Davis Young seeks in his work, The Biblical Flood, to inform readers about the broad scope of church thought on the Biblical story of Noah’s Flood. The book’s subtitle is apt and sums up the content of the work: “A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence.”
Young, a Christian geologist, provides a detailed overview of the Church’s theological and scientific musings on the Flood. He develops this overview chronologically, beginning with early Jewish thought. The focus within the entirety of his book is directly centered upon how extrabiblical evidence was used to shape theology and vice versa. The relation should not be understood as binary. Throughout history, there was a spectrum of approaches to the extrabiblical evidence which included resistance (not infrequently forged by ignorance) as well as integration. Here, I will survey only the broadest outline of Young’s discussion.
Early Flood Views
Early Christians were aware of Pagan stories of floods but made little or no appeal to them as evidence for a universal flood, and in fact some argued that these other stories were clearly differentiated from the Biblical account because they were local as opposed to global. There was much speculation over the location of the Ark as well as the notion that fossils were the result of this universal deluge.
Middle Ages and Renaissance
Medieval thought regarding the Flood was steeped in the “ahistorical view of creation” found at the time. That is, the science of the time thought of creation as deductible from the character and nature of God. However, the discovery of the New World brought up many challenges to a universal deluge theory, which challenges began to get recognition. These included the vast number of species which would have had to fit onto the Ark and the discovery of people across the world. During this period, the discovery of flood stories in various cultures began to be viewed as evidence for a universal deluge (37).
The New World continued to present challenges to the universal deluge theory. One of the foremost among these was animal migration. Entirely new and distinct species were discovered in the New World which did not exist in Europe. How did these animals get to these distant lands? More importantly, how did they get there without leaving any traces of themselves behind if they all only came from one location: the Ark? These challenges continue to vex those who hold to a universal deluge (60ff).
The notion of a universal flood has contributed much to the development of geology as a science. The Christian worldview finally presented a picture of the universe which humans could explore in order to learn truths about reality. The Flood itself presented a theory about how to account for the geological features of the earth (65ff). Various features of the natural world were attributed to the flood, including the discovery of marine fossils on mountains and geological features like valleys. These early geologists were committed to an following the evidence where it led.
Diluvialism and Catastrophism
Various theories were put forward to explain the features of the earth. These included varied catastrophic notions, wherein the geological features were explained by a global, catastrophic flood. Such theories are repeated into today.
Geological Evidence Mounts into the Twentieth Century
Young establishes that the evidence against catastrophic diluvialism became weighty fairly early into the investigations of geologists (109ff). New discoveries related to mammoths and the way they died (over a period of time by a variety of causes rather than all at once) were greatly important, as the issue of these mammoths was found throughout the speculation about the flood. New dating methods were developed which were more accurate. Archaeological finds showed floods in areas of the Mesopotamia, but they were dated at different times. The discovery that humanity was widely spread over the earth and that there was no major extinction event throughout this spread raises a significant challenge for Flood Geologists (233). Other major challenges to Flood Geology include (but are by no means limited to): the dating of igneous formations, the cooling of the earth, metamorphism, and continental drift.
Throughout this period of discovery, theologians were not inert. Indeed, many theologians were at the front lines, actually participating in the discoveries themselves. Near Eastern Studies have revealed parallels with the Flood account which some have suggested show derivation. Others, however, argue these other flood stories merely show the perpetuity of such events and how ingrained they became on the human consciousness (236ff).
More recently, Flood Geologists have come into being once more. Their arguments parallel almost exactly those found spread in the early days of geology. Yet these arguments have been refuted by the evidence from the earth itself. Some continue to make false statements about the mammoths’ deaths, the formation of sedimentation, dating methods, and more. Young argues that this is largely due to the specialization of studies found within various fields like theology and geology. Theologians are rarely acquainted with the geological evidence, while geologists are rarely versed in theological language.
Theologians who were versed in geology began to see how interpretations of the text, rather than the text itself, had shaped the Christian response to geological evidence. People like Hugh Miller appealed to extrabiblical data in support of their intepretations of the Flood narrative (147ff).
Miller professed puzzlement that learned, respectable theologians would accept “any amount of unrecorded miracle” rather than admit a partial deluge. Could they not see that the controversy was not between Moses and the naturalists but between the readings of different theologians? (151)
More recently, many and varied theories of the flood as local have been developed and defended. The reaction from Flood Geologists has been vigorous, but theories of a global flood include a multitude of quotes from various scientists which would support competing theories of rock formation, sedimentation, and more. That is, Catastrophic Flood views present mutually exclusive theories for how the geological (and other) evidence came to be.
The book is capped off with a discussion of “arkeology”: the search for Noah’s Ark. Young notes the array of locations which have been given as well as the mutually contradictory accounts of those who claim to have seen the Ark or evidence of the Ark. He warns Christians to remain cautious of any such claims.
I believe that a good way to summarize the content of the book would be to view it as a challenge Young is issuing to those who allege that catastrophic theories are the only possible way to interpret the text and geological evidence. He himself writes, “If conservative and orthodox theology is to remain vital and relevant to a world in need of the Christian gospel… theologians will have to abandon their flirtation with flood geology and other forms of pseudo-science, reacquaint themselves with genuine scientific knowledge, and incorporate that knowledge into their thinking, secure in the realization that genuine insight into God’s creation… is still a gift of God to be treasured” (215).
Young’s book can be viewed through this lens. He shows how scientific knowledge challenged traditional readings of the text, but also how many theologians and Christian geologists alike interacted with this in order to gain “genuine insight” into God’s word and creation.
The Biblical Flood is a vitally important work. Young demonstrates that throughout history, Christianity has been largely willing to have a kind of interplay between extrabiblical evidence and theology. Unfortunately, in our time, many are ignorant of this long history and development of thought and science surrounding geology and the Flood. Theories have been developed which stand in the face of evidence from multiple, independent sources and angles.
I do not claim to have touched upon even all the major points found in Young’s work. The book is full of voluminous amounts of historical details which reveal interesting scientific and theological notions. The theory of a global flood was the one of the first major proposals for how the earth’s geological history was formed. As geological discoveries mounted, this theory was falsified. Moreover, theologians who interacted with the extrabiblical evidence had a wide array of responses, from downright rejection of the evidence or reinterpretation of it to attempt to fit a global flood to concordist views in which the extrabiblical evidence informed interpretation of the text. Which direction should we go? Young has presented a major challenge to those wishing to maintain a notion of the global flood. He presents mountains of evidence to challenge catastrophism, while also showing how, historically, thought on the Noahic Flood has comfortably incorporated the extrabiblical evidence without any necessary compromise of the text or faith. I commend the book to the reader without reservation.
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Davis Young, The Biblical Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).
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Nice review. As you know, I have been writing on creation for some time now, and have been concentrating on the flood for about the year. I think you were even waiting for me on an article I didn’t feel ready to write! I will be though!
My hope for Young Earthers is that they would in fact endeavor to understand the geology and the extra biblical sources and what they say. There is evidence (in my opinion) of a global event (meter strike) that resulted in a local flood in Sumer, and I have theorized a relationship between that, the timing of Sumer’s flood myth, and the changes to their worship patterns. I could go on, but don’t want to risk hi-jacking. My point is that there is sooooo much out there to explain what happened, why the archaeological evidence says what it says, geological evidence says what it says, and why Scripture — inspired and true!! — says what it says. And such inquiry should be faith-strengthening, not threatening!
I commend your open mind on the matter, and look forward to what else you might find! As for myself, after reading your review above, I think I may need to buy Young’s book!
It would be greatly interesting to read your view on the Sumerian flood in more detail, along with whatever else you have to write on the topic! Thanks for stopping by.
“Theologians who were versed in geology began to see how interpretations of the text, rather than the text itself…”
This is the most common refrain for people to make in order to undercut or prepare to undercut some established position. For instance Rob Bell recently used it on the Unbelievable radio show on the issue of homosexuality. When challenged by the other guest, Rob Bell used the same “interpretations vs text itself” refrain. That’s not to dismiss the distinction as illegitimate, but it is to say that the oft repeated refrain isn’t in itself an argument for or against any position–though it often substitutes as one.
In the end, those who wish to argue against a particular reading of the text will need to present textual arguments to that conclusion. But usually what is done by old earth creationists who hold to a local flood is they spend most of their time undercutting the scientific merits of a global flood and propping up the scientific merits of a local flood. But virtually every young earth creationist holds to an, at best, ministerial use of science–not a magisterial one. And it seems painfully obvious to the young earth creationist that such persons are letting science drive their interpretation of the text in a magisterial sense. Therefore such books or arguments do not actually open up dialogue but only serve to confirm to the young earth creationist suspicion about the misguided methodology of the old earthers.
The book itself presents a number of arguments from the text from different thinkers. The problem with a book review is that I am unable to actually list everything that is in the book without rewriting it all here. Moreover, it is not invalid to note that certain positions are “interpretations of the text” and so must compete with other interpretations. The young earth position is necessarily an interpretation of the text. It cannot be insulated from criticism simply by asserting that it “is the text” or something similar. Thus, I admit I don’t think this criticism is very on-point. Those who hold to a young earth must actually present arguments for their interpretations rather than simply asserting that it is obviously correct and any other view must unseat it.
Unless you have read the book itself, I am not sure how you can pass judgment on it in this matter. Skimming through it I could list any number of (admittedly brief) looks at how the text was interpreted by competing views. The book is intended to be a historical summary and survey of Christians’ responses to extrabiblical evidence regarding the Flood. Some seek to insulate their exegesis from extrabiblical evidence. By doing so, I would argue they make a disconnect between reality and their own theological positions. Moreover, the way that insulation occurs is often by making guilty by association arguments (i.e. “this is just like Rob Bell”) or simply blindly asserting that the young earth position is just obvious from the text. I admit I am unimpressed by these arguments.
Finally, I should note the context of that quote. I was pointing the notion of the distinction between interpretation and text out within the context of how thinking on the extrabiblical evidence had been filtered through the lens of a specific interpretation. I don’t see how anyone could argue this wasn’t the case historically, and indeed Young provides more than ample evidence of this being factually correct. Initially, the Flood was seen as a hypothesis to explain geology. Later, this became scientifically impossible. Thus, theologians who were versed in geological findings could and did reflect upon the distinction between an interpretation of the text [which was used to shape the interpretation of geology] and the text itself. This is not to prejudge which interpretation is correct. It is instead to point out that both the young and old earth views involve interpretation.
Thus, I think that the way the quote was used was a bit disingenuous. By ignoring the context in which I made that statement, you deprived it of its full force. The historical fact is that some theologians did in fact begin to see that early reactions to the geological evidence were shaped by specific readings of the text. To respond to this quote as though it were a subtle attack on the Biblical text is, well, like I already said, disingenuous.
You said: “Moreover, it is not invalid to note that certain positions are “interpretations of the text” and so must compete with other interpretations.”
I noted myself that it’s not invalid when I said “That’s not to dismiss the distinction as illegitimate…”
You said: “It cannot be insulated from criticism simply by asserting that it “is the text” or something similar.”
Sorry, but I’ve never noticed this being a staple of YEC arguments. If YEC weren’t engaging the arguments that might be a point worth making… but as it is it looks like you’re just trying to knock over a dummy.
You said: “Those who hold to a young earth must actually present arguments for their interpretations rather than simply asserting that it is obviously correct and any other view must unseat it.”
Of course they *do* present arguments for their interpretations and they don’t simply assert that it is obviously correct and all other views have the burden of proof. I’m not sure if you seriously trying to suggest otherwise or just speaking about a hypothetical caricature?
You said: “Unless you have read the book itself, I am not sure how you can pass judgment on it in this matter.”
Pass judgment on it in *what* matter? My first paragraph was addressed to a single claim in your review, the one I quoted. It didn’t pass any judgment on the book as a whole. My second paragraph was addressed to a broader issue of how OEC usually set forth their case, again no judgment was passed on this book. (Maybe you think that when I said “such books” I meant something like “such books *as this one you’re reviewing*, but that’s not what I meant).
You said: “Some seek to insulate their exegesis from extrabiblical evidence.”
That’s certainly not what YEC like Todd Wood, Paul Garner, etc etc are doing.
You said: “Moreover, the way that insulation occurs is often by making guilty by association arguments (i.e. “this is just like Rob Bell”)”
That wasn’t a guilt by association argument, so I’m unimpressed by your argument-spotting competence 🙂 It was an example of the same idea being used in a way that I assumed you and your readers would obviously recognize as insufficient in the context of the debate and, therefore, also recognize it’s insufficiency in the context of this other issue.
You said: “… or simply blindly asserting that the young earth position is just obvious from the text. I admit I am unimpressed by these arguments.”
I admit I am unimpressed by these caricatures.
I’m not really sure how to even respond to this comment.
You say that YECs have engaged the arguments. I admit that I have never seen a thorough engagement with the historical origins of the modern young earth movement from a YEC. Moreover, the fact remains that YECs continue to perpetuate notions which were around in the 18th and 19th century but were falsified within those times from geology. The book reviewed here provides any number of examples in which this happens–modern YEC advocates continue to utilize outdated, falsified arguments.
“And it seems painfully obvious to the young earth creationist that such persons are letting science drive their interpretation of the text in a magisterial sense.”
I have to say that my Young Earth friends have the same impression speaking with me. But the appearance to me is that they let their interpretation of God’s Word drive their interpretation of the physical signs of God’s Work, without asking whether there might be some reason for the scientific consensus beyond spiritual blindness and satanic trickery.
If you study Genesis and Exodus, and look for the Trinity in what Moses wrote, you will see some very careful wording. It shows Moses knew God as a Trinity, but did not want to cause his people to stumble back into polytheism. If you compare Moses’ details to the sources of antiquity that he would have grown up with as part of the Egyptian royal family, you will see references to it, carefully worded to prevent his people from stumbling, again into polytheism. And once you see the gaps he intentionally left (Genesis 1, 5, and 6 in particular), you begin to realize that Moses had a specific message, inspired by God and delivered in faith, in a manner God’s people would receive… and in turn misinterpreted by us to mean there were no other people, when in writing Adam’s through Noah’s time, there were simply no other people who mattered. Compare Genesis 3 to 11 to Sumerian history and they match quite well… but there was other history going at the same time, which the scripture quite accurately reflects, hence a local flood.
I think most YEC would be happy to admit that they let God’s word drive their interpretation of the physical evidence. Scripture plays a magisterial role, science plays a ministerial role.
I don’t know what Moses thought about the Trinity and I don’t really see that we can derive it from Genesis and Exodus, like you *seem* to be implying. I’d ask you to give me an argument, but I realize such a request is probably inappropriate here.
I find the explanation that Moses “did not want to cause his people to stumble back into polytheism” to be ad hoc and implausible.
What you’ve sketched out about gaps etc. is too vague for me to comment on.
>> Scripture plays a magisterial role, science plays a ministerial role.
Luke 19:40, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Science is a manifestation of the rocks crying out. It is meant to be magisterial. If a scientist doesn’t see God in the rocks, then then they are without excuse, but their failure to see God does not relegate His work to ministerial.
>>I find the explanation that Moses “did not want to cause his people to stumble back into polytheism” to be ad hoc and implausible.
The 1st Commandment is, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”
>> I’d ask you to give me an argument, but I realize such a request is probably inappropriate here.
I agree developing my argument is inappropriate here, but I write about it extensively at my website, http://www.geocreationism.com. You might find the articles on Sumer, Enoch, and Genesis 6 interesting, if not enlightening.
That’s a very odd and stretched interpretation of Luke 19 and Romans 1. I’m wondering how serious you’re trying to be here, but it doesn’t give me much incentive to check out your other arguments on your website… Luke 19:40 doesn’t say “If they keep quiet, the stones are crying out.” But I’m guessing that’s how you have to take it and I guess you have to import into that stuff like “crying out about the creation days” and “crying out with magisterial authority” and so forth. None of which is in the text or could be reasonable exegeted from it nor could it be reasonably inferred from it. (Of course you’re free to attempt to draw out such an argument and I’m sort of curious how that would look.) Romans 1:20 hardly gets you any closer than Luke 19:40. This type of thing will only appear for YEC to be another confirmation of the way some old-earthers have to play fast and loose with the text to get what they want out of it.
>>Science is a manifestation of the rocks crying out. It is meant to be magisterial. If a scientist doesn’t see God in the rocks, then then they are without excuse, but their failure to see God does not relegate His work to ministerial.
I’m not sure if this is supposed to present an argument or just a string of assertions, but if it’s an argument I can’t see any validity to it.
>>The 1st Commandment is, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”
And how in the world is that supposed to support your theory that Moses didn’t spell out the trinity for fear of polytheism??
>> it doesn’t give me much incentive to check out your other arguments on your website.
That’s okay. It saddens me truly, that the only response I ever get from YECs is dismissal and reasons not to engage. That’s okay. I have presented no complete arguments here, but I have pointed you at where to find them. I will cease with the teasers. You have my link. We may not agree on this topic, but I take comfort in your salvation, which is what’s important.
You said: “To respond to this quote as though it were a subtle attack on the Biblical text is, well, like I already said, disingenuous.”
To pretend like my response represented the quote as an attack on the biblical text is itself disingenuous…. I never said the quote or the idea therein attacks the biblical text.
My last sentence sounds contradictory… the scripture reflects what we find in archaeological digs throughout the Middle East, yet without explicitly mentioning them.
Good work. Davis Young is the son of the great exegete E. J. Young, who, if memory serves, became a geologist by being inspired by his father’s own biblical defense of a geographically local but anthropologically universal flood. I think however that the son came to reject the anthropological universality of the flood in the flood narrative based on geological evidence. Not much has been written to address the other universality problem – namely the fact that geology seems to contradict the anthropological universality of the Tower of Babel. Many argue that the denial of anthropological universality – that these things impacted the common ancestry of all modern humans – has implications that contradict biblical doctrine of salvation. On the other side, genetics gives strong evidence that all modern humans no matter where have a common female ancestor (Eve?) and a common but latter in time male ancestor (Noah?).
Thanks for your comment! It would be fascinating to find out more about the genetic evidence.