August 14, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Rocks Don't Lie, But Liars Rock

A geologist, trying to be nice to religious people, not only deals fast and loose with rock, but rolls into circular reasoning.

Geomorphologist David Montgomery believes science and religion can get along, as long as religion gives up any claim to epistemic truth about the world.  His new book, The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, was given friendly air time on Science Daily with no critique or rebuttal.  The article makes it clear that Montgomery views science epistemically superior to the Bible at the outset: “The purpose is not to tweak people of faith but to remind everyone about the long history in the faith community of respecting what we can learn from observing the world,” he said.  By drawing a contrast between himself and “people of faith” he denies the use of faith himself.  By “observing the world,” he presumes “people of faith” are not accustomed to doing so.  In short, if he can get “people of faith” to receive their revelation from geologists, he is willing to patronize them.

The article informs the reader matter-of-factly that the earth really is millions of years old, there was no universal global flood (which is impossible, in Montgomery’s view), and the Noah’s Flood story got its start in Mesopotamian myths.  This is nothing new, of course – skeptics have been claiming this for two centuries.  Montgomery, though, tries to put forth a kinder, gentler kind of scientific superiority complex: he allows that religious myths might have gotten started with half-truths: e.g., global flood myths based in local floods.  He even mentions some large local floods: a Tibetan flood, the Channeled Scablands of Washington, and islands that experienced devastating tsunamis.  By acknowledging that evidence for a “folk tale might be reality based,” he tosses a few scraps from the science table to the religious puppies.

In fact, one of his goals in writing the book was to improve scientific literacy among non-scientists.  Example: “He noted that a 2001 National Science Foundation survey found that more than half of American adults didn’t realize that dinosaurs were extinct long before humans came along.”  Another of his altruistic motives is “to coax readers to make sense of the world through both what they believe and through what they can see for themselves, and to keep an open mind to new ideas.”  He said, “If you think you know everything, you’ll never learn anything.

Update 9/22/2012:  Martin Rudwick, a historian of geology, reviewed the book on New Scientist.  Rudwick, who is well aware of the “Scriptural geologists” that were prominent before Lyell, nevertheless wrote disparagingly of creationists, even giving a political jab at them to scare readers: “This book may not change the minds of any creationists, but with luck it may cause some of the undecided – of whom, in the US, there are alarmingly many – to pause before supporting claims that creationist ideas deserve ‘equal time’ in the public sphere.”  He did not specify what public sphere; presumably he means public schools, otherwise his comment reeks of censorship in violation of the First Amendment.  Rudwick misrepresents the fact that no creationists have sought equal time in public schools since the 1980s; now, Darwinians and their lawyers have made it difficult for Darwin skeptics (a much broader company) to get the lies and distortions out of textbooks, let alone give any alternative viewpoint any time at all.  Rudwick also joined in the glittering generality that the Grand Canyon requires millions of years.

Let’s take Dr. Montgomery at his word and see if he is willing to learn something and keep an open mind.  Dr. Montgomery, do you have faith?  Do you have faith in science?  Do you have faith in your senses?  Do you have faith in your ability to comprehend the world?  Do you have faith in your interpretations of the evidence?  Assuming your answer is yes, then you need to lump yourself into the Venn Diagram U labeled “people of faith.”  Everybody has faith.  Nobody knows everything.  No human being alive today saw how the world came to be.  We would classify you within U in a box called, “people of faith in scientism.”

We can already hear the comeback: “but I’m a scientist.  I go out and observe the world to learn from it.  I keep an open mind.”  Are you aware, sir, that creation geologists do that?  Have you ever read the creation journals with their detailed analyses of specific rock records interpreted without the secular lens bequeathed by Lyell and other disciples of that quaint Victorian myth of Darwinism?  It’s very easy and convenient for you to commit the glittering generalities and bandwagon fallacies by lumping Tibetan locals in the same camp with Bible scholars as “people of faith,” but you are not doing your job unless you take on the best of your opponents: the likes of Dr. Steven Austin, Dr. Andrew Snelling and others with PhDs’s in geology who hold to a Biblical world view.

While talking to them, you might ask if they keep an open mind and admit they don’t know everything, provided you are willing to honestly answer that question yourself.  You might consider admitting that your straw-man descriptions of a global flood are simplistic and wrong.   Your ignorance of what creation geologists teach is matched by your ignorance of the Biblical record.  According to the Flood account, it would have involved extensive ruptures of the earth’s crust, rapid plate movements, and a reworking of the continents from low relief to high mountains and deep ocean basins.  These clearly would have caused catastrophic deposition and erosion, not a placid sea rising over post-Flood mountains as you described it.  You might also consider the possibility that world-wide accounts of a flood are local memories of a true global Flood after all, not, as you have chosen to interpret, memories of local floods in their region.  Creation geologists believe people took these memories around the world after the Tower of Babel.  Over time the accounts became corrupted, while retaining a kernel of truth.  Are you willing to consider that maybe the Mesopotamian flood accounts are corruptions of the Mosaic account?  Have you read the scholarship on that?

Speaking to our readers now, the question is not who has faith, but which faith is a better starting point for interpreting the world: the word of Someone who was there and told us what He did, or the word of believers in the secular religion of scientism who weren’t there and don’t know everything.  David Montgomery’s interpretations are consistent with his world view: he looks at the world and sees millions of years.  He commits circular reasoning: “I believe in millions of years, therefore when I look at the rocks, I see millions of years.”  Example: He looked at the strata of the Grand Canyon.  What did he see?  “Hiking a trail from the floor of the Grand Canyon to its rim, Montgomery saw unmistakable evidence of the canyon being carved over millions of years by the flow of the Colorado River, not by a global flood several thousand years ago as some people still believe.”  That’s because he is among other people who “still believe” in millions of years.  He went looking for millions of years.  Lo and behold, he found them in the missing layers: he found a billion missing years between the bedrock granite and the Tapeats Sandstone.  He found 100 million missing years between the Muav and Temple Butte limestones.  He found 10 million imaginary years between the Hermit and Coconino.  There they were, right behind his eyeballs in his world view!

What he didn’t see were the fault lines passing through the whole canyon from bottom to top, the twists and folds of strata (strata supposedly separated by millions of years) showing soft-sediment deformation as a unit, the evidence of high-velocity current flows in the Tapeats sandstone, the pancake-flat strata over thousands of square miles arguing against long ages, the billions of nautiloids buried in a single layer of Redwall limestone, the evidence of sheet erosion over the continent, the rapid downcutting of the canyon, and much more.  He didn’t see them because he wasn’t looking for them.  He was asking different questions, not “What evidence is there for catastrophic deposition and rapid erosion?” but “What do I see that comports with my chosen worldview?”  The creation geologists see these evidences and write about them.  So we need to ask Dr. Montgomery why his eyes are blind to contradictory evidence when he goes about observing the Grand Canyon.  Doesn’t he know that even many secular geologists no longer believe the Colorado River carved the canyon, but instead use catastrophic flooding in their theories?  What gives him, or any finite human being living 70-odd years in the 21st century, the right to state categorically that the Grand Canyon was not carved by a global flood?

So, for Dr. Montgomery and the other patronizing positivists out there, along with Seance Daily and the rest of the lapdog media, we would like to open your eyes to evidence you are not seeing, and invite you to consider asking new questions.  Do you recognize yourselves as “people of faith”?  Do you recognize your particular faith as scientism?  Do you recognize that a particular sect of your faith called secular geology requires a statement of faith in the doctrine of uniformitarianism?  Are you aware of the many inconsistencies between your own faith and the evidence?  Are you being honest with the history of your geology, that it has suffered numerous reversals of interpretation and falsifications since the days of Lyell?  Is it possible that you are blinding yourselves to evidence supporting Creation and the Biblical Flood because of your prior commitment to millions of years?  Are you willing to stop patronizing people who have good evidential reasons for disbelieving your interpretations of the evidence?  Are you willing to stop insulting your opponents with the accusation of scientific illiteracy just because they do not agree with your belief that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago?  Have you seriously considered the soft tissues in dinosaur bones, or evidence of people who saw dinosaurs and recorded their observations in words or pictures?  If Noah’s Ark were to be found, would you be willing to abandon your position based on that evidence, or would you seek to explain it away within your faith position?

Let’s stop, therefore, this nonsense about “people of faith.”  Since the universe U of human beings is coextensive with the universe U of people of faith, it’s a redundant term.  We should be asking, “Which faith?”  Which people have reasonable faith?  It’s not the size of the group that matters, but their evidence.  (Trusting in the numbers of secular geologists, or their political clout, commits the bandwagon fallacy.)  Who can support their faith with evidence and solid reasoning?  Creation geologists do that routinely, because they examine the evidence from both worldviews as part of their normal practice.  Secular geologists, by contrast, are blind to their faith, and so thoroughly ignore the creation position that they expose their illiteracy about both Biblical scholarship and creation geology.  “People of faith” is hereby rendered a meaningless term.  More useful terms might be people of fluff, and people of froth.  In the Venn Diagram, those two categories often overlap.

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Comments

  • J.S. says:

    Thanks for this cogent analysis, David–I’d heard about this book, and suspected with a title like that, that there would be fallacies in his reasoning .

  • mrsmith says:

    Here Here!! How quaint of him to stoop to *our* level of ignorance. Thank you for putting his perspective into perspective.

  • socko says:

    Bravo! And Dr. Montgomery might also consider the geographical evidence for the Flood; that is, the immediate descendants of Noah and the still extant place names their associated tribes left on the Old-World landscape, starting with and then fanning out widely from Mesopotamia.

  • Aurelianus says:

    It’s ironic that Dr. Montgomery mentions the Channeled Scablands, which for years were thought to be due to gradual, long-term erosion. Those who suggested otherwise (e.g. Harlen Bretz) were considered heretics. Now even uniformitarians agree the scablands resulted from a catastrophic flood.

  • bornagain77 says:

    This secular article caught my eye:

    Excerpt: Worldwide, we know that the period of 14,000 to 13,000 years ago, which coincides with the peak of abundant monsoonal rains over India, was marked by violent oceanic flooding – in fact, the first of the three great episodes of global superfloods that dominated the meltdown of the Ice Age. The flooding was fed not merely by rain but by the cataclysmic synchronous collapse of large ice-masses on several different continents and by gigantic inundations of meltwater pouring down river systems into the oceans. (124)
    What happened, at around 13,000 years ago, was that the long period of uninterrupted warming that the world had just passed through (and that had greatly intensified, according to some studies, between 15,000 years ago and 13,000 years ago) was instantly brought to a halt – all at once, everywhere – by a global cold event known to palaeo climatologists as the ‘Younger Dryas’ or ‘Dryas III’. In many ways mysterious and unexplained, this was an almost unbelievably fast climatic reversion – from conditions that are calculated to have been warmer and wetter than today’s 13,000 years ago, to conditions that were colder and drier than those at the Last Glacial Maximum, not much more than a thousand years later. From that moment, around 12,800 years ago, it was as though an enchantment of ice had gripped the earth. In many areas that had been approaching terminal meltdown full glacial conditions were restored with breathtaking rapidity and all the gains that had been made since the LGM were simply stripped away…(124)
    A great, sudden extinction took place on the planet, perhaps as recently as 11,500 years ago (usually attributed to the end of that last ice age), in which hundreds of mammal and plant species disappeared from the face of the earth, driven into deep caverns and charred muck piles the world over. Modern science, with all its powers and prejudices, has been unable to adequately explain this event. (83)

  • 67mim67 says:

    Well said!! We ALL have faith in someone/something. I choose GOD because nothing makes sense without Him. Also, Christ has never let me down, the evidence continually supports a Creator, and I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

    As Chesterton said:

    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

    God Bless

  • AnthonyMills says:

    First off, I think characterizing David Montgomery as a liar, in the title, no less, is a bit much. Is it too much to ascribe to people a reasonable amount of decency, that they truly believe in what they are saying, and that they are attempting to convince you out of noble intentions?

    > Let’s take Dr. Montgomery at his word and see if he is willing to learn something and keep an open mind. Dr. Montgomery, do you have faith? Do you have faith in science? Do you have faith in your senses? Do you have faith in your ability to comprehend the world? Do you have faith in your interpretations of the evidence? Assuming your answer is yes, then you need to lump yourself into the Venn Diagram U labeled “people of faith.”

    This is an interesting definition of faith, defining faith as “anything that you don’t know absolutely 100%”. By this definition, everything that we know is really faith. Are the Twin Towers gone? By faith, we know they are. Is the Sun eight light-minutes away? By faith, we believe that to be true. However, the Merriam-Webster definition of faith is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. By this definition, faith is a very bad thing.

    I think a more reasonable faith is one where we look for evidence, and finding enough to be 85% sure, by faith we act on the idea instead of waiting for 100% sureness. But this is admittedly twisting the word “faith” into something the dictionary doesn’t support.

    Instead, the proper thing to do is to admit that all our knowledge is based on probability. Some things we know with high probability, and some things we know with low probability, but nothing has 0% probability, and nothing has 100% probability (including this statement, of course 🙂 ). When we look at multiple lines of evidence that agree, the conclusion has a probability of being true that is based on the probability of the individual items, and is generally higher than any of the individual items.

    Now what is a fair estimate for the initial probability of something being true? Well, keeping in mind the fallibility of the human brain, it’s probably to admit that we ourselves are not special and unique snowflakes. So the fairest initial estimate of the probability of something being true is the average of the estimates of experts in the field who have studied the subject in question. How much we adjust that initial probability up or down depends on our degree of trust in our own superiority on the topic.

    > Speaking to our readers now, the question is not who has faith, but which faith is a better starting point for interpreting the world: the word of Someone who was there and told us what He did, or the word of believers in the secular religion of scientism who weren’t there and don’t know everything.

    Wait, but believers also weren’t there and don’t know everything, right?

    Religion and science are rather different concepts, but they are conflated here to be the same. Religion refers to systems of morals and ethics, how people should behave. Science deals with how the world actually is. The statement that the Earth is 6,000 years old is a scientific claim, not a religious one. And the statement that you should not hit your sister is a moral claim, not a scientific one. (The knowledge that you *can* hit your sister, scientific knowledge, has no bearing on whether you *should* hit her.)

    > He commits circular reasoning: “I believe in millions of years, therefore when I look at the rocks, I see millions of years.”

    Ah, right, but when *you* believe in thousands of years, and you look at rocks and see thousands of years, that’s not circular reasoning at all, right?

    Now yes, as humans, we are subject to confirmation bias. We see what we expect to see. But we are not blind; if there are things that don’t fit our model of the world, sometimes those things jump out at us instead of hiding. We are not absolute slaves of our worldview. If we were, there would be no hope for any of us.

    > What he didn’t see were the fault lines passing through the whole canyon from bottom to top, the twists and folds of strata (strata supposedly separated by millions of years) showing soft-sediment deformation as a unit, the evidence of high-velocity current flows in the Tapeats sandstone, the pancake-flat strata over thousands of square miles arguing against long ages, the billions of nautiloids buried in a single layer of Redwall limestone, the evidence of sheet erosion over the continent, the rapid downcutting of the canyon, and much more. He didn’t see them because he wasn’t looking for them.

    Or, possibly, he did see them. And they fit just fine. The problem with a flood explanation is that it offers a mechanism for incisions by fast water, but none by slow water. For instance, how about the huge river meanders near Horseshoe Bend in Arizona? These meanders are very deep, but meanders themselves are formed by slow river channels. Faster channels cause much straighter lines.

    > What gives him, or any finite human being living 70-odd years in the 21st century, the right to state categorically that the Grand Canyon was not carved by a global flood?

    Well, the global flood theory makes certain predictions. In the 21st century, we can actually test those predictions. When they don’t pan out, the global flood theory becomes less probable.

    In the same vein, what gives any finite human being living in the 21st century the right to state categorically that the Grand Canyon *was* carved by a global flood? Science. Evidence. Reasonable interpretation of the evidence, as honed over many years of investigation of well-understood case studies.

    > So, for Dr. Montgomery and the other patronizing positivists out there, along with Seance Daily and the rest of the lapdog media…

    Classy. I applaud your efforts in raising the level of discourse. Bravo!

    > Do you recognize that a particular sect of your faith called secular geology requires a statement of faith in the doctrine of uniformitarianism?

    Modern geology requires no such thing, and recognizes that some features are formed by catastrophic processes, and some are formed by gradual processes. It’s creation geology that requires a statement of faith in the doctrine of catastrophism.

    Your statement, though, would have been about right a half century ago.

    > It’s not the size of the group that matters, but their evidence.

    This is quite true, but when the size of the small group is very small, and the size of the large group is very large, the likelihood of the small group being right remains very small. After all, they laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at the proprietor of http://www.timecube.com. To commit the bandwagon fallacy is to say that, by virtue of the large group being large, it is *definitely* right; it’s not the bandwagon fallacy to say that the large group is *more likely* to be right.

    > Who can support their faith with evidence and solid reasoning? Creation geologists do that routinely, because they examine the evidence from both worldviews as part of their normal practice.

    “Secular” geologists are not terminally prejudiced against flood explanations of things; as evidence, Montgomery cites things like the Scablands where evidence, real evidence, swayed opinion over towards the more catastrophic view. Where the mainstream opinion was wrong, real scientists try to learn from their mistakes and be more accepting of alternate explanations.

    Creation geologists, however, are geologists who *are* terminally prejudiced towards flood explanations of things. Because if they weren’t, they’d be merely geologists, not creation geologists.

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