By Philip Cottraux
Genesis 17:19-20: And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. Last week I wrote on the science and historical/geologic evidence for the flood that wiped out early Mesopotamian civilization. I now want to turn my attention to whether or not it happened on a global scale.
Next to creation itself and the age of the universe, Noah’s deluge is perhaps the most controversial topic between scientists and theists. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike swear by the Biblical account of a flood that covered the entire world, even the highest mountains, and destroyed all life on Earth. Scientists laugh at the idea, claiming there’s no proof for it and that it wouldn’t even be physically possible. Some have tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between the two with the “local flood” theory (that it only covered the Middle East instead of every mountain of every continent).
Obviously, this is a big subject for me to tackle with a very short amount of space. Entire books have been written on the geology behind a global flood, so I’m attempting to condense some very complicated science down to only a few paragraphs. I recommend following the links at the bottom which include diagrams to go along with better explanations of the scientific principles at hand (as noted last week, however, I do disagree with Kjvbible.org’s dating of the flood; they place it at 2345 BC while I maintain that 3124 BC is probably the best exact date).
That said, let’s delve right into it.
We have to begin by examining whether a global flood is even physically possible. The Bible makes it clear that all the mountains under the whole heaven were covered. This means we would need at least enough water to cover the tip of the world’s highest mountain, Mt. Everest. At an elevation of 29,028 feet above sea level, this is a gargantuan amount of water.
But the earth’s landscape was dramatically different during the antediluvian period, which is an important point going forward. Underneath the immediate crust is a series of tectonic plates, which are constantly moving and shifting (also causing continental drift). When these plates separate, they cause rifts and valleys. When they crash together, they form mountains. Everest is also one of the fastest growing peaks in the world.
Rewind the geologic clock back to the days of Noah and Everest was at least 50 feet shorter; this doesn’t sound like, but multiply each foot by the amount of water needed to cover the entire world and a difference of billions of tons is made.
Our important clue is found in Genesis 7:11: In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. Flood skeptics often overlook this scripture, which explicitly informs us that the rain began after geysers spewed water from the ground. So the majority of the water that covered the earth during the flood didn’t come from above (initially), but underground.
Is there enough water under the earth to cover all land, even to the highest mountains? Actually, even a fraction of the amount of underground water would do it. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:4). So the first bit of hard evidence we’re pursuing is a sufficiently-sized fissure that could have released enough water to cover the early fourth century BC world.
At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is a gigantic “scar” on the earth, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, zigzagging from the North all the way down to the Antarctic Sea. In large areas, parts of the Earth’s outer crust is completely missing. Here is our best candidate for the open wound from which the floodwaters came.
As the planet was suddenly ripped open, water spewed out of massive geysers on the ocean floor. This caused global tsunamis (one did strike the Southern coasts of Mesopotamia, as I mentioned last week). The water was superheated from underground magma chambers, evaporating and cooling into the atmosphere until the world was covered with dark catastrophic storm clouds. Now the windows of heaven were ready to open.
The next big puzzle that flood skeptics like to bring up is where the water went once the 150 days were ended. The only clue the Bible gives is in Genesis 8:1-3: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated. The Torah only mentions the Lord sending a wind, and then cryptically tells us that the waters somehow receded.
The earth’s crust is obviously much thinner under the ocean than under the continents. As the increase in oceanic volume continued, the weight of the extra water eventually became too much. The ocean floors started to collapse. The landscape of the world was changed as the waters receded from the land and the oceans were made deeper. So where is the water from the flood? Still there.
Scripture also backs this up. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth (Psalm 104:6-9). By “waters standing above the mountains,” we can deduce that this Psalm is referring to the flood, giving us more detail on how it subsided. God changed the landscape of the earth, raising mountains and lowering the sea floors until the world in its current shape emerged.
Now, pay careful attention because another intriguing clue from the Bible emerges to answer another question. Genesis 10:25: And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. The name “Peleg” means “dividing by a small channel of water,” and the Bible makes it clear that he was named after a local geologic event. Peleg was born 101 years after the flood. The Spirit is trying to get our attention with this, since it is mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 1:19.
This would indicate that at some point, an area of land near the Middle East was rent apart then filled with water. Looking at a relief map, we can see this in the division between Africa and Saudi Arabia; in only recent millennia, these two lands were violently ripped apart, creating what we know today as the Red Sea.
The Peleg event demonstrates the effects the flood has had on the world since the days of Noah and his descendants. The collapse of the ocean floors has caused a chain reaction that also tore apart areas inland as well as dramatically changed sea levels themselves.
The oceans surged to cover the continents during the flood, receded when their floors deepened, then increased again as more geologic settling (such as the Peleg event) occurred. On another relief map, one can see that the water is very shallow between Australia and Thailand, as well as the Bearing Sea (the body of water between Alaska and Russia). In some places, it is only 50 feet deep. Only a few thousand years ago, land bridges connected all the continents in the days of Noah. And this answers the age-old question of how the animals from different continents were able to migrate to where Noah and the ark were.
Therefore, evidence of fluctuations in sea levels in the past few thousand years is sufficient data to support the Biblical story. And there is plenty.
Go around the world and you will find numerous underwater ruins of ancient cities. Yonaguni-Jima is off the coast of Japan. Dwarka lies beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean. These, and others, are indicative of drastically increased sea levels around the world over previous centuries.
Miles off the coasts of most major continents is a dramatic shelf where the depths of the sea suddenly plunges into an abyss. We can find evidence at that many of these continental shelves were once the continents’ original coasts. The presence of carved out riverbeds, for example, shows that dryland rivers with thriving ecosystems once lived here, emptying into the oceans. Now they are miles underwater as rising sea levels drowned them.
About 1600 miles off the coast of New England is a series of underwater “mountain peaks” called the New England Seamounts. Deep-sea drilling of these peaks shows that they contain Eocene limestone, which is a product of shallow water. Fossilized coral, which also only grows near the ocean’s surface, is also present. At one time, before sea levels surged after Noah’s flood and the Peleg event, these seamounts dotting the depths of the Atlantic Ocean were once near the surface, and may have even been islands jutting from the water.
Of course, all this still sounds speculative, and the clincher would be if we could locate Noah’s ark itself. Next week, we’ll conclude this series by tackling one of archaeology’s most enduring mysteries; was the ark real, and if so, are its remains still out there somewhere?
-Johnson, Gaines R. “The Fountains of Noah’s Flood and the Windows of Heaven.” Kjvbible.org, accessed March 24, 2017. <http://www.kjvbible.org/windows_of_heaven.html>
-Johnson, Gaines R. “Sea Level and Major Geologic Event After Noah’s Flood.” Kjvbible.org, accessed March 25, 2017. <http://www.kjvbible.org/peleg.html>