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Geologist’s respect for the storytellers

14 February 2014

Adam Ford follows a man of science into the distant past

The Rocks Don't lie: A geologist investigates Noah's flood
David R. Montgomery
W. W. Norton & Co. £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT798 )

THERE was astonishment in the 1970s when Jim Irwin, an astronaut who walked on the moon, toured the schools of England to talk about his expedition to Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey in search of Noah's Ark. How could a man whose training had taken him to the heart of modern technology still believe the world to be only a few thousand years old, and Noah's flood the cause of all the disruption in its rocks? After all, it was on his mission to the moon, Apollo 15, that the four-billion-year-old "Genesis" rock was picked up, dating back to the origins of planet Earth.

The debate between the Bible and geology has been fascinating, and David Montgomery, a geologist, recounts its history in scholarly detail. The Rocks Don't Lie is a compellingly readable and illuminating book. The author reveals a delightful understanding and respect for those people in the distant past who told flood stories - whether it be the North American Indian tale of a woman surviving a catastrophic flood in a hollowed-out log to become the mother of all humanity, or the better-known story of Noah in the Bible. He identifies with them, because geologists, too, he states, are storytellers, attempting to read the topography of the landscape to explain why it is the way it is.

By chapter two, the reader is hooked. Montgomery takes us on a gruelling hike from the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim a mile above. Step by step, he reads the astonishing story told by the rocks, earth's autobiography: the alternating layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone mark the remains of ancestral seas and eroded mountains. His imagination wrestles with how, at the base of the Canyon, a thousand million years have vanished from the rock record (eroded in unknown episodes of geological history) between the ancient Vishnu Schist and the overlying Tapeats Sandstone.

As we ascend, he is able to reveal how the Creationist claim that the Grand Canyon was created in one year by Noah's flood just doesn't hold water. The rocks don't lie.

The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul's School for Girls.

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