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Ending the Wedge

There is a profoundly important point that is struggling to emerge from all the righteous indignation over creationism. When the news broke that three UK free schools with elements of creationist ideology had been green-lit by Education Secretary Michael Gove, the fury was stoked. In fact, the embers of ire were still glowing from the last creationist development barely two weeks earlier. That was prompted by the National Trust opening a new visitors’ centre at Northern Ireland’s wondrous Giant’s Causeway, including the slightest mention of Young Earth Creationism as a valid view of the origin of the in-fact 60-million-year-old basalt columns.

Everybody loves a few rounds with creationists, especially as their beliefs are so absurd. Creationism is not a mainstream Christian view about the origin of the universe, life or humankind. But what the righteous indignation shrouds is a subtler and more devious device: these developments represent a deeply political manoeuvring to introduce and normalise evangelical conservative Christian views in public and political life.

It’s a well-established policy called the Wedge Strategy, in active operation in the US since being secretly designed by aggressive creationists in the 1990s. The policy is not to win the debate, but merely to have it. This, creationists believe, validates their position, and erodes the robustness of the fact of evolution. This is why many scientists refuse to debate creationists, as, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins and others, “It would look better on your CV than on mine”.

I suspect that the National Trust were innocent of any agenda, but instead unwittingly fell prey to this subterfuge. To their credit, they appeared to be overwhelmed by the ire, particularly and typically from Twitter, and on 18 July issued a statement saying:

“There is clearly no scientific debate about the age of the earth or how the Causeway stones were formed. The National Trust does not endorse or promote any other view… To ensure that no further misunderstanding or misrepresentation of this exhibit can occur, we have decided to review the interpretive materials in this section.”

Well done to them for considering their error. If they correct it I will join, and encourage others to do the same, as they will clearly be a progressive and pro-scientific organisation. Further questions remain though, not least how they were lured by a creationist lobby, the Caleb Foundation, into considering their views. Caleb specifically boasted of their success in deploying the Wedge strategy into one of the National Trust’s prize assets, gloating that they:

“worked closely with the National Trust over many months with a view to ensuring that the new Causeway Visitor Centre includes an acknowledgement both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and of the ongoing debate around this.”

And a few sentences later, here is the sucker-punch: “This is, as far as we are aware, a first for the National Trust anywhere in the UK, and it sets a precedent for others to follow.”

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