Creationist descends on Britain to take debate on evolution into the classroom

A leading creationist who claims to use science to prove the Bible's version of how the Earth was made begins a controversial tour of Britain today.

John Mackay, an Australian geologist who believes he has uncovered fossil evidence which dismisses evolution and proves that Noah's flood really did happen will speak at several state schools and universities during his eight-week visit to the UK.

His visit has provoked anger among educationalists who are concerned about what they see as an increasing focus by evangelists on children.

They fear creationism - which rejects Darwin's theory of natural selection and insists that God created the world in six days - is becoming an increasingly accepted view in Britain's classrooms and lecture halls.

Mr Mackay will address meetings at St Andrews, Bangor and Northampton universities and plans to give presentations at a number of secondary schools, including most controversially one on the Fylde coast in Lancashire where he will give a series of talks over three days.

The visits have already sparked controversy with teaching unions, scientists and secular groups rushing to condemn the exposure of a captive audience of children to his views.

It follows a statement from scientists issued by the Royal Society arguing that creationism has no place in schools. It says pupils must understand that scientific evidence supports the theory of evolution.

Steve Jones, the award-winning geneticist and author, argued that suggesting that creationism and evolution be given equal weight in education was "rather like starting genetics lectures by discussing the theory that babies are brought by storks".

As its supporters have become more vocal, creationism has become an increasingly contentious subject in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently warned that creationism should not be taught in schools, and the National Union of Teachers last week demanded new laws to prevent the teaching of creationism in science lessons.

Organisers of the trip declined to reveal the name and exact location of the Lancashire school on Mr Mackay's speaking tour, citing the need to protect staff and pupils from unwelcome attention.

One worried local resident said to the Blackpool Citizen: "Why is the location being kept secret? Why are parents, teachers and governors not being informed? Why is a man whose background cannot be verified being given three-day access to a secondary school?"

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society said he was appalled that Mr Mackay would be lecturing at the school.

"Giving a creationist three days to indoctrinate a captive audience of pupils is verging on intellectual child abuse," he said. "Who else but someone bent on brainwashing their pupils would invite a creationist to... for three days without any balancing scientist?

"If I were a parent I would be calling for a new headteacher.

"Adults can make up their own minds whether they want to embrace science or anti-science, but where children are concerned we must be absolutely clear that creationism will not be presented to them as an alternative to real science.

"Evolution has a mile-high stack of evidence to support it, creationism has only wishful thinking."

Mr Mackay's organisation, Creation Research, says it "exists to seek evidence for the biblical account of creation" and that it has already discovered proof in the earth's crust.

Mr Mackay, who has a geology degree, has conducted digs around the world where he has excavated fossils which he claims prove that the Bible was literal truth.

His website argues that the theory of evolution was introduced by Satan and that the idea has already undermined Western society and must not be allowed to spread to the Third World.

"Satan has only recently begun introducing evolution to Third World countries in order to destroy missionary enterprise," it states. "Let's get in first with our spiritual armour on and provide Third World missionaries and others with the weapons to do battle against the subtleties of Satan as he seeks to undermine confidence in God's Word and missionary enterprise."

Mr Mackay's trip will also include two debates with academics, who will argue against his ideas. Jeff Ollerton, lecturer in ecology specialising in plant evolution at Northampton University, who will debate with Mr Mackay, said he had sympathy with those who felt that creationists should not be given a platform, but as a scientist he felt obliged to expose the falsity of the creationists' argument.

"My position is that anyone is allowed to believe whatever they want," he said. "If they want to believe the earth is flat or that it's 10,000 years old or that life was created in six days that's up to them. But it's not just a matter of their personal beliefs. They are people who are trying to influence government policy and influence the school curriculum."

Randall Hardy, Mr Mackay's spokesman in the UK, expressed dismay that leading critics of creationism, such as the zoologist Richard Dawkins, had refused invitations to debate the issue.

"These people are not just scientists, they are atheists," he said. "Their arguments do not come from pure science but from their interpretation of the evidence in order to back their beliefs."

A science teacher who claims that fossils back the Bible

John Mackay converted to Christianity when he was an undergraduate at the University of Queensland.

His UK spokesman, Randall Hardy, says: "He was converted by reading a book on geology written by an atheist which made particular fun of the biblical position. From this, he started reading the Bible and was totally convinced by it."

Mr Mackay, who is in his late 50s, taught science in state and private schools in Queensland as well as lecturing in geology to higher education students at technical colleges.

He was a founder of Creation Science Foundation in Brisbane and a director of CSF until 1987 when he resigned and established his own creationist organisation, Creation Research, also based in Brisbane. His organisation is not linked to any denomination and is funded solely by public donations.

For more than 30 years Mr Mackay has travelled the world excavating fossils on digs in the US, Britain, Europe, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, Pacific islands and Asia. The expeditions were looking for evidence for creation, Noah's flood and the Tower of Babel.

He believes he and his supporters have discovered evidence that proves that these were real events rather than biblical allegories.

Mr Mackay has just finished tours of Canada and the US.

Answering the big questions

1 HOW DID LIFE ON EARTH DEVELOP?

Creationists say:

Refer to Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Creationists believe that the Bible is the literal truth and the written word of God. They believe the account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events. Thus they believe that the world was created in six days by God.

Evolutionists say:

All life on earth originated by natural processes, which can be explained by science, and that all speciesdeveloped from simpler forms by natural selection. Evolution is a change in traits of living organisms over generations. The modern understanding of evolution is based on the theory of natural selection, set out in 1859 by Charles Darwin, above, in The Origin of Species, .

2 HOW OLD IS THE EARTH?

Creationists say:

If you add up the dates in Genesis, Adam was created between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Hence the Earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old.

Evolutionists say:

The whole universe and life itself arose by chance billions of years ago. The Big Bang theory is the dominant scientific theory about the origin of the universe, which claims the universe was created between 10 billion and 20 billion years ago from a cosmic explosion.

3 WHAT DO FOSSILS TELL US?

Creationists say:

The fossil record provides no proof of the evolution of different species. There is a continuing lack of evidence for evolution despite an enormous number of fossils.

Evolutionists say:

Fossil evidence supports the common descent hypothesis: that different species have developed from a common root. The fossil record allows us to trace the history of a species showing how it has changed over time.

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