The Rocks Don't Lie

David R. Montgomery, W.W. Norton, 2012

David Montgomery is a geologist who teaches geomorphology at the University of Washington. He was born in 1961 in Stanford, California, and studied geology at Stanford University(BS 1984) before earning his Ph.D. in geomorphology at UC Berkeley (1991). He teaches at the University of Washington where he studies the evolution of topography and how geological processes shape landscapes and influence ecological systems. He loved maps as a kid and now writes about the relationship of people to their environment and other things that interest him. In 2008 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. He lives with his wife Anne in Seattle, Washington.


The preface reveals no sympathy at all with Morris-type flood geology, but a discovered sympathy for the interplay between faith and science in the developing understanding of the Earth and us. He also makes it clear that he is standing down from theological, philosophical or intelligent design type arguments.

Ch.1 Buddha's Dam

On a geological expedition to Tibet, he found flat-topped terraces standing hundreds of feet above river-level terrain. They indicated lake sediment, and even higher terraces included rounded stones like river rock. He developed a picture of two large lakes, one higher than the other, in the history of the region. His model was strengthened by carbon dates of 10,000 BCE and 800AD for the two proposed lakes. He was surprised to find that this model was confirmed by local legends. This influenced his view of the nature of regional legends.

p8 "Could science be playing catch-up to folklore? For most of our history as a species, oral traditions were the only way to preserve knowledge. So why wouldn't the world's flood stories record actual ancient disasters?" In this section he recounted the development of his "topophilia" on family trips, a love of landscape that culminated in his becoming a geomorphologist.

p9 Brings up Noah's flood as the best-known and most controversial, comments on the controversy, but then indicates that he became a bit more sympathetic upon reflection on the type of information that had been available. Early geologists and natural philosophers understood the Earth to be relatively young and had to look for an influence so powerful as to create the geological diversity we see on the Earth.

p9 "The busted-up rocks and rough terrain of mountains were seen as the ruins of a former, once perfect world that raging floodwaters destroyed at the behest of an angry god. Topography was concrete evidence fo the awesome power of divine wrath, a humbling reminder of our place in the grand scheme of things."

p9 "Throughout history, stories about catastrophic floods have been framed by conflict between orthodoxy and heresy- both religious and scientific. At first, arguments from all sides assumed that the best theories were those that could predict what was not yet known. Answers to the question of how to read the land lay rooted in how to interpret physical evidence one could bash open, kick over, or dig down into to test ideas about what should be there. Theories would be tested against evidence."

p9-10 "In Sunday school I leaned that Bible stories were parables to be read more for their moral message than their literal words. The story of Noah's Flood taught mankind to be stewards of the environment - to care for all parts of nature, even as we bent her to our desires. Growing up, I was satisfied that Jesus taught how to live a good life and that science revealed how the world worked."

p10 Tells of conversation with woman in a jury pool about how Noah's flood had shaped the mountains - in response to his look of surprise and disbelief he got the line "only atheists believe the world was ancient." " I sat there at a loss for words - something geology professors are not generally known to be."

p10 Noting that "flood geology" is common among Christians in the U.S., he comments "Her view is what geologists call "flood geology", the resilient yet scientifically discredited idea that the biblical flood remodeled the planet in one fell swoop several thousand years ago. In the four hundred years since the church grounded Galileo, Christianity has come to accept science that disproves archaic notions about our world being the center of the universe. Why should geological discoveries be treated any differently than those of astronomy?"

p11 In 1990's Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman suggested that a Mediterranean Sea disaster which created the Black Sea might in fact be Noah's flood, "creationists were outraged". "They saw the suggestion that Noah's Flood was a regional disaster, and not a global event, as an attack on Christianity."

p11 Further comments on Noah's flood and the evidence for great antiquity, he summarizes with a sentence that contains his book title: "In defending and interpretation of God's word contradicted by geological evidence, creationists abandon a long-standing Christian belief that rocks don't lie."

p12 "For centuries, Christians interpreted scientific discoveries through faith that God's word (the Bible) and Creation (nature) must be consistent with one another. In combing through historical material- both geological and theological - I saw that previous generations had reconciled geological evidence with how to read the biblical story of Noah's Flood. Although harsh rhetoric is by no means a modern invention, for centuries few considered science and religion mortal enemies. Most early geologists were clergy who believed that stories preserved in rock revealed the nature of Giod's works as surely as the Bible revealed His Word. Scientifically inclined clergy had faith that discoveries about the natural world would illuminate biblical interpretation. They knew their efforts could only enhance biblical authority because a deeper understanding of the workings of nature led to a deeper understanding of God."

p12 "Scientifically inclined creationists tend to be engineers, chemists, and physicists with little or no geological training. Perhaps this helps explain why the creationist view of Earth as only a few thousand years old contrasts with geology textbooks based on decades of research confirming that we live on a planet that is four and a half billion years old."

p13 About the "thousands of years": "In such a short span of time a flood of epic proportions is the only geological mechanism that could do it. It's all creationists have that can explain earth history, and without it their intellectual house of cards comes crashing down."

p13 "Whatever you may think about evolution, the creationist belief in a several-thousand-year-old Earth shaped by Noah's Flood is as scientifically illiterate as the idea that the Sun circles us. Both have been known to be wrong for centuries. And to embrace the creationist view of earth history is to deny Earth's autobiography inscribed on pages of stone."

p13 "Yet amid the conflict I found fertile cross-pollination between geology and Christianity. Scientific discoveries shaped creative explanations for earth history, and the interpretation of biblical stories of the Creation and Noah's Flood framed the ideas of early geologists."

p13 "journey .. read the history of the world .. instead of .. tale of Darwin's ideas ..a different story of evolution - that of Christian theology and the birth of modern creationism."

p14 "You see, the stories of Noah's Flood and the Tibetan flood are much the same, except of course that one went viral and we're still arguing about it."

Ch.2 A Grand Canyon

p15 Describes his trip to Grand Canyon and his hike out of the Canyon.

p15 Describes flipping through book in GC gift shop "Grand Canyon: A Different View" which followed the one-year global flood line. "I was puzzled that the authors did not try to explain how a mile-high stack of saturated sediment remained standing without slumping into the growing chasm - or how all the loose sand and clay later turned into solid rock."

p16 "There was no explanation for the multiple alternating layers of different rock types, the erosional gaps in the rock sequence that spoke of ages of lost time, or the remarkable order to the various fossils in the canyon walls."

p17 At Colorado River level, a cave revealed Vishnu Schist, quartz, feldspar, and mica in swirling patterns - metamorphic rock.

p17 Does a geologic description of conditions to produce the observed swirled patterns of Vishnu schist: 900-1300F temperature, 3000 atoms, and using 40-50 degrees F hotter per mile projects to over 10 miles below the surface for the formation. The age line projects to over a billion years.

p18 Structure and time diagram of Grand Canyon in Bright Angel area

p18 Discusses U-Pb dating, particularly with zircon's advantages, zircon in granite 1.7 billion, schist older since granite cools in its cracks. Treats sandstone with 10-12 deg tilt, limestone, shale, quartzite in sandstone, flat-lying rocks above.

p20 Some simple morphological rules

  • depositional then horizontal
  • deeper then older
  • in cutoffs, cutter is younger

p21 discussion of conformity and unconformity

p22 Vishnu schist 1.7billion, Tapeat sandstone 525 million, so unconformity bridges over a billion years

p22 Walked through Indian Gardens - shale too weak to hold a cliff. Tracks and burrows in shale indicate ancient seabed.

p24 As part of his description of his walk from Colorado River up the Bright Angel trail: "geological staircase made of shale treads and sandstone risers" Discusses the evidence of great age.

p24 "The sandstone would not hold cliffs because loose sand can only support slopes of at most 30 to 40 degrees."

p24-25 "If the creationist view held water - that the canyon's slopes formed when the sediment was still saturated - then the slopes today would have shale cliffs and sandstone benches, the opposite of what is visible along the trail."

p24-25 These two pages alone form a very strong case against flood geology.

p27 "Marine limestone doesn't form in a flood."

Ch.3 Bones in the Mountains

There are fossils high on Mt. Everest. He discusses their formation. Does an outline of the thinking of many on the subject of the flood and how fossils got to every elevation.

p35 Philo

p36 Celsus - opponent of Christianity

p37 Augustine

p38 Jerome, contemporary of Augustine

p39 Martin Luther

p40 Aquinas follows Augustine

p41 Leonardo da Vinci, surprising amount of thought about the flood

p44 Luther & Calvin on the flood. Luther in 1545 wrote more than 100 pages about the flood.

p46 Luther opposed the Copernican view, Luther, Calvin and Galileo on Jupiter's moons.

Ch.4 World in Ruins

p53 Decartes, principal philosopher

p54 Athanasius Kircher on natural history

p55 Vossius argued that there was not enough water for a global flood. cont with Kircher. Vossius interesting - similar to modern view, only universal for humanity.

p56 Stillingfleet 1666 - not enough water

p56 Steno laid some of the foundations of modern geology.

p59 Steno and shark's teeth - convinced that fossils were actually petrified actual animals. He is origin of law that deeper means older. Discusses Steno as a major influence.

p60 Steno's contributions to geology

p65 Thomas Burnet - 40days of rain at 2"/hr only 16ft of water

p69 John Woodward 1695 followed Steno - plagiarized him and was called on it.

p74 Edmund Halley - others with theories

p77 Ends chapter by again pointing to Steno and his rules as formational in making up geology.

Ch.5 A Mammoth Problem

p79 99% of animal species extinct

p80 ammonites abundant but no living species

p81 Johann Scheuchzer - marine fossils - books defending Noah's flood

p84 Mammoth discovery

p85 Mather and tooth and leg of elephant 1721, Catesby identified as elephant - mammoth

p86 Thomas Jefferson thought they were mammoths

p88 Cuvier - mammoth, not elephant, no living species. Was founder of vertebrate paleontology.

p91 "After Cuvier, the drive to find evidence for Noah's flood in the rocks was well and truly dead, although modern creationists would later resurrect the idea."

Ch.6 The Test of Time

p93 Scottish farmer James Hutton discovered geologic time in the form of red and gray sandstone formations at Siccar Point.

p94-95 Illustrations of location.

p95-96 Summary of the picture constructed from the discovery of the red and gray sandstone at Siccar point from that discovery in 1788. Older gray sandstone projected to date 425 million, and the red sandstone 345 million.

p96 Discusses Ussher chronology and other chronologies that pointed to thousands of years.

p99 Buffon by 1775 had done an impressive job of modeling cooling time, discusses eroding of mountain ranges and a lot of ideas of modern geology. He was forced to recant part of it but, like Galileo, he persisted in his study. He came up with a basic day-age view.

p100 Interesting account of Buffon's investigations and the fact that he was not again challenged because the theologians were themselves duking it out over these ideas.

p102 The study of the geographical distribution of characteristic rock layers began to bear fruit in geological understanding. "And yet individual layers within the secondary rocks could be traced across Europe. Delicate layers just a few centimeters thick could be traced across tens of kilometers, something impossible to attribute to a chaotic deluge that ripped apart and mixed up the world's surface in the way that Burnet and Woodward had imagined."

p102-107 History of Hutton and his experience, including Siccar Point and picturing the cycle of erosion and sedimentary rock.

p107-108 Focuses on Hutton's discovery and explanation of Siccar Point.

p108 Hutton published Theory of the Earth in 1795

p109 Discussion of the rocks of Siccar Point

p110 Hutton died in 1797. Kirwan attacked his theory.

p112 Playfair published Hutton's ideas in 1802. Brought Hutton's ideas more into academic and public awareness.

Ch.7 Catastrophic Revelations

p116 Study after Mt. Pinatubo eruption

p118 Introduces William Smith, 1815. Surveyor and canal builder - studied the layers uncovered. George Cuvier in France studied layers and fossils.

p119 Cuvier - at least a half dozen great floods, each of which closed a geologic era.

p119 In 1818 glacier dammed river Dranse, then broke. Cuvier wrote about it in 1825

p120 Cuvier modeled catastrophism, contrasted with Hutton's uniformitarianism.

p120-121 William Buckland, minister of the Church of England and Oxford's first professor of geology. In 1819 his inaugural address at Oxford equated Noah's flood with Cuvier's latest catastrophe.

p122 Buckland was contemporary with William Paley, 1802 book "Natural Theology".

p123 Robert Bakewell, Intro to Geology, first geology text in English, 1813. Relates to gap theory and day-age theory. More on Buckland.

p124 1821 cave discovery, multiple animals, some African! Again Buckland.

p125 Buckland became Dean of Westminster.

p126 Adam Sedgwick - Woodward's old professor of geology Cambridge - taught Darwin his geology. 1825 cracks in Buckland's geologic case for a global flood.

p126 John Fleming - skeptic of global flood

p126-128 Good summary of careful case against a global flood.

p128-129 Buckland's about-face in 1836 in "Bridgewater Treatise" Geology and Minerology. Influenced not only by Fleming but also by his student Charles Lyell.

p130 Lyell-Buckland-James Hall-Hutton and Siccar Point

p131 Lyell-Buckland diverge "within a decade the apprentice would dethrone the master."

p131 In 1827 Charles Lyell wrote "We must recollect that the Mosaic narration is elliptical in the extreme, and that it makes no pretensions whatever to supply those minute scientific details which some would endeavor to extort from it." Montgomery comments "Lyell was echoing Augustine in believing that it would be hard to convince rational men to follow a religion that denied things one could see for oneself." Montgomery was presumably referring to what we call "Augustine's Reserve".

p132 Lyell's explorations with Roderick Murchison, nice diagram.

p132 Lyell's travels revealed that different rocks had different fossils, and found that "Fossils could be used to reliably assess the age of strata in southern Europe, something that could not be determined from mineral composition alone."

p133 "More than anything else his exploration of European geology convinced him of the enormous span of geologic time and that a global flood was not responsible for shaping the modern landscape." Lyell moved to the Hutton position. He wrote Principles of Geology to persuade toward the position of great age.

p134 Lyell continued to oppose the view that geologic changes all occurred by sudden catastrophes, and argued that what is seen in geologic history can be explained by processes now in operation.

p135 While acknowledging the role of catastrophes, Lyell argued that processes still in operation could sculpt geography. By the third volume of his Principles he explicitly dismissed the likelihood of a global flood as a geological reality.

p136 Lyell sought a position at King's College in 1831. He got the position, was attacked by Sedgwick on the "uniform action" line, but his carefully developed arguments began to influence Buckland.

p137 Again comments on Buckland's "Bridgewater Treatise"

p137-139 Describes the writings of William Cockburn whom he classified as the first of the modern creationists. Had a meeting of geologists at Cockburn's home in which he outlined how all of geology was the result of a global flood. Cockburn sat down to raucous laughter. Sedgewick rose to deliver a "stinging hour-and-a-half response attacking Cockburn's woeful ignorance of geology in remarks characterized by an eyewitness as marked with 'a scornful bitterness beyond the power of any reporter to reproduce' ". Cockburn was not easily silenced and published phamplets and a book defending his position.

p139 Adam Sedgewick reversed his position on catastrophism being the main former of geology in his last presidential address to the Geological Society of London.

p140 Louis Agassiz, Swill naturalist, explained surgical debris and stray boulders in terms of glacial action, artifacts that had usually been used as support for a global flood.

p140 "By the 1850's, Christian men of science overwhelmingly believed Earth was extremely old. In the decades before Darwin, the failure of a literal interpretation of Genesis to account for earth history helped create new rifts in Christian philosophy. In the spirit of Augustine, many Christians adopted the view that geology could help guide reinterpreting biblical stories. Others, without a background in natural philosophy or geology, came to be known as scriptural geologists. They either considered a literal interpretation of the Bible paramount and geology mistaken or embraced the idea that God just made the world look old, hiding fossils in rocks back at the initial Creation. In this split lay the roots of modern creationism."

p140-141 "Today geologists view all processes as fair game - from slow and steady everyday change to dramatic catastrophes. It's not one or the other, as Lyell and Cockburn both portrayed things. Over the past several centuries, generations of geologists built their ideas on top of preceding theories, disproving or reinforcing what they had heard before. In the process, they learned how everyday change really does add up to big effects - given time - and that geological catastrophes really did happen, causing mass extinctions not just once but at least five times in the history of the world."

Ch.8 Fragmented Stories

p144 George Smith and the Sumerian flood story, the Gilgamesh epic

p148 Smith commissioned for field investigation, found 6 day creation story, temptation and fall, as well as the flood story.

p151 Leonard Woolley investigated Ur area and found evidence of a great Mesopotamian flood. 10 ft of water-laid silt burying a ruined city. Stephen Langdon also found flood deposits.

p152 Woolley persists in his investigations till 1956. Max Mallowan investigated Mesopotamian flood. He continues the rest of this chapter with other flood stories.

Ch.9 Recycled Tales

p161 Louis Cappel in 1650 studied biblical translations and found indications that it had a history before the actual writing or collection

p162 Martin Luther grappled with problems of translation

p163 Richard Simon 1685 Critical History of the Old Testament -- found conflicting styles and other "higher criticism" evidences that shocked the Calvinists whom it was supposed to shock, but also shocked the Catholic Church that had commissioned his work to gain ammunition to use against Calvin. Quite a story about how Simon succeeded in uniting Catholics and protestants against a common enemy - him.

p164 Physician Jean Astruc advanced similar arguments a half century later. Then in late 1700s German intellectuals produced more criticism.

p166 Montgomery continues his discussion of the development of criticism of the Biblical text, but by this time the narrative has degenerated into considering everyone's criticism more valid than the biblical text.

p170 Ryle as significant part of science vs faith dialog - doesn't date Ryle.

p171 Lenormant in 1883 for comparison of flood stories.

p172 James Frazer in 1918.

p177 After a few pages of general discussion of flood stories, etc, he comes to a conciliatory statement about the situation in mid nineteenth century "The educated consensus was that just because it was written for an audience with a Mesopotamian knowledge of earth science didn't mean that the Book of Genesis wasn't written to convey the majesty, scope and power of creation."

p177 Discussion of Huxley. Critical of Huxley's villianization of of clergy and his fomenting of war between Christianity and science.

Ch.10 Dinosaurs in Paradise

p179 Describes visit to Creation Museum

p184 Five points of fundamentalism

p184-185 "Fundamentalists became increasingly isolated as their efforts to stem the rising tide of liberal thought failed to sway mainstream denominations in the 1930s. They then focused on building their own network of churches and schools dedicated to teaching biblical infallibility. As fundamentalists began slipping into a self-contained world, the recycled arguments of flood geology seemed to provide fresh ammunition for the fight to ban teaching evolution in public schools - and its heretical foundation in an ancient Earth."

p185 Tolmachoff and details on mammoths.

p185-190 The story of George McCready Price and his enamorment with Ellen Gould White's Seventh Day Adventist visions. Clearly draws from Ronald Numbers' "The Creationists" here in his scathing review. On pg 187 connects Price's type of picture to Burnet and Woodward. Interesting that David Jordan, president of Stanford, tried for two decades to get Price to actually study geology.

p188 Ridicule of Price from geologists

p190 Price's work led up to Scopes Trial time period in 1925.

p190 Montgomery's version of Scopes Trial - would be interesting to compare to Philip Johnson's in "Darwin on Trial". Quotes Darrow on Price - interesting quote. When Darrow was grilling Bryan about a litany of biblical puzzles, he asked if Bryan could point to any credible scientist who believed that the story of a global flood could be taken literally. In response, Bryan named Price. Darrow scoffed "You mentioned Price because he is the only human being in the world so far as you know that signs his name as a geologist that believes like you do .. every scientist in this country knows [he] is .. a pretender and not a geologist at all."

p192 Entry of carbon dating into the story. Good diagram that I might use. T 1/2 = 5720 +/- 47 years quoted.

p193 Good sentence "The atmospheric ratio of 14C to 12C is maintained in living things that continually incorporate new carbon into their bodies."

p193 Carbon dating of mammoths >40K to <10K years. Variety of death modes - analysis of stomachs showed local vegetation, belying a model that envisioned them as being swept there by a catastrophic flood.

p194 Forming ASA in 1941, Kulp in 1950 attacked flood geology.

p195 Mud must be a mile deep to form rock.

p196 Kulp and use of U-Pb dating to confirm Steno's "deeper = older"

p196 Great thickness of evaporites - gypsum in Michigan. <1 foot of gypsum per 1000ft of sea water, so 450 miles of water to evaporate the observed thickness, and with Dead Sea estimate of evaporation rate, hundreds of thousands of years.

p197 Discussion of Bernard Ramm and his Christian View of Science and Scripture. Argues against global flood. Couple of good quotes from him.

Ch.11 The Heretic's Flood

p201 Too comfortable uniformitarian, geologists were shocked by evidence for a vast flood that shaped eastern Washington's scablands. "It is hard to see evidence for what you're sure cannot exist. .. They were certain that enormous floods capable of sculpting topography were impossible."

p203 J. Harlen Bretz discovered flood evidence in 1920s.

p204-206 The story of Bretz and his passion for geologic field work in Washington. Collected evidence about the extraordinary canyons carved into solid rock.

p207 Jan 1927 presentation to Geological Society of Washington DC where he carefully outlined his evidence for a great flood. Referred to as the DC Ambush, all the following speakers opposed his conclusions. One attendee, Joe Pardee, proposed the breaking of a glacial dam on Lake Missoula as a possible source of water for a great flood.

p208 Illustration of Lake Missoula and the scablands.

p209 1940 Seattle AAAS meeting, Bretz's work confirmed.

p210 Bretz's work invoked in explaining features on Mars by NASA in '76 when Bretz was 94.

p212 Discussion of multiple ice dam failures in North America and Europe.

p212 Yakama and Spokane indians had flood stories, carbon dating of human presence for 14k years.

p213 Great Lakes flood stories, Lake Agassiz, map p214

p215 Tsunami flood stories

p217 Atlantis stories - carbon dating of volcano.

p219 Beginning of Black Sea discussion

p220 Discovery of black mud layer between two clay layers.

p220 Robert Clark - connected biblical flood with Black Sea

p221 Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman, oceanographers, did a detailed map of the Black Sea bottom, modeled salt water intrusion on a fresh water lake.

p222 Ryan and Pitman hypothesis that intrusion scattered farmers into Europe. Challenges point to a more gradual salt water entry over 1000 to 12000 years.

p223 YECs denounce Ryan and Pitman because they deny a global flood.

p223 Montgomery posits the Black Sea and Mesopotamian floods as reasonable "Noah's flood" candidates.

p223 "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. Yet, who's to say that the original Noah wasn't among those living in the area now submerged beneath the Black Sea? At this point an answer lies beyond the reach of geological, archaeological or historical inquiry. Tho those with opinions about such things, the truth remains a matter of faith."

Ch.12 Phantom Deluge

p225 "I have often wondered how creationists could reject a whole series of independent scientific advances, from the coherent order of species in the fossil record to radiometric dating and plate tectonics. Even more curious is how they reject science even when it appears to support the historical veracity of scripture." This is the introduction to the chapter in which he swings around broadside and levels his big guns on Morris and Whitcomb.

p225 The opening barrage: "The key to understanding modern creationist thinking lies in understanding the influence of John Whitcomb and Henry Morris. Shocked by what they saw as the bending of God's Word to the whims of science, these two men wrote the book that launched the modern revival of young-Earth creationism."

p225 "In 1948, Whitcomb was a Princeton ancient and European history major who converted to evangelical Christianity in his freshman year. Following graduation, Whitcomb enrolled in Grace Theological Seminary, a fundamentalist school in Winona Lake, Indiana, where he later taught Old Testament and Hebrew. This combative young Bible teacher, the son of General Patton's chief of staff, considered endorsement of an old Earth and a local Flood to be an abominable folly rooted in uncritical acceptance of uniformitarian geology."

p226 "Raised Southern Baptist, Morris drifed into religious indifference in his undergraduate years. After a period of intense soul-searching following graduation, he rejected evolution and embraced a literal six-day creation. Not letting this interfere with pursuing his worldly interests, he went on to earn a PhD in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota. A successful academic, he eventually headed the civil engineering program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute."

p226 Morris and Whitcomb's meeting: "in the summer of 1953 at the annual American Scientific Affiliation convention. Whitcomb attended Morris's presentation on "The Biblical Evidence for a Recent Creation and Universal Deluge". He was as impressed with the talk as he was appalled by its polite dismissal by an audience familiar with J. Laurence Kulp's devastating critiques of flood geology. Whitcomb had found an ally."

p226 "Further incensed by the favorable reception of Bernard Ramm's book in the evangelical community, Whitcomb decided to write his own thesis on the biblical case for a global flood." Completed in 1957 -- Moody provisionally agreed to publish if checked or coauthored by PhD scientist -- geologist appalled, suggested he learn some historical geology - approached Morris, finally asked him to co-author upon finding that he, too, was working on a flood geology book -- finished but turned down by Moody, small publisher agreed and "The Genesis Flood" was published in 1961.

p227 "The book began with a long argument for the reality of a global flood that killed off everyone and everything not aboard the ark." Montgomery gives him credit for acknowledging more recent archeological and geological evidence than had George McCready Price, but it is faint praise because he follows with "but they were just as selective and prejudicial in evaluating that evidence. They were forthright in admitting as much: 'We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context .. It is not a scientific decision at all, but a spiritual one." Preface to "The Genesis Flood" "Either the Biblical record of the Flood is false and must be rejected or else the system of historical geology which has seemed to discredit it is wrong and must be changed." p118 "The Genesis Flood"

Borrowing the words "incensed" and "appalled" from above, that pretty well describes my reaction to that statement above from the preface of "The Genesis Flood". I see it as an admission of intellectual dishonesty in the handling of evidence. To presume that their understanding of the intent of scripture is perfect and to be willing to bend evidence and select only data favorable to their prior conclusion is absolutely inexcusable.

p227 Montgomery's reaction is about the same. "Rejecting the idea of reinterpreting scripture to accommodate science, they advocated 'letting the Bible speak for itself and then trying to understand the geological data in light of its teachings.'" (p214 The Genesis Flood) "In other words, they tried to figure out geologic history by reading the Bible and then looked for data supporting the proper conclusion - and dismissed or ignored contrary evidence."

p228 "Whitcomb and Morris first asserted biblical inerrancy and rejected both a tranquil and a local flood as inconsistent with the plain meaning of the biblical story. Any fool could see the Flood was violent and global." Again and again I see this phrase "plain meaning" applied to scripture with the implication that the intent of scripture is absolutely certain -- and in implying global flood from the "plain language" you ignore the plain fact that no listener would have any idea of a globe including Tasmania and Antarctica.

p228 Montgomery says "Yet they also accepted that the clouds held nowhere near enough water to trigger a global flood." That's again disappointing to me because I was hoping that it was just the ignorance of Whitcomb and Morris about how much water was on the Earth - ignorance is more palatable to me than the implication that they made up stuff to get around the lack of sufficient water for a global flood. But make up stuff they did, using the "plain meaning" of phrases in Genesis.

Miracles evoked to get enough water for a global flood:

  1. Pockets of water trapped underground since the creation erupted to the surface.
  2. Waters above the firmament (Genesis 1:7) were envisioned as a gigantic canopy of water vapor suspended above the primordial world.
  3. A miraculous collapse of this vapor canopy to bring the extraordinary volume of water down in forty days.
  4. The miraculous vapor cocoon protected from ionizing radiation, contributing to the long life of the antediluvians, and produced a greenhouse effect that kept the whole planet in a tropical state, explaining the fossils at extreme northern latitudes. (This was before the understanding of plate tectonics.)
  5. Convulsing the world with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as well as the global flood, the geological features of the world were produced in the year of the Flood.
  6. The excess of water that covered the globe was miraculously taken away.

p229 Morris and Whitcomb did talk a lot about geology, in which neither had any verifiable competence - certainly Whitcomb didn't, but Morris at least had his academic background in hydraulic engineering. Montgomery discusses some of their geologic claims.

The nature of Morris & Whitcomb evidence that the global flood of Noah formed the geology of the Earth is like the following: "Almost all of the sedimentary rocks of the earth, which are the ones containing fossils and from which the supposed geologic history of the earth has been largely deduced, have been laid down by moving water." (The Genesis Flood, p 124)

p229 Not only is jumping from moving water deposition of sedimentary rocks to a global flood an incredible jump, Montgomery points out that they assumed in the process that the relative age determination of rocks was entirely based on the fossils - but the Siccar Point and Grand Canyon investigations, for example, determined stratigraphic order in ways independent of fossils.

p229 Knowing that George McCready Price was considered a crackpot, Morris & Whitcomb danced around his work, but did use some of the long discredited ideas that showed that neither Price nor Morris & Whitcomb had studied the century and a half of investigation of geologic history ending about 1850 that had so thoroughly discredited the idea of a world geology shaped by a single global flood. Three of these discredited ideas were:

  1. Sediment and fossils settle out by density.
    • "Trilobites only occur in the lowest strata, which do not contain the densest fossils and often host delicate floating creatures."
    • If all submerged at same time, small trilobites would always be found above larger trilobites since objects of the same density will sort by size when settling through a fluid.
  2. Marine fauna would have perished first in the great flood and would therefore be deeper.
  3. Certain animals struggled longer to resist the flood, so were found higher.
    • Lowland sloths are found only in the uppermost, youngest strata, yet they could hardly have fled into the mountains on short notice.

p230 About Whitcomb & Morris "Unlike those who originally offered such ideas centuries earlier, Whitcomb and Morris made no attempt to test them against the geologic record. Instead, they questioned standard geologic evidence and, like their predecessors, invented scenarios and miracles as needed to explain inconvenient aspects of the biblical narrative."

p230 Interesting comments about Whitcomb & Morris's take on radiometric dating. They invoked the vapor canopy as a protection against ionizing radiation and suggested that it inhibited the formation of 14C in the atmosphere until after Noah, invalidating Carbon-14 dating. Then they "invoked greater rates of radioactive decay before the flood to make geologic data fit a young Earth. They ignored how this would have generated tremendous heat, making paradise hellish in the days before their vapor canopy collapsed."

p231 Interesting tree-ring comments that debunked Morris&Whitcomb's claims about Carbon-14. "in the 1980's, when Minze Stuvier and colleagues at the University of Washington worked out a calibration curve that extended back 13,300 years by simply counting tree rings in cross sections of logs cut at a known date and then carbon dating material from individual rings that could be lined up like overlapping bar codes from the ring patters of different trees."

p231 W&M even took the old "appearance of age" approach to explain away geological evidence.

p232-235 More discussion of the strata, Steno's principle, explanation of folding, discussion of the strata of coral reefs as the "nail in the coffin" of flood geology since they cannot be reasonable conceived to have been deposited in a violent flood. Coral reefs 1000 meters thick, requiring in excess of 100,000 years to grow.

p235 Continues with examples that make W&M's models look totally ludicrous, like the atmospheric pressure at ground level if the mythical vapor canopy was in place.

p235 W&M's opposition to Lyell uniformitarianism, yet the invoking of uniformitarian applications in flood debris sorting.

p236 Comments wonderingly about the wild popularity of The Genesis Flood when it was published. "Yet, the book proved wildly popular among the fundamentalist rank and file, revitalizing flood geology and spawning modern creationism." A page of reflection on what he saw as the reason for the enthusiastic response -- including looked scholarly with footnotes, emphasized "plain language" understanding, near-total ignorance of geology, nervousness about post-sputnik secularism, evolution mixed with communism, etc.

p237 Morris founded ICR (Institute for Creation Research) - "slick propaganda machine".

p237 Discussion of Davis Young and Morris's hope for an ally in him, which turned to anger as Young wrote in criticism of YEC. Interesting that Young had studied geological engineering at Princeton in late 50's, then read Genesis Flood and decided to seek evidence of the flood, then in PhD program in 1969 at Brown told Morris he no longer believed in a global flood. "Still deeply committed to scriptural inerrancy, Young became a leading evangelical critic of young-Earth creationism." Wrote book "Creation and the Flood" in 1977 which strongly criticized yec.

p238 Debunking the story of the Ark landing on Mt Ararat. Goes further than most discussions by pointing out that Mt Ararat itself sits on a whole series of sedimentary rocks, which W&M would claim were created by the Flood. "Mount Ararat itself eloquently refutes the claim that Noah's Flood was responsible for laying down all the world's sedimentary rock."

p238 Montgomery confesses being mystified about how W&M could advocate such discredited ideas until he realized that neither plate tectonics nor mechanisms for mountain building were in place when W&M were developing their discussion.

p239 Fairly extensive discussion of the development of the understanding of plate tectonics, beginning with Alfred Wegener's proposal. It was ridiculed in 1928, but accepted almost universally today. Seafloor sonar, discovery of mid-Atlantic ridge, spreading from the ridge, alternating magnetic field regions, matching coastlines of Africa & South America for example, sinking of plate edges, etc.

p243 Good summary statement: "In contrast to the long list of fundamentally unreconcilable problems with the concept of a global flood - such as where the water came from and where it went after the flood, the order of the fossil record, the predominance of extinct species in the fossil record, and the presence of soils and burrows developed on sedimentary rocks - plate tectonics provides remarkably consistent explanations for a wide range of phenomena." He goes on to list some of these. "Plate tectonics revolutionized geology, elegantly explaining within a single framework many of the physical world's outstanding mysteries."

p244 Quotes James Moore in Evangelical Quarterly in 1970s, scolding YECs for not being aware of history.

Ch.13 The Nature of Faith

p248 "Evidence that does not fit a theory is scientific gold - it leads to new discovery and knowledge. In contrast, elevating preconceived ideas and beliefs above evidence shuts off learning and stifles curiosity about the world."

p248 "The global pattern of tsunamis, glacial outburst floods, and catastrophic flooding of lowlands like Mesopotamia or the Black Sea basin fits rather well the global distribution and details of flood stories."

p251 "I don't think that the Creation story was intended as historical fact. It's more akin to epic poetry written to convey the divine origin of our wondrous world and everything in it, however they came about. 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." I'm sure he intended this as a somewhat conciliatory discussion, but it would create a firestorm in most conservative Christian groups even today and even if they were inclined to accept an old Earth. The idea of scriptural authority is foundational and non-negotiable.

p253 Paragraph 2 is his take on worldview. "We will only look at evidence that confirms our beliefs if we have already decided how and what to think about something."

p253 "By design, science excludes miracles because there is no way to test them through rational analysis. Science cannot address supernatural or divine action any more than Seattle residents can will away gray skies."

p257 "We may argue endlessly about how to interpret the Bible, but the rocks don't lie. They tell it like it was."


  Book of Nature Go Back