It’s not every day one gets the chance to speak personally with a man who only a few years ago was arguing evolution in person with Richard Dawkins. So when I was given the opportunity to meet and talk with John Mackay, I wasn’t about to let it pass me by. Head of an organisation known as Creation Research, Mr Mackay is an internationally active promoter of Young Earth Creationism, a religious belief that applies a literal reading to the Bible and concludes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.
The evening before we meet, I attend a lecture Mackay is holding for a local congregation. He sets forth what is, as far as I can tell, a sound argument against cherry-picking the Bible and seeking to water down or avoid certain truths that can pose problems for contemporary attitudes. He explains that it is of fundamental importance that Christians conceive of the six days of creation mentioned in the Book of Genesis as being literal 24-hour days, since any attempt to reinterpret them as intervals of time lasting thousands or millions of years would essentially be an accommodation to the enormous spans of time required for evolution to have occurred, and he adds that evolution, since it implies the presence of death and suffering for as long as life has existed, contradicts the Biblical doctrine of the fall of man, whereby these phenomena could not have existed until after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Viewpoints like Mackay’s do not receive a lot of favourable mainstream attention; even when they do pop up on the media’s radar, coverage usually seems to be downright scathing. Of course, this should not be surprising given that evolution has firmly entrenched itself into the Western mainstream ideology.
Despite this stigmatism, Mackay’s form of address is fascinating. His white beard lends him a wizened air, and when he lectures, his hands grip the lectern with authority and his voice intones his truths with a steady, inexorable rhythm. He is definitely a talented speaker, one who knows how to capture and hold the interest of an audience. In fact, you get the impression that he would be able to hold his own even in front of a group made up solely of confirmed atheists.
When I speak with Mackay one-on-one, I recognise from the get-go that it would be pointless to try and argue with his views; if none of his opponents in public evolution debates have managed to sway him it would be fairly naïve of me to think that I could do any differently. I choose instead to focus on eliciting his explanations of how the world as we know it today could have come to be without evolution. I listen attentively, accepting his explanations whilst not pretending to be capable of embracing them.
I ask Mackay how he can account for the great diversity in mankind’s physical appearance, languages, and cultures if, as he believes, everyone alive today is descended from Noah (who, for reference, is considered to have lived somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago). He responds by asserting that Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth, each possessed different physical characteristics, Ham being dark-skinned, Japheth being light-skinned and Shem being somewhere between these. Apparently, each son and his wife set forth in the wake of the flood and went on to become the progenitors of what would formerly have been designated as different ‘races’.
Even leaving aside the awkward implication that Ham, Shem, and Japheth’s grandchildren would have all had to enter into incestuous marriages, I find it hard to believe that Noah himself could have fathered such a diverse series of children, especially if we are to presume that his (curiously nameless) wife was faithful to him.
We move to a discussion about the Young Earth Creationist claim that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Creationists arrive at this conclusion using chronological information present in the Bible, such as genealogies and references to historical events of the ancient world. Mackay draws specific attention to the fact that, since his time as a university student, science has on several occasions revised its estimates of the universe’s age (typically by billions of years).
The pleased manner with which Mackay mentions this implies that he sees mainstream science’s incomplete understanding of the universe as somehow a weakness, vis-à-vis creationism. This has some verity to it, at least in the eyes of people who feel themselves able to trust that the Bible holds the answers to everything – especially given that these answers are not in the habit of changing.
Young Earth Creationism is subscribed to by a surprisingly large number of people in this country and in the West more generally. John Mackay is a very public spokesman for their cause. He is committed to his faith despite the criticism it receives from the mainstream, and provides a stark reminder of the enduring plurality of views out there regarding mankind’s origin and its place in the world.
To find out more about creationism, or even to ask John a question, visit askjohnmackay.com.