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BEING SANE IN INSANE PLACES A CREATIONIST FOR A DAY As the debate between religion and science intensifies, creationism has become more visible in Ireland. Politicians have promoted the idea, but does it hold up in the public sphere? Words by Kiran Acharya Illustrations by Rebecca Hendin

“I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people." - Isaac Newton Earlier this year, just like Northern Ireland Culture Minister Nelson McCausland, I endured a brief and shameful episode involving the notion of creationism. McCausland wrote to the custodians of the Ulster Museum suggesting they include exhibitions on “alternative theories of the origin of the universe” alongside displays of Iron Age metalwork and Jurassic ammonites. He was publicly ridiculed. He became the subject of scolding, outraged articles in the Belfast Telegraph and The Guardian. A blogger in Minnesota called him a “nutcase” and “a crazy creationist Bible-walloper”. The move to import creationist material into the public sphere offended secularists. The response was often personal. A Facebook group appeared; 500-odd people uniting to say that McCausland had “no right to lobby for the creationist agenda under the guise of constituency work”. McCausland appeared on Stephen Nolan’s BBC radio show pitched against Richard Dawkins, but sagely said nothing when asked to state when he believed the world began. It was difficult not to empathise with the minister after the flogging he received. Addressing the controversy on his blog, Nelson’s View, 11 posts finished up with him stating that he had no intention of publicly debating evolution, creationism or intelligent design. He got on with the demands of his office, publicly supporting work at Tollymore Forest Park, at the Linen Hall Library, at the John Hewitt International Summer School. Incidentally there was little mention of the Planet Earth festival at the Armagh Planetarium. There you can see Ireland’s biggest meteorite, a 140kg nickel/iron lump calculated to be 4.5 billion years old. All this talk of creationism had set off a big bang in my head. But it wasn’t until months later, at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, that I realised how McCausland’s idea had affected me. Jostling amongst a crowd of Londoners and tourists, I stood on tippy-toes to catch a glance of a man shouting about breasts. “Women are outlawed

from baring their boobs,” he shouted. “But what about fat men? Offensive, parading flabby chests! No quarter for men with moobs!” The place was abuzz with people. Images of crowds curved in tourists’ sunglasses. Towards the coffee kiosk on the far side, elevated heads and waving hands of preachers rose above spectators and passers-by. A black man with muscular arms was in the middle of a machine-gun speech, a tirade against political apathy. “And who can name a southern African president other than Mugabe? Who?” He glared until an Australian man spoke. “Netanyahu is Israeli, you stoopid motherfucker!” Beyond, a workaday young chap in t-shirt and jeans stood patiently, holding a cardboard sign. ‘Free hugs'. People were sceptical. Few accepted the offer. I thought I had it figured out. Creationists set a lot of store by the concept of causality. The ‘first cause’ argument says that a creator god is the origin of all matter. I didn’t know about that. What I did know was that a letter written in May by a Northern Irish politician in Belfast had caused me to walk, months later, to a park full of chattering half-mad humans in a city more than 300 miles away. Researching both sides of the argument was confounding. The supposed truth of life beginning no more than 10,000 years ago versus the scientific truth of dragon-like dinosaurs in Romania, 80 million years ago. Keeping up with the stories shattered my concentration span. The internet had everything to do with this. I’d settle down with a cup of coffee and visit three creationism sites, check in on the Caleb Foundation, swing by the Dawkins forum, scan RSS feeds then news via Facebook. In the evenings I’d slump in the chair, watching consecutive episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on YouTube. The storylines became impossible to follow. The theme tune was stuck in my head for weeks. Innn… west Philadelphia, born and raised… After rushing to brush my teeth I’d dive breathlessly into bed. Dreams were a heap of broken images. I’d read online about the neuroplasticity of the brain, about how we’re evolving to cope with the speed of the internet. I couldn’t retain a thing. All was dispersed. Then I remembered the epigraph in Michael Burleigh’s

Blood & Rage: a Cultural History of Terrorism. “In their basic relation to themselves most people are narrators,” it says. “What they like is the orderly sequence of facts, because it has the look of a necessity, and by means of the impression that their life has a ‘course’ they manage to feel somehow sheltered in the midst of chaos.” It was like the movie Inception. The verity of creationism grew in my mind. The narrative became consoling, offering unity and cohesion. My reading grew one-sided and I collected religious books like you seek rare records by a band. It wasn’t easy. In Foyle’s on the Charing Cross Road there was nothing on creationism, not even an idiot’s guide. Sections for Bible Studies, Buddhism, Hinduism, Philosophy of Religion... then Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Queer Theory. After that it was outright fiction. In a smaller shop I found Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, which argues the finer points of intelligent design. Mint-condition hardback with jacket, in a bargain bin for £1. Online I found the 1973 classic On Being Sane in Insane Places, a psychology study with a controversial conclusion saying that it’s nigh-on impossible to deduce who is certifiably mad and who isn’t. I have what might generously be called a third-tier intellect. Nelson McCausland attended Worcester college at Oxford University. As minister for culture, I thought, he’s sure to have read canonical literature and philosophy. He’d be Schopenhauer-savvy, he’d know his Nietzsche. If such a man concluded that there was truth in the creation tale, it was good enough for me to co-opt. So on a bright Sunday, I lifted the Behe book and strolled to Speaker’s Corner, whistling the tune to ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’… Speaker’s Corner is steeped in a history of free speech, public assembly, and subversion. In 1600 Charles II ordered that the dead body of Oliver Cromwell be disinterred from Westminster Abbey and put on trial for treachery and regicide. The corpse was found guilty and hung from a gallows across the road at Tyburn. Now, more than 400 years later, the assembly at Speaker’s Corner was vocal. The man opposed —55 AU Magazine—

AU Magazine Issue 69  

AU Magazine Issue 69 featuring Cee Lo, Ice Cube, Underworld, No Age, The Frames, James Bond, Health, Therapy?, Les Savy Fav, ASIWYFA, Goodfe...

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