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.
The stark impact of catastrophic events on our planet’s past is clear in the geologic record. Montgomery uses his own experience as a geologist and the history of geology to show how catastrophism is part of modern geology, despite young earth creationists often claiming modern geology only appeals to uniformitarianism. Geologists began integrating catastrophe and uniformity almost from the beginning, as challenges to Lyell’s strictest uniformitarianism emerged from geologic evidence. Thus, far from what is too often portrayed as an either/or situation, geology truly is both/and when it comes to the two streams of evidence.
It is even possible that one such catastrophic event led to the stories of the flood as found in the Ancient Near East, including in the Bible. Glacial events led to massive buildups of water, and as the ice would melt in front of that water, it would release huge torrents that could carve canyons and flood enter massive regions quickly. Clear evidence of this having happened through ice dam failures is seen in both North America and Eurasia (210ff). One such massive event helped fill Hudson bay and the Great Lakes. It is possible that a similar event occurred with the Black Sea that could have led to so many stories in the region about massive floods. Yet creationists are unwilling to accept this evidence. Montgomery writes:
There was a time when both geologists and conservative Christians would have interpreted the evidence of a catastrophic Black Sea flood as proof of Noah’s Flood and confirmation of the historical veracity of Genesis. But times have changed. Now geologists present evidence in support of Noah’s Flood, and creationists hold out for belief in a global flood for which no evidence can be found (223).
In Chapter 12, Montgomery explores reasons why some Christians reject so much compelling evidence for a truly ancient earth and the lack of a global flood. One of the primary reasons, he thinks, is due to a belief that such evidence undercuts the truth of the Bible. He notes the impact of Whitcomb and Morris and their book The Genesis Flood upon this movement. It continues to have immense impact despite being rejected by geologists–including Christians–as clearly mistaken. The attacks upon conventional geology fall short of the truth and often show basic misunderstandings of geology. Christian geologists have continued to push back against this “flood geology,” yet it persists in some corners.
In the final chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” Montgomery reflects upon his own journey. He came in with a clear goal of refuting creationist claims wholesale, but as he explored evidence for major local floods as well as reading Christians on the topic, his view of the nature of faith changed. He notes that he sees science and faith not as enemies but “as an awkward egalitarian waltz” (247). Montgomery, though not (to my knowledge) a Christian, suggests that Christianity has much to offer and has done some work for science as well as against it. He argues that one thing needed is “a historically informed understanding of how people read and interpreted sacred texts in the past” (249) so that we can form a better picture of the past. Similarly, “Genesis 1 remains powerful and relevant today if read as a symbolic polemic intended for early monotheists rather than as a Bronze Age scientific treatise” (251). Too often, “We will only look for evidence that confirms our beliefs” rather than challenging ourselves and keeping our minds open (253). Though religion cannot answer every scientific question, neither can science make religion an illusion (255).
I found Montgomery’s final chapter, in particular, extremely helpful. It’s the kind of outsider perspective that is truly constructive and helpful. It makes me wonder how his own outlook may have changed in the 6 years since the publication of this book. He is articulate and fair. Indeed, his suggestions for people of faith ought to be well-taken, alongside his critiques of skeptical perspectives. The idea that faith is a sickness or illusion is too prominent today, but people of faith also need to acknowledge that some of that stems from a denial of clear evidence. If we set our faith on things that are clearly wrong (for example, young earth creationism), it discredits our faith.
“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.
“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7– A brief early history of the study of geology and paleontology is provided, and early theories about the flood begin to form alongside them.
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