Creationist Audio Tour Removed From Giant’s Causeway

creationist, Giant's Causeway
The National Trust has removed a controversial creationist segment in their audio presentation from the visitor center at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, the BBC reports.

The National Trust, which manages the geological marvel and UNESCO World Heritage Site, opened a new visitors center there in July. Soon there were numerous complaints about one segment of the audio tour that stated the dating of the rocks was controversial: “Young Earth Creationists believe that the Earth was created some 6000 years ago. This is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible and, in particular, the account of creation in the book of Genesis. Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective.”

This segment was replaced with the statement that there was a, “clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway … All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, around 60 million years ago. However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view. There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently, thousands of years ago rather than billions. The National Trust supports the scientific view of the formation of the Giant’s Causeway.”

The exhibit is an interactive audio display. You can see the full revised transcript here, and the original transcript here.

[Photo courtesy Nuno Curado]

Early human ancestor on display at London’s Natural History Museum

LondonThe Natural History Museum in London has put an important fossil of one of our species’ early ancestors on display.

Australopithecus sediba lived 1.98 million years ago in what is now South Africa. It’s thought by some scientists to be a transition species between the more ape-like Australopithecines and the later, more human-like genus Homo. While it has the small brain size of the Australopithecines (although larger than most), its jaw and body look more like the Homo species. The hands are especially well-formed and it may have used tools.

Two exact replicas of the most complete Australopithecus sediba skeletons were recently donated to the museum by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Government of the Republic of South Africa. At the moment only one skull is on public view. Hopefully the full skeletons will go on display soon. It’s the first public exhibition of this species in the UK.

These are exciting times in paleontology. New human ancestors are unearthed almost yearly, and more and more of our family tree is being pieced together. At the same time, scientists are being forced to defend and explain their field of study to Creationists, who have already made up their minds that science and religion are automatically enemies.

The most impressive display of human evolution I’ve ever seen was at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. It has a huge collection of fossil hominids, including Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. One room shows the precursors to modern humans arranged in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. This is also done with other animals like the horse and hippo. Anyone looking, really looking, at these displays will have a hard time dismissing evolution as some sort of conspiracy on the part of Godless scientists, many of whom are actually devout Christians.

Photo courtesy Brett Eloff.

Addis Ababa: Ethiopia’s new flower

When I talk to NGO workers who have worked all over Africa, most say their favorite posting was Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia’s capital is a young city, founded by the Empress Itegue Taitu in the late nineteenth century. She named it the “new flower”, and while the pollution and crowded streets don’t give a very flowery impression, it’s still an enjoyable and easy city to visit.

I’ve already mentioned my first impressions and talked about the cafes of Addis Ababa, but there are many more things to do than simply sitting around sipping world-class macchiatos. Here are a few highlights.

Art Galleries. “Addis”, as residents affectionately called their city, is home to a thriving arts scene. Two galleries rise to the top. The Asni Gallery in the Entonto hills overlooking the city offers a cool, green getaway from the busy city. A ramshackle old house features exhibitions by local painters and multimedia artists, while the garden outside has an interesting collection of sculptures made from found objects, like this curious contraption beside which yours truly is posing in such a dignified manner. The gallery of Kristos Solomon Belachew next to the Itegue Taitu Hotel will enchant anyone who appreciates art. This third-generation painter has a style rooted in traditional themes, with vibrant colors depicting historic or Biblical scenes. His works are quite affordable and make unique gifts or mementos. We bought three pieces. Kristos is a fascinating man to talk to and a visit to his gallery/workshop will give you a deeper appreciation of Ethiopian art.

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Museums. The National Museum of Ethiopia is justly famous for its collection of fossil hominids, including the famous Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. One gripping display shows the precursors to modern humans arranged in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance, shattering Creationist mythology in a single room. Other rooms show the evolution of animals such as the horse. The rest of the museum is less impressive, with meager collections from Ethiopia’s many ancient empires poorly explained with minimal signage. The Institute of Ethiopian Studies is more user-friendly. Housed in one of Haile Selassie’s old palaces on the green and pleasant campus of Addis Ababa University, it features a beautiful collection of Ethiopian art as well as cultural artifacts. Long descriptions help the visitor put what they’re seeing into context. You can also visit the upper stories of the palace, where the emperor’s private quarters are still preserved, right down to his baby blue bidet.

Dining. With Ethiopian food being consistently good, few restaurants really stand out. The one at the Finfine Hotel and hot springs is the oldest in the city and serves flavorful national food and sweet, smooth tej. If gloppy stuff on injera is beginning to get tiring, go to Castelli’s, a old-school Italian restaurant run by very old-school Italians. It attracts an interesting mix of expats, tourists, and upper class locals.

Shopping. Addis boasts the largest open-air market in Africa, the Merkato. It’s as big as a medium-sized town and sells anything you can imagine that’s legal, and many things that are not. While a trip through its myriad lanes is popular with visitors, a trustworthy guide is essential as the area abounds with thieves. There are plenty of other shops and smaller markets throughout town that sell the usual tourist knick-knacks, a fine selection of leather goods, Ethiopian music, and colorful crafts from Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups. For some reason there’s a severe shortage of postcards; they’re almost impossible to find outside of the main tourist areas so buy them when you see them!

Where to stay. We tried only one hotel in Addis, the Itegue Taitu. It was the first hotel in Ethiopia, and features a grand old wooden staircase and balconies. It’s a bit worse for wear and desperately needs the remodel they are slowly getting around to. Even with the creaky floors and dingy bathrooms, it’s a wonderful place to stay. The back porch is relaxing, the restaurant is one of the best in the city, and the staff are truly kind and helpful. It makes for a good introduction to Ethiopia, both the good and the not-so-good. When I go back, I won’t consider staying anywhere else.

Getting around. Addis is spread out and not very walkable. Luckily there’s an excellent and cheap network of minibuses. A bit of experimenting and asking for directions will help you figure out how to get from A to B, and you’ll usually end up in some interesting conversations on the way. City buses are also numerous, but are crowded, only marginally cheaper, and popular with pickpockets. Taxis are everywhere but as with many countries it’s best to settle the price beforehand. In general, Ethiopian taxi drivers are far less annoying and greedy than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

So if you go to Ethiopia, spare a few days for Addis Ababa. Of the thirty capital cities I’ve visited, it’s one of the most enjoyable.

Don’t miss the rest of my Ethiopia travel articles.

Next time: the medieval walled city of Harar!

Creation Museum is paving more parking lot

I am curious about the Creation Museum that’s not too far from Cincinnati in northern Kentucky. I pass by a huge billboard for it every time I head to visit my relatives who live near there. The billboard is stuck out in a field next to I-71. Most billboards between Columbus and Cincinnati are set out in fields. That’s all there is between the two cities. It’s a fairly flat and BORING ride.

The Creation Museum’s billboard is tasteful. There are silhouettes of dinosaurs on it. One might think the museum is about dinosaurs. Not exactly. It’s about the Bible and how it’s literal. Dinosaurs and humans existed at the exact same time according to the museum’s thinking. I’ve written about this museum before. It’s not a rinky dink place from all I’ve read about it. As a sociological study of human thinking, I’d find it interesting. People’s beliefs always interest me. It’s one of the reasons I like to travel.

When I went to Salt Lake City, I visited the Tabernacle on Temple Square and went on the tour that explained the history of Mormonism. I still remember how genuine and friendly the tour guide was when she led us through displays about Joseph Smith and the golden tablets found near Palmyra, New York. Every time I pass a Mormon church I look for the Angel Moroni on the top of the spire.

I’m sure at the Creation Museum people are also friendly. They must be. Crabby people don’t attract visitors, and there have been 250,000 people who have come to the museum since it’s opening in May. That’s one of the reasons there needs to be a bigger parking lot.

Lucy, the First Human, Is on Tour

Lucy, the first known human, is on tour. Her bones made a debut on Friday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in an exhibit called “Lucy’s Legacy: The Treasures of Ethiopia.” The exhibit, slated to appear in 9 other venues in the United States over the next few years, is not just about Lucy, but about the wealth of human existence that has come from Ethiopia. It reminds me a bit of the Africa exhibit at the Smithsonian National Musuem of Natural History that I saw this summer, on a quick road trip, except focused on one area of Africa.

For inanimate objects, these Lucy’s bones have been making a stir ever since they were discovered back in 1974. Think science vs religion–not all religions, just those who struggle with the idea of when human beings first came into existence and how it happened in the first place. Some scientists are also not pleased as punch about this exhibit. Richard Leaky, for one, is pitching a fit. He doesn’t think that bones as important as these should ever be out in the general public. Heaven knows what will happen. Besides, that, in his opinion, this exhibit is exploiting Lucy. She was once a walking on the earth human being for Pete’s sake and worth more dignity than being on display in a glass case. (my wording)

Then there are those who believe that the exhibit will step up the interest in scientific discovery, the true origins of humans and encourage school age kids and the not scientist adult population to learn factual information about science and human history. With the Creation Museum opening this year in Northern Kentucky, maybe Lucy will help balance out what the public has access to.

The Ethiopian government is quite keen on promoting interest in Ethiopia with this exhibit and was willing to let the bones travel out of the country. The exhibit caught my attention. If Lucy comes anywhere near my neighborhood, I’m in. The 3-D history, art and science lesson from actual artifacts and explanatory text always interests me, and I’ll look at Lucy’s bones with the utmost respect and awe.

For more details about Lucy’s significance and the fuss that her tour has created, check out this Chicago Tribune article by William Mullen. There are more details about the conflicts over the exhibit that call into play the various perceptions and needs people have as we struggle to be open and share.