CANTON — In the beginning, there was a reading from Genesis.
Then, the tone was set for the rest of Jonathan Sarfati's Sunday lecture at the First Baptist Church here, which denounced the science behind evolution and warned Christians that it was not compatible with their faith.
"You can trust the Bible from the very first chapter, which we just read here today," Mr. Sarfati told the roughly two dozen people sitting in the pews.
Dressed in a red shirt and a black tie with black slacks, topped with brown, unruly hair, Mr. Sarfati expounded for more than an hour on subjects ranging from aeronautic design to the geology of Mars to the origins of the Grand Canyon to convince those in the audience of what he called the science behind creationism.
His academic credentials include a Ph.D in chemistry and playing Boris Spassky to a tie in chess. (Mr. Sarfati was New Zealand's chess champion three times, according to his organization's website.)
Critics call him a propagandist, and some controversy arose when he was scheduled to speak last Friday night at Canton Central School.
But he says that criticism was overblown. He's not interested in evangelizing to non-believers; only preaching to a choir of Christians whose concessions that Genesis can't be taken literally is undermining their faith.
"You can't compromise on Genesis," Mr. Sarfati told his audience. "It's like having an instruction manual where the first page is torn out."
Mr. Sarfati, and his group, Creation Ministries International, believes that the creation of the universe as described in Genesis is literal fact — God created the world and all its inhabitants in six days — and that evolution is impossible.
A slew of PowerPoint slides helped him make his point Sunday morning. Fossil records, he said, are proof of a great flood, as described in the story of Noah and his ark in Genesis. So is the topography of the Grand Canyon.
And DNA is no proof of evolution, Mr. Sarfati said.
DNA is like a book, he said, and "a book requires an author."
Evolution is the theory that says, among other things, that humans and apes have a common ancestry. Pioneered by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, evolution is accepted by mainstream scientists and taught in public schools and textbooks.
Or, as Mr. Sarfati derisively calls it, "From goo to you, via a zoo. ... Jesus is the son of God, not the son of an ape."
What troubled him, he said, was that public schools, universities and the media do not give the science behind creationism any credence. His presentation was interspersed several times with slides showing creationists how to arm themselves with knowledge: he's written several weighty and scientific books on the topic, available for $29 after the event.
"There's no reason to be afraid of science being on the evolutionists' side," he said, "because it's not."
His ideas might not be mainstream, but he was welcomed by a friendly audience at the First Baptist Church.
"I think it's good for someone of his expertise to remind people who compromise (on evolution) of what that's going to do to undermine our faith as a whole," said Robert Emmett, a churchgoer from Hopkinton who brought his 9-year-old daughter to the lecture on Sunday.
Mr. Emmett, who said that he does not believe in evolution, leads youth programs in the church, and brought several teens to hear Mr. Sarfati speak at earlier events over the weekend.
"It's helping people in our church," said the Rev. J. Frederick Sykes. "If you take out Genesis, it undermines our beliefs."
After the speech, churchgoers huddled, describing what they saw as efforts by schoolteachers to brainwash their children with evolution.
"You hear a lot of people tell you about evolution, but I know the truth," said Debra L. Thompson, a creationist who brought her two nephews, 13-year-old Benjamin D. and 17-year-old Matthew D.
Said Matthew Thompson: "If you throw out creationism, you throw out the whole Bible."