When I began my earnest quest to find the evidence to support my belief in a literal, non-figurative (I understand those are the same thing, but it’s 2015 and this clarification is sadly necessary), inerrant, plain-reading view of the history presented in the Bible, the global flood of Genesis 6-9 was a top priority.
Along with the six-day creation, the curse of sin, and the scattering of nations at Babel, the flood is one of the key pillars for young earth creation. The scope and scale of the global destructive force from a world-wide flood defies precise study, and intuition is enough to imagine that the havoc wrought is adequate explanation for geological formations, continental positioning, species extinction, fossils, and oil deposits.
The power ascribed to the God of the Old Testament was adequate explanation, to me, for all of the story’s fantastical elements one might point to before the ark landed in the mountains of Ararat — the skill to craft a sea-worthy vessel several times larger than any wooden boat since, the gathering of the animals, or their feeding and care with just eight crew. The creator could compel his animals to modify their behavior and dietary requirements for a year in whatever way was necessary.
The questions that scratched my mind were about layers of the geological column, the number of animals needed on the boat, and the subsequent geographical distribution of species. At this point, I was doing nothing to look for evidence against a worldwide flood… I was seeking the best affirmation that creation science could provide.
Having hiked the Rocky Mountains, driven through the Drumheller badlands, visited Yosemite National Park and been in awe of intricate scenic photography, I was familiar with the layering and distinct banding seen in geological features all around the world.
The mantra of Answers in Genesis, the group behind the Ark Encounter life-size ark theme park, is that the Biblical flood account predicts “billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.” They go so far as to have children memorize the phrase for group chanting.
This rock-layer-from-flood claim seemed like it would be straight-forward to validate. I was pretty sure I’d seen an experiment in a clear tank with water and dirt sloshed around and eventually settling into layers. Revisiting this procedure (vicariously via YouTube), of course the result is always a single gradient layer with lighter particulates at the top and heavier at the bottom in a smooth, continuous, gradual effect known as graded banding. In order to get hard-line layers sorted by material, one has to lay down the material one band at a time.
Diagram from theistic science group BioLogos
This disturbed me in two ways… the first was the ease with with my mind had been placated by false science. The second, and more impactful, was just how wrong the flood defenders were. Did they believe the misinformation they were yelling, or were they deliberately lying about it? And which scenario would be worse?
Admittedly, geology and rocks weren’t interesting enough to me to pursue that further at the time. I was a life-long dinosaur enthusiast and I was hungry to move on to the fossils.
I was aware that fossils of extinct species were generally found in some semblance of paleolithic ordering, but I was hoping that evidence bore out some combination of pre-flood deaths in layers and then something that could be the flood extinction event. The actual explanations presented to me by flood literalists were no more concrete.
While a vast over-simplification, if one is looking from bottom-to-top of the fossil layers, the oldest layers feature fish, then amphibians appear first in newer layers, then the first reptiles after that, then mammals and finally birds.
The creationists I was reading hypothesize that this is consistent with the order in which the flood water would have caught them and drown them. Fish were already in the water and would be swept up. Amphibians live close to water, so they got caught first. Reptiles and mammals live further from water and were more likely to be smart enough to scramble to higher ground. Birds, of course, would take to the air and be the last to succumb to the waters.
Diagram from theistic science group BioLogos
Like most of the explanations I was finding, this seemed intuitively reasonable for a general trend upon first consideration. But a second thought followed… this isn’t a general trend, but a rule. All elephants and sloths limberly scrambled to the highest ground? All flightless birds — the kiwi, ostrich and emu — found higher ground than tree-living mammals and pteranodons?
The consistency of the fossil ordering is so strong that finding a precambrian rabbit has become a common answer given by scientists who are questioned about what might defeat the theory of evolution. As Bill Nye (the science guy) answered in his recent famous creation debate, “We would need just one piece of evidence, we would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another.”
Another disingenuous flood defense.
Did the Animals Fit on the Ark?
You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)
Now things were getting interesting. At 300 cubits (estimated to be 510 feet) long, the ark was huge but not infinite. Could all of the species of the world, along with food stores, fit into such a confined space?
I soon learned about the power of the biblical phrase “kinds” and a new concept called microevolution.
Modern taxonomy breaks life down into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. (When you see me in real life, I will gleefully rapidly rattle off that list for you, as the thing I best retained from high school biology.) But you will note the absence of “kind” from that list. What is a kind? No creationist will give a definitive list or definition, some willing to narrow it down to something between family and genus.
The idea is that you didn’t need every species of dog on the ark… you just needed two wolves. The dog kind. And the cat kind. The chicken kind. And from these pairs, all the diverse species we know today would have descended with all their variations emerging in the subsequent generations of offspring.
But isn’t that evolution? The “change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations.” Well, given the established history that humans have selectively bred all the dogs in the world from wolves, it’s tough to deny that such changes can occur. So, creation scientists created (or embraced) a word called microevolution that describes variations within a kind. (As opposed to the equally vague macroevolution, which they deny can happen, that would describe one kind changing to another.)
This idea was new to me, and again, made intuitive sense. I wasn’t concerned with the micro-vs-macro subtleties at this point. I was still focused on the math — the animals in the boat and the world repopulation.
So the black-box estimates of the animals on the ark based on kinds, are anywhere from 8000 to 16,000. Theoretically a reasonable number for the boat size. That works. But can we start with so few animals a mere 4000 years ago and land where we are now?
Here, I throw again to Bill Nye’s analysis. “So we will take a number that we think is pretty reasonable, 16 million species today. OK, If these came from 7000 kinds, let’s say this is subtracted from 16 million, that’s 15,993,000. In 4000 years, we would expect to find 11 new species every day. So you go out to your yard, you wouldn’t just find a new bird, you’d find a different kind of bird. A whole new species of bird. Every day, a new species of fish, a new species of organism you can’t see, I mean this would be enormous news. The last 4000 years people would’ve seen these changes among us, so the Cincinnati Inquirer, I imagine, would carry a column right next to the weather report, showing new species and would list these 11 every day. But we see no evidence of that; there is no evidence of these species; there just simply isn’t enough time.”
That level of evolution couldn’t be reasonable while marking evolution itself to be unreasonable.
Geographical Distribution of Species
Last, but not least, on my initial global flood cognitive dissonance hit-list was the phenomenon of certain animals found only in isolated geographical regions and no where else.
By the Genesis count, two penguins got off the ark in Ararat and waddled south for 8000 km. There are not a lot of good seafood places on the route, but the receding flood waters would have left some laying around, probably.
But I was most curious about the geographically unique marsupials of Australia — the kangaroo, in particular. How did they hop there?
Many of them could have floated on vast floating logs, left-overs from the massive pre-Flood forests that were ripped up during the Flood and likely remained afloat for many decades on the world’s oceans, transported by world currents. (AiG)
Yup. Ignoring completely that there is no evidence of any kangaroo remains on the multi-generational hop from the Middle East to the tip of Asia… one of the best explanations posited by those to whom I was seeking intellectual freedom was the idea that all the marsupials hopped onto logs for some reason and floated across an ocean to Australia. Over 5000 km of ocean, shivering and hungry, clinging to logs.
I realize this isn’t as falsifiable as the previous items I mentioned, but it really struck me as particularly disingenuous.
Obviously, these do not begin to make a dent on the questions I investigated in relation to a historical global flood. (Do we have enough water? What’s this firmament? How did the plants live?) Nor do the above necessarily represent the finest in flood apologetics, but they were the best offered to me at the time.
Along with the unsatisfactory answers to my creation questions, my confidence in the literal, historical truth of the Scriptures was shaken… along with the respect for those who defend such a position.