The very first geologists were actually Christians seeking evidence of Noah’s flood in the late 1600s. By the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the full depth and stratigraphic (layered) nature of the geologic column became apparent, geologists reluctantly admitted that the Earth was much older than what they had been led to believe. They examined rock strata and the fossils embedded therein and developed an understanding of the slow process of sedimentary deposition. They assessed the size of huge coral reefs and measured the rate at which they grew. By these and other means, it became clear that the Earth was at least hundreds of thousands to millions of years old. In 1912, Alfred Wegener proposed the theory of continental drift, the predecessor to our modern understanding of plate tectonics, explaining how Earth’s land masses have formed and changed over extremely long periods of time.
Soon thereafter, a great surge of interest in a young Earth, based upon very literal reading of the first two chapters of Genesis, started with the Seventh Day Adventist leader George McCready Price in his book, The Fundamentals of Geology, published in 1915. Price taught that all geologic features that we see today, like the Grand Canyon, were carved by one singular event during Earth’s history: Noah’s flood. His work, completely devoid of scientific merit, derived directly from the teenage founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Ellen White, who claimed in the mid-1800s to see visions of creation and the Noahic flood, including the supposed fossilization of animals beneath the flood. Price’s teaching, amazingly, was adopted by conservative Protestant churches within the then-nascent Fundamentalist movement in the 1920s, not on its own merits, but as a tool to be used to help counter what they saw as a general erosion of belief in Biblical authority.
The strict literalism of Genesis was further popularized within the Christian population at large by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr. in the 1960s with their book, The Genesis Flood. These authors drew their inspiration directly from Price’s work on “flood geology”, explaining that all fossils that we see today were animals that died in the Noahic flood [VI-15][VI-16].
Like the creation story, the account of Noah is a subject of many misunderstandings within the Christian community. I believe God’s Word that Noah existed, and that he built and used an ark as God commanded, bringing aboard animals from the surrounding countryside. This was the entire world, as far as Noah was concerned. The flood was not global, and it was not particularly deep; the Hebrew word harim can be translated as either mountains or hills, and the King James Bible uses this translation: And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered (Genesis 7:19). From Noah’s viewpoint, this is exactly what he would have seen. Prior to the rise of Seventh Day Adventist-inspired “flood geology”, a local flood interpretation was not uncommon among Christian scholars. In his Systematic Theology, first published in 1886 and now in its 33rd printing, A. H. Strong wrote,
“Hence Scripture uses the phrases of common life rather than scientific terminology. Thus the language of appearance is probably used in Genesis 7:19 “all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered” such would be the appearance, even if the deluge were local instead of universal; in Joshua 10:12,13 “and the sun stood still” such would be the appearance, even if the sun’s rays were merely refracted so as preternaturally to lengthen the day; in Psalm 93:1 “The world also is established, that it cannot be moved” such is the appearance, even though the earth turns on its axis and moves round the sun.”
The word erets in Genesis 7:19 is translated earth, but in many other places in the Bible, erets is translated “land”, “country”, or “ground”. [VI-20] Even when it is translated as “earth”, we understand that it does not refer to the entire planet. After the flood, “the earth was dried” (Genesis 8:14). Again, the word erets is used. If it referred to the planet Earth, the oceans would have dried up! The Bible uses similar language in Exodus when describing the plague of locusts that Moses brought upon Pharaoh’s people: “Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast: And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field” (Exodus 10:4-5). Here, we understand that the word erets does not mean “the entire face of the planet Earth”, but rather “the local region”. In verse 15, God continues, “For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt”. Even though the Bible literally states, “the face of the whole earth”, we understand that what is meant is “this country”. The ancients had no concept of “the planet Earth”. As far as they were concerned, Canaan, Egypt and the surrounding nations were the entire world, and everyone Noah knew from the surrounding countryside was indeed killed. Proponents of a global flood interpretation often use 2 Peter 3, verses 5-6 to support their position: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.” (NIV) But notice that Simon Peter specifically used the phrase, “the world of that time”. To Noah and his family, the world of that time was Mesopotamia.
The Bible also gives the height that the flood waters rose, 15 cubits, which was about 23 feet. This would have been measurable by Noah. Those who hold to a worldwide flood interpretation say that this means depth over the top of the tallest mountain on Earth. If you don’t approach these verses with the preconceived notion that eretshere means Earth (as in the entire planet), which interpretation makes more sense? Noah knew nothing about the planet Earth. The ark may have come to rest on one of the foothills of one of the mountain ranges to the North, toward the direction of Mt. Ararat, but not on a mountaintop. All Bible translations use the words “mountains of”, not referring to a single mountain; a location within an entire mountain range is being indicated. The entire area to the north of Mesopotamia is a wall of mountains stretching from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. The highest peak in that range is Mt. Ararat, and that is possibly how the ancients would have identified the entire mountain range.
Archaeological evidence shows that there were several major floods during recorded history. One catastrophic flood occurred in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, and another occurred between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea around 5500 BC. Depending on where and when he lived, either would have destroyed all of the civilizations that Noah was familiar with [VI-21]. However, there were thriving civilizations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas for millenia before Noah’s time, and the descendants of these people groups were not destroyed [VI-22]. Although the houses of Israel can trace their lineage back to Noah and thus to Adam, it is clear that other human populations existed. But we can go even further back than human civilization with fossil evidence around the globe. For example, we have fossil evidence of marsupials in Australia and nearby regions of the globe for millions of years before Noah’s time. Young-Earthers will say that these fossils were created during the flood, showing a complete misunderstanding (or refusal to understand) both sedimentary deposition and the fossilization process. There has been no evidence so far of marsupial species resembling anything like their modern-day counterparts living anywhere near the Middle East. If the flood were global and it wiped out all animal life, how did kangaroos get from Australia (or nearby regions) to the ark before the flood, and then back to Australia after the flood so that we’d find them there today? The same can be said of many other land animals and plants. I accept that God could have miraculously teleported the wombats, penguins, armadillos, and thousands of other improbable animal pairs back and forth, but there is no mention of God doing this in the Bible. The Bible states that the animals came to Noah. This is a probable miracle in and of itself! However, there is no indication that God did anything other than make these animals walk or fly under their own power, so the clearest interpretation is that the only animals on the ark were those that were local to the area.
Genesis 6, verses 1-4 describe a race of people known as the Nephilim, begotten before the flood. After the flood, they are mentioned again, in Numbers 13, verses 32-33. Were these later Nephilim descended from Noah’s family? If not, why were they not wiped out in the flood, if the flood destroyed all life on Earth?
There are unending problems with a global interpretation. If the flood was global, was it saltwater or freshwater? If it was saltwater, how did all the freshwater fishes from lakes and rivers survive? If it was freshwater, how did all the saltwater fishes survive? How are we supposed to account for the thousands of layers of geological strata and the fossils therein? What of the Tigris (Hiddekel) and Euphrates rivers which are mentioned in Genesis 2? These rivers are no more than 50′ deep at any point. If the flood were large and deep enough to cover the tallest mountains of the Earth (almost 6 miles deep) and powerful enough to carve out features like the Grand Canyon on the other side of the planet within a few weeks’ time, would these shallow Mesopotamian rivers which existed before the flood still be intact today? Young-Earth creationists teach that all of the fossils settled into their present positions during this cataclysmic maelstrom. All over the world, we see fossils arranged in a precise order which could never have occurred in a single, tumultuous event. It is absolutely clear that the flood was local, not global. The geologic evidence throughout the crust of the Earth tells a story of millions of years of sedimentary deposition and geologic change, not a single global event over the course of months. The local flood itself may have been a miracle, created through divine intervention, or God may have used natural processes to bring it about. That, we may never know. The Noahic flood was deep enough to cover the high hills, but it was not worldwide; it was likely restricted to the Tigris-Euphrates valley in what is now modern Iraq or to an area nearby.
Genesis is the truth, but the indoctrination into a global flood interpretation by evangelical churches for nearly the past 100 years has been a powerful lie propagated by an unfortunate cascade of pseudoscientific teaching originating ultimately from a teenage “prophet” during the 1800s. The Genesis description of creation was never intended to be a textbook on Advanced Studies in Universe Construction 310 or on Sedimentary Geology 401. God created the Earth, and He saw that it was good. If our study of the Earth clearly, undeniably reveals that there was no global catastrophic flood, we have to either accept that a worldwide flood interpretation is incorrect, or accept that God created the global floodwaters ex nihilo, buried the entire planet in water, and then later destroyed the water and whisked away all evidence that it ever existed outside of Mesopotamia, meanwhile restoring life to the entirety of the Earth just as it existed before the flood. If He did so, wouldn’t the Bible mention this? God is not a deceiver. It is far more likely that the flood was local, which is in agreement with the geological record; understanding this does nothing to dilute the integrity of the message. God destroyed the sinful civilizations surrounding Noah, Noah passed along this lesson verbally to his descendants, and Moses recorded the entire account as the inspired Word of God.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of the longer publication “On Matters of Faith and Science” at http://truecreation.org.
[VI-15] Hawley, Michael. Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight. 2010, Aventine Press. p. 43-51
[VI-16] Prothero, Donald R. (2007). Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. Columbia University Press. p. 30-35