By Mike Willis
Those who reject a universal flood make several arguments that one needs to be aware of, even if he cannot adequately answer them. Only two of the arguments against a universal flood that I have read are biblical arguments. These need to be addressed biblically. The other arguments are based on the present understanding of science. I emphasize the word “present,” because one has to accept the changing nature of scientific pronouncements. (How many things have you been told not to eat because they cause cancer and then later be told that you can eat them?) In some of these areas, we freely confess that our understanding is not adequate to explain the questions asked. In such cases, we may suggest possible answers, but where the text does not reveal the answer we can only state that they have not been revealed (Deut. 29:29).
Arguments Against A Universal Flood
Universal language is frequently used even when a universal event is not intended. There is truth in this statement. The Scripture sometimes does use universal language when less than universal events happen. Some examples of this are as follows:
Matthew 3:5 — “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan.”
Acts 2:5 — “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”
1 Samuel 31:6 — “So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour- bearer, and all his men, that same day together.”
Genesis 41:57 — “And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.”
In the various uses of such universal language as “all Judaea,” “all the region round about Jordan,” “every nation under heaven,” and “all his men,” one must allow the context to define its meaning. What is the context of Genesis 6-8? Is its context defined as a limited area? The flood was a moral judgment upon the wickedness of all men upon the earth. The evidences cited in article #2 are definitive in determining the sense of the universal language in Genesis 6-8. We remind you of those arguments:
- The judgment was universal.
- The language describing the judgment is universal.
- The language describing the flood of water demands a universal flood.
- The need for an ark demands a universal flood.
- The size of the ark demands a universal flood.
- The covenant of the rainbow demands a universal flood.
These contextual evidences demand that the universal language of the text bear its normal meaning and not be limited in the absence of any contextual reasons for doing so. The only reason for limiting the meaning of this universal language is the interpretation given to extra-biblical evidence.
The universal language of Genesis 6-9 is subjectively true. This is but a modification of the former argument. It is argued in detail by Taylor Lewis, the translator of John Peter Lange’s commentary on Genesis, in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (314-322). Lewis says that the Genesis record “is a telling from the eye, and it speaks of the soul’s eye of the thoughtful reader, giving the impression of an actual spectacle. . . . it is water everywhere as far as eye can see. . . . This is what he saw, and this is all that the interpreter can get from his language. What he may have thought, we know not. He may have supposed the flood to be universal. Probably he did so; then his universality must have been a very different thing (in conception) from the notion that our modern knowledge would connect with the term” (316).
The response to this argument is this: There is not one word recorded in the Genesis narrative that is attributed to Noah. Not one word expresses what he thought the flood looked like or how extensive it was. The subjective element is not a part of the narrative. What is in the narrative is “God said. . . .”
The strength of both of these two arguments is that they try to grapple with the plain meaning of the language of Scripture. Both arguments are made by those who believe the Bible and are struggling to understand what the text of Scripture means. The following arguments against a universal flood do not argue from what Scripture says.
The Genesis account is legend or myth. Hermann Gunkel expressed this view saying, “The ‘Apologetic’ perspective is wont to consider, pettily enough, only the question of whether the narrative is a ‘true story.’ This cannot be seriously discussed. Rather the narrative in J (and P) is clearly a legend” (Genesis 77). Skinner rejects the idea of the flood being historical and thinks that “the most natural explanation of the Babylonian narrative is after all that it is based on the vague reminiscence of some memorable or devastating flood in the Euphrates valley” (181). The aim of the biblical writer was to “bring the cosmopolitan (Babylonian) Flood-legend within the comprehension of a native of Palestine” (149). In The Interpreter’s Bible, Walter Russell Bowie states, “A universal flood such as J2 describes, to say nothing of P’s account, would of course be a physical impossibility” (I:537). All who take this position affirm that the clear meaning of the text of Genesis is that it describes a universal flood, but they just do not believe that is so. To believe that such could happen conflicts with their views of science, so they reject the Bible. Another group of arguments are made attacking the universal flood view on the basis of what the writers conjecture to be impossibilities demanded by the universal flood interpretation.
The ark is not big enough to hold all of the animals in the world. Some argue that there are so many different kinds of animals in existence that it is unreasonable to believe that all of them were able to be placed on the ark. Huge numbers of animals are assumed to be required to be in the ark. If scientists can identify 210,000 different birds, then some assume that two of each had to be placed in the ark. In point of fact, the narrative states that two of every “kind” (min) of unclean animal and seven of every “kind” (min) of clean animal went into the ark. The animals were grouped according to their “families” (mispahah). This would not demand two of every species but two of each family (genus) of animals.
Strangely enough, those who see that the ark is not big enough to house all of the animals in the world, have all of the animals in the world evolving from a one-celled amoeba that resulted from some chance collision of molecules. If they can get all of the animal creation in an amoeba in a swamp, they shouldn’t have trouble accepting that all of the animal creation necessary for the production for animal life could be housed in an ark.
Noah could not have collected all of the animals. Some argue that Noah could never have collected all of the animals on the ark. Such writers usually refer to some particular animal in an isolated part of the globe with a specialized habitat which Noah certainly could not have collected. What the text of the Scriptures says is that God caused the animals to come to Noah. “Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive” (6:20). “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life” (7:15). Noah was not responsible for capturing the beasts, for God brought them to him. How they came to Noah is not revealed.
Arguments are made on the basis of suppositions not even believed by modern geologists to make this an impossible task. The present appearance of the land masses is assumed, despite the belief of modern geologists that continental rifts have occurred at sometime in the past. Modern temperatures and climate conditions are assumed, even though geologists postulate an ice age that covered many parts of the world. Although these scientists do not believe the world that now is looked like it presently does in the past, nevertheless they demand that those who believe in the Genesis flood explain how the ark was filled based on a model that they themselves reject and is not necessary to the correct understanding of Genesis.
How could the animals return to their natural habitat? This argument asks how, for example, animals exclusively native to Australia got back to Australia after the flood. This is the reverse of the previous argument. The argument is just as valid to the evolutionist as it is to the one who believes in the flood. How did that original spark of life produce animals? How did the descendants of those animals who somehow survived the ice age get to Australia? There are thousands of questions that no one knows the answer to, whether one begins with the premises of the biblical flood or the late twentieth century version of evolution.
Noah could not have gathered the food necessary to sustain the animals. The feeding of the animals on the ark was indeed a problem for Noah. He was responsible for supplying food for the animals. “And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them” (6:21). Scientists pose questions about feeding carnivorous animals, keeping them separated from the other animals on the ark, providing specialized diets for animals, and similar problems. Such questions presuppose that every known species of animal was present on the ark, every animal known to ever have existed have its present specialized diet, every animal ate such a ration of food as it would eat in an active environment (versus hibernation, for example), and such like things. The Bible simply does not supply the answers to these questions for us and any answer one might give would be mere speculation.
The clouds do not contain enough water for a deluge of the proportions of Genesis 6-8. (For this argument, see Ramm, The Christian View of Science 165ff.) The sources of water for the flood were the “fountains of the deep” and the “windows of heaven” (7:11). This argument strikes at the heart of inspiration. The same Bible that describes the flood as covering the whole world also describes the world at creation as being totally under water. On the third day of creation, God created the dry land (1:9). Before then, the entire world was under water. If there was enough water to cover the earth in Genesis 1, there was enough to cover it in Genesis 6. Those who disbelieve in one account are likely to disbelieve the other.
The argument also presupposes that the present geological condition of the earth is the same as existed in Noah’s time. Mt. Everest is presently over 29,000 feet above sea level. Such arguments assume that was the case when the flood occurred. However, these same geologists tell us that mountains were created by continental plates placing such pressure that they thrust the ground upward to create a mountain. If that could happen in the geology based on evolution, why couldn’t that happen after the flood? How does one know how high was the highest mountain before the flood? How does one know the position of the continents before the flood and after the flood? What effect did the flood have on geology? No one has the answers to these questions, although many hypotheses are presented. Yet arguments based on unprovable presuppositions are used to deny the testimony of Scripture.
I have tried to avoid speculation about things not revealed in answer to the objections to a universal flood. The reader will have to judge how successful I have been. There are questions related to the flood that God chose not to reveal to mankind. I am content not to speculate on what I do not know. Let one also acknowledge that there are greater problems for those who reject the biblical narrative. The one who rejects creation and the biblical narrative of the flood has his own problems. He also must explain how animals came into existence in the various parts of the world, isolated and remote as some of those areas are. He must explain how such animals survived a continental ice-age. He must explain continental drift, the mountains, inconsistencies in the fossil record, and such like questions. But must of all, he must explain how life came into existence in the first place. He must explain the “big bang”! The problems that one who believes in the universal flood has pale in comparison to such major problems of the unbeliever!
And there also are problems for the compromising person who accepts “progressive creation” and a “local flood.” His problems come because he is trying to hold to two models at the same time. His most serious problems come because he rejects the plain meaning of Scripture, making his exegesis of Scripture look forced and artificial, like the premillennialist who can transform hailstone, fire and sulphur into atomic bombs (Ezek. 38). Such a person believes that “though newer interpretations of the biblical narrative did not seem to be ‘the most natural meaning,’ yet if geological facts ‘unequivocally require such an interpretation to harmonize the Bible with nature,’ then ‘science must be allowed to modify our exegesis of Scripture’” (Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence 146). The compromiser is neither a Bible believer nor accepted by scientists. His naturalist scientific model is destroyed by his injection of the supernatural, whether by a little or a lot.
Let us accept the authority of Scripture knowing that “the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7).
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