The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
David R. Montgomery
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012
320 pp., $26.95
Science in Focus: Elise Crull
The Rocks Don't Lie, Part 3
[Editor's note: Due to my blunder, Part 4 in our series on The Rocks Don't Lie was posted last week, and Part 3 is being posted this week. Apologies for the confusion.]
Every Sunday school kid knows that Noah built an arky arky made out of barky barky (and filled it with animals by twosies twosies, elephants and kangaroosies). What is slightly more controversial is the flood part of this children's song. In the preface to The Rocks Don't Lie, David Montgomery writes: "few things on the frontier between science and religion proved as contentious as the biblical stories of the Creator and Noah's Flood, the age of the world, and the genesis of topography." As a trained geologist, Montgomery's original intent was to present the (literally) rock-solid scientific evidence refuting Young Earth creationism—the belief that the world is very young and its topography primarily due to the biblical flood. However, in gathering evidence against this recent American movement among conservative evangelicals, he was led to a new understanding of the relationship between science and religion as fluid and "cross-pollinating."
That science and Christianity are not in irreconcilable conflict but rather, if properly understood, mutually informative and edifying is not a novel view; thus, this claim in and of itself is not the meat of Montgomery's work. What is more compelling is the manner in which he supports this claim. Readers are immediately captivated by a popular introduction to geology, equipping them to discover (along with history's prominent geologists) the incontrovertible evidence against creationism lying beneath their very feet. The book is a fast-paced, amusing romp through the development of modern geology culminating in an examination of the pseudo-scientific origins of the modern creationist movement. One also learns how anthropologists uncovered flood mythologies in the stories of numerous ancient civilizations that bore striking resemblance to the Genesis account. In turn, these revelations (coupled with advances in geology) crucially transformed biblical exegesis. It became widely accepted among scholars that key events in Genesis were not written—and thus not to be read—in a scientific context, but rather as stories imbued with pointed theological instruction. To read the creation accounts literally or to believe Noah's flood provides evidence for a worldwide, catastrophic flood responsible for Earth's present topographical features is inexcusable folly. It is bad scholarship on the order of declaring Herodotus' writings historical fact, or Shelley's "To a Skylark" a definitive ornithological account of that genus.
Despite presenting no novel view regarding the science-religion debate, The Rocks Don't Lie provides much worth considering. In particular, Montgomery emphasizes an aspect of the science-religion debate often neglected: he shows (largely in describing recent geological disputes over a pre-Columbian flood in the Pacific northwest) that Christians aren't the only party guilty of dogmatism. Scientists too have ignored and even tried to refute hypotheses solely on grounds that they fell outside the presently accepted theoretical framework. "The difference between scientists and Creationists," the author concludes, "… is that scientists assess their theories based on how well they fit the evidence, whereas Creationists interpret observations by determining how well the facts fit in with their beliefs. Not surprisingly, these different varieties of faith yield radically different views of nature." The take-away point here is a sober reminder that despite striving toward disparate ends, science and theology both require some means of faith.
Elise Crull is a research fellow at the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Aberdeen.
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