The Bible in Genesis chapters six through eight describes a great flood of apparently
worldwide scope. Did this flood actually happen? Is the story just a myth, or
perhaps less argumentatively, is it just a parable about the nature of man?
These questions will be considered in this chapter. It might be a good idea to read the
account in Genesis before continuing this chapter. To sum it up, a few quotes
from Genesis 7:7-23 are provided which will make the point about the nature
of this flood as described in the Bible.
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth….The waters rose and covered
the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits*… Everything on dry land
that had the breath of life in its nostrils died…Only Noah was left, and those
with him on the ark.
*A cubit is about eighteen inches.
A few questions present themselves immediately. When did this flood happen (if
it happened)? What does the mountains being covered by twenty feet of water
mean? Does it mean a total depth of twenty feet of rain or literally the highest
mountaintop was twenty feet under? What about ?Everything on dry land? dying? Does
that mean all species had at least some members perish in this flood, or does
it mean every member of every species (except those in the ark) was killed?
Is there any evidence this flood actually happened?
A number of explanations of the Biblical account have been offered. The skeptic
would argue that this is just another of the myths in the Bible?further proof
that the Bible was written by a scientifically ignorant people. They would scoff
at the idea of God speaking to Noah, and laugh at the idea of him building such
a huge boat and just waiting there for all these animals to show up at his door.
If it were not for the overwhelming evidence for the inspiration of the Bible,
some already presented here, the skeptic would have a very good point to make.
This is clearly something that does not happen every day. Animals suddenly traveling
great distances and voluntarily entering a boat would be uncharacteristic to
say the least. In fact it would be downright miraculous. Surely, however, the evidence
of the divine origin of the Bible is sufficient to encourage one to look more
At the other extreme, some in the creationist?s camp would claim not only that
the flood described in Genesis happened: they would claim that this flood would
explain all the sedimentary deposits on the earth. In other words, creationists
would use the flood to explain the worldwide sedimentary rock layers; on average
thousands of feet deep. This claim has been mentioned previously. The creationists
would have us believe that in this one huge, world-wide turbulent flood, the
trilobites by some luck always settled out below the amphibians, which somehow managed
to consistently settle below the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs below the great
mammals, all in one great cataclysmic event, producing sedimentary deposits
as much as 80,000 feet deep. No more need be said about this.
?Others have proposed naturalistic but pseudo-scientific explanations of the
flood. One such attempt is called the ?canopy? theory. This theory involves
the claim that the water which fell to the earth in the flood was held in the
atmosphere of the earth prior to the deluge.? According to this theory, once Noah
and his family entered the ark, the entire water canopy fell to earth over a
forty-day period, causing the flood. There is no natural explanation for how
all this water could be held up in the atmosphere.? It also does not explain where
the water went afterward. Did it evaporate back into the canopy? If so, why
is it no longer in the sky? The theory makes no logical sense at all as a ?natural?
Still others, seeking a quasi-natural explanation of the flood have proposed
the ?local flood? theory. They claim that somehow the flood affected only the
immediate area of Mesopotamia. According to this model, all life in Mesopotamia
was wiped out, but the rest of the earth was relatively unaffected. Somehow the
water piled up over this one region without spilling over to neighboring regions.
There is precedent for the New Testament writers using the phrase ?all over
the world? to refer to events which even the speaker knew did not literally affect
the whole world. For example, this phrase is used in Acts 24:5 and other places.
Obviously the description in Acts does not cover people in North or South America.
Even as the apostle Paul spoke in Acts 24, he must have been aware that the gospel
had not yet reached such little known and distant places as India and beyond.
Apparently the phrase ?the whole world? could be used idiomatically in the Bible.
Therefore the local flood theory is not totally beyond being considered.
However, if one looks at what is described in Genesis chapters six and seven,
they find a flood described which is not only world-wide, but one which lasts
for hundreds of days. There could be no scientific explanation for water piling
up presumably hundreds of feet for months on end in Mesopotamia without gravity causing
the water to subside, unless of course the water covered the globe. The local
flood would be just as miraculous as a worldwide flood, and there is no evidence
for it, so why take the idea seriously?
These explanations are weak attempts to make the flood ?scientific?. Let
it be put simply: if the flood described in Genesis occurred, it was nothing
short of a miracle. The flood cannot be explained by science any more than the
resurrection of Jesus from the dead or his predicted return to judge the earth by
fire. As is written in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:6-7),
?By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same
word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the
day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
There is no conceivable scientific explanation for the flood, any more than
there will be for the earth?s destruction by fire. These are acts of an omnipotent
God in response to the condition of men.
?According to the Bible, the flood occurred, not because of some natural law,
but because of man?s sin. It is stated in Genesis 6:6-8 that ?The Lord was grieved
that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.? There
is some evidence for the flood having occurred, as will be shown. In fact, if the
flood occurred, it seems reasonable to expect that some remnant sign would remain.
These signs will be described, but let it be remembered that although there
is some tantalizing evidence to support the idea that a world-wide flood did indeed
occur in the distant past, ultimately belief in the Genesis account of that
flood is based on faith in the Bible. Many people are convinced that there is
a day of judgement in store for all, as described in the Bible. One of the reasons
to believe in a future day of judgement is that God has already judged the earth
Belief in the flood, then, is ultimately based on faith, not on science. Nevertheless,
it might be worthwhile considering the evidence for this worldwide flood.
?First, consider what physical signs would be left behind if the flood did indeed
occur. If the Genesis flood occurred, then one can assume that the water rose
to great levels over the course of forty days. Think carefully what the physical
evidence would be. Pr
esumably there would have been considerable erosion. On the
other hand, once the water covered a particular area, the erosion would stop,
as water would no longer be flowing downhill. Also, there would be a significant
amount of mud left behind, especially in lower-lying areas.
?The question is whether this flood would leave unmistakable signs thousands
of years later. The flood described in Genesis would cause erosion, but in most
cases, no more erosion than might normally have occurred in a few years or at
most a few hundred years in any one place. Mud layers would be left behind, but
no more than a few feet or at most a few tens of feet. After all, the material
loosened by a flood?even a massive one?would be much of the topsoil of the earth
as well as some larger loose material which could be redistributed. There is not
enough topsoil available to leave hundreds of feet anywhere. So much for the
creationist claim that the thousands of feet of sedimentary layers are due to
?In point of fact, if one looked for signs of a world-wide flood which presumably
occurred thousands of years ago it is not clear that any sign would be left
behind about which one could say: "Aha! There is solid proof that the flood
described in Genesis occurred."
Thinking carefully about the nature of the flood described in the Bible leads
one to conclude that there would be no clear-cut physical evidence that the
flood occurred, assuming that God both miraculously produced and later miraculously
cleared away the water. So what evidence is there that this flood actually occurred?
One evidence for a worldwide flood is in the records of cultures across the
globe. Practically every ancient culture has a record of a great flood. Cultures
with a flood story include the Hindus, the native cultures of Burma and of New
Guinea, the aborigines of Australia, as well as the inhabitants of New Zealand. Also,
there are records or stories of a great flood among the Incas and the Aztecs
as well as a large number of tribes in North America. There are also flood accounts
from Greece, from the Babylonians, the Japanese and the Sumerians. The Sumerians,
one of the most ancient of all cultures, dated their dynasties from before ?the
flood? and after ?the flood.? In fact, when Sir Leonard Wooley excavated the
ancient Sumerian city of Ur, he found an eight foot thick layer of mud and debris
at the bottom of the city, below which flints and other relics of the stone-age
?The list could continue. In the majority of ancient cultures, on every inhabited
continent, this story can be found. Interestingly, the stories are almost universally
of a world-wide flood, most recording a single person or family surviving by
either building a boat or going to the highest mountain peak. Theologians have
claimed that the Genesis account has been borrowed from the Babylonian or Sumerian
flood story. Would they claim that the Aztecs and the aborigines in Australia
borrowed their stories as well?
?What is the source of all these stories?? They seem to have so much in common,
yet many of them originated in divergent cultures in parts of the world with
no known contact It is not unreasonable to assume that they are a record of
an actual event in the remote past. Not unreasonable, that is, if one is willing
to accept that a miraculous event, one which violates the laws of nature, can
occur. No other great planet-wide event of the past left such an indelible mark
as to be recorded in cultural histories across the world.
There is another piece of evidence worth mentioning. Although the flood may
not have left an unambiguous sign on dry land, there is evidence of a dramatic
drop in salinity in the ocean in the not-too-distant past. Geologists drilling
core samples on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the late sixties
and early seventies made a surprising discovery. When analyzing the oxygen isotope
ratios in the discarded shells of planktonic foraminifera in these cores, they
found that there was a sudden and dramatic lowering in the salinity of the Gulf
of Mexico about 11,600 years ago, followed by a gradual increase in salinity
to more normal levels. In the words of Cesare Emiliani, one of the geologists
who studied the samples:
We know this, because the oxygen isotope ratios of the foraminifera shells show
a marked, temporary decrease in the salinity of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico,
it clearly shows there was a major period of flooding from 12,000 to 10,000
years ago. There is no question that there was a flood, and there is also no
question that there was a universal flood.
Emiliani is one of a number of scientist who studied these samples. Among them
are James Kennett of the University of Rhode Island and Nicholas Shackleton
of Cambridge University. By the way, Emiliani and the others do not conclude
that this flood was the flood recorded in the Bible, but their findings are very
There are a few questions the thinking skeptic will raise. It would be a good
idea to anticipate those questions. The flood, according to the account in Genesis,
wiped out all people except Noah and his family. How then, the skeptic might
ask, did this story survive in all these ancient cultures? How did the ancient
languages, cultures and even racial features in various parts of the world survive?
It is really hard to answer this question because it involves speculation. Perhaps
this flood affected the whole world?every nation and all species, but did not
actually, literally wipe out every one in every land. Conjecture about an event
in the distant past is obviously difficult.
?Along these lines, the most literal reading of the Genesis account of the flood
implies that members of every one of the millions of species on the earth was
on the ark. The skeptic might legitimately ask whether Noah sailed past Australia
to drop off the kangaroos, koalas and duck-billed platypuses, since they clearly
could not survive hopping or waddling back to Australia. Unfortunately, there
is no ready and convincing answer for these questions. Certainly God could miraculously
recreate these species. Again, the flood could have been universal, but not literally
complete in wiping out every single member of every species. It is simply impossible
to be sure about these things. The wise person would probably keep an open mind
and avoid being dogmatic concerning questions left open in the Bible.
It is worth pointing out that there have been numerous reports of expeditions
to the area around Mount Ararat finding remnants of the ark. Until conclusive
evidence is brought back that this discovery is genuine, it would be a good
idea to be skeptical about these reports. Although the idea of finding direct
archaeological evidence of Noah?s ark is very tantalizing, history would tell
us that it is best to withhold judgement for now. For a summary of the evidence
supporting this discovery, see the book by Brown mentioned previously.
In conclusion, some things about the flood are clear and some are not. First,
the Bible, with all its marks of inspiration, records a universal flood. The
inspired writers of the New Testament mention the flood as a matter of historical
fact. Second, there is a nearly universal record across the world of a great flood,
with features remarkably similar to those described in the Bible. Third, there
is also some evidence from geology that a worldwid
e flood did indeed happen.
It will never be possible to clear up every question which might be asked about
this flood, because it happened in the distant past, but the Bible believer
can be confident that the flood happened. This flood serves as God?s advance
notice that he will return to judge the world.
By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same
word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the
day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:6,7)
 A more recent theory along these general lines is the ?Hydroplate Theory.?
This is an interesting theory, which involves the floodwaters being stored in
giant underground reservoirs, which are suddenly released in a cataclysmic event,
which brought on the flood. However, in the opinion of the author, it falls
in the same category as the others. A well-written description of this theory
can be found in Walt Brown, In the Beginning (Center for Scientific Creation,
Phoenix, 1995, www.creationscience.com).
 Cesare Emiliani of the University of Miami, quoted in Reader?s Digest, September
1977, p 133.