Psychosis at Clitheroe
Would there have been, perhaps a hundred people at the Clitheroe Community Church on Tuesday, May 16th for the visit of leading Australian creationist John Mackay? The hall looked comfortably full, but let’s see this in proportion: on the one hand, gathering a hundred people for a weeknight church meeting for any purpose is achievement enough. On the other hand, this is a small Lancashire town, one of the stops on a highly publicised visit, and the venue was, come again? I could be catty and guess the proportion of those who were there because it was their church and they’d have turned up if the occasion had been Joe Bloggs’ slides of his holiday in Telford but even so: the time to worry is when John starts filling the Blackpool Winter Gardens. On this showing British creationists are still very small fry.
The evening confirmed one thing for me: it’s on theology and literary understanding that I need to tackle John and his fellow psychotics. The man is a scientist and, naturally enough, plays to his strengths. His presentation was smooth, well illustrated and easy on the ear. But like the rest of his kind he hasn’t the faintest clue what kind of writing Genesis actually is, nor any awareness that the God he wants us to believe in is a vindictive monster. We were even dangled over the pit at one point - believe in evolution and you’re in danger of hell, a view attributed to Jesus - was that him weeping at the back? Once he strayed beyond what would seem to be his field of competence (it isn’t mine so I must give him the benefit of the doubt) the logical sleights of hand and theological howlers came thick and fast. Not that the largely sympathetic audience seemed to care; John raised a tittter or two with the sort of unhilarious jokes that only come off if you’re among friends - e.g. slide of woman with dog, to illustrate a point being made about dog-breeding: the dog, said John, is the one on the left. The response to that and others in similar vein warned me this might not be the arena in which to raise questions about the post-exilic dating of Genesis 1 (which would rule out Moses as its author, or rather scribe: creationism cannot acknowledge any human initiative in the composing of Scripture). But if John knows there is such a thing as Biblical scholarship he hides it well.
John’s co-presenter, Diane, sought to discredit evolutionary theory, making some perfectly valid points about the difference between evolution and adaptation, as though that will send Dawkins back to the drawing board. She provided what was for me the evening’s highlight: an explanation of why Adam and Eve, at the time of their respective creation (Adam from the dust of the ground, Eve from his rib) needed different sets of chromosomes. Now that really is hilarious; modern science being read back into an ancient supernatural story as though the two forms of discourse are entirely continuous and compatible. It’s methodologically up the spout even if the Adam and Eve story is literally true. (Anyone who thinks it even could be should try describing, in detail, the surgical procedures God used to the create the Mother of all mankind.) I cannot imagine a more telling example of creationism as a "category error", the charge levelled against it by Rowan Williams; was Diane aware of this? Does she have any idea what the Archbishop meant? But that’s psychosis for you: insulated from reality as it is, it cannot handle or really understand a direct challenge to its picture of the world. But for Diane the Bible is either factually true or a "fairy story". She will know all about fairy stories, having been theologically asleep herself for the last 200 years.
The creationist conspiracy theory was a continual background hum. From the perspective of not the largest church in not the most populous town in East Lancashire, John, and Diane presumed to declare the whole non-creationist Church apostate and the whole of mainstream science culture mesmerised by the diabolical Darwin. The easy swipes at the BBC, with its constant "preaching" of evolutionism, Steve Jones and Ian Plimer went down well but there was no proper attempt to represent the view of the overwhelming majority of educated people in this country, only to dismiss it; creationists fondly imagine that they are the only ones with integrity, thus fail to appreciate the painful irony of someone like Diane reminding us that we are to love the Lord with all our minds. Just like she does?
Plimer, a theist, is no more the Australian Richard Dawkins than Mackay is the Australian Karl Barth but creationists make no distinction between their Christian critics and militant atheists of the Dawkins type - we’re all sceptics who (and I find this a particularly insidious attempt to claim the argument by redefining terms) "don’t believe in creation". Excuse me, I believe in divine creation. I will not be told by deviants like Mackay and co that I have to believe in it on the basis of stupid theology and pseudoscience.
John’s talk presented details of alleged evidences for evolution being discredited as nothing more than proofs of adaptation. He showed that "kinds" (that remarkably scientific term) preserve their forms over many generations, even using data from old-earthers to support his case, which seemed a little inconsistent. It seemed to me that on his chosen battleground he scored a number of hits, and if it is true that biology textbooks are still using unsound examples to prove Darwinism, then shame indeed on evolutionists for not keeping their research up to date. If nothing else, the the current upsurge in creationist activity should make them tighten up their act. On the other hand, John quoted various authorities whose credentials might in themselves be suspect; I recognised few names but when there was one I did - Michael Denton, a known maverick in this field - it made me wonder about the rest.
I was waiting for the leap to "therefore the Bible is true" but could hardly believe how crudely John made it, with no attempt AT ALL to explain how creationism could begin to be any sort of scientific theory. Nor did he persuade me that he had shaken Darwinism to its core: a few examples of sloppy research are hardly enough to prompt a rethink of its basic principles. He would have us believe that evolutionists are dishonest people with an agenda that ignores the facts - another classic example of how psychotics perceive in others the truth about themselves, and never spot the irony.
Steve Jones ("he had a go at George Bush and that was about as scientific as he got" said Diane) scored one hit early on in his Royal Society lecture - I’ve only listened to the first few minutes, an omission I must now correct - when he showed that creationism ignores all other stories except the one [or two!] in Genesis. In other words, the only sacred text on view in creationism is the Bible; it is that which science must seek to prove. The idea that this approach, which would leave any scientist from outside the Jewish/Christian/Islamic world view scratching his head, utterly invalidates creationism as science appeared not to have occurred to John and Diane.
John used the decline in human longevity since the days of Noah to support a wonderfully fanciful argument about degradation and "de-volution". Things have gone from bad to worse folks, we don’t live as long as we used to. Pause for thought: life expectancy has increased since - to take a date not entirely at random - 1859, at least in the degenerate and Darwin-worshipping West - perhaps God is trying to tell us something through this! No, of course not, but the point illustrates the pathetic level at which John seeks to do his apologetics. He even made a point - of persssssonal interessssst - about snakes losing their legs over time to illustrate his degradation thesis, but hang on: in the environments where they live now legs would be a nuisance to snakes so they have adapted to manage without them - who says legs are always a good idea? Oh, sorry, we’re back in Genesis - the snake lost its legs as a punishment for tempting Eve. Category errors again.
Likewise - another sleight of hand here - everything bad in nature results from the Fall, so we mustn’t blame God for Iraq. Loud "Amens" around where I was sitting, but it’s time to love the Lord with all our minds, people: don’t even think of blaming God for what’s happened in Iraq. Try asking him instead how he justifies introducing malaria, cancer, osteoarthritis, renal colic, and a few other nasties. If these are a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, someone Up There has no sense of proportion.
There were impressive table-fuls of resources on display (impressive in terms of quantity at any rate - sorry, that’s cheap: although the resources themselves were not, particularly). I confined myself to John Morris’ book The Young Earth and a DVD of Mackay in debate with a proper scientist and theologian, Britain’s own John Polkinghorne. I was quite surprised to see this on sale since the two will be most unequally matched intellectually and the only way Mackay will have been able to hold is own is through vastly superior debating skills. I don't know whether he possesses them but here’s my guess/prediction: Polkinghorne wipes the floor with him and Mackay has absolutely no idea. When I've watched the disk I will post my verdict here.
I’ve plenty to be getting on with. More soon