A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood

This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide focuses on the flood story and the survival of humanity through the acts of Noah in Genesis 6–9. While the daily lesson focuses mostly on practical applications to personal faith, the “teacher comments” section aims for apologetic defense. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11762
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The Adult Bible Study Guide goes on to state its aim:

This week, we shall not study the biblical story of this cosmic event in order to understand it from a scientific point of view. We do not possess all the data to be able to comprehend this phenomenon. Apart from the scientific discussion, a number of questions will be debated. The fundamental question concerns God Himself: What does this story teach us about the God of the Bible and His purpose? Gnostic philosopher Marcion of Sinope (ad 85–ad 160), and many other Christians after him, used the Flood to demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament was a violent and cruel God, set in diametric opposition to Jesus, the God of love.

It’s not science but literature. It would be nice if the primary lesson author, Dr Doukhan, could join a conversation with other scholars within and outside our own SDA community. For example, here’s something I read recently which isn’t new to those who have studied OT introduction in our own schools:

The Problem with the Flood Narrative

The story of the Flood in Genesis 6–9 has been, since the dawn of critical scholarship on the Bible, the primary text to which people have pointed to demonstrate the presence in the Pentateuch of multiple literary sources.

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It’d difficult to tell here, but the second paragraph in the post, leading with:

…is a quote from the “teachers comments”, not the authors words. That quote ends with:

Yea, and pigs might fly and snakes and donkeys might talk. How sad, the ignorance contained in that defense - of a story.

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I lean towards the biblical narrative as being true. The flood story is laid out in too much detail to discount, imo.

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Ah, but in that detail you’ll find two different stories, woven together by the redactor of the Pentatuch. Any they don’t really agree with each other.

There’s a video and study guide/essay here on this topic, which reflects what almost all biblical scholars, Jewish and Christian alike, have known for some time, also linked to above:

I’m gobsmacked at this video. Do they even read their Bibles?? 2 different stories? Even if 2 versions, they do not contradict or conflict.

They say 2 pairs of animals in God’s first instructions, then 7 pr clean & 1 pr unclean. I know of no version of the Bible that says 7 & 1. The second instructions say 7 & 2. Again, do they even know their Bibles?? They think it is a conflict that God said to “bring” the animals and then it says the animals came to Noah - how is this a conflict?? There is no conflict - the animals came and Noah brought them onto the ark. And why is it a conflict if God’s first instructions were not as detailed as the second instructions given a century later as they were ready to board the ark? Seems logical to me that’s how it would work.

They say there’s a conflict as far as the timeline, using a song to discredit the BIble (ROFL!) and then saying the “40 days” from the song doesn’t fit anywhere in the story. But oh look, it’s right there in Gen 7:17.

They take issue with what kind of bird and why 2 different kinds and that Noah doesn’t need to send out 2 different birds. So what? Why not? How do they know? And why is this a problem? They also have a problem with God telling Noah 2x that he will never bring a flood again. Again, why is this a problem?

They wonder where the water came from, while at the same time listing all the ways the Bible says the water came from, as if there is a problem. smh

They think there are 2 stories that cannot possibly fit together into one. Why not? It all fits together just fine as far as I can tell.

They keep repeating that the story takes place in Israel. There was no Israel! This was the antediluvian world. We have no idea where in the world Noah built the ark. They talk about different flood traditions. We know Abraham came from Mesopotamia, so why wouldn’t that area have a flood tradition? Seems like with so many flood traditions around the world, that would lend credence to the story rather than discredit it.

Then there is their view of how the flood story reflects on God. First God says “be fruitful and multiply” and then that gets out of control so the flood is used for population control. They also said there were plagues and then a flood - which that can’t be found anywhere in the Bible - but they didn’t elaborate on it. They point out that the flood didn’t solve the violence problem, as if that’s a mistake on God’s part, that giving humans a chance to start over is a mistake. They call into question God’s intelligent design and suggest that God changed his mind - basically questioning God’s omniscience and omnipresence. They say if humans do anything wrong, then it’s a flaw in the design - when the whole point was to give humans free will. Then saying God has anger mgmt issues, right after God gave humans another chance - makes no sense.

They mention the sacrifices after the flood as if God is just another god demanding blood sacrifices. God instituted the sacrificial system - the others are distorted imitations. They think the rainbow is a reminder - for God! What in the world? They use meat eating before & after the flood as an example of God changing his mind, while not mentioning the possibility that supplies of plant foods might have been pretty low for a while. Idk, but it’s not something worthy of being seen as a conflict, imo.

Again… just gobsmacked at the two men who have so many opinions about something they obviously have not learned much about, as well as anyone who would take them seriously.

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Yes, I think they very sincerely to read their bibles. And, while they may not conflict as much as the two creation stories, they do conflict. As noted, the dates given conflict and the accounts of what happened do as well. Also, as pointed out they recount things that don’t make sense together, particularly, as a unified story. For example, sending both a dove and a raven, getting different results, and being satisfied by both results, individually as if either were sufficient.

What they didn’t get into in the video or the essay is that when a biblical scholar / expert in ancient Hebrew reads the Hebrew text, it is obvious that there are two sources, woven together. It is like if I, a relative expert in English, were to read a story written partially by Shakespeare and partially by a modern English author, the text being copied and pasted together. Even the names of god are different. In one story it is El, and in the other is it Yahweh.

A predominant theory is that there was a redactor, probably in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE, who wove two traditions together throughout the Pentateuch. Indeed, when the exiled returned from Babylon to Israel/Judah, they apparently had the Pentateuch, which they used as a lever to usurp control.

See…

This may be new to you (and many Fundamentalist Christians as well), but it is not new information. Much of it has been known for hundreds of years.

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If they read their Bibles, why did they state so many inaccuracies as I outlined? It seems obvious they do not know the story very well.

As I pointed out, there are no significant conflicts. Everything makes sense. If there are 2 accounts of the same experience, why is that a problem? You don’t have to discount the entire experience. But I’m not convinced there are 2 accounts because it all makes sense as one story, as I said before.

The dove and raven make perfect sense. The water was receding, of course the results were different - that was the whole purpose for sending out the birds. I mean, the Bible account explains all that. Do people just not want to read it?

God has dozens of names throughout the Bible. That is a nothing burger.

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Hello Bessie. What I have observed very often is that those who most have an objection to the literal reading of a worldwide flood also take offense of the idea of God destroying so many people. They use the evidence against a literal flood to undermine the moral behind the story. As mentioned in one of the video, God has anger issues, or how could a living God be so cruel? Etc. much of the debate ends with having questioned so many elements of the story that ultimately the portion where God destroys all life isn’t real, it’s a man made moral to scare people into obedience. And that’s the real danger, The Bible is eaither reliable orbit is not, it is either God’s acts in history or it is not. Jesus said plainly “as in the days of Noah” etc. there is love and mercy and Grace in the flood narrative but there is also justice and vengeance and punishment. And that’s what many cannot accept. God bless you.

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But you’ve just pointed out that there are two sets of instructions that contradict each other. The Priestly source says take 2 pairs of every living thing (6:19-20). The second source says take 7 pairs of unclean and 1 pair of unclean (7:2-3).

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Nice try at twisting my words by taking out a partial quote! As you can see, I went on to state that it didn’t matter that one set of instructions said one thing and then a century later as it was getting time for the event to happen, more detailed instructions were given. This seems realistic and normal to me and not anything that should raise doubts.

Why do you not have doubts about the man in the video saying the 2nd set of instructions said 7 prs & 1 pr, which is never mentioned in the Bible. Because let’s just make stuff up to argue about. I’d think they would have been embarrassed enough to edit that blunder out, but no, they left it in, confirming to me that they don’t really know the Bible. They just want to scoff. As in the days of Noah…

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Well, to many readers there are conflicts, and it is confusing and doesn’t make sense. This was pointed out by the video.

It isn’t a problem and I didn’t discount anything. The point for me is that, if there are two stories, woven together as most all biblical scholars understand the case to be, then if we take them apart and read them as they were originally written, that can lead to a better understanding of the original messages the authors meant to convey.

This is not unlike the two creation stories. If we understand they they’re two different stand-alone creation stories, written by men from different traditions at different times, that’s better than thinking they are the same story. If there is only one creation story, then one has to start defending the text, calming that somehow they’re not different and don’t tell of mutually exclusive events, when they do in fact do that.

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I’d suggest that’s cognitive dissonance for a text which states contradictory things at different times, but leaving that aside for the moment:

Why do you not have doubts about the man in the video saying the 2nd set of instructions said 7 prs & 1 pr, which is never mentioned in the Bible.

Well, that’s because I already know about the 7 and 1 pairs, so in my post I put the textual references showing where it says 7 and 1, but as you don’t have handy access to a bible, I’ll post them here and highlight the relevant parts (NRSV):

Genesis 6

19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.

Genesis 7:

2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.

And then we’re back to the original pairs a few verses later:

10 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah

and

15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.

So first it’s a pair (no information about being clean or unclean), then it’s 7 clean but 1 unclean, and then its back to a pair of both clean/unclean animals. You cannot have both. If my cake recipe says I need 2 eggs, but then a little further down, says I need 7 eggs, and then further on still, it says I need 2 eggs, how many eggs do I need for my cake?

You said there was a century of difference (I disagree as the text doesn’t say it), which means that you think the text is chronologically linear in composition (first A, then B, then C). Using your methodology, in Gen 7:6, Noah enters the ark, the animals come in, and 7 days later the floodwaters come on the earth. But then in 7:11, they enter the ark again, the animals troop in, and then the floodwaters come in. Twice.

If you read carefully, there are two sets of dates for the start of the flood, two sets of dates for the mountaintops appearing, and two sets of dates for when the earth was dry. It’s fairly complicated to explain, but there are quite a few papers that discuss this already.

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Yes! And if you are a biblical scholar, you can also read the source text where you can see - based on the language style, and the use of the names for God, and probably a few other things - that there were two authors who told two stories.

I think you did a great job!

Let’s try something that people with at least two brain cells firing can understand. There are many questions that jump out at me. First, there are documented records of at least three civilizations that were intact at the time the bible specifies that the flood took place, in which these three civilizations, the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians and the Chinese all have records going back between 500 and 1000 years before the flood took place according to the biblical timetable. These records are well documented and show ruler progression and other recorded events that have a chronological sequence which cannot be ignored. If the flood covered the entire world, then these pre-flood civilizations would not have existed.

Then there is the issue of the various animals that were taken into the ark. The bible says that every animal of its “kind” was taken into the ark. All well and good, but then how do you explain a for instance, that on the continent of Australia, there are a whole collection of marsupials that don’t exist anywhere else on earth? Were they on the Ark or not? How did they get there if they were, and why then are they nowhere else on the earth?

Scientists have cored both the glaciers of the North Pole and South Pole and have looked at the layers, which are very distinct and quantifiable, to determine what happened in different periods of the planets existence. These coring’s go back well over 35,000 years. So if the flood covered the earth, why are these coring’s in existence, and why don’t they show a flood event?

Anthropologists have determined that the story of the tower of Babel was between 150 and 250 years after the flood according to the bible chronology. Yet, there is absolutely no way that there could have been that many people on the earth to build such a structure, and then again, if it existed, where is it? This same discrepancy appears in the construction of the early pyramids. These early constructions all began within a couple hundred years of the biblical account of the flood, and there is no way, even if humans were propagating like rabbits, that there would have been nearly enough people to construct such a task.

What about all of the poor scientists who have been maligned and denigrated over the years because they simply wanted to determine for themselves where we originated from? Most of these men and women of science are not haters of religion or God. They don’t have ill feelings about Christians, they are simply creatures bent on learning facts. They are not evil and anti-religion. Yet we seem so intent on hating them because their finding point out the improbability of many of the events in the bible that we are dead set on perpetuating, in spite of the fact that some of them simply don’t hold water.

The above is just for starters…there are hundreds of other problems with the flood story, but I don’t think anyone would even read that far if they are unwilling to look at anything that questions the biblical stories. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, who taught through the use of parables. If Jesus was also the creator and the one who lead the Israelites out of the wilderness and commanded Moses to lead them, why is it so hard to believe that Jesus taught Moses to use parables to describe events that taught about faithfulness and God’s leading and protection? Why isn’t it enough to simply set aside all of this unexplainable stuff until we can go to a place where God can explain exactly what happened?

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Also, I found this, which is clearly proof that the first story is right. There were only two of each animal. Even the clean animals, like the cows and the turkeys.

image

Also, it looks to me like the unicorns are getting on without issue. I wonder if Noah kicked them off later, along with the dinosaurs? Probably.

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I love your post.

Well, they walked from Australia to the ark before the flood, and then after they walked back. Obviously. On their tiny-little-feet.

But in all seriousness, this is just one of many examples that is more obvious than others. There are creatures on the Galapagos islands that don’t exist anywhere else. Same for Hawaii and other islands.

800,000 years, actually, for Antarctica!

There’s also the cases of the recently-extinct creatures like the Mammoths, which we keep finding frozen in the ice, nearly perfectly preserved. They’ve been there for up to 35,000 years, it seems. A flood would have washed them away, right?

This problem repeats itself in the origin stories of the bible many times, starting with the story of Cain and Able. After Cain killed Abel, what happened?

“And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch.”

I have questions:

  • Where did Cain’s wife come from? He seems to have found her in the land of Nod, but how is it that she existed at all?
  • Why would Cain build a city? For whom? There were 5 people on the planet at this point, including the mystery wife and Enoch, right? Didn’t he have something more important to do than build an empty city?

Yes, if you try to read the stories like actual history, then they become challenging. Like with Cain above, they don’t really make sense when analyzed logically. But that is not their point. They aren’t history. They’re allegory or parable, designed for a different purpose. They’re stories, not factual recounts of events.

If we read the creation story literally, or the flood story, they become impossible. This is true for many reasons.

A recently discovered reason has to do with the human genome project and the related genetic discoveries that have stemmed from it. As a result, we now have a way to analyze the genetics of a species and figure out, based on current genetic diversity, the smallest number of individuals that species could have ever had in the past to support the current diversity. For humans, the smallest number is something like 30,000, if memory serves. It’s just not possible to start with two.

Good point. I pointed out in SS class that the lesson made a case that Eve thought Cain was going to be the Messiah. Both Adam and Eve doted on Cain, little attention was paid to Able. So, since Able was now dead at the hands of Cain, who was left to come after him? Was it his two parents who doted on him? It is another problematic part of Genesis. It is a parable, the same way Jesus taught. Jesus was the one who inspired Moses to write Genesis, so why is it so unreasonable to think that Jesus used the same teaching methods, that He later used in His own ministry?

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Yes, I understand about the 2 creation stories. However, the flood story is easy to read and understand as 1 story. I don’t think anyone actually reading the flood story would conclude that it has to be 2 stories - 1 story makes complete sense to anyone who actually reads it, and there’s no need to defend the text because it already makes sense IF a person has actually read the story. What needs defending is trying to make it 2 stories - THAT takes a lot of explaining and tends to discount the whole thing as a fable or exaggeration. There’s just no need for all that when it’s easy to understand as 1 story.

I take it you still don’t have a problem with the video misrepresenting what the Bible says about 7/1 vs 7/2 pairs. I mean, really, it’s obvious they don’t know the story very well, so no wonder they are confused about it, making them lack credibility.

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It’s no more cognitive dissonance than my boss telling me the big picture at first and then toward the end of the project telling me more details. It’s just how reality works. If we’re talking about baking a cake, we read the ingredients first and then later when we go to make the batter, we look at the specific measurements. I think this is a silly thing to get worked up about, thinking it’s a contradiction or any kind of problem for the story.

Genesis 6:3 does seem to indicate that God is giving 120 years before destruction. That’s a little more than a century. Hebrew writing has a lot of repetition, going back and telling things in a different way. So the variations don’t bother me a bit.

I’m curious where this 2nd story is about the different dates.

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