Monday, April 6, 2009

Strained Arguments

We've been examining the popular modern view among conservative Christians that the flood of Noah's day (recorded in Genesis 6-8) covered the entire globe and accounts for all of the geological and paleontological record. We began by applying basic hermeneutic principles, determining right away that that the intent of this account was to describe God's judgment on sinful humanity--not to give a geological treatise. Likewise, we saw that the context was all humanity, not planet Earth. We compared similar passages in the Old Testament and even in Genesis itself, and learned that the all-inclusive language used in this account (which causes modern readers to leap to a global conclusion) is rightly understood as applying only to the scope of the context--in this case, the geographical area occupied by humans, the Mespotamian plain.

We discussed the history of the global flood view, and learned that it is only a very recent idea, one not held by Christians throughout the millennia. We also saw some of its motivation, as a well-meaning but misguided attempt to refute naturalistic evolution.

We also took a little bit of time to show that a global intepretation of the flood is contradicted by all of the evidence from the natural world--from what theologians call general revelation, the creation itself. Indeed, we found--and find--that even a cursory scrutiny of this view yields overwhelming exegetical, theological, and scientific evidence refuting it. Its defenders generally resort to a position of fideism (faith defined as contrary to reason and evidence) and biblicism ("the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge"). Both of these positions are, of course, contrary to the historical and orthodox understanding of Christian faith.

All that remains in this last post in the series is to bring to light some of the logical absurdities to which ardent proponents of the global flood view are forced. I'll limit myself to just a couple of such absurdities.

There is evidence for some half billion different species of animals having lived on Earth. Though the majority of these are aquatic species (and therefore not taken on board the ark), there remains nonetheless a significant problem with regard to housing and feeding pairs of every terrestrial species (if the flood were global and recent). Answering such skepticism yields the following sorts of arguments (taken from an article by John Woodmorappe on the Answers in Genesis website)...
It is still necessary to take account of the floor spaces required by large animals, such as elephants and rhinos. But even these, collectively, do not require a large area because it is most likely that these animals were young, but not newborn. Even the largest dinosaurs were relatively small when only a few years old.
Huh? But there's more...
Dinosaurs could have eaten basically the same foods as the other animals. The large sauropods could have eaten compressed hay, other dried plant material, seeds and grains, and the like. Carnivorous dinosaurs--if there were meat-eaters before the Flood--could have eaten dried meat, reconstituted dried meat, or slaughtered animals. Giant tortoises would have been ideal to use as food in this regard. They were large and needed little food to be maintained themselves. There are also exotic sources of meat, such as fish that wrap themselves in dry cocoons.
Exotic. That's exactly what such argumentation is. And that's just the problem. If there's one thing to be said for the global flood view (at least superficially), it's that it arises from a straightforward reading of the (English translation of) the Genesis text. But the ideas necessarily used to prop this view up are anything but a straightforward reading of Scripture. The author of this same article goes on to elaborate on complex systems of waste management and water storage that find no mention in Scripture, even though what is found in the Genesis account is quite detailed with regard to the ark's specifications.

But perhaps the most bizarre position to which global flood defenders are forced is this one--the view that the animal 'kinds' taken on board the ark were representative pairs of whole families of animals and that after the flood these pairs yielded (through a sort of hyper-evolution, though proponents would never call it that) the species we see today. On this view, a single pair of canids aboard the ark led to the post-flood "generation" of domestic dogs, jackals, wolves, dingoes, coyotes, red foxes, gray foxes, kit foxes, well, you get the idea. Thus (according to Todd Wood, also on the Answers in Genesis website),
Lions, coyotes, and dromedary camels were probably not on the Ark but were born to parents within the cat, dog, and camel kinds.
It's ironic; the young-earth view, of which a global flood is a necessary corollary, became dogma with the specific intent of refuting evolutionary theory. And yet, defense of the former leads to belief in an efficiency of evolution that far surpasses anything imagined by the staunchest proponent of Darwin.*

Recent discoveries from across the spectrum of scientific disciplines have led to the virtual demise of all credibility for Darwinism (though its disciples still hold the microphone and are unwilling to acknowledge this). Unfortunately, the most popular approach among conservative Christians for refuting this failed theory--positing a young earth and a global flood--is fraught with obvious exegetical, theological, scientific, and logical problems. It's high time we Christians recognize that truth, evidence, and reason are on our side, and that we need not make Scripture say things it never has. It's time for young-earth creationism and flood geology to die a quiet death; they only present (for many thinking people in our day) artificial barriers to considering the true claims of Christianity.

* The real reason that there were not kangaroos, penguins, and cougars on the ark is that none of these animals was or is found in Mesopotamia, the region occupied by humanity prior to the flood. The explanation for the sufficiency of the ark's capacity is that the number of species occupying Mesopotamia (of the rather specific types of animals described by the Hebrew words in the flood account) is actually quite finite.


Jordan said...

So then the point of having all the animals on the ark was to ensure that post-flood Mesopotamia still had the diversity to sustain existence for Noah et. al, rather than to ensure existence of all species period? Also, how sure are we that *all* humans were in the Mesopotamian plain? What about Africa?

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Jordan:

Yes. The point of having the animals on the ark was to enable Noah to quickly restart husbandry and worship, and so that the local ecology could be reinitiated without waiting for animals to immigrate from regions beyond the affected area.

There's no way of telling exactly when the flood occurred, but all of the evidence, paleontological and archaeological, has the spread of humanity from the Middle East very recently (about 20,000 years ago). This is consistent with Scripture, as there is no mention of any place names outside of this area in the chapters preceding the flood account. (After the flood, humanity continued to disobey God's command to fill the Earth; hence the incident at Babel, where God gave this commandment a third time and helped to actualize it.)

Thanks for reading!

Jordan said...

Another question related to flood models is, how are the rather long lifespans (often 600-900+ years) of people pre-Noah explained in a local-flood model? The young-earth, global flood proponents often go for some sort of radical change in environment (i.e. canopy theory) as part of the global flood.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Jordan:

That's a good question, one that continues to puzzle believers. I can only offer a couple of suggestions, ways in which others (among those who believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the autographs of Scripture) have dealt with it.

Scripture seems to say that God intervened (in some unspecified way) to ensure shorter life spans after the flood. Some have postulated (as a physical explanation of this intervention) a nearby supernova explosion, which would have had the effect of quickening the aging process (both of individual cells and as a consequence of whole organisms).

Alternatively, God may have directly tweaked the rate of cell apoptosis. Cell biologists have come to recognize that our cells are programmed to shut down after a certain number of generations, such that living beyond 120 years is no longer humanly possible. It may be that apoptosis was designed differently before and after the flood.

One apparent difference between antediluvian and post-flood humans is that the former were vegetarians and the latter ate meat. It is a possibility that this corroborates the foregoing explanation. For people living several centuries, the buildup of toxins fom eating meat would have been detrimental, whereas given the shorter lifespans such a buildup is insignificant.

These suggestions are plausible, but far from conclusive. I should note, however, that there are different sets of evidences that suggest that early humans did in fact live longer than people of more recent civilizations. These include the rapid rise of technology and civilization among the most ancient cultures, followed by fits and starts (loss of knowledge and technological skills) among more recent people. Longer life spans among earlier peoples would account for their more rapid advances.

I know these suggestions do not constitute a completely satisfactory answer to your question, but I've never heard or read such an answer. The canopy theories of young-earth creationism fail for a variety of reasons, and there is no historical or scientific evidence for such canopies.

Thanks again for reading.