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The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, Pt 1

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January 26, 2010 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time
The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, Pt 1

Today's entry was written by Paul Seely. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Part One: Noah’s Flood was not global

Data from various scientific disciplines provides a clear indication that Noah’s Flood did not cover the globe of the earth. Before considering that data, however, we must first determine a rough earliest probable date for the Flood. If the Flood is an actual historical event, it must touch down in the empirical data of history somewhere. We can make a rough approximation of its date from the two genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. At one end is Adam, whose culture is Neolithic and therefore can be dated no earlier than around 9,000 or 10,000 B.C. At the other end is Abraham who can be dated to approximately 2000 B.C. In both genealogies the Flood occurs in the middle of these two ends, and therefore roughly at 5500 or 6000 B.C. An even clearer indication of the Flood’s date is implied by the statement that shortly after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard. This implies the growing of domesticated grapes, which do not show up in the archaeological record until c. 4000 B.C.1 The biblical Flood is therefore probably not earlier than 4000 or maybe 5000 B.C.2

What evidence is there then that there was no global Flood at any time since 5000 B.C.?

The first piece of evidence is geological. Christian geologists have given various scientific reasons why the Flood was not global.3 I will mention just one. From 9000 B.C. to the present, the only rocks in northern Mesopotamia which were made by rivers or oceans are along the river banks. This indicates that the only flooding which has affected northern Mesopotamia in the last 11,000 years is from the overflow of rivers.4

The second line of evidence is from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 ice core. The very close agreement of three independent, seasonally based, non-radiometric indicators of annual layers makes the age of the ice sheet on Greenland indisputably 11,000 years old, and the agreement of two of those indicators adds another 100,000 years. Close examination shows that the ice core is composed of fresh water from top to bottom. There is not a single layer of ice in it or in the ground under it composed of seawater nor any silt deposits such as a flood would leave. Not a single layer gives evidence of having melted and refrozen. This means no ocean water has ever stood over it or under it. Consequently, this ice core falsifies the idea that there was a global flood in the time of Noah.5

We can also consult archaeology. Before we do, however, we must briefly point out that carbon-14 dating has been fundamentally validated by comparison with other known dates. It fundamentally agrees with the tree ring record of American bristlecone pine going back to 6400 B.C. and with the tree ring record of European oak going back to 8480 B.C.6 The carbon-14 dates on these two different sequences rise as the number of tree rings rise and are in such very close agreement with each other that they convinced Gerald Aardsma, Ph.D. specializing in carbon dating, and a teacher at the Institute for Creation Research for 6 years, that Carbon-14 dating is reliable back to c. 9300 B.C.7

With the validity of C-14 dating established back to at least c. 9000 B.C., we can now ask, "Is there any archaeological evidence for a Flood in the Near East subsequent to 4000 or 5000 B.C.?" The short answer is that the only evidence of serious flooding in the Near East during that time period is from riverine floods.

When tells in the Near East which date from 5000 to the time of Abraham are examined, no evidence of a global flood is found. In fact, overlapping layers of occupation, one on top of the other, often with the remains of mud-brick houses in place, are found intact spanning the entire period. No matter what specific date one might put on the flood after 5000 B.C., there were sites in the Near East at that date where people lived and remained undisturbed by any serious flood. In other words, not only is there no evidence of a flood that covered the Near East, there is archaeological evidence that no flood covered the Near East between 5000 and the time of Abraham.

In fact there are continuous cultural sequences which overlap each other from 9500 to 3000 B.C. and down into the times of the patriarchs and later.8

The empirical data of geology, glaciology, and archaeology, as interpreted by virtually all scientists qualified in these areas of study, clearly testify that no flood covered the entire globe or even the entire Near East at any time in the last 11,000 years.

The biblical flood story is likely based on more local events, which we will explore in my next post.


1. Jane M. Renfrew, “Vegetables in the Ancient Near East Diet,” CANE 1:192; Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of Plants in the Old World (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 134

2. For more details see Paul H. Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) 291-293.

3. Glenn Morton, “Why the Flood was not Global,” http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gflood.htm; Donald C. Boardman, “Did Noah’s Flood Cover the entire World, No,” in Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990) 210-229. Wayne Ault, "Flood," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 2:556-563; Davis Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977) 176-210.

4. Personal communication from Glenn Morton verified by geological maps.

5. Paul H. Seely, “The GISP2 Ice Core: Ultimate Proof that Noah’s Flood was not Global,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55 (2003) 252-60, available at http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/2003/PSCF12-03Seely.pdf.

6. M. Spurk, M. Friedrich, J. Hofmann, S. Remmele, B.Frenzel, H. H. Leuschner, and B. Kromer, "Revisions and Extension of the Hohenheim Oak and Pine Chronologies: New Evidence About the Timing of the Younger Dryas/Preboreal Transition," Radiocarbon 40 (1998) 1107- 1116.

7. Gerald Aardsma, "Radiocarbon, Dendrochronology and the Date of the Flood," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism (ed. Robert E. Walsh and Chris L. Brooks; Pittsburgh, PA: The Fellowship, 1990) 1-10; Gerald Aardsma, "Tree-ring dating and multiple ring growth per year," Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 29 (March 1993) 184-189.

8. The two sites, Abu-Hureyra in Syria and Mehrgarh in Pakistan, by themselves, show continuous overlapping occupation from 9500 to 3000 B.C. Andres M. T. Moore, G. C. Hillman, and A. J. Legge, Village on the Euphrates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 491-93; Frank R. Allchin and Bridget Allchin, “Prehistory and the Harrapan Era,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India (ed. Francis Robinson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 71; Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India: An Archaeological History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 126-36.

Paul Seely is likely well known to serious students of the intersection of the OT and the ANE. He has written numerous pieces in several venues, including Westminster Theological Journal and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formerly Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation). He has also delivered numerous papers at the annual meetings of the American Scientific Affiliation. His lifelong area of focus is Genesis 1-11. The book Inerrant Wisdom was published in 1989 through the non-profit organization he founded, Evangelical Reform, Inc.

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ZX - #4630

February 16th 2010

It must also be said that it is bad theology to posit a God who performs miracles for no rhyme and reason except to confuse and cause such division within His people.  To explain the global flood, you need to believe in 2 miracles - that God intervened in the natural order to cause a massive amount of water to cover all land masses (not unacceptable); AND after that He purposely wiped off every single trace of physical evidence that He did it while allowing evidence that He didn’t to surface (completely unacceptable).  The first miracle has a purpose - to punish mankind of their sins; the second, I can think of no benign ones.  It is therefore NOT analogous with other miracles stated in the Bible such as the preservation of Daniel’s friends, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Martin Rizley - #4648

February 16th 2010

Although you say there is no evidence for a global flood, you know that there are many YEC’s would disagree with you on that point.  I wonder if you have ever familiarized yourself with the “catastrophic plate tectonics” model developed by men like John Baumgartner and Andrew Snelling.  It is a model that focuses on one mechanism (catastrophic crustal plate movements caused by rising heat and steam from the earth’s mantle) that God may have used to cause flooding on a global scale.  It accounts for much of the data observed in the geological record, including evidence of catastrophic deposition of sediment as titanic waves of rising oceanwaters swept in repeated surges across whole continents, burying alive both marine creatures and creatures from different ecological zones as the waters rose higher with each successvie surge.  I suspect that most mainline scientists never both to look at such a model, since they have already made up their minds that the verdict is in on creationism—all creationists are cranks, and their theories are unworthy of consideration by any serious scientist (continued)

Martin Rizley - #4652

February 16th 2010

Someone like myself, however, is more willing to hear what they have to say, since I share their basic presupposition that the Bible is true in all that it affirms—even when what it says touches on the realm of history.  Of course, I am open to viewing the Genesis narrative as a non-historical parable or legend intended to teach spiritual lessons, if there is any textual evidence to support that view of Genesis.  But the evidence is quite the contrary; just look at the details given in the narrative—the precise day, month, and year of Noah’s life when the flood began, the precise duration of the flood, the precise height to which the floodwaters rose.  There is nothing in the Flood narrative to suggest that we are dealing with an event that took place “once upon a time.”  Moreover, in Genesis 11, the entire human race is said to descend from Noah’s three sons, a point that the apostle reiterated when he said that all human beings are “of one blood.”  The Bible clearly presents these chapters as an historical record, and Jesus and the apostles clearly regarded it as a trustworthy record.  I cannot allow the fallible declarations of scientists to obscure that indisputable fact.

Martin Rizley - #4663

February 16th 2010

You may think that I am “toying” with the evidence by my openness to consider the alternative interpretation of the evidence by (in your view) creationist “nuts;” but I do not see it as “toying with the evidence"rather, as persevering in the confidence that, rightly interpreted, the evidence will be seen to confirm, rather than contradict, the Genesis account.  I am sure when Abraham sought to see divine benevolence in God’s command to slay his son on Mount Moriah, the devil must have tempted him to think, “You are overlooking the obvious, Abraham!  Only a God who takes sadistic delight in watching parents agonize at the thought of killing their own children would command you to take a knife and plunge it into your own son’s breast!  Get real, Abraham!  A God who would ask you to do such a thing cannot be good.”  But Abraham persisted in putting the best interpretation on God’s actions, even when others might have seen that interpretation as “strained.”

Martin Rizley - #4672

February 17th 2010

Zx, There is one further thing that I must say.  You view my position as absurd; but you forget that many evolutionists freely admit to the seeming “absurdity” of their position.  By that I mean, they admit that it is completely counter-intuitive and seemingly contrary to reason and common sense to attribute the vast biodiversity and complexity we see in the natural world to the unguided and random operation of natural forces.  That’s why Richard Dawkins has felt obliged to give his books on evolution titles like “The Blind Watchmaker” and “Climbing Mount Improbable.”  The reason they search unceasingly for the ‘unguided processes’ that caused life to arise from non-life is this:  they are driven by a kind of faith, the faith that, when all the facts are known, mindless nature will be seen to have within itself all the properties needed to produce ‘accidentally’ every phenomenon that we observe in nature, without the need for a guiding hand—and that includes the first living cell.  So it is not only creationists who propose ‘absurdities’—everyone proposes what seems like an absurdity to those outside their belief system.

ZX - #4745

February 17th 2010


I am tired to debate the other points with you because I believe I’ve already addressed them (though I promise you I’ll look up your ‘catastrophic plate tectonics’ model); but your caricature of Richard Dawkins (as a biologist) I think is clearly wrong-footed.  It might be better if you had actually read both his books rather than simply infer from their titles his ideas (this guy earns a living from being unnecessarily provocative).  These 2 books of his explain in great detail how evolution is exactly NOT what you think it to be - it is NOT “unguided and random”, a common misconception propagated by creationists.  Dawkins states clearly in “The God Delusion” that evolution by natural selection is a 3rd option to the perceived dichotomy between random chance and direct design.

ZX - #4746

February 17th 2010

I personally think that Dawkins is as much a ‘believer’ in his belief that the Darwinian process might also account for non-biological entities such as the fundamental physical constants of the Universe (Ref: 2nd debate with John Lennox organized by the Fixed Point Foundation), or that evolution has disproved the existence of God. These beliefs of his, as with creationist ones, are non-scientific and non-sequitur.  But I will strongly disagree that in the field of biology, the theory of evolution as explained by Dawkins is as absurd as that of Special Creation.  It is not - it is a theory that is explicable, verifiable and falsifiable; and if true, gloriously testifies of a God who in His infinite intelligence can not only create the world, but create it with self-creating/transformative, naturalistic powers.

Martin Rizley - #4747

February 17th 2010

If you do look into the catastrophic plate tectonics model, I would suggest you see firsthand what a ‘creationist’ geologist like Andrew Snelling says about it (he has a DVD in which he explains the basic model, entitled, “The Flood:  The Big Picture and the Resulting Evidences.”  It is a vast improvement on earlier models, because it is based on a knowledge of the earth’s physical structure and utilizes concepts that are widely accepted by geologists, such as plate tectonic theory—although it obviously modifies that theory by suggesting that a “catastrophic” tectonic event involvement the rapid movement of crustal plates (at meters per second) occurred in the past, producing widespread flooding.  This model has also made one scientific prediction that was later verified—namely, that there would be found evidence of cooler, denser rock material ‘subducted” into the earth’s mantle where the younger, basalt ocean floor meets the older, fossil-bearing continental rock.  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #4749

February 17th 2010

I would like to know, however,  what you regard as"sufficient and proper” evidence in support of a scientific theory?  Must any scientific model that depends for its viability on God’s miracle-working power be automatically rejected as ‘absurd’?  If so, why?  Why does mainstream science automatically reject any scientific model not based on strict methodological naturalism?  Why does it say such a model cannot give us a reasonable explanation for what occurred in the past?What is the basis of this “faith” which says that only scientific research based on the principle of strict naturalism can yield a true and reliable knowledge about the ancient past?  Why this a priori exclusion of miracle and direct supernatural causation in the events of earth’s history?  It would seem that a miracle of God would be needed to trigger simultaneous volcanic explosions all over the globe.  For those who believe in a miracle-working God, why would it be ‘out of court’ to posit in a scientific model that miracle played some role in the triggering of past geological events?

ZX - #4750

February 17th 2010

Martin, how about using an example - the explanation of rainfall.  What causes rainfall in the past?  We have no 100% certain evidence of that.  I have a sudden liking of this theory today - that it rained in the past because God invisibly rested on the clouds and poured water from an ancient metallic jug to wet the Earth.  Do you consider this absurd? 

But wait…

ZX - #4751

February 17th 2010

“Must any scientific model that depends for its viability on God’s miracle-working power be automatically rejected as ‘absurd’?  If so, why?  Why does mainstream science automatically reject any scientific model not based on strict methodological naturalism?  Why does it say such a model cannot give us a reasonable explanation for what occurred in the past?What is the basis of this “faith” which says that only scientific research based on the principle of strict naturalism can yield a true and reliable knowledge about the ancient past?  Why this a priori exclusion of miracle and direct supernatural causation in the events of earth’s history?  It would seem that a miracle of God would be needed to (insert circular claim to prove above miracle).  For those who believe in a miracle-working God, why would it be ‘out of court’ to posit in a scientific model that miracle played some role in the triggering of past meterological events?”

Martin Rizley - #4757

February 17th 2010

Zx, I should have written my last sentence like this, “For those who believe in the miracle-working God of Scripture, why would it be ‘out of court’ to posit in a scientific model that miracles consistent with the known character and attributes of God played some role in the triggering of past geological events? ”  In other words, when I speak of ‘miracles,’ I am not speaking of any possible miracle of any possible ‘god’ that may possibly exist ‘out there’ in the sea of possibilities.  I am talking about miracles consistent with the known character, attributes, and works of the God we both claim to believe in—the God is Himself the measure of what is ‘possible.’  It is not in keeping with the character or works of the God of Scripture to produce rain in the way you suggest—therefore, we can safely reject such a hypothesis about God’s rain producing methods in the past.  But the God of Scripture is known to have performed certain miracles that affected the natural realm on a grand scale.  For example, when Jesus rebuked the wind and surging waves on the Sea of Galilee, we read that “they stopped, and it became a great calm.”  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #4760

February 17th 2010

Now, this was a miraculous event, because ordinarily, it would require hours for a turbulent, storm-tossed sea to grow calm again—this simply doesn’t happen ordinarily, as it did that day on the Sea of Galilee.  Now, if God’s purpose were to judge all mankind by means of a global flood, how would it be against His known character, attributes, or works to trigger such an event supernaturally, by causing magma in the earth’s mantle to become superheated, thus fracturing the earth’s crust on a global scale as seismic and volcanic events occurred simultaneously in different parts of the earth.  Such a miracle would be fully in keeping with what God is revealed to do in other parts of the Scripture, especially when He is judging nations (consider the miracles of the Exodus).  If a model is developed which makes good sense of much of the geological data, but rests on the assumption that God possibly triggered the event miraculously, why should that model be automatically rejected on that ground by those who claim to believe in the God of Scripture?  How could anyone claim that such a model is in principle incapable of giving us an accurate picture of what took place in the past?

Martn Rizley - #4801

February 18th 2010

In other words, am I not right in saying that the real debate here that pits creationists against evolutionist is a theological one?  Mainstream science simply assumes that, if God exists, He would not “confuse” people by injecting miracle and supernatural causation into the world as a “formative factor” in those areas studied by geologists and other scientists.  Since God’s purpose (if He exists) is for us to be able to analyze fully and comprehend fully the ‘how’ of all His works performed in the physical realm, He would not ‘buck the rules’ by acting in ways outside our rational comprehension, for that would not be fair!  It would be confusing—even downright deceptive!  It would offend the supremacy of human reason as the measure of all truth in the physical realm!  We can count on God (if He exists) to act always like a civil, domesticated God does everything in a naturalistic way that we can ‘figure out’ later by the methods of naturalistic science.

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