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Was Noah’s Flood too destructive?

Published: 28 November 2020 (GMT+10)
Noahs-ark

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:

Dear Seth,

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?).

volcano-eruption

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?

 violent-floods

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.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

References and notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Thomas, B., Continents Didn’t Drift, They Raced, icr.org/article/continents-didnt-drift-they-raced, 23 August 2010. Return to text.
  5. Thomas, B., Rapid Rifting in Ethiopia Challenges Evolutionary Model, icr.org/article/rapid-rifting-ethiopia-challenges-evolutionary, 18 November 2009. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Breese R.
It is interesting to compare Genesis 1 with Genesis 7. In Genesis 1 the author states that God completed the separation of the waters into two parts with the atmosphere. This process was accomplished in a 24 hour period. Separation of the dry land and water and covering the dry land with vegetation also took 24 hours.
In Genesis 7 the author directs our attention to the fact the creation process is reversed. The recombination of the waters returning the earth to the condition it was in prior to day two in 40 days. God then returns the earth to areas of dry land and sea, using a wind (atmosphere) as one of his tools to dry up the water and again having water in two parts, terrestrial and atmospheric. This process was only partly completed in 150 days.
The flood was a controlled event. What God accomplished in two days the original creation, in His divine wisdom He took just over a year to do in the demolish and carefully reconstruct the planet. As He asked Abraham "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Gen 18:14
David C.
The Ark is obviously invincible but a needs to be tested and filmed. A Model Basin and Towing Tank Testing
Ship, Power and Work Boat Model Basin would be ideal. Scaled down animals please. If God so loved what he created he could have eradicated individuals. The concept that all were seen as unworthy is a struggle to the non creationists. What is tying down the Noah’s chances of being a real life story is “may have...” and that the Genesis script is a basic heart-stopping epic flood fable — with early traits of good action adventure thrillers. It fleshes out characters and motives, shows what’s at stake, makes it challenging edge of seat for protagonists, brings in plenty of twists, builds up to a climax, then calms down with moral sign offs. It does give the story a satisfying ending but with a domestic twist which leads on...
Shaun Doyle
On the historicity of the Flood, please see The Flood was historically global, not hyperbolically global. On why God the Flood was a fair and appropriate judgment of God, please see How could a loving God send a global Flood? At any rate, tests have been done: Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway.
Alf F.
The part that I can't agree with is the devastatingly rapid separation of continents in a portion of one year from a single supercontinent. In the first place a single supercontinent is a bizarre notion to my mind. It seems science fiction-like in its clumsiness, an odd lump on one side of earth. Secondly, there must have been immense surface to depth tearing and rapid movement of continent-high rock, thousands of miles in extent, worldwide, with thousands of miles of travel laterally, all simultaneously, which movements must necessarily have caused not just waves but torrents of immense amounts of water plunging and surging to make space and take up space. The scale of these water movements would mean the Ark was both a submarine and some form of massive gyroscope or gimbal in order not to have a tossed animal salad outcome within it. The scale of the ark to the waves boggles the imagination completely. All this seems, as most bad science is, to be predicated on an unintuitive interpretation of one verse, in this case, that the "earth was divided" in Peleg's day. Since that day to this, no one ever remembered it to have meant continental separations from a single landmass. That is, until some Geologist recently suggested such a thing. Yet history recalls no such thing. A worldwide flood is easy to understand, looking at the globe, but continental ripping and sailing away over the horizon in such a short time I cannot assent to, for the miracle would have been not the flood itself, but the pinhead-sized boat that survived the real-life sized tsunamis. Truly, it would have been more in character under such circumstances to have lifted Noah's family and the animals up into the heavens until the flood was done, because an Ark so small could not have done the job?
Shaun Doyle
This is why we need to be directed fundamentally by the Bible, but our explanation of the Flood needs also to be guided by the physical evidence. And it's the physical evidence that seems to suggest the existence of coherent lithospheric plates that moved rapidly thousands of kilometres in the recent past (Empirical data support seafloor spreading and catastrophic plate tectonics).

As for the Ark's ability to survive tsunamis, tsunamis are nowhere near as destructive in open water; it's only when they hit coastlines that they become destructive. Plus, the Ark was likely able to survive waves exceeding 30 m in height (see Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway and How Well Designed was Noah's Ark?). Plus if waves interfered with each other in a destructive way (destructive to the power of the waves), then this would've produced regions of stability (Woodmorappe, J., Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study, ICR, Dallas, TX, p. 52, 1996). The Ark could've easily been in one of these areas of stability. At most though, it's best not to go by our intuitions of how destructive it may have been (and again we must ask: where?_, but by more thoroughgoing modelling of the hydrodynamics of the Flood.
Doug L.
Seth M. asked some good questions and Shaun, you really had some outstanding answers. I spent a lot of time at sea as a naval officer so I can understand someone asking about destructive waves. Really! But Shaun is 100% on target by pointing out that we have no idea what it was like for Noah. God could have, and probably did, keep the Ark in a calm area. I assume he did, but that's just my assumption. But the question supposes that there WERE heavy seas. How could you know that? You can't.

And even asking that question is at least partially due to the assumption that continental separation occurred during the one year of the Flood. I would guess that most creationist geologists believe that. I don't, as a matter of fact. But that's just my opinion. My assumption (not my dogma) is that the continents separated during the 239 years of Peleg's life as an element, a part, of the Babel dispersion. But the Bible is not explicit about that, IMO, so maybe the geologists are right. The point that Shaun made, i.e. that we don't have everything figured out, is fabulously on target.

The salient point is that it's too easy to jump to conclusions based on partial scientific knowledge, and ALL "scientific" knowledge regarding past events which you cannot duplicate is going to be fragmentary. We rarely (if ever) have all the pertinent and relevant facts, do we? That's why "scientific" theories usually change over time. The thing is, when the Bible is clear about something, it overrules any science. If the Bible isn't explicit about something we are free to investigate and theorize. But usually when something based on the Bible seems unreasonable, it's because we're making unreasonable assumptions that someone else's theories are correct. That's a pitfall.
Rodney A.
Thank you!
Michael S.
A good thorough overview with well thought out answers. Yes it can be easy to fall for the naturalistic "strawman flood" sometimes put upon us as creationists, by evolutionists but they conveniently forget we don't accept methodological naturalism. Usually if you get into a debate about geology a lot of the time focus on the flood or natural evidence won't lead to mentioning God explicitly, therefore if there is a need perhaps to mention God it can be easy for the evolutionist to then make the mistake of thinking that we are basically INSERTING God into the argument as a cop out, and they will then complain that they cannot falsify the supernatural.

However they conveniently forget that when creationists are arguing for a real worldwide flood then we are arguing for the truth of the bible as history which inherently demands the assumption that God can perform the miraculous.

So their error is to believe we are inserting God into the flood argument because God is not really mentioned a lot when it comes to discussions about rocks or fossils. But that silence pertaining to God's presence is a silent assumption, it does not actually mean that we are arguing a purely naturalistic flood. A purely naturalistic flood would kill everything on earth. The flood of the bible would have to be orchestrated by God. Not only did God Himself give the dimensions of the Ark but in psalms IIRC it also says, "God sat enthroned at the flood." (I think it's psalms anyway). I always thought that an interesting verse, it speaks of God Himself being the direct orchestrator, sat on His throne in a position of power and authority. I know I would want the inventor of physics on my side if a world destroying flood came!
Joshua B.
I would also note that if Walt Brown's hydroplate theory is correct, initially the crust of the Earth was a crust of rock over water, and so as the fountains of the great deep broke open and eroded larger cracks, the rock below the water would have sprung up like a spring under pressure from the ends does when something holding it down is remove from over the top of it. This would have caused the plates to start sliding away from the cracks and they would rapidly build up a speed of movement unthinkable to uniformitarianists due to their core assumptions.
Shaun Doyle
WR B.
We have to remember that major earth events, like raising large monoliths and mountain ranges, require a sufficient cause to produce that melting, pressure and force to change that much rock. On the moon we know those same major events, rings and mountains and highlands around Mare Imbrium and South Pole-Aitken, required LARGE impactors and the melting, pressure and force that came with it to produce the changes. Believe me, I am not a supporter of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics. I believe Clarey was completely wrong with his interpretation of the data he cites in “Empirical data support seafloor spreading and catastrophic plate tectonic”, but CPT does provide an adequate force, while paleoenviromental deductions, no matter how many times the geologist repeats the mantra “the present is the key to the past”, does not. Slow expression of energy (with lots and lots of time) is the enemy of the sudden and melting force required for mountain building. A sudden force melts and moves. A slow force only tires the source of the force. (A 1,000 degrees C applied one degree-a-year for a thousand years will never melt a rock. Entropy is fighting it.)
Flood forces HAD to be quick and devastating to produce mountains on earth like we see on the moon. Secular geologist, without an adequate force have to appeal to time. "Time" does not substitute for "force" in any physics equation.
Yvonne R.
All the money at the secular scientists disposal and going no where. The understanding they do have is to interpret in accordance with their own human thoughts. How limited they are to place trust in their own perception. Ephesians 3:20 Immeasurably more than all we can ask for, pray for and perceive by GOD's power at work within us through The LORD JESUS. Meaning by looking to GOD, HE will do a greater work within us for understanding. How much more pleasing to receive from GOD truth in the reading of HIS Word and understanding provided by CMI. The money provided for secular research is like buying the most expensive antique furniture and then finding the furniture not appropriate. I attended museum lectures which was only on evolution because I did not know any other way. When I was informed on Creation Science, I immediately attended the lectures / conferences. The truth presented on GOD's creation was like a shining light that was so interesting - satisfying and what I needed to hear. Evolutionists need to be reading the responses given on these forums. I pray for GOD to bless secularists with reading these responses by many people to elucidate their minds to set them free from relying on their own perception. I never want to return to my perception as a non Christian. Praise GOD for the freedom that we know through JESUS CHRIST Amen
Geoff C. W.
I suppose that another indication that God looked after the ark is that when the flood waters subsided, He presumably had it come to rest in a reasonably flat location, with the door near the ground. Otherwise there could have been mayhem inside the ark, and the occupants could have had difficulty getting out.
Rodney P.
And let's add to that another planet-destroying miracle to occur when Jesus returns: the destruction of the world by fire.
2 Peter 3
7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men….
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Luke M.
I watched an interesting short clip just this morning about Lake Peigneur and how it went from 10 to over 1000 feet deep and changed from a fresh to a saltwater lake in only a few days because of an accident. The right set of circumstances setting off a fast, destructive, eco-changing disaster. A good, small, local demonstration of what the Noahic flood could have been capable of perhaps?
Philippus S.
Thank God for saving Noah and his Family! God could have saved Jesus Christ suffering, being separated from His Father, being spit on, slapped in the face, having his back and body ripped open by the Romans to the Jewish request, having a crown of thorns driven on the Hid head, nailed to a tree, died and buried all because of our sins, God knew it was going to happen yet he still saved the human race through saving the eight people on the Ark, even the living creatures as well. No God was Loving and Graceful at the flood. Joh 3:16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. If any person does not believe that, they will find out what real destructive is.
Terry D P.
Re: “On the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark grounded on a mountain in Ararat.”—Gn§7:4
        Was thinking the other day that God didn't leave the ark drifting in some wide expanse of ocean, but actually caused it to ground it firmly on some a mountain in Ararat.

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