Was Noah’s Flood too destructive?
Published: 28 November 2020 (GMT+10)
Seth M. from the United States writes (lightly edited for grammar and spelling):
I have some major problems concerning biblical time scales with geology, such as: wouldn’t such big tectonics completely devastate the earth? And wouldn’t it create so many big waves that the ark would sink? And also how could all these mountains realistically rise? I believe in plate tectonics and all of that and I have studied all your pages on it but isn’t UPT [uniformitarian plate tectonics] way better of an explanation? And aren’t there many geological features that in order to realistically form need quite a bit longer? It seems like in order for the biblical time frame to work you are always relying on abnormally quick processes. And believe me, I don’t believe in evolution at all. It has been shown to be totally unreasonable. But geological process seems like they need to take at least quite some time because in order to squeeze it in too a biblical scale. You have to always have things happen unreasonably fast. Please I could use some major guidance?
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thank you for writing in.
Why assume that your conception of the Flood is accurate? How much have you read about these issues from a creationist perspective? Most importantly, why abandon biblical creation on this sort of basis?
Conceiving Noah’s Flood in biblical terms
Why believe in biblical creation?
First, there are good reasons to believe in biblical creation apart from these sorts of ‘scientific’ considerations. Such as? Jesus believed in biblical creation (Jesus on the age of the earth). Jesus is the resurrected God man, and was taught by the Father himself what to say during his messianic campaign on earth (The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?). And he also affirmed the authority and infallibility of the Bible (Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture). Since we have good historical reasons to believe that Jesus is Lord and that His teaching is trustworthy, we have good reason to reject views of the world that conflict with His perspective. Deep time conflicts with his perspective. Therefore, we should reject deep time and the ideas attached to it (which includes the ‘slow and gradual’ interpretations of the rock features you mention and uniformitarian plate tectonics (UPT)).
Miracles and Noah’s Flood
Second, does anything you present actually amount to an empirical falsification of the biblical framework? No. You’re simply saying that you find it hard to conceive how the Flood could’ve happened. Well, you’re actually saying that you find it hard to conceive how the Flood could’ve happened naturalistically.
The difference matters. Why? For argument’s sake, let’s grant that the Flood couldn’t have happened naturalistically (or, at least, that the parts you mention can’t be explained naturalistically). Question: who sent the Flood? God, of course. Was it a one-off event? Yes, it was. God promised that no flood like it would ever happen again (Genesis 8:21–22, 9:11–17). So, this was a one-off event God had a vested interest in ensuring that the outcomes he wanted happened. Is it conceivable that God went beyond what natural causes alone could produce to produce the outcomes he wanted? It seems perfectly conceivable (see Noah’s Flood—a designed catastrophe? and Too much heat in Noah’s Flood?).
But why doesn’t God do this all the time? Exodus 34:6: He’s gracious and slow to anger. Besides, that God did it once doesn’t mean He will do these sorts of things all the time (God, miracles, and logic). And in the case of the Flood, we know it was a one-off event never to be repeated, since God told us so explicitly (Genesis 8:21–22, 9:11–17).
And, what level of supernatural activity would be required for God to produce the Flood with the evidence that we observe? This is the million-dollar question that practically impossible to answer. We don’t have to swing completely from ‘all natural processes’ to ‘all supernatural processes’, especially since it’s plausible to think that God meant for the empirical rock record to stand as a testimony to the Flood. There is a continuum of possibilities. But how can this be scientifically falsified? It really can’t. And that’s the point. Biblical creation is an axiomatic framework for exploring the history of nature that is bound ultimately by Scripture, not by what natural causes can produce.
A helpful analogy for conceptualizing Noah’s Flood, I think, is an environmental flow regime for a dam spillway. Such a flow regime is intelligently designed; the rate and timing of the flow is controlled by intelligent agents. And it is done so for a purpose—to facilitate a healthy riverine environment downstream of a dam. But a large part of how those outcomes are produced is through the normal, natural physics of water flow. Indeed, even if the regime is successful, the environment downstream is still a product of the water flow. But it wouldn’t be the product of an uncontrolled water flow. God may have done something similar for Noah’s Flood: controlled aspects of the system so that the rocks and waters would within those parameters naturally produce the outcomes He wanted, e.g. leaving an empirical testimony behind to the Flood, ensuring the survival of the Ark, and ensuring that life could flourish again after the Flood. And while our dams and spillway regimes might fail, that clearly wouldn’t be a problem for the all-powerful God. Moreover, the all-powerful God, unlike environmental engineers, isn’t limited by what nature can do in how He might control the system.
Catastrophism vs uniformitarianism
But do we need to appeal to causes beyond nature to answer the issues you’ve raised? In many cases, the answer is no. There are many examples of supposed scientific conundrums for the Flood which, on further investigation, turned out not to be a problem (e.g. see Geology and the young earth). These have all been resolved without appealing to the supernatural, so there are many naturalistic interpretations of the rocks consistent with the catastrophism of the Flood. However, they are generally not the sort of interpretations one will find in the secular literature. Why? They’re not uniformitarian or actualistic. In other words, they don’t reflect processes we see happening today. But not only does this seem to be an arbitrary constraint, it actually runs into deep problems when measured against the empirical rock record (see The meaning of unconformities and Not enough rocks: the sedimentary record and deep time). In essence, the nature of the empirical rock record, when compared against the geologic timescale, ends up making the rock record a series of ‘frozen accidents’ in which causal connections at numerous different timescales become impossible to discern. To put it simply: if deep time is true, the rocks are far more gap than record (Changing paradigms in stratigraphy—“a quite different way of analyzing the record” and Changing paradigms in stratigraphy—another ‘new uniformitarianism’?).
Plus, constraining our explanations to processes we observe isn’t likely to be meaningful with respect to the Flood. After all, it was a massive catastrophe, and was thus decidedly non-actualistic. And it is regarded as quite a bit larger than the catastrophes secular researchers posit. And since we’ve never observed anything quite like Noah’s Flood, it’s not so easy to predict well what sort of evidence a catastrophe like the Flood would leave behind, especially if present processes are our guide. But, we can see that catastrophic processes have great potential to explain much of the rock record (see Geology Questions and Answers, and our resources Rocks Aren’t Clocks and Rock Solid Answers for answers to many of these issues).
The Bible is our foundation for understanding nature’s history
The key to all this is realizing that we start from the Bible in how we piece together the history of nature (Biblical history and the role of science and Flood models and biblical realism). The Bible is our foundational assumption. However, secular researchers try to explain events in nature (especially in what they deem to be ‘prehistory’) by natural causes (The rules of the game). They don’t allow any sort of supernatural explanation to even be a part of the debate. This means that UPT and other explanations of the rocks they offer (e.g. in terms of paleoenvironments and such) may indeed be the best naturalistic explanations people can come up with, but since naturalism shouldn’t be the final guide to the interpretation of the physical evidence regarding the history of nature, we don’t have to buy into those ideas (Historical science and miracles). Just because something is the best naturalistic explanation doesn’t mean it’s the best explanation overall, let alone true. You see this for evolution; it can be harder to see in the rocks because detecting intelligent agency in the rock record is a much trickier and tendentious business than discerning it in the cell.
Objections to Noah’s Flood
With this background in mind, let’s see how it can help neutralize the objections you raise.
Waves and Noah’s Ark
Waves destroying the Ark? Well, how do we know they would? Unless this is modelled with respect to the Ark, there really isn’t a way to know. And what modelling has been done suggests the Ark was very stable (Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway). Besides, was the Ark simply subject to the vicissitudes of the Flood, or was God looking out for it? Clearly He was looking out for the Ark. The question is how involved He had to be to make sure the Ark was safe. Maybe the Ark was sufficient to survive the Flood without any special providential ordering of things or miracles. Or, God may have simply providentially arranged circumstances so that Ark in a relatively calm region of the waters. Or, of course, He could’ve provided some level of supernatural aid to protect the Ark, from an angel or two dispersing a few waves as needed to a constant ‘bubble’ of protection for the entire Flood. Again, we know too little of what happened to say with any clarity.
Rock features take too long to form in the Flood?
Are there features of the rock record we generally associate with the Flood that didn’t have enough time to form? Only if we assume uniformitarians are right about their paleoenvironmental interpretations of the rocks (Beware of paleoenvironmental deductions and Paleoenvironments and the Bible). But we have often found they are not; there are many cases where research has shown that rocks once thought to take too long to form for a Flood context actually can form in a biblical timeframe (Geology Questions and Answers). So, how could we know in every case unless we actually model a global catastrophe accurately? Just because something seems too violent to a mindset steeped in thinking about the geologic past in terms of processes we’re familiar with today doesn’t mean it actually is with respect to a one-off event like the Flood. And again, too violent for what? For the Ark? God preserved the Ark through the Flood. All the issues mentioned above regarding waves and the ark apply to other processes and the Ark.
Flood processes too quick and devastating?
Are some of the processes too quick and devastating? First, different processes were happening in different places; just because conditions during the Flood may be unliveable in some times and places doesn’t mean they were in all times and places. The intensity of the catastrophic conditions would’ve varied in time and space during the Flood year. For instance, oceanic crust wasn’t being created at metres/second rates in the areas around Yellowstone National Park. Here, it seems that you’re simply unfamiliar with creationist research on the mechanisms of the Flood. Under the right conditions, plate tectonic processes can happen at sufficient speeds to fit with the biblical description of the Flood. Some helpful overviews can be found in these articles: Catastrophic plate tectonics: the geophysical context of the Genesis Flood and Empirical data support seafloor spreading and catastrophic plate tectonics.1 This will bring up many papers that explore the mechanics of the Flood over the last 30 years. You can see how this work has been refined and expanded to explain the mechanics of the Flood.
Uniformitarian Plate Tectonics vs Catastrophic Plate Tectonics
Is UPT a better explanation than CPT? There are some empirical reasons to think that CPT is better than UPT. For instance, Clarey points this out in his article Empirical data support seafloor spreading and catastrophic plate tectonics:
The internal images of the mantle (tomography) show visible lithospheric slabs of oceanic crust going down hundreds of kilometres beneath ocean trenches and into subduction zones.19 These are not merely faults as some have proposed,20 but 100-km-thick slabs of brittle, dense rock descending into the mantle.19 The cooler temperatures exhibited by these subducted slabs of rock create a thermal dilemma for the secular and old-earth geologists (traditional PT) who have to demonstrate how these slabs have remained cold for millions of years. Colder, subducted slabs are best explained by runaway subduction just thousands of years ago during the great Flood.21
A few other articles worth exploring are on the Institute for Creation Research website.2,3,4,5 None of these articles are knock-down arguments against UPT, but they provide data that seems to fit better with CPT than UPT.
Trusting in the Bible when we don’t know all the facts
Now, does this mean we have everything figured out? Not by a long shot! (Unsolved mysteries) And in some cases, I would agree that at present secular geologists have more compelling stories about some aspects of the rock record than we do. But understand: the secular academy has practically all the money, resources, and brainpower behind it, and has done so for 200 years or more, certainly in geology, if not in biology (for instance, the Royal Geological Society of London was founded in 1807, and was explicitly against Flood explanations of the rocks right from its inception). So, they’ve got a huge head start on the creationist movement! We’ve only been at this for about 50 years or so, and resources are thin (in terms of money, time, and people). In spite of this, creation geologists have solved a multitude of problems, many of which the secular academy has been unable to resolve in 150 years or more (see Rock Solid Answers).
At the end of the day, though, we need to realize the crucial place the Bible has in our historical method. It’s the foundation; the perfect witness to history by which we measure all our understandings of the physical evidence against. So, we hang on to Scripture tightly, and the models loosely (‘Hanging Loose’: What should we defend?). And I commend that method to you.
Creation Ministries International
References and notes
- For a fuller appreciation of this, I suggest exploring this at digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/icc_proceedings/ and inputting “Baumgardner” into the “Author” field of their ‘Advanced search’ function. Return to text.
- Clarey, T., Another attempt to solve the mystery of plate motion, icr.org/article/another-attempt-to-solve-mystery-of-plate-motion, 12 May 2020. Return to text.
- Clarey, T.L., Austin, S.A., Cheung, S., and Strom, R., Superfaults and Pseudotachylytes: Evidence of Catastrophic Earth Movements; in: Horstemeyer, M. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylania, 2013; icr.org/article/superfaults-pseudotachylytes-evidence. Return to text.
- Thomas, B., Continents Didn’t Drift, They Raced, icr.org/article/continents-didnt-drift-they-raced, 23 August 2010. Return to text.
- Thomas, B., Rapid Rifting in Ethiopia Challenges Evolutionary Model, icr.org/article/rapid-rifting-ethiopia-challenges-evolutionary, 18 November 2009. Return to text.