An awesome mind
A talk with one of Christianity’s foremost defenders, Jonathan Sarfati
Dr Jonathan Sarfati obtained a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Chemistry with two physics papers substituted (nuclear and condensed matter physics). His Ph.D. in Chemistry was awarded for a thesis entitled ‘A Spectroscopic Study of some Chalcogenide Ring and Cage Molecules’. He has co-authored papers in mainstream scientific journals on high-temperature superconductors and selenium-containing ring- and cage-shaped molecules.
Dr Jonathan Sarfati
Very few people interested in creation/evolution issues would not have heard of Jonathan Sarfati. His books have become best-sellers—standard fare for Christians wishing to engage those who hold to evolutionary/long-age ideas. One of the reasons they have become such a powerful tool for Christianity is the amazing flow of his clear, crisp trademark logic,1 which has ‘skewered’ and silenced many an evolutionary detractor.
Christianity makes sense
Interestingly, it was logical reasoning, not an emotional need or life crisis, that led Jonathan to become a Christian. While studying at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, some Christians befriended him. This caused him to investigate the claims of Christianity, which he found logical and entirely defensible. This ultimately led to his conversion at age 20. However, he still had much to learn in the field of apologetics, or logically defending the faith. He and a group of like-minded Christians, seeing the need for Christians to be prepared to give reasons for their faith (1 Peter 3:15), co-founded the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society.
Early in his Christian walk, he experienced many ‘Christian compromisers’ (as he calls them) who said the creation vs. evolution debate was a side-issue. Logically, Jonathan realized that if the Genesis account of the entrance of sin and death into God’s perfect world was not real history, then it eradicated the very reason why Christ (the God-man) had to come to earth to save mankind from the penalty their sin justly demanded.
‘Sarfati’ means ‘Frenchman’ in Hebrew. Despite having no religious upbringing, Jonathan was driven to investigate his Jewish roots after his conversion. As a Messianic Jew, he has also passionately imbibed knowledge about church history and theological issues.2 This has helped make him one of the world’s most powerful defenders of the authority of the Bible.
People who meet Jonathan are left in no doubt that he has little time for those he feels distort, and therefore damage, the integrity of the Word of God. This led him to approach Dr Carl Wieland (joint CEO of CMI) to work for the ministry. Jonathan remarks, ‘I saw CMI at the cutting edge of this war, and I wanted to be part of the battle.’
Carl recalls that time: ‘It always gets my attention when Ph.D. scientists offer their services to the ministry, considering they could often earn a substantial income in their specialist fields. But normally, I would be more cautious. For example, giving time for someone to immerse themselves even more fully in cutting-edge creation literature. However, after a very brief interaction with Jonathan, I was immensely keen to hire him. Here was someone the Lord had blessed with a brilliant mind like a steel trap, and with a burning passion for what we were doing. I had no doubt that he would quickly do what he did, which was to devour everything worthwhile ever written on creation, and surge ahead of the pack.’
Carl shared a typical example of Jonathan’s amazing abilities. Reviewing a layman’s article recently submitted by an expert on relativity, Jonathan circled a number which ‘had to be wrong’. To explain why, he had attached photocopied pages, containing one of the classic equations of relativity, from a book, Einstein’s Universe. Half-apologetically, Jonathan murmured, ‘This equation stuck in my mind since reading the book.’ Not recognizing the title from CMI’s research library, Carl asked where he had obtained it. ‘It was given to me on my birthday’, was the reply. Which one? His fifteenth. His c. 25-year recall of an equation outside his specialist field instantly told him the article’s number was a ‘typo’!
But prick him and he does bleed. In fact, one of the things that genuinely upsets him is seeing Christians ‘twisting’ Scripture. It would be fair to say that he has more intellectual respect for an ‘out and out’ atheist than for someone who reinterprets God’s Word away from its intended meaning.
I now regard ‘Jono’ (as he has become affectionately known) as a friend as well as a colleague. But before I joined CMI full-time, my own introduction to him was via email contact and from reading his Refuting Evolution. I can remember almost being in a state of disbelief at the man’s recall of information and his ‘take-no-prisoners’ style of writing. He has mellowed somewhat, and his approach overall is not without a measure of grace. This was demonstrated recently when he answered some criticisms from a homosexual man in the feedback section of the CMI website,3 for which he received many positives for his sensitivity.
Going ‘Jono’ on evolution
Many detractors still quote the old canard ‘No real scientist believes in creation.’ But Jonathan definitely fits the description of a real scientist, and a brilliant one at that. He has published in a number of secular journals, including co-authoring a paper in the major journal Nature when only 22 years old.
Despite the constant demands of writing and speaking, Jonathan enjoys a precious moment with his two nieces, Sarah and Amy, in his home country of New Zealand.
His first book for CMI quickly became a landmark publication (about 450,000 copies and still growing, and is our best-selling book ever). Refuting Evolution was a response to the aggressive action of the National Academy of Sciences in America [free chapter study guides are available from this site here]. Convinced that creation was gaining a foothold, they produced a handbook of the ‘latest and greatest’ evidences for evolution. Called Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, it was distributed free to over 100,000 US science teachers.
Jonathan’s response systematically demolished their arguments. He believes that it is a Christian’s duty to destroy any fallacies that have the potential to lead people astray. One of his favourite Bible passages is 2 Corinthians 10:5: ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’
Some years ago, while in America, Jonathan was asked to produce a response to the multi-million-dollar PBS/Nova television series, Evolution. This was backed by prominent evolutionary humanists who invested millions, and launched with much hype and fanfare. Rabidly anticreationist groups like the National Center for Science Education even had the audacity to entice Christians to accept the ideas presented in the programs by producing a free ‘church study guide’. It was clear they were on the attack, their weapons aimed right at the very foundations of the Christian faith. So after each evening broadcast Jonathan worked into the early morning hours producing a comprehensive critique, which appeared on the CMI website later that morning. His collection of responses to each episode of the series eventually formed a major part of Refuting Evolution 2.
But wait, there’s more
The value of having a formidable talent who can quickly provide such solid answers—especially to Christians who feel intimidated by a barrage of the so-called ‘facts’ of evolution—cannot be overestimated. When the next evolutionary assault came, the Lord again turned what was meant for evil into good. The world-famous journal Scientific American (SciAm) produced what they believed would be a ‘knockout blow’ to the creationist cause. Their editor, John Rennie, wrote a multi-page lead article entitled 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense. It was poorly researched and full of fallacious arguments. Once again, Jonathan worked furiously to produce a brilliant response which appeared on the CMI website within a few days (see 15 ways to refute materialistic bigotry: A point by point response to Scientific American).
The gossip on the skeptics’ own websites suggested that SciAm had suffered a financial downturn as a result of their ‘mistake’. SciAm even made lame noises about legal action. Jono’s SciAm response went on to form the basis of his second book, Refuting Evolution 2, which has also become a best-seller and powerful witnessing tool.
Audiences in awe
One of Jonathan’s other passions is chess, and like most things that he undertakes, he sets a standard few in the world can match. A former New Zealand Chess Champion, he represented New Zealand in three Chess Olympiads, and he has drawn a tournament game with former world champion Boris Spassky (chessplayers might want to play through the game here). The International Chess Federation (abbrieviated to FIDE for its French name Fédération Internationale des Échecs) awarded him the title of F.I.D.E. Master (FM) in 1988.
A common feature of CMI conferences: ‘Jono’ plays chess—blindfolded—against numerous opponents at once, and remains undefeated.
At many CMI conferences and camps, he has become famous for his ‘chess challenges’ against multiple players simultaneously—while blindfolded, with his ‘seeing’ opponents’ moves called out to him. At a recent CMI event in Sydney, Australia, he achieved a ‘personal best’ by playing 12 opponents at once in this way.4 A visiting creationist, a full professor at a leading UK university, was ‘text messaging’ his wife, saying ‘this is astounding—world-class—the world’s media should be here!’
A day later, another CMI scientist told Jonathan what one of the competitors (no slouch at chess) had said after the game. The competitor had said he felt helpless against ‘what was obviously a formidable mind—but with a keenly developed sense of humour’. The scientist mentioned (mistakenly) that it was the competitor on board number ‘X’. In a flash Jonathan replied, ‘No, it must have been the game one further to the left.’ With only this sketchy abstract opinion about his supposed strategy, he had correctly identified which game it was!
Jono has done this sort of thing many times over the years, so far undefeated. It is truly astonishing to watch—every position and move retained in his head over gruelling hours, responding within seconds to his opponents’ every move. For most ‘mere mortals’ like me, this kind of ‘brain power’ is an almost unimaginable gift.
Restoring the foundations
Jonathan’s mission is to help restore the church to its biblical roots. He says, ‘When Christians start on the right foundations and apply the correct chronological timeframes to God’s Word, they will be less prone to accepting faulty man-made interpretations. Many theologians and other believers take the ever-changing views of secular science and try to make the Bible fit those ideas.’ He adds, ‘This is taking a low view of Scripture. They are placing the words of men above the very words of God. If we marry the Bible to today’s science, then the Bible will be widowed tomorrow.’ (Psalm 18:30, 2 Samuel 22:31.)
Jonathan’s favourite scientific evidences for a Designer
It is this ‘high view’ of Scripture that motivated Jonathan’s latest project, the book called Refuting Compromise. He left no stone unturned in dissecting what he says is the ‘distorted eisegesis’ (reading things into the text) of Dr Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe ministry. When I asked Jonathan why it was necessary to critique the beliefs of another Christian organization, he said, ‘CMI has never accused Dr Ross of not being a Christian, and has explicitly stated that a young-earth belief is not a necessity for salvation. However, his ministry very much tries to reconcile the incorrect interpretations of many evolutionary scientists with the Bible, and it is leading many Christians astray from the original meaning of the Scriptures. For example, Ross believes in the big bang and its timeframe of billions of years, so he “reinterprets” Genesis 1 to mean that each “day” is a long, indeterminate period of time; that there were soulless human-like creatures before Adam, Noah’s Flood was local, and much more.’
Jonathan adds, ‘Such views completely undermine the Gospel of Christ, as my book explains. How could God declare his creation as “very good” if there was death and disease before Adam, especially when Paul calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26)? Sadly, Dr Ross tries to spiritualize “death”, as he does many other straightforward teachings in the Bible.
‘This is serious, because Paul contrasts the death that Adam brought with the resurrection from the dead that the Last Adam (Christ) introduced, which all orthodox Christians must believe was bodily or physical (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45). Ross’s “spiritualization” of such basic tenets causes the Bible to become increasingly meaningless and irrelevant to those who are dying outside of Christ.
‘What is even more worrying is that Ross’s ideas have influenced some Christian leaders and Bible colleges. I believe such views are, in fact, one of the greatest dangers to Christianity.’
Well, I believe, personally, that your book, Refuting Compromise, is a classic on the same scale as The Genesis Flood. … I personally believe it’ll go down in history as a turning point in the creationist ministry worldwide. I see it as that important. I see it as that definitive. … I really see it as a modern creationist classic. And I really believe that every single person needs a copy of this book to show the positive aspects, that we can defend, logically, the book of Genesis, and that God’ word is authoritative right from the very beginning, and we can confront compromise, like Progressive Creationism … (AnswersLIVE, Refuting Compromise, live broadcast 27 April 2004)]
I asked him Jono he wanted to achieve with it. In a softening tone he said, ‘My hope is that people will see this as a positive affirmation of the Bible’s history and timescale, and see that the Bible really is revelation from God our Creator.’ Amen to that, Jono!
A tattooed young man came to the mike and asked [the speaker]: ‘Do you believe in an old earth or a young earth?’
[The speaker] said that there were intelligent people on both sides and he was not going to get bogged down on that topic. The important topic he said is the resurrection of Jesus and not worry about Genesis.
After the service I approached the young man … He was not happy with [the speaker’s] answer. He said that he came to believe in a God and in Jesus as a result of reading Jonathan Sarfati’s book Refuting Compromise.
He told me that for the last 15 years he had been an atheist and now he was half way through the book and as a result came to believe.
He mentioned how important he felt it was to believe in a young creation because of the difficulties associated with old earth belief and the effects of sin. A co-worker in the restaurant where he works had given him a copy of Refuting Compromise.]
A privilege to know
For those of us who work with Jonathan every day, it would be easy to take his abilities for granted. Personally, I’m in awe of Jonathan’s abilities, though more in awe of the One who made him. I’m also thankful that our great God led him to work for CMI. His example encourages us all to ‘… in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ’ (1 Peter 3:15). In short, along with tens of thousands around the globe, I’m really glad that Jono is on our side—and the Lord’s.
Origin of life
References and notes
- See Jonathan’s outstanding Journal of Creation article, Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation, Journal of Creation 12(2):142–151, 1998. Return to text. .
- See Jesus in Genesis: the Messianic Prophecies, DVD. Recorded at CMI–Australia’s SuperCamp, Sydney, 2004. Return to text. .
- See Objections to homosexuality article. Return to text. .
- His previous best was winning 11/11 at the Kapiti Chess Club in New Zealand; Roberts, E., New Zealand Chess 29(3):23, June 2003. Return to text.