argument starts at 8.30 a.m. Set your alarm clock; you won't want to miss it.
Read a BBC briefing on the central claims of creationism, intelligent design, and evolution.
Read "Rescuing Darwin: God and evolution in Britain today", a report by the religious think tank Theos. (Summary notes here.)