I 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 Lie, a 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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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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).
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