Most people have heard the story where a man named Noah was told to build a boat and fill it with all the animals of the world in order to save life on earth from the global flood God was sending. Children’s cartoons often illustrate a ship with all the different animals smiling on top of it. For most people, even many Christians, this account is solely a story and fictional or merely just poetry. Other’s believe that instead of the flood encompassing the entire earth, it was only local. Others still, believe that a global flood is a preposterous thought and could not happen. So, is the account the Bible tells us in Genesis merely just a story? Is it just an account of a local flood? Or, is it truly an account of a global catastrophic event that drastically shaped the earth to what we see today? I think the best way to answer some of these questions is to first explore how Genesis was originally written.
The claim that the language of Genesis is a poem or a story of sorts instead of a historical account allows for the claim that maybe a “day” (Later I will write a post about time in Genesis) in the Bible was actually millions of years old and the compromise of modern science and Biblical teachings. This also allows for the claim that certain accounts or individuals are fake or fiction created to tell a moral or story. This claim does not hold up to how Genesis was originally written. Genesis, as well as most of the Old Testament, was written in ancient Hebrew. If Genesis were in fact poetry, it would be expected that the syntax of the writing would match the syntax of other writings of poetry.
Dr. Don DeYoung, author of Thousands Not Billions, discusses the characteristics of Hebrew poetry:
“First, some of the oldest available manuscripts have passages which are organized and labeled as verse…It often includes similar sounds and arrangements of words, parallelism of thoughts, symmetry, balance and brevity.”
DeYoung gives several examples of Hebrew writings which match this description such as parts of the book of Proverbs, the Song of David, and many other Psalms. He goes on to compare the verb forms within narrative writings and poetic writings:
“It is clear that the use of preterite verb form dominates the narrative stories. These preterite verbs indicate a flow of events during a specific time sequence. In contrast, the imperfect and perfect forms are more common in poetic texts.”
Johnathan Sarfati, a research scientist for Creation Ministries International, goes into more detail about the specific verb forms within Hebrew narrative writing and the writing of Genesis. He writes, in his book The Genesis Account:
“We can answer from the style of the undisputed historical books such as most of Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc. and indeed Genesis 12-50.
The Hebrew grammar of Genesis shows that Genesis 1-11 has the same literary style as these other historical books. For example, the early chapters of Genesis frequently use the construction called the ‘waw consecutive‘ (or wayyiqtol or preterite), a single mark of sequential narrative, as Hebrew grammarians consistently points out.
And Hebrew verbs of Genesis 1 have a particular feature that is exactly what would be expected if it were representing a series of past events.”
This is just a small look into the ancient Hebrew and the language and syntax of Genesis and it can already be seen that it was meant to be a historical account of actual real-life events, not just a poem or fictional story with a moral behind it.
Regardless of the way Genesis was actually written, some may still refuse to believe in a global flood because it is too fantastic to believe in. Many Christians accept an alternative few that the flood was merely local. Genesis 6-8 tells the account of Noah and the ark and the global flood that God sends to wipe out the wickedness of the world. The local flood model states the the flood was contained to the area of Mesopotamia. There are several issues with this model that Sarfati highlights. He explains that if the flood was local, Noah would not have needed to build an ark. Instead, he could have just left the area of the flood. Also, he wouldn’t have needed the animals to come to him for survival. All of the animals, especially birds, could easily be saved due to the fact that they lived outside the borders of local flood. He also explains that the area of Mesopotamia is “a half bowl, so the postulated gigantic wall of water would flow out towards the south.” The passage in Genesis 7: 20 says, “The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of 15 cubits (NIV).” If the water rose and covered the mountains by several feet, it would flow out beyond the mountains.
Another large piece of evidence against a local flood is the outstanding number of flood legends or accounts from remote people groups and civilizations from around the world. An article by Rebecca Conolly (Engineer and writer for Creation Ministries International) and Russell Grigg (Scientist, writer, and editor for Creation Ministries International) describes flood or “deluge” accounts from “at least 500 legends” from around the world. They write,
“Many of these show remarkable similarities, with many aspects similar to the details about Noah’s Flood in the Bible.”
Some of the 500 accounts they cite are from Mesopotamia, the North American Indians, Australian Aborigines, Ancient China, Egypt, Peru, and Scandinavia. As you can see, these locations are very remote from each other. These accounts also tend to have many similarities such as a man or woman being saved (many times by a God or spirit), a wooden vessel or ship of some sort, and many times someone sending out a dove or another bird to see if the flood waters had subsided and dried. These details are extremely similar to that of the Biblical account. These evidences would seem to point to a global flood instead of a local one.
So, IF the Biblical account of the global flood were to hold truth, how did it happen? The flood can be explained by the model of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics (This is according to my best knowledge and interpretation). Both creationists and modern science agrees that there was once a super-continent. This can easily be seen and explained by continental drift. However, the differences in models and explanations between creationists and modern science starts with how plate tectonics began and how quickly the process functioned.
(Pause: So I understand this information can be…dense. For those of you who are reading and who are not geology nerds like myself and your brains hurt, well mine does too. So, I will try to add in some parenthesis with some explanations with more of layman’s terms. If you have questions, please comment or contact me. This stuff is complex and I’m still learning too).
The CPT model begins with “Runaway tectonics.” Andrew Snelling, a PhD geologist, researcher, and writer, explains in detail the mechanics of this theory in his book Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Volume 2. It begins with the sheet of cold oceanic lithosphere covering the earth which was “floating” on top of the much hotter mantle layer (It can be argued that the mantle would be less dense as it is much hotter than the oceanic lithosphere). This cold sheet was “gravitationally unstable” and all it needed was for one part of it to begin the sinking process to lead to runaway tectonics. A piece of this cold, more dense rock began to sink at the beginning of the flood. Snelling describes this process and what it led to:
“If the initial conditions allow the slab to begin sinking at a rate sufficient to heat the material immediately surrounding the slab at a rate that exceeds the rate of heat loss by thermal diffusion, this surrounding zone weakens, allowing the slab velocity to increase, which increases the stress level, which weakens the zone further, which allow the slab velocity to increase further…” (Basically, a cycle of increasing speed for the sinking slab creates a runaway sequence).
Snelling also quotes experiments and studies that have been conducted on “thermal runaway” and this theory of plate tectonics which show evidence that lines up with the CPT model.
This process could explain the passage in Genesis 7:11, “all the fountains of the great deep burst open…” All over the world, both oceanic and continental, rifts formed. As the rifts in the oceans opened up, magma from the hot mantle from underneath rushed up to fill the crack, creating new oceanic lithosphere. We see this process today, but this was to much a greater magnitude. This process quickly progressed into a runaway as described earlier. The new oceanic lithosphere that was replacing the original, and now sinking and subducting, lithosphere would have been much hotter and, instead of sinking to the position of oceanic crust as we see today, would have been “isostatically lighter” causing sea waters to rise with it (The new ocean crust was much hotter than normal. Therefore, it would not sink to the level we normally sea. This elevated crust would in turn raise the water level of the oceans causing the waters to cover the continents). Also, as the magma rose to fill the spaces created by the rapidly spreading ocean crust, sea water would have been vaporized into extremely hot steam. This steam would have risen, taking much cold water with it, into the atmosphere where it condensed and descended back onto the earth as the global rain which the Bible states lasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
The earth was now covered by water and still being covered by a global rain. The continents and plates beneath the waters split and traveled “thousands of kilometers” in months. This caused mountains to rise and new features to be formed as continents crashed and continued to split. Vast amounts of sediment and rock were eroded and deposited in sheets across the earth. Snelling cites several examples of rock layers which spread across several continents that cover “up to 470,00 square kilometers” and another which “covers an area of some 815,000 square kilometers.”
The Bible states that after 150 days, the floodwaters began to recede. The rapid formation of new, warm oceanic lithosphere slowed dramatically. The new lithosphere began to cool increasing its density causing it to sink back to its proper isostatic position where we find them today. As they sunk, ocean basins deepened and the flood waters rushed off of the continents in sheets taking with them vast amounts of rock and sediment. Snelling describes the erosion:
“The most superficial, and therefore, least lithified, continental sedimentary deposits would have been eroded off the continents and deposited at the new continental margins and on the ocean floor…”
Some of the many features we can see as a result of the erosion are planar surfaces. These surfaces are found in many areas around the world and are not explained by erosional processes we see today. (My last blog on the Grand Canyon discussed this and meandering rivers in solid rock as well).
Regardless of the theories and debates, Jesus himself spoke about Genesis and Noah as fact and history. In Luke 17:26-27, Jesus says, “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”
Jesus even goes further and talks about other stories in Genesis as history. Even Peter and some of the other apostles wrote about Noah and Genesis as history. I understand this doesn’t appeal to everyone, but Christians should take the fact that God in the flesh, the creator, held Genesis as history, not a story or poetry. They also don’t have to try and compromise between faith and science. Science backs up the Bible and it shouldn’t have to be a belief in EITHER science or God. It should be a desire and curiosity to discover how the world works and the history of the world to see how God works and how he has created.
To some, this whole theory may still seem far-fetched or outlandish. However, it should at least show that the account of Noah’s flood has an actual scientific explanation with evidence to back it up. I would encourage everyone to go and read and research this topic for yourself, either out of curiosity, or skepticism, or just because I believe that you should never believe something just because someone told you.
Plate Tectonics: The theory that the crust or surface of the earth is made up of plates of rock which float and move on top of the underlying mantle. This helps explain the super-continent of Pangea.
Lithosphere: Upper layer making up earth’s crust or surface
Mantle: Layer of the earth on which the lithosphere floats and moves
Isostasy: Theory of buoyancy for earths lithospheric plates based on density. Less dense, thicker pieces of crust float higher while colder, more dense pieces (such as oceanic crust) float lower.
Connolly, R., & Grigg, R. (n.d.). Flood! Retrieved October 15, 2016, from http://creation.com/many-flood-legends
DeYoung, D. B. (2005). Thousands, not billions: Challenging an icon of evolution: Questioning the age of the Earth. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
Sarfati, J. D., Hunt, J. M., & McCabe, R. V. (n.d.). The Genesis account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11.
Snelling, A. (2009). Earth’s catastrophic past: Geology, creation, & the flood. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research.
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