By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College
Americans and Noah’s Flood
In 1988, a survey was reported involving more than 2000 college students on 41 campuses across the country.[i] About 40% of these students (62% in Texas from a different survey[ii]) said they believed that human life originated in the Garden of Eden in the last 10,000 years, and that the worldwide flood described in Genesis was literally true, and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. In addition, about 200 high school biology teachers were also polled nationally. To the dismay of the scientific community, roughly 40% also said they believed that human life originated in the Garden of Eden in the last 10,000 years and that the worldwide flood described in Genesis was true![iii]
Twenty years later the situation looked even more dismal. 2008-2009 polls summarized in Reports (The National Center for Science Education -May-June 2010) indicated that:
60% of the American adult public believe that all people are descendents of one man and one woman—Adam and Eve.
52% do not believe that the theory of evolution has strong factual evidence to support it.
50% believes that the Bible describes the creation of life exactly as it occurred in six days.
60% believed that there was a flood within the past 10,000 years that covered all the earth and was responsible for most of the rock layers and fossils that are seen across the world (another 15% were not sure).
How can those who take the Bible as literally true possibly explain the sequences of millions of fossils preserved in thousands of layers of rock, dating back hundreds of millions of years and there for all to see—fossil sequences that all but spell out evolution? Such visible fossil evidence would seem to absolutely disprove the biblical literalists’ claim of a creation week only 6000-10,000 years ago. The answer, claim the young-earth/life creationists, is “Flood Geology”. The global flood described in Genesis: 5-6 (and referred to by Jesus [Matt. 24:37-39]) is used to explain the entire geological and fossil record on our planet.[iv]
Dr. Henry Morris (now deceased) and Dr. Duane Gish, co-directors of the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego, have maintained for the last 50 years that the earth’s entire geological column containing the total 3.8 billion year fossil record can be completely explained by one worldwide catastrophic flood that occurred roughly 4,500 years ago. [v] More recently (2002) Kurt Wise, a young-earth/life, biblical literalist creationist who actually earned a Ph.D. in paleontology from Harvard University, added to the creationist flood geology literature with his book, Faith, Form, and Time.[vi]
Morris, Gish, Wise and other Christian fundamentalists with scientific training firmly believe in scientific concordism—that God’s word (the Bible) must agree with God’s works as seen in nature. Thus, the 6-day creation story in Genesis-1 is not only literally true (a day is literally a 24 hour day), but must also align with modern scientific evidence. Thus the challenge is to “scientifically” reinterpret the entire fossil record and geological history of the earth (which is there for all can see) so that it’s consistent with the 6-day creation story. If an alignment can be demonstrated, this would be powerful proof that God inspired the writers of Scripture.
Morris and Gish have claimed that before the flood there was a thick water vapor canopy in the upper atmosphere, the oceans were very shallow and the land was much flatter than today. Also, deep in the earth were additional vast water reservoirs. They claim that the entire geological column—the thousands of sedimentary rock layers with its millions of fossils—came about quite naturally as a result of catastrophic earth movements, volcanic action, erosion and sedimentation which accompanied this global flood.
It happened like this: Those animals living at the lowest elevations would be buried first, followed by those living higher up. Therefore, bottom-dwelling marine organisms would be buried in the sediments first, followed by fish and then amphibians. Next to be buried would be the reptiles which lived higher up. Mammals would be buried later since their habitats were at still higher elevations and because they had greater mobility in escaping to higher ground. Humans would flee to the highest ground and be buried last. Thus, claim Morris and Gish, the sequence of fossils actually found in the rocks matches quite well what one might expect from a global flood. All of the so-called extinct animals showing up as fossils were just animals that had been buried with the global flood 4500 years ago as described in Genesis.
They further claim that the Flood was a geological disaster, eroding and re-depositing sediments miles thick, raising mountains, carving immense canyons and even repositioning continents. Most of the world’s high mountains were formed during the violence of the flood, thus explaining the existence of marine fossils on mountains. After the world had been covered by water for about a year, the continents rose and the ocean basins sunk along vertical faults. These new basins were now able to contain all of this extra flood water. Thus came about the face of the earth as we see it today. The fossil record, rather than being a record of evolution, is, according to Gish and Morris, a record of mass destruction, death and burial by water and sediments. Kurt Wise agrees with Gish and Morris on some points, but adds his own “creative solutions” on other points.
There is no physical evidence at all for a global flood in the last 4,500-10,000 years, a fact that has been repeatedly confirmed scientifically. The fallacies and contradictions found in all “flood geology” models are overwhelming and are explored in depth at http://ncse.com/cej/1/1/fatal-flaws-flood-geology
The following points are a quick summary:
a. No geological mess is found: If a catastrophic global flood had actually occurred in the last 4,500-10,000 years, it would have left an extensive mess of boulders, stones and other sediments over the surface of the entire earth at that time. These flood sediments could be thousands of feet high and the fossils found in these sediments would be in a total chaotic mess.[vii] But this is not what is found at all. Instead, the millions of fossils discovered are found in thousands of different out-croppings of sedimentary rock layers and are in a neat and orderly arrangement that all but spells “evolution”. For example, there are sequences of fossils found in successive rock layers that make it look just like mammals evolved from ancient reptile-like vertebrates and that humans evolved from ancient ape-like primates. There are thousands of such examples.
For example, consider the hominid fossil record. A catastrophic global flood, claim physical anthropologists and historical geologists, can not explain why Australopithecus was buried first, then Homo habilis, then Homo erectus and finally Homo sapiens, not to mention why Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus would even exist in the first place? (Creationists like Gish explain away these finding by claiming that apes lived lower down and so were buried first and that Homo erectus was already human, while Australopithecus and Homo habilis were merely apes.)
b. Fossils not sorted hydraulically: Contrary to the claims of Gish and Morris, fossils are not sorted in the fossil record according to their ability to escape rising flood waters. If they were, we would expect to see slow-moving species like sloths, turtles and frogs near the bottom of the fossil record and fast-moving species like the velociraptors and other predatory dinosaurs near the top, along with ancient fish. But the fossil record reveals nothing like this. A sloth has never been found in older rocks than a dinosaur. Also, if many of the slow moving snakes, frogs and turtles could have made it to the top before being buried by sediment (which the fossil record tells us they did), why couldn’t many of the numerous and quite agile dinosaurs also have made it to the top? Yet not a single dinosaur has been found in the last 65 million years of sedimentary rock layers, or a single mammal-like reptile in the last 150 million years. Also, whales (found in the same marine habitat as fish) do not appear in the fossil until much, much later than fish. Birds do not appear until after the flying reptiles. The fossil record is the story of evolution.
c. No evidence of humans: Also, surely one would expect to find some evidence of humans—their bones, homes, iron tools, weapons, grave yards, etc.—throughout all the sediments left by the flood. After all, most humans would have lived at lower elevations near lakes and oceans. Homes and grave yards can’t flee to the top and a great many humans would have drowned, or been killed and buried at lower elevations. Yet, not a single piece of solid evidence has ever been found for humans existing except at the very top of the geological column.
d. Fossils and sedimentary layers are not just 10,000 years old: The fossils discovered are not just 4,500-10,000 years old. Most are from millions to hundreds of millions of years old. They are also of organisms that went extinct at widely different times, not all at once, as would have happened with a global flood. There are thousands of consistent dates using radio-isotopes that span several billion years and conclusively show that the further down one goes in the geological column, the older the rock layers are. (Today’s high-tech dating technologies can date fossils to within ±10% of the actual time of their formation.) In addition, different mountain ranges on the earth have widely different dates of formation. The Appalachians are much older than the Rockies, which are much older than the Sierra. (Wise explains this away by suggesting that the radio-isotopes used to date fossils decayed at a much faster rate during the flood, thus giving the appearance of rock layers much older than they actually are. But, there is no evidence for his hypothesis and considerable evidence against.)
e. Fossils quite different: Genesis tells us that Noah took specimens of every type of living air-breathing animal aboard the ark.[viii] From these survivors came all the plants and animals we have today. So the kinds of animals found today should be roughly the same as the kinds that existed prior to the flood just 4,500-10,000 years ago. Yet, nearly all of the fossils found in the geological column are quite different from the animals and plants found today. In fact, the more ancient the fossils, the more different most look from animals living today. Furthermore, contrary to a literal reading of Genesis, there are no fruit trees, flowering plants and grass found in the rock layers containing the amphibians and early reptiles. Flowering plants, including fruit trees and grass won’t evolve until much, much later.
f. Fossilized sand dunes: There are numerous features on our planet that can’t possibly be explained by a global flood, such as the fossilized, wind-blown sand dunes found in Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and numerous other areas across our planet.[ix]
g. Additional questions: Flood geology also fails to answer many, many more questions, such as:
—If the flood was fresh water, why didn’t all of the salt water fish and invertebrates die and vice versa? Was it because the ark also contained very large fresh and salt water aquariums?
—What happened to all of the dinosaurs that supposedly inhabited earth only 6000 years ago? (Some creationists maintain that they weren’t allowed on the ark because they “were a mixed-up species that represented the scrambling of God’s creation by the emergence of evil into the world.”)
—After the flood receded, how did all of the marsupials end up in Australia and the lemurs in Madagascar and the wombats in Tasmania, and the penguins in Antarctica, and on and on? In fact, how did they all get to the ark and squeeze into it in the first place? Just more miracles in a list of many miracles necessary to make Flood Geology float? Believers have published a rich array of solutions for how all the animals and plants could fit. Rationalists have shot them all down. Cynics ask: “Wouldn’t it have been much easier to just zap all the bad guys in the first place instead of doing this whole ark-flood thing?”
The questions go on and on. In the meanwhile, earth science has exploded in knowledge and understanding. Today, almost all features of the earth can be scientifically explained by conventional, non-miraculous geology.
Flood geology is not optional!
Flood Geology is not an optional or minor feature of the young-earth creation model. Rather, it is the only way in which the Genesis-1 creation story can be reconciled with the fossil record. Yet, the more one considers Flood Geology as the mechanism to explain the fossil record, the more one realizes that it’s a total and dismal failure. Yet, Christian fundamentalists are locked in. They continue to insist that the global flood had to have occurred because the Bible said it did—and not just the flood, but Noah’s ark as well.
“…the reason for insisting on the universal flood as a fact of history…is that God’s Word plainly teaches it! No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of scripture.”
—Dr. Henry Morris
This issue of human evolution vs. the instantaneous creation story in Genesis, along with the global flood and Noah’s ark, are critical theological issues for most conservative/fundamentalist Christians. Few scientific discoveries have upset them more. Evolution reduces their creation stories to mere myths. Central biblical beliefs such as the Bible being God’s literal word, free of error, the purposefulness and dignity of humans, the drama of our creation and fall, plus original sin and, thus, the need for a savior—all of these are seriously threatened in the minds of most conservative Christians by the scientific finding that humans evolved from ancient apes over the last 5-7 million years. Their literature is clear: “No Christian can accept the teachings of evolution. If he does, he goes against God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible and every born-again believer! Any person who thinks he can accept and believe in the theory of evolution and the Bible at the same time, is treacherously deceived by Satan, because Satan has been a deceiver from the beginning.”
If the Book of Genesis did not exist, then neither would Flood Geology. Flood Geology is not science, but a concerted attempt to make the data fit a religious belief. It is distressing to think that at a time when rational critical thinking skills are needed more than ever before, some 60% of Americans have rejected the last 150 years of outstanding scientific discoveries in favor of an ancient creation myth.
The choice between a literal interpretation of Genesis and the findings of science is a choice between scientific facts, principles, laws and theories known to be true beyond all reasonable doubt on one side, and the rejection of rationality in favor of Authoritarian Revealed Truth on the other.
Humans and dinosaur footprints
Creationists claim that fossilized human footprints have been found next to dinosaur prints in Texas, thus proving that the radio-isotope dating techniques are seriously flawed. Yet, a scientific investigation of these so-called man-prints around the Paluxy River in Texas revealed only sloppy observations, wishful thinking and even fraud. The creationists had selected their “human footprints” from among hundreds of irregular shaped erosion holes, plus partial footprints from a small, three-toed dinosaur. In a few cases, two extra toes had been “added” to these three-toed prints. In other cases only blurry photographs existed of alleged human prints that had mysteriously disappeared.[x] Such scientific exposure didn’t stop the creationists, of course. They went on to build a “footprint” museum display, write articles for tens of thousands of churches and make a movie titled “Footprints in Stone” that was viewed across the country.[xi] In 1994, there was even a special on television in which these “man prints” were still being highlighted. This was more than 15 years after the prints were totally discredited by scientists.
Dr. Gish and whale evolution
In the early 1970s I debated Dr. Gish at Long Beach City College. At that time, the scientific hypothesis for whale evolution (based on a few fossil fragments, plus comparative anatomy, embryology and physiology studies) was that whales were closely related to the order of mammals that included the cow, deer, hippo and pig. In response, Dr. Gish showed a slide of a half-whale-half-cow cartoon to loud laughter. But since then an ever increasing number of discovered fossils has clearly shown the evolution of whales from a four-legged land mammal. In 1989, a 45 million year old whale fossil with small hind legs and feet was found in the sands of Egypt.[xii] A short time later, a small 50 million year old fossil semi-aquatic pre-whale named Pakicetus was found in Pakistan with both mammalian forearms and hind limbs.[xiii] Since then, even more transitional fossils have been found. Furthermore, molecular evidence now indicates that the closest living relative to the whale is the hippo, with the whale lineage splitting off from the hippo lineage about 54 million years ago.[xiv] All of this fossil evidence devastates a literal reading of Genesis-1 and can’t be explained away with a global flood.
Genesis 9:12-13 tells us that after the flood waters receded, God created the rainbow as a token of the covenant between Him and Noah. The implication is that rainbows didn’t exist before then. But this would be impossible unless the fundamental laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics were different prior to the flood. But they couldn’t have been without cataclysmic effects throughout the universe.[xv]
Has scientific evidence for Noah’s Ark ever been found? No. Yet, every few years, an expedition leaves for Mt. Ararat (a 17,000-foot-high mountain in eastern Turkey near the Russian border) to look for the ark. Followers are spurred on by fraudulent photos, wood fragments and even “documentaries” on prime-time television. They are told that if they can just find “proof” of the ark, it will prove to the world evolution is a monstrous lie.
[i]American Scientist, Sept. 1988
[ii]Skeptical Inquirer, Fall, 1986. (Survey of over 400 college student at the University of Texas in 1986.)
[iii]Eve, R. & Dunn, 1989, Skeptical Inquirer, pp. 260-263.
[iv]Other New Testament references to the Flood include Heb. 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5 & 3:6. The Genesis flood story was likely adapted from the earlier Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic where Enlil, ruler of the gods, wanted to wipe out humanity with a great flood. But another god, Ea, warned the human, Utanapishtim who built an ark, thus saving himself, his family and both tame and wild animals. There is also a similar ancient Greek myth where the world becomes so wicked that the god Zeus causes a great rain to fall and a flood to cover the earth. When it passed, only two humans were left. These global flood myths arose in the Middle East after melting glaciers, about 7,500 years ago, raised the level of the oceans and sent the Mediterranean Sea pouring through a collapsed natural dam across the Bosporus Strait, thus inundating a freshwater lake and creating the Black Sea (Discover, Jan. 1999, p.69).
[v]Gish, D. 1978 (1985), Evolution, The Fossils Say No!. Morris, H., 1974, Scientific Creationism. Whitcomb JC Jr, Morris, HM., 1961, The Genesis Flood.
[vii] For what we would expect to see if the earth had experienced a global flood within the last 10,000 years see http://www.creationism.ws/what_if_flood.htm.
[viii] Genesis 6:19-21; 7:2, 3, 8, 9, 15. Actually there are two slightly different flood stories written by two different authors and patched together in Genesis by a third person. As a result, God commands that Noah take 2 pair of all living creatures onto the ark (Genesis 6:19), but also that he take 7 pair of the clean and 2 pair of the unclean (Genesis 7:2).
[x]For evidence against the prints being human, see Cole, J. and Godfrey, L (ed.) 1985, Creation /Evolution 5 (1). Also see Milne, D. 1982, American Biology Teacher, May.
[xi]Morris, H, 1980, Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them. ICR, 1981. “Acts and Facts,” Sept.
[xii]Discover, May 1991.
[xiii]Reports, National Center for Science Education 2001; 20 : 33-41.
Gingerich et al., Science 2001, Sep 21; 293: 2239-2242.
Thewissen, J. G. M., et. al., 1994, “Fossil Evidence for the Origin of Aquatic Locomotion in Archaeocete Whales. Science 263:210-212.
Berta, A., 1994, “What is a Whale,” Science 263: 180-181.
[xiv] Dawkins, 2004; Luo, Z., Nature 2000; 404: 237-7.
[xv] Free Inquiry, Summer 2001, p. 59.