Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Deluge

Modern Geology and the Principle of Uniformity

The principle of uniformity holds that “the present if the key to the past.”  That is to say that the processes that are in motion today were also in motion in the distant past. There are various reasons why Young Earth Creationists object to this particular geologic principle arguing that it is both inaccurate and untenable; several of their reasons being based on misunderstandings of how this principle is applied in modern geology.  Creationist publications from organizations from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) represent the principle of uniformity (uniformitarianism) as a concept that “evolutionists” need. The reasoning behind this is that this principle demands that the earth be much older that 6,000 years, and that nobody would “believe” in Darwinian evolution if the earth were to be believed to be so young.

The two main objections to the principle of uniformity are:

  1. The concept rules out a priory the possibility that any unusual events could possibly have happened. That is to say, YECs argue that uniformity, from the get-go, rules out  large-scale cataclysmic events such as the “global” flood of Noah. They then argue that events like the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens as well as the remains of so called “polystrate” fossils are inconsistent with conventional geology and therefore prove the YEC alternative “catastrophic” model.
  2. The principle does not allow for change in rates such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, etcetera. The impression is that if it can be shown that certain rates have been demonstrated to have changed, then the principle is therefore false which, in their minds, would be a major blow to evolutionary theory as well as conventional geology. 

On the first objection, YECs seem frustrated that their universal, global deluge is not acknowledged by conventional geology, and so they have proposed their catastrophic model as an alternative. YECs tend to present the modern geologists as blinded by their uniformitarian principle that rules out unusual events in the past, and therefore blinded to the evidence of a global deluge that occurred at around 5,000 years ago. — However, a little research combined with logic shows that this particular objection to uniformity is misguided and based on a misunderstanding. That is to say, conventional geologists do not rule out that global cataclysmic events can happen. Certainly there is the fact that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago would have been a universal disaster. We also have the geologic evidence for the event; the remains of the impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula, and a layer of iridium found at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary which has been found in numerous locations throughout the world.  — Other mass extinctions have also been detected as happening in the last 440 million years:

The fact that mass extinction events have been proposed based on pieces of geologic evidence is by itself an indication that conventional scientists do not rule out the possible occurrence of unusual events and global disasters. If the evidence demands such an interpretation, then it is proposed. The reason that a universal deluge dating back to about 5,000 years has never been acknowledged has more to do with the lack of evidence than a preconceived notion that it could not have happened.

Also, contrary to claims that the Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption disproves the principle, it actually fits well within it; that is, we see volcanic eruptions happening today, therefore we know they happened in the past, the Santorini eruption in the 17th century BC being a good example. When a certain process happens, like a volcanic eruption, a mudslide, or a flood, it leaves a certain fingerprint, so if we find a similar or identical fingerprint in the geologic strata, then we can assume that a similar process or event was in play at the time as it was laid down. — “The present is the key to the past.”

As for the second objection about the “rates” always being constant, this other particular understanding of uniformity has been applied by YECs in their arguments against an old earth (i.e., the magnetic field decay, continental erosion, ocean sediments, etc.). They reason that if the current rates we see today in these other processes could not possibly be accommodated to suit a 4.5 billion year old earth, then this would count as evidence for a somewhat younger earth. In an online podcast from CMI, YEC speaker Calvin Smith then argues that this is problematic for assuming that Radiometric decay had remained constant saying that it is not right to pick and chose when rates may or may not have changed. 

Well, of course, this logic is flawed for several reasons; one of them being that there is evidence that the rates of erosion, sedimentation, and the magnetic field decay rate have indeed varied. However, the rate of radiometric decay is another story; it has been tested and observed under numerous, extreme conditions and yet the rate hadn’t been altered. There were three instances where half-lives have been altered, but they are irrelevant to the conventional dating methods and do not affect the dates of rocks either on earth or on other planets, as two of them are extraterrestrial (i.e., fast-moving matter in space though no rock in our solar system is moving fast enough to affect the date, and physical conditions at the center of stars).

What this shows is that YECs have a distorted view of the uniformitarian principle… It would be unfair to say that these criticisms of the principle would never have been true, since they would have been earlier when modern geology was coming around. What has to be mentioned is that before, geologists had practiced a variety of uniformity now called substantive uniformitarianism. Today, however, geologists have long rejected that version in favor of another called methodological uniformitarianism… The variety that YECs spend their time knocking down is the one no longer practiced. Today’s geology does not rule out the possibility of unusual events and massive disasters; in fact they fit in well with uniformity.  Also, the idea that all rate accumulations must have been the same for all times in all cases is not a concept in uniformity either; the process in play may have existed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they constantly happen with the same intensity. 

References:
The Dinosaur Extinction Page
Historical Perspectives: This Dynamic Earth. From the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Increased sedimentation rates and grain sizes 2-4 myr years ago due to the influence of climate change on erosion rates, (2 March 2001) by Zhang Peizhen, Peter Molnar, and William R. Downs. From Nature.
Reversals: Magnetic Flip, From the British Geological Survey
Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective , by  Dr. Roger C. Wiens (2002) From the American Scientific Affiliation.
Flood Geology is Uniformitarian!, by Davis A. Young (1979). From the American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

Recommended Reading:
Twelve Fallacies of Uniformitarianism, by James H. Shea (September, 1982). From the Geological Society of America.
Uniformitarianism: World of Earth Science. From Enotes.com
Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?,  by Greg Neyman (29 January 2003). From Answers in Creation.
G321: Many Geologic Features are Catastrophic in Nature, by Greg Neyman (2005). From Answers in Creation.
CD200: Uniformitarian assumption is untenable, by Mark Isaak (2004). From the Talk.Origins Archive.

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The “Global” Deluge – Is it Unbiblical?

To explain the geologic record, Creationists read the Biblical story of Noah and the flood into the evidence. They look at the fossil record and reason that these are creatures that just didn’t make it in the Ark and perished when the flood waters overtook them. The story of Noah is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, and gives a lesson about renewal of the old. But Young-Earth Creationists propose that Noah is more than myth: He is real, historical person, and that his flood covered the entire planet.

I will not argue against the existence of  Noah as a historical person. Personally, I have no reason to believe that he didn’t exist, being a Christian. But what I will argue against is that the flood covered the entire planet since I believe the evidence in the geologic record points against it. — And I have yet more reasons than just geology to suspect the flood was a “local” event, and not universal which I will focus on in this post.

The reason why YECs insist on a global flood is because their model demands it. It is supposed to account for the fossil record, and it is based on their interpretation of the story found in the book of Genesis. There are also some “hard” atheists that use the same arguments against the idea that Genesis allows for a local flood in an attempt to say that acceptance of an old earth or Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. My personal assessment of the claims made by both groups is that they are wrong and misguided. In fact, I think the reading of  a “local” flood in Genesis is not only plausible, but also Biblical.

The basic Biblical support that Creationists have for a global flood is the universal language which is used in the Genesis account:

  • I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (Genesis 6: 17)
  • Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. (Genesis 7: 4)

The language from these verses is most definitely universal, so it is no wonder that modern readers, Creationists and “hard” atheists alike, understand the “global” deluge as the only viable interpretation of the flood account. — Notice my stress on the term “modern readers.” — Though somewhat convincing at first glance, universal language is hardly an indicator that the Biblical account was intended to teach that the planet as a whole was covered in water. Such usages of the term  “All under heaven” have been used to describe geographically limited areas. For example, during the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans claimed to rule the “whole earth.”  Also, In ancient China, the domain of the emperor was said to be “all under heaven,” but obviously this only applied to China and neighboring states, and not to nations far out its reach.

In fact, the Bible itself uses this universal term in geographically limited contexts as well. For example, Acts 2: 5 says, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” — Obviously, “all under heaven” does not mean the entire planet. It most certainly does not include other regions like North America, Japan, as well as China and Korea. These terms were simply a way of expressing one’s self in ancient times, and they didn’t have the same meaning as they do today.

Another detail to take into account is the Hebrew word for “Earth” which is אֶרֶץ (pronounced as “eretz”) which is used in the flood story. — Though this word can be understood and the entire planet, it also has several other meanings like ground, soil, land, country, territory, district, and region. Most of these can actually be substituted for “Earth,” showing that the flood can be understood as covering a local region or territory.

A couple of Atheist and Creationist rebuttals to the “local” flood that I read object on the basis that the flood story says that the mountains were covered,

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. (Genesis 7: 18: 20 )

Certainly this could falsify the local flood, right? — Wrong! Objections made of the basis that the waters covered the “mountains” are only dependent on English literalism which is not a legitimate reading of the Bible if the word in the original language can be understood differently. — The Hebrew word for “mountains” is הַר (pronounced as “Har”) which also means hill or even hill country. So the passage can simply be understood as saying that the flood waters elevated over the hills by over twenty feet.

Granted, this information doesn’t prove that  global flood isn’t what the writers of Genesis intended to write about. It only shows that a local flood is a legitimate understanding from the Biblical text. — If we left it all here, we would think that both interpretations, though different from each other, are harmonious with the Bible itself, but I have no intention of leaving it to that. It is my contention that the global flood is unbiblical, not just simply irrational. — Now, is there any Biblical evidence to back me up? You bet there is! — One of the best pieces of evidence comes from the prelude to the flood story itself,

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwardwhen the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6: 4)

The Nephilim were a race of pre-flood people. Some commentators blame them for the evil in the world which caused God to bring the flood. But notice that the story says they were “on the earth in those days — and also afterward.” This implies that not only wasn’t the flood sent to destroy this race of people, they survived the flood.  They are mentioned to still be living in the time of Moses (Numbers 13: 33 ). This could only logically be true if the flood was a local event, and not global. — The one objection I ran across for this point is that the Nephilim that were around before the flood were probably not the same as those that existed afterwards. However, even if I grant that Numbers 13:33 is talking about an unrelated race, that doesn’t explain why Genesis 6:4 implies that  pre-flood and post-flood Nephilim shared a common progeny as they are both associated with “the sons of God who went to the daughters of man”  implying that they managed to survive the flood.

Then there is also the drainage of the flood. Genesis 8: 1 says that a wind was used to cause the waters to recede which would have been pointless if the flood were global because the water that got blown away would simply have been replaced my different water that wasn’t there previously. — Also, Noah is said to have sent a dove which returned with an olive leaf (Genesis 8: 11). This is also evidence against a global flood because the time allowed in the Bible for the recession of the waters would not allow an olive tree to have grown by then. Also, the salt water of the flood would have destroyed much of the plant lifeeven the olive trees, not to mention the terrestrial conditions on the earth wouldn’t have been suitable for plant growth for a while.

Interestingly enough, even the writings of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, seem to give credence to a local flood when one reads between the lines. After his retelling of the flood, he mentions other historians which mention similar events, and then quotes Nicolaus of Damascus,

Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.” (Antiquities of the Jews 1: 94-94)

This is significant for two reasons: 1) Because Josephus believes that Nicolaus is describing the flood of Noah, and 2) he mentions that there were many that fled and were saved from the deluge, and he seemingly differentiates them from the passengers on the ark. This implies that these other non-Noachian survivors had different means of escape besides the Ark of Noah.  This would only make sence in the light of a local flood, not a global one. — Also, it is notable that Josephus does not correct Nicolaus as to others escaping the flood besides the passengers on the ark, implying that he agrees with him. It would be out of character for Josephus to not correct him if he disagreed with him.

The idea of a local, non-global, flood has plenty of support. The original Hebrew shows that this particular understanding id viable, and the Bible itself confirms it by implying that other people (i.e., the Nephilim) survived it. That latter detail should surely be a stumbling block to anyone who believes in a global flood. However, it is not problematic if one embraces the local flood. — In fact, for these reasons, I consider the local flood the only viable understanding of the Genesis story, and that the “global” flood is not only irrational but also unbiblical.

References:
Chinese imperialism: Encyclopedia – Chinese imperialism
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Earth
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Mountains.
CH542: Plant survival in the Flood, by Mark Isaak, from the Talk.Origins Archive.

Further Reading:
The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?, by Carol A. Hill. From the American Scientific Affiliation, and published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Yes, Noah’s Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth, by Lorence G Collins
Noah’s Flood: Global or Local? by Donald Hochner
The Genesis Flood: Why the Bible Says It Must be Local, by Rich Deem. From GodandScience.org
Universality of the Flood, by Greg Neyman. From AnswersInCreation.org
THE GENESIS FLOOD: The Biblical Argument for its local extent, by J. Reed. From J. Reed’s Christian Expositions.

UPDATED: December 23, 2010