One Journey From YEC

Introduction

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #21

Yes, the whole inhabited world but no, not the entire planet earth. Keep in mind that traditional (if I can use that word) Young Earth Creationists believe that Noah was only a few generations after Adam and Eve and that even with long lives and many children, we aren’t talking about huge populations. So there were relatively few people and not all that scattered about.

Indeed, humans tend to congregate. Even after the flood, Genesis tells us that humans were failing to migrate and populate more lands—so God scattered them in the Tower of Babel incident.

As Hugh Ross likes to regularly remind his audiences: “The Flood of Noah is described in the Bible as worldwide, not global.”

Because:

(1) In the Bible we often see God do things in particular ways in order to communicate a theological message, not a “pragmatic solution”. So I understand your mention of a very common objection—but it places a modern cultural viewpoint on an ancient text with agendas which can be quite different from what we might expect.

(2) It is not at all unusual for those embarking on a “voyage” to a “new land” and way of life to take along familiar animals. This can be part of the symbolism that reinforces various themes of the Noah pericope.

(3) Many of the animals were intended for eventual sacrifice after disembarking the ark.

(4) Notice how this gathering of animals reinforces a creation account theme: Adam and the Image of God humans who descended from him are given dominion over all animals. So Noah is described as their caretaker. He joins YHWH in preserving the animals of the very good creation.

There is always danger in trying to reason in modern ways when dealing with an ancient text and culture. Whenever one thinks along the lines of “If the flood wasn’t global, why bother with animals”, one must also ask, “Why did God bother with a flood and kill innocent animals when he could have simply killed all disobedient sinners with a cerebral hemorhage? It would have saved Noah and family years of ark building and entire year spent trapped inside it.”

Why bother marching for seven days around the city of Jericho when God could have destroyed the walls with a single blasting of the trumpets on the first day? Why bother with marching and trumpets even for one day? These popular “why not just…” questions are dealt with in first year graduate courses. You can find many of them answered by means of a quick Google search. (In Internet forums these are popularly known as PRATTs: point refuted a thousand times.)

Why bother with a series of plagues in Egypt when Pharaoh was only going to harden his heart? Why not just kill the first born of Egypt and get the Exodus started already? (Yiddish turn-of-phrase.) Why waste Moses’ time with a lot of dramatic theatrics when the whole point was to get the enslaved Children of Israel out of Egypt?

I agree! Only a flood of what the Biblical context considers “worldwide” makes sense. And in that culture and language:

(1) “Worldwide” meant the world Noah knew.

(2) The ERETZ (land, world, soil) is best translated “land”, not “planet earth” in a modern sense. [I know many translation committee members of popular Bible who would have loved to use “land” in the main text—but for fear of lost Bible sales to traditionalists, the KJV-established precedent of “earth” is usually used in the main text. The “land” reading gets relegated to a footnote. Check your favorite Bible translation to see if it has such a footnote. Those alternate translations in many Bible translations are often the best ones—but the publishers and administrators get pragmatic and income matters. The scholars don’t always win out.]

[At the time of the KJV Bible, 1611, “earth” did not primarily mean “planet earth”. It was closer to the Hebrew meaning: earth in the sense of the opposite of “the heavens” (that is, the sky.) Also, the earth is what a farmer tilled.]

Hugh Ross and the Reasons to Believe staff make these points often—and I think them for it—because the Genesis text describes the flood as “worldwide” (the land known to Noah and the entire population of Imago Dei humans descended from Adam) and not “global” or “all of the planet earth”. To impose those two descriptions on the Noah pericope is egregiously anachronistic. (Yeah, I’m going to be dogmatic about that, because I care about where the preponderance of evidence takes us.)

I would word your last sentence more carefully: “A global flood makes no empirical sense.”

I hope I have explained enough details so that readers will understand the risks of anachronistic reading of ancient texts. If not, perhaps some of my past, far more extensive posts on this topic can be referenced/linked.

I really appreciate you bringing up these popular topics, John! For a growing forum, I believe these “fundamentals” are extremely important.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #22

I assume your question is directed to @Dan_Eastwood’s T-shirt comment and not my discourse on Genesis 41.

Of course, my point is that many Young Earth Creationist authors/speakers are selective about when and where they choose to interpret “literally”.

And for the record, I’ve been frustrated with the word “literal” for a very long time. With most non-academic audiences today, it confuses more than enlightens. And when someone uses the word, it can be hard to know what they mean. Literally hard!

And even some lexicons and dictionaries now list the bizarre use of literal in sentences like these: “When the comedian told that joke, it literally killed me!” and “When that happened, she was so frightened that she literally turned into a quivering mass of Jello.” Aren’t you glad you aren’t depending on a “Biblical hyperliteralist” to understand those sentences? If you are glad, then you can understand why many Biblical scholars get so frustrated at fundamentalist hyperliteralism! It can be a guaranteed face-palm. (Literally!)


(John Harshman) #23

This then becomes another sticking point. If you want to convince a YEC of a local flood, you have to agree that there were no humans outside that flood zone. Is the price worth it? You swallow an impossibility in order to eliminate another impossibility. What’s the point of that?

Shape of the earth aside, how do you know the authors made such a distinction?

What, in this case, is the message? And if the point is to communicate a message, do we need an actual flood at all, rather than just a story?

Nice, but that preservation is purely symbolic, right? There was no actual need for Noah to preserve the animals in a local flood, since there would have been plenty of them outside the flood area.

For sure. God, in general, seems quite clumsy in his Old Testament interventions, caring nothing for collateral damage. I’m not as sure as you are that there’s a clear theological purpose to that clumsiness.

Worse than that. It’s God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. On purpose. The plagues aren’t intended to convince Pharaoh but to demonstrate God’s power and glory. And let’s not examine the Passover story either; he doesn’t come off well.

Is this an attempt to admit that there were people outside the flood zone but dismiss their relevance? The natives of North America, e.g., were not “imago Dei humans”?

Now, it seems clear to me that the area of the flood is intended to refer to everything under heaven. Of course the writers had no clue that the earth was spherical. We aren’t talking about the region known to Noah, a fictional character, but the region known to the writers of Genesis, presumably. And I don’t think they made a distinction between that region and the entire expanse of land and water under heaven, whatever name you choose to give to it.

I’m wondering why you think the Noah story ought to be considered true and thus reconciled with reality.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #24

I’m tied up with other duties for a while—and I may have to address your questions in a series of responses— but I just wanted to clarify one thing:

I didn’t address that issues at all—so I’m not sure what prompted this implied question.

Also, we also have to define “true” in terms appropriate to the text. Just to give a general example: Is the Aesop’s fable about the Fox and the Grapes “true”? If you read it for zoological information, it is false because foxes don’t talk. If you read it for truths about human behavior, I would claim that it is true.

Keep in mind that I’m approaching these topics as an academic. That doesn’t mean (at all) that I’m not a Bible-affirming Christ-follower. But I read the Genesis text quite differently from a traditional Young Earth Creationist. My interpretations are largely based upon Hebrew exegesis and what I know of lexicography and linguistics in general—and hermeneutics in particular.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #25

I will leave to the moderators whether my responses to John’s questions should be assigned to their own thread. (Nevertheless, one could say that almost all of John’s questions are questions I had to deal with years ago in making my “one journey from YEC”!)

(The advantage of separate threads would simply be for the convenience of forum visitors interested in such topics.)

John is raising excellent points because they are such common questions which virtually all Bible readers have to wrestle with at some point.


(John Harshman) #26

Let me clarify: in context, it should be clear that I intended “true” to mean something like “actually happened”, rather than just “conveys a truth about God, people, and/or their proper relations”. So now, let you clarify: do you think the Noah story is “true” in the sense I’m talking about? Does it describe, however imperfectly, an event that really did occur? Is that question even important?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #27

I think you mean “refers to a real event in a real past”.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #28

On Internet forums through the years I’ve thought I understood someone’s apparently clear statement but after I wrote a carefully crafted reply, I learned that they meant something slightly or even significantly different. So now I tend to seek clarification before proceeding.

Also, so many people use terminology—and even “obvious” words like true—in surprising ways. Especially when it comes to religion-related topics. I’m rarely in a big hurry so I prefer to wait on clarification.

I’ve shared in the past where I told of a Hindu colleague, a brilliant PhD mathematician whose office was a few doors down when I was working part-time at a university computer center, who had no problems saying “Yes, it is true that the world rests on the back of four elephants.” [or something like that.] I tried to politely clarify with him whether or not these were real, flesh-and-blood, enormous elephants which he had in mind. It was obvious to me that my questions were frustrating him. He did not appear offended. He just basically explained, “If you weren’t raised in India by Hindu parents, I doubt that you would understand what I’m describing.” I agree. I don’t think I truly understood him, despite a comparative religions degree which included some 400-level courses in East Asian religions. It is my hunch that I was not fully grasping how this man viewed truth and what he considered the ultimate reality which was the foundation of the universe. (And if some readers think that that Hindu man was simply dodging the scientific problems inherent in his viewpoint, I can understand that opinion—yet I don’t necessarily agree with it. I don’t think he was being evasive and in a state of cognitive dissonance. More complex factors are at work.)

Perhaps that paragraph and its relevance to this topic is about as clear as mud. (Is that an archaic expression nowadays?) Even so, I included it to help describe why I often ask people for clarifications in relation to these subjects.

My position on the Noah pericope in Genesis is as follows. And this is just my best “educated hunch”. I am not dogmatic about it and I may even change my mind upon new evidence from Hebrew exegesis, but this is my position at present (and for years now):

(1) Obviously, most civilizations arise around dependable fresh water sources and navigable waters of all types. Almost inevitably, these bodies of water flood and cause tremendous damage and loss of life. (More “obviously”.) Those most memorable events get retold in oral traditions.

(2) I believe the Ancient Near Eastern stories of a great flood probably arose from a singular deluge event of a particularly shocking severity. Some speculate that this could have been the geologic event, much studied by scientists, the great “spilling” of the Atlantic Ocean into lowlands which are now known as the Mediterranean Sea.

The “original” Mediterranean Sea had lost its connection via the Straits of Gibraltar to the Atlantic Ocean for a long period, and that led to the gradual evaporation of that entire body of water. As plates shifted and even got pushed up and down, that region may have filled and emptied more than once. From what I’ve read, this is still debated. Whether one of these emptyings was recent enough for human civilizations to occupy a “dry” Mediterranean seabed, I will leave to the experts. Here’s an article on this topic:

So one hypothesis is that the “great deluge” event which inspired so many stories was a very real natural disaster which got passed down as oral tradition. Some speculate that Moses had lived a few hundred miles north of the Nile Delta and after the flooding of his ERETZ (land), his ark floated for months until landed in some highlands rising above the flood waters on the new Mediterranean coast.

[By the way, Mr. Ballard of “Titanic found” fame believes that he found evidence that suggests that the Black Sea experienced a sudden appearance (i.e., a flood) which could be the historical basis for the Noah story. I’ve heard of others who speak similarly of the Caspian Sea. Each hypothesis suggests that Noah lived in a lowlands area which got flooded suddenly after major plate tectonic shifts, such as the quick drop of a major plate, causing nearby waters to flood into that area. Imagine a paper plate floating on the waters of a bathtub–and then something pushing down on that plate until it sinks. That would be a “great flood” to any inhabitants of that plate.]

(3) Based on the other Great Deluge stories from the Ancient Near East, I think it likely that the authors of Genesis—and even most YECs concede that the Pentateuch had at least two authors, Moses and whoever wrote his obituary!----had those other stories in mind when they undertook a YHWH-honoring version. The primary purpose was probably not focused on the actual event as much as how it contrasted YHWH and his dealings with the Adamic line versus the polytheistic versions of the flood story of neighboring cultures. Indeed, if we knew more about those cultures of that era (and more about Semitic culture, for that matter), we might be better able to recognize the meaning of a great many details of the text, such as they type of birds sent aloft to look for land. (As I recall, each ANE culture chose different bird species for their dry-land search.)

(4) An ancient author would have no problem taking an ancient oral tradition about a man taking livestock and some other animals aboard a raft or modest vessel of some sort to a more “epic version” involving the kinds of dramatic superlatives common to the genre. Ancient oral traditions should not necessarily be assumed to be “documentaries” of historical events. They can be descriptions (for example) of an historical event which gets expanded to fit a broader agenda, often a “theological” agenda. That idea can be very upsetting to Christian traditionalists—but it need not necessarily be a dangerous challenge to those who emphasize Biblical inerrancy.

By the way, some scholars view Genesis 1 in similar ways: The Genesis author(s) took elements of contemporary creation stories and re-crafted them to describe a real event: God creating the world. I like to call Genesis 1 a genre-type I deem “hymnic tribute”. I consider it a type of very ancient poetry (not at all like the much later Hebrew poetry of the Psalms) which depends on chiasmic structures [A & B, then B &A] and various parallelisms to convey ideas. It used the very real (in those cultures) seven day week to function as an outline for describing YHWH’s role as the sole creator of the world. Contemporaries would have easily seen the contrast with the creation stories of neighboring cultures—such as tales of the dead bodies of gods fall to the ground and producing various new things.

{That’s all that I can write for now. Many weighty tomes have been written to address the questions you asked, John. Meanwhile, feel free to remind me of points which I haven’t addressed yet.}


(John Harshman) #29

The experts would tell you no, it wasn’t. In fact, the story you cite has the refilling happen only 100,000 years after it emptied. You may want to talk about the Black Sea instead, which if I recall was more recent. But I don’t believe any such memory could last long enough for your purposes in a pre-literate culture. More likely the story is based on the general prevalence of floods in the area, not any specific huge event.

Now that makes sense to me.

Works for me if we change “real event” to “event they thought was real”.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #30

Please read my comments more carefully. I cited that article as just an example—and some claim that parts of the Mediterrean may have receded and re-flooded at various times. (Many lakes and seas expand and contract over time. That can bring major flooding.)

Much evidence has been published which disagrees with you. I think a recent Nova program addressed discoveries which brought renewed respect for the ability of some cultures to preserve oral stories for extremely long periods. If not Nova, it was some other PBS documentary. I wish I could recall the topic.

Anyway, I wasn’t trying to establish that a specific, easily identifiable major flood definitely inspired the ANE flood stories. My point is that real events can inspire important oral traditions, which can later become an “epic story” told to address some important literary purpose, usually a theological or ideological one.


(John Harshman) #31

I would like to hear more about this. And about any claims of a recent (within the neolithic, at least) re-flooding of the Mediterranean.


(John Harshman) #32

Totally. But one doesn’t need a flood of, er, biblical proportions, merely ordinary floods of the sort that happen every so often, to inspire the story. People who live in places where there are floods have stories about floods. People who live in places with lumberjacks have stories about Paul Bunyan. Doesn’t mean there was ever a giant lumberjack.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #33

This is not the Nova topic I was trying to recall, but it’s an example of scientific confirmations of ancient oral traditions:

I just did the following keyword search on Google:

nova ancient oral traditions confirmed by science island

…and found lots of interesting articles discussing scientific confirmations of very old oral traditions.

That’s probably my Q&A quota for today.

[POSTSCRIPT: Keep in mind that I’m here to educate and to learn from others, not to advocate. I don’t have an agenda on this topic. Readers will draw their own conclusions. I’m simply describing some of the academic literature. Of course, I’ve been retired for a long time and don’t keep current these days.]


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #34

26 posts were split to a new topic: Can Science Definitively Reject Special Creation?


(John Harshman) #35

Not exactly. They point out that either Strabo was relying on a tradition or he was a good geographer, and also that the tradition would only have to have been a couple of thousand years old, much less than any huge flood would require.


(Jonathan) #54

I feel like I am a little late to the party, but I will give it a shot. :wink:

I do not find it at all impossible that Joseph’s famine affected people all over the settled world. Does that mean global? Who knows (well, God of course :wink: )? Some commentators suggest (and I agree) that another place where “earth” means “civilization/society” (as opposed to globe) is the verse in the Genesis genealogies referencing the “earth being divided in the days of Peleg” (at the Tower of Babel).

Concerning the flood, there are a number of other exegetical considerations which point to it being global, as I will post below (this passage causes serious problems for a “local flood” interpretation):

Genesis 7:17-20 (ESV): The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #55

How does Genesis 7:17-20 deny a local/regional flood? I can find nothing in the Hebrew text which presents any problems for a non-global flood.

@J.E.S, let’s suppose that Noah lived in an area that is now the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, or any other now flooded area of your choice. What do you find in Genesis 7 which conflicts with that idea? Exactly what in this Genesis 7:17-20 description would not fit a regional flood?

I’ve covered this passage (and the Noah pericope in general) many times in past threads of Peaceful Science. I suppose it is probably easier to find it using Google than the third-party forum software’s search function.

Verse 20 is actually my favorite (from a Hebrew exegesis perspective) of the entire Noah account. It is one of the main reasons why I abandoned the “global flood view” of my youth when I was a “creation science” advocate.

Perhaps a Google search for “Genesis 7:20” and my username here and “define:discourse.peacefulscience.org” would pull up the appropriate threads on this forum where I discussed flood globality [Is that a word? Spellcheck is complaining.]

I’ve had a few former YEC associates (people who knew me during my “creation science” days of long ago) suggest that the only reason I abandoned a global flood view was that “You got carried away by secular science and let that replace the Biblical text on this subject.” No! Just the opposite. It was the problems for the global flood viewpoint in the Hebrew text itself (and the English Bible text as well, obviously, because I’m aware of the translation committees’ dynamics over the years as they’ve dealt with these passages) which convinced me that a global flood was just as problematic in God’s scripture revelation as in his creation revelation. Plus, the relevant Psalms passages make clear that God permanently divided the waters from the dry land in the distant creation past such that a creation covered by water would not be the case thereafter. (Recall the spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters in Genesis 1.) Ken Ham claims the “Creation Psalm” refers to the flood instead—and then insists that God changes his mind and decided to restore the original watery state of all creation for a time. I consider that rather far-fetched and hardly harmonious with the text.

As I have also explained in past threads, 2 Peter 3 where the Noahic Flood’s destruction is compared to the future destruction of the world by fire that is another big reason I abandoned a global flood.