After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.
Montgomery goes over what is little-known history (to the general public): the debate over what fossils even were in early paleontology and geology. For some time, geologists debated whether fossils were truly vestiges of the ancient past or not. Some did recognize them as dead life forms, but wantonly miscategorized them. An example Montgomery visits is the identification of Homo diluvii, alleged to be a fossil of someone who died in the Noahic flood, but which is in fact simply a large amphibian. Thus, faith and science interacted in ways which led to mutual learning, with geologists often interpreting finds through their faith (often leading to errors), but then correcting the mistakes and examining interpretations of Scripture.
Geologists continued to find evidence that the Earth was much more ancient than had been previously thought. The concept of geologic time itself evolved over time, but not due to the theory of evolution as young earth creationists so often assert. Rather, geological finds continued to stretch the limits of time and change on the planet. Bishop Ussher’s chronology was neither the first nor last, and was based upon faulty assumptions that continue to be challenged both inside and outside the church.
One of the constant refrains of young earth creationists is the notion that they hold to catastrophism related to the history of the planet, while mainstream geologists rely upon uniformitarianism. But Montgomery demonstrates that this is a false dichotomy. It is one that, historically, was a true battle as evidence initially seemed to refute catastrophism and then showed that catastrophes did indeed form major events in the geologic record. Thus, geology today continues to take both catastrophe and uniformity into account. The young earth view of either/or is deeply mistaken and stuck in historical, rather than modern, understandings of science. Indeed, it was Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) who first developed a synthesis of the theories, though he favored catastrophic understandings due to his own discoveries. Cuvier died more than 20 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and so can hardly be charged with changing his geological views due to evolutionary theory. Once again, young earth arguments fail to hold up to the challenge of history and science.
Cuvier’s theory allowing for a sequence of catastrophes was, on his own part, allowed to include the biblical flood. Montgomery continues to survey the changing views on the Deluge and William Buckland contributed both to this theorizing and the expansion of the age of the earth through his own studies. Buckland, however, ultimately discovered that fossils could not all be attributed to a single flood event or the biblical flood. Nevertheless, as a Christian, he felt “Secure as ever in his faith in both nature and the Bible” (129). Lyell’s own study of geology once again expanded the lengths of times required for the shaping of our planet. It didn’t take long, however, for people to push back against this theorizing, and William Cockburn helped champion some of the earliest of what would become young earth theories. He did so mostly by dismissing evidence rather than directly engaging with it (137-138).
“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.
“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.
“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.
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