Here, I continue my look at The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery. 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.
Chapter 4: World in Ruins
Montgomery begins by outlining the state of beliefs before early geological investigations. These were formed from theological understandings and thus derived themselves either from creation or the Flood.
The early theories of how the Flood shaped the rocks lent themselves as hypotheses for investigating the natural world. Although many of these theories would be dismissed immediately now, for their time they were serious ideas about how the world may have been shaped. Yet even in the early days of geological investigation, many theologians and geologists realized some of the major difficulties attributing the whole geologic story to the Flood would raise. Isaac Vossius, for example, “argued for a local flood on the grounds that there simply was not enough water on earth to submerge the highest mountains” (55). The amount of water needed for a global flood remains a great difficulty into today.
Other early geologic difficulties were centered around fossils. Were they really vestiges of once-living creatures, or merely tricks of the stones (59)? Steno entered this debate and, apart from noting that fossils were similar to those bones of living creatures, he also developed principles of geology which are used to this day. These were the notion that the bottom of a pile of sediment is oldest and that sedimentary layers are deposited horizontally (60).
As geologic investigations continued, more radical theories were put forth to hold a global flood. These included the notion that, prior to the Flood, the earth was smooth, and so it would have been easy to cover the globe with the water we observe now (66). Yet theories like this, which hypothesize the Flood wreaking havoc upon the earth, yield great difficulties of their own. For example, how could Noah’s descendants have populated the ends of the earth so quickly? Thomas Burnet, who had proposed this theory, argued that Native Americans had also survived the Flood (68).
John Woodward became another champion for advocates of a global flood. He asserted that the Flood dissolved the Earth’s crust and then laid down the sediment observable now (70). His theory was in keeping with others who held that a “mighty flood burst forth from a subterranean abyss” (71). However, John Arbuthnot, a physician, published an essay which not only showed that Woodward had plagiarized Steno, but also blew holes through the Flood theory Woodward had proposed. These included the fact that fossils did not rearrange according to specific gravity and that the layering of sediment could not have occurred within such a mix (71, 73).
Edmund Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) came up with a theory which involved a comet coming near the earth and disturbing it on its axis, which “heaved the seafloor up… carving the topography we know today.” He also came up with the idea of a “vapor canopy” over the Earth which yielded the great amount of water needed to flood the entire planet (74).
Montgomery notes that it is “ironic” that many of the arguments used by young earth creationists for their positions on geology have been derived from the seventeenth-century geologists, who themselves “did not blindly trust particular literal interpretations of scripture. They had faith reason would lead to enlightened interpretation of God’s creation, as read from the pages of the book of nature…” (76).
Montgomery has done a commendable job documenting the long history of the interplay between geology and theology related to the Flood. Moreover, he has shown how many of the ideas found in modern creationism reflect the debates of this period–some of which were acknowledged as refuted back then.
The importance of this historical background should not be understated. When one investigates the way that theories of the Flood developed alongside geology, it provides a fascinating case study for the interplay between science and faith. More importantly, studying the arguments of the past shows how easy it is to resurrect the same ideas in new contexts. Modern young earth creationism owes a great debt to people like Halley and Woodward. Unfortunately, many of these ideas remain just as refuted as they were shortly after they were first proposed.
It is also important to observe cases like Burnet, who started out trying to fit geology into his interpretation of Genesis, but ended up being forced to hypothesize all kinds of things which are not actually found in the Genesis account in order to maintain his theory. Modern creationists should be wary of doing the same: in attempting to stay true to the meaning of the text, people too often introduce concepts which are entirely foreign to the passages themselves. Ironically, this is often done in the name of being “literal.” I hope that works like Montgomery’s (and Young’s, see below) will help inform the Church regarding this debate.
Again, Montgomery’s book shows its great similarities with The Biblical Flood by Davis Young, which itself focuses almost entirely upon the interplay between geology and theology. Both of these books come recommended from me. Montgomery’s work is a faster read with a bit more focus upon the arguments of modern young earth views, while Young’s work provides more of the much-needed background for the debate. [I skipped ahead a bit and saw that Montgomery acknowledges Young’s own contributions to this discussion. I am of the opinion that each of their works bring unique contributions and are worth having.]
The Rocks Don’t Lie has so far proven to be a fantastic work in which the author acknowledges the complexities of the issues as well as the debt geology owes to Christianity. Soon, we will look into chapter 5.
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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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