Through Noah’s Ark Story, Geologist Balances Science, Religion

In his book The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, David Montgomery analyzes the truth in the Biblical story of God’s mass extinction of His creation. Montgomery’s book tells the story through religious and geological viewpoints, following the history of the Earth. On Thursday, during an event hosted by the environmental studies department, Montgomery spoke to students about his book.

Montgomery, a geomorphologist, studies the physical structure of Earth to interpret the past. He was inspired to research the ancient-flood legend when doing fieldwork in Tibet, where he found evidence in the rocks of the Namcha Barwa mountain range of a massive flood.

When Montgomery told the locals they were living on the site of a catastrophe, he was surprised to hear that they already knew. The lamas at the local temple had an oral legend describing the event in detail. The revelation that a local story he probably would have dismissed as myth earlier was rooted in truth was astonishing, and inspired him to look for truth in other stories.

People ranging from 16th century theologians to modern creationists have been on the same quest as Montgomery for centuries. Young-earth creationism—believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible and a young, 6,000-year-old Earth—is a growing phenomenon, he said.

Proving Noah’s Flood has been a cornerstone of the creationist argument for centuries. There were an abundance of different theories from where such a catastrophe could come, but most disproved by the clergy-scientists centuries ago. Most of science is trying to disprove people’s theories, Montgomery said.

“That’s what geologists like to do—we like to shoot holes in each other’s theories, argue about things, [and] try to find new evidence and data,” he said.

It’s the hypothesis that stands up through vigorous scrutiny that can eventually be considered truth, according to Montgomery. All theories based on a literal reading of the Bible quickly crumbled when probed.

In the early history of the Church, before science and religion were seen as inherently incompatible, theologians like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine dismissed a literal reading of the Bible and attempting to bend reason to fit a certain interpretation. Aquinas saw nature as “God’s other book” that they came from the same author, and so must tell the same history.

Montgomery explained the view of changing interpretation to fit facts, instead of the other way around.

“If you have an example of something you can observe, and learn, from looking at nature, and it conflicts with something you interpret and read in the Bible, maybe you should be reconsidering that interpretation as opposed to what you’ve learned from nature,” he said.

Science and religion aren’t inherently incompatible, but work together to explain the world, according to Montgomery.

The Bible often contradicts itself within the stories themselves, he said. These inconsistencies were explained in 1872 when George Smith translated Assyrian tablets excavated from the remains of an ancient library. He discovered that the crumbling tablets contained a story similar to the Biblical flood story. The Genesis story is actually a composite of ancient pagan legends, rooted in true stories of localized, but still devastating floods. To the ancient people living in the affected area, a massive flood would have wiped out their entire known world, leading to the misconception of a global flood.

Modern creationists, however, have abandoned the history of Aquinas and Augustine in favor of a willing blindness that confirms their own ideas, according to Montgomery. This is a pattern throughout history, on the sides of theologians and scientists alike.

“There is a long history of interpreting evidence through the filter of the theory that you’re trained to see things through,” Montgomery said.

Now, the resurgence of modern, young-Earth creationism is based on a cherry-picking of facts to support an argument that was rejected by church officials centuries ago. Montgomery’s book is an attempt to share the true history of modern fundamentalism and science and show how science and religion can work—and have worked—together.

“The war between science and religion is better viewed as a conflict within religion over how to view science,” he said.

Featured Image by Margeaux Eckert / Heights Staff

  • Skeptic NY

    It also should be noted that Ken Ham’s “Answers in Genesis”, the “Creation Museum” and the “Ark Encounter” spew out known lies to the ignorant public and innocent children regarding established science while duping the public out of their money. These “organizations” should be labeled as cults and contribute to the dumbing down of our country. Ironically not only do these organizations do harm to science education in this country they harm the one thing they value the most – their religious views by promoting such anti-reality nonsense.

  • aedgeworth

    Recorded human history, from a secular perspective, only goes back about 5,000 years. Anything that goes beyond that always involves a certain amount of storytelling. Real science is supposed to be a quest for knowledge. What Ken Ham believes, and what Skeptic NY believes, are both philosophical worldview beliefs about the evidence, not the evidence itself. Sadly, most people like Skeptic NY are unable to tell the difference.

    The “big bang” belief violates 3 known laws of science. It is only still accepted by many because they know what the only alternative is. Humans exist, and chimps exist. Does their DNA suggest a common ancestor, or a common designer? Your answer to that question with be based on your philosophical worldview and have little to do with real science. What an eye is, what it does, and how we treat it for disease is real science. That is what should be in our science textbooks.

    When we get into why we have eyes, and where they came from; that should only be taught in a philosophy class regarding worldviews and origins, and leave the science classrooms for real scientific endeavor.

    • Skeptic NY

      Get a clue. Science has ZERO to do with beliefs or “world-view”. Science is based on observable, testable, verifiable, falsifiable empirical EVIDENCE – regardless of where it leads. Beliefs and “world-view” is the purvey of religion and NOT science. Science does not give a hoot about beliefs or world-views. If you knew anything about how science is conducted you would know this – but apparently you’re woefully sadly ignorant. If one brings their beliefs or “world-view” into the laboratory they are NOT doing science but something else (exactly what the snake-oil salesman Ken Ham does).

      What we know about the world in which we live is that there was no global flood, Adam & Eve did not exist, humans did not roam the earth with dinosaurs, evolution is a fact, common descent is a fact, the earth was not created and that the earth is over 4.5 BILLION years old. These are all established facts that are not in dispute. Entire fields of science from biology to genetics to geology to paleontology to molecular biology to archeology to physics to cosmology ALL contradict the “Creation Museum’s (it’s not a museum btw) narrative. They knowingly LIE about established science.

      Cults like “Answers in Genesis” know they are lying because relevant scientists and scientific organizations (such as The National Academy of Sciences – the most prestigious science organization in the country & perhaps the planet) have made them aware of the errors and blatant lies but they continue to lie about the science anyway. They reprehensively dupe people out of their money. Furthermore, the facts I just listed can easily be looked up. That you don’t avail yourself of this information – in the 21st century no less – makes you complicit in the dumbing down of our country. SHAME ON YOU.

    • Nofun

      The only world view you need is reality …every other world view is censoring that reality.

      Human Chromosome 2 links us to chimps not world views. We have one less chromosome than chimps and Human Chromosome 2 is a fusion of 2 of theirs. The base pairs are the same, there is a visible join and and it even has vestigial teleomeres.

      The religious always try to drag everything down as a choice between beliefs when the choice is between belief and reality.

  • dennis54634

    Thanks to share good experience about science education. Such kind of education can help us so more to get the better education in here and i know most of educators are like this science in here.