Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Was There Really a World-wide Flood?

Does the biblical account of the Flood involve the whole earth or only part of it? I don't have an answer to the question, but an article written a couple of days ago offers some journalistic speculation on the issue and indirectly addresses the problem of the relationship between science and religion. I happen to think it might be pressing the point too far to attempt to harmonize any biblical account with the conclusions of science since the Bible is not, after all, attempting to give a scientific description of anything. Here are some excerpts from the article.
In the first place, skeptical geologists propose that for such a flood to have occurred, we would find a similar stratum throughout the world covered with pebbles, sludge, boulders, and other elements. It is curious that this layer cannot be found, even more so when the flood narrated by the Bible had taken place in a time as recent as 3000 B.C.

Neither can be found the strata of fossils, with different animal and vegetable species occupying specific soil layers. According to flood logic, the animal remains of all species before the big flood
(including the extinct dinosaurs) should be found today in only one stratum, without any distinction. But paleontology completely contradicts these suppositions.

Yet these examples appear to be only the tip of the iceberg comprising the arguments that refute a global flood. Even so, much of such reasoning is refuted with equal grace by the “pro-flood” scientists.
The article actually gives a fairly balanced view on the issue. I think it's fascinating that so many cultures have some kind of a flood myth. Something must have happened to create that kind of cultural memory. But is that proof that the Bible's version is exactly what happened? Not exactly. Even so, faith requires believing something that can't necessarily be proven empirically anyway.
With respect to non-Biblical myths about a purifying flood, these can be found in the Hindu, Sumerian, Greek, Acadia, Chinese, Mapuche, Mayan, Aztec, and Pascuanese (Easter Island) cultures, among others. Several of these stories appear to possess surprisingly similar common
factors. Among the most repeated themes are those of celestial announcements ignored by the people, the great flood itself, the construction of an arc to preserve life from the flood, and the later restoration of life on the planet.

A clear example of this similarity is provided by pre-Biblical Mesopotamian history of the flood in which the god “Ea” warned Uta-na-pistim, king of Shuruppak, about the punishment that awaits humanity for its serious moral degeneration. Uta-na-pistim received instructions from the god to construct a craft in the form of a cube with eight floors, and said that it should include in it a pair of each species of animal, plant seeds, as well as his own family. Thus, Uta-na-pistim survived the several-day-long deluge, released a bird to verify the proximity of dry land, and made an animal sacrifice to the gods.
(Via the Agade mailing list)


  1. I learned from a reliable source that John Walton has an article on the flood in the IVP Pentateuch dictionary where he argues that a localized flood is possible within the language of Genesis.

  2. Even so, much of such reasoning is refuted with equal grace by the “pro-flood” scientists.

    (N.B.: This quote is not of Doug's words, but those of the article he quotes.)

    The reporter is not correct in his or her facts. The "pro- (global) flood" arguments are not equal in elegance to those of mainstream modern geology. Pro-flood arguments are repeated over and over with persistence, but nonetheless they have been repeatedly debunked as either false in their premises or erroneous in their arguments.

    The holy grail of media "balance" is misconceived in this case: there is no "balance" between the arguments for and against a global flood, any more than there is "balance" between arguments for a flat or spherical earth, or between arguments for a heliocentric universe or an earth-centered universe.

    I hope it goes without saying that I still take the Bible seriously, and so on. :^) Still, a case for the theological truth or relevance of the Bible is not advanced by arguments whose foundations are false to fact.

    (Doug, I see that this comment looks pretty darned tart. I'm pointing my dirty looks at the reporter you quote, not at you for a good post looking broadly at ancient flood narratives and the search for their origins.)

  3. (Whups. In my comment, read "solar system" for "universe," of course. Sorry for any confusion brought on by my haste.)