Flood myths

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Frank Wind, a professional geologist and storyteller, entitled “Awash in Tales – the Biblical Story of Noah’s Flood and Other Flood Myths.”

He began by citing the famed 17th century calculation by Bishop Ussher that, based on the Bible’s chronology, the creation occurred in 4004 BCE – to be exact, on October 23. (There is argument about what time of day. Seriously.) Noah’s flood was placed at 2348 BCE. (“BCE” is the same as BC, but is used by those who prefer to leave Christ out of it). According to Dr. Wind, this sort of “young Earth” chronology had been pretty much quietly forgotten by most of Christendom, until its recrudescence as part-and-parcel of the late 20th Century American anti-evolution crusade.

What put the kibosh the 4004 BCE stuff – originally, at least – was unignorable scientific fact. Frank Wind discussed the work of Hugh Miller (1802-56), a Scottish scientist who authored The Testimony of the Rocks. Miller, like many other scientists of his time, had difficulty reconciling that evidence (of a very old Earth) and the Bible; but in the end he came down on the side of scientific truth.

Miller was particularly intrigued by the fact that flood myths are ubiquitous in human cultures all over the world. While some have little resemblance to the Bible’s tale, apart from the water ingredient, many do entail striking parallels. One notable example occurs in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the Bible by around a thousand years. (In Gilgamesh, the hero was Utnapishtim. But Noah became more famous because his name was easier to remember.)

All this prompts the question of whether these flood stories all have a common ancestry – perhaps some big inundation whose trauma deeply impressed itself on the early human psyche. In his slide show, Wind did present one slide entitled “Geologic Evidence for Noah’s Flood.” It was blank. Geological investigations in the Mesopotamian region, the “cradle of civilization,” more or less, have revealed evidence of only minor local flooding, but nothing like a cataclysmic world deluge.

However, there is another candidate: around 5600 BC rising waters after the last Ice Age may have smashed through a barrier between the Mediterranean and the theretofore inhabited basin that now became, suddenly, the Black Sea. While there is some suggestive evidence for this hypothesis, so far no smoking gun.

Meantime, Biblical literalists of course insist on the truth of the Noah story, and this entails some, well, difficulties. Like, how could an ark with the dimensions specified in the Bible have had room for every species? Some fundamentalists answer that the ark wouldn’t have had to – it could have taken aboard just every type – e.g., one pair to represent every variety of penguin. And then, after the flood, they would simply have diversified into all the different penguin species we see today. There is a word for that – evolution! (However, not even the most rabid Darwinist would argue that so much evolution could occur in just a few thousand years.)

Furthermore, Noah’s vessel would have had to contain not only the animals – some pretty sizeable, including dinosaurs, as shown in displays at Kentucky’s Creation Museum – but also food for them. One might suppose that for the predators, at least, that ark would have been one big buffet. But the Kentucky museum says all the animals were vegetarians.

(“Prepare to believe,” says the Museum’s website banner. I go to museums to learn.)

And trying to explain fossils has always been a bit of a nuisance for creationists. They are forced to insist that the entirety of fossils were all laid down in the flood – which of course (forgive the pun) won’t wash. (The fossil record contains evidence of extremely varied life over successive periods covering billions of years; to think they all lived side-by-side is preposterous.) Creationists also have a spot of bother trying to explain who the Neanderthals could possibly have been. One hopeful theory is that this seemingly different species was actually the same as us except they lived for such vast ages that their bones changed. After all, some early Biblical personages did live quite long, topping out with Methuselah at a ripe old 969. (Too bad the Bible failed to record his health tips.)

But, per one of Frank Wind’s cartoon slides, science says “Here are the facts, what conclusions can be drawn?” Creationists say “Here’s the conclusion; what facts can we find (or, often, make up) to support it?”

2 Responses to “Flood myths”

  1. p4p24 Says:

    I am curious about why argue with a creationist. I myself am Mormon, I know there are creationist in my faith, but their logic is so weak, and even scriptural evidence for such ardent beliefs are far and few between, that I just ignore them and teach my children to question everything. I once a biology teach at BYU talk about this subject, his argument was clean and simple; Religion teaches us who created the universe, and our role in it, Science teaches use how the universe was created. Without learning true science we can never learn more about God. He continued in other lectures to talk about Miracles, he said a Miracle is the manifestion of God’s power. God’s power is the same power(force) that drives the universe. Just because we learn how God did something doesn’t mean its not a Miracle, it just means we now have learned a bit more about God. One day we will learn how to use natural forces to walk on water, or change water into wine, maybe we could build a device to reassemble protons nuetrons and electrons, a star trek replicator would be nice.
    Some people are scared to truly learn more about God. In my religion and in others people don’t want to be challenged, they are scared of what they might discover, and so instead of learning more about God;Science, they just blast anything that might threaten their world view. These people will never become more Enlightened, and those are “damned” where they stand, no progression without learning.

    Thanks for all your post and your books I enjoy learning more about how you see the world

  2. Milan Huba Says:

    I love your blogs and agree with most everything that you write, but many people still believe that a divine force or a benevolent God is watching over them and this comforts them, adds meaning to their lives and gives them peace. We should respect the beliefs of other people and treat them with compassion and if this is a problem for us, then perhaps, that is the real problem.

    My father once told me not to take anything away from somebody unless you can replace it with something better. How does disparaging or destroying a belief system that gives many people comfort and peace make their lives any better?

    Finally, the epic stories told in the religious texts are very interesting, and they usually illustrate a truth, they introduce us to our ancestor’s beliefs and our early history.

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