Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Monday, August 10, 2015

Problems with the Flood Story

In this article I will give several reasons why the biblical flood story does not align with the evidence from nature.

If you believe that the flood story is literally true, don't feel bad. I used to think that too. Most of us were taught it as children, and it was reinforced so strongly that it became part of our identity. Any belief that is internalised so deeply is likely to be protected, defended, and rarely questioned (at least not critically).

Let's take a more critical look at the flood story...


Cognitive Dissonance

Questioning these beliefs may feel uncomfortable for you. Pay special attention to how you feel as you come across ideas that might challenge beliefs you hold to be true. When people encounter information that conflicts with what they already believe, it causes "cognitive dissonance". The brain is capable of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time, but the cognitive dissonance that arises is uncomfortable, and the brain will eventually try to resolve it in one of four ways:
  1. Reject the new information and keep the existing information.
  2. Discard the existing information and accept the new information.
  3. Rationalise the contradiction away, and convince itself that there is in fact no contradiction.
  4. Put up with the discomfort and try to ignore the problem.
If you are reasonably self-aware, you may be able to detect when this process is occurring. This is excellent, and will help you to understand your own thought processes. Cognitive dissonance will make you more likely to reject new information that conflicts with your prior beliefs, regardless of which is true. That is far from ideal if you value truth more than what feels comfortable. When you recognise the symptoms of cognitive dissonance, it should prompt you to slow down and be more diligent in following the evidence wherever it leads, and making a commitment to accepting what is true even if it disagrees with your prior beliefs. It's difficult, but you owe it to yourself to try.

Why flood the earth?
"But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. So the Lord said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”
Genesis 6:5-7 NET
A few things stand out here:
  1. How does an all-knowing God experience regret? Wouldn't he have known well in advance that this would happen? Wasn't he all-powerful and could change it if he wanted to?
  2. Are you sure global genocide was the best solution here? If we read on in the Bible we will quickly find that this solution was extremely ineffective. People became disobedient again almost immediately after the flood. Would a super-intelligent deity be so irrational? Would a deity with perfect foresight make such an obvious mistake?
  3. Why did the animals have to die as well? What could they possibly have done to offend God?
Appeals to miracle

When you come across irreconcilable aspects of the flood story, it may be tempting to insist that God could have worked miracles to fill the gaps.

However, as soon as you allow miracles, the whole story becomes even more absurd. Why argue in favour of a natural explanation for any of it? God could have just used magic to instantly transform the world back to a pristine state with just Noah and his family in it. Why didn't he? Why didn't he do that to start with and skip the whole Adam and Eve debacle? Why go to so much bother to make the flood seem like a natural event, and then use miracles randomly throughout? To appeal to miracle just makes the whole exercise even more ridiculous than it already is.

The fossil record

The very neat ordering of the layers in the fossil record poses a huge problem for global flood apologists. It's difficult to imagine how a single flood event, no matter how catastrophic, could result in fossils being neatly sorted with more primitive fossils at the bottom, all the way up to more complex fossils at the top. Fossils appear in sedimentary rock layers and we can determine how old they are by examining when these rock layers formed, both independently using radiometric dating and also relative to other layers.

The typical creationist response to this is summarised below. I encourage you to read the entire linked article because I think it highlights just how bad the creationist arguments really are, and how little is actually explained by them.
"In general, therefore, the land animals and plants would be expected to have been caught somewhat later in the period of rising Flood waters and buried in the sediments in much the same order as that found in the geologic record, as conventionally depicted in the standard geologic column. Thus, generally speaking, sediment beds burying marine vertebrates would be overlain by beds containing fossilized amphibians, then beds with reptile fossils, and, finally, beds containing fossils of birds and mammals. This is essentially in the order: 
1. Increasing mobility, and therefore increasing ability to postpone inundation and burial; 
2. Decreasing density and other hydrodynamic factors, which would tend to promote later burial; and 
3. Increasing elevation of habitat and therefore time required for the Flood waters to rise and advance to overtake them."
Answersingenesis.org (Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages?)
NOTE: Please be aware that the AiG website has been known to use tracking cookies.

So if I understand correctly, AiG are actually suggesting that the various layers in the fossil record are the result of animals being more or less physically able to escape to higher ground while the flood-waters were rising, or otherwise the result of different animals already living at higher or lower altitudes. Apparently not a single animal was injured or sick, and not one of the juveniles was left behind. Also, remember that AiG believe that dinosaurs lived during this time as well. Yet not a single dinosaur managed to escape up to the same elevation as elephants, while all of the sloths made it just fine! Even flying dinosaurs were apparently less capable of escaping than modern birds.

If just one single fossil happened to be found in the wrong layer, evolution would need to be revised or even rewritten. Yet not one such discovery has ever been made.

The following quote is from an article that was written in response to the previous one from AiG. I recommend reading it in full as well.
"Questions abound. The creationists assume that birds are found high in the column because they could have flown above the raging Flood waters until they tired and fell in to drown. Why, then, did the flying reptiles such as Pteranodon and Ramphorynchus not do the same? Since we also find fossil clams at all levels of the sedimentary, even at the very top, are we justified in assuming that these clams must have run to the high ground, while the brachiopods didn't? What about the many nesting sites that have been found for terrestrial dinosaurs? Are we to assume that these animals, panicked by the rising flood waters and the torrential rain and fleeing for the high ground, suddenly decided to stop and dig huge numbers of nests in the Flood sediments and lay eggs, which apparently had time to hatch before the Flood engulfed them? 
Then there are the plants. How did the oak and willow trees manage to get to the top of the sediment layer along with all those mobile mammals? Did the trees run for the high ground too? The creationists have no explanation."
Noanswersingenesis.org.au (Can Noah's flood account for the geologic and fossil record?)

Disease germs

Another challenge for creationists is in explaining the survival of various diseases, which often require living hosts in order to survive.
"Many diseases can't survive in hosts other than humans. Many others can only survive in humans and in short-lived arthropod vectors. The list includes typhus, measles, smallpox, polio, gonorrhea, syphilis. For these diseases to have survived the Flood, they must all have infected one or more of the eight people aboard the Ark. 
Other animals aboard the ark must have suffered from multiple diseases, too, since there are other diseases specific to other animals, and the nonspecific diseases must have been somewhere. 
Host-specific diseases which don't kill their host generally can't survive long, since the host's immune system eliminates them. (This doesn't apply to diseases such as HIV and malaria which can hide from the immune system.) For example, measles can't last for more than a few weeks in a community of less than 250,000 because it needs nonresistant hosts to infect. Since the human population aboard the ark was somewhat less than 250,000, measles and many other infectious diseases would have gone extinct during the Flood. 
Some diseases that can affect a wide range of species would have found conditions on the Ark ideal for a plague. Avian viruses, for example, would have spread through the many birds on the ark. Other plagues would have affected the mammals and reptiles. Even these plague pathogens, though, would have died out after all their prospective hosts were either dead or resistant."
TalkOrigins (Problems with a Global Flood)

Geographical distribution

Fossils of kangaroos are only found in Australia. Living kangaroos are also only found in Australia (outside of zoos). If these fossils were caused by the flood, then creationists need to explain how the kangaroos managed to hop all the way from Australia to the ark before the flood, and then all the way back again after the flood.
"One accusation thrown at biblical creationists is that kangaroos could not have hopped to Australia, because there are no fossils of kangaroos on the way. But the expectation of such fossils is a presuppositional error. Such an expectation is predicated on the assumption that fossils form gradually and inevitably from animal populations. In fact, fossilization is by no means inevitable. It usually requires sudden, rapid burial. Otherwise the bones would decompose before permineralization.
...
...
Many of them could have floated on vast floating logs, left-overs from the massive pre-Flood forests that were ripped up during the Flood and likely remained afloat for many decades on the world’s oceans, transported by world currents. Others could later have been taken by people.... A third explanation of possible later migration is that animals could have crossed land bridges."
Answersingenesis (How Did Animals Spread All Over the World from Where the Ark Landed?)

Even if we give AiG the benefit of the doubt with respect to kangaroos and the rarity of fossilisation events, the same argument regarding geographical distribution applies to many more species than just kangaroos. For example, both Koalas and Emus are also unique to Australia. Same issue applies. How did Koalas migrate all the way back to Australia? They only eat Eucalyptus leaves...

Also, no land bridge between Asia and Australia has ever been discovered.

Once again the simplistic and half-baked creationist answer just doesn't cut it.

Local flood?

Some apologists, including those who accept evolution, claim that the flood described in Genesis 6 was a local flood, and thus all of the usual arguments against a global flood do not apply.

If that's the case, the early verses of Genesis 6 don't really add up. The whole premise of the story is that God is offended by mankind, and wants to wipe out the entire population. If he only intended to wipe out a limited area, then verse 6 and 7 don't make sense (these verses are quoted at the top of this article).

Again, if the flood was only local, what was the point of the rainbow?
"I confirm my covenant with you: Never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
Genesis 9:11 NET 

"Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things."
Genesis 9:14-15 NET
We've seen several local floods since then, including floods that have killed animals and people, so this is either a broken promise or I've misinterpreted it.

Of course, we know today that rainbows are the product of sunlight refracting off water droplets in the sky, and are a natural phenomenon. But don't let the facts get in the way of a good myth.

Conclusion

I've only listed a few problems with the flood story. There are a lot more! Click here for a fairly good list.

I hope you will continue to look into all of the various aspects raised in the articles I linked to. I honestly feel that the creationist answers given to many of the criticisms raised against the flood story are inadequate and overly simplistic.

In contrast, the scientific view is clear, logical, and consistent with all of the evidence. Many scientists have contributed to our understanding of the history of the earth, many of whom were and are committed Christians. It therefore makes no sense to claim that evolution is a conspiracy between scientists to disprove the Bible. Rather, the scientific endeavour is simply to understand what nature reveals to us, and to draw conclusions from the evidence. If the evidence disagrees with our prior beliefs, we should update our beliefs, and not blindly reject the evidence.

One last point that's worth noting is that there may well be a historical core behind the flood story. But we can say with certainty that the biblical account is not an accurate one. Far from it.

For more on the flood story, see an earlier article I wrote that looks at it from a textual perspective.

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