The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, with David R. Montgomery
photo by Anne Biklé
The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, with MacArthur Fellow and U.W. professor of geomorphology David R. Montgomery.
David Montgomery—a MacArthur genius grant recipient for his work on landscape evolution—draws from years of field experience to demonstrate the crucial link between folk stories and modern geology. He takes the reader with him, following the trail of Noah’s Flood from the Tsangpo River in Tibet to a creationism museum in Kentucky. In between, he finds people both of faith and of science eager to prove the biblical story true, giving us not only a fascinating study of the interplay of religion and science but also a shocking new perspective on the Bible’s greatest tale.
First, Montgomery asks how we should read ancient stories like accounts of great floods purporting to explain the origin of landforms? Can we regard them as tales of prehistoric events, or should we dismiss them as archaic superstitions? As a geologist trained to read the history of the world from rocks and landforms, Montgomery explores the geological basis of folktales and how geography, culture, and tradition shape the way people see and interpret the land. Geologists tend to explain the prevalence of flood stories among ancient societies as simply reflecting the fact that floods are common natural disasters. But could there be more to stories of really big floods, or even the flood to end all floods, Noah’s Flood?
In his quest for an answer, Montgomery draws from the historic works of theologians, naturalists, and other scientists only to discover an unexpected cross-pollination between Western religious history and geology. Among his surprising discoveries is that the first geologists were, in fact, predominantly clergymen. For centuries, biblical scholars and theologians eager to validate God’s word relied on evidence in plain sight—the rocks and the fossils they held—to support the creation stories of the Old Testament. As Montgomery explains, “All too frequently, the history of science is simplified into a story of the light of reason dispelling the shadows of myth and superstition.”
Yet ask any geologist today, and they’ll likely dismiss
Noah’s Flood as pure fiction. Montgomery ascribes this to a blindness that
goes both ways: just as creationists will miss plain-sight evidence, those who
subscribe to the scientific method occasionally overlook what can be read right
in the rocks. In one compelling example from the book, Montgomery comments on how it took an eighteenth-century
Scottish farmer, James Hutton, simply observing the rocks at Siccar Point on
the coast of Edinburgh to discover that the Earth is
shaped by a slow accumulation of day-by-day change. In the process, he
dispelled the idea that the Earth was a mere 6,000 years old, as inferred from
a literal interpretation of the Bible.
THE ROCKS DON’T LIE captures these and other fascinating moments in the history of geology and presents them in a way that will permanently change the way we look at the world around us. Indeed, this unique book takes readers on the ground, along the trail of the Grand Canyon, and to the bottom of the Black Sea, so we, too, can read the rocks as a world-class geomorphologist does.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David R. Montgomery is a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he lives. He is the author of Dirt and King of Fish, and a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.