Refreshing Rhetoric from Unlikely Sources

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster. Photo from niogovuk.

Congratulating political and religious leaders for unexpectedly enlightened stances always feels like a bit of a risk, given that they can be used as distraction from actions and plans that run counter to the words they utter. Only the politically naive would take Arlene Foster’s remarks in Wednesday’s News Letter as sign of the upcoming reform of the DUP. They continue to stop changes to the situation in Northern Ireland; issues like equal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, or the provision of safe and legal abortions in the case of Fatal Fetal Abnormality.

That said, a leader of the DUP who distances herself from creationism and the party from the Caleb Foundation is, in and of itself, a welcome development.

Creationism, which can roughly be defined as providing the gloss of science to a given religious creation story through the cherry picking of convenient facts, is nevertheless unscientific. Science isn’t just about observing the facts that suit a hypothesis, it is about testing that hypothesis against objections and subjecting it to peer review process where shortcomings in philosophy, methodology, interpretation of results, and conclusions are winnowed out.

Creationism undermines that process, casting aspersions on every major field of science (particularly cosmology and evolution) and inventing new absurdities. Things such as the notion that a layer of ice orbited the Earth and melted to form the water needed to flood the planet, or that volcanic eruptions blasted marsupials to Australasia to account for geographic distribution of species disembarked from Noah’s Ark. This is all in the hope of twisting people’s perceptions of what scientific facts and theories are to shore up the credibility of miracle stories.

Creationism fuels misconceptions about science and also, for what it’s worth, spoils what is enjoyable about mythology by subjecting it to inept and vulgar reductionism.

Statue in Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.
Christian creationism isn’t the only creationism. Vishnu statue in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.

Christian Young Earth Creationism in particular is crassly dishonest in its claims to be scientific, and plays an uncomfortable waiting game with Islamic and Hindu traditions that make less egregious claims as to the nature of their mysteries. Muslims, for example, often regard Noah’s flood as being local to the Middle East, and Hindu cosmology is measured in billions of years as opposed to a few scant millennia (whilst the avatars of Vishnu show a rough evolutionary progression from fish to turtle to monkey to human).

So for Arlene to suggest that the bible needs to be seen in the light of scientific developments, whilst vague and non-committal in its way, is progress.

Better still is the cold shoulder shown to the Caleb Foundation, who lobbied unsuccessfully for the Ulster Museum to include exhibits on creationism, and for a while managed to convince the National Trust that it was a good idea to cite creationist talking points at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. Mrs Foster says they are entitled to their beliefs and to lobby for them, but that they are “not the DUP”.

Baby steps, perhaps, but reason enough here to hope the party is starting to realise merely being a hard counter to republicans isn’t going to provide it with mandate forever, and that it too must slowly and gradually evolve.

In related news, on the 11th January there was a meeting in Dublin held between representatives of Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland to start a campaign for Separation of Religion and State. In particular the comments of Pastor Nick Park are interesting and refreshing:

“I would ask candidates in the coming election to make a firm commitment to the principle of separation of Church and State, and, if elected, to work for the removal of discrimination against minority groups.”

Now it may not be overly cynical to point out that Evangelical Alliances tend to support separation of church and state with far more enthusiasm in countries where they don’t represent a religious majority, but these are still fine words. Were the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland to adopt the spirit of such sentiments it’d be a relief.

Leave a Reply