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.”
(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.