Up, up and away!
Biblical creation and a military pilot’s faith and witness
Philip Bell interviews Flight Lieutenant Richard Snowden about his experiences as a Christian and biblical creationist in Britain’s Royal Air Force [RAF].Richard, it’s not often that we get to interview a military pilot in the pages of Creation magazine. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Well, I became a Christian 22 years ago and, as I approach the normal retirement age (55) in the RAF, I’m at the end of a flying career of almost 32 years. I’m married and have two grown-up sons. Having done some preaching, teaching, and writing over the years, my wife and I believe that, after leaving the RAF, I should devote myself to these.Your career in the RAF, particularly flying various aircraft, is the sort of thing many young boys dream of doing. Was this the case for you too?
It certainly was! My father had been a fighter pilot in the RAF, flying Meteors and then Hunters. As a youngster, I was mad keen on anything to do with aircraft. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to join the Air Cadets and get my feet off the ground for the first time! I then gained my gliding wings, going on to win a Flying Scholarship that enabled me to qualify for a Private Pilot’s License at the age of 17. It was quite novel being licensed to fly a light aircraft before being qualified to drive a car!I gather that the first Gulf War (1990–91) was a significant time in your career, in more ways than one—you were not the same man coming out of that war?
That’s absolutely right. In those days, I had been living as if there were no God and I was master of my own destiny. The world was essentially a playground, whose chief purpose was to please me, or so I thought. As far back as age 24 however, God had started to deal with me, though I had no idea it was Him at the time. He gave me an increasingly powerful sense of unease—that something was very wrong in my life.
Incredibly, though, I struggled on for nearly nine years in a vain attempt to continue getting satisfaction from a hedonistic lifestyle. After witnessing an Air Traffic Controller friend becoming a believer and speaking to a Christian Hercules Pilot, I was uncomfortably challenged by their personal testimonies. Gospel literature added to my disquiet as it stripped away my false, evolutionary worldview and replaced it with the alarming truth that I was a sinner under the wrath of a Holy God.
I gradually began to connect my sufferings with my true standing before God.1 Gulf War 1 was my first experience of real war. The build-up to it concentrated my mind on the Gospel again. In Cyprus, whilst awaiting orders to ‘fly east’, God’s grace and mercy led me to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, kneel in prayer and ask forgiveness for my sins. I shall never forget the peace and joy that soon flooded my soul as the burden of sin was lifted away, guilt was removed and a new life imparted.In an organisation like the RAF, you have obviously met many highly qualified and experienced personnel. Were topics like creation and evolution on your colleagues’ radar?
Not for the most part. In fact, it was very rare to hear colleagues talking about such nitty-gritty issues. One colleague was an interesting exception though. On learning that I’d just become a Christian, he said to me, “Don’t tell me that you believe in Adam and Eve and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old?” At that time, I simply didn’t know how to answer, but told him what I did know was that my sins had been forgiven as I trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ.You once took the opportunity to give a ‘Creation or evolution?’ talk to various pilots, navigators and flight engineers. How did that come about?
I was sent on an Aircrew Instructors’ Course, part of which involved giving a talk on any subject of one’s choosing. Having prayed before going, I felt it was a God-given opportunity to speak on the evidence for creation as opposed to evolution. I was convinced that God was going to save someone using this issue in answer to prayer. This He certainly did, but it was to be a pilot named Mike Davis who was on an entirely different course at the same airbase! Those on my course who heard the talk were certainly challenged though, and most of them took relevant tracts.When you have challenged various people to consider the case for Genesis creation, how have they responded?
Frankly I’ve experienced everything from scoffing on the one hand, to conviction on the other—and even the occasional radical conversion! After meeting Mike Davis while away on that course I mentioned, an interesting series of apparent coincidences ensued. It transpired that he was being posted to the same RAF station that I was based at and had bought a house in my own home town. We decided it made sense to share a lift home at the weekends. I’d prayed for an opportunity to witness to him on the first of our shared journeys and it wasn’t long before he asked me how my course was going and what subject I had spoken on.
When I told him it had been on evidence for creation and against evolution, there was a long pause. It turned out that Mike was, at that very time, completing an evolution module for a university degree in biology! Conversation was then non-stop for the four-hour drive. When we reached my house, I asked Mike if he’d like to borrow some books and videos on the topic for the weekend. He willingly took them but said that he was also going to search his university notes to find at least one fact about evolution to prove my ‘theory’ wrong.
On Sunday evening, Mike picked me up for the return journey. He told me that he hadn’t been able to find a single thing that could be described as a fact about evolution. By now, Mike was slowly beginning to realize that Emperor Evolution was wearing no clothes! On Wednesday of that week, by God’s grace and mercy, Mike asked me to pray with him as he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. He is now a 747 training captain with a civilian airline.2I understand that there is a chaplains’ branch within the RAF. Were you able to work alongside them with a view to reaching unsaved servicemen and servicewomen?
I’ve met some very good chaplains who clearly know the Lord and love His Word. Sadly though, many chaplains seem to have compromised on vital issues such as creation versus evolution. At my last RAF station, I started attending a lunchtime gathering organized by the chaplains, intended to help new Christians or enquirers. During discussions, I brought up the matter of creation/evolution and explained how two fellow pilots had come to faith through it. It was not long before my input was deemed to be ‘unhelpful’ and I was asked not to attend that group any longer. I remain convinced that much more damage is done to the Gospel by compromising churchians than by the likes of [leading atheist] Richard Dawkins.Richard, you’ve already described some coincidences in your life as a Christian but you seem to view these as ‘God incidences’, is that right?
Yes, God has overruled in my circumstances many times. He has held off a severe snowstorm until seconds after we landed and mysteriously cancelled flights when I was unwell. On another occasion we lost the autopilot, which meant flying manually for many hours. This would greatly increase fatigue levels on subsequent sectors. Our flight engineer tried everything to fix it, but couldn’t. I quietly prayed, then had an inexplicable sense that we should try it again. I told the flight engineer this, at which he looked bemused. We tried to re-engage it and found that it was working perfectly. I told the mystified flight engineer that I had just prayed over the matter!Please could you leave us with a final thought for our readers?
There is a monumental battle going on to undermine the Truth of God’s Word. So much of the ‘church’ seems well down the road to the long-prophesied apostasy. The creation/evolution issue is absolutely pivotal in the battle for young hearts and minds as well as older ones too. It is a battle in which compromised Christians are defeated already. May God continue to bless creation ministries such as yours to alert those who profess to be Christians to the vital nature of this issue.Amen to that! Thanks Richard, very much.
References and notes
- Of course, suffering is connected to Adam’s sin and our sin nature, but has no necessary connection to specific sin in a person. Return to text.
- A few years later, Richard had the joy of leading another pilot to the Lord using the creation/evolution issue along with the evidence for fulfilled Bible prophecy. For more on this issue, see Kumar, S. & Sarfati, J., Christianity for Skeptics, pp. 124–126, Creation Book Publishers, USA, 2012. Return to text.