Book Reviews, Christianity and Science, Creationism, Science, Young Earth Creationism

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1

rdl-montgomeryI recently finished reading the Christian geologist Davis Young’s The Biblical Flood (see my review) and found it to be a vitally important work. More recently, David Montgomery, a secular geologist, released The Rocks Don’t Liea book guided by a very similar notion: applying geology to Noah’s Flood while looking into the history of thought on the topic.

It didn’t take long before I had decided that I would go through this one on an extended basis (sometimes lumping more than one chapter together) similar to how I reviewed Rob Bell’s work Love Wins. The reason is because I think the work has much to inform both Christian and atheist alike, while it also has some problems I would like to discuss as I go along.

I have not finished the book, but am rather writing these reviews as I read the chapters, so each one is fresh. Check out the end of the post for links to the other chapters as well as other related posts.

Outline

Preface

David Montgomery states that his purpose in writing the book was initially “to present a straightforward refutation of creationism, the belief that the world is a few thousand years old and that all the world’s topography… was formed by the biblical Flood.” However, he came to “a different story about the nature of faith” once he began researching the topic: “…I thought I’d find the standard conflict between reason and faith. Instead, I found a much richer story of people struggling to explain the world–and our place in it” (xii).

Essentially, he discovered that there was a complex interrelationship between science and theology which has played out in vastly different ways over time.

Chapter 1

Montgomery begins the book by telling a story of how he discovered evidence for a local flood in Tibet. He observed various geological features and came to believe that a lake had once covered the land. He suspected that such a feature in memorable history would yield an oral tradition and was rewarded with a story of a flood in the area (2-7). He asserts that “People around the world tell stories to explain distinctive landforms and geological phenomena” (7).

These stories are often dismissed as “relic[s] of another time,” but he believes that they may have an element of truth: “For most of our history as a species, oral traditions were the only way to preserve knowledge. So why wouldn’t the world’s flood stories record actual ancient disasters” (8-9). He notes that the story of Noah’s Flood may perhaps be among these stories, and hints that there could be truth to the biblical tale (9).

When science has come to interact with evidence which may hint at explanations for Noah’s Flood, certain forms of Christianity (here he uses “creationist” as he defined it in the preface) are “outraged” due to the preconceived notion that the Flood must have been global and account for all geologic history.

Yet the Flood has had a positive influence on geology by providing an early hypothesis to be tested once geology had progressed as a science (11-12). Theology and geology played off each other in a complex way which has spawned various factions of belief over the use of that evidence in theology (12-14).

Analysis

Preface

David Montgomery presents his case in a very winsome manner. I cannot help but be pleased by the way he has begun his interaction with science and faith issues. Rather than ranting over the alleged war between science and faith (something he admits he was expecting), he discovered a different story of a complex relationship which has often been mutually beneficial. Would that all atheists–and yes, it is worth saying, theists–interacted with other views in such a generous manner.

Chapter 1

Montgomery has provided a number of interesting insights already, particularly in regards to the fact that the relationship between science and faith is multifaceted and not as one-dimensional as many often portray it.

It is unfortunate, I think, that his own faith was seemingly built upon very poor theology. He writes, “In Sunday school I learned that Bible stories were parables to be read more for their moral message than their literal words. The story of Noah’s Flood taught mankind to be stewards of the environment… Growing up, I was satisfied that Jesus taught how to live a good life and that science revealed how the world worked” (9-10). Here we see how an anemic theology cannot be sustained. Christianity is picture that is much fuller than a mere “moral message” or “how to live a good life.” If only someone had taught that in Sunday school instead!

If the book continues in this fashion, I will have no qualms about recommending it. Tune in next week to continue the series!

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Check out my review of a similar work by a Christian: The Biblical Flood. I think this book is vastly important and should be in every Christian’s library.

Be sure to browse my extensive writings on the “Origins Debate” over creationism, theistic evolutionism, and intelligent design (among other views) in Christianity.

Source: David Montgomery, The Rocks Don’t Lie (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

About these ads

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

5 thoughts on ““The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1

  1. A ‘secular’ geologist?

    *sigh*

    It is my sincere hope that one day people will stop framing the world this way and understand that someone is either a geologist or not regardless of any other imposed identity qualifiers that should play no part in what constitutes a geologist… imposed qualifiers such as one’s first language, gender, sexual orientation, age, religious belief, clan membership, culture, eye colour, height, artistic preferences, and so on. These qualifiers have no place affecting the study of geology.

    Having gotten that off my chest, let me say that I think this is a terrific book for the layperson and geologist alike, and does a very gentle, non confrontational, job explaining what the rocks mean and what we can learn from them. A central tenet of the book is to explore how well the geological evidence comports with the various kinds of hypotheses generally known as ‘Flood Geology’ (and how this notion has evolved into the one used today by many evangelicals to support this aspect of creationism).

    Posted by tildeb | June 24, 2013, 9:15 AM
    • In the context of religious dialogue, I think it is extremely important to note where he is coming from. Your objection seems far off base. If you’re talking about x, and there are several facets which go into one’s view of x, such as y and z, it seems perfectly reasonable to say, this person who is talking about x holds to z; this one holds to y. To frame this as some kind of non-equality issue is frankly ridiculous.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 24, 2013, 9:34 AM
      • Non equality? I didn’t mean anything of the sort. I meant that wouldn’t it be grand if we could talk about geology – or any scientific pursuit – without qualifying it with (what should be) irrelevancies. That one’s religious outlook in any way, shape, or fashion, qualifies explanations adduced from such knowledge pursuits is, in my opinion, a very sad state of affairs that shows just how insidious is any theology that refuses to recognize its own knowledge limitations, it’s own boundaries pertaining to the numinous, but crosses the boundaries of other areas without second thought and inserts itself (and believers feel fully justified to do so) wherever it wants. This is why I keep going back to the core issue that religious beliefs do not deserve to be thought of as a knowledgeable way of describing the world because they do not connect these explanations adduced from the world. It’s a one way application of belief on to the world and not from it.

        Put another way, imagine if we qualified Argentinian chemistry to be empirically different from Albanian chemistry and honestly thought this mattered without demonstrating altered chemical composition and interactions based on such an identifier! If national location did determine this, we wouldn’t be talking about chemistry, now would we? We’d be talking about nationality and how this identifier somehow and demonstrably altered chemical composition and interactions. They don’t so we can pay this identifier no mind.

        The same is true for theistic geology and secular geology; if we honestly thought this identifier mattered then there should be evidence adduced from reality to indicate how this belief affects the rocks themselves, in which case we wouldn’t be talking about geology, now would we? We’d be talking about religion. But the rocks are not affected so we can pay this identifier no mind.

        And that’s why it’s sad to me; there’s a world out there full of stuff we should be learning about rather than qualifying and altering it through the filter of religious belief as if we should pay attention to it. In this sense, such qualifiers do nothing but detract from the pursuit of knowledge and replace it with explanations untethered to the world it assumes and asserts it correctly describes.

        Posted by tildeb | June 24, 2013, 11:24 AM
      • I definitely see your point; I would just reiterate that this book is not a purely geological discussion. He is looking at the interplay between science and religion. When you are writing on a topic like that, your credentials are important. He is a secular geologist and so by necessity does not have an insider’s view of the debate. Conversely, Christian geologists do. Either way, that should be taken into account. If we’re talking about pure geological data, then fine; but there is almost no such thing. Data is interpreted. The moment an author goes from the data to an account of that data, interpretation has occurred.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 24, 2013, 2:14 PM
      • Yes, data is interpreted, but that is why the scientific method properly followed is so important to understand and appreciate: to see which potential explanations (hypotheses) best fit the data rather than interpret the data to fit a selected and favoured explanation.

        Over time (for any readers who may not know this) – including article submission and acceptance, publication, peer review, and repeated testing – over having to deal with all the challenges others bring to bear, a particular explanation emerges, one that has survived all this intact and verified repeatedly by successful predictions. Such an explanation is a tremendous achievement. Such explanations are formed over time in the forge of reality and we can have a very high degree of confidence in them because of all the rigors they have had to undergo. This is the ‘account’ – and not an individual’s interpretation of selected data for a specific and favoured hypothesis – we should expect to find in any good science book. Regardless of the reader’s beliefs and familiarity with various interpretations of selected data, good science is accessible to all of us and is directly supported by what we can find in reality (like your layered cliff face). Good scientific explanations stand on their own merit. Good science stands alone, independent of the beliefs people bring to it, and can be counted on to produce identical results no matter who undertakes its testing. This is why geology is a science independent of any religious or secular beliefs brought to it. And this is why it is good science. (Not all science is!)

        I understand that good science can be addressed to particular audiences known to favour particular hypotheses and this is what Montgomery has done with the evangelical belief in the Genesis account in order to compare it with the evidence the earth provides as well as the explanations we have developed regarding how the earth was formed and what events it has undergone. It is on the basis of this knowledge, don’t forget, that mining and resource companies invest billions of dollars not because they favour this interpretation of data over that but because these explanations stand on their own merit and deliver. They can be counted on to work for everyone everywhere all the time. Knowing what these geological explanations are is the reason for the book and that is why it’s important that it be accessible to the average reader who may or may not have this kind of understanding but be introduced to it step by step to gain a much better, a much deeper understanding and appreciation for why the explanations are held in such high regard.

        Posted by tildeb | June 24, 2013, 4:40 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,433 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,433 other followers

%d bloggers like this: