This past week “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley featured a young earth creationist named John Mackay in debate with theistic evolutionist Keith Fox. Professor Fox was congenial and no doubt is well informed on his topic of genetics. But he was not a great debater. And it became clear very quickly that Mr. Mackay was well versed in some standard debating tricks. Here are the top five most unpleasant moments in no particular order.
1. The Pivot: Whenever Fox would seek to discuss his specialty, genetics, Mackay would deftly pivot away to talk about something else … like mid-nineteenth century biologist Charles Darwin’s interpretation of early nineteenth century Charles Lyell’s views of how Moses does not belong in geology. Er … okay?
2. Casting aspersions: At the beginning Mackay agreed — apparently for the sake of argument — to accept that Fox just might be a Christian. But it wasn’t long into the show before he was suggesting that Fox’s non-literalist hermeneutic of Genesis 1-2 was sinful.
3. Leaps aplenty: Mackay observed that Jesus referred to Adam as a historical person. From this he apparently concludes that Jesus accepted the young earth creationist reading of Genesis 1-2. (It’s hard to know where to begin with this one, so I’ll note just one point. Even if Jesus did believe in and taught an historical Adam, this is perfectly consistent with John Walton’s view of Adam as the first elect human being in a long evolutionary history.)
4. The Circularity Charge: Mackay repeatedly charged Fox with beginning with a viciously circular commitment to Neo-Darwinian evolution and then reading the data to substantiate the assumption. And yet, throughout he made it clear that he himself was reading the data with a prior commitment to his fundamentalist literal-when-possible hermeneutic.
5. The Bible Only Card: In one of the most absurd moments of the entire program, Mackay boldly asserted that scripture never changes but science does, and so he always interprets science in light of scripture rather than vice versa. This statement represents a fundamentalist bastardization of the legitimate Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura.
First off, neither the Bible nor nature changes. But our understanding of both the Bible and nature is always changing. For example, today you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to use the Bible to support the divine right of kings, slavery, or the mental and moral inferiority of women to men. And yet each of these positions was commonly defended in the recent past. And this is to say nothing of the abundance of competing theologies on issues like election, the nature of God, church governance, baptism, and so on.
Second, how would Mackay’s principle apply in the early 17th century? Would he have imprisoned Galileo because of course the Bible teaches geocentrism, right? So what led to the rise of heliocentric interpretations of the Bible? Simple: theologians recognized that geocentrism is false and they rightly concluded we better get with the program.
Is young earth creationism in a similar place to geocentrism? I think so. But regardless of whether it is or isn’t, it is a true blight of self-confident ignorance that can claim one’s interpretation of the Bible — because it is, after all, Mackay’s interpretation that we’re talking about here — always stands as the judge over the deliverances of natural science.
While I believe young earth creationism is bad science and bad hermeneutics, neither bothers me more than the temerity of creationists like Mackay to question the moral and Christian character of those with whom they disagree.