Friday, September 12, 2008

The rivers of Eden


“At the risk of stating the obvious, wouldn't a worldwide Flood eradicate all traces of these four antediluvian rivers? Such a catastrophe would've utterly rearranged the topology of the earth, I think.”

I don’t know that a global flood would eradicate all trace of preexisting rivers. Your statement contains a number of unspoken assumptions which we’d have to explore.

As you know, rivers are, themselves, a major source of flooding. In river valleys, the rivers often overflow their banks during the snowmelt, or due to heavy rain upstream, and flood the surrounding land. They then revert. Parts of Bible history are, themselves, situated on floodplains like Mesopotamia and the Nile River valley. Riverine flooding doesn’t obliterate the rivers which are the medium of such flooding.

i) Presumably you think a global flood, due to its great scale, would obliterate preexisting rivers. Are you attributing that to diluvial erosion?

If so, I think that would depend, in part, on the flood mechanism or drainage mechanism we postulate, as well as the rate of inundation or drainage.

As you know, the Bible cites two flood mechanisms: rain and the “fountains of the deep.” The latter expression is considered to be “poetic,” so we have to speculate on what is literally in view.

Does torrential rain obliterate rivers? Not in my experience. Also, once the land is submerged to a certain depth, isn’t there a difference between the water action at or near the surface and the water action near the riverbed?

What about the “fountains of the deep.” Doesn’t that suggest coastal flooding? Wouldn’t that involve a more gentle and gradual action? Does rising water have the same erosive power as running water?

I’d add that some rivers are tidal rivers. Because they feed into the sea, the sea level affects the river level. High tide raises the river level as seawater backs up into the river channel.

Drainage can obviously be erosive, but that also depends on the rate of runoff. And, of course, rivers are both natural flood mechanisms as well as natural drainage mechanisms.

Gen 1:9 suggest orogeny. The dry land was formed by rising out of the sea. Hills and mountains form natural barriers to flooding. God could flood the earth by reversing the process. Lowering the mountain passes. Or breaching them—like a breach in a dike or a dam.

How much water is needed to inundate the earth would, of course, depend on how high above sea level the high ground lies. There are two ways of flooding the earth. Raising the sea level or lowering the high ground.

It doesn’t take much water to inundate a river valley or flood plain since the dry land is low-lying. The Bible doesn’t give us much information, so many scenarios are possible.

ii) Or were you suggesting that the pressure of the water at extreme depths would obliterate the preexisting riverbanks?

If so, this assumes that the floodwaters were extremely deep. As I’ve just suggested, that isn’t the only alternative—even for a global flood.

Also, we’ve all seen pictures of (or read about) seabeds where, despite the immense pressures, the ocean floor isn’t flattened out like a steamroller. Indeed, some rather delicate looking creatures survive down there.

Likewise, does standing water have the same erosive power as running water?

I’m not a hydrologist or geologist, so I can’t give you expert answers. I’m just suggesting some of the variables that you’d need to factor into your answer.

“I understand that there is some disagreement among scholars regarding whether the Noahic flood was global or local, but it seems ridiculous to have Noah spend 120 years building an ark to avoid a flood he could simply walk away from.”

i) Scholars disagree on whether the 120-year figure has reference to the interval between the divine warning and its execution or else a general lowering of the human lifespan.

ii) It’s also easy for us to forget that the ark, while functional, is not a practical necessity.

a) For one thing, if God can miraculously spare Daniel’s friends from incinerating heat, or sustain Jonah in the belly of the “whale,” then he doesn’t need an ark to preserve Noah and his family—or a variety of fauna.

In fact, God often does things which are not strictly necessary to make a point. Consider the rigmarole of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. God could have liberated the Israelites by a far more efficient means.

But he was using very dramatic methods to score symbolic points. To humiliate the cult of Pharaoh. To ridicule Egyptian mythology.

Yes, in the case of local flood, Noah would be able escape if God simply told him that on such-and-such a date, he was going to inundate the area. But that wouldn’t illustrate the principle of divine deliverance.

b) In addition, the purpose of the ark is more than merely utilitarian. It’s a symbolic craft. A floating temple. A microcosm of the cosmic temple. As one scholar explains:

“What is now to be observed is that the design of the ark suggests that it to was intended to be a symbolic representation of God’s kingdom in this cosmic house form. For the ark, however, seaworthy, was fashioned like a house rather than like a sailing vessel. All the features mentioned in the description of the ark belong to the architecture of a house: the three stories, the door, the window. More specifically, these architectural features of the ark match up with features in creation’s cosmic house as that it figuratively envisaged in various biblical passages, including the flood narrative itself.”

“The three stories of the ark correspond to the three stories of the world conceptualized as divided into the heaven above, the earth beneath, and the sphere under the earth, associated especially with the waters (cf. e.g., Exod 20:4; Deut 4:16ff.; Rom 1:23). Possibly the idea of three such zones is reinforced by the animal lists which classify the creatures in the ark as birds of the heaven, cattle and beasts of the earth, and the creeping things of the ground (Gen 6:7,20; 7:23; 8:17; cf. 7:14,21; 8:19). The third category, the creeping things, might have special reference here to burrowing creatures whose subterranean world would then have been substituted for the sphere of the waters under the earth as the lowest level of the ark-cosmos. Or does the narrative intend the correspondence of the first story of the ark to the waters under the earth to be suggested simply by the fact that this lowest part of the ark was actually submerged under the waters of the flood?”

"Clearly, the window of the ark is the counterpart to ‘the window of heaven,’ referred to in this very narrative (7:11; 8:2). Appropriately, the window area is located along the top of the ark, as part of the upper (heavenly) story. One is naturally led then to compare the door of the ark with the door that shuts up the depths of the sea, holding back its proud waves. (For this cosmological imagery see Job 38:8-11.) Precisely such a restraining of the mighty surge of waters was the function of the door of the ark, once the Lord had secured it about the occupants of the ark at the outset of the deluge. Together, the window and door of the ark mirrored the two cosmic sources of the floodwaters, the window of heaven, opened to unleash the torrents of the waters above the earth, and the door of the deep, unbarred to let the waters beneath the earth break loose.”

“Another indication of the cosmic house symbolism of the ark is that it is God himself who reveals its design. Elsewhere when God provides an architectural plan it is for his sanctuary-house, whether the tabernacle or temple (Exod 25:ff. 1 Chron 28:19; Heb 9:5; cf. Ezk 40ff.; Rev 21:10ff.). As the architect of the original creation, who alone comprehends its structure in all its vast dimensions (cf. Job 38), God alone can disclose the pattern for these microcosmic models,” M. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 225-27.

So even if the flood was a local flood, you could still have an ark like Noah’s ark—for emblematic reasons.

“With regard to tracing the ancient names, isn't it reasonable to assume that Noah's descendants may have named features of the post-Flood landscape after those destroyed by the Flood?”

i) Yes, it’s possible to name new places by reusing old place names. When Englishmen colonized parts of North America, they named some of the towns they founded after some of the towns they left behind. But that’s a case of using the same names for different landmarks. I don’t see how that fits the context of Gen 2:10-14.

The primeval rivers are part of the antediluvian landscape. That’s the address of Eden.

Yet the narrator is writing long after the flood. He’s using names for landmarks which his audience would recognize. Telling them where Eden was located.

Doesn’t that imply continuity between the status quo ante and the status quo quem? It’s not using old names for a new location. It’s naming an old location, citing the original landmarks as coordinates.

ii) Moreover, Mesopotamia is a natural flood plain. So a reader who’s acquainted with Mesopotamia might well associate the flood with local conditions. The Tigris and Euphrates (among others) are indigenous flood mechanisms.

iii) Furthermore, that would also explain why the ark came to rest in the same region (Gen 8:4). The waters receded in the same general area where they originally arose—since the same rivers also serve as natural drainage mechanisms.


  1. Steve,

    You're right that the Flood might not wipe out antediluvian rivers.

    However, that does have ramifications for what we can say about the sediment layers underneath the Mesopotamian region.

    Now, I don't know anything about the geology of the region--I don't know what rocks layers are present. But whatever they are, If we say that those layers were laid down by the Flood, we can't also say that the modern rivers on top of those layers are the same as before the Flood.


    “Steve,__You're right that the Flood might not wipe out antediluvian rivers.__However, that does have ramifications for what we can say about the sediment layers underneath the Mesopotamian region. __Now, I don't know anything about the geology of the region--I don't know what rocks layers are present. But whatever they are, If we say that those layers were laid down by the Flood, we can't also say that the modern rivers on top of those layers are the same as before the Flood.”

    Hi Tim,

    i) I’m not offering a general evaluation of flood geology. I’m merely responding to some questions raised by a commenter in reference to something I quoted from Hoffmeier’s new book on Biblical archeology.

    My only concern at the moment is to interpret Gen 2:10-14 in context.

    ii) I didn’t say anything about flood deposits. But since you bring it up, even if a flood deposits some silt, I don’t think that means the flood deposit is necessarily permanent, such that you have successive layers of deposition. For, depending on weather conditions, I assume the flood deposit would be subject to varying degrees of erosion.

    iii) And I don’t quite follow your objection. Rivers like the Tigris, Euphrates, and the Nile have been inundating their flood zones for millennia. But you would presumably grant the modern Tigris or Euphrates or Nile is the same river (making allowance for some natural and manmade changes over the intervening centuries).

  3. The flood: powerful enough to form the grand canyon in a few days ... but gentle enough to leave riverbeds intact. Nice ring to it. You ought to make an advertisement.

  4. Hi Steve and Jugulum-Tim (and other T-blog readers),

    I'm presently undecided between a Global Flood or a Local Flood.

    Have you guys come to a decision one way or the other on this issue? May I ask what you've decided and why?

  5. Now, now, Evan. Don't you think that God, being almighty, has the power to decide exactly where the Flood digs deep, and where it gently lays down silt? And speaking of which, don't you think that God has the power to whisk them penguins across the Sahara to Antarctica, and them kangaroos to Australia, without even breaking a sweat? In fact, God has the power to make the Bible true, no matter what the real world looks like: that's how almighty He is. And anyone who is swayed by mere facts to doubt the Bible will burn in Hell, that's how powerful and good He is.

    And now back to your regularly scheduled program...


    “The flood: powerful enough to form the grand canyon in a few days ... but gentle enough to leave riverbeds intact. Nice ring to it. You ought to make an advertisement.”

    Thanks, Evan. You never miss a chance to publicize your secular stupidity. Was I discussing flood geology? No. Was I discussing the formation of the Grand Canyon? No. Did I say if Noah’s flood formed the Grand Canyon? No.

    If, as a “physician,” you’re as sloppy in your diagnosis as you are in reading what other people say, I fear for your patients.

  7. I see that Zilch is just as intellectually challenged as dear little Evan. Here’s a tip for the future: before you can attack the Bible you need to exegete the Bible. Feel free to exegete these items from (Australia, Antarctica, the Sahara) from Gen 6-9.

  8. Thanks, Steve. Being "just as intellectually challenged" as Evan is quite a compliment. Actually, I don't need to exegete the Bible- I can just read it for myself. As far as memory serves, there's no explanation for how the penguins got to Antarctica, or the kangaroos to Australia, in the Bible.

    Not that I would really expect every little thing to be explained in the Bible. But I would expect the Word of God not to be blatantly at odds with the facts, and the Bible fails this expectation miserably, especially in stories like that of Noah and the Ark. That is, unless you postulate a whole lot of God snapping His Fingers to make the Bible fit the real world. But if you do that, what's the point of the story?

    Sorry for being so sarcastic, but the fact that grown people in this day and age still take the story of Noah and the Ark seriously, as history, brings out the devil in me. No hard feelings- you can call me names if you want. The drinks are still on me if you come to Vienna.

  9. Sorry for being so sarcastic, but the fact that grown people in this day and age still take the story of Noah and the Ark seriously, as history, brings out the devil in me.

    Dear Zilch, I guess that I bring out the devil in you. I do take the story of Noah and the Ark seriously, but I don't know if it's a local flood or a global, universal flood. It may be one of those things that I'll just have to wait and ask God.


    “Actually, I don't need to exegete the Bible- I can just read it for myself.”

    You have a choice: you can either exegete the Bible, which involves an effort to understand what it means on its own terms, or else you can “just read it for yourself,” which involves foisting an interpretation on the text which had nothing to do with original intent or the historical context.

    If you choose the latter course of action, then you can’t attack the Bible—you’re attacking a straw man. Indeed, you’re attacking yourself—your self-projection onto the text.

    “As far as memory serves, there's no explanation for how the penguins got to Antarctica, or the kangaroos to Australia, in the Bible.”

    Here’s a tip for you: when you “read” a text from the past, you need to read it through the eyes and ears of the original audience. When you “read” Gen 6-9, you need to put yourself in the sandals of the original audience and ask yourself what the landmarks would have meant to *them*, not to *you*.

    What you’ve just done is to commit a classic anachronism. You’ve taken the text and then reassigned the landmarks to your mental map of the world. That’s a completely illiterate way of reading a document from the past.

    “Sorry for being so sarcastic, but the fact that grown people in this day and age still take the story of Noah and the Ark seriously, as history, brings out the devil in me.”

    You’re not entitled to your sarcasm and condescension when you commit such elementary intellectual blunders. If you’re going to flaunt the intellectual superiority of your atheism (or whatever you believe), then you need to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of your secular worldview through the level of you intellectual performance. You didn’t do yourself any favors this time around.

  11. Steve,

    Yeah, I suppose my comment doesn't directly affect the issue you were discussing. It does, however, point out a ramification of the solution you're presenting. That ramification might not be important to you, but it's relevant to creationist argumentation in general.

    The most common creationist view of the geologic column is that most of the rock layers were laid down during the Flood. If so, and if the modern Tigris & Euphrates are the same as the Eden rivers--well, you should see the problem. If the modern rivers are on top of thick rock layers, then the Flood can't explain those layers. They would have been around during the Garden of Eden.

    Which is actually rather problematic, if those layers contain significant numbers of fossils. (I don't know if that's the case, and I don't know what rock layers are in the Mesopotamian. So I don't know if this is a problem for the young earth view or not.)

  12. TUaD,

    I'm somewhat open to the idea that "eretz" in the flood account means "land". But it's hard for me to get away from the conclusion that all the animals of the world were being gathered.

    I've also got problems with the old earth view... But if I resolved those, I would probably adopt something like Glenn Morton's solution to the Flood--he thinks it's referring to the flooding of the Mediterranean basin, 5.5 millions years ago. (But that has problem with genealogies... I'm hesitant.)

    Honestly, if I were only looking at the scientific evidence, I would probably be an old-earth local-flood person. But I haven't exhaustively studied all the points of evidence that push me that way, so... Right now, the strength of the exegetical case for YEC is winning.

  13. Thanks Tim,

    I'm in the same boat (pun intended) as you are. That's why I'm undecided.

    With regards to the doctrine of origins, I prefer to approach the issue by ruling things out.

    I.e., No abiogenesis. No macro-evolution. A real Adam and Eve. a real flood.

    Age of earth? I remain undogmatic.

    Scope of flood? I remain undogmatic.

    Neo-Darwinian Macro-evolution? Dogmatically declare No Way!

    Thanks again for the response and the link Jugulum.

  14. Tim,

    There are two issues here: dating, and the order of the fossil record. Peter Pike and I have discussed the fossil record. I don't think we need flood geology to account for the fossil record.

    As for dating, I think one can defend YEC dating, and have done so frequently.

    However, I'm not going to let unbelievers like Evan and Zilch off the hook. They are not attacking the Bible, although they pretend to be. They are actually attacking a popular version of flood geology, predicated on YEC exegesis.

    If they presume to attack the Bible, then they need to present and defend their own exegesis of Gen 1-9.

    There’s nothing I need to defend against unless and until they can show that attacking Steve Austin (to take one example) is equivalent to attacking the Bible.

  15. On a related note, this is interesting:

    "Morton became famous in 1986 for challenging the creationists to explain certain stratified layers. Now, alomost 22 years later, Dr. Steven Austin showed how the process of mud flocculation destroyed Morton’s objections to a flood-based geology. The next 15 years will be a revolution in our understanding of how strata are formed. It will eventually become evident that stratified layers are the result of fast moving muddy waters over a short period of time versus slow sedimentation over millions of years.

    The prestigious journal Science affirmed that recent experiments with fast moving water and sidements show that the old earth interpretations of stratification were probably wrong. Comments about the paper published in Science along with Austin’s August 4th talk will be out when a CD in a few weeks. It was gratifying to see Glenn Morton’s ideas finally trashed after 22 years.

    Finally, Dr. Austin got recruited by Royal Oil, a NASDAQ listed company, for his out-of-the-box thinking. Creationists might one day become the best paid geologists because they have the most accurate models of where things are on the Earth…."