Was there a Global Flood like in the film Noah? The Theology, History, and Science

This is a continuation of Does it Float – The Biblical Text and Does it Float? – The Impossible Journey.

There are plenty of other questions that have not yet been considered. These are further indications that the flood story should not be read with modern eyes as historical-scientific narrative, but as something like a myth or a tradition based on a local flood. Unfortunately this sounds very antithetical towards a fundamentalists vision of faith, while it is embraced by progressive Christians and Bible scholars. Again, I would kindly remind you that some of the most influential Christian leaders, like CS Lewis, did not believe in a global flood. Also that I am not writing this out of a bitterness or a “lack of faith” but rather because I am genuinely exploring these hard questions and their implications. Surely if God gave us reason, he did not intend we refuse to use it?

Theology

  • Why create a global flood that utterly failed to accomplish its goal? Let us be blunt, the flood did not work. Earlier we saw there were two repetitions in the story that explained the cause of the flood, the first was the birth of the Nephilim and resulting wickedness (Gen 6:1-7), the second was the violence on the earth (Gens 6:11-13). However, whichever reason you look at, the global flood does not actually change anything. What does Noah do when he gets off the Ark? He plants a vineyard, makes wine, and passes out drunk. Then his son pokes fun of him, and is instantly cursed (Gen 9:20-24). Was there not a 5 year old boy in the neighboring village that was less sinful than these two? The giants (nephilim) are found in later Old Testament violence (and even the author of the Noah narrative admits they continue to exist – Genesis 6:4). And as far as violence, the Old Testament contains millions of violent killings and slayings many of them commanded by God after the flood. The flood did not work. Why would God say he is flooding the earth to get rid of these things, if they instantly reappear? Did God really not know the future? I doubt it. The literal reading just doesn’t add up.
  • Why punish people with a method that destroys all the animals? Sometimes when a person is angered by the actions of others, he will release his vengeance on some “innocent” object, for example, by dashing it against the ground. Is this what happened to the animals and the environment? God was infuriated by the sins of mankind, then God “dashed” the animals against the ground in his anger? Why the collateral damage? Why not just zap all the sinners with lightning or give them all heart attacks? He could just as well show the devastation of sin by killing just the sinners. It’s true animals are not humans, but would we really endorse killing a pet kitten because of its owners crimes? Something just doesn’t feel right about that redirection of punishment. Or perhaps God can destroy anything he wants, because he owns everything? This is certainly true, and God can do anything he wants, the only question is why would he want to? What does it tell us about God’s distribution of justice if polar bears in Antarctica had to suffer because of a man’s sin in Mesopotamia?
  • Why punish children, babies, and unborn infants for the sins of the adults? To make matters worse the only obvious conclusion from reading this story literally is that God drowned every single child and infant. Even the pregnant mothers were drowned with their unborn babies in womb (does this count as divine abortion?) Why would God punish the children for the sins of the adults? And remember, the narrative very clearly says the global flood was a punishment, a form or retributive justice, not just an event. The only consolation I can find in my heart is that most Christians say that babies who die instantly go to heaven. Yet again, this only makes me wish that God never allowed anyone grow up, and forced everyone to die as babies, that way we would all go to heaven? (So it’s possible for people to get to heaven without becoming a Christian? As long as they are babies? So what’s the point of making a world where we grow up and risk eternal torture in hell anyway?) All I am saying is a historic-scientific reading of the flood narrative doesn’t seem to add up.
  • Why does God like the smell of burning animals? As soon as Noah gets off the ark, he is depicted as taking a few of the endangered species, killing them (a hundred liberals just drowned in their tears), and burning them (animals, not liberals) on an altar to the Lord. The next passage plainly states “and when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground” (Gen 8:21) Bible scholars will label this term as anthropomorphism (1) or speak of the Jahwist (priestly) source (2) in the documentary hypothesis, and more recently the supplementary or fragmentary hypotheses to explain this fact. But the fact is, the text very clearly depicts God as smelling (reiach) the pleasant aroma (hannichoach) of burning animals. Does this not show a remarkable amount of humanity within this passage? Or should we take this as historic-scientific fact that God spells aromas, and he truly likes the smell of burnt barbeque? (I vote anthropomorphism instead.)
  • Why does Noah need to use birds to find dry land if God talks to him and tells him when to exit the ark? Before the flood, the narrative depicts God literally spoke to Noah and supernaturally closed the door to the ark (Gen 7:1, 7:16), and yet, Noah uses birds on numerous occasions to find a place to disembark. Then as soon as Noah finds out it is dry, the passage depicts God, again, carrying on a literal conversation with Noah. (Genesis 8:15-16) Releasing these birds seems very unnecessary for a man who has a literal verbal relationship with God. The birds seem instead to be a literary device to add to the story. It makes one wonder, did God really not talk to Noah for a year while on board of the ship? Where was God when Noah was releasing these birds and waiting? Was he not by Noah’s side? (And that brings us to the next question)
  • Why does God need to remember about Noah? The story simmers down in Gen 7:24 with Noah and his family alone in the ark “and the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.” Then out of nowhere, the story picks up speed as Gen 8:1 literally says “God remembered Noah.” That is strange, does God really forget? Does God not have someone in his mind at some time? Can God not be at a place for some period of time? Our traditional conception of God says no, he knows all things and is everywhere at the same time. God should have known about Noah, and s-2hould have been present everywhere, including with him. This this is another indication that these writings are written with a story-like, human centered (anthropomorphic) language in mind, rather than a modern scientific-historic depiction of events. Even if we reinterpret the idea of “remembrance” to say it does not literally mean “God forgot about Noah,” we must admit it depicts God recalling to mind Noah, from the human perspective, because the story is written in human centered story-form to evoke our emotions. This biblical text, if read as historical-scientific literature gives us wrong facts about God, but if read instead as anthropomorphic narrative, it depicts us the human feeling of being forsaken and “remembered” by the divine.
  • Why did God allow Ham to survive the flood if his descendants would need to be slaughtered? In Gen. 10:6–20 we are told that the Canaanites who possess the land that Israel conquers are children of Ham. Surely it was more humane to simply let Cain die in the flood than to let his children grow into thousands upon thousands only to slaughter them. Surely if God was really intending to get rid of the evil by killing people in the flood he would have known to get rid of the man from whom all the wicked nations of the Ancient Near East develop?

History

According to the creationist interpretation of the text, the flood happened in 2348 BC. (3) Recall that time before the year 0 AD/CE is counted “backwards,” so the date of 3000 BC is three thousand years before 0 AD, and 4000 BC is yet another thousand years earlier in history than 3000 BC. This date of 2348 BC causes innumerable historical problems.

  • Why are there hundreds of similar flood legends, but each with different details? Noah’s flood story is not the first in human history, there are older flood stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh is thought to be 1,500 years older than the Noah story. (4) Yet there are vast differences between the two, from numerous gods and goddesses to a quest for immortality. There are a great many other flood legends, perhaps in the hundreds (5) yet they are all completely different. In some people flee to mountains to survive, in others they build boats, in yet others they hide in mythical caves or climb trees. What is also interesting to note, is that each geographic region has their own twist and theme; African flood myths are different than Ancient Near East myths, which are different from North American flood myths.
  • Why does no one in history remember or mention Noah? If indeed every single person living on the planet descended from Noah after the flood, why is there not a shared collective story of Noah? There are absolutely zero traces of Noah in ancient oral tales and myths. For example, Asian origin myths are vastly different from Latin American myths, but the both ignore Noah. This may not seem strange unless you consider that creationists say the gap between Noah’s time and ours is about 4400 years. And also consider that Noah purportedly lived 300 years after the flood and his son Shem lived almost 500 years after the flood (6). This would mean that living survivors of the flood were still alive 4,000 years ago. Given a new generation born every 40 years (4000/40) this means there are only 100 generations of people from us to the flood, yet in one hundred generations Noah was completely forgotten from oral history as being the sole father of the new human race? He was replaced by stories of magical monkeys in India? And by giant Raven in North America?
  • Why did no one else write about Noah and the ark? According to the most prominent creationist organization the flood happened in 2348 BC. (7) There are many Sumerian writings both before and after this flood date, however, none of them mention Noah. In fact, there is a fairly similar flood myth found in early Sumerian writings (8), that written around the 17th century BCE or about two/three hundred years after what is purported to be Noah’s death. (9) According to the ages given in the story, Noah’s son Shem may have been alive at the time (Genesis 11:11). How is it that a few generations after Noah, possibly during his sons life, and likely during his grandchildren’s lives there stories about the flood were recorded that completely ignored Noah? Other people of the exact same century, like Sargon of Akkad are mentioned in writing, but Noah is not?
  • Why does Egypt have written history before and after the flood, with no gap in between? This is one of the most damming concrete facts against a global flood. The nation of Egypt has an unbroken, documented history going back to 4500 BC, almost two thousand years before the flood! (10) Egypt has a history or its own distinct Egyptian written language of glyphs going back from 3200 BC (11) to 3000BC (12) this is almost a thousand years before the flood. Imhotep built the first Egyptian step pyramid almost two hundred years before the flood. (13) Egypt was in the middle of its 5th dynasty of rulers during the flood. (14) It is accepted by all historians that Egypt has written records of pharaohs that go right through the date of the flood, with no interruptions. (15) How could this be if there was a global flood that wiped them off the map?
  • Why do many distant civilizations thrive and grow right through the date of the flood? Consider that there are archeological records of the city of Mohenjo-daro flourishing in the Indus valley before and after the flood, with no interruptions (16). There is a written Indus script that was developed 200 years before the flood and was used four hundred years after, with no interruption. (17) Consider that mainstream history and archeology is fairly certain of numerous cities and civilizations built centuries or millennia before the flood and prospering right through if (18, 19) Consider that there is much evidence of military invasions, and wars that were fought during the purported time of the flood, when fundamentalists say there were only 8 people alive. (20) Consider that history shows famous conquerors like Sargon of Akkad ruled and conquered cities in the exact same time period as the flood. (21) How could any of this happen if there were no cities and only 8 people in the entire world? Should we reject all history and archeology and believe in the global flood?

Science

This section will be brief as few of my readers “trust science.” The sad reality is many people I know would rather trust a bit of spiritual hearsay that purportedly some prophet said in a different country than the consensus of a thousand scientists who have spent their lives studying some natural phenomenon. There are dozens of complex scientific reasons, but we will skip them and just give a few less detailed points that are easy to understand.

  • Why do virtually all scientists reject the idea of a global flood? The global flood is always used by young earth creationists as the only means to explain away all of the evidence for evolution (sediments, layers, fossils, earth appearing old and etc). Thus the flood is an integral part of young earth creationism, and everyone else (specifically those who accept evolution) does not believe it occurred. The best estimates are that 99.9% of relevant scientists reject the creationism including the global flood theory. (22) Yet, about one third of them believe in God. (23) If the flood is the most accurate geological answer to our physical evidence, why is it rejected by 99.9% of scientists, including the majority of Christians who are scientists? Why do organizations with hundreds of thousands of professional geologists reject the idea of a global flood and creationist lists can only muster three or four that affirm it?
  • How can a rainbow be the first, when the refraction of light is a physical law that our universe cannot exist without? A rainbow is not a physical thing, that exists and can be placed and taken way, it is merely the refraction of light passing through water molecules. (24) Even if there was no rain (which by the way negates planetary physics) before the flood, then Noah would only need to wake up before the morning dew or walk up to any waterfall to see a rainbow. Even creationists have begun to admit this fact, and state that the first rainbow was not really the first, but was repurposed for a new meaning. (25)
  • How and why was the fossil record sorted in an order convenient for evolution? Creationists say the flood caused everything in geology, from the layers of fossils to the order of these fossils. For example, it is said that the reasons there is sorting of animal fossils in the geologic strata (less evolved forms at the bottom, and more evolved near the top) is becase some animals ran into the mountain from the flood. However, the flood does not account for the following (courtesy of talkorigins.org):
    1. “the extremely good sorting observed. Why didn’t at least one dinosaur make it to the high ground with the elephants?
    2. the relative positions of plants and other non-motile life. (Yun, 1989, describes beautifully preserved algae from Late Precambrian sediments. Why don’t any modern-looking plants appear that low in the geological column?)
    3. why some groups of organisms, such as mollusks, are found in many geologic strata.
    4. why organisms (such as brachiopods) which are very similar hydrodynamically (all nearly the same size, shape, and weight) are still perfectly sorted.
    5. why extinct animals which lived in the same niches as present animals didn’t survive as well. Why did no pterodons make it to high ground?
    6. how coral reefs hundreds of feet thick and miles long were preserved intact with other fossils below them.
    7. why small organisms dominate the lower strata, whereas fluid mechanics says they would sink slower and thus end up in upper strata.
    8. why artifacts such as footprints and burrows are also sorted. [Crimes & Droser, 1992]
    9. why no human artifacts are found except in the very uppermost strata. If, at the time of the Flood, the earth was overpopulated by people with technology for shipbuilding, why were none of their tools or buildings mixed with trilobite or dinosaur fossils?
    10. why different parts of the same organisms are sorted together. Pollen and spores are found in association with the trunks, leaves, branches, and roots produced by the same plants [Stewart, 1983].
    11. why ecological information is consistent within but not between layers. Fossil pollen is one of the more important indicators of different levels of strata. Each plant has different and distinct pollen, and, by telling which plants produced the fossil pollen, it is easy to see what the climate was like in different strata. Was the pollen hydraulically sorted by the flood water so that the climatic evidence is different for each layer?” (26)
  • Why are 99.9% of all species that have ever lived currently extinct? “Since life first appeared on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago, it has been estimated that more than 99.9% of all species have gone extinct. Billions of species have gone extinct throughout geologic history.” (27) We have found fossil evidence of strange wild creatures that ancient people did not know existed. Every year we find many new fossilized species, things that we did not know existed. These are found standing in any museum. Yet they are all extinct, why? The command to Noah clearly says that every kind must be preserved, how is it that 99% of the species of this planet were not preserved? Why did the Ark not contain seven pairs of the Phorusrhacidae “terror bird”? (28) In fact, why were they even created if they were simply going to become extinct in the lifetime of the first group of humans?
  • How could 8 people have grown into every single ethnic group over 174 generations? If children are born when adults are 25 years old, we have 174 generations (though a number like 40 is usually used, we will take the lowest possible) between Noah and us today. Are we to believe that 8 people of middle-eastern descent practiced incest to produce over 5,000 of today’s ethnic groups in less than two hundred generations? African, Eskimo, Native American, Indian, Asian, European, Aborigine. All of this ethnic evolution happened in just 170 generations? In addition to that, computer population models show the numbers look strange when compared to known history, for example, leading to absurd ideas like that only a few thousand adults being alive at the same time as the building of the pyramids. (29)
  • Why do creationists believe in superfast “magic evolution,” but reject slow scientific evolution? Noah Ark purportedly carried two (or seven) of every “kind”, and these “kinds” quickly changed into all the other species we see today by a process of microevolution. Creationists also say they do not believe in the horrible evil of macroevolution, where new species can evolve, often aggressively asking scientists to “name one new species that evolved!?” (30) Yet, there is a huge inconsistency in their rhetoric. First, they already believe new species evolved after leavening the ark! They need this to keep the numbers down to 1%. Second, according to common creationist thought, the chihcuacha, the wolf, the pitbull all share the same Ark ancestor! And this species variation of all dogs/wolves happened in 4400 years! Compared to that, evolutionists depict dogs/wolves diverging in evolution 4,000,000 years ago. (31) The creationists version of “microevolution” works a thousand times faster than the evolutionists version of evolution!

Conclusion

Based on these small gleanings it seems very unlikely (and this is a nice way of saying completely and utterly impossible) for there to have been a global flood that covered the earth 4000 years ago. This is not because of a lack of faith on my part. I believe that God could have made people into potatoes who built the titanic out of toothbrushes, if he wanted to. The question is: does the evidence of the biblical text, nature, history, philosophy, logic, and theology support this? I join the vast majority of Biblical scholars, historians, and scientists in saying an emphatic No!

Does this automatically mean we don’t trust the rest of the bible? C. S. Lewis gives an appropriate answer, regarding another account in the Old Testament he considered mythical:

“the whole Book of Jonah has to me the air of being a moral romance, a quite different kind of thing from, say, the account of King David or the New Testament narratives, not pegged, like them, into any historical situation. In what sense does the Bible “present” the Jonah story “as historical”? Of course it doesn’t say, “This is fiction,” but then neither does our Lord say that the Unjust Judge, Good Samaritan, or Prodigal Son are fiction (I would put Esther in the same category as Jonah for the same reason). How does a denial, a doubt, of their historicity lead logically to a similar denial of New Testament miracles? Supposing (as I think is the case), that sound critical reading revealed different kinds of narrative in the Bible, surely it would be illogical to suppose that these different kinds should all be read in the same way?”

(Lewis, Letter from C. S. Lewis to Corbin 32)

8 responses

  1. If it is an OT “parable” and isn’t necessarily historical, why does Jesus and Peter refer to them as if they were real people? We don’t see Paul telling us that we are saved just like the Prodigal Son was saved.

    • As C.S. Lewis said “Of course it doesn’t say, “This is fiction,” but then neither does our Lord say that the Unjust Judge, Good Samaritan, or Prodigal Son are fiction (I would put Esther in the same category as Jonah for the same reason). How does a denial, a doubt, of their historicity lead logically to a similar denial of New Testament miracles? Supposing (as I think is the case), that sound critical reading revealed different kinds of narrative in the Bible, surely it would be illogical to suppose that these different kinds should all be read in the same way?””

      • Good answer for the second half of my comment!

        In regards to the first half, Christ refers to the last days as days similar to Noah’s time. Why would He insert a figurative setting into a future historical time? Christ used parables to convey Gospel principles. He does not treat them as fact (except for the Lazarus and the rich man one, which don’t think is historical). Noah, however is uniquely treated as fact.

        • The book of Jude quotes from the pseudepigraphapic ‘Book of Enoch’ which is not canonical, and certainly not a historically accurate book (it was written a few hundred years before the NT was written, not thousands of years in the era of Enoch).

          Jude quotes this pseudepigraphapic book, almost certainly containing mythical stories rather than historic fact, for the reason of providing his audience an example or illustration of real events.

    • The very type of thing you say never happened in the NT actually does.

      The book of Jude quotes from the pseudepigraphapic ‘Book of Enoch’ which is not canonical, and certainly not a historically accurate book (it was written a few hundred years before the NT was written, not thousands of years in the era of Enoch).

      Jude quotes this pseudepigraphapic book, almost certainly containing mythical stories rather than historic fact, for the reason of providing his audience an example or illustration.

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