When politicians use God to get science and nature wrong

When you hear the words ‘Northern Ireland’ you might think immediately of bombs and bullets, Catholics and Protestants, and the Irish versus the British. While much of the violence has died down in recent decades, it hasn’t disappeared entirely. Older generations are bequeathing legitimate traumas to their young, and some of them seek to avenge the suffering of their forebears, either by lifting a gun, or engaging in a war of cultural supremacy.

Although it appears many have an inherited axe to grind, the majority of people here know in their hearts that the price of actual violence is too high. It destroys minds, people, and property, it requires organisational skill to coordinate terrorists, some technical know-how to operate firearms, knowledge of chemistry and physics to make bombs, and all this requires at least some schooling. Not to mention that chasing your enemies through the narrow back alleys of Belfast streets is physically demanding and time consuming, and seriously, there’s far too much happening on Netflix to keep up with it all.

Full disclosure: I’m Canadian, so I shouldn’t have any bias in the constitutional position of this multi-named part of Ireland.[1] But I do. I emigrated here in 1987, and I was Catholic. Sorta. Catholic lite. In those early days I lived in a predominantly Catholic housing estate, in a mostly Catholic town, moving in seemingly exclusive Catholic circles, going to Catholic school and very rarely (if ever) hanging out with Protestants. There was a common tongue-in-cheek phrase among Catholics: If we can’t beat yiz out, we’ll breed yiz out. The Catholic culture war was to be won by procreation.

What about Protestants? What’s their battle plan? After gruelling research, combing through the Internet and interviewing countless unpaid volunteers[2] it appears that only God has the answers.

Regardless of bias, one thing seems clear: the battleground for Northern Ireland’s culture war has mostly moved to the media: print, TV, radio, Internet, and whatever else gets invented in the next five minutes. There’s a well-known saying among democratically elected officials fighting in the current culture war:

He who dares stays indoors and invents
batshit rhetoric to confuse his enemies to death.[3]

Before we get into the meat-free meat of this piece, I need to introduce a political party whose members crop up when searching for instances of religious views prioritised over facts. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was co-founded by a man who started his own church. To say that Ian Paisley was outspoken might be an understatement. Reading his Wiki page, you’ll be entertained by his condemnation of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother’s meeting with Pope John XXIII. Paisley blasted them for their ‘spiritual fornication and adultery with the Antichrist.’ He had a thing for popes. In 1988 Paisley interrupted Pope John Paul II in a speech, denouncing the pontiff as the Antichrist. Well known as a firebrand, Paisley led his party from its founding in 1971 to 2008, at which time he held the office of First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly (regional government).

The DUP are still a prominent party today. Of Northern Ireland’s 18 parliamentary (Westminster) constituencies, they hold 8 seats – the most of any one Northern Irish party. In the Northern Ireland Assembly they hold 26 of 90 seats, the same number as their ideological nemeses, Sinn Féin. Of 462 council seats, the DUP hold 122 – the most of any one party.[4]

In recent elections the DUP’s success has dwindled slightly, but they are by no means dead in the water. In short, they are not a bunch of nobodies starved of attention. As democratically elected representatives, they have a significant mandate, which should concern anyone frustrated by the mixing of religion and politics.

Creationism is the belief that the world, animals and plants
were created by a supernatural being less than 10,000 years ago.

In 2013, according to a Belfast Telegraph survey, some 40% of DUP activists believed in creationism, and that it should either stand alongside, or replace mainstream science.[5] A few years prior to this survey, a prominent DUP member Nelson McCausland called on the Ulster Museum to promote creationism, saying he had

…a common desire to ensure that museums are reflective of the views,
beliefs and cultural traditions that make up society in Northern Ireland.

At the time he was a member of the Northern Irish legislative assembly (he was an MLA) and also the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (2009–2011). He is a born-again Christian who believes Protestants in Northern Ireland are one of the lost tribes of Israel, that the universe was created around 6,000 years ago, and that as many as a third of Northern Irish people believe in creationism. McCausland is by trade a teacher.

In 2016 another DUP MLA, Thomas Buchanan, endorsed the call for creationism to be ‘taught in every school’. He supported a conference titled Reaching Children in an Evolutionised World, an event including a talk on ‘the biblical case for the sound teaching of children’ that will ‘offer helpful practical advice on how to counter evolutionary teaching’. Buchanan is ‘someone who believes in creationism and that the world was spoken into existence in six days by His power.’[6] Buchanan, by trade a contractor and member of the policing board, once told schoolchildren that homosexuality is an abomination.[7]

The DUP’s Mervyn Storey is an MLA who disagrees with geology. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around 50-60 million years ago, volcanic activity created hexagonal basalt columns, which in places look like tiles. The story goes that Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) built the causeway. Does anyone believe that? In my opinion it’s unlikely. It’s a fun story to tell kids. But what does Mervyn Storey believe? Apparently he believes it’s not fair to tell people that this wonder of the world was created millions of years ago, without also offering his belief in the literal truth of the Bible, and that the whole world was created around 4004 BC. [8]

Sadly in 2012 the National Trust, who protect and care for the Giant’s Causeway, caved to pressure when they recognised creationist beliefs. In the Giant’s Causeway visitors centre, punters were able learn of a ‘continuing debate’ over the creation of the Earth. The Caleb Foundation, an umbrella group of evangelicals, released a statement including

We fully accept the Trust’s commitment to its position on how the
Causeway was formed, but this new centre both respects and
acknowledges an alternative viewpoint and the continuing debate, and
that means it will be a welcoming and enriching experience for all who visit.[9]

And there I was, thinking that alternative facts was something invented by Trump’s own Kellyanne Conway.

And then there was the time that David Simpson, a DUP MP, wanted assurances from the Assembly’s education minister that students could answer GCSE[10] questions with creationist belief.

Mr Simpson also asked for an assurance that pupils who answer GCSE
examination questions outlining creationist or intelligent design
explanations for the development of life on Earth, will not be marked
lower than pupils who give answers with an evolutionist explanation.

DUP councillor Paul Givan made a proposal and it was taken up by Lisburn council: they agreed to write to schools in the area ‘encouraging them to teach alternative theories like ‘intelligent design’.[11] Givan is a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, the very church created by DUP co-founder Ian Paisley.

One of my favourite DUP members is Edwin Poots. Recently he was promoted to party leader for… a few weeks. (Such is the internal turmoil reflecting their dwindling electoral success mentioned above.) Poots is also a believer in creationism, opposing the idea that the Giant’s Causeway is millions of years old, saying that there isn’t enough evidence to support the mainstream scientific view of Earth’s age. But apparently the Bible is evidence enough to support his beliefs. While he was health minister, Poots had opinions on potential blood donors:

…someone who has sex with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes,
I am very reluctant about those people being able to give blood

It was a long time ago (2007) but the best Poots quote I can find comes from a BBC interview, in which the topic of evolution came up. Bear in mind that Poots was then the minister for culture:

…you’re telling me that cosmic balls of dust gathered and there was an explosion.
We’ve had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I’ve never seen anything
come out of that that was good. And you look at this earth and you tell me that there
was a big bang and all of a sudden all that is good about this earth came out of it?[12]

It would be unfair of me to continue bullying Edwin Poots but I can’t let him go without sharing his idea that nationalists [read Catholics] were more likely to get Covid because they don’t really follow the rules.[13]

On the subject of Coronavirus, let’s visit DUP MPs Jim Shannon and Ian Paisley Jr (that’s right, the son of the party’s co-founder). In the House of Commons, where Bills and laws are forged, reworked and voted upon, two of the DUP’s heavy hitters called on the prime minister of the United Kingdom to ‘initiate a national day of prayer to enable those to seek God’ to help people deal with Covid restrictions. Shannon said that the government should ‘recognise the importance of prayer’, and that ‘prayer helps us to renew ourselves’. In fairness, Shannon did mention that businesses and the National Health Service (NHS) needed support, but also said

‘We must trust God, we must pray for the help that we need –
I think every one of us here should adhere to that.’[14]

It’s a surreal irony that in a place where MPs literally have the ear of the government, where they have an actual voice in parliament, prioritise pleading for help from the supernatural over the people sitting in front of them.

Adding a few dashes of iron-willed patriarchy and homophobia to Covid-19 anxiety, another DUP official, Councillor John Carson, compared himself to Noah from the hit classic Noah’s Ark. Posting on Facebook (or as I like to call it, The Internet’s Hall of Facts) Carson said:

With all the focus being on Coronavirus it has went [sic] relatively
unnoticed that from today abortion is available on demand up to 24 weeks.

I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would be judged
by GOD because of its departure from his word and the legalisation
of the murder of the unborn child as well as same sex marriage.

I was laughed at and mocked by some but as I said at the time
they laughed at NOAH until the rain started.

You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the
judgement of GOD because of an immoral and corrupt government.

It is time to repent and turn again to the GOD of our Fathers.[15]

TL;DR – John Carson, voted into council by living, breathing people, is telling us that government policy, including the granting of rights to women and same-sex couples, has led to a supernatural unleashing of Covid-19.

Getting the gays disastrously wrong is a running theme for the DUP. If we can get back to Edwin Poots momentarily, we can hear him saying on TV that civil partnerships are ‘unnatural in the first instance, abominable in the second instance.’[16] The aforementioned Ian Paisley Jr is ‘repulsed’ by gays and lesbians. He believes they carelessly harm themselves and society, but ‘That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them – I mean, I hate what they do.’[17]

Following that sort of nebulous compassion, it’s fitting that DUP members are fond of gay conversion therapy. Iris Robinson was both MP and MLA for Strangford, and was the DUP’s spokesperson for health. She is also married to former DUP leader Peter Robinson. (This latter seemingly irrelevant factoid will become relevant in a bit.) Iris Robinson was a public supporter of her former adviser Dr Paul Miller who claimed he could convert gay people to heterosexuality. A London-based journalist Patrick Strudwick (who is gay) posed as a patient. In a piece he wrote for The Independent, Strudwick said Dr Miller told him that ‘he had been wounded as a child which was why he was gay.’ Strudwick also said

I felt disgusted and abused by [Dr Miller’s] inappropriate
sexual remarks during the sessions. To hear this from a
psychiatrist during a session, it was like being sexually assaulted

Speaking on radio, Iris Robinson said of Dr Miller

I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in
my offices and his Christian background is that he tries
to help homosexuals trying to turn away from
what they are engaged in.

On this story, the BBC asked the Royal College of Psychiatrists to comment, and they said ‘homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder’ and people have ‘the right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging’.[18] This hasn’t stopped the DUP from trying to legitimise conversion. In 2021 a DUP amendment to a motion banning conversion therapy argued that legitimate religious activities including preaching, prayer and pastoral support ‘must be protected’.[19]

It seems religious expression is the priority for the DUP. Indeed, according to Iris Robinson (who compared homosexuals to child abusers[20])

The Government has the responsibility to uphold God’s law morally…

The Government are there to represent the morals of the scriptures[21]

If Iris Robinson’s ideal government was the reality, she would have faced some kind of crazy Biblical punishment. At age 59 she had an extramarital affair with 19 year old Kirk McCambley, for whom she had procured a £50,000 startup loan.[22] It’s doubtful her God would have approved of this moral blip. Shortly before this story broke, Iris Robinson resigned from public life, citing mental illness. It’s tempting to speculate that there is an irony in Iris Robinson’s story. For someone who believed that homosexuals could pray the gay away, she may not have recognised that mental health is treatable.

Okay, I swear I’m almost done. I just wanted to tell you about Maurice Mills, a DUP councillor who still thinks an angry God sends us hurricanes:

The recent Hurricane Katrina descended on New Orleans
and took many people suddenly into eternity.

However, the media failed to report that the hurricane occurred
just two days prior to the annual homosexual event called the
Southern Decadence Festival which the previous year had
attracted an estimated 125,000 people.

Surely this is a warning to nations where such wickedness
is increasingly promoted and practised.

This abominable and filthy practice of sodomy has resulted
in the great continent of Africa being riddled with Aids, all
at great cost to the nations and innocent children.[23]

I’m so tired.

I Googled ‘what causes a hurricane?’ and I suggest you do too.

Lastly, let’s have some fun with the DUP and Ouija boards. Yes, Ouija boards. In 2015, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, an MP on a salary of £74,000 (C. $113,000) asked Jo Swinson MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to regulate the sale of the ‘spirit boards’. Unsurprisingly, the government had no plans to regulate sales of said leisure activity. At the time a DUP Spokesman said

Mr Campbell was asked about the issue by a
constituent and tabled the question on their behalf.

A constituent. One. But where there’s one, there’s usually another: The DUP’s own Iris Robinson. From the moment Mrs Robinson moved into a new house, she hated the vibe of the place. She heard strange noises, convinced of an intruder, but after thorough searching, found no evidence. Until moving day. When she and her husband decided to move, it was only then

…we found things like Ouija boards in the attic.
At some point the house had been a venue for occult practices.
We were happy to leave.[24]

Things like Ouija boards. Yes, the spirit world is mysterious indeed. Fortunately for us, Ouija has a science: the idiomotor phenomenon, ‘a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously.’[25] If this is your first time hearing of it, you’re not far behind me. We mammals are curious, and Google makes curiosity easy in the 21st century. So it’s all the more perplexing and frustrating when people in positions of power refuse to dig a little deeper, to go beyond what they were told growing up.

In researching and writing this trash heap, I think I found what I was looking for: evidence of our elected leaders getting science and nature – including human nature – so embarrassingly wrong because… well, because God. They don’t seem to view the world dispassionately, seeking to predict patterns based on observable, irrefutable evidence. They’re looking to ancient ideas to explain and solve modern problems, and it doesn’t work for anyone. From failing to recognise the changing natural world, changing social structures, changing attitudes to sexuality and human rights, and right down to suppressing their own humanity, politicians who mix their religious beliefs with their jobs are failing. Not just the people they’re supposed to serve, but themselves too. Do they believe what they say? Do their voters? Is it all a charade to keep their cultural enemies at bay? I can’t say. But it seems obvious there’s a lot of not-science happening in the halls of power, and it’s dangerous.

Richard Dawkins said ‘Scientific evidence can’t be democratically decided’, but unfortunately it seems there are many in power who argue passionately otherwise. As a society we need logical scientific processes – even the simplest, unbiased observations – to make the world better for everyone. Even the Protestants.

[1]         Some people refer to this place by its politically correct name ‘Northern Ireland’ but others who refuse to recognise the UK’s presence may refer to it as ‘the North’, or ‘the north of Ireland’. Some people just say ‘this place’.

[2]         I literally spent one evening compiling this insanity with the help of my son and a few Twitter people. This is barely science.

[3]         I just made this up, sorry.

[4]         Vying for those 462 council seats were 11 parties and 24 independents: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Northern_Ireland_local_elections.

[5]         https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/party-conference-teach-creationism-in-science-class-40-of-dup-29781222.html

[6]         https://www.irishnews.com/news/2016/09/21/news/mla-backs-conference-promoting-the-teaching-of-creationism-in-schools-702781/

[7]         https://ulsterherald.com/2013/10/24/local-politician-tells-school-kids-homosexuality-is-an-abomination/

[8]         https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/may/26/northern-ireland-ulster-museum-creationism

[9]         https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/05/national-trust-creationism-giants-causeway

[10]        For non UK residents: GCSE exams are taken by pupils usually around age 16. They aim for decent grades so they can either study further, or take up vocational training or apprenticeships. You could maybe say it’s a high school exam.

[11]        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/tussle-of-biblical-proportions-over-creationism-in-ulster-classrooms-28064310.html

[12]        https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2007/12/are_religious_politicians_nutt.html

[13]        https://www.sundayworld.com/news/northern-ireland-news/six-most-controverisal-comments-of-dups-edwin-poots-bookies-favourite-to-succeed-arlene-foster-40370248.html

[14]        https://planetradio.co.uk/downtown/local/news/covid:-%27we-need-a-day-of-prayer%27-dup-mps-tell-boris-johnson/

[15]        https://www.irishpost.com/news/dup-councillor-blames-gay-marriage-abortion-coronavirus-reap-sow-182766

[16]        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fmf9sHER0Hs

[17]        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-44889124

[18]        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8535531.stm

[19]        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56802428

[20]        https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2008/07/21/iris-robinson-compares-homosexuality-to-child-abuse/

[21]        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/iriss-gods-law-remark-was-a-mistake-says-mcguinness-28440092.html

[22] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/jan/08/iris-robinson-kirk-mccambley-belfast

[23]        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/hurricane-katrina-was-sent-to-punish-gays-says-dup-man-28233386.html

[24]        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/dup-mp-gregory-campbell-wants-sale-of-ouija-boards-regulated-31094502.html

[25]        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideomotor_phenomenon

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