Forget about Noah's Ark; There Was No Worldwide Flood
In order to even entertain the possibility of a worldwide flood, one has to bypass all laws of physics, exit the realm of science, and enter into the realm of the miraculous, which many believers are willing to do.
Many people have contacted me about the recent claims by a group called Noah’s Ark Ministries International.1 The evangelical organization claims to have discovered Noah’s ark.2 I have responded on several occasions to these dubious claims on my blog.3 And still, this group has stood behind their claim,4 insisting that what they have found is real based largely on the belief that because the Bible says the flood and the ark are historical, it must be so. So, instead of addressing their spurious claims yet again, I thought I would approach the issue from a different angle: forget about Noah’s ark; there was no world-wide flood.
The worldwide flood described in Genesis 6-9 is not historical, but rather a combination of at least two flood stories, both of which descended from earlier Mesopotamian flood narratives. Note that this does not mean all of the claims made in the Bible are false (or true for that matter); I am dealing here only with the biblical stories of the flood. (Also understand that the “slippery slope” claim of “all of the Bible is true or none of it is true” is simply an unnecessary rhetorical device designed to keep readers from doing precisely what scholars do every day: analyze each claim in the Bible on a case-by-case basis. It is not necessary to accept an “all or none” stance towards the Bible.)
Most biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholars argue that the flood is a mythical story adopted from earlier Mesopotamian flood accounts. These earlier accounts include the 17th century BCE Sumerian flood myth Eridu Genesis,5 the 18th century BCE Akkadian Atra-Hasis Epic,6 and the Epic of Gilgamesh,7 which are some of the earliest known examples of a literary style of writing. The most complete version of the Epic of Gilgamesh known today is preserved on 12 clay tablets from the library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (685-627 BCE). This extant Akkadian version is derived from earlier Sumerian versions. In the story, Gilgamesh and his companion, a wild man-beast named Enkidu, travel the world on a number of quests that ultimately displease the gods. After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh embarks on a journey to learn the secret of eternal life by visiting the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh how the god Ea (equivalent to the Sumerian god Enki) revealed the gods’ plan to destroy all life with a great flood, and how they instructed him to build a vessel in which he could save his family, friends, and livestock. After the flood, the gods repented for destroying the world and made Utnapishtim immortal.
These flood stories appear to have been transmitted to the Israelites early in Israel’s history. Contact between the Assyrians and the Israelites is known from the conquest of Israel and its capitol, Samaria, in 721 BCE by Assyrian King Shalmaneser V (727-722 BCE),8 and from the attempted conquest of Jerusalem by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BCE). These stories were apparently modified to conform to a monotheistic faith, but retained characteristics such as the destruction of nearly all living things via a flood, the salvation of a select few people and animals by the construction of a boat, and the regret of the deity for the flood, prompting a promise not to do so again. Thus, like many of the early stories in Israel’s primordial history,9 the flood story appears to be an adaptation and integration of a previously known myth into the theology of Israel.
Most scholars will point out that the biblical flood story is actually two flood epics intertwined into one. However, unlike the two biblical creation stories (Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Genesis 2:4b-25), which were set one after the other in the Hebrew Bible, the two original flood stories appear to have been edited into a single narrative. The combined story preserves vestigial indicators that the account was originally two separate narratives. For example, Genesis 6:19-20 states that there were to be one pair of each species of animal on the ark, one male and one female:
And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.
However, in Genesis 7:2-3, which was originally a separate flood account, it states:
Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.
Thus, there are two different numbers given for the number of animals on the ark: one pair (male and female) in Genesis 6, and seven pairs of clean and one pair of unclean (male and female) in Genesis 7. The integration of two different numbers is evidence of two originally separate flood accounts.
Likewise, Genesis 7:17 states that the flood lasted 40 days:
The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.
But Genesis 7:24, a portion of the second flood story, states that the flood remained for 150 days:
And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.
Shortly thereafter in Genesis 8:6, the story switches back to the first flood story, and the number 40 returns:
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made.
Thus, not only are different numbers used for the number of animals on the ark in the two Hebrew flood stories, but different time periods were given for the flooding after the rains: 40 and 150 days.
Further evidence for the presence of two flood stories comes from the fact that in the narratives that speak about 40 days of flooding, god is referred to as the divine name YHWH, which supposedly was not revealed to readers until the episode of the burning bush in Exodus 3. However, in the portions of the flood texts that refer to 150 days of flooding, god is referred to as elohim, the Hebrew word for “god.” The two different Hebrew flood narratives refer to god by different names rather consistently. Thus, the textual evidence demonstrates that two flood narratives, most likely derived from earlier Assyrian and Sumerian flood narratives, were combined and adapted to fit the Israelite’s monotheistic faith and communicate lessons of a wrathful, destructive god, a regretful (Genesis 6:6) yet repentant god, and the origin of rainbows.10
But for some, the literary evidence is not compelling. So, allow me present some scientific evidence: there could not have been a worldwide flood as described in the Bible because there is simply not enough water in the earth’s atmospheric system to produce such a flood.
According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the amount of water in the earth’s atmosphere could not possibly cover the earth.11 In fact:
One estimate of the volume of water in the atmosphere at any one time is about 3,100 cubic miles (mi3) or 12,900 cubic kilometers (km3). That may sound like a lot, but it is only about 0.001 percent of the total Earth’s water volume of about 332,500,000 mi3 (1,385,000,000 km3)
If all of the water in the atmosphere rained down at once, it would only cover the ground to a depth of 2.5 centimeters, about 1 inch.
Additionally, because only 1.7% of the earth’s water is stored underground,12 there is not nearly enough water in groundwater storage beneath the earth’s surface to account for the amount of water necessary to flood the entire earth to the extent described in the Bible.
Simply put: there is not enough water in Earth’s atmosphere to raise the ocean’s levels over an inch, much less to cover Mt. Ararat with water from 40 days of rain. There is simply not that much water in the system.
Thus, in order to even entertain the possibility of a worldwide flood, one has to bypass all laws of physics, exit the realm of science, and enter into the realm of the miraculous, which many biblical literalists are willing to do. It is hypothetically possible that, say, the polar ice caps melted. This could raise the ocean levels beyond the 2.5 centimeters that all the earth’s atmospheric water could were it to all rain down, but even then the thaw would only slightly affect the world’s coastlines. Additionally, all scientific evidence points to larger polar ice caps in recent history, not smaller.13
Other fantastic scenarios could be offered to explain the flood. For instance, some might suggest that a colossal ice-asteroid could have burst into our orbit and melted, bringing with it an unconscionable amount of water into our atmosphere. But, even this desperate scenario poses a major problem for many biblical literalists who attempt to explain or prove the flood scientifically. The Bible says it “rained” and the “springs of the deep” opened, but mentions nothing about an asteroid. Likewise, were water to enter Earth’s system, where did it all go? To where did the water recede? Earth’s water cycle results in all water residing somewhere on Earth’s surface in the form of oceans, ice, and freshwater lakes, beneath Earth’s surface in subterranean reservoirs that produce springs and geysers, or in Earth’s atmosphere as moisture. So even if water could enter Earth’s closed system, where did it go?
Simply put: there is no evidence whatsoever for a worldwide flood. In other words, it’s impossible. There is not enough water in the earth’s atmospheric system to even come close to covering all of the earth’s landmasses.
It is time for Christians to admit that some of the stories in Israel’s primordial history are not historical. It is ok to concede that these stories were crafted in a pre-scientific period and were designed to offer ethical answers to questions of why and not questions of how. Christians and Jews must concede that the Bible can still be “inspired” without being historically or scientifically “inerrant.” As the early church father Origen explained regarding the preservation of empirical truth within problematic documents edited by human hands, “the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.”14 Simply because a factual error exists in the text of the Bible does not mean that an ethical truth or principal cannot still be conveyed. It is time for Christians to concede that “inspiration” does not equal “inerrancy,” and that “biblical” does not equal “historical” or even “factual.” Some claims like the flood and the six-day creation are neither historical nor factual; they were written to communicate in an pre-scientific literary form that god is responsible for the earth. It is time Christians conceded that there was no flood. It is time for Reformed Theological Seminary to concede that Bruce Waltke has a point.15 It is time for groups of evangelical amateurs to stop making sensational claims about discoveries they did not really make. And it is time for people to stop looking for Noah’s ark.
It’s not there.
2 See article in The Sun entitled “‘Noah’s Ark’ found in Turkey,” April 27, 2010. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2949640/Noahs-Ark-found-in-Turkey.html?OTC-RSS&ATTR=News#ixzz0mIvTDKNW
3 Cargill, Robert R., “no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark,” April 28, 2010 (http://robertcargill.com/2010/04/28/no-you-didnt-find-noahs-ark/); “from jason boyett – noah’s ark found! robert cargill debunks!,” April 29, 2010 (http://robertcargill.com/2010/04/29/from-jason-boyett-noahs-ark-found-robert-cargill-debunks/); “busted! turkey’s culture ministry is now ‘investigating’ noah’s ark ministries international,” April 29, 2010 (http://robertcargill.com/2010/04/29/busted-turkeys-culture-ministry-is-now-investigating-noahs-ark-ministries-international/); and “does this look like styrofoam to you?,” May 1, 2010 (http://robertcargill.com/2010/05/01/does-this-look-like-styrofoam-to-you/).
4 Kurczy, Stephen, “Chinese explorers stand by claim of Noah's Ark find in Turkey” Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 2010. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2010/0430/Chinese-explorers-stand-by-claim-of-Noah-s-Ark-find-in-Turkey
8 Cf. 2 Kings 17.
9 For instance, compare the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24 with the text of the Deir ‘Alla inscription, which was painted on the wall of a building in Deir ‘Alla Jordan and dates to around 840-760 BCE. http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Deir-Alla_Inscription,_750%E2%80%93700_BCE
10 Genesis 9:11-17.
11 U.S. Geological Survey. http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycleatmosphere.html
12 U.S. Geological Survey. http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercyclegwstorage.html
14 Origen, Commentary on John, Book 10:4, English trans. by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994). http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen-john10.html
15 See my April 9, 2010 blog post on Dr. Waltke’s departure from Reformed Theological Seminary entitled, “professor bruce waltke dismissed from evangelical seminary for accepting evolution” (http://robertcargill.com/2010/04/09/religion-profesor-bruce-waltke-dismissed-from-evangelical-seminary-for-accepting-evolution/) and my April 19, 2010 update entitled, “update on bruce waltke’s departure from reformed theological seminary” (http://robertcargill.com/2010/04/19/update-on-bruce-waltkes-departure-from-reformed-theological-seminary/).
We need this dose of authentic archeology from time to time.
I'll make this article a required reading when we begin classes in June here at the seminary.
Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary
about the great Bosphorus breech flooding.
also more just published on it in geophysical journals recently.
Thank you for an insightful and thought-provoking article...
If Noah's flood was accompanied by massive geological movements, as suggested by the phrase "the fountains of the great deep burst forth" in Genesis 7:11, then it is possible that large land masses might have been lowered or raised. There is no shortage of water on our planet, and today’s oceans may be where the floodwaters finally ended up.
It is significant that both Jesus and the Apostle Peter spoke of the Genesis flood as a real event (Matthew 24:37-39 and 2 Peter 3:5-6). If we reject their credibility on this matter, how can we be sure of their authority on any other teaching?
At length, behold! there came Our command, and the fountains of the earth gushed forth!
and i think there more than this water underneath us .
However, be it known to you and to all blind people that the decrees of the Most High translated into all the laws of nature. All the functional laws that you call reality are His Words from His infinitely intelligent Mind.
Be aware that He has omnipotency to create, recreate and desolve any law or existent entity at His Sovereign Will.
Has it not been told you how He broke few loaves of bread and fish and multiplied it. Does it not occur to you oh men of limited minds that He can presently recreate His law to achieve His Purpose. Note: God is not under the laws of nature but the laws are His creation and are all subject to Him.
What happened to cause the flood is that He spoke to the fountains of the heavens and deeps and they were broken and waters multiplied. We all are limited by His laws of nature but He is God of all creation.
(“Noah, the Flood, the Facts,” Reader’s Digest, U.S. edition, September 1977, p. 133)
Additionally, this article on Nature.com from 1998:
talks of how there could be upto 5 times more water trapped in rock below the Earth's surface as there is in the oceans.
Finally, your rebuttle does not seem to take into account geologic differences between the Earth at the time of "biblical creation" and today. In the beginning, all the water was collected in one area (a huge boon for science and the theory of Pangea, is it not?), according to Genesis 1:9, although this theory would go against the idea that ocean basins are between 100-200 millions years old.
That said, anyone who has studied carbon dating knows that the numerology is shaky at best. Some experts, according to people I know who have studied it at greater length than myself, will admit that it is only accurate up to about 30,000 years.
On a more "Christian View Of The Bible" point, it is actually a very important position to view Scripture as either all right or all wrong. The issue is not in the truth of facts and science, but of the message conveyed. If what the bible says is true is not always true, then the overarching message of Christ, what is and is not holy, and the state of man's soul apart from Christ become debatable. These things are not debatable if you are in fact a believer. If you see these things as give and take, true for some but not for others, then you have believed in a false gospel and are not following the true Christ. In such a case, you need to repent and return the true gospel that saved you, and not the gospel of man's traditions and understanding apart from God. The true, glorious use of science is to be paired with God's revelation to prove what is true. If science discovers something that contradicts God, then it is science that is incorrect, and you need to start over and make sure you are looking att hings through eyes of the gospel and not the eyes of your own understanding.
As for it being a local flood, well no kidding there are floods all over the world every year and frequently build near water, hardly a surprising thing that cultures would have stories about floods.
Of course if a omnipotent being wanted to flood the earth and then remove all the water they could, but the the question becomes why would such a being remove all evidence of a global flood, and create contrary evidence to make it look like there was no global flood. Seems like a deceptive being.
Comments such as the one below are disheartening. "That said, anyone who has studied carbon dating knows that the numerology is shaky at best," is laughable because anyone who has studied carbon dating knows that there's a range of dates in which carbon dating is effective and why. Using that as a criticism just illustrates the profound ignorance.
The problem with inerrantists is that they are required to reconcile reality and a literal interpretation of documents created hundreds of years ago; and it simply doesn't work.
The same is true with the New Testament, only in the minds of apologists would using warped logic to try to combine all of the canonical Gospels actually work. Everyone else sees that it doesn't, it is only inerrantists who believe it does and need it to work.
Today's aquifers don't even match the aquifers of 50 years ago.
ps The earth is still 70% flooded. :)
"If what the bible says is true is not always true, then the overarching message of Christ, what is and is not holy, and the state of man's soul apart from Christ become debatable."
Why? What does Jewish mythology have to do with the nature and words of Christ? I don't have to believe in one to follow the other.
"If you see these things as give and take, true for some but not for others, then you have believed in a false gospel and are not following the true Christ."
Christ never said anything about Noah's Ark or the Flood.
What you call "give and take" I call "rightly dividing the word of truth".
In addition to the objections you mentioned, assume there somehow was enough water in the air to flood the planet. The heat released when all that vapor condensed would have raised the temperature of the Earth by hundreds of degrees.
We have ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica going back hundreds of thousands of years. Noah's Flood would have melted the ice caps ... yet there is not even the slightest evidence of the ice caps being submerged 4300 years ago.
I think it's easier to read in a larger format with the footnotes & links intact, so I published it on my site, & would like to invite you all to visit.
I drafted it in August, & referenced comments by Amor Sabor, Andrew Price, Ed Thompson, DMoore, Jason, & Paul D. The more recent one by Steve Crye is covered in my paragraph about "using the assumptions of one scientific hypothesis to invalidate that of another".
The URL for my rebuttal is:
Thanks in advance for allowing me to present my interpretation of the evidence to you, & thanks to BibleInterp's editors (particularly Mark) for allowing me to cross-link! And of course, thanks to Robert Cargill for composing such a thought-provoking essay in the first place!
As a scientifically minded person I welcome your realism and please continue and address other biblical exaggerations with the same candid vigour. But I will pose a challenge to you from a rationalist standpoint. The theme of the flood story with its back to back duplicate dating periods is about precise timings. Why then did the authors confuse the issue where they said that the waters rose for 150 days yet the alleged ark came to rest on Mount Ararat before the waters had time to recede. Then later the tops of the mountains were seen. My challenge is for you is to spend some time tracing the timing details that were given in Genesis back in time beginning with the same starting date of the 17th day of the 2nd month. Bear in mind that there already was an anomaly of 2 years relative to Noah becoming a father and his son Shem becoming a father 2 years after the flood. I await your considered response to this mathematical puzzle. (And please, for all of you who readily jump to condemn this calendar puzzle as numerology I would ask you to consult the Oxford dictionary on the true meaning of the term , Numerology.
I await your considered response
Do you REALLY believe that God exists? Or perhaps you are "hedging your bets." Do you REALLY believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient? So many who proclaim themselves to be believers are actually skeptics. Wolves in sheeps clothing as the Prophet Jesus (saw) said in the Injeel.
The Bible, which the Al-Qur'an alludes to constantly, says that God created the heaven and the earth in six twenty-four hour days ("There was an evening and a morning")and then ceased. Bereshith does not say "age" (olam) it says "day" (yaum) So God had to speed up the light to reach the Earth from what appears to be billions of light years away. So what? Allah is All-Powerful.
For one who believes there is no problem with the Flood or the Box of Noah. Those who bleat in an odd inauthentic fashion are merely wearing a sheepskin, yes? Yes.
Once you combine them and study the sciences with a keen outlook on how man expands on God's gifts and God expands on man's free will, you will start to have a better understanding of where to look for evidences and where to look for guidance when evidences seem distant.
The best way to deal with this silly belief is to sit down with a Noah's Flood believer (IF you are the target of soul-saving witnessing) and reason with them using the phrase from Isaiah "Come and let us reason together". Point out to them the square footage of the Box using the dimensions given in the book of Genesis and ask how the millions of species (including dinosaurs and dinosaur sized mammals)could fit inside such a Box along with enough food and fresh water to keep them alive. (Not to mention the problems involved in getting the raptors and T-Rexes to behave in a civil, orderly, and vegetarian fashion.)
In my experience the Biblical literalist will become uncomfortable then confrontational. The arguments will include such statements as "God made the interior of the Box far larger than the exterior. With God all things are possible". Well, fine. Then why did God even command Noah to make a giant Box at all? He could have directed Noah to make a box the size of a matchbox and place all of the animals and provisions inside. Surely the sight of mammoths and dinosaurs disappearing into a tiny box would give anyone the willies and they would repent and believe God! But, why round up the animals at all when God could have zapped them all and transported them (as well as Noah and his family) into the near future and a dried cleansed Earth?
Many articles in this vein have been written demonstrating the fictional (probably allegorical) nature of this Bible story. Any Biblical literalist is hereby cordialy invited to debate with me on this topic in person. All I ask is that my round-trip travel expenses be paid. Any takers?
fissures are usually found on high hills. An outstanding example is found in Burgundy, France in the valley of the Sloane. The hill is 1030 feet high with steep sides rising above the plain. A fissure near the top of the hill is crowded with animal skeletons. No skeleton is complete. They are thrown together in a chaos, shattered and ungnawed. Bears, wolves oxen and horses are all there even though these animals do not herd together. Why are they there. Were they trying to escape rising flood waters. The scientific community knew of these fissures but most were silent, not able to offer any credible explanation. "They fell in by accident" isn't sufficient for me. As I mentioned earlier, scientists today appear to be unaware of these unusual discoveries of their predecessors. Hence statements such as “There is no evidence for a worldwide flood” can be confidently asserted. Ignorance is bliss as they say.
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