Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The flood and the flat-earth

One of the glaring incongruities in reading standard attacks on Noah’s flood is the totally disconnect between the view of the world which critics ascribe to the narrator, and the view of the world which critics use as their frame of reference in attacking the flood account.

On the one hand, critics tell us that the narrator subscribed to a triple-decker cosmography. On this model, the earth was flat. The “earth” comprised a single landmass or supercontinent, with mountains at the “corners” or “ends” of the “earth” to support the sky. The sky was a solid dome with sluice gates allowing the cosmic sea to precipitate rain and snow. Under and around the supercontinent was the primeval sea.

When, however, critics attack the coherence of the flood account, they pose objections like this: How did all the animals cross natural barriers to reach the ark? And how did they disperse? How could the ark accommodate so many species? How could animals adapted to very different climates and diets survive on the ark? How much water would it take to submerge Mount Everest? What would be the rate of precipitation to generate so much water? What would be the rate of runoff for the floodwaters to subside?

But an obvious problem with this whole line of attack is the way in which these critics using the wrong model of the world to attack the flood account. Notice the systemic failure to use a triple-decker cosmography as the point of reference when disputing the logistics of the flood. Yet the same critic assures us that the prescientific narrator was operating with a triple-decker cosmography.

Well, assuming for the sake of argument that this is the case, then the stock objections miss the mark. Indeed, we end up with two mutually exclusive arguments.

The critic needs to ask what natural barriers the animals had to cross on a flat-earth with a single landmass to reach the ark as well as disperse. Needs to ask the number of “species” which occupied this supercontinent. Needs to ask the number of ecological zones on this supercontinent. Needs to ask the size of the flat-earth. How much rainwater would it take to submerge the flat-earth?

Is the flood account internally coherent given the “primitive” cosmography which the critics ascribe to the narrator? Isn’t that the proper way to direct the question?

Critics need to get their stories straight. If they are going to attribute a triple-decker cosmography to Genesis 1, then that also has to be the frame of reference for Gen 6-9.

It doesn’t speak too highly of their intelligence when critics raise self-contradictory objections to Gen 1-9. For one set of objections cancels out the other set of objections.


  1. Are the objections not being made against 'modern creationist' interpretations of the flood, most of which hold to a modern cosmology?

  2. That's one of the targets. However, critics target the flood account itself, and not simply the flood account as filtered through creation science/flood geology.

    And since YECs don't subscribe to a triple-decker universe, critics need to distinguish between the physical consequences of each model.

  3. I think you have misunderstood the nature of these two arguments. I am not arguing in favor of these ideas but just to clarify in order to better deal with them.

    The first, is describing how the author could have believed in a legendary worldwide flood because the author was working from an wildly incorrect understanding of the order of the universe.

    The second, is arguing that our more informed understanding of the universe makes it clear that the descriptions given of the flood in Genesis are not possible.

    These are two arguments from people who believe that the flood account in Genesis is unreliable. One is an attack on the literary credibility and the other is an attack on the physical probability.

    The second argument is not nullified by the first. They might go something like this: "So obviously the author had an incorrect understanding of the universe and as such his story is scientifically flawed. Nonetheless, even if one were to concede that the author's interpretation of HOW the events happened does not remove the possibility that the events actually happened, one could argue that there are a number of serious physical obstacles that would need to be overcome in order to collect all of those animals and place them in a single ark."

  4. Scott,

    You’re simply committing the same confusion. To begin with, there are generally two types of people who attack the flood account.

    On the one hand you have apostates who used to be YECs. Babinski is a case in point.

    But even though they lost their faith in the Bible, they continue to interpret the Bible the same way they did back in their YEC days.

    Then you have critics who were never Christian. They don’t consult scholarly commentaries on the Bible. Since they’ve already made up their mind that Scripture is nonsense, they don’t invest time and money in the standard exegetical literature.

    Instead, they get their information filtered through an easy target like Ken Ham. They take all his interpretations for granted, then proceed to expatiate on the unscientific consequences of his interpretation–which they equate with the meaning of Gen 6-9.

    Since, moreover, both groups tend to get their anti-Christian arguments from secondary sources, they pick up other stock objections along the way, like the triple-decker universe. That’s just one more item on their miscellaneous stockpile.

    They don’t stop to consider how, if at all, these random objections go together. They just want to throw whatever is handy at the Bible.

    But, in principle, there are two separate questions:

    i) Is the flood account coherent on its own terms? Given the narrator’s view of the world, are those events possible within the operating assumptions of the narrative?

    ii) Does the narrator’s view of the world cohere with what we “really” know about the world?

    But critics of the flood account don’t distinguish those issues. Instead, they simply act as if the flood account is internally consistent given what “we” know is possible.

    That, however, is fundamentally confused. And it’s even more confused when the same critics imputed a triple-decker cosmography to the narrator.

    What the critics really do is to take their own view of the world, map that back onto Gen 6-9, then draw attention to the mismatch–as if the narrator contradicted himself at various points.

    They don’t begin with the “author’s interpretation of how events happened.” Rather, they begin with their own conception of the world, superimpose that on the flood account, then “disprove” the flood account.

  5. Steve,

    I'm not sure how a skeptic is losing if the parameters of the Flood actually only make sense in terms of a false cosmology. Doesn't that just add even more fodder to the argument that the Bible teaches a false cosmology?


  6. The sceptic's objections are mutually contradictory. So he has to choose one objection or another. It's hardly asking too much that a critic be logically consistent.

  7. Steve,

    There are some skeptical approaches that I don't appreciate on these issues. For instance, it is a very common objection that goes, "Where did all the water come from and where did it go?" If the Bible is painting a vastly different picture of the pre-Flood world that happens to account for where the water came from and if there are some verses (from Psalm 104, I think) that speak of God raising the mountains after the Flood, and since 75% of the earth is covered in water today, it's not hard to imagine that everything would be covered if you mushed all the land down.

    And other cliche' skeptical objection to the logistics of the Bible: there's "where did Cain get his wife?" even though clearly there's a verse that says Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, there was plenty of incest in Genesis, and the commandments against it didn't come till later. Obviously those kinds of skeptical objections are idiotic. They may touch on other actual problems that could be pursued, but obviously we have to understand the actual claims being made if we want to appropriately criticize them.

    But that doesn't appear to be what you are arguing here. You're basically saying the Bible can't be wrong in more than one way. Otherwise, skeptics are being inconsistent with themselves. And that's ridiculous. The Bible could teach a false cosmology in addition to giving an account of a world-wide geological event which never occurred. This is not a difficult concept and I'm really surprised that you think it is. Or at least, you explained yourself really horribly in the post.



    "You're basically saying the Bible can't be wrong in more than one way."

    Either you lack reading proficiency or your atheism has blinded you.

    "Otherwise, skeptics are being inconsistent with themselves."

    I stated exactly how they are self-contradictory.

    "And that's ridiculous. The Bible could teach a false cosmology in addition to giving an account of a world-wide geological event which never occurred."

    "World-wide" in reference to what? In reference to modern cosmography, or to the triple-decker cosmology which unbelievers impute to Scripture? That's for illustrating your intellectual confusion.

    "This is not a difficult concept and I'm really surprised that you think it is. Or at least, you explained yourself really horribly in the post."

    An alternative explanation is that I was perfectly clear, but your intellectual limitations impede your level of comprehension.

  9. ""World-wide" in reference to what? In reference to modern cosmography, or to the triple-decker cosmology which unbelievers impute to Scripture?"

    Bible believers tend to disagree with both points and so it is a more practical approach to treat them as separate issues.


  10. YECs and OECs both deal with each issue (Gen 1 as well as Gen 6-9).

  11. I'm not contesting that they have what they think is a defense of each issue. That's a red herring. I'm contesting that there isn't anything incoherent about tackling both issues from a skeptical perspective.