One of the most famous stories in the Bible is colloquially referred to as "Noah's Ark" or "The Deluge", or more simply "The Flood". The premise of the story is followed in Genesis 6-9 and centers around the depravity of humanity. The details of human depravity is not expounded upon, but what is is that there is a pious, noble man named Noah who hasn't succumbed to that depravity. Feeling miffed, God tells Noah to build an ark for him and his family and then makes it rain for 40 days and 40 nights, flooding the entire Earth and killing everything on it except Noah, his family and two of every kind of animal.
That much, pretty much all of us knows. And if you don't, I highly recommend reading the Book of Genesis. The problem with the above narrative though, is that it's not an accurate narrative of what the Bible actually says happened. I normally don't do abstracts, but due to the length of this particular article, it has been suggested to me.
Despite the name of the article, "Did the Flood happen?", this article covers a broad range of topics in regards to the subject of the ancient deluge. First, we look at whether the flood was global (stretched the entire world and covered the world's mountains) or local (isolated to a particular region.) My conclusion is that the original Hebrew text supports a local flood; not a global one. We supplement this fact with common sense approaches, science and the Bible, itself.
The next thing we cover is the purpose for such a flood, concluding the nature of man at the time is not entirely made clear to us, but given supporting content, it stands to reason that God's choice to do so couldn't have been shits and giggles.
Following, we delve into the realm of actual scientific knowledge and ask the question, "Did a flood happen?" Using various scientific data, we conclude that not only was it possible that there was a local flood in the area, it's almost a surefire bet.
And finally, we look at if an ark would have been a feasible means of survival. We use (particularly) a dialogue between John Woodmorappe and Glenn Morton to deduce roughly that an ark containing only local animals could be accomplished. Following, we use the work of S.W. Hong to establish that the ark described not only could handle the animals aboard, but could feasibly withstand the storm described.
Local or Global?
Unless you believe the Bible was originally written in English (it wasn't), then you should realize that if you want to know what the Bible says, you should rely on the original sources (always a good practice, by the way.) In this case, all the information we need cover is written in Biblical Hebrew, with perhaps some supporting details in Greek Koine.
The major point I contend about what our English translations read is that the flood was not a global flood, but a local flood. In other words, the waters didn't blanket the entire Earth; only the cradle of civilization, where humanity actually resided.
The general reason most people presume otherwise is because our English translations command it. Genesis 6:17, for example, reads "I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish."
That seems to imply a global flood. The problem is that the word "ha'aretz" has been rendered as "Earth" with nothing to support such a translation. Strong's 776 groups ha'aretz, ba'aretz and erets together as either "Earth" or "land". For example, Genesis 4:14 renders the word ba'aretz as "land" and reads "Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
If erets could only mean the whole Earth, then that would imply that God cast Cain not out of Eden, but from the entire world. The amount of mental gymnastics you'd need to do to make that make sense is not even worth discussing. So, it's obvious from the get-go that the word doesn't necessarily imply the entire globe.
Side note: For more instances where erets has other meanings than a global planet, you can browse the Brown-Driver-Briggs section here and this interesting article by Donald Hochner and Richard Anthony at Ecclesia (definitely worth reading):
a. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot's daughters said "there's not a man in the earth (erets) to come in unto us" (Genesis 19:31) We know that not every man in the world was killed ... only those in the area of the destruction.
b. Exodus 9:33 "the rain was not poured upon the earth" #776 (erets)... Of course we understand it is just speaking about a certain area in Egypt.
c. In Jeremiah 34:1, "all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the peoples, fought against Jerusalem." There the phrase "of the earth" is limited to "his dominion," i.e., the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar.
d. In II Chronicles 36:23, Cyrus' empire is said to have encompassed "all the kingdoms of the earth." But there were kingdoms in the Far East which were surely not included.
e. Acts 11:28 speaks of a similar famine "throughout all the world," yet it is not likely it really meant over the whole globe including the New World.
f. Luke 2:1 refers to a decree which went out to tax "the whole world." But this only refers to the territories that the Romans controlled.
More about Hebrew usage of the word "world".
Linguistically speaking, the next thing proponents of a global flood will fall back on is that kol (Strong's H3605 and the word properly translated as "whole") demonstrates that it is, in fact, a global flood because it precedes erets and would render it as "the whole Earth." The problem is that such an argument still presupposes that erets means Earth. Text reading "the whole (or entire) land" is not proof of it meaning "the whole Earth". It's generally recognized that the Mesopotamian region is the cradle of civilization and we are discussing humanity within these confines and as such, "kol erets" rendered as "the whole land" is perfectly reasonable.
Rich Deem at God And Science wrote an article with an interesting excerpt on the subject (I highly recommend reading the article, by the way):
When you read an English translation of the biblical account of the flood, you will undoubtedly notice many words and verses that seem to suggest that the waters covered all of planet earth.3 However, one should note that today we look at everything from a global perspective, whereas the Bible nearly always refers to local geography. You may not be able to determine this fact from our English translations, so we will look at the original Hebrew, which is the word of God. The Hebrew words which are translated as "whole earth" or "all the earth" are kol (Strong's number H3605), which means "all," and erets (Strong's number H776), which means "earth," "land," "country," or "ground."4 We don't need to look very far in Genesis (Genesis 2) before we find the Hebrew words kol erets.
The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [erets] of Havilah, where there is gold. (Genesis 2:11)
And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [erets] of Cush. (Genesis 2:13)
Obviously, the description of kol erets is modified by the name of the land, indicating a local area from the context. In fact, the term kol erets is nearly always used in the Old Testament to describe a local area of land, instead of our entire planet.
So, the next objections are likely Genesis 8:5 and Genesis 7:20.
"The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible."
"The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits."
Clearly, if the flood covered all of the mountains in the area, the flood must have been global because, otherwise, where would the water run off to? This image is humorously used to depict the absurdity of such a notion. And truth be told, if you believe in a local flood that covered the mountains, that is pretty absurd.
The word translated as "mountains" is Heharim (Strong's 2022), which can mean mountains or hills. And given that *Genesis 7:20 the waters likely rose 15 cubits (or 6.85800 meters or 22.5 feet), "hills" seems the most likely translation.
Rich Deem weighs in:
The Hebrew word "har," translated "mountains," occurs 649 times in the Old Testament. In 212 instances, the word is translated "hill" or "hills" or "hill country". In Genesis, it is translated "hill" in 10 out of 19 occurrences. Of course, 4 out of 9 times that it is translated as "mountain" is in the flood passage (the translators were wearing their global glasses when they did that translation!). In every instance in Genesis, the text could be translated "hill". Since no specific mountain range is mentioned in this verse, it is likely that the word refers to the hills that Noah could see.
Donald Hochner and Richard Anthony at Ecclesia weigh in with probably the most poignant point:
"And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen."
It was 74 days AFTER the ark rested that "the tops of mountains were seen." We believe these were some mountains right around the spot where the ark came to rest. If the writer meant all the mountains in the world, he should have said the tops of the mountains were seen and AFTER this the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. This is self-evident, for there are MOUNTAINS ALL OVER THE WORLD THAT ARE HIGHER THAN ANY IN THAT LAND THAT WAS ANCIENTLY KNOWN AS ARARAT!"
* "Aha!" You might say, "But Genesis 7:20 says that the waters prevailed 'more than' fifteen cubits or 'fifteen cubits higher'!"
I find that interesting. The global flood apologists are so adamant about their views that they follow two entirely different narratives of what Genesis 7:20 says. The first is the New International Version:
"The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits."
And the second is the New American:
"The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered."
On one hand, we have a straight rise of the waters to more than 15 cubits. And on the other, we have a preexisting altitude plus fifteen cubits. What does the Bible say?
The word from which "more" and "higher" are derived is "ma'al" (Strong's 4605), which does not necessarily have a superlative connotation. Instead, it means "upward". As such, it's very well possible that the waters rose 15 cubits total.
Now, I'm not saying that "ma'al" can't be superlative, but the Bible does not specify the altitude that the waters reached prior to the 15 additional cubits if so. And there's no evidence that if it was superlative that the height of the waters were enough to cover mountains. There is sufficient evidence below (see David R. Montgomery's work) that water levels may have abruptly risen as much as 350 cubits in the Black Sea region (which still wouldn't be enough to cover all the mountains though as this would make water levels about 500 feet and Mt. Ararat is 16,854 feet by comparison, so my point above still stands.)
Donald Hochner and Richard Anthony note the mathematical impracticality of the presumption that the water rose higher than 15 cubits:
After it stopped raining and the water began to go back down, the Bible implies the water receded at the rate of 15 cubits in 74 days (Genesis 7:20; 8:4, 5). A number of recognized commentators have mentioned this points. If we figure a cubit at about 18 inches, the water level would have dropped 270 inches during this time or, to round it off, 4 inches a day. If the flood depth was 29,050 feet (348,600 inches) and the water level dropped 4 inches a day, it would take 87,150 days to get back down to normal sea level. That would be almost 239 YEARS!
To establish whether a global or local interpretation of the flood is accurate, it might be helpful to look at verses beyond Genesis that reference the flood.
"You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth."
Rich Deem wrote another article on this particular verse as it pertains to the subject matter. Because this verse precedes the flood and regards creation, it renders the possibility of all land being covered again by water moot. In other words, there are three possibilities:
1. The flood was local.
2. Psalms lied when it said the boundary would never again be crossed and allow the water to cover the Earth.
3. Genesis lied when it said a global flood happened.
Therefore, we can logically conclude if we regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God that the only option is option one.
Rich Deem also qualifies his viewpoint with 2 Peter 3:5-6:
What does the New Testament tell us about the flood? As mentioned previously, the New Testament tells us that the flood was universal in its judgment. Besides this, there is an interesting passage from 2 Peter that gives some insight into the nature of the flood:
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the land was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (2 Peter 3:5-6)
Peter, instead of just telling us that the entire planet was flooded, qualifies the verse by telling us that the "world at that time" was flooded with water. What was different about the world "at that time" compared to the world of today? At the time of the flood, all humans were in the same geographic location (the people of the world were not scattered over the earth until Genesis 11). Therefore, the "world at the time" was confined to the Mesopotamian plain. There would be no reason to qualify the verse if the flood were global in extent.
As well, 2 Peter 2:5 demonstrates the same:
"If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;"
"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith."
This verse is an interesting case study because the word rendered as "world" is "kosmos" (Strong's 2888), whose roots are akin to the word "adornment" or an "orderly arrangement". Strong's applies various definitions for kosmos including, "the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment."
As we can see from this, there is a strong connotation between kosmos and the inhabited Earth. Just about every verse that references falls into one category: The authors of the Bible attempting to convey the notion of punishment upon the world's inhabitants (humans) and not the floating rock that is the Earth. Given that civilization was local, there logically would be no reason for a global deluge.
This category includes Luke 17:26-27, Matthew 24:38, Genesis 6:13, etc.
Other Basic Logical Arguments
I noted above that there would be no point to a global flood, given that a local flood would do exactly the same job (given that nomadism wasn't prominent enough for humanity to stretch beyond the region) without as much collateral damage. But there are other logical and scientific arguments that put a globalist interpretation of the Flood into question:
This is especially noteworthy if you don't believe in an Old Earth or Evolution:
How did marsupials migrate from the Middle East to Australia once the Ark landed and all the animals were let off?
Mark Isaak at Talk Origins (another article definitely worth reading) further expounds upon this:
Could animals have traveled from elsewhere? If the animals traveled from other parts of the world, many of them would have faced extreme difficulties.
- Some, like sloths and penguins, can't travel overland very well at all.
- Some, like koalas and many insects, require a special diet. How did they bring it along?
- Some cave-dwelling arthropods can't survive in less than 100% relative humidity.
- Some, like dodos, must have lived on islands. If they didn't, they would have been easy prey for other animals. When mainland species like rats or pigs are introduced to islands, they drive many indigenous species to extinction. Those species would not have been able to survive such competition if they lived where mainland species could get at them before the Flood.
Could animals have all lived near Noah? Some creationists suggest that the animals need not have traveled far to reach the Ark; a moderate climate could have made it possible for all of them to live nearby all along. However, this proposal makes matters even worse. The last point above would have applied not only to island species, but to almost all species. Competition between species would have driven most of them to extinction.
There is a reason why Gila monsters, yaks, and quetzals don't all live together in a temperate climate. They can't survive there, at least not for long without special care. Organisms have preferred environments outside of which they are at a deadly disadvantage. Most extinctions are caused by destroying the organisms' preferred environments. The creationists who propose all the species living together in a uniform climate are effectively proposing the destruction of all environments but one. Not many species could have survived that.
More from Rich Deem:
Many Christian believe that a local flood interpretation is a recent invention of those who are trying to reconcile science with the Bible. However, the first century Jewish writer, Josephus wrote about other writers who indicated that the flood was local and that some inhabitants survived by seeking higher ground:
"Now all the writers of barbarian [Greek] histories make mention of this flood and of this ark: among whom is Berosus the Chaldean... Hieronymous the Egyptian.... Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them, where he speaks thus: 'There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses, the legislator of the Jews wrote'."
Josephus does not seek to correct their narrative. So, the idea that the flood was a local event is not just a 20th century phenomenon.
As Donald Hochner and Richard Anthony at Ecclesia phrased it:
If the flood was global, how did it recede? Why didn't the oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, etc.) recede? This would be like dipping water out of one end of a swimming pool and pouring it in the other end. The level would be remain unchanged!
The effects salt water would have on the environment would be devastating. A study from Laboratory for Wetland Soils and Sediments, Center for Wetland Resources, Louisiana State University conducted by S.R. Pezeshki, R.D. Delaune, W.H. Patrick Jr. titled "Flooding and saltwater intrusion: Potential effects on survival and productivity of wetland forests along the U.S. Gulf Coast" investigated the effects saltwater flooding would have on the forests in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The combination of flooding and salinity causes foliage damage and substantial reductions in carbon assimilation. The morphological response and reductions in gas exchange rates are closely associated with increases in salt levels. Exposure to salt concentrations greater than 50 mol m−3 (3 ppt) causes some leaf burning and decline in carbon assimilation rates of up to 84% in seedlings of some species.
You don't exactly need to be a scientist, however, to know that a year's immersion in salt water would be devastating. Recently, we saw the immense damage Hurricane Sandy's flooding had on the East Coast and even by the standard of a local deluge, it would have been nothing compared to the the flood in the Bible. While the damage would have certainly been severe in either instance, a global flood would be apocalyptic.
Moreover, the mingling between salt water and fresh water to create brackish water would be devastating for marine life, as explained by Podge at Logic of Evolution (ignore the rudimentary arguments about nothing being added post-creation and the belligerence and the guy makes a lot of sound points):
That is an aside, as I have one major problem I have yet to see a logical answer for. The question I have is where was all of the life that lives in fresh water housed on the Ark? Did Noah fashion aquaria out of wood? Or did he have access to glass (or even transparent aluminium). Even if fresh water life could be stored on the Ark it begs the question how it could be alive today.
Let me explain. The Oceans that existed before Noah’s flood consisted of sea water, one of which’s properties is its salinity. Minerals dissolved in the water have made the seas undoubtedly salty. A child knows this so it’s hardly Earth shattering news. The overwhelming majority of fresh water fish and mammals cannot survive in salt water environments and viceversa. Anyone who has ever bought a puffer fish from their local aquarium for your home fish tank knows if the salinity isn’t right then it’ll be floating belly up in a day or two. Trust me.
If enough freshwater fell as rain to create the flood so as to lessen the existing seas’ salinity to that of freshwater then all of the saltwater fish and mammals must have been on the Ark. I say they must have been because we have them still here today. [...] This raises another question. A Blue whale, as far as have been discovered so far, can be up to one hundred and eighty tons in weight and as long as 98ft. How could two Blue Whales be housed on the Ark in salt water? If the length of the Ark was 450ft in length then Blue Whales alone require a large volume of space to exist in. They also have to be in tanks of water larger than themselves to survive for one year and ten days. What did they eat? The tanks would have to hold an astronomical number of plankton and krill. Blue Whales are not the only whales and large fish that are here today that must have been on the Ark. Let’s list some of the Cetacean whales shall we; remember, there needs to be two of each of these on the Ark. God didn’t create anymore so we need two to procreate, don’t we?
Bowhead Whale at 60 tonnes apiece.
Right Whales (three species of each) at 40 to 80 tonnes apiece.
Common Minke Whales at 5 to 11 tonnes.
Sei Minke Whales at 20 to 25 tonnes.
Fin Whales at 45 to 75 tonnes.
Bryde’s Whale at 14 to 30 tonnes.
Humpback Whales at 25 to 30 tonnes.
All told, there are 88 species of Cetacean ranging from Dolphins, Porpoises and Killer Whales. This does not include large fish such as sharks, tuna, marlins, swordfish, etc. I’m not listing them all. That is a staggering amount of space needed for them to live and exhibit natural behaviour. Each would need food for one year and ten days which would amount to inestimable number of fish. The excrement would need to be cleared from the tanks on a twenty four seven basis.
Rich Deem notes:
Another problem for the global flood interpretation is what happened to the "earth" after the flood. Read the following verses and see if you can see why the word "earth" does not refer to the entire planet:
- Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:6-7, NASB)
After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:6-7, NIV)
- Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:13a, NASB)
By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:13a, NIV)
- and in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. (Genesis 8:14, NASB)
By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. (Genesis 8:14, NIV)
"Well, if the flood wasn't global, why didn't God just send Noah elsewhere? And if the mountains weren't completely covered, why not just go to the tops of the mountains?"
Well, that raises a problem, doesn't it? That problem being:
How, then, does Noah save the animals in the area? Enclosures for such a magnitude of animals atop a mountain would be a difficult feat indeed and gathering all of the animals while in another location would be a pain in the neck as well. Not to mention Noah tried in vain to forewarn his brethren of the impending doom while he constructed the Ark. As such, an Ark was the best option given the circumstances.
Rich Deem notes:
Some animals are indigenous only to the Mesopotamian area. More importantly, it would have taken hundreds of years longer to replace the fauna if everything had been wiped out and had to migrate back in. In addition, Noah would have had a huge problem replacing his herds.
"I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."
Some might use this as their clincher, citing how there have been tons of floods that have done immense damage since then. It's an apples and oranges argument though. There's a vast difference between a flood that follows the general mechanics of the Earth's cycles and God actively using a flood to cut off the unrighteous among the land.
The first part of the verse is a promise not to exercise universal judgment by means of a flood, "all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood." The flood, although local in extent, was global in judgment, since all humanity lived in the same locale. It wasn't until God confused the languages (Genesis 11) that people began to spread over the earth. So, God promised to never again execute universal judgment of humans by means of a flood. The second part, "never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth" can be explained by other verses found in the Genesis flood account.
Gen 6:11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.
Gen 6:12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.
The passage in this instance refers to the people of the earth, since planet earth itself was not corrupt. Likewise, Genesis 9:11 is referring to the people of the earth rather than the planet itself. Ultimately, even if the flood were global, it did not "destroy the earth," but just the people on the earth. As stated above, "people" is often understood from the Hebrew word erets.
Moreso, Isaiah 54:9 provides interesting insight into this particular subject:
“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you."
Again, the word "ha'aretz" is translated as "Earth", when there's no clear evidence for such. But the reason why this verse is particularly pertinent is because it qualifies the waters as being the "waters of Noah", which differentiate them from just any old water. This adds particular weight to the above and puts the scriptural support on the side of a local flood.
Rich Deem covers a lot of these points, doesn't he?:
Most birds (other than a few migratory birds) have a very localized territory. They would have been killed in the local flood, since they are not designed to fly long distances. Certainly archaeopteryx was not a strong flyer. Hummingbirds would drop dead in 20 minutes or less. One thing that you will notice when there is a strong rain is that birds do not fly. Flying in heavy rain is not easy. They would have sat on their perches until the water drowned them.
Mark Isaak of Talk Origins makes a good point:
How are the polar ice caps even possible? Such a mass of water as the Flood would have provided sufficient buoyancy to float the polar caps off their beds and break them up. They wouldn't regrow quickly. In fact, the Greenland ice cap would not regrow under modern (last 10 ky) climatic conditions.
Greg Neyman at Old Earth makes a very valid point:
It is interesting that the dove Noah sent out came back with a olive leaf. Using the young earth model, no tree would have survived to yield this leaf!
How would the animals have resettled once the flood subsided? They'd need to migrate insurmountable distances and traverse climates inhospitable to them for every living creature to wind up where they did. Moreover, how would Noah release all of those different animals at once and the predators not completely maul the prey?
In the instance of a local flood, Noah would already be in the original climate of the animals he picked up and there would be no accounting for migration. As such, it would be very easy for him to release the animals in descending order from the bottom of the food chain. In a global flood, this would be a lot harder to do due to both the quantity and quality of animals being dealt with. Then, of course, you have to account for the fact that these animals would need to migrate back to their natural habitats, which would incentivize the need to release all of the animals earlier.
The inverse is not necessarily so. As the folks at Ecclesia noted:
In all fairness to those who believe in a global flood, in was not necessary for Noah to gather the animals, because God could have brought all of them to him. To fit all the animals on the boat, the animals could have been all small or new borns, and not necessarily full grown animals. This way, the amount of food necessary to feed them would have been a lot less. It is also possible that, if there was a global flood, God could have caused a deep sleep to fall on these animals (many animals do go into hybernation), which would have helped Noah and his family greatly in tending these animals.
This analysis is corroborated by Genesis 6:20.
Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you, to keep them alive.
And So On
Reading Mark Isaak's article at Talk Origins is an excellent, well-sourced and scientific analysis of a global flood. Greg Neyman's piece at Old Earth is also quite good.
Why flood the land?
So, then it remains: Why would God flood the land? Genesis 6:4-8 provides insight:
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Details aren't given in regards to the degree of wickedness of the human race, but it must have been pretty bad to warrant such a cataclysmic punishment. From Genesis 18:22-33, we glean that God was willing to spare all of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous people found therein. And though we are only treated to a microcosm of the mentality in these two cities, it is enough to recognize that they were wicked enough to surround the home of Lot in an attempt to conduct a village gang rape on the angels God sent to Lot to forewarn him of the cities' impending destruction.
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
For the sake of ten people, God wouldn't wipe out cities full of rapists. But for the sake of eight, he wouldn't spare all of civilization. Not only that, but as James Steinbach notes, God spared an entire city for the sake of one righteous man.
Now read more of the story, specifically Genesis 19:15-25. As Lot and his family flee Sodom, he falters, not believing that he can make it all the way to the mountains (where he had been commanded to flee). He asks for permission to stop and find refuge in a small village nearby (Zoar). It’s easy to miss how the angel responds to him in verse 21:
“Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.”
Let the implication of that statement settle in. The angel grants Lot’s request and removes that little village from the to-be-destroyed list. God spared an entire city for the sake of one righteous man.
Lot was, by no means, a perfect man. But both Abraham and Peter -- and God, more importantly -- found him to be righteous. As such, it stands to reason that God didn't just decide willy nilly to destroy someone for chopping down a cherry tree. When you consider that civilizations were, by and large, uncivilized in ancient times, it stands to reason that a civilization that God deems evil must be pretty bad.
This is kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument posited by skeptics. By punishing evil humans, God is evil. But at the same time, skeptics will ask "Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is so righteous, he'd stop injustice!" See here for explanation to that question.
Evidence that a local flood happened
Alright, so I've sold you on the biblical end of the argument. Now, the hard part (yeah, that was the easy part just now) of demonstrating that this event is a viable instance in world history. It's here where I'll attempt to demonstrate that even if you aren't a believer in any of the Abrahamic faiths, you still shouldn't scoff at the notion of a flood.
It's often noted by skeptics that the "Flood myth" as it's called is not unique to the Bible. It's this very fact, however, that supports its authenticity and lends credence to it; not detracts from it. Given the nature of such a story and how heterogenous -- and often, antagonistic to one another -- the cultures that believed it were, one must question why no one would find such a story odd or out of place. Afterall, a Flood was believed by the Jews, yes. But also the Babylonians, Sumerians, and various others all pointed to a big flood. Maria Trimarchi at How Stuff Works (Science) notes:
Stories of a great ancient flood pervade the mythology of hundreds of cultures. Westerners might be most familiar with the story of Noah told in the Old Testament book of Genesis, but a great flood is reported in folklore from cultures around the world, from the Middle East to the Americas, India, China and Southern Asia to name just a few.
An ancient Babylonian flood myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh, tells us a story analogous to that of Noah and his ark. In it, a man named Utnapishtim builds a ship to save his family and animals from floods brought on his city by a wrathful god. After seven days, Utnapishtim and his family come to rest safely on a mountaintop.
Greek and Roman mythology tell the tale of angry gods who planned to flood the Earth and destroy humanity; the story's hero Deucalion and his wife take shelter in an ark and are spared. American Indian legends also tell of people taking shelter in a boat to be saved from a flood.
The stories go on and on, and scholars have noted similarities among accounts. While studying more than 200 flood myths, Creationist author James Perloff observed that a global flood was mentioned in 95 percent of the stories, people were saved in a boat in 70 percent and in 57 percent, the survivors found respite on a mountain [source: Apologetics Press].
David R. Montgomery of Discover Magazine wrote a piece titled, "Biblical-Type Floods Are Real, and They're Absolutely Enormous" and captioned, "Geologists long rejected the notion that cataclysmic flood had ever occurred—until one of them found proof of a Noah-like catastrophe in the wildly eroded river valleys of Washington State."
Bretz was ridiculed until 1940, when geologist Joe Pardee described giant ripple marks on the bed of Lake Missoula. The 50-foot-high ripples, he said, were formed by fast-flowing currents and not by the sluggish bottom water of a lake. Only sudden failure of the glacial dam could have released the 2,000-foot-deep lake. The catastrophic release of 600 cubic miles of water through a narrow gap would sweep away everything in its path. In 1979, when Bretz was 97 years old, the Geological Society of America awarded him its highest honor, the Penrose Medal.
Recognition of the Missoula flood helped other geologists identify similar landforms in Asia, Europe, Alaska, and the American Midwest, as well as on Mars. There is now compelling evidence for many gigantic ancient floods where glacial ice dams failed time and again: At the end of the last glaciation, some 10,000 years ago, giant ice-dammed lakes in Eurasia and North America repeatedly produced huge floods. In Siberia, rivers spilled over drainage divides and changed their courses. England’s fate as an island was sealed by erosion from glacial floods that carved the English Channel. These were not global deluges as described in the Genesis story of Noah, but were more focused catastrophic floods taking place throughout the world. They likely inspired stories like Noah’s in many cultures, passed down through generations.
Side note: It's worth noting that Genesis 7:11 talks about how "fountains of the great deep" were "broken up", which has a suspiciously interesting correlation between such failed ice dams. What else would a fountain at sea be?
After refuting the possibility of a global flood, geologists dismissed suggestions that the story of Noah’s Flood might be rooted in some sort of fact. Then, in 1993, oceanographers Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman of Columbia University used sonar to survey the floor of the Black Sea—and found evidence supporting the story after all. Submerged beneath the surface were ancient streambeds, river-cut canyons, and shorelines. High-resolution seismic reflection profiles showed a former land surface buried in the seafloor sediments. Drill cores from the seafloor contained roots of shrubs covered by marine mud. Ryan and Pitman argued that over 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean began to rise, breaching rocks along the Istanbul Strait, a waterway that helps form the boundary between Europe and Asia today. The event caused the Mediterranean to spill into the Black Sea, triggering a catastrophic flood.
Were early farmers in the area forced to flee as their world disappeared underwater? Archaeologists found the rising waters coincided with the onset of the initial migration of farming cultures into Europe and the floodplains of Mesopotamia. Wherever they came from, the first farmers arrived in southern Mesopotamia shortly after the filling of the Black Sea. Did they bring the story of a great flood that destroyed their world?
Analee Newitz of io9 commented on Dr. Montgomery's work, "This is fascinating stuff, and does hint at the idea that some flood myths could be the neolithic equivalent of historical documentation."
John Noble Wilford of the New York Times, who was earlier cited by Doctor Montgomery, notes, "An international team of geologists and oceanographers has reconstructed the history of this catastrophic flood from data gathered by a Russian research ship in 1993. Seismic soundings and sediment cores revealed traces of the sea's former shorelines, showing an abrupt 500-foot rise in water levels. Radiocarbon dating of the transition from freshwater to marine organisms in the cores put the time of the event about 7,500 years ago, or 5500 B.C."
Side note: If water levels increased to such a degree, this would render the 15 cubits discussed earlier very generous. If that is the case, "ma'al" may, in fact, be superlative.
Could it be, Dr. Ryan and Dr. Pittman speculate, that the people driven from their land by the flood were, in part, responsible for the spread of farming into Europe and advances in agriculture and irrigation to the south, in Anatolia and Mesopotamia? These cultural changes occurred around the same time as the rise of the Black Sea.
If a memory of the Black Sea flood indeed influenced the Gilgamesh story, then it could also be a source of the Noah story in the Book of Genesis. Scholars have long noted striking similarities between the Gilgamesh and Genesis flood accounts and suspected that the Israelites derived their version from the Gilgamesh epic or independently from a common tradition that might have stemmed from a real catastrophe long before.
Both John Noble Wilford and David Montgomery discuss the Ryan, Pitman, et al study (AN ABRUPT DROWNING OF THE BLACK SEA SHELF AT 7.5 KYR BP) to varying degrees. For good reason. The abstract reads:
During latest Quaternary glaciation, the Black Sea became a giant freshwater lake. The surface of this lake drew down to levels more than 100 m below its outlet. When the Mediterranean rose to the Bosporus sill at 7,150 yr BP1, saltwater poured through this spillway to refill the lake and submerge, catastrophically, more than 100,000 km2 of its exposed continental shelf. The permanent drowning of a vast terrestrial landscape may possibly have accelerated the dispersal of early neolithic foragers and farmers into the interior of Europe at that time.
Among the interesting excerpts from the study (the following is for the more technical, interested in the study):
Dated fossil coral reefs in the Caribbean show that, at the time of the maximum expansion of continental ice sheets around 20 [kyr] BP, the surface of the global ocean was at -120 m. Thus prior to the glaciers, the Black Sea was without connection to an external ocean (Fig.1). ln the absence of a saltwater inlet it had transformed itself into a giant freshwater body, dwarfing any modern lake in area and volume.
For reference, "kyr BP" stands for "thousand years Before Present".
Sudden inundation of depressed, enclosed basins are rare but real events. At the beginning of the Pliocene the drastically desiccated Mediterranean Sea filled via a gigantic Gibraltar waterfall. Common to oceanic waterfalls is the fixed head of the supplying water body. As erosion deepens the upstream cataract, the flow through the conduit is amplified through positive feedback. A conservative calculation based on turbulent fluids with boundary conditions adapted to the Bosporus-Marmara-Dardanelles flume system yields an inflow of water of 50 to 100 km"/day. This flux rate, several hundred times greater than
the world's largest waterfall and a thousand times exceeding the present undercurrent is sufficient to have raised the level of the Black Sea 30 to 60 cm
each day or to have topped up the basin in a year (Fig.9). On flat regions of the shelf and in the river valleys the sea might have advanced landward at almost 1 to 2 km per day. The roar of the waterfall, radiated by air and ground waves, would have broadcast the enormity of its cascade to any humans settled or wandering within 100 km of the inlet.
I apologize for not having the figures from the study in this article. For the most part, he point is made regardless.
The geological evidence of an injection of saltwater into a depressed Neoeuxine lake via a Bosporus cataract lends credence to the ancient accounts of a bursting of the sea though this orifice.
The study has a lot of technical jargon and they use words like "Lacustrine" instead of "Lake", but it's worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy of it. Even beyond its relation to "flood myths", it's a pretty interesting paper if you like geology. If you can't get a hold of it, message me and I'll let you read my copy.
There is some more compelling information beyond the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis though.
Warren E. Leary of the New York Times and Meredith Bennett-Smith of the Huffington Post reported on the findings of Dr. Robert D. Ballard of pre-flood artifacts found in the Black Sea. A team of marine archaeologists led by Ballard identified what appeared to be ancient shorelines, freshwater snail shells, and drowned river valleys in roughly 300 feet (100 m) of water off the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. Radiocarbon dating of freshwater mollusk remains indicated an age of about 7,000 years.
''We know that there was a sudden and dramatic change from a freshwater lake to a saltwater sea 7,000 years ago,'' he said, ''And we know that as a result of that flood a vast amount of land went underwater.''
Maria Trimarchi expounds:
National Geographic Society explorer Robert Ballard, inspired by Ryan and Pitman's hypothesis, has discovered supporting physical evidence, including an underwater river valley and ancient shoreline as well as Stone Age structures and tools beneath the Black Sea. His team has also unearthed fossils of now-extinct freshwater species dating back some 7,460 to 15,500 years.
Another interesting hypothesis making the rounds is that a comet may have caused the Great Flood.
In 2004, at a conference of geologists, astronomers, and archaeologists, Masse outlined his evidence for a world-ravaging impact in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Ted Bryant, a geomorphologist at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, was intrigued and enlisted the help of Dallas Abbott, an assistant professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. In 2005, they formed the Holocene Impact Working Group (referring to the geological period covering the last 11,000 years) to seek out the geological signatures of a megatsunami. If a 600-foot-high wave ravages a coastline, it should leave a lot of debris behind. In the case of waves generated by asteroid impacts, the debris they leave in their wake is believed to form gigantic, wedge-shaped sandy structures—known as chevrons—that are sometimes packed with deep-oceanic microfossils dredged up by the tsunami.
When Abbott began searching satellite images on Google Earth, she saw dozens of chevrons along shorelines and inland in Africa and Asia. The shape and size of these chevrons suggest that they might have been formed by waves emanating from the impact of a comet slamming into the deep ocean off Madagascar. “The chevrons in Madagascar associated with the crater were filled with melted microfossils from the bottom of the ocean. There is no explanation for their presence other than a cosmic impact,” she says. “People are going to have to start taking this theory a lot more seriously.” The next step is to perform carbon-14 dating on the fossils to see if they are indeed 5,000 years old.
Why, then, don’t we know about it? Masse contends that we do. Almost every culture has a legend about a great flood, and—with a little reading between the lines—many of them mention something like a comet on a collision course with Earth just before the disaster. The Bible describes a deluge for 40 days and 40 nights that created a flood so great that Noah was stuck in his ark for two weeks until the water subsided. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the hero of Mesopotamia saw a pillar of black smoke on the horizon before the sky went dark for a week. Afterward, a cyclone pummeled the Fertile Crescent and caused a massive flood. Myths recounted in indigenous South American cultures also tell of a great flood.
The study conducted by the Impact Working Group summarized their findings thusly:
We have found evidence for large tsunami runups at 4 sites: megatsunami chevrons at Faux Cap, Fenambosy, and Ampalaza; and marine sediment dumped at Cape St. Marie. In the field, we documented maximum runups of 86 m above sea level at Ampalaza, 186 m at Fenambosy, 205 m at Faux Cap and 192 m at Cape St Marie. Each of the chevrons represents lateral transport of sediment over many kilometers: 20 km at Faux Cap, 45 km at Fenambosy, and 45 km at Ampalaza. The chevrons, if contemporaneous, represent the highest tsunami runups ever observed over a broad region.
The two events may be unrelated, but the interesting point here is that the proposed theory for the the megatsunami evidence is comets, but that's the very element of their claim that they can't present evidence for.
Not everyone is convinced, to say the least. “I don’t believe the evidence of a crater off Madagascar, and the impetus is on Abbott to prove it,” says Jay Melosh, an impact expert at the University of Arizona and an outspoken critic of the theory. To make a case for the impact, Melosh says, Abbott “should be finding layers of glassy droplets and fused rock in sea-core samples, the sorts of things we find at all other similar impact sites.”
As far as I know, there's no evidence that the two findings are unrelated. Or that they are unrelated to ancient "flood myths". This is interesting because it means that the flood may have hit other areas than ancient Mesopotamia; particularly, Madagascar. However, this is not the same as the global flood that fundamentalists argue in favor of because it would entail every area of the globe, including mountaintops, to be immersed.
So, the evidence supports that a flood happened. Not only that, but depending on whether the word "ma'al" is superlative or not, the Bible authors may have been generous in describing how massive the flood waters rose.
Was the Ark possible?
Fitting The Animals
According to Dr. Jonathan D Sarfati, the Ark could feasibly hold all of the animals in the world for a global flood. John Woodmorappe and his "Noah's Ark: A Feasible Study" is the oft-cited authority on this matter used by creationists and global flood apologists. Of note:
The Ark measured 300x50x30 cubits (Genesis 6:15), which is about 140x23x13.5 metres or 459x75x44 feet, so its volume was 43,500 m3 (cubic metres) or 1.54 million cubic feet. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent volume of 522 standard American railroad stock cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep.
If the animals were kept in cages with an average size of 50x50x30 centimetres (20x20x12 inches), that is 75,000 cm3 (cubic centimetres) or 4800 cubic inches, the 16,000 animals would only occupy 1200 m3 (42,000 cubic feet) or 14.4 stock cars. Even if a million insect species had to be on board, it would not be a problem, because they require little space. If each pair was kept in cages of 10 cm (four inches) per side, or 1000 cm3, all the insect species would occupy a total volume of only 1000 m3, or another 12 cars. This would leave room for five trains of 99 cars each for food, Noah’s family and ‘range’ for the animals. However, insects are not included in the meaning of behemah or remes in Genesis 6:19-20, so Noah probably would not have taken them on board as passengers anyway.
Third, the Bible does not say that the animals had to be fully grown. The largest animals were probably represented by ‘teenage’ or even younger specimens. The median size of all animals on the ark would actually have been that of a small rat, according to Woodmorappe‘s up-to-date tabulations, while only about 11% would have been much larger than a sheep.
The space, feeding and excretory requirements were adequate even if the animals had normal day/night sleeping cycles. But hibernation is a possibility which would reduce these requirements even more. It is true that the Bible does not mention it, but it does not rule it out either. Some creationists suggest that God created the hibernation instinct for the animals on the Ark, but we should not be dogmatic either way.
Some skeptics argue that food taken on board rules out hibernation, but this is not so. Hibernating animals do not sleep all winter, despite popular portrayals, so they would still need food occasionally.
That being said, Woodmorappe's work isn't without criticism. Glenn Morton put together an excellent piece that calls into question many of the claims posited in Woodmorappe's book. Woodmorappe's response is... well, kind've bad. Awful really. Down right embarrassing, even.
Woodmorappe has to do a lot of mental gymnastics to support his claim that a global flood with almost every animal on the face of the Earth aboard a single Ark is feasible, including but not limiting to: Noah training animals to defecate on command, the animals having sloped compartments to force off execrements and probably the least significant, but the most infuriating -- that verbal abuse to individuals like Glenn Morton (who was nothing if not cordial) is justified based on them questioning the Bible. I apologize on behalf of sane theists for the stupidity that is John Woodmorappe, despite his interesting contributions to the discussion.
Anyway, one of the major problems with Woodmorappe's argument is its premise. Off the bat, Woodmorappe is defending something the Bible never even advocates (see above.) Given that the Flood was not global, there would be no need to fit every animal in the world on the Ark.
Returning to Mark Isaak's work from earlier, we can review some of the criticisms in regards to the total mass of the Ark.
- Collecting each species instead of each genus would increase the number of individuals three- to fourfold. The most speciose groups tend to be the smaller animals, though, so the total mass would be approximately doubled or tripled.
- Collecting all land animals instead of just mammals, birds, and reptiles would have insignificant impact on the space required, since those animals, though plentiful, are so small. (The problems come when you try to care for them all.)
- Leaving off the long-extinct animals would free considerable space. Woodmorappe doesn't say how many of the animals in his calculations are known only from fossils, but it is apparently 50-70% of them, including most of the large ones. However, since he took only juveniles of the large animals, leaving off all the dinosaurs etc. would probably not free more than 80% of the space. On the other hand, collecting all extinct animals in addition to just the known ones would increase the load by an unknown but probably substantial amount.
- Loading adults instead of juveniles as small as Woodmorappe uses would increase the load 13- to 50-fold.
- Including extra clean animals would increase the load by 1.5-3% if only the 13 traditional domestic ruminants are considered, but by 14-28% if all ruminants are considered clean.
This renders Woodmorappe's conclusion that a global flood is feasible somewhat questionable. However, using Woodmorappe's calculations, we can roughly try to determine how a local flood would pan out.
The Ark is 459x75x44 feet, right? When we calculate the volume, that comes out to 1,514,700 cubic feet.
It is important to take the size of animals into account when considering how much space they would occupy because the greatest number of species occurs in the smallest animals. Woodmorappe performed such an analysis and came to the conclusion that the animals would take up 47% of the ark. In addition, he determines that about 10% of the ark was needed for food (compacted to take as little space as possible) and 9.4% for water (assuming no evaporation or wastage). At least 25% of the space would have been needed for corridors and bracing. Thus, increasing the quantity of animals by more than about 5% would overload the ark.
That totals 91.4% of occupied space in the Ark, leaving us with 8.6% free space. Or 130,264.2 cubic feet. Two factors, however, set Woodmorappe's calculations amiss:
2. The local flood.
Due to a dogmatic attachment to Young Earth Creationism, John Woodmorappe is forced to reconcile dinosaurs and every animal in the fossil record in his calculations.
As well, he has to account for every animal across the entire globe as opposed to every animal in the region.
Unfortunately, I don't have a list of every animal that existed in ancient Mesopotamia. So, I apologize for not being able to cite exactly which animals we're discussing here. Likewise, I apologize that I'm not a scientist or a mathematician, so my work isn't as eloquent as some of the sourced material in this article. If you have any suggestions or criticisms, please let me know and I will edit to reflect such as soon as I can.
According to Woodmorappe, 50-70% of the animals in his calculations are known only from fossils. We're going to take 50% as the value instead of 70% because it's less flattering to my argument.
47% divided by 1/2 means that the quantity of animals in the world that we're dealing with is 23.5%, which we'll round off to 25%. Assuming the Flood was continental and there are seven continents, so we divide 25% by 7 and get 3.57%. So, using Woodmorappe's calculations and assumptions, in a local flood, we'd use roughly 3.57% of the Ark's capacity for the animals.
If we then take Mark Isaak's criticisms of Woodmorappe's calculations and apply them here, we first multiply our number by four to reflect species over genus and we're at 14.28%. Add 3% to account for the 13 traditional domestic ruminants (we're not dealing with clean animals worldwide, so we're using the smaller number here.) Now, we're at 17.28%. Now, because we're not dealing with dinosaurs and other large creatures, we're not going to use the full 13-50 value. There's nothing to say that younger animals were not used, but we'll humor the argument. Instead, we'll multiply it by three to account for adulthood being that most animals in a local Ark would not grow 15-50 times the size of Woodmorappe's calculations. We can then multiply our number by 3, giving us 51.84%.
And we still need 44.4% free for water, food and corridors. That leaves us with 96.24% of space in the Ark taken up, providing for a worst case scenario using species instead of genus, roughly adult-sized animals, a continental flood and not even subtracting the amount of food and water from Woodmorappe's calculations.
To be more specific, Liz Osbourne at Current Results reports modern knowledge of the animal kingdom. The results:
Mammals - 5,490
Birds - 9,998
Reptiles - 9,084
Amphibians - 6,433
(I didn't count insects and arachnids because their weight would be pretty negligible.)
Total - 31,005
By comparison, Woodmorappe accounts for about 16,000 genera of animals on his Ark. The problem is that Woodmorappe has to account for dinosaurs and other enormous creatures. And if you divide that number by seven as we did earlier, our own number becomes 4,429, the majority of which are not heavyweights. That's, of course, a rough estimate and not a scientific one, but it should be noted that this is accounting for species even though Woodmorappe accounted for what the "kinds" the Bible talked about being equivalent to genus.
Athanasius Kircher wrote extensively about the floor plan of Noah's Ark in relation to all known animals of his time, specifically in his work titled "Arca Noë." An intellectual giant in his day, Kircher's analysis is disregarded today due to scientific advancements leading to a wider ranger of discovery in the animal kingdom. But factor evolution and a local flood into that question and Kircher's work -- though imperfect -- may not be as antiquated as previously thought. Figures 3, 4 and 5 provide interesting floor plans in regards to Kircher's knowledge of the animal kingdom.