A well-known Presbyterian minister and author/editor in Australia has taken great offence at a recent article that promotes a worldwide Flood. ‘I would be aghast’, Rev. Dr Rowland S. Ward, editor of the Presbyterian Banner, wrote to the editor of the Australian Presbyterian, ‘if orthodox Presbyterians were required to endorse the populist argument for a global Flood in [your] May issue.’
The article in question, ‘Animals, a Deluge and Noah’s Ark’ was an excellent summary of the young-Earth arguments for a worldwide Flood. The author of the article, Dr Murray R. Adamthwaite , is a theologian and archaeologist.
Dr Ward, however, was not impressed. He considers himself an expert on Genesis, claiming: ‘I’ve thought about the issues in Genesis for 30 years or more and offered my comments when I published Foundations in Genesis: Genesis 1–11 Today (New Melbourne Press, 1999, 208pp)’ .
Sadly, Ward is not some overt Bible denier, but a well-trained Church leader, who affects to respect the creeds of his denomination and paints himself as orthodox. But note that his Ph.D. was in the history of Australian Presbyterianism’s attitude towards its creed, NOT Hebrew exegesis or science. He has also long been a vexatious critic of CMI and others who regard Genesis as the historical narrative it is. This is despite the unambiguous statement in his own church’s creed, the Westminster Confession, which says:
‘It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make out of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.’ (4:1).
The phrase ‘in the space of six days’ simply echoed Calvin, who like the other Reformers, spoke against the allegorization of a minority of the Church Fathers. And note that their allegorization was to shorten the time frame into one day or even an instant, NOT treat the days as long ages. See Did early Church leaders and reformers believe the literal creation account given in Genesis? Instead, Ward advocates the modern Framework Hypothesis beloved by certain compromising evangelicals in Reformed Presbyterian and Anglican circles, although such ideas weren’t ‘seen’ in Scripture till certain people wanted to fit the Bible into long-age ‘science’.
Ward has even given credence to the book by the atheist Ian Plimer attacking CMI, advocating in effect that CMI should be regarded as guilty until proven innocent, whereas even some of Plimer’s fellow atheists rejected the blatantly false charges, lack of documentation and inflammatory rhetoric. Later, an independent prominent inquiry committee of inquiry report on Plimer’s book showed that:
‘The grave allegations and/or innuendo against the ethics of CSF [now Creation Ministries International] and its Directors are not supported by the evidence. What the evidence does establish is that CSF and its Directors have been often, and seriously, misrepresented.’
But this hasn’t stopped Ward — he still went on to insinuate that some of Plimer’s arguments hadn’t been answered satisfactorily, despite our point-by-point refutation. However, he did not state which ones, in what way had they not been answered satisfactorily, or why this man should be given the slightest credence in the first place, given his past mendacity — see the Ian Plimer Files.
Dr Ward’s letter to the editor, published in the June issue, distils his arguments against Dr Adamthwaite’s global Flood article into three points (below). These points—apparently the best arguments that Dr Ward has to offer after 30 years of study—are critiqued by Dr Adamthwaite, in a response below (to be published in the Australian Presbyterian in August). Dr Adamthwaite quite properly, given the limited space for reply, keeps the critique to the main points.
The story of Noah and the Flood, insofar as people know it at all, has become for many no more than a quaint children’s tale. Cartoon-type pictures and models of Noah’s ark provide amusement for the little ones, while sentimental references to the animals going into the ark with Noah and family following behind give the atmosphere of a fairy tale to what is properly an account of the extinction of the primeval world. There is the rub: a story of fearful Divine judgment has been sanitized into an Aesop-type fable at best, a story-with-a-moral.
The more serious reader will, however, ask a number of questions. Is the flood described local or universal? How could all those animals fit into an ark? Did Noah take on board dinosaurs from North America, kangaroos from Australia, moas from New Zealand, and dodos from Madagascar? For that matter, how did he get them on board anyway? How did he feed them? Where did all the water come from, and more particularly, where did it all go? Then there is the issue of the Babylonian Flood story (Gilgamesh Epic): is the Biblical story just another myth on the same level? These and a series of other issues are questions on a similar level to the old chestnut, “Where did Cain get his wife from?”
The short answer to all these questions is that the story of the Great Deluge involves at once the elements of miracle, special Providence, and normal Providential processes, or “natural law” if one prefers. In similar vein, our Lord’s birth involved both the miraculous and the normal: the conception was indeed miraculous, but the gestation and birth were along the normal biological lines.
Very much a recent issue on the scale of Church history concerns whether the Deluge was earth-covering or restricted to the Mesopotamian valley. If one looks at the older commentaries, e.g. of Luther, Calvin, Poole, Henry, and Scott, all affirm a universal Flood. The only seemingly dissident voice is Poole, who in his commentary on Gen. 7:19 entertains some limitation as a possibility (i.e. to the sphere of human and animal habitation), only to dismiss it when he considers the universal Flood legends known in his day. Many more such legends are now known from tribal cultures the world over.
The origin of the modern debate can be traced to John Pye Smith, who in 1839 wrote a treatise advocating that the Flood was restricted to the Mesopotamian Valley. While it caused a furore among evangelicals at the time, after a while yesterday’s heresy became today’s orthodoxy, an all-too-familiar story in Church history. Local flood advocates have repeated Pye Smith’s arguments without much refinement to this day, even those who have never heard of him.
Many arguments from both the Flood narrative itself, and from later Scriptural references, establish that the Deluge was indeed universal. I cannot list them all, but here are some of the more important ones:
In conclusion, we might throw in a useful ad hominem point. The exploration of Mars has now begun in earnest, and many scientists are freely speculating about a Mars once covered completely by water, or nearly so. Mars is now devoid of liquid water, and seems to have precious little either in its rocks or in its polar caps, yet this unproven speculation meets with the approval of the scientific community. When, however, Biblical creationists insist that the Earth’s surface, which has liquid water in abundance, was once flooded for a year or more, there is an outcry of abuse and derision. One can surely be forgiven for alleging prejudice.
While these arguments have appealed to many Christians, some have still sought to have it both ways with uniformitarian geology and Scripture. Thus certain scholars have come up with a “tranquil theory”, whereby water slowly and gently rose, covered the mountains, and then sank again, leaving everything as it was, save for a layer of mud. This notion, which had a vogue in the nineteenth century, has undergone a revival in recent years.
However, both Scripture and the laws of hydrodynamics would deny such a scenario. The Deluge destroyed the world of that time, and Noah’s family emerged from the ark into a different world, one that has been with us ever since. This came about through the break-up of “the fountains of the great deep”, combined with the rain from above, the two sources of water according to Gen. 7:11-12. These would certainly have involved massive geological and tectonic movements, releasing water trapped beneath the earth’s crust, and also involving all manner of major convulsions. Then there is the hydrodynamic aspect: water in motion has awesome power. Recent television documentaries have drawn attention to the destructive power of tsunamis, immense waves generated by underwater seismic movements. The recent movie Deep Impact purported to show a damaged but eminently recognisable Washington after the Atlantic impact of the asteroid and the associated tsunami. However, if that ever did happen, all of the cities of America’s East Coast would cease to exist entirely. One would be hard put to find them, let alone repair them. Therefore, given the volume of water of Noah’s Flood even in its early stages, tsunamis would have occurred simultaneously on a massive scale, destroying everything in their path. Such global upheavals render any tranquil theory as all too facile.
Where did the water go? The answer quite simply is: it’s still there! The oceans cover some two thirds of the Earth’s surface, and to a very great depth. The average depth of the major oceans, beyond the continental shelves, is between 12,000 to 20,000 feet, while some trenches are as deep or deeper than Mt. Everest is high. This entails that the pre-Flood earth had shallower seas, and possibly a single continent (cf. the “one place” of Gen. 1:9), although the evidence for that is a bit thin. Whatever, that world was very different from the one which now exists.
Let us suppose for the sake of argument the theory of a single continent in the pre-Diluvian world, without committing ourselves absolutely to it. On that view there were no isolated islands in mid-ocean like Japan, Iceland, or Madagascar (or Australia, for that matter). The land animals are therefore restricted to that one land-mass, and hence “Aunt Sally” scenarios of Noah travelling to New Zealand to gather a pair of moas, or to the Galápagos to gather finches, are really quite foolish. For all we know, most or all species could well have lived within range of Noah’s residence. In all, there is much we don’t know about biological diversity and distribution in that former world, and to infer conclusions about it based on the present world is to compare apples with oranges.
According to Genesis 6:20 God announced that the animals and birds would come to Noah, while Gen. 7:14–15 indicates that they went in with Noah on the day the Flood began. So God brought the animals to Noah; Noah did not go scurrying far and wide, trying desperately to coax or cajole lions, leopards, armadillos, eagles, kangaroos, and ostriches to go with him into the ark. For that matter, there was no necessity to take fully-grown adult members of each kind, but only younger specimens. Likewise with the dinosaurs: since those monsters kept growing throughout their lives, only young and small exemplars were necessary to take on board. Here, however, we can see the supernatural element in the narrative: from elephants to egrets, leopards to lorikeets, all kinds came to the ark, and were kept together harmoniously, by God’s special providential control. As to feeding them, while some would have required this (cf. Genesis 6:21), others would, I believe, have been put into extended hibernation for the duration. Admittedly, this invokes a miracle not explicitly in the narrative, but something like this must have been the case, otherwise Noah’s feeding schedule would have been akin to painting the Harbour Bridge!
[Ed. Note: John Woodmorappe in his book Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (above right) shows that there were plenty of low-tech labour-saving devices available for feeding and watering animals, e.g. troughs and pipes for distribution from a few central locations. There were also easy ways to cope with waste products, all derived from applied farming and animal care techniques, e.g. sloped floors or slatted cages, where the manure could fall away from the animals and be flushed away (plenty of water around!) or destroyed by vermicomposting (composting by worms) which would also provide earthworms as a food source. Very deep bedding can sometimes last for a year without needing a change. Absorbent material (e.g. sawdust, softwood wood shavings and especially peat moss) would reduce the moisture content and hence the odour. Therefore Woodmorappe shows that hibernation is not necessary, but he also refutes skeptics who argue that food taken on board rules out hibernation. Hibernating animals do not sleep all winter, despite popular portrayals, so they would still need food occasionally. Therefore hibernation is still a possible mechanism as Dr Adamthwaite suggests]
When Noah emerged from the Ark God commanded him to bring out also the birds and animals (Genesis 8:17) to “multiply on the earth”. This entails that from somewhere in Eastern Turkey (whether the traditional Mt. Ararat or the Ararat region we will not pursue here), all animal life dispersed, ultimately to fill not only the major post-Flood continents, but also the oceanic islands, many of which are volcanic and whose form changes to this day. Most likely a land bridge existed in the early stages, linking Australia to Asia through the Indonesian Archipelago, which subsequently broke up through subsidence. Isolated islands would have gained their animal populations partly through human agency (as they have in modern times), and partly through natural transportation, although accounting for moas, kiwis, and tuataras in New Zealand remains a knotty, though not insoluble, problem.
Less serious a problem is the range of marsupial animals in Australia. While these are now unique to our country, fossil marsupials have been found elsewhere, e.g. in South America. Kangaroos have survived only in Australia simply because here there are no natural predators for them. It is reasonable to suppose that these animals had migrated here before the subsidence of the land bridge to Asia, but were then cut off from the outside world. The isolated environment created an ideal breeding ground for marsupials.
We know at least three stories of a great flood from Ancient Mesopotamia: the Gilgamesh Epic, Atrahasis, and Ziusudra. The flood-story component, which circulated independently in antiquity, has been incorporated into each tale with some variations. I will here make a few relevant observations.
The epic is in essence not about the flood, but the quest for immortality on the part of its hero Gilgamesh. When his friend Enkidu dies, he embarks on a long series of adventures, and finally contacts Utnapishtim, the “Noah” figure of the story, who received eternal life from the gods for surviving the great flood. Utnapishtim then recounts to Gilgamesh the story of the flood. For reasons not entirely clear in the epic, the great gods decide to send a great deluge to wipe out mankind. However, Ea, the water deity, obliquely reveals the plan to Utnapishtim in a dream, and the latter builds a boat to save himself, his family, relations, craftsmen, birds, and “beasts of the field”. When they had all embarked, a great rainstorm flooded the world “for seven days and nights”, after which their boat landed on Mt. Nimush. On the seventh day Utnapishtim began releasing a series of birds to ascertain the water level, then after an unspecified time he and the others emerged from the boat. The great god Enlil, initially angry that anyone had survived the flood, at Ea’s intercession, conferred upon Utnapistim and his wife immortality.
Obviously there are close parallels between this and the Biblical story, many more than with the creation story. However, it is all too easy to jump to the conclusion that the Genesis author “borrowed” his version from the Babylonian story, and therefore that they both belong to the category, “myth”. That indeed has been the standard critical explanation for many years, even though others have pointed out serious difficulties with this simplistic outlook. Some of the sharp, even fundamental differences are as follows:
1. Monotheistic: God is the sovereign and righteous judge.
1. Polytheistic: the divine assembly resolves to send the flood, but not unanimously. The gods lie to and quarrel with each other, especially Ea with Enlil.
2. God sends the Flood as judgment for human violence and general wickedness.
2. In Gilgamesh the flood comes by caprice of the gods; in Atrahasis the gods send a flood because men are making too much noise. Any moral dimension is lacking.
3. Noah’s ark has perfectly reasonable dimensions, and would be eminently stable in the heaviest of seas.
3. Utnapishtim’s ark is a perfect cube with 7 decks, and would capsize almost immediately when launched.
4. Noah sends out in order a raven, then a dove 3 times at weekly intervals. The logic is correct: after the raven, the dove’s return carries further information.
4. Utnapistim sends out a dove, and then a swallow. Finally, and illogically, he sends a raven: as a carrion bird its failure to return is uninformative.
5. Noah’s sacrifice after emerging from the ark has a sober tone: it is to give thanks, and to expiate sin.
5. The sacrifice episode is crude: when Utnapistim offers sacrifice “the gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer”.
In seeking to explain the similarities, we should bear in mind that these ancient Mesopotamian stories are just part of a preponderance of flood traditions in tribal folklore around the world, though, as we might expect, they become in general more garbled the further away from Mesopotamia they occur. Quite striking stories occur in Aboriginal lore even here in Australia. Although efforts have been made to derive these from the work of Christian missionaries, that explanation fails since in many cases secular anthropologists gathered the stories before missionaries reached these tribes with the Gospel. In other cases missionaries have related how they indeed told the story of Noah, only to find that the tribal folk already had a similar tale in their own legends. Therefore the best explanation is of a common tradition emanating from a firm historical event, but the versions becoming more garbled the further they move away in time and geography.
One other factor emerges from these comparisons: the most ancient stories all stress heavy rain as the principal source of the floodwaters, a fact noted by ancient historians. Yet this is at odds with the common modern explanation in terms of an embellished tale of a river flood. Even Christian scholars have become over-excited about flood layers at various ancient sites in southern Iraq, but they do not correlate with each other, and are clearly due to river floods at different times in early history. They have nothing to do with Noah’s Flood.
The discussion above has been at times technical, but I would conclude by having you think of Noah and his family in that ark, with torrential rain bucketing down over them continuously for six weeks, torrents gushing from the ground, plus huge waves driving the ark to and fro. It would have been terrifying, especially as the Lord had locked him inside, while observation to the outside was limited (cf. Gen. 6:16). What comfort did they have as their world literally disintegrated around them? God had warned Noah concerning things not as yet seen (Hebrews 11:7), and now they were here—all part of an overwhelming flood. But He had promised to “remember His covenant” (Gen. 6:18), and “remember Noah” (i.e. take special care of him, Gen. 8:1). The Word of God alone was the consolation, and by receiving the Word in faith, and entering the ark upon those promises, Noah was carried through to the new world.
The same God has warned us of a coming fiery conflagration which will also consume the entire world (2 Peter 3:7). Sceptical scientists and others tell us it can’t happen; they point to the uniformity of nature, just as Peter said they would. But we are dealing here also with things not as yet seen; the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is due to Divine patience. Again, He has provided an ark: Jesus Christ! He has promised to carry through to the world to come all who trust themselves to Him.
I would be aghast if orthodox Presbyterians were required to endorse the populist argument for a global flood in the May issue [“Animals, a Deluge and Noah’s Ark”]. Quite apart from the fact that Jewish Talmudic sages did not regard the flood as geographically universal, and leaving aside arguments from geology, zoology, geography, archaeology and the like, I make the following points:
1. The post-flood world was not radically different from the pre-flood world. The description of rivers pre-flood (Gen. 2:10–14) was obviously meaningful in a post-flood world, as John Calvin pointed out 450 years ago. The flood was a real event, but the animals in the ark were no more than could be loaded with their food by 8 people on 7 days notice. This itself suggests that the flood was probably limited to Noah’s cultural region, with the Ark carrying some hundreds of creatures rather than the tens of thousands modern knowledge tells us is required by the global theory. It should be noted that few thinkers prior to the 16th century thought fossils were the remains of once-living creatures, so they were not a major factor in Christian teaching.
2. The definition of the flood’s universality is not to be established by our benchmarks but by God’s. When Jesus said that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans would be ‘unequalled from the beginning of the world (not ‘since the flood’) and never to be equalled again’ (Matt. 24:21), he illustrated this principle. The greater loss of life in the Holocaust, for example, does not deny it, for Jerusalem’s overthrow was related to God’s covenant purposes in a special way.
3. God’s intention in the flood controls the crafting of Genesis 6:10–9:19, with its centre point at 8:1—‘God remembered Noah’. The flood was to prefigure the final judgement of all humans who have ever lived and the deliverance of those saved by Noah, a righteous man, a second Adam, into a new and cleansed world. There will never be another flood with such epochal significance in God’s purposes. As it turned out Noah’s righteousness was not such as could carry the world’s redemption. The ultimate fulfilment is through Jesus, the truly righteous one, the last Adam, who crushes the Serpent’s head and brings his people safely through the judgement into a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness has its home.
(Rev Dr) Rowland S. Ward
Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia,
If Dr Ward is “aghast” at the views expressed in my article on the Flood (May, 2002), I must also express a certain astonishment at his own views and the arguments tendered. I mention four among other more general points:
(a) Dr Ward advances the views of “Talmudic sages” in (presumably) his attempt to prove that a global flood is an innovation in the history of interpretation. The real situation is that Jewish opinion is mixed. The Jewish Haggadah (homilies) poses the opinion that the Flood did cover the entire world, but the land of Israel was spared. Rabbis commenting on Gen. 8:22 proposed that the present world has six seasons, while other rabbis opined that the Flood changed the seasons, or at least during the Flood year suspended them. Hence, apart from the piece of Jewish nationalism in the first notice, and the exegetical curiosity in the second, a definite case can be made for saying that Jews in former ages did believe in a worldwide flood, and major interruptions or changes in the world system as a result.
However, while all this may be interesting, the views of Jewish rabbis are of marginal relevance. The real issue is, “what says Scripture?” according to the normal canons of exegesis, especially a passage like 2 Peter 3. Needless to say, none of the Talmudic rabbis had the slightest interest in the teaching of that chapter.
(b) The appeal to Calvin is quite misguided. Calvin clearly held to such views as a global flood, a six-day creation less than 6000 years ago, death and suffering as a result of Adam’s sin, etc., i.e. the very views Dr. Ward dismisses as those of “populist”, young-earth creationists. Thus in his comment on Gen. 7:17 ff. Calvin states, “Moses copiously insists upon this fact, in order to show that the whole world was immersed in the waters.” [Ed. Note: see also, Calvin says: Genesis means what it says]
As to a different pre-Diluvian world, Calvin does take the view that the rivers of Gen. 2:10–14 are the same now as then. However, his overall discussion at this point both reflects, and is controlled by, the general ignorance of the most elementary Biblical geography in sixteenth century Europe, still influenced to a considerable degree by Mediaeval views. These held inter alia that Palestine as it exists now is on the same continuum with Eden and its four rivers, as clearly seen for example on a map dating to about AD 1250. Biblical cartography in the modern sense had hardly begun, hence to propose Calvin’s views on these matters as in some way definitive for “Reformed orthodoxy” is absurd.
The fact is, the rivers Pishon and Gihon have never existed in the post-Flood world, while the Tigris and Euphrates now are very different from the rivers of the same name described in Genesis 2. The picture of one river emerging from Eden, and then dividing into these four has never applied in the post-Diluvian world, either in the Near East or anywhere else. Moreover, to reason from the names is a fallacy: one might just as well argue that the River Tweed in NSW [New South Wales, Australia] and its namesake in Scotland are the same river. Immigrants of course conferred this and other names after arriving from the old country. Therefore Gen. 2:10–14 should be prime evidence for the contention that the pre-Diluvian world was indeed very different from the one we now know.
(c) The appeal to Matt.24:21 involves an elementary but important blunder: the Greek word thlipsis does not mean “destruction”, but “tribulation, suffering, or pressure”. Jesus refers there to the sufferings of AD 70, when many Jews starved, were driven to cannibalism, and were crucified in prodigious numbers. Those who perished in the Flood died by drowning, a quick death by comparison, and suffered none of the extremities Jesus envisaged concerning the Jews.
(d) Dr Ward insists, “the flood’s universality is not to be established by our benchmarks but God’s”. Precisely so! As we read Gen. 7:17–24 there is the repeated emphasis that the water prevailed on the earth and all the high mountains were covered; every living thing perished: birds, livestock, wild animals, swarming animals, and all mankind! Everything was wiped out! (emphasis added). If all this is insufficient to specify a worldwide flood, and if God wanted to tell us about such an event, how else does He say it? It is as though God is hammering us into submission. I fear Dr Ward has violated his own professed criterion by forsaking the plain statements of God’s Word for fallible “benchmarks” ultimately attributable to the Deist and pioneer uniformitarian, James Hutton (1785), and those who like Pye Smith attempted to make Hutton’s Flood-denying views palatable to the Christian public. [Ed. note: see this revealing quote by Hutton]
Two final points:
In conclusion, I come back to the warnings in 2 Peter 3. Peter draws a simple contrast between the pre-Flood heavens-and-earth/kosmos and the kosmos which now exists. The extent is the same, but he tells of two catastrophes: the water last time; the fire next time. These events are “significant” not because Noah personally was invested with “significance” (he is nowhere mentioned in the passage), but because of the sheer scale of each catastrophe, allowing no escape to ungodly men. By contrast, Dr Ward’s small-scale deluge, for all his denials, only blunts the force of Peter’s warning and undermines the urgency of the Christian message to a godless and scoffing world.
Murray R. Adamthwaite
 Dr Ward appears to derive his contentions on these matters from U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Magnes Press, 1964, pp.45–6. However, there is much more to be said on the views of Jewish rabbis than is presented from the standpoint of one modern commentator.