David writes, “Growing up, I was satisfied that Jesus taught how to live a good life and that science revealed how the world worked.” (10) He had never thought much about the conflict between science and religion. Then he met a gregarious fundamentalist on jury duty. She believed Noah's Flood explained nearly all of earth's history.
He did some investigating. “Today almost half of the American public believes in young earth creationism – that the world is about six thousand years old and that Noah's Flood reshaped Earth's surface into today's world a few thousand years before the time of Christ.” (11)
David argues that we cannot ignore what we learn from geology. He takes us through the story of how geologists learned to read the history of the world. He also reviews the history of flood ideas and geological formations, and includes flood traditions from many cultures.
He argues for an allegorical view of the Bible. “Two centuries ago, Christian scholars adapted how they read the Bible to account for geological revelations. Why not now?” (123)
He traces the roots of modern day creationism. I was surprised to find out it is a rather recent development in the history of Christian thought.
He ends with some reasonable explanations for Noah's Flood account, such as the Black Sea flood.
I learned a great deal from this book. For example, when geological evidence began to mount against a world wide flood, Christians responded in three ways. Some abandoned the Bible as an authoritative text, some tried to reconcile the Bible and science, and others just rejected scientific evidence they felt threatened Bible authority. “These approaches correspond, respectively, to secular modernism, mainstream Christianity, and reactionary fundamentalism.” (248)
David had, as most geologists, come to see Noah's Flood as a fairy tale. “Now,” he writes, “I've come to see the story of Noah's Flood like so many other flood stories – as rooted in truth.” (253)
He has a very good grasp of the limitations of science. He admits that science cannot prove that God exists, or does not exist. “And no matter how much we learn about the material history of the universe, such knowledge will not explain why the universe exists or how it came to have the properties it does. This will always be a matter of speculation – or faith.” (254)
Whether you are an “old earth” or a “young earth” Christian, you would benefit from reading this book. David explains a great deal about geology, how dates are determined, and how Christians have responded to the information over the centuries. He has, in my view, presented a balanced investigation. He knows his Bible and Christian history well.
I don't know if reading this book would change your mind on Noah's Flood, one way or the other. But I do think Christians need to be informed on the issue and this book is a great resource.
David R. Montgomery teaches geomorphology at the University of Washington and lives in Seattle with his wife and black Lab.
W. W. Norton & Co., 302 pages.