There are two common views on the story of Noah, the great Flood, and the Ark. One view is entirely literal: water covered the whole surface of the earth, all human and animal life outside the Ark died, the Ark of Noah contained all those species and only those species that survived the Flood. The opposing view is that no great Flood occurred at all, the Ark of Noah never existed, and the entire story is fictional. Within this opposing view, there are some who respect the story of Noah as a teaching story, an entirely figurative parable. Others simply use the claim that no great Flood ever occurred in order to ridicule religion.
My position is that the story of Noah and the Flood in the Bible is partly literal and partly figurative.
1. Argument: If there were a great Flood, in which water covered the entire surface of the earth, science would have detected the remnants of its effects on the world. But at this point in scientific inquiry, it is clear that no such Flood ever happened.
Reply: A literal great Flood did occur, but the waters did not cover the whole surface of the earth. That element of the story in the Bible is figurative. Scientific evidence of a flood event has been proposed by a number of different scientists, none of them are creationists, none treat the story of the Flood as if it were entirely literal.
I have adopted the flood theory of W. Bruce Masse, who proposes that a comet impact in the Indian Ocean caused a worldwide catastrophic event: torrential rainstorms, vastly altered weather patterns, mega-tsunami, and severe flooding in many places. Masse has identified flood stories from cultures around the world, over 1100 such accounts, from every inhabited continent. He dates the great Flood to 2807 B.C.
2. Argument: Noah could not have built a ship large enough to house every species on earth, and to provide them with enough food.
Reply: The Ark did not contain every species of animal; that element of the story is figurative. The Ark contained many different animal species, in order to represent all animal life on earth. The animals on the Ark may have been in a state of hibernation, needing little or no food (by Divine intervention).
3. Argument: Science does not support the claim that all human persons on earth today are descendants of Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives.
Reply: The great Flood did not kill all human persons outside of the Ark; that description in the story is figurative. The flood event killed many persons throughout the world; a large percentage of the human population was lost in this catastrophe. But many persons throughout the world survived, and so not all human persons today are descended from Noah.
4. Argument: The Biblical story of Noah is just a rewrite of similar myths found in Sumerian and Mesopotamian cultures.
Reply: Over 1100 cultures throughout the world have some type of great flood “myth”. The similarities in these stories cannot be due to one culture imitating the fictional story from another culture, since in ancient times many of these cultures were not in contact with one another. Flood myths are found in numerous cultures from North, Central, and South America, Asia, Australia, Africa, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. These stories are so similar to one another that they must all be based on some type of literal historical event, a catastrophic flood that effected the whole (but did not cover the whole world with water).
5. Argument: There is not enough water on earth to account for a great Flood.
Reply: The waters of the flood, in my view, did not cover the whole surface of the earth, so much less water is needed to explain the flood that in the literal view. The deep ocean impact of a comet would throw a vast quantity of water into the upper atmosphere, and that water vapor would next circulate throughout the world and fall in a series of torrential rainstorms.
But such a catastrophic event would also alter weather patterns. Once the rain falls, especially in hot dry regions of the world, the water would evaporate, forming a new set of clouds and continuing the rainstorms. The great flood was not a simple rising of water levels to cover all land. It was a long series of severe rainstorms along with mega-tsunami in coastal areas. The damage of the Flood was not only found in traditional flooding, but in high winds, extreme quantities of rain in short bursts, and repeated cycles of severe weather.
For more, see my book: Noah’s Flood: literal or figurative?
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