local flood

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Book Review: “The Biblical Flood” by Davis Young

bf-youngDavis 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.”

Overview

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).

New World

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).

Geology’s Origins

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.

Theological Reflections

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.

Appendix: Arkeology

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.

Challenge

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.

Conclusion

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.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my posts on the “origins debate” which feature a wide range of posts on issues related to varying Christian views on evolution, creation, and more.

Davis Young, The Biblical Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Resource Review: “In the Days of Noah: A Deeper Look at the Genesis Flood”

Reasons to Believe is a science faith think-tank dedicated to showing that Christianity is true. Recently, I had the opportunity to view their resource, “In the Days of Noah.” The video features a lecture by Hugh Ross regarding the extent, location, and timing of the Noahic (Biblical) Flood.

One of the central points of Ross’ argument is that people must take an integrative approach to the question of the Genesis Flood. It is not enough to look at just one verse or one chapter or even one book of the Bible and declare the question closed. Instead, Ross argues, one must take the entirety of the Scriptural data and see what it tells readers about the Flood. Not only that, but the relevant scientific findings must be taken into account as well.

For many Christians, the extent of the Flood is taken as a test for orthodoxy. Ross argues convincingly, however, that the Biblical account does not necessitate that the Flood covered the entire surface of the planet. He goes over a wide range of texts that discuss events that are said to be “world wide” or to “cover the whole earth” or that are supposed to bring “every nation” to a certain place and shows how the usage of the term was relative to the author. Ross cites a number of texts to back up this claim and shows how in many places–the Joseph narrative, writings about Solomon, etc.–the words taken as universals generally (“whole earth,” “all nations,” etc.) are used specifically to mean the whole immediate/relevant world.

There are a number of texts describing creation that go into greater detail about specific aspects of the Genesis account. Ross outlines his argument via these texts by specifically noting a number which discuss the limits set for the waters. For example, Proverbs 8:29 states quite explicitly that God gave the sea its boundary. Ross continues through the Bible and cites numerous examples wherein it talks about God setting boundaries for the waters. From there, he makes the argument that these verses give us a principle: God has set the oceans in their boundaries from Creation. He then utilizes this as an argument for a local flood as opposed to a global flood.

I think that this may be the weakest part of Ross’ argument, because it is possible to counter this reasoning by saying that just because there are a number of texts talking about the boundaries set for the water, it does not mean that the water can never cross these boundaries. In fact, one might counter by noting that Ross’ view entails a kind of uncertainty over what exactly is meant when the Bible discusses the boundaries or limits for the oceans. After all, even on Ross’ view, some body of water covered a vast expanse of land–indeed, the whole inhabited world at the time. In fact, one may argue that due to what we know about plate tectonics, the oceans have not, in fact, had clear boundaries from the beginning but have instead been shifting as the continental plates drift.

Of course, Ross could counter by noting that those continental plates themselves act as boundaries for the oceans. Even though these plates shift, they remain ‘fixed’ in the sense of constant. Regardless, it seems that the rebuttal given above must be given at least some weight in considering Ross’ overall argument. However, even if one denies the force of his argument for the Scriptural notion of fixed boundaries as being a limit for a global flood, one must still contend with his argument to open up the possibility of a local flood by noting the difference between general and specific uses of the notion of a “worldwide” event.

That said, Ross turns to the scientific evidence and notes a number of evidences against a global flood. First, there are such things as unambiguous signs of a flood. He points out the possibility of checking ice cores and sediment cores for the continuous record of the last several hundred thousand years, so if there was a global flood there should be a signal in the ice layers evidence for a global flood. These layers are annual and we know this by looking for volcanic eruptions lined up in the layers at the correct times. These can therefore be calibrated by lining them up with volcanic eruptions that we know of historically. Moreover, the ice layers line up with the ellipticity of the earth, so there are multiple independent ways to test these ice layers. However, in these layers there are none of the telltale signs for a global flood.

So where was the flood? Ross notes a number of verses in the Bible to narrow in on the location of Eden, and then extrapolates from that where civilization would flourish. Due to some geological evidence for there having been a blockage on the end of the Persian Gulf which would have, combined with the melting of ice and the extreme amount of rain noted in the Biblical account, flooded a huge portion of the Mesopotamian Plain. The region is surrounded by mountains which would have blocked in the water for the flood. Such a flood would have wiped out the extent of known humanity at the time, argues Ross.

There are a number of arguments that young earth creationists, who often rely upon “Flood Geology” to explain a number of features of the geological past to maintain their view of the history of the earth, would raise to Ross’ presentation. For example, the image on the right was created by Answers in Genesis to parody the notion that a flood can be local when the Bible says that even the mountain-tops were covered (Genesis 7:18-20) [all credit for the image to Answers in Genesis, I make no claim to having produced it in any way]. Ross answers this argument by noting that the word can also mean hills and that with the extent of the flood he proposed, there would be no visible hills or mountains from the Ark. Thus, Ross’ argument is much along the lines of his integrative approach: that we must take into account all the relevant Biblical texts as well as noting the scientific evidence.

It would be remiss to have a review of a video without looking into the visuals. The video is a lecture divided into chapters, so a decent portion of it is spent watching Hugh Ross talk. However, there are also a number of very useful images and slides presented which will provide viewers in groups with opportunity for discussion and individual viewers with valuable resources to discuss the Biblical Flood.

“In the Days of Noah” is a great resource for those interested in the Noahic Flood. Hugh Ross is a lucid thinker and clearly lays out his perspective on the flood in terms that listeners will easily comprehend. Ross’ case is based off a holistic approach to natural and special revelation. Although Ross does not answer every counter-argument which those opposed to his view may present, the video can act as a valuable way to open discussions and perhaps come to a better understanding of God’s truth.

Source

In the Days of Noah: A Deeper Look at the Genesis Flood” (Reasons to Believe), 2010.

Image Credit for the second image goes to Answers in Genesis.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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