On the Shoulders of Giants

Donald M Mackay 1922-1987

Donald Mackay was born in Lybster, attending Wick High School for his secondary education followed by St Andrews University and King’s College London where he gained his PhD. During that time he was involved in radar research, so vital for the allied cause in WWII. Later he was appointed professor at the Department of Communication and Neuroscience at Keele University where he earned a worldwide reputation for his work in information theory and the theory of brain organisation, rubbing shoulders with the big names in the world of science. His research on the human brain led to consideration of the human mind which resulted not only in articles in scientific journals but also philosophical journals, getting to grips with the free will and determinism debate in academia.

Donald M Mackay was also known as a strong Christian, deeply influenced by his Scottish Reformed background. At a time when atheism was growing in strength Mackay joined forces with like minded scientists to present a clear and consistent defence of the Faith. His ability to give a reason for the hope that he had, and give it with gentleness, made him the go-to scientist when the BBC wanted some comment on science and faith. He was one of the founders of the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship which later became Christians in Science and gave much support to early days of what we now know as the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. He published a number of books in the area of science and faith, influencing a generation of Christian thinkers. Some of the better-known titles include: “The Clockwork Image”, “Brains, Machines and Persons”, “Science, Chance and Providence” and “The Open Mind”.

Two of his contributions to the defence of the Christian faith is all we can manage in a brief article.

“Nothing buttery” is a phrase he coined when engaging with atheistic materialists who believe that matter and energy is all that exists. They deny the existence of God and indeed anything spiritual. They reduce everything in life to nothing but atoms and molecules. Our emotions, our thoughts, our beliefs are simply the product of chemical reactions in a physical body controlled by a physical brain. As one of the world’s leading experts on the brain and how it works he was well placed to argue for the Christian belief in human beings as persons with minds, capable of real thinking and real love. Indeed, if we are nothing but clockwork biological systems then our belief that that is the case would undermine that belief itself. Nothing buttery is self-defeating. It takes meaning out of life and reduces science to a mindless exercise. However, when we start with God we have a solid basis for reason, science, art, music, ethics and the spiritual.

Complementarity is another concept Mackay stressed. There exists more than one explanation for most things that happen. A book may well be studied by examining the paper and ink used and producing a scientifically accurate report on what it is as a physical object, its dimensions, its weight, the colour of the ink and its chemical composition. However, the author would not be very happy with such a description of their book. To them and to their readership it is a message. It tells us something. The description of a book reviewer would have nothing to say about its physical qualities but a lot to say about its literary merits. Which description is true? Both are. They complement each other. In the same way a description of the brain as a physical object and a description of the thinking faculty of a human being are both valid. We are very glad of the expert knowledge doctors have, especially when our bodies malfunction, but we are even more glad to know that we are persons loved by God.

Mackay applied this thinking to the supposed contradictions between the Bible and science. Often these arise when either the Bible or science are misused, when all too fallible human beings make them say what they don’t say at all, when well meaning Christians read into the Bible what it never intended to teach or when intelligent biologists pass negative comments on a Biblical text they simply don’t understand. In modern secular society we need more like Donald M Mackay to shed light on the confusion that is so prevalent.

March 2023

by Alan J F Fraser

5 Responses

  1. /April 10, 2023/ by DavidHall1 /

    Do some of your college projects seem overwhelming? Browse the page of OrderTermPaper company and get a chance to thrive with the assignments without your participation.

  2. /April 30, 2023/ by NikaaHariss /

    Do you need help with your college assignment? Follow the link https://www.writingpapersucks.com/papersowl-com-review/ to relish the most structured and consistent review, highlighting the core features and peculiarities of the platform.

  3. /July 1, 2023/ by Fernando /

    Often inIn my work I create illustrations for magazines and create various logos. I take a lot of pictures from thissite https://depositphotos.com/vector-images/nutcracker.html There are a lot of good quality vector images here, they help to make bright and high-quality work.

  4. /February 14, 2024/ by belli /

    Friends, I generally believe that if you want to build muscles, then you need something that will help you, namely supplements or steroid injections tren tren for sale. I didn’t know about this before and had never heard of it, but when I realized that my results were slow, I decided to order. I’ve been using it for a month now and I see how much it has changed!

  5. /April 8, 2024/ by LunwenTop /

    考试对课程总分和GPA起着很重要作用。 虽然许多学生认为考试是一种不公平检查他们积累知识与技能的方式,但老师仍然采用各类考试为此目的,因此我们需要接受这个事实。 而我们在考试代考 https://www.lunwentop.net/daikao/ 方面有丰富经验的专家将帮您避免考试带来的不眠之夜、压力与烦恼。

Leave A Response