“The question of the historicity and the character of the Genesis Flood is no mere academic issue of interest to a small handful of scientists and theologians. If a worldwide flood actually destroyed the entire antediluvian human population, as well as all land animals, except those preserved in a special Ark constructed by Noah (as a plain reading of the Biblical record would lead one to believe), then its historical and scientific implications are tremendous. The great Deluge and the events associated with it necessarily become profoundly important to the proper understanding of anthropology, of geology, and of all other sciences which deal with historical and pre-historical events and phenomena. But of greater importance are the implications of the mighty Flood of Genesis for Christian theology” (The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb and Morris, xix).
Many doubt the authenticity of the Flood account in Genesis 6-9, claiming that it is too fantastic, too overblown, and too intensely mythical to possibly be a scientifically accurate record of a flood of any kind. Some of the most common objections surround the size of the Ark – that it was too big and could not possibly have been built at that age in history. Others will attack the geological record and claim that little evidence exists in the natural world to support the claims of the Bible. Others, most frequently, will assert that Bible believers are in error in their interpretations and that the Flood was merely a local event for the purpose of inflicting judgment on only those in a particular region of the world. But we will either have to take the Bible account at face value or believe it is false and accept the implications of our disbelief. I find it so odd to meet those who claim to be “Christian” and yet deny the Flood. How can one believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and at the same time have difficulty believing in a worldwide flood? If all the rest of the Bible is literal, then why do so many supposed Christians single out stories from Genesis and claim that they are mythical?
Let us consider some aspects of the Genesis Flood to see whether or not these things are so. Is the Flood really so unbelievable?
The vessel that God commands Noah to build in Genesis 6:14 had some very specific requirements. Only God could have designed a craft with such perfect ratios, as we will see in a moment. It was made from Gopher wood, an indeterminate material because nothing is commonly called by that name any longer. Some speculate that it was cypress wood, resistant to decay and used extensively for shipbuilding. In any case, God asks for what He knows is the most appropriate building material. The length of the craft was three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty, and its height thirty (Genesis 6:15). In modern terms, the dimensions of the boat are hard to tell. A cubit was a measurement in Noah’s time with a number of different definitions. There were short and long cubits, royal cubits, and cubits from Egypt. All of them are between 18 and 25 inches, so for the sake of argument, let us assume that Noah was working with only 17.5 inch cubits. How large would the Ark be, then? With a length of 437.5 feet, the Ark would equal about the length of a football field. It would have been 72.92 feet wide, and 43.75 feet tall. Since it had three decks (Genesis 6:16), its total deck areas would have been about 95,700 square feet, which is equivalent to slightly more than the area of 20 standard basketball courts. The gross tonnage of the ship would have been 13,960 tons, that being a measurement of cubic space and not weight, and its carrying capacity would at least equal that of 522 standard railroad stock cars. This easily puts the Ark into the category of modern day large ocean-going vessels. These dimensions are all geometrically sound, and the ratio of length to width to height is still copied by modern ship builders because of its stability. These dimensions stand as proof of the Bible’s inerrancy because a myth or legend would not have included such detail, especially when ships of this size were not known in that time period. The Bible is a book of facts, not exaggerations, as evidenced by some of the other flood accounts in history. Cuneiform Tablets have described Arks in other culture’s Flood legends as being “Six stories high, with the length, width, and depth each being 242 feet and having a mast on top, with a pilot to guide it.” Berosus, the Greek historian, describes the Ark as having been 3,000 feet long and 1,200 feet wide. Noah, however, is instructed by the one true God to build a sound water craft that would be buoyant, air tight, and safe.
As for the size of the Ark and the probability of Noah and his three sons finishing the construction of such a massive project, there are two points that are often not considered by critics of the Bible. First, Noah had one hundred years to design, plan, and build the Ark, and it is amazing how much work can get done with a century to do it. Men today have hand built smaller boats, such as yachts and rafts, in a matter of one or two years. Denying the ingenuity of mankind is a mistake that only the truly ignorant would make. How else could men have built castles, raised obelisks, and constructed bridges and 50,000-seat coliseums before the age of steam power? Second, there is no indication in the Bible that Noah and his sons never hired laborers to assist in their efforts. There are countless hard laborers who willingly work on projects that they do not believe in, or completely disagree with (the Alaskan oil pipeline, for example, or the Panama Canal) and if there were helpers, that fact only further cements in our minds the absolute evil of that generation. Even having a hand in building the Ark could not convince these abominable people to repent!
All Those Animals
It has also been argued that there would not have been enough room for all of the animals to fit on the Ark, nor would it be possible for animals from all over the world to make their way to Ark for safety. These assertions, however, deny some very obvious points. Most importantly, not every animals is the size of an elephant, and this seems to be a pervasive perception in the world. All of the largest animals could have come in pairs of young specimens. Elephants, oxen, crocodiles, and the larger domesticated animals might not have been fully grown and have half (or much less) size. We also need to bear in mind that no fish or sea creatures would have been taken on the Ark. According to Genesis 6:19-20, the “flesh of all living animals” refers only to more specifically designated groups such as “birds”, “animals after their kind”, and “creeping things of the ground.” Only animals that dwelt on “the face of the land” were blotted out in Genesis 7:21-23, excluding sea creatures entirely. Also, Noah would not have been required to take one of every distinct breed of each animal. At the time of Noah, it is likely that most of the breeds of animal were not even in existence, dogs, cats, and livestock being bred and manipulated by humans over the centuries. The vast majority of animals on the Ark would have been smaller than a goat. Assuming that the average animal is sheep sized (and that is more than a fair assumption considering that most of the world is populated by rodents, birds, and insects), the Ark could comfortably hold 125,280 sheep sized animals.
Could Noah have taken care of all these animals for such a long time? Indeed, we must remember that it is likely many of these creatures could have been put into hibernation by God while on board – for there are noticeable difficulties in having a ship filled with predators, prey, and only eight people to tend them all. In any case, “Once we grant God’s power in bringing the animals to the Ark, we have no right to deny His power over the animals while they were in the Ark” (Whitcomb, Morris, 76).
Where did all the water go?
According to the Flood account in the Bible, “The water of the flood came upon the earth… All the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” (Genesis 7:10-11). But where did all the water come from, and where did it go after the flood? Some will argue that the Flood was impossible because there is currently not enough water in the atmosphere to support the worldwide flood theory. But that denies the possibility that there was more dry land area before the Flood, as well as a heavier density of moisture in the atmosphere. Admittedly, the antediluvian environment must have been very different from our own, because if all of the water from today’s atmosphere fell in the form of precipitation, it might only cover the earth’s atmosphere to a depth of two inches (Whitcomb, Morris, 121). In any case, whatever the source of the flood waters was, it was not evaporated entirely because it is not in our atmosphere now. The only explanation, therefore, is that all of the water filled the oceans and diminished dry land area. “Much of the present sea bottom was once dry land. Very likely, in order to accommodate the great mass of waters and permit the land to appear again, great tectonic movements and isostatic adjustments would have to take place, forming deep ocean basins and troughs and elevating the continents” (Whitcomb, Morris, 121). This is what seems to be implied by Psalm 104:5-9.
Before the Flood, the earth was much more flat, with a vast area of dry land and an atmosphere dense with moisture, as well as a source of water below ground that must have been massive. At God’s command, however, the great atmospheric moisture barrier transformed from vapor to liquid and those underground water sources sprang forth. With the world covered in water, and massive seismic activity as a result of the earth’s surface being broken open, the face of the planet was cataclysmically transformed. Oceans became deeper and dry land was pushed higher by tectonic movement. “The driving rains, the raging streams resulting from them, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the powerful tidal waves, then later the waves and other currents generated by the rising of the lands and sinking of the basins, and perhaps many other factors which we cannot now even guess. Never since the world was formed could there ever have been such extensive erosion of soil and rock beds, on a global sale, as during the Genesis Flood” (Whitcomb, Morris, 123).
A number of geological formations offer evidence of ocean beds once being above water. Seamounts, for example, are simply drowned islands in the middle of the ocean, some even being 6,000 feet below the surface. These bodies have fossil evidence that supports the Flood. Submarine canyons also show signs of once being above sea level. Usually these project seaward from a river valley on the land. One of the best know of these extends out from the mouth of the Hudson River some 300 miles, and reaches a depth of 15,000 feet.
Not A Local Flood
Some striking evidence exists in favor of Noah surviving a worldwide flood, and not a local or regional catastrophe. While a local flood is easier for world-minded individuals to stomach while trying to reconcile the Bible with modern theories such as uniformitarianism and evolution, the idea itself denies every detail from the Genesis account. The first point to consider is the sheer size of the Ark. Why would God command Noah to construct such a tremendous barge over a period of a hundred years when riding away on a mule would take a matter of days or weeks? It makes no sense to argue that the Ark was just a symbol meant to scare the people of that region into repentance, because that would make God a deceiver – He would be deceiving Noah by making him prepare for a massive flood that He knew would not happen, and He would be using coercion to convince the sinners of that region to change. Also, if the flood was local, then why take birds on the Ark when they could fly away faster than the Ark could float? And why take on animals from all over the world when the herd would have plenty of time to flee to safety?
Assuming that Mount Ararat even remotely resembled what it does today, then it would have been around 17,000 feet in elevation. If the top of this mountain were submerged, there is no way that most of the world would not be submerged as well. The text very clearly states that the mountains of the earth were covered (Genesis 7:20), and if even one of the smallest mountains in the region around Mt. Ararat was covered, it would inundate most of North America and all of Australia. “And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:24). No “local” flood could prevail for five months straight (Genesis 8:3). Do local floods keep one off the land for more than a year (Genesis 8:13-14)? The wording of the entire account (Genesis 6-9) could not need more improvement if the writer intended to describe a regional flood. Not only that, but God’s promise in Genesis 9:11 and Genesis 8:21 has been broken repeatedly if the flood was local!
Other Flood Accounts
It is no surprise that many cultures retain flood stories similar to the one found in the Bible, because all people descended from the line of Noah and his three sons. We share a common background, a common creator, and the common tragedy of the Genesis Flood. The Hawaiians report a flood from which only “Nu-u” and his family were saved. In the Greek account Deucalion’s vessel, like Noah’s, was a chest. The Babylonian flood accounts, notably the epic of Gilgamesh, are similar to the Bible in a number of ways. First, the flood was divinely designed and sent. The main character in the account is forewarned by God. The hero is divinely directed to build a huge boat to preserve life. Birds are sent out. And the hero worships after he is delivered. The native historian of the Aztecs says that the first world lasted 1,716 years before it was destroyed by a flood, which is similar to the 1,656 years of Genesis 5. The Chinese written language of Kanji has historical literature that suggests some similarities with the Bible writer also. For example, the character for the word “ship” is made up of three characters: “boat”, “eight”, and “mouth”. Very interesting coincidence, considering we know of another story involving eight mouths to feed on a big boat. Even the Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest have a flood story. The Indians in central Oregon are warned of a flood that would wipe out the entire world, so they build the largest canoe they can and fill it with their bravest men and women. These survivors float over the water many days and eventually settle on the peak of Mount Jefferson, the second highest mountain in Oregon. They climb down the mountain after the flood and begin a new life at its base. These are the forefathers of all other living people (Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Clark, 14).
There will always be those who deny the truth of the Bible, especially the more fantastic stories like the Flood, creation, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jonah and the great fish, and others. But what we must remember is that no matter what arguments the world will make against the veracity of scripture, we have God on our side. He created this world, and He can manipulate natural laws however He wants. God is not confined by gravity, thermodynamics, or chemistry. And even proponents of the local flood know this, and affirm that a universal flood is not out of the question when viewed through the lens of faith in the power of God. “Even if the Deluge were universal, the difficulties enumerated would not prove insuperable to the Almighty… [criticism of the universal flood] ignores the supernatural character of the episode, endeavors to explain it on naturalistic principles, and thereby comes very near holding up to ridicule Him who is God blessed for evermore” (Primeval Revelation: Studies in Genesis I-VIII, Jones, 356).