O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
"Science and the Sacred" is pleased to feature essays from various guest voices in the science-and-religion dialogue. Today's
entry was written by Paul Seely. Paul Seely is likely well known to
serious students of the intersection of the OT and the ANE. He has
written numerous pieces in several venues, including Westminster Theological Journal and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formerly Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation).
He has also delivered numerous papers at the annual meetings of the
American Scientific Affiliation. His lifelong area of focus is Genesis
1-11. The book Inerrant Wisdom was published in 1989 through the non-profit organization he founded, Evangelical Reform, Inc.
Data from various scientific disciplines provides a clear indication that Noah’s Flood did not cover the globe of the earth. Before considering that data, however, we must first determine a rough
earliest probable date for the Flood. If the Flood is an actual
historical event, it must touch down in the empirical data of history
somewhere. We can make a rough approximation of its date from the two
genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. At one end is Adam, whose culture is
Neolithic and therefore can be dated no earlier than around 9,000 or
10,000 B.C. At the other end is Abraham who can be dated to
approximately 2000 B.C. In both genealogies the Flood occurs in the
middle of these two ends, and therefore roughly at 5500 or 6000 B.C. An
even clearer indication of the Flood’s date is implied by the statement
that shortly after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard. This implies the
growing of domesticated grapes, which do not show up in the
archaeological record until c. 4000 B.C.1 The biblical Flood is therefore probably not earlier than 4000 or maybe 5000 B.C.2
The first piece of evidence is geological. Christian geologists have given various scientific reasons why the Flood was not global.3 I will mention just one. From 9000 B.C. to the present, the only rocks in northern Mesopotamia which were made by rivers or oceans are along
the river banks. This indicates that the only flooding which has
affected northern Mesopotamia in the last 11,000 years is from the
overflow of rivers.4
The second line of evidence is from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 ice core. The very close agreement of three independent, seasonally based, non-radiometric indicators of annual layers makes the age of the ice
sheet on Greenland indisputably 11,000 years old, and the agreement of
two of those indicators adds another 100,000 years. Close examination
shows that the ice core is composed of fresh water from top to bottom.
There is not a single layer of ice in it or in the ground under it
composed of seawater nor any silt deposits such as a flood would leave.
Not a single layer gives evidence of having melted and refrozen. This
means no ocean water has ever stood over it or under it. Consequently,
this ice core falsifies the idea that there was a global flood in the
time of Noah.5
We can also consult archaeology. Before we do, however, we must briefly point out that carbon-14 dating has been fundamentally validated by comparison with other known dates. It fundamentally agrees
with the tree ring record of American bristlecone pine going back to
6400 B.C. and with the tree ring record of European oak going back to
8480 B.C.6 The carbon-14 dates on these two different
sequences rise as the number of tree rings rise and are in such very
close agreement with each other that they convinced Gerald Aardsma,
Ph.D. specializing in carbon dating, and a teacher at the Institute for
Creation Research for 6 years, that Carbon-14 dating is reliable back
to c. 9300 B.C.7
With the validity of C-14 dating established back to at least c. 9000 B.C., we can now ask, "Is there any archaeological evidence for a Flood in the Near East subsequent to 4000 or 5000 B.C.?" The short
answer is that the only evidence of serious flooding in the Near East
during that time period is from riverine floods.
When tells in the Near East which date from 5000 to the time of Abraham are examined, no evidence of a global flood is found. In fact, overlapping
layers of occupation, one on top of the other, often with the remains
of mud-brick houses in place, are found intact spanning the entire
period. No matter what specific date one might put on the flood after
5000 B.C., there were sites in the Near East at that date where people
lived and remained undisturbed by any serious flood. In other words,
not only is there no evidence of a flood that covered the Near East,
there is archaeological evidence that no flood covered the Near East between 5000 and the time of Abraham.
In fact there are continuous cultural sequences which overlap each other from 9500 to 3000 B.C. and down into the times of the patriarchs and later.8
The empirical data of geology, glaciology, and archaeology, as interpreted by virtually all scientists qualified in these areas of study, clearly testify that no flood covered the entire globe or even the entire Near East at any time in the last 11,000 years.
The biblical flood story is likely based on more local events, which we will explore in my next post.
1. Jane M. Renfrew, “Vegetables in the Ancient Near East Diet,” CANE 1:192; Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of Plants in the Old World (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 134
2. For more details see Paul H. Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) 291-293.
3. Glenn Morton, “Why the Flood was not Global,” http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gflood.htm; Donald C. Boardman, “Did Noah’s Flood Cover the entire World, No,” in Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990) 210-229. Wayne Ault, "Flood," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 2:556-563; Davis Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977) 176-210.
4. Personal communication from Glenn Morton verified by geological maps.
5. Paul H. Seely, “The GISP2 Ice Core: Ultimate Proof that Noah’s Flood was not Global,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55 (2003) 252-60, available at http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/2003/PSCF12-03Seely.pdf.
6. M. Spurk, M. Friedrich, J. Hofmann, S. Remmele, B.Frenzel, H. H. Leuschner, and B. Kromer, "Revisions and Extension of the Hohenheim Oak and Pine Chronologies: New Evidence About the Timing of the Younger Dryas/Preboreal Transition," Radiocarbon 40 (1998) 1107- 1116.
7. Gerald Aardsma, "Radiocarbon, Dendrochronology and the Date of the Flood," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism (ed. Robert E. Walsh and Chris L. Brooks; Pittsburgh, PA: The Fellowship, 1990) 1-10; Gerald Aardsma, "Tree-ring dating and multiple
ring growth per year," Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 29
(March 1993) 184-189.
8. The two sites, Abu-Hureyra in Syria and Mehrgarh in Pakistan, by themselves, show continuous overlapping occupation from 9500 to 3000 B.C. Andres M. T. Moore, G. C. Hillman, and A. J. Legge, Village on the Euphrates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 491-93; Frank R. Allchin and Bridget Allchin, “Prehistory and the Harrapan Era,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India (ed. Francis Robinson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 71; Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India: An Archaeological History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 126-36.
For another interesting discussion of science and faith, head over to "Jesus Creed" for their discussion of the question: "What effect does your approach to science have on your ability to be a missional witness in your communities? Will people set foot in the door and feel welcome?"
There are so many close similarities between the biblical Flood account and the Mesopotamian accounts that conservative scholars like Alexander Heidel, Merril Unger, Donald Wiseman, John Walton and others have concluded that the biblical and Mesopotamian flood accounts go back to a common tradition about the same flood.The Biblical account is a statement by eyewitnesses of the flood (Noah's sons). Wiseman demonstrates this, and this is the only reasonable conclusion from Radday's statistical linguistics. The Mesopotamian accounts all claim to be from an eyewitness (the Sumerian Noah, Ziusudra) passed down for several generations as an oral tradition.
So, there is an objective basis for an actual biblical Flood. Why then do I title this post “Barely Local?” The answer is that neither the flood of 2900 B.C. nor any other actual local flood, such as the Black Sea flood, nor the melting of ice caps at various historical points closely fits the biblical description. Local flood theories do not fit the biblical account with regard to secondary issues such as lasting one year and destroying all the birds (even in a local area). More importantly, no local flood theory agrees with the biblical account at the most critical points: landing the ark in the Ararat mountains, covering the entire Near East (Genesis 9:19, “all the earth” = Genesis 10), establishing Noah as a new Adam, i.e., as a new beginning of the human race6, and dismantling the universe by reversing creation days two and three.is not a proper understanding of the biblical text. It should be noted that Scripture never refers to Noah as a new Adam, a point that should be obvious, but apparently needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.