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13th December, 2010

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Rethinking the Flood (Part One)

November 29th saw many Lutherans of the Missouri Synod remember Noah. That day is marked on the Calendar of Saints as the day to "officially" reflect on Noah and, by extension, the Flood. Until the middle of the nineteenth century practically every European believed the biblical account of the universal Flood; they did not see any reason to doubt it. The situation is almost totally reversed today, with only a few (relatively speaking) diehards - they must be whacko extremists - continuing to hold aloft the flag of literal belief. Typical of the modern view is this statement:

Of course, the deed itself is fictive, which should be obvious to anyone living in the twenty-first century. it's just. a story, and not a particularly edifying one.

Folks today do not see any reason to accept the biblical account. This very condition is foretold in Scripture:

Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts. For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water (2 Pet. 3:4-6).

Why the change in worldview? Peter puts it down to a general trend towards ungodliness. What evidence do unbelievers present? Interestingly, both opponents and supporters of the biblical universal flood call upon the geological evidence to support their view! Young-earth creationists, the most vocal supporters of the biblical Flood, pound the podium with their pronouncement that all geological formations testify to the flood. Frankly, the idea that the rocks that make up, say, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon formations are made up of particles manufactured by Noah's Flood and laid down by Noah's Flood, is ridiculous.

Flood scoffers insist that even if the sort of flood described in Genesis would produce little in the way of geological activity (the bottom of the ocean is a relatively peaceful place!) you would expect to find some silt deposits of recent origin produced by rushing water in the first days of heavy rain. Maybe you do! Take this report, for instance, concerning studies around Zhoukoudian, China:

Samples from Layers 10 through 3 show extensive water deposition of fine silt-sized material (reworked loess), including fine-grained organic matter. The dark organic-rich unit in Layer 10-often cited as one of the earliest evidence of fire-is a water-laid accumulation. Much of the fine-grained sediment was derived from outside Locality 1, implying that the site was open to varying extents throughout most of its depositional history. The 4-6 m accumulation of ashes in Layer 4 represents subaerial water-laid silt deposits derived from the loess-covered hillslopes surrounding the site.

They presumably accumulated in an open depression that formed after the collapse of the brecciated roof deposits represented by Layer 6.2

The deposition has occurred within the span of human existence, as the same abstract says that "Zhoukoudian is often cited for its human remains and the early evidence of fire". Who knows for sure, but the possibility remains that we have here a result of Flood activity. In short, geological evidence neither compellingly supports nor fatally contradicts the biblical account.

The hardest evidence against the notion of a universal flood some thousands of years before Christ is archaeological in nature. For example, consider this statement:

Working along the lower thirty-three miles of the Little Tennessee River. archeologists and paleoecologists have documented 12,000 years of continuous human occupation that modified the environment.2

One would naturally expect that a break of at least some hundreds of years would occur between the time of the Flood and the arrival of the next wave of human settlers. And one would also expect a change in culture some thousands of years before the present era. Once again, the evidence here neither compels not repudiates a universal flood. Taking into consideration the long period under study and the considerable complexity of the strata being interpreted, one could probably argue that an interim period of non-occupation would be difficult to either prove or disprove. The same article says that,

The camps were periodically buried by new layers of silt and sand as the river flooded. Over time, remnants of numerous Archaic camps accumulated in the river deposits.

In other words, settlement was highly fluid in nature, with campsites coming and going due to changeable local conditions. Every major flood event would wash away large deposits in addition to laying down new ones. A period of non-occupation may be difficult to detect.

As for cultural change, the evidence does not seem convincing for Flood supporters. The article does say that, "Squash rinds appear in Archaic hearths dating from about 5,000 years ago, raising the possibility that this is when people in the region began growing vegetables." But that's not exactly evidence of a new wave of settlers. By the same token, no reason can be adduced for insisting that early post-Flood colonizers would have introduced entirely "modern" technologies from the Old World.

What light do Middle Eastern history and archeology shed on the matter? That will have to wait. Leaving them aside for the time being, we can say that the external evidence neither supports nor contradicts the biblical account.

1Goldberg et al. 2001, Site formation processes at Zhoukoudian, China, Journal of Human Evolution, 41(5):483-530

2Chapman et al, Strawberry Fields, Almost Forever, Natural History , 9/89, p. 51

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