Gentleman geologist leads Jurassic journeys
Gavin Cox talks to geologist John D. Matthews
Before retirement, Dr John Matthews (B.Sc. mathematics, Ph.D. earth science) held European chartered geologist status (EurGeol, C.Geol., and F.G.S.) because of work in the upstream oil industry on geoscientific issues. This followed 16 years of experience in the nuclear power industry.
I first met John in 2012, when he introduced himself at a CMI stand I was helping to run in Exeter. I subsequently became aware of John’s publications in CMI’s Journal of Creation1 and Creation2 magazine advancing the cause of Flood geology.
Subsequently, I attended his lectures on creation geology, and his field trips along the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of southern England. This region is famous for fossil discovery, including the first recorded ichthyosaur fossil.3 John sets the record straight for his students. He shows that the region is not, as touted, an icon for millions of years of Earth’s history and evolution. Rather, it is best explained in terms of Noah’s Flood.
Also, in 2012 I helped organize a CMI ‘creation day’ at my home church, where John spoke along with CMI-UK CEO Philip Bell, and Prof. Stuart Burgess of bioinspired design fame.
Finding fantastic Flood fossils
People on John’s trips often find fossils. On a trip with him to Osmington Bay, Dorset, I found a metatarsal (foot bone) of a theropod (a group of bipedal dinosaurs that includes T. rex). A paleontologist at Exeter Museum admitted to me that such a fossil—alongside closed clam shells, in marine sediment—could only be produced “by a flood”.
John’s journey to Jesus
John came to faith in Christ in high school at age 14, through a ‘Crusaders’ Bible class, which he attended regularly, and which presented him with opportunities to speak about his faith. However, at that time John treated Genesis as non-historical, being unaware of any alternatives. Later, at Manchester University, he became an active member of the Christian Union. He attended an Anglican church, where he was confirmed.4
After earning a B.Sc. in mathematics, John became an engineer for the nuclear power industry. He specialized in heat transfer, fluid flow (water, steam, and liquid sodium), and reactor/nuclear physics. During this time, John trained as an Anglican Reader.5 This enabled him to widen ministry opportunities beyond his then-current Sunday School teaching. John was also active in the University Graduates’ Christian Fellowship.
Some years later, the nuclear power program started to wind down. Oil had been found in the North Sea, and the UK was short of geo-engineers who could take advantage of it. John was asked to retrain as a geoscientist. He and a group of trainees were chosen to spearhead a new geotechnical venture. This was because of their familiarity with high-pressure fluid flow, which occurs in nuclear power stations and oil reservoirs alike.
From Christianity to theistic evolution
During John’s training, he was introduced to uniformitarian geology which he “absorbed hook, line, and sinker.” He lived with the compromise that Genesis 1–11 did not describe real history. As part of his training in geology, John went on field trips to examine geological outcrops, including on the Dorset coast. He would later use this experience to run his own field trips as a biblical creationist.
Journey to biblical creation
John came across D.C.C. Watson’s 1975 book The Great Brain Robbery: Creation or evolution?6 He almost didn’t read it—because Watson unapologetically taught that Genesis 1–11 was historical. John states:
That book found an Achilles’ Heel in my thinking. Specifically, it challenged the notion that language evolved.
Watson’s book mentioned the creationist classic The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris (1961). John bought a copy. He admits it took him nine months to read.
It wasn’t that I was a slow reader—but it was challenging everything I’d ever considered about Genesis and geology.
This challenge particularly concerned two key concepts, on which he now concludes:
Massive fossilization is only possible during catastrophic conditions. Uniformitarianism (the slow-and-gradual assumption of much modern geology) cannot explain fossilization. So the fossils are not a record of evolution—but judgment and death.
The standard geological column creaks with inconsistencies. Having been alerted to this point, I could see confirmatory evidence within the geological maps I was often using. Layers of sediments were labelled with names from the geological column—or described as undifferentiated—often with no evidence to support these names, except occasional continuity in seismic sections.
John testifies that in the process of reading and thinking about this book, he became a convinced six-day creationist. He was confronted with, and accepted, Genesis as real history—not meta-history or myth.
Asking probing questions
Working alongside professional uniformitarian geologists allowed John to ply them with many critical questions. However, he received little in the way of answers as to “why uniformitarianism ruled the waves.”
During temporary employment with a Belgian oil company, John became intrigued with the origin of oil, conventionally believed to require millions of years. Now believing the Bible’s history—that Earth is young—he rejected this “standard uniformitarian answer.”
A few years later, he took the opportunity to enrol for a Ph.D. at Imperial College, London. The Europe-based Ph.D. project was to establish the effects of geological uncertainty on how to extract oil from the ground. This enabled John to keep asking searching questions of geologists from a number of universities in the UK and abroad, while keeping his creationist views private. The answers he received were typically vague and always framed within uniformitarian thinking.
Because of John’s extensive experience in the oil industry—by this time 23 years—he was encouraged to help tutor new intakes of engineers (studying for their Masters degrees). In 2004, John completed his Ph.D. project. For the next six years, with the title of ‘Visiting Professor’ he continued to support the annual intake of new engineers.
Dr Matthews’ interest in the biblical origins of oil was renewed when he met and shared his ideas with creation geologist Dr Andrew Snelling in 2004. This later resulted in John publishing a paper in an online creationist journal on the origin of oil.7
Oil is where you find it
Anticreationists claim at times that when secular geologists find oil it somehow vindicates their uniformitarian approach. However, as John points out, their intermittent successes in finding oil are not determined by the ‘millions of years’ idea. He says,
A lot of oil is found by spotting leaks, then seismic surveys are done to look for the special-shaped underground structures that might be the source of that leaking oil. Then you spend millions of dollars drilling wells into those structures, and only then do you know if you have found the actual oil reservoirs. Also, oil is sometimes found in places where standard theories predict it shouldn’t be. A creationist approach might well improve the success rate for oil discovery, but woe betide any oil company which explored that option. It would certainly be mauled by academia who protect their uniformitarian paradigm at all costs.By way of example, he told me of a brief ‘Forum’ on creationism in 2005/6. This was in a monthly publication by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
They published a contribution of mine advocating treating a creationist approach to the origin of oil seriously. The discussion came to a halt right there. In the UK we don’t even get any such forums started.
Dr Matthews explains that this paper brought his academic career “to an abrupt end.” Within a few hours of it being published, he was being hounded on the internet by members of the self-proclaimed British Centre for Scientific Education (BCSE)—a front for anticreationists. BCSE’s aim was to track him down and stifle his influence, despite the fact that he had never discussed creationism with the students he tutored. Furthermore, the professional groups he worked with were tasked only with extracting oil from the ground rather than explaining its origins. But clearly, John recognized, “someone was incensed” and wanted him declared persona non grata within academia.
The reaction was in sharp contrast to what he had experienced in industry. There, geologists would smile politely at his beliefs and occasionally offer a rebuttal. However, in academia, John was confronted with: “You’re out—no questions asked!”8
Moving onwards and upwards
Since this unpleasant experience, Dr Matthews has been busy. He has published a book,9 and written for several creationist organizations—including involvement in editing an important UK national curriculum guide.10 The Covid pandemic forced a pause in his creationist geology field trips along the Jurassic Coast. He plans to resume as well as video this activity as soon as possible.
We wish Dr Matthews well in all he seeks to do to reclaim the authority of God’s Word. And, especially, as he encourages people to recognize that Scripture is the basis for the best explanation for geology, rocks and fossils.
References and notes
- Matthews, J. Why was the UK once totally under water? J. Creation 27(1):107–113, 2013; creation.com/uk-underwater. Return to text.
- Oard, M., Matthews J. and Sibley, A, The Jurassic Coast—Icon for the Genesis Flood, Creation 38(2):26–29, 2016; creation.com/jurassic-coast. Return to text.
- Wieland, M., Mary Anning: Fossils, faith, and the folly of compromise; creation.com/mary-anning. Return to text.
- A practice common in churches practising infant baptism; one ‘confirms’ the promises made on one’s behalf at baptism. Return to text.
- A type of lay minister authorized to perform certain functions. Return to text.
- The man who got me hunting down evolution! Creation 13(1):39, 1990; creation.com/hannington-enoch. Return to text.
- Matthews, J.D., The Origin of Oil—A Creationist Answer, ARJ 1(2008):145–168. Return to text.
- John’s experience is sadly typical of many, see: Bergman, J. Slaughter of the Dissidents, Leafcutter Press, Southworth, 2008; creation.com/s/10-2-535. (limited availability). Return to text.
- Matthews, J.D., Jurassic Ark—A Journey Through Time with Noah, Avenue Books, Eastbourne, UK, 2009. Return to text.
- Matthews, J.D., (Ed) Earth and Atmosphere (National Curriculum in England Science Programme), Christian Education Europe, Oxfordshire, 2019. Return to text.