Could the Flood have been tranquil?
Adapted from the author’s The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11, 2015.1
In response to the uniformitarian dogma of Darwin’s mentor Charles Lyell, Scottish pastor-zoologist John Fleming (1785–1857) proposed a novel idea. That is, the Genesis Flood was real and global, but it left no trace, because it was a tranquil flood. Modern long-age creationist Norman Geisler (b. 1932) also holds this view.2 Fleming wrote:
“The simple narrative of Moses permits me to believe, that the waters rose by degrees and returned by degrees; that means were employed by the Author of the calamity to preserve pairs of the land animals; that the flood exhibited no violent impetuosity, neither displacing the soil, nor the vegetable tribes which it supported, nor rendering the ground unfit for the cultivation of the vine. With this conviction in my mind, I am not prepared to witness in nature any remaining marks of the catastrophe, and I feel my respect for the authority of revelation heightened, when I see on the present surface no memorials of the event.”3
The Apostle Peter affirmed the global Flood as a historical event, and went even further with a warning to ‘scoffers’ who “deliberately ignore this fact, … the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:3–6).
This entails that the Flood must have left some incontrovertible evidence. If not, then why are these scoffers condemned because they “deliberately ignore this fact”? A tranquil Flood that left no trace would surely give them an excuse for being unaware of this event.
And on scientific grounds, the idea of a tranquil flood is as absurd as a tranquil explosion. One cubic metre of water has a mass of one tonne. Creation magazine has repeatedly documented the enormous amount of deposition as the Flood engulfed the land, and the immense erosional damage as the floodwaters ran off the land.4
In fact, keeping the Flood tranquil would require a great miracle, and the biblical text lacks even the slightest hint of this. Rather, the biblical evidence suggests that God used natural means for much of the Flood. E.g. God commanded Noah to build an Ark, rather than levitate them all or recreate all kinds. For the Flood itself, God named water sources that already existed. And as will be seen, God used natural means to abate the Flood, and Noah had to use natural means to decide when it was safe to leave the Ark.
Fully flooded earth?
The above is enough to show that a tranquil Flood is impossible in both the ascending and recessive phases of the Flood. But is there room for a period of tranquillity when the earth was totally covered by water?
Certainly not! The earth’s rotation alone would generate large-scale circulating oceanic currents, called gyres, above the flooded continents. Tidal effects would be another generator of water currents.
Calculations show that these gyres could have flowed at 40–80 m/s (90–180 mph), over a diameter of about 2,500 km.5 This could be very destructive, because of a process called cavitation in water flowing above about 30 m/s, as long as it’s relatively shallow.6 Tiny bubbles form, as seen in the bubbles formed by ship and torpedo propellers. These then burst supersonically, producing temperatures as high as 15,000 Kelvin (~15,000ºC; 27,000ºF), about 2.5 times hotter than the sun’s surface.7,8
In modern times, dangerously high water at Glen Canyon Dam demonstrated the destructive power of cavitation. After a heavy discharge from the spillway tunnels, cavitation tore away “chunks of concrete, sections of rebar, and most disturbingly, what looked like pieces of sandstone, [which] arced high above the river.” 9,10 Similarly, when heavy rainfall in California caused flooding in Lake Oroville, the spillway at the Oroville Dam was eroded so badly that concrete and hard rock were broken.11 So not surprisingly, speaking of the gyres produced while the earth was flooded, the researchers state:
The ability of such currents, combined with cavitation, to erode huge volumes of rock and also to transport the resulting sediment and distribute it over extensive areas in a short span of time not only helps to satisfy the Biblical time constraints for the Flood but also appears to be able, in a general sense, to account for the continent-scale extent of many Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary formations as well as evidence in many of these rocks for high energy water transport.5
Noah and the Ark were safe
While the Flood would have been immensely destructive over the earth itself, the Ark was designed to protect its cargo. Deeper water would not have permitted the destructive effects of the high-speed gyres, and overall, the Flood was very deep—if all the mountains were flattened down and ocean bottoms raised so the solid surface was completely even, water would cover the whole surface to 3 km deep. So the Ark could have mostly floated in deep water away from the damaging effects of gyres—and of tsunamis. A tsunami today can travel at typical speeds of around 700 km/h in deep ocean water, yet be barely noticeable to ships as it passes. As it approaches shallow water, the wave slows down and concomitantly gains rapidly in height before unleashing its fury on the land.12
This safety element could be an aspect of the central point of the Flood narrative: “God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). It’s not that God ever forgot Noah. Rather, God ‘remembering’ Noah is a Hebrew idiom meaning that God began to act again on his behalf. Fellow Messianic Jewish commentator Arnold Fruchtenbaum provides other biblical examples:
In Genesis 19:29, God remembered Abraham with a view to saving Lot; in Exodus 2:24, God remembered his covenant with the patriarchs with a view to rescuing Israel; in Jeremiah 2:2, God remembered Israel with a view toward her restoration; in Jeremiah 31:20, God remembered Ephraim with a view toward extending mercy to him; and in Luke 1:54–55, God remembered Israel with a view toward sending the Messiah to Israel. Furthermore, the sense here in Genesis is that of God remembering a covenant; though in this case the covenant itself had not yet been made. (God said earlier in Genesis 6 that He would establish His covenant with Noah.) Furthermore, in 7:4 God remembered that the rain would last only forty days. All these usages fit into the word ‘remember’.13
So the traditional understanding of the global Flood fits the biblical teaching better—and makes better sense of real science. It is unnecessary and unscientific to add unbiblical accommodations for uniformitarian geology.
References and notes
- Available at creation.com/s/10-2-606. Return to text.
- Johnson, J.J.S., Biblical devastation in the wake of a ‘tranquil flood’, Acts & Facts 40(9): 8–10, 2011; icr.org. Return to text.
- Fleming, John, The Geological Deluge, as Interpreted by Baron Cuvier and Professor Buckland, Inconsistent with the Testimony of Moses and the Phenomena of Nature, Edinburgh Philosophical Journal 14(28):205–239, April 1826; quote pp. 213–214. Return to text.
- For a summary, see Walker, T., A biblical geologic model, 3rd ICC, pp. 581–592, 1994; biblicalgeology.net. Return to text.
- Barnette, D.W. and Baumgardner, J.R., Patterns of ocean circulation over the continents during Noah’s Flood, 3rd ICC, pp. 77–86, 1994. Return to text.
- Holroyd, E.W., Cavitation processes during catastrophic floods, 2nd ICC 2:101–113, 1991. Return to text.
- Flannigan, D.J., and Suslick, K.S., Plasma formation and temperature measurement during single-bubble cavitation, Nature 434(7029):52–55, 3 March 2005. Return to text.
- Lohse, D., Sonoluminescence: Cavitation hots up, Nature 434(7029):33–34, 2005. Return to text.
- Hannon, S., The 1983 Flood at Glen Canyon, Glen Canyon Institute, glencanyon.org, accessed 17 October 2007. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Beware the bubble’s burst: Increased knowledge about cavitation highlights the destructive power of fast-flowing water, Creation 31(2):50–51, 2009; creation.com/bubble. Return to text.
- Walker, T., Massive erosion on California’s Oroville Dam: Spillway canyon demonstrates power of flowing water, creation.com/oroville, 23 March 2017. Return to text.
- Tsunami Facts and Information, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, bom.gov.au/tsunami/info, accessed 1 July 2016. Return to text.
- Fruchtenbaum, A.G., The Book of Genesis, p. 175, 2009; emphasis in original. Return to text.