Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The dove and the flood

In his recent book on Genesis, Iain Provan recycles a number of stock objections to Noah's flood, specially on a global interpretation. I'm not going to respond to most of those objections, in part because I've discussed that issue on multiple occasions, in part because these don't pose the same challenge for the local flood interpretation, and in part because young-earth creationists (e.g. Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise) have propose solutions–which Provan simply ignores. But I'd like to comment on one particular objection, which is somewhat unusual:

At its most extreme, this approach results in a highly literalistic reading of the flood story that leads us into  very problematic areas when it comes to squaring its perceived truth-claims with what is otherwise known (especially nowadays) about reality…If the sea level rose all over the earth as high as the peak of Mount Ararat (c. 16,946 feet), the oceans would have had to triple in volume in the corse of 150 days and then speedily return to normal…And after the floodwaters receded, how did the dove fly down the mountain to find an olive tree (only found at low elevations) and then back up again to the top of the mountain, given that doves are not physically equipped to fly at such altitudes? How did Noah, his family members and the animals make the trek down such a formidable mountain? I. Provan, Discovering Genesis (Eerdmans, 2015), 117-18.

A few issues:

i) I don't know what Provan means by "literalistic". Does he mean the account is stylized? Or does he mean the account is legendary? 

ii) Since I'm not an ornithologist, I can't assess Provan's claim. Sarfati says:

Doves and pigeons have very strong light muscles, around a third of their weight. So they are powerful flyers… J. Sarfati, The Genesis Account (2015), 574.

iii) Be that as it may, the text doesn't say the ark ran aground on Mt. Ararat. Rather, it bottomed out somewhere in that general mountain range:

4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen (Gen 8:4-5).

Many of us have seen mountain ranges from above when we flew over them in airplanes. At least in my experience, arial views of mountain ranges frequently show rows of mountains with a trough in-between. Parallel ridges. Small areas may be encircled by the massif. 

I can envision the ark becoming caught within a mountain range. Mountains on all four sides would be higher than the draught of the ark. The ark wouldn't rest on a mountain peak, but in a basin within the massif. Water would drain through slopes. As the waters lowered, the ark lowered until it bottomed out on the floor of the basin. So it wouldn't be at anything like the elevation of Mt Ararat. 

Do the "tops of the mountains" refer to all the mountains the region, or just the cluster that trapped the ark within their well? 

Noah's party and the animals could climb out or climb down the slope or dip, between mountains, which functions like a natural mountain pass. 

I'm not saying that's necessarily correct. I wasn't there. I don't know exactly or even approximately where the ark came to rest. But on the face of it, Provan's objection lacks imagination. Is he really trying to visualize the scene? 

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