The Biblical account
The Biblical account of the Deluge at the time of Noah is found in Genesis 6-9. The relative amount of space in Scripture and details given for this event in human history seem to underline its importance. In the NT it is cited as an important event. Two recent writers, Ramm (1956) and Heidel (1946), present rather extensive objective, and scholarly treatments of the Flood, and the reader is referred to these works. We accept the Genesis account of the Flood as factual and true, a historical event; but we cannot interpret, explain or add to the words given in Genesis without introducing uncertainty. Many theories have been advanced to explain specific aspects of the flood and thus make the account fit a particular interpretation. Some of these theories can be briefly evaluated on the basis of established archeological and geological data.
The reason for the Flood was “the wickedness of man...the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:5-11). But “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation...[who] walked with God” (Gen 6:9). God commissioned Noah as a preacher of righteousness to warn the people, and to prepare a large ark to preserve human and animal life during the Flood.
The date when the Flood occurred is not known. Conservative Christian writers, e.g. Unger (UIGOT, p. 194) and Ramm (RCVSS, p. 233) believe that the Deluge took place “long before 4000 b.c.,” based on archeological remains. The genealogical methods used for computing dates are at best only estimates, having uncertainties of perhaps thousands of years. (See Antediluvians for discussion of genealogies.) It appears that most writers on the subject would place Noah between 5,000 and 15,000 years ago, but without satisfactory basis. Fifteen thousand years would cover the recessional stages of melting and flooding of the last continental ice sheets, but not the migration of man into North and South America.
Layers of fine sediment from a flood of very limited extent have been found at several ancient cities of Mesopotamia. In archeological lit. we find the use of terms “pure river silt” and “clean uniform clay” to apply to the eight foot layer of river sediment at Ur dating from the mid-Obeid Period, and later “evidences of a large flood” at Shuruppak during the Jemdet Nasr Period, and still later a “layer of sediment” (or “similar stratum” compared to that at Ur) one and one-half ft. thick at Kish and “some distance above the Jemdet Nasr Period.” Hence these terms applied to flood sediment must be taken in the general sense to indicate their fine-grained size and not in the technical sense to distinguish between silt and clay or to indicate composition. Finnegan suggests that the flood at Shuruppak or Kish may be the one referred to in the Sum. king List. Barton indicates that “there is no real proof” that either of the sediment layers (Ur or Kish) were deposited at the time of the Biblical Flood. In fact, the evidence from pottery examined by Frankfort has shown that the two “inundations were not even in the same century.” He concludes that there is “no evidence that these deposits...mean more than that for a time the Euphrates and Tigris changed their beds and flowed for a time over parts of Ur and Kish that had previously been inhabited” (FLAP, p. 24, BAB, p. 41.)
Some so-called “Pre-Flood Seals” and “Pre-Flood Tablets” found at Fara and Ur, and at Kish respectively beneath “layers of silt” (HBH) are most likely older than the silt, but whether they pre-date Noah is open to question. Ramm indicates that there are four such “flood deposits” separated in time by about 600 years, therefore they cannot be cited as evidences of Noah’s flood” (RCVSS, p. 233). They cannot be used to date the Flood.
So far, we know of no bonafide materials, either archeological or geological, which are known with certainty to derive from the Flood of Noah. This must not be construed to mean that we do not believe the Biblical Flood to be a historical event, but rather that we have not found or recognized any flood remains evidencing it. Any material evidence, if it can be produced, could and would be studied by varied physical and chemical analytical techniques. For example, any particular sediment or sedimentary rock frequently has characteristics revealing information concerning the source rock and its proximity, and the processes of weathering, erosion, transportation, and deposition of the sediment. These factors are varied and diverse as represented by the present day accumulation of sediment.
Archeologists have discovered several ancient historical records of the Flood from Sumerian and Babylonian sources in Mesopotamia. These show remarkable similarities to the Genesis account and are discussed later.
Frequent stories about finding Noah’s ark have all proven fictitious, and even recent expeditions to Mt. Ararat (Ağri Daği), variously given as 16,254 to 16,946 ft., have produced no convincing evidence. Berossus reported that “the vessel being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Corcyraean Mountains.” Genesis 8:4 indicates that the ark “came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat.” Wright indicates that this is some indefinite place in the highlands of Armenia and not Mount Ararat. (ISBE, 11, pp. 821, 823.)
A few recent writers, not geologists, appeal to terrace gravels and unconsolidated sediments as evidence of flood deposits but this is untenable. None of the terrace gravels are known to correlate world wide, and the more recent ones date throughout 1.6 million years of the Pleistocene Epoch. The divisions of the Pleistocene Epoch are discussed more fully later. Any organic materials such as plant debris, humic soil layers, or wood from the ark could be reliably dated by radiocarbon.
Essentially all writers concur that Noah lived in Mesopotamia and built the ark there. The Sumer. King List indicating ruling cities before and after the Flood in Mesopotamia, lends strong support (BAB, p. 317).
If the date for Noah is placed too far back the Persian Gulf would have been non-existent as a gulf. It would simply have been an extensive lowland traversed by the confluenced Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and subsequent tributaries. During the prolonged Wisconsin Ice Age of perhaps 40,000 years or more, when vast ice sheets covered some six million square m. of North America and Eurasia, sea level was about 330 ft. lower than today. In its last stages the North American ice sheet had several advances with periods of retreat (melting back) in between. The last glacial maxim, the Tazewell, occurred at 17,000 BP (before present) and the last readvance, the Cochrane, at 8,000 BP.
Consequently, before 17,000 BP and possibly until 8,000 BP, mankind likely inhabited extensive areas of the continental shelf, now below sea level. Areas like the Persian Gulf should be fruitful areas to explore for buried remains of early man. However, even the oldest Sumer. flood stories refer to cities in post-glacial Mesopotamia and not to an extended lowland area as discussed above. A possible exception may be found in BAB, p. 318, tr. the Babylonian cunieform text. Column III, lines 23-25, reads “Dumuzi the hunter (?), whose city is among the fishes, ruled 100 years.” This it might be noted, does not prove, but fits well with, a date for Noah and the Flood within the last 8000 years.
Noah was commanded (Gen 6) to make an ark of gopher wood, with three decks and rooms, covered inside and out with pitch, with a roof, and finished “to a cubit above,” and with dimensions: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. The gopher wood (Heb. ’atsē) is thought to be cypress, which Ramm points out the Phoenicians used for their ships, as did Alexander to build his fleet at Babylon (RCVSS, p. 229). The ark was essentially a rectangular box with one door. Apparently the roof was to be finished to within a cubit of the walls leaving an opening all around for ventilation (HGEOTP, p. 234). The length of the cubit is uncertain since there were long and short cubits, royal cubits, Egyptian cubits and Talmudic cubits with lengths ranging from eighteen to twenty-five inches. The legal cubit of the Talmudists was twenty-two inches. Regardless of which cubit was used, the ark was built with dimensions perfect for floating, the approximate ratios of which have been copied by modern ships (RCVSS, p. 230). Covering the ark within and without with pitch (see Bitumen) would make it waterproof with a flexible covering.
The animals, birds, and creeping things coming into the ark to Noah, all in pairs and some by sevens, was nothing less than a miracle. Taxonomists report that there are presently about 4500 species of living mammals and 8650 species of living birds. There are some, but comparatively few, species of each which are known to have become extinct in the last few thousand years (SPEAK, p. 7, PCDZ, p. 302; ABW, p. 11).
The flood waters are attributed to rain and to factors not understood. The windows (sluice gates) of heaven were opened, and all the fountains of the great deep burst forth (Gen 7:11). If the waters covered the highest mountains as they stand today it would require some eight times as much water as presently existing on earth. There were certainly high mountain ranges at the time of the Flood because the highest mountain ranges of today were uplifted many millions of years ago—the Alps and Himalayas around 35 million years ago, the Rockies and Sierra Nevada about 80 million years ago, and the Andes about 10 million years ago. Hence, it is highly improbable that, due to any normal natural process, the elevations of ocean floor and the highest mountain peaks at the time of the Flood a few thousand years ago were different from present elevations by more than a few feet. Conjectures on the meaning of “windows of heaven” and “fountains of the deep” are no more than theories and must be recognized as such until such time that substantiating evidence is discovered. We can say with confidence that there is no adequate source of subterranean waters. Water has a specific gravity of one which is about one-third that of average crustal rock. The oceans and continents have been traversed by gravity surveys sufficient to make this generalized statement. No such subterranean reservoirs have been found.
Sumerian, Babylonian and other traditions
Remarkable supporting evidence for the Biblical Flood comes from ancient clay tablets found in Mesopotamia. Below is a comparison showing some of the similarities and differences between the several sources. Barton (BAB, pp. 317-336) gives a tr. and comparison of the Babylonian accounts. Wright (ISBE, II, p. 823, 824) compares the Genesis and Babylonian accounts which are ably summarized by Ramm (RCVSS, pp. 247, 248). Similarities: (1) The Deluge is a divine punishment for man’s wickedness. (2) The ark floats inland in Mesopotamia. (3) Both accounts agree in general regarding the collecting of animals for preservation, but the Babylonian account doesn’t mention the number seven for clean animals. (4) Birds are sent out in both accounts, but the order in Genesis is a raven and a dove (twice), while in the cuneiform the dove and raven are reversed and a swallow is added. (5) Both accounts have an altar after the Flood, but the Babylonian account is polytheistic. (6) The accounts both agree in indicating that the human race will not again be destroyed by a flood.
The differences are: (1) The cuneiform inscr. is polytheistic: Genesis is monotheistic. (2) The different names used are not reconcilable at present. (3) The dimensions of the ark in Genesis are reasonable, being similar to the dimensions of modern shipping. Those given by the cuneiform and Berosuss are not reasonable. The cuneiform gives 140 x 140 x 140 cubits, and Berossus gives the length as 5 stadia (3000 ft.) and width as 2 stadia (1200 ft.). (4) In the cuneiform the deluge results from a quarreling among the gods, and the survivors escape through a mistake which angers the god Bel. In Genesis the holiness, justice and mercy of God is evident even in His punishment of the wicked. (5) Both accounts indicate rain as a source of water, but the Biblical account gives “fountains of the deep” and the Babylonian tablet indicates a raging sea and wind. (6) The Babylonian tablet relates the slaughter of animals for food, a mast and pilot for the ship, and the lading of the ship with silver and gold. (7) The duration of the Flood in the Bible is a year and seventeen days, while in the Babylonian tablet it is fourteen days.
Interpretations of the Genesis account of the Flood have been categorized as either 1) universal or 2) not universal (limited, local, regional), depending on whether it is held that all the high mountains of the world were covered by liquid water at the same time.
Wright (ISBE II, p. 824) asks the question “Was the flood universal?” Ramm (RCVSS, pp. 236, 238) notes that the Church generally has held to a belief in a universal flood and many Christians still do, but most “recent conservative scholarship of the church defends a local flood.” Arguments generally presented in defense of a universal flood are:
1. The language of Genesis 6-9 is universal—the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died...everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died...only Noah was left and those with him in the ark.
2. Universality of flood legends among all people, attributed to the descent of all races from Noah.
3. World-wide distribution of diluvia deposits.
4. Sudden death of many woolly mammoths frozen in Alaskan and Siberian ice; an inferred milder climate to support the necessary flora for food in contrast to frozen conditions which prevail presently; and the reported observation that these animals died by choking or drowning and not by freezing.
5. The so-called depletion of the species claimed by “flood geologists.” They argue that there are relatively fewer species living today compared to the number evidenced in rock strata and attributed to the Flood.
Those who hold that the Flood was less than universal do so because of the seemingly insurmountable physical problems involved, viz.:
1. The amount of water needed to cover Mt. Everest would be about eight times as much as that presently on the earth, and there is no known source for such an amount of water, and no way of getting rid of the water afterward.
2. The unique distribution of animals, for example, the kangaroo in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea (Wallabies) and the problem of getting them to Mesopotamia and back again without populating other parts of the world.
3. The practical logistics of housing so many species of mammals (4500), and birds (8650), and other terrestrial life in a three story ark about one acre in floor plan (3 A total), and caring for them for one year.
Since Scripture records the Flood as a natural-supernatural occurrence and not as a pure and gigantic multiple miracle, they argue, it is only logical to assume that the practical problems presented by a universal flood indicates that such an interpretation is incorrect and not intended by the inspired account. Indeed from other Scripture references such universal language expressions obviously do not mean universal in the absolute sense (see discussion later.)
Several non-universal flood interpretations have been suggested:
1. That all the highest mountains were not covered by liquid water but perhaps were covered by snow and ice, or were simply not meant to be included.
2. That the Flood was universal only with respect to mankind—a) that flooding covered lowlands world-wide and that the habitation of mankind was limited to these lowlands, or b) that flooding was limited to the Mesopotamian area as was the distribution of mankind.
3. That the entire record must be interpreted phenomenally; that is, if the Flood was local, though spoken of in universal terms, so also was the destruction of man local though spoken of in universal terms.
These interpretations involve many assumptions and must each be viewed only as theories of interpretation. Factors involved in the above interpretations will be discussed in the next section.
Theories to explain the cause of the Flood
Since the account of the Flood in Genesis is simple and brief there are many unanswered questions. Many of these questions may remain unanswered indefinitely but they have generated numerous theories. It is important to remember that essentially all discussion to explain the cause of the Flood are theories and are not to be considered on a par with the data from the inspired Scriptures. By inspiration we mean that under God’s guidance the original autographs of the Scriptures were factual and accurate within the intended meaning of the writer. The Genesis account describes historic persons, places, and physical phenomena. The favored viewpoint (interpretation) should be one that appears to have the best agreement with Scripture and with information derived from our present knowledge of the physical universe. Theories propounded in such a way that show disregard for basic knowledge or that consist of conjecture having little or no basis in fact should be labeled, perhaps, as science fiction. A number of theories which cluster around the miraculous are of this type because they assume physical phenomena which have no basis in fact.
There is a sense in which the whole phenomenon of the Flood was supernatural; i.e., God said to Noah, “I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth” (Gen 6:17). However, the deluge is not called a miracle in Scripture. It is stated in terms of physical phenomena seemingly emanating from the earth alone. Writers who hold to a universal flood are driven to postulate miraculous phenomena for the source of the water and its subsequent removal from the earth; or they postulate a miraculous change in the height of the mountains and depth of the ocean basins. Ramm ably reminds us that much of the weight of evidence for a local flood view stems from showing the imponderable difficulties of a universal flood (RCVSS p. 240).
We must emphasize that it is not a question of what God can or cannot do. Rather, the question is “What did God do?” Those who hold to a local flood view believe in the omnipotence of God as much as those who hold to a universal flood. The problem is not one of inspiration of the Scripture but one of interpretation. The problems arising from the universal flood and the questions of interpretation have prompted writers to postulate various supposed physical phenomena to effect the universal flooding of the earth, or to associate the world-wide flooding of all lowlands (or lands to a certain arbitrary elevation) with the rapid melting of continental glaciers at the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age.
The canopy theory and ice lens theory are similar in that they suggest a source of flood water which is beyond the atmosphere, and these both suffer from the same problems.
The canopy of water theory postulates that the earth was initially enveloped by a layer of water or water vapor beyond our atmosphere, supposedly formed during the early (prob. high temperature) history of the earth. This canopy of water was the source for the water which flooded the earth.
The ice lens version is similar, suggesting that the water required to flood the earth initially existed as an ice lens or perhaps a sattelite (moon) of the earth. This ice mass was broken up and precipitated on earth causing the great ice age (vast continental glaciers) and the Flood.
We are reminded that to envelop the earth with water to a depth to cover Mt. Everest, 29,028 ft. elevation, would require some eight times as much water as presently on earth. Even if there were naturally existing extraterrestrial sources of water precipitated on the earth by some physical phenomena, the subsequent removal of the water would be a stupendous miracle, for there is no known existing mass of water above the atmosphere today. Water in the atmosphere comprises only 0.001 per cent of the total water on earth.
Both the canopy and ice lens theories propose the precipitation on earth of presumably fresh water. This would greatly dilute the world’s oceans and could be verified in several ways. If this were the case then geochemical studies of marine water and marine organisms predating the Flood would be expected to differ from those of today. Precipitation is substantially different isotopically from sea water. Oxygen in precipitation is isotopically lighter in mass by about 0.7 per cent in the mid-latitudes and by 3 per cent in the Arctic. Hydrogen in precipitation is lighter by about 7 per cent in mid-latitudes and by 30 per cent in the Arctic. Although no isotopic study has been directed solely at the problem of possible recent dilution of the oceans, there is ample oxygen isotopic data available on marine samples from the present back millions of years. The study of paleo-temperature (ancient temperature) measurements is possible because of the verification that certain marine organisms build their shells of carbonate in which the oxygen composition is isotopically in equilibrium with that of the ocean water and is temperature dependent. Also, the hydrogen and oxygen isotopic data on ancient brines (trapped residues of ancient sea water) is typically that of present day oceans. The geochemical data has shown no evidence of a large dilution—say a dilution of times eight or even a dilution of times three or times two—a few thousand years ago.
Keil and Delitzsch consider (v. III, p. 146) the problem of the great amount of water needed and that possibly the loftiest mountain peaks were not covered, and that Genesis 7:19, like Deuteronomy 2:25 and 4:19, has been regarded as a rhetorical expression which is not of universal application. However, they maintain that even if mountain peaks higher than Ararat (there are more than forty) were not covered, we must regard the flood as universal because the few peaks uncovered would be insignificant in comparison with the surface covered, and no human beings could exist upon these mountains covered with perpetual snow and ice. Their suggestion does not help the problem much since over three times as much water as is present on earth would still be required.
Some writers suggest that there were no high mountains on earth at the time of Noah. Such a suggestion cannot be taken seriously because the Himalayas and Alps were uplifted gradually from the Tethyan geosyncline in post Eocene time over many millions of years beginning about thirty-five to forty million years ago. Most other major mountain ranges are much older.
The ice lens or ice planet suggestions apparently were conceived first because of the requirement of much water to effect the Flood, and secondly as a result of assuming that the ice age was a catastrophic event of “extreme suddenness” (PBFIE, p. 101ff.). It is rather ill conceived, making numerous assumptions without established evidence, and the theory does not account for the disposition of the excess water after the Flood. The theory is esp. inadequate in that it ignores most of the evidence for the glacial periods.
There was not just one glacial period—precipitated suddenly a few thousand years ago and lasting for one year—when continental glaciers covered much of the northern part of continents in the northern hemisphere, but there is adequate evidence that there have been four periods of extensive continental glaciation throughout much of the Pleistocene Epoch (the last 1.6 million years). The continental ice sheets slowly spread outward and generally southward from the several areas of snow accumulation on each of the northern continents. In North America the place of major snow accumulation was the vast area around Hudson Bay. These phenomena of snow accumulation, changing to glacial ice under pressure, and spreading outward from areas of accumulation are well known, being presently observed in the interiors of Greenland and Antarctica and in numerous valley glaciers under study in the high mountain ranges.
The continental glaciers each took thousands of years to advance, lasted for tens of thousands of years, and took several thousand years to retreat (melt back). The last major ice sheet in North America is called the Wisconsin. Along most of its southern front it did not advance as far S as the much earlier and successively older Illinoian, Nebraskan, and Kansan ice sheets did. During the Wisconsin period there were subperiods covering thousands of years when the glacier was receding followed by minor readvances. Fairbridge gives data on some of these subperiods of readvance—Tazewell (about 17,000 BP, before present), Carey (about 15,000 BP), Valders (10,500 BP), and Cochrane (8,000 BP). Just prior to the Valders subperiod the glacier had retreated from the area around Two Creeks, Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan so that a black spruce forest had grown there. This spruce forest was pushed over, buried and preserved by the fine glacial sediment about 11,300 BP (radiocarbon dates on wood, Broecker and Farrand, 1963).
Another assumption made for the canopy theories is that the earth’s climate abruptly changed at the time of the Flood (PBFIE, p. 110) from widespread subtropical to temperate over most of the earth to that of the ice ages. This assumption ignores the dates and great length of time shown for the repeated build up and advance of continental glaciers, as already discussed, and also the various ages of the flora remains cited as evidence for change in climate. Repeatedly in the past there were long periods of widespread subtropical conditions but one cannot at random claim one of these as evidence and ignore the time aspect of when such conditions prevailed.
The last interglacial (Sangamon or Riss-Würm) with mean temperatures of about 75oF (24oC) prevailed for thousands of years prior to approximately forty or fifty thousand years ago. Present day mean temperature is about 30oF. These interglacial periods did not come on abruptly, but the change happened over thousands of years, as evidenced by ocean bottom sediments and the dating by the thin varve layers of glacial lake sediments formed during recession of the glaciers. Many of the widespread climatic changes of the past took place over millions of years. For example, the gradual change which occured during the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs of the Tertiary Period, covered some twenty-five million years.
The extinction of woolly mammoths which are found frozen in the glacial ice and permafrost areas of Alaska and Siberia have been cited by non-scientific writers as evidence of a sudden catastrophe which deepfroze the whole population with fresh grass still in the mouths and undigested food in the stomachs. It is alleged that this is evidence of an abrupt change in climate.
Again, important data have conveniently been omitted. The woolly mammoth, mastodon, woolly rhinoceros, and other associated animals are cold weather animals native to the colder latitudes. Drumm indicates that the woolly mammoth “had heavy fur and a layer of fat beneath the skin, both adaptations of extreme cold.” Contrary to popular opinion, the mammoth carcasses were “not as fresh as quick-frozen meat.” Its remains have been found associated with typical tundra plants and animals. The Beresouka mammoth, discovered in northern Siberia near the Beresouka river in 1899, had undigested food in its stomach—“remains of grasses, sedges, the alpine poppy and buttercup” (DMM, pp. 7, 12). Scientific opinion places the extinct mammoth within their usual arctic habitat and attributes each death and burial to normal accidents such as falling over a cliff or into a crevass, caught in a blizzard or a mud flow, etc., in situations where they were quickly frozen and preserved.
TABULATED CHRONOLOGY OF THE FLOOD
Drumm also estimates the mammoth population in late Pleistocene prior to extinction as about 50,000 (ibid). The woolly mammoth has been extinct so long that no mention of it is known from the legends of living people, but paleolithic man left drawings of it on the walls of a cavern at Combarelles, France. Beside the nearly complete Beresouka carcass about fifty others less complete have been found frozen in Alaska and Siberia (DWHG, p. 35). Radiocarbon dates of the carcasses show that they lived and died 11,450 to 39,000 BP. Significantly they did not all die at the same time but over a period of time, 37,000 years or longer, and the most recent one over 10,000 years ago. The existence of frozen mammoth carcasses which are 39,000 years old is strong evidence that the north tundra regions of the earth have remained frozen and therefore have not been covered by a flood during this time. Such evidence would appear to be fatal to Patten’s theory, for he postulates that the ice age came suddenly, froze the mammoths, and caused a world-wide flood. However, he does not explain how the mammoths remained frozen during a year long flood which was violent with huge tidal waves so that it transported all types of sediment but left all the mammoths and associated animal remains undisturbed in their cold habitat.
Kowalski (MWPE, pp. 356, 357), discussing possible causes of the extinction of mammoths, calls attention that the mammoth’s adaptation to cold climate preclude life in the present southern steppes of Eurasia with their warm dry summers. The present-day tundra north of the Arctic Circle, with its long polar nights and abundant winter snowfall, is very different from the steppe-tundra of the late Pleistocene with no polar night and possibly light snowfall.
In summary, the extra-terrestrial ice theory as the cause of the Flood as presented by Patten is invalidated by 1) the existence of more than one period of glaciation in the Pleistocene Epoch; 2) the duration of the Wisconsin period of glaciation for 40,000 years or more; 3) the duration of the combined periods of glaciation during the Pleistocene Epoch (perhaps as much as 1.6 million years); 4) the evidence of extensive glaciation during the latter part of the Paleozoic era, viz., the Permian period (200 to 300 million years ago) and also during Huronian time of the Precambrian era (some 600 to 700 million years ago); 5) the existence of widespread subtropical and temperate climate numerous times in the past, the last being about 60,000 years ago (there is the existence of widespread subtropical and changes); and 6) the supposed catastrophic mass extinctions by freezing at a recent date do not accord with the facts.
Rapid melting of glacier ice.
There is much evidence that during maximum glaciation (greatest extent of continental glaciers) the world mean sea level was over 300 ft. lower than today. If the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps were to completely melt, sea level would rise another 300 to 400 ft. During maximum glaciation much of the presently submerged continental shelf areas were dry-land coastal regions inhabited by man. It has been suggested by Fairbridge that a period of relatively rapid melting of the glaciers and flooding of the extensive coastal regions accompanied by torrential rains could have generated the numerous flood stories among many peoples. Data is also cited to indicate that the mean sea level rose during some oscillations of the glaciers at approximately thirty ft. per cent. The greatest and fastest rise was about 6000 BP and the highest mean sea level was about ten to twelve ft. higher than at present.
In the absence of any other confirming evidence, the above should be taken only as a suggestion. We do not know the date of Noah’s Flood, or that the human population inhabited only the coastal regions at that time. Fossil man, Australopithecines to Homo sapiens, seems to have ranged far inland. Furthermore, an appeal to world-wide flooding to generate the numerous flood stories implies that all of mankind today did not derive from Noah.
Fountains of the Deep (Isostasy).
Another theory that has been suggested to explain the mechanism of flooding of the earth indicated in Genesis 7:11, 17—“the fountains of the great deep were burst forth...and the waters increased greatly upon the earth”—is that the ocean floor was uplifted and the continental masses, esp. the mountain ranges sank.
Isostasy or isostatic equilibrium is the geologic phenomenon which describes the various segments of the earth’s crust, for example, the deep ocean floors or parts of continental masses as floating more or less independently in the plastic (or hot and viscous) mantle of the earth. The principle can be illustrated by barges in a river. When loaded, they float lower than when unloaded. Also, even though two identical barges were loaded with the same weight, if one were loaded with solid rock having a density of 3.3 and another with somewhat more bulky rock having a density of 2.8, then the bottom of the barges would each float at the same level in the water but the load of the second barge would stand at a higher elevation. Illustrating still further, if the second barge had a much heavier load than the first in addition to being more bulky (lower density), then its lower surface would float lower and its upper surface higher than that of the first barge. This is precisely the comparison that geophysical data indicates between the crust of the earth in the ocean basin and the continents. The few miles of water (low density) added to the dense basaltic rock composing the ocean floor, averages a higher density than the very thick crustal plates consisting mostly of low density granitic and sedimentary rock. As mountain ranges are slowly unloaded by erosion they continue to rise.
Improbability (miracle?). The isostatic adjustment of the earth’s crust to loading is a slow response because of the viscosity of the mantle substratum. Parts of the continent, where unloaded of their burden of glacial ice 8 to 10,000 years ago, are still rising measurably (adjusting isostatically). Thus it can be seen that to suggest that the ocean floors raised and the mountains sank without any known physical cause and within a few months time would invoke nothing less than a gigantic miracle. It is evident that the highest mountain ranges, e.g. the Himalayas, Alps, Andes, and Rockies could not have been depressed several miles independent of the continents and raised again without leaving telltale fault trenches and gouge (ground up rock) zones. To suggest that the convection cells in the earth’s mantle, proposed by geophysics on much evidence, localized selectively and greatly speeded up by a factor of a billion or more, is again suggesting nothing less than a world-wide miracle.
Again we remind the reader that there is no known scientific evidence which would allow us to expand on the meaning of “fountains of the deep.” There certainly are no vast atmosphere reservoirs, or subterranean reservoirs of water beneath the floor of the oceans. Seemingly the simplest miracle would be to create and then remove the additional water required for the year long Flood. But the Scriptures nowhere call the Flood a miracle, or indicate that God created much water for this occasion, or that the continents and mountains sank beneath the waters. Rather, we are told that the waters rose and prevailed exceedingly until the high hills and mountains were covered.
Evidence cited for the Flood
Universal (?) language.
Traditions of a flood (or floods) are widespread among many peoples. This is generally taken as evidence that all people of the earth descended from Noah. The Deluge was so impressive that they carried the story with them as they spread out over the earth, changing and corrupting the story down through the millenniums. Ramm points out that flood stories are not found everywhere; e.g. Japan or Egypt and few in Africa (RCVSS, p. 242). But Wright (ISBE, II, p. 822) and Filby (FFR, p. 52) discuss many flood legends, among them China, Siberia, Kamchatka, the Americas, and Africa. Filby indicates that they are “much less common in Africa which is represented by Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Congo, and South Africa.”
Filby concludes that “there is no other story of an ancient event in all the world so widely accepted,” and the cumulative weight of evidence is “that the present human race has spread from one center and even from one family...” (ibid). Even if the Flood accounts are taken as evidence for the universal destruction of mankind in the Flood, they cannot be interpreted to indicate the extent of inundation of the high mountains without making assumptions about the distribution of antediluvian man. It must also be admitted that there is no proof that the traditions all refer to the same flood.
Over a hundred years ago world-wide diluvea was cited as proof of Noah’s Flood. Such views were held by the then prominent geologist, Wm. Buckland in his Reliquiae Diluvinae (1823), and non-geologist Cuvier and others. Buckland, however, recanted his views in 1836 because of closer study of these unconsolidated geologic materials which had been quite unspecifically designated. Unconsolidated stream and glacial alluvial deposits of widely differing ages had been erroneously grouped together. Many streams will leave valley terrace gravels as do glacial lakes during the retreating stages of the glacier and high sea level stands of former interglacial warm periods.
Catastrophism vs. Uniformitarianism
Moore (1970) helpfully reviews the debate between catastrophic and uniformitarian view-points of geology during the 19th century. He wisely counsels writers that to understand the history of the warfare of the past “is valuable both as a warning to avoid repeat performances and as an aid to better understanding of the present debate.”
Catastrophists variously attributed certain types of rock strata to Noah’s Flood. With the development of many analytical techniques and ensuing detailed studies of geological strata, numerous sedimentary phenomena are recognized, none of which indicate a universal flood. The times of formation of the various strata in question also are known to represent not one point in time but many geologic epochs and periods over thousands and millions of years. Today no qualified geologists hold to the catastrophic viewpoint, essentially because there is no evidence for it.
Some recent writers on the Flood take an anti-uniformitarian position, but it is significant that none are geologists. They do not seem to realize that an anti-uniformitarian position, to be valid, requires them to demonstrate, in the cause and effect relationship of the physical and chemical laws of the universe, the variability which they propose. In nearly every case such a writer, after disclaiming uniformity, will then proceed to present a scheme which, to make it plausible to the reader, employs the uniformity of cause and effect in the natural phenomena which he proposes. To every Christian the nature of the Judaeo-Christian God of Scripture, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, should not only fit well with the uniformitarian concepts but would seem to demand them. In fact, if it were not for uniformity of cause and effect in nature, it would be impossible to recognize a miracle (an act of the Supernatural). We conclude that the non-uniformitarian view is incorrect and that such writers are inconsistent. The Christian should intuitively accept uniformitarian principles as the usual course of nature because a belief in miracles and the Supernatural requires it.
Flood geology, otherwise known as catastrophic geology, is an attempt by some (Price, Morris and Whitcomb) to explain all the geologic formations as due to the Flood of Noah. Basically it is an attempt to claim all the great thicknesses (many miles) of sedimentary strata as physical evidence for the Flood. The writings of these non-geologists exhibit a basic lack of understanding of even the fundamental principles of geology. Kulp (1950) and Ramm (RCVSS, pp. 179-188) have reviewed a number of basic points that completely invalidate the flood geology approach. Many types of geologic features could not have formed under water, others could not have formed in a short period of time, and countless other features show varied, sequential, and definite space and time relationships that require varied environments and much time. A few of these are:
Essentially all erosional unconformities, whether formed on horizontal strata of marine origin or on formerly horizontal strata which have been tilted at an angle or folded and faulted, are formed by subaerial erosion. This is subsequently covered by a different sequence of horizontal strata frequently deposited after the region in question has again become covered by marine waters. An example of this is the early Paleozoic strata, the Tapeats sandstone of Cambrian age, which overlies the Grand Canyon Series of late Precambrian age. The early Paleozoic strata in the Colorado Plateau show a gradual ingress of the sea from W to E on a time scale of millions of years.
Thick deposits of wind-blown sand showing beautiful cross bedding, e.g., the Navajo sandstone of Zion National Park, the Windgate and Entrado sandstones, give evidence of extensive deserts prevailing during the Triassic and Jurassic periods when these thick wind-blown sands were deposited. The Silurian and Permian were also periods when widespread deserts prevailed in North America.
Subaerial exposure of sediments during deposition in the near shore environment, produced on fluviatile floodplains, or by migrating shorelines due to fluctuations in sea level or continental elevations, results characteristically in redbeds. Good examples of this are the extensive Devonian redbeds of the Catskills, the Triassic redbeds of the ancient fault troughs of eastern U.S., and the Old Red Sandstone of Great Britain.
The Flood of Noah is sometimes coupled with the assumption, on the basis of Genesis 2:5, that there was no rain before the Flood. That there were hundreds of millions of years of rain throughout the history of the earth is evident from the existence of rivers, flood-plains, glaciers, fresh water lakes, water erosion and transportation of sediments, and many others, among them fossil raindrop imprints in formerly soft mud now preserved in sedimentary rock.
The sequence of sedimentary strata from Silurian and Permian periods contain extensive beds of salt. Noteworthy are the Silurian salt deposits of western New York (aggregate thickness, 250 ft.), the Silurian and Devonian of eastern Michigan (aggregate thickness of Silurian alone is 1600 ft.), the Delaware and Midland Basins of the Permian period in New Mexico and Texas which precipitated nearly 2000 ft. of anhydrite and salt in the Castile formation and 2400 ft. in the overlying Salado formation, and enormous Permian salt deposits in Kansas and Jurassic anhydrite deposits in the Williston Basin on the northern Great Plains. Similar salt deposits are found in other parts of the world. There is no way that these precipitate beds of salt could be intercalated with other basin strata in a submarine environment of a great flood. Rather, salts are precipitated from saline water which is saturated because of intense aridity and evaporation, and the thick layers are evidence of continual but limited inflow of sea water from the ocean. Interlayering of halite, sylvite, cancrinite and other salt and potash evaporite minerals is controlled by slight variations in geochemical conditions (temperature, pH, etc.). It is calculated (DWHG, p. 301) that to produce the Permian salt of Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico alone (3 x 1013 tons) would require the evaporation of 22,000 cubic miles of sea water of normal salinity.
The sequence of fossils in the strata of the world or in the stratigraphic column in any one region simply cannot be explained on the basis of a one year flood. The fossil species are not hopelessly mixed. Rather, many index fossils, distinctive of a given geologic period have been recognized and used successfully by geologists around the world. Different brachiopod species, for example, which are index fossils for different periods, may have distinctive morphological features but be quite similar in shape and size. There is no way that these fossils could be selectively winnowed out of world-wide flood waters and deposited in their respective strata except that they lived at different times and were buried where they lived. Likewise, Cenozoic mammals and birds are not found in the Mesozoic strata, and Mesozoic reptiles (dinosaurs) are not found in the Cenozoic strata. On the other hand, fossil flora and faunal assemblages in a given stratum often allow one to deduce a picture of paleoclimatic conditions distinctive to and consistent with the marine, littoral, or terrestrial environment.
It is repeatedly and erroneously claimed by some writers that the mass extinctions of animals all occurred simultaneously a few thousand years ago during the Flood. Fossil evidence does not show a mass extinction several thousand years ago. Rather, there have been extinctions throughout geologic times since the Cambrian, but some periods are characterized by extensive extinctions of many species. Noteworthy are the Permian about 225 million years ago and the Cretaceous about 65 million years ago. It is erroneously claimed by some that the woolly mammoth, mastodon, woolly rhinoceros, saber tooth tiger, and others were wiped out simultaneously in a common world cataclysm which left many carcasses frozen in tundra and glacial ice. However, the paleontologic data shows that of about fifty such carcasses found, they were entombed from 11,450 to 39,000 years ago. In fact, the radiocarbon dates available at this writing show that most of the woolly mammoths died before 30,000 years ago. The time element completely vitiates the catastrophic ice or flood theory with respect to the mammoths.
Kulp (1950) cites characteristics of coal formation which would preclude it from being formed in a world-wide flood. There is much evidence that the vegetative matter grew right where it accumulated.
The coal beds of the Pennsylvania period throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois show cycles of deposition. The organic matter collected where it grew in great swamps much like it does today forming peat, which under suitable conditions of arrested decay and burial can form coal. In eastern Ohio tree roots and stumps in some coal beds are still in place in the underclay in which they grew. Typically, after a long period of accumulation (about 100 ft. of vegetative matter will form 1 ft. of coal and some coal beds are many ft. thick) the swamp would be inundated and the layer of peat would be covered by sediments which formed shale, limestone, or sandstone in sequence. About 100 such cycles of deposition, cyclothems, are recognized in eastern Ohio. This alternation, from terrestrial swamps to near shore sandstone or shale deposition to marine limestone environment and back again repeatedly, rules out flood geology as a reasonable possibility. Cannel coal, formed almost entirely from pollen accumulation in open water patches of the swamp gives evidence of lengthy selective accumulation.
Age of fossil fuels.
If any deposits of coal, petroleum, asphalt, oil shale, or black organic shales were formed within the last 40,000 years from plants or animals still living at the time of formation, then the deposit could be dated reliably by radiocarbon. Anyone who proposes a recent origin for any of these deposits should diligently try to verify the assumed age by dating them.
Flood geology cannot explain how the proposed gigantic tidal waves could fill the Rocky Mountain seaway (Cordilleran geosyncline of the Cretaceous which subsequently uplifted to form the Rocky Mountains) with billions of km3 of sediments from the W, and the Appalachian geosyncline (Paleozoic trough which uplifted to become the folded Appalachians) with terrestrial sediments from the E, and at the same time not scatter the terrestrial sediments into the ocean basins. The fact that continents were not denuded of even their loose sediment demonstrates the non-existence of such hypothetical gigantic tidal waves. The Genesis account does not give the faintest suggestion of tidal waves; rather, Noah and the ark appear to quietly ride out the Flood.
Furthermore, Genesis seems to indicate the existence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia before and after the Flood. Thus even transient geomorphological features like river systems and regolith (loose rock material) survived the Flood with no demonstrable change.
Another serious question to be faced by advocates of the various flood theories, is what would happen to all the neritic (shallow) marine life, for example, immobile coral and bottom dwellers if suddenly the depth of water were increased by several miles, and that by the addition of non-marine or fresh water. Both the increased pressure and decreased salinity would have a devastating effect on marine life. There is no evidence of such a recent massive extinction or decimation of the population.
Perhaps the most serious flaw exhibited in flood geology treatment is the incompatibility with the scientific method. To hold to the flood geology theory of catastrophism in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, much data and analytical techniques must be rejected, even though they can be demonstrated repeatedly by observation and measurements. Clearly this is not an objective approach. An objective approach allows and demands that one change his interpretations when established data warrants it.
Geologic time table.
A geologic time table of many consistent data-points over 3000 million years (or 4500 million years including meteorites and lunar rock samples) has been obtained on geological materials by several independent, established radioactive methods. This is confirmed by many research scientists in numerous countries around the world. No one has been able to alter the rates of radioactive decay by physical, chemical, or radiation techniques. It appears that God, the Creator, has provided man with a built in geochronometer with which to unravel the time problems of the universe. These indicate that the solar system is about 4500 million years old which is compatible with Genesis in that it gives no age—“In the beginning”—and with our eternal God who existed even before He created time.
In conclusion, the predominance of qualified Christian scholarship appears to favor a local flood interpretation because of the lack of evidence for and the problems attendant on a universal flood. There is, and has been no lack of writers who propose a catastrophic universal flood. However, they present little that is new, and no data that is convincing. The serious Bible student will not seek to support the physical aspects of Bible history with pseudo-science. In the final analysis the true interpretation of the Biblical flood account will fully accord with true science. At this time we may favor one viewpoint over another but must seek continually to integrate all the pertinent data which seem well established.
J. P. Smith, On the Relation Between the Holy Scriptures and some parts of Geological Science (1840); G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (BAB) (1937); G. F. Wright, “Deluge, of Noah, The”, in Orr, J. and others (ISBE), v. 1 (1939), 821ff.; J. Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past (FLAP) (1946); A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and