David Montgomery

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Geomorphologist, Environmental Author

Prof. David Montgomery really likes dirt. In his two lectures, The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood and Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, he explains how rocks and soil tell us about our world’s past, our present and our possibly endangered future, focusing on flood myths in the former lecture, and soil erosion and agriculture in the latter.

The Rocks Don’t Lie:
A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood

In Tibet, geologist David R. Montgomery discovered solid evidence for a great flood recorded in a local folktale.  Intrigued, he began investigating the origins of other flood stories—including the story of Noah’s Flood.  Drawing from historic works by theologians, natural philosophers, and scientists he uncovered how modern creationism that rejects the science of geology is one of the most recently evolved forms of Christianity.

In his book (published in August 2012) and accompanying lecture Montgomery shows how modern creationism is both bad science and bad theology.  He takes his audience on a historical journey, showing how the central beliefs of young Earth creationism—the ideas of a global flood and several thousand-year-old Earth—were refuted by Christian scientists long before Darwin proposed his theory of evolution.  In the process we confront the elusive nature of truth viewed through either the lens of science or the filter of faith.

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Montgomery is the author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, which makes the case that soil erosion should be seen as a threat to our planet as serious as climate change.

Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain through agriculture, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, faster than they can be naturally replenished. The erosion is slow enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations.

In this engaging talk, Montgomery traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of societies, from Mesopotamia to European colonialism and the American push westward. He explores how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil.

David R. Montgomery is a professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, studying geomorphology, the evolution of landscapes. In 2008 he received a MacArthur ‘genius’ award for his “fundamental contributions to our understanding of the geophysical forces that determine landscape evolution and of how our use of soils and rivers has shaped civilizations past and present”. He has received two Washington State Book awards, one for King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon in 2004, and for Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations in 2008.


The Response

“Dr. Montgomery’s lecture was able to touch upon issues that are not only pertinent but relative to our environment and community. The students and staff present were extremely impressed with his lecture–wrapping Sustainability, Geology, Anthropology, Ecology, History and Agriculture into one compelling and easy to understand lecture is an incredible feat!  I highly recommend Dr. Montgomery for an incredibly in-depth and comprehensive talk for anyone!”

Kat Kaszpurenko
Union Programming Coordinator
Fort Lewis College

“David’s talk presented a deeply well reasoned explanation of how topsoil has affected human civilizations and how it will determine our future. Judging by the collection of conversations afterwards, he clearly got the audience thinking and sparked a valuable interdisciplinary dialogue at University of British Columbia.”

Justin Ritchie
AMS Sustainability Coordinator
University of British Columbia

“Thanks for a fabulous lecture! Dave Montgomery is a rare breed of public speaker, who can engage a diverse audience at all levels and from multiple disciplines, with passion and wit.”

Candice Goucher
Professor of History
Washington State University Vancouver

“Horticulture Nova Scotia represents a small province, but agriculture is a large part of  its rural economy. In mounting our annual Congress on the single topic of soil, we wanted to have a keynote speaker who would not only show the big picture on the importance of  handling soil in agricultural communities, but someone who could speak our farmer’s language. We were very privileged to have Dr. Montgomery. We often hear our farmers complain that speakers only know how to speak to other scientists. There was no such opinion voiced for Dr. Montgomery. There was nothing but praise on his down to earth (no pun intended) approach and the big bonus was that they really got what he was saying.  There was much discussion over lunch that day. Also appreciated was the fact that he took the time to interact with participants at a book signing after the presentation.  Please extend my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Montgomery for taking the time to care about a small section of our country.”

Donna Crawford
Administrative Coordinator
Horticulture Nova Scotia

“With a scientist’s rigor, a historian’s curiosity and an environmentalist’s passion, Montgomery is unsettling accepted wisdom about both local and global environmental change by exploring the ecological consequences of a wide range of Earth surface processes.”

2008 MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Award statement

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