3D graphic stating, "The Skeptical Review Online"

   Print Edition: 1990-2002


Common Sense and Noah's Flood
by Farrell Till


1993 / March-April



"The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark" by Robert A. Moore (Creation/Evolution, Winter 1983) is the most thorough exposure of absurdities in the universal-flood myth that I have ever read. Anyone who can read it and still believe that such a flood actually happened is surely beyond the reach of common sense.

In "Noah's Ark: Fact or Fable," Chris McGowan said, "I find it... hard to believe that I should be sitting at my desk in 1982 documenting the reasons why the flood could not have happened according to Genesis" (In the Beginning, Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 54). I feel much the same way, but because so many sincere people have been duped by fundamentalist preachers into believing that everything written in the Bible has to be true, it is still necessary at times to review the absurdities in the flood story.

One of these absurdities concerns the amount of water that would have been required to produce a flood like the one described in Genesis. The Bible claims that "the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered" (Gen. 7:19 ). The language is explicit enough to discount the theory that the flood was localized, because a limited flood could not have covered ALL the high mountains under the WHOLE heaven. After the waters had receded, the ark came to rest on "the mountains of Ararat" (8:4 ). Since water seeks its own level, it wouldn't have been possible for a localized mound of water to rise to that height without dropping to a uniform level.

If Bible fundamentalists are honest, then, they will have to admit that the Genesis writer intended his story to be understood as an account of a flood that had covered the entire earth. In other words, he expected us to believe that within the space of forty days enough water rained down or rose from "the fountains of the deep" to cover the highest mountain on earth to a depth of 15 cubits (7:20 ). In prescientific times when people knew very little about geography and meteorology, a claim like this could find general acceptance, but in modern times only the very credulous can believe it.

To understand this, we have only to analyze the story in terms of the number of inches of rain per minute that would have had to fall on the entire surface of the earth to produce the results described in Genesis 7-8 . We now know, for example, that Mount Everest is the highest mountain "under the whole heaven." It reaches an altitude of 29,028 feet, which would be a height of 348,336 inches. For enough rain to fall in a period of 40 days to reach the peak of this mountain, the cloud formations would have to drop 8,708 inches of rain per day uniformly over all the earth. This would amount to 363 inches per hour or six inches per minute. Can any reasonable person believe that it once rained continuously for 40 days and nights at an average rate of six inches per minute? A rainfall of six inches in one day is a veritable downpour. What would six inches per minute sustained for 57,600 continuous minutes be like?

How, in fact, would such a sustained rainfall even be possible? The sun causes water to evaporate and collect in clouds, and when clouds can no longer retain the water vapor that they accumulate in the process, rain occurs. Then when the clouds have released their moisture, the rain stops. So how could a worldwide cloudcover release rain for a period of 40 continuous days without having its supply of water replenished by the process of evaporation? To argue that it could have happened is to argue that a world-wide cloudcover once retained and released (without replenishment) several miles of water.

To the prescientific Hebrew mind, such a phenomenon would have made perfectly good sense because of the cosmogony that was generally believed at the time. A body of water was thought to exist in the heavens that God had divided from the waters upon the earth with a "firmament" that he made the second day of creation (Gen. 1:6-8 ). To make it rain, God had only to open windows or gates in the firmament to release some of the water that was above the earth (Mal. 3:10 ; 2 Chron. 6:26 ). This cosmogonic misconception was alluded to in the flood story when it spoke of God's opening and shutting "the windows of heaven" (7:11 ; 8:2 ). To modern minds, however, the notion of such a prodigious outpouring of rain is absurd, because we understand the nature of the water cycle that takes water from the surface of the earth into the clouds and redistributes it as rain.

To deal with this problem, some diehard inerrantists have actually suggested that the cloudcover was not worldwide, that part of the earth did receive sunshine that evaporated water to replenish the clouds. According to this scenario, water, which seeks its own level, simply flowed from where it was raining into those areas that were receiving sunshine. However, to take such a position as this is to deny what the Bible says. It says that "the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights" (7:12 ), but if this "explanation" of a major problem is true, then rain wasn't upon the earth forty days and forty nights, because there were parts of the earth on which the sun was shining to replenish the supply of water in the clouds. Furthermore, if the rain was not falling uniformly over all the earth, to reach the height that the flood did, the downpour would have had to be even more preposterously drenching than in the examples calculated above. If, for example, the sun was shining on, say, half the surface of the earth, then 726 inches of rain, rather than 363, would have had to fall each hour of the 40-day period.

This, however, is just a minor difficulty compared to an even greater problem that this "solution" poses to the flood story. If the sun was evaporating water from one area of the globe while it was pouring down rain elsewhere, then the sun was undoing the effects of the cloudbursts. Long before the highest mountains "under the whole heaven" had been covered, the oceans would have merged and the evaporation of water where the sun was shining would have tended to maintain a constant level in the oceans even though rain was pouring down elsewhere. This isn't at all hard to understand if we remember that water seeks its own level. What would have happened can be compared to filling a swimming pool. If after a certain quantity of water is pumped into the pool from one end, a siphon is activated at the other end to drain the water away to feed the pump sending water in, then the pool never would fill. So it would have been in the scenario just discussed. Water where it was raining would have rushed to equalize the ocean level that had been momentarily lowered where the sun was shining.

To be as generous as possible to inerrantists who are determined to believe the Genesis flood story, let's just assume that the highest mountains weren't as high then as they are now. Let's concede the possibility that through shifts in the earth's crust, the world's highest mountain has been pushed well above what its height was at the time the flood allegedly happened. Let's just suppose that the highest peak was only half as high as Mount Everest now is. Still this would mean that the flood waters had to rise to a height of about 15,000 feet or 180,000 inches. To cover a mountain that high in just forty days, 4,500 inches of water per day or 187 inches per hour would have had to fall or, of course, rise from "the fountains of the great deep." That still would have amounted to an average addition of three inches per minute to the water level.

Inerrantists will be quick to remind us that the Bible doesn't claim that all of the flood waters came from rain, because, as just noted, "the fountains of the great deep" were also opened (Gen. 7:11 ; 8:2 ). So, they gleefully point out, some of the water came from within the earth itself rather than from the rainfall. Again, let's be as considerate as possible to them and assume that as much as three-fourths of the flood waters came from "the fountains of the great deep." (This is a generous concession indeed, since scientists estimate that only about one percent of the world's water supply is under the earth.) Then even if we further assume that the highest mountain at that time reached only 15,000 feet, this would mean that 1,125 inches of rain PER DAY or 46 inches PER HOUR would have had to fall to reach the heights claimed in the flood story. This would have been a downpour of three fourths of an inch per minute, which is still a level of rainfall too unreasonable to believe. If, however, the level of the highest mountain was approximately the same then as it is today, 2,177 inches per day would have had to fall in rain while three times that much was gushing from "the fountains of the great deep." Who besides hopelessly naive Bible fundamentalists can believe it?

There is just so much water on earth, and no reputable scientist would say that there is enough to raise the level of the oceans above "all the high mountains under the whole heaven." At this time, we are concerned about the green-house effect that threatens to melt the polar ice caps if the warming trend continues, but even if it does, only the coastal areas of the continents will be flooded when the ice caps have melted. Certainly the highest mountains on earth will not be under water. Where then did all the water in the Genesis flood story come from?

To say that much of it came from "the fountains of the great deep" is no answer at all, because it shows an incredible ignorance of the mechanics of springs. When water flowing in underground rivers encounters fissures in the rock beds encasing them, some of the water rises to the surface to form springs. The pressure of the underground river, however, is what pushes the water up. The spring water could not keep rising indefinitely unless the water in the main channel was replenished to maintain a pressure level that would keep the spring flowing. Once the underground channel had fallen below the level necessary to maintain that pressure, the spring would "dry up." So this again brings us back to the problem of where all of the flood water came from. Just to say that much of it came from "the fountains of the great deep" is too simplistic to provide a satisfactory answer.

To think that several miles of water rose from beneath the earth without some sustaining force to push it up is to think with the heart and not the head. Such a scenario has to suppose that several thousand cubic miles of water-filled caverns under the seas just suddenly sent their water spewing up to overcome the tremendous pressure of the oceans already pushing down on them. What force caused that to happen? And since water seeks its own level, what kept the water from dropping back into the empty caverns? We are told that when God shut the windows of heaven and stopped "the fountains of the deep," it still took 150 days for the water to decrease (Gen. 8:2-3 ). Why? Why on earth why? Why wouldn't the water that had come up from the underground caverns have rushed back into them in the same way that water empties from a bathtub when the drain is opened? Furthermore, what kept the caverns from collapsing under the prodigious weight of millions of tons of water pushing down on them so that there would have been no place for the water to return to and the surface of the earth would have remained indefinitely flooded? Am I just crazy or something or don't any inerrantists ever wonder about some of these things?

Inerrantists, of course, have a stock reply to every objection I have raised. God was behind it all, they say, and so he could have caused anything, even rainfall at the rate of six inches per minute for 40 continuous days. He could have provided the force to empty all of the underground rivers and keep them empty until the flood was over. He could even have created extra water just for the flood and then taken it away.

Yes, if we concede the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent deity who personally engineered every phase of the flood, then presumably that would make anything possible. If we are going to do that, however, we will have to give this deity another characteristic. In addition to being omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibeneficent, etc., etc., etc., we will also have to make him omnisilly. He could have just said the word or waved his hand or whatever omnipotent deities do to perform miracles, and thus caused all human life on earth to die except for Noah's family, and if he had also wanted to include dumb animals in his carnage, he could have spoken and caused all animal life, except replenishment stock, to die too. Instead, he chose to have a man build a boat that had to be miraculously stocked with animal life and then miraculously sustained through a miraculous flood of thousands of inches of miraculously produced rain supplemented by miraculously emptied "fountains of the deep."

If one wants to believe that, then the story makes perfectly good sense. If, however, anyone puts any premium at all on common sense, he will have to consider the story a myth from prescientific times.

(Creation/Evolution in which Robert A. Moore's article appeared is now published by The National Center for Science Education, Box 9477, Berkeley, CA. 94709.)
 



Rollover button for Main Menu pageRollover button for Print Edition Main Menu pageRollover button for Search Engine pageRollover button for Contact Us page