My father was half-English, half-Welsh, my mother Dutch. They met a few years after the war in Exeter’s youth-hostel, he a customs officer, she a nurse. I was born in 1954. Soon afterwards we moved to the Isle of Man, then an idyllic place for a new family. The sea was close by, and not much further were the mountains, clad in bracken, gorse and heather. A few hundred yards along the road was a small farm, which for me meant cows, haystacks in the summer, the daily sound of a cockerel crowing. The Customs House where my father worked and where I sometimes passed by after school overlooked the harbour. Although the industry was in decline, fishing boats still trawled for herring and other fish, small cargo ships delivered coal, and for a few years there was the added interest of offshore Radio Caroline. In the shops people knew who you were and had time to chat.
At the age of eleven I went to a boarding school in the south of the island. I was a bright boy, and my parents thought that the fees, mitigated by a scholarship, would be money well spent. The experience was a shock. I was deeply unhappy, suddenly wrenched from home and thrown into the constant society of boys much more gregarious and worldly-wise than I. In letters home I expressed my misery. My parents urged, “Persevere a little longer, and if you are still unhappy, we’ll take you away.” Gradually I got used to the regime, and in my fourth year began to enjoy it. We had chapel every morning, I sang in the choir, and at age 14 I got confirmed, not knowing that I had never been baptised. Subsequently I went through a religious phase, but heard nothing about the personal knowledge of God called conversion. I left school an atheist.
After a year off, I went to university and studied English Literature. My supervisor at Cambridge was something of a free spirit (he never dined at high table), imparted his love of Shakespeare and taught me to read intelligently and avoid cliché. The college chaplain, who doubled as my ‘tutor’, kept a kindly eye on me but had no effect on my somewhat bolshie temperament. I remember some dark months when I was overwhelmed by the realisation that one day I would die. Ultimately, even the Earth would die, the Sun swelling into a red giant and gobbling it up. As existentialist novelists said, life was ultimately meaningless. Some time later a student in the year and floor above me introduced me to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, famous for pronouncing God dead. I found Nietzsche’s aphoristic writing intoxicating. He used the word ‘life’ in a way which seemed to reclaim some meaning.
After graduating I spent fifteen months in Mainz, teaching English and learning something of West Germany’s language and culture. In 1977 I returned to Cambridge. In an effort to understand the wisdom reached by humanity’s best minds, I dipped into the writings of other philosophers. I felt out-of-place in modern society and did not know what to do for a living. I spent three years translating into English hexameter the satires of Juvenal, a Roman poet of the 2nd century AD. But almost as soon as the work was published (in 1983), I became deeply dissatisfied with it.
I lodged for several years with a single Christian lady, who had a strong, quiet faith. At the back was a vegetable plot, a few flowers, and an apple tree. What was this thing ‘life’, I mused, as bees buzzed in the sunshine. The idea that it was no more than highly organised atoms seemed false: I was a conscious being; animals were conscious beings. And where did the beauty of the flowers come from? As part of my program of self-education, I read one of the gospels and to my surprise began thinking, “I agree with what this man was saying.” Then the thought occurred: “If you do, doesn’t that entail that you accept what he said about himself?” I replied, “I suppose that follows.” It was a dim dawning. I didn’t agree with everything in the New Testament, and my basic line was, “I’ll decide what is true or not.” As when Jesus called his first disciples, the cross, repentance, the Spirit, came later.
Soon afterwards, in February 1980, Billy Graham held a mission in the city and I went along, now content to call myself a Christian. His words made no impression, but at the end of the meeting a volunteer from the Round Church engaged me in conversation and asked me where I stood spiritually. I said, “There’s no need to concern yourself; I’m already a Christian.” He asked whether I went to a church. “No, not regularly – here at St Mary’s, now and again.” He asked for my name and address, and a few days later paid a visit. I was out, but on learning that he had taken the trouble to look me up, I decided that Sunday to try his church, a markedly more evangelical fellowship than the university church. Over time I fell in with others my age, joined a home group and discovered that there were intelligent people who believed that the Bible was, as they put it, the inspired ‘Word of God’.
I struggled with this. Reading through the Bible, I wrestled with four questions: (1) Did the world come into existence by creation, (2) Could God foretell the future, (3) Was there such a being as the Devil, and (4) How could one possibly accept the book of Revelation? About six months into my journey I again had a thought that did not seem mine: “Come, are you setting yourself as judge over God, dismissing as untrue whatever you don’t like or understand, or will you submit to the mind of God and let him judge you?” That proved a pivotal moment. Convicted, I accepted that the Bible was his definitive revelation of himself, and ceased to set myself over it. Christ the Logos, I saw, was the Word in his own person: to know one was to know the other. The more difficult passages began to open up – even Revelation to some extent. I began to address God as ‘Lord’. Eleven years after being confirmed, I got baptised.
Another significant event was a visit by Dr Arthur Jones, a biologist by training but then working as a missionary. Over one weekend he held a series of seminars at St Matthew’s in which he argued that scientific evidence for creation – for biological design, for discontinuities in the fossil record – was plentiful. I lapped it up. The perception that the Earth was not billions of years old was like a second conversion. The world suddenly took on a new appearance: everything was God’s handiwork, albeit hugely changed from its original state. God was not distant. Just as the beginning of the world was not billions of years in the past, neither was the end of the age billions of years in the future.
Unknowingly I had embarked on a long odyssey into the unknown. At school, history had been a subject I dropped at the earliest opportunity; now, as I learned that God was directing it towards some final goal, I was gripped by it. Surrounded by libraries, I acquainted myself with the course of the major civilisations – Egypt, Crete, Greece, Rome, Europe – and tried to understand what each one, as it came to an end, passed on to its successor. In each case I thought three phases could be discerned, one in which a distinct people settled in a new land, another in which they explored the world of the spirit, and a third in which reason superseded spirit and reached a dead-end. Exhausted, the civilisation was eventually judged. But the work came to nothing, and my failure to get it published, on top of the collapse of an engagement to be married, hit me hard. I was to go through a very similar crisis twenty years later.
I was a shy, sensitive, emotionally immature young man, and it took me a long time to settle to any sort of career. Penniless and spiritually adrift, I got a job inspecting business VAT records. Two years later I started a three-year program to train as a tax inspector.
In my spare time I became interested in problems of Egyptian chronology and how these affected the reconstruction of histories only known from archaeological remains. In this field the main workers were Peter James and David Rohl, the latter building on the work of John Bimson. Bimson had demonstrated that the destructions in Palestine near the end of the Middle Bronze Age closely matched the conquest of Canaan in the Hebrew record, with the consequence that the Exodus was better dated to the 15th century than the 13th. James and co-authors argued that the misdating of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period had resulted in Palestine’s archaeology being misaligned with the Hebrew record by over two hundred years. Rohl made a similar case in relation to Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. All these authors were raising important and fascinating questions. The academic establishment, however, resisted their proposals, and there was little scope for me to contribute.
Going back in time, I began to explore the human fossil record. Could everything in the historical and prehistoric record up to the present day truly be squeezed into just 5000 years, as some were teaching? I did not see that it could. Through the forest of my own ignorance I hacked back further, into geological periods before the oldest human fossils. How did they all relate to the biblical record? I was helped in this by three Christian geologists who were asking much the same question and took me along on field trips. While, like all creationists, they believed that Noah’s Flood – called the Cataclysm in the New Testament – had to be an important part of the answer, they did not accept that all fossils could have formed then. Much of the record consisted of trace fossils – burrows, tracks, nests – showing that animals were very much alive at the time. Worse still, the traces might be in sediments miles above the level where the pre-Flood world was supposedly located. How could those animals have been living seemingly normal lives after that amount of sediment had been dumped on their world? What about the fossil reefs occurring at various levels, the oyster beds, the roots and tree stumps buried in growth position, the vast deposits of oil and coal? Reluctant to conclude that fossils had nothing to do with the Flood, they proposed that some formed then, whereas others resulted from residual catastrophism after the Flood. I was impressed by their arguments, and persuaded the then editor of Creation Ministries International’s Technical Journal to devote a special issue to the new interpretation. That was in 1996. About the same time I started going on field trips run by a small consultancy company in the Pyrenees. From this very different perspective I learned about mountain uplift and denudation as the Iberian plate rotated anticlockwise into Eurasia. I learned how it was possible to infer from the bedforms, grain size and associated fossils the environment in which the sediments formed. I saw plant roots extending into dried-up channels, in-situ coral and bivalve reefs, a dinosaur nesting site littered with egg fragments, dinosaur footprints.
I wrote several articles for the Technical Journal. In retrospect it was like a blind man trying to lead the blind; except that part of me knew I was blind. As I sought to become better informed, I began to question some tenets of creationism. If fossils formed during the Flood and the Flood was a judgement on humanity, why at the base of the record were there no human remains: buildings and other artefacts, as well as bones? Why were the fossilised terrestrial animals so different from those of the modern world if today’s animals descended from those on the ark? Why did the first four-fifths of the sedimentary record consist of rocks barren of fossils apart from microbes and algae? Why should any fossils be expected if, according to Genesis, all animal life had been obliterated and not simply destroyed? However, dialogue proved impossible, and my concerns were rebuffed. Even my British geologist friends did not wish to ditch the paradigm completely. The experience was profoundly disillusioning.
Rightly or wrongly, I felt God saying: “Brush the dust off your feet and move on. The subject is important, but you will need to research it alone.” Eventually, I came to a radically different interpretation of the rock record. In summary, this: Right at the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Earth was constructed with a subterranean ocean called the ‘deep’, from which springs watered the land. The rate of radioactive decay was then much faster than today, so that over time the heat from this radioactivity caused the interiors of the rocky planets to melt. Either their surfaces became completely drowned in upwelling magma (Mercury, Venus and Mars) or, in the case of bodies larger than the Earth, they exploded and ended up as asteroids. Even the ancient grey-white rocks of the Moon gave evidence of a magma ocean. Within the Earth, however, the deep acted as a buffer. Eventually, under the thermal pressure the springs exploded and the deep overwhelmed the land (Gen 7:11). Simultaneously, fragments of the planet formerly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter pounded Earth and its satellite. Thereby God destroyed the original land and, as with the other planets, resurfaced it with volcanic rock. Some of Earth’s oldest rocks were sedimentary, showing that the planet straight after the Cataclysm was covered by water. The impact sites became the granitic cores of new land, and since these were less dense than the basaltic rocks around them, they gradually emerged above the water. Slowly life began to recover, marine life first, then terrestrial life, as the animals preserved on the ark multiplied and spread abroad. Fossils told the story of that recovery: large-scale, pre-programmed, within-phylum multiplication of species, diversifying as they adapted to environments that were ever changing. In that limited sense they evolved. Animals did not appear until the last fifth of the sedimentary record because time as measured by radioactivity was continually slowing down. In real time the last fifth was much longer than the preceding four fifths.
Thus, much of the story presented by orthodox geology was sound. The points on which I dissented were the vast timescale, the origin of the solar system’s asteroids, the definition of life so as to exclude consciousness (spirit), and the idea that all forms of life evolved from a single ancestor. These were matters of interpretation rather than fact. Since no extant rocks, on Earth or on any other planet, went back to the Creation, creation in six days was not problematic. Nothing that could be sampled and analysed in the lab went back that far.
Perhaps the greatest implication of accepting that Genesis was true was the recognition that a conflict between ‘science’ (natural philosophy) and ‘religion’ (scriptural revelation) really existed, as the Bible more or less said (I Cor 3:18-20). Scientists were not exempted from the condition of being ‘darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God’ (Eph 4:18). Geology, evolutionary biology and cosmology were philosophically committed to the belief that matter was all there is and that the world was capable of creating itself. The law of increasing entropy was thought somehow not to apply to the story of life. It was therefore naive, regarding questions of origin, to believe that scientists reasoned impartially. The one thing they were not sceptical about was their own atheism.
That said, the questions thrown up by geology, biology and cosmology are complex, and anyone inquiring into them needs to be more than ordinarily honest, curious, careful, open to the thoughts of others, willing to test all things (including ideas that seem obvious) and willing to face head-on whatever resists one’s favoured hypothesis. The Bible does not provide any short-cut to scientific understanding. Along the way I myself made many mistakes and wrong assumptions.
It is a hopeless situation. Christians working professionally in these fields accept the story advanced by their atheistic colleagues, since science cannot lie, but stress that the world at least had a beginning in the Big Bang. Bishops and theologians believe and pass on what the scientists tell them. When they say that “man was created in the image of God”, they mean that man became like God in certain non-physical respects by a process of evolution. Those who believe that the story is deeply flawed are left to argue their case from the sidelines, without the expertise and procedures of validation that universities provide. Commercial publishers not unreasonably prefer the work they handle to be academically accredited, so dissenters are forced to self-publish and, since they cannot agree with each other, the naturalistic world-view prevails without credible opposition. Nor does it help that evangelical churches discourage difficult questions for fear of impiety, and embarrassed that they do not have the answers. Christian culture has become more anti-intellectual as it has become more marginalised.
At a conference in 1998 I met Anthony Bush. He had sensed a call to convert part of his farm into a zoo that would tell the story of Noah’s Flood, and was about to open it, but now I, as a believer in creation, was arguing that the creationist explanation of Earth history ought to be abandoned. Disconcerting though it was, he listened, asked questions, and gradually came round. As the zoo grew, he designed, with my help, posters promoting a ‘recolonisation’ explanation of the fossil record and displayed them on the walls. Most importantly, he sponsored the design and running costs of a website (earthhistory.org.uk) in which, anonymously, I set out the arguments in more detail. In his autobiography Building Noah’s Ark Anthony hailed me as a ‘modern Galileo’. Be that as it may – he was, with one exception, a lone voice in that respect – his belief that sooner or later the new account of Earth history would be vindicated was an encouragement. Meanwhile the zoo went from strength to strength, despite a manufactured allegation of malpractice when a tiger died, a long campaign by protesters at the gates to turn visitors away and sporadic pressure from social media to close the business down. In 2018 Anthony retired. His successor took down the posters.
In 2001 I joined one of the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms and dropped to a 3-day week. On the other days I began investigating the tradition about the confusion of language. This was another important moment in the biblical account of history. Again I was fortunate to have access to specialist books and journals, mostly at the Bodleian. I concluded, after several years, that the event was linguistically and archaeologically well supported. The historical setting was the end of the Late Uruk period, carbon-dated to c. 3200 BC, by which time Uruk was the dominant city-state in Mesopotamia and ruled by a ‘mighty man’ depicted as a hunter and tamer of lions. Under him the cities were uniting to become the world’s first empire, extending even into Egypt and ancient Iran, and at Babylon (Babel in Hebrew) men were building its capital. They got as far as to construct a brick tower with a stairway and a gate at the top, inviting God to come down and bless the work.
God did come down, but not to bless. He disrupted the project by causing each clan to speak a different language. Forced to disperse, the builders turned the judgement on its head. They told the peoples that their occult powers and languages had come from God: they were apostles sent to civilise the earth, and those who learned their heavenly languages would be similarly anointed. Thus originated the earth’s linguistic macrofamilies, around two dozen in total, within which evolutionary variation (e.g. diverging pronunciation) and degradation (loss of grammatical complexity) gradually produced the 6000 languages spoken in modern times. Perhaps the strongest evidence for the event was the co-existence in Mesopotamia c. 2500 BC of two completely unrelated languages, Akkadian and Sumerian. Within 800 miles of Babel there were no fewer than eight unrelated languages.
It was obvious by this time that I needed academic credentials more relevant to these fields of research, and that would mean going back to university. I inquired about the possibility at two such institutions. One cursorily dismissed my application. Royal Holloway University of London invited me for interview and, despite my age, took me in. Thus in 2008 I gave up paid employment and started a degree course in geology. I learned a lot, though the new knowledge did not fundamentally disturb my understanding of Earth history. Three years later I commenced postgraduate research at University College London into the evidence for ‘Snowball Earth’, the purported glaciation of the whole planet shortly before the first appearance of animal fossils. I completed the doctorate in 2016.
In 2018 a friend lent me a book on biblical prophecy, focusing particularly on the last days. It provoked me into writing down my own thoughts on Revelation. My life story is undoubtedly a peculiar one, but it could be seen as one long preparation for the present work. Training in literary criticism enabled me to distinguish between the literal and metaphorical, among other skills. The experience of translating Latin verse impressed on me the importance of verbal accuracy. Acquaintance with the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Rome, which were part of the Bible’s cultural world, sensitised me to the dangers of reading the Old Testament and Revelation as if they were modern texts. My interest in science enabled me to recognise that many of the phenomena described in Revelation were natural phenomena. And most critically, my understanding of what happened geologically at the end of the Hadean impressed on me how God might be prepared once again to bring the world to a dreadful end. When it comes to the last things, theology cannot remain divorced from science any more than, with respect to the first things, science should isolate itself from theology.