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The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
David R. Montgomery
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012
320 pp., $26.95

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Science in Focus: Marjorie A. Chan

The Rocks Don't Lie

The truth is all around us.

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My father-in-law, a lifelong evangelical and a college anthropology teacher, read my copy of The Rocks Don't Lie before I got to it. He pronounced it "a good read!" As a geologist, I agree.

David Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington and a MacArthur Fellow (Class of 2008), gives readers the historical threads to sew together the tale of theological, geological, and scientific thinking over the last several hundred years. His strong yet easygoing storytelling skills make it easy to follow the history of how people who studied the natural world struggled to reconcile their field observations with the prevailing interpretations of the Genesis accounts of creation and Noah's flood.

Many early philosophers and theologians came up with reasons why Noah's flood would not have been a global catastrophic deluge to align their religious views with the scientific evidence available in their day. These included St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Copernicus. Each was faced with constraints when questioning certain received interpretations of the biblical texts, although most felt their studies of the landscape enabled them to better understand God's handiwork and, thus, the Creator.

In the 1800s, geologists who were also steeped in Scripture read the first chapters of Genesis as the story of creation without forcing this account to stand as a scientific treatise as well. Montgomery presents the opposing Young Earth creationist view as a more recent development. Its proponents, he charges, willingly embrace contradictory and outmoded theories and ignore many facts entirely, seeking to make the scientific evidence fit what they claim to be a literal narrative of the creation story in Genesis.

As Montgomery makes abundantly clear, geology is an exhilarating discipline. The forces of nature acting over vast stretches of time are awe-inspiring. And the fossil record—contrary to the familiar refrain from Young Earth creationists—is robust. The author's account of a hike out of the Grand Canyon takes the reader through the epochs of earth history, emphasizing the evidence of time recorded in the rock layers. Geologic time is long and deep, but since almost the beginning of time, life has left traces of its passing.

This book raises interesting questions about how societies accept change, and how both secular and religious authority functions. Scientific thinking often challenges traditions and authorities and seeks new boundaries. Yet as Montgomery points out, science can also refuse to consider new evidence that challenges its own traditions. Not surprisingly, Christianity and science can be compatible and in fact supportive of each other—but that requires openness to evidence in the natural world.

If the rocks don't lie, then they tell the truth. Rocks are everywhere, and it is satisfying to know the truth is all around us.

Marjorie A. Chan is professor of geology at the University of Utah.

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