After I retired from medical practice in 2008, I wrote a series of articles for a Christian magazine, which included a piece on creation. This set me thinking more seriously about the question of origins I’d been tossing around since seeing Walt Disney’s Fantasia at the age of five, and becoming a Christian as a teenager.
Re-examining the biblical texts around 2010, I began to find that the “traditional view”, that the natural creation has fallen into evil and corruption following the Fall of Adam, didn’t seem to be in the Bible at all.
Meanwhile I’d struck up an acquaintance with church historian Nick Needham, who’d been reading my blogs at the newly created Hump of the Camel, and we got into conversation about how the “fallen creation” seemed to be absent from the earliest Christian writers too. We began to swap references – or to be more precise, I found about two and Nick kept turning up more and more from his professional knowledge, and we came to the realisation that the whole idea of “natural evil”, and especially a nature corrupted by sin, was virtually absent from Christian thought in the early centuries. This was in July 2011.
When I made this bold claim in a comment thread at BioLogos, historian of science Dr Ted Davis was intrigued, and said I should write a book on it. I replied along the lines that a retired doctor was not the most obvious person to write authoritatively on Patristic theology. But notwithstanding, not long afterwards Ted passed my name along to Keith Miller, a Christian palaeontologist who was trying to edit a book on natural evil, and I was asked to write up my findings as a chapter for that.
By the time I submitted it, I’d come to the surprising conclusion that the “fallen creation” theme only really came to prominence at the time of the Reformation. I keenly remember the thrill of discovery one day, when a plausible reason for this appeared in the form of the influence of the Prometheus myth during and after the European Renaissance. I write about that, probably the most original idea I had during the project, in the book.
For some reason Keith’s book failed to attract a grant from BioLogos (scuppering his intention for authors to meet in the US to pool ideas), and then a publishing deal of any kind. A couple of years down the line, it was decided to turn the project into a special edition of the ASA journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, which would require the offerings to be peer-reviewed.
There not being too many ex-doctors writing on early church history to act as my peer-group, oversight of my chapter went to one of the team at BioLogos, where I’d unfortunately acquired something of a reputation as a vocal opponent of some of the prevailing theological viewpoints there. Though the peer review was blind, I thought I could sense the style of my reviewers disagreeing with my positions in the same way that they had in open discussion. The upshot was that my chapter was considered too long for the format, and I was asked to cut it by 50% to become only a literature review, without my conclusions. For that reason I withdrew it.
Soon afterwards, however, I was pleased when a theologian who’d interacted with me at The Hump of the Camel offered to seek publication for it in a theological (as opposed to scientific!) journal. Somehow, however, nothing ever came of it, and deciding not to offer it to a history or mechanical engineering journal, I eventually shrugged my shoulders and thought I may as well expand it into a book. This I did by adding sections on the goodness of creation from the Bible and from a scientific angle.
Once I’d got a book into some kind of final shape, I picked what I thought the most appropriate publisher in the UK (theological rather than mechanical engineering!), and found to my surprise, from their website, that their board included not only a doctor I’d known since medical school days, but a past member of a church house-group I’d led in the early 1980s. Moreover, their editor-in-chief had a personal interest in the origins question. What could go wrong? Only that they rejected the book.
I reasoned that if even nepotism could not get me published, I’d follow the example of dissident Soviet authors by publishing samizdat, and I placed a pdf version of God’s Good Earth as a page on my blog. And it seemed to gain approval in that form from a fair range of people for a couple of years.
Then before Christmas 2017 four things happened within about a week. Firstly, a fellow-writer at The Hump suggested that Wipf and Stock might be a good publisher to try, and I replied that I thought the sands had run out for that particular book. Then Ted Davis, in a column at BioLogos, cited it, which prompted me to write an extra chapter to include some updated research. Finally, theologian Richard Middleton got in touch and offered to tout it around US publishers (none of whom I’d known either at medical school or church!). He had already referenced the web-book (or was it the book-chapter?) in a paper, but rather unsatisfactorily as “unpublished”.
One leading publisher’s rejection (on the grounds that there would be insufficient interest in such a book – let’s prove them wrong!) gave me a déjà vu feeling, but it didn’t faze Richard at all, for he immediately suggested another publisher; none other than the Wipf and Stock previously suggested by my fellow-writer. They have shown great interest in the project from the start, which is a great encouragement to any writer, and especially one who has been peddling the same wares since 2011 to no avail.
I guess the take-home lesson is that the “marketplace for ideas” is by no means an objective place. Like every human endeavour, it has to do with individual choices, biases and personalities. Given that this is as true of science as it is of anything else, perhaps that could be the subject for the next book…