[Excerpted and adapted from The Noachian Deluge: Does Scripture Say Global, or Local?]
Noah’s Flood is an interesting topic; however, some are not so convinced. For example, popular Christian apologist Greg Koukl has a video where he argues that the size of the Flood really doesn’t matter—put another way, he just doesn’t care.
But Koukl misses the point! He may or may not care, but it certainly does matter because our view of Noah’s Flood has much more significant implications than many—including Koukl—seem to realize.
It is impossible when considering the features of the world around us, to avoid making certain assumptions. Now, these assumptions can be later bolstered or undermined upon the discovery of new evidence, but this is not usually the case. One’s assumptions will drive the majority of his thinking on a certain area, and often these assumptions are hard to break free from.
Really, there are only two options: Admit our axioms (assumptions) up front, or deny that we operate within them. The latter is intellectually dishonest, which most would agree with. In practice, however, folks often want to claim they are a neutral observer of the evidence. I have elsewhere argued that this is impossible.
Therefore the Flood described in Scripture is an event that will—as with most other things—be interpreted based on what assumptions we make going into our investigation.
The two major assumptions that drive interpretation of the Flood: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism.
The former teaches that “the past is the key to the present,” and the latter teaches that “the present is the key to the past.”
In more applicable terms, the former teaches that present-day rates and processes are not necessarily consistent throughout all of history, and the latter teaches that they essentially are.1 This all sounds sort of esoteric, though.
After all, why does it matter?
Simply, it matters because the entire “age” debate centers around it. I’ve recently argued from the teaching of Jesus why the “age” issue is important. And from a scientific standpoint, the sheer reality is that geology makes no room for long ages and a global flood.2 It is one or the other.
If I’m right that there are deep theological issues on the old age view, then the connection should be obvious. The local flood view necessitates an old earth, which I believe is theologically untenable. A further question, then, is why does the “age” debate center around these particular assumptions?
Because uniformitarianism necessarily entails acceptance of a local flood theory!
Of course, this means that anyone who accepts the uniformitarian assumptions a priori must interpret Scripture accordingly. This does not necessarily mean that someone is consciously placing science on the same level as Scripture—but it does mean one may be unaware of the extent to which their view of Scripture is being influenced by an assumption rather than the actual evidence.
Of course, there are a number of other assumptions that go into the local vs. global flood understanding. For example, one may claim that he has already considered this underlying philosophy and is still convinced by the scientific evidence which shows that rock layers are millions and billions of years old, rather than the thousands we argue for on the young age view. However, this too requires further assumptions!
When conducting radiometric dating, one must assume that:
- There was zero trace of the daughter element at the time of formation.
- There was zero contamination in the rock sample, which is unlikely because even rocks are porous, and therefore, gas can move slowly through the rocks and could possibly diffuse into the rock.
- There was zero fluctuation in the rate of the decay throughout history.
Now, a point that I think many creationists fail to make is that we do have reason to believe that at least assumptions one and two above are accurate in some cases.3 I would be remiss not to say that some of these methods are, in fact, dubious, but I think assumption number three is the biggest issue and deserves the most attention. The reason is that this dating assumption, even if we are convinced that it is mathematically correct in a given scenario, must fall subject to our interpretive grid; that is, our deeper philosophical axioms about the past.
Kurt Wise is quite instructive [11 minute video] on this point, but I’d like to spend some time on it in this discussion.
One Assumption to Rule Them All
As mentioned above, I think the notion that “there was zero fluctuation in the rate of the decay throughout history” is unable to proved by science. This is a question of philosophy no matter which way you look at it. A comparative example might be evolution theory. The theory of biological evolution is computationally correct (more on that here). Nevertheless, that certainly does not mean it is actually correct, nor does it mean that it’s the only explanation or even the best explanation! Many old earth advocates would agree with me on this point, but fail to consider that the same might be true about the dating method issue.
You see, if our underlying assumption of catastrophism—the idea that certain rates and processes could have been different in the past—is correct, then we’ve no need to conduct dating according to the standard assumptions; number three above, in particular. At this point the discussion must turn toward the Bible. Is there any reason to think the Bible teaches that things may have been different in the past?
Well, I think this case could be made simply on the basis that Scripture teaches what I am convinced is a global flood. If we’re right on that point, then it necessitates a catastrophist philosophy.
I also think the Scriptural case for Catastrophe is much, much stronger
Dr. Hugh Ross (founder and leader of RTB) is probably the foremost advocate of the old age creationist view, at least with respect to some traditional form of special creationism. In his debates and writings, he often makes the point that a short passage found in Jeremiah directly teaches uniformitarian philosophy. Let’s look at that now:
Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them. (Jeremiah 33:25-26)
Ross writes, “This is just one of several Scripture passages demonstrating that for thousands of years the Bible has been on record as stating that the laws of physics do not vary.”
If you watched the above-referenced video of Kurt Wise, you will have heard that the kind of flexibility we’re talking about to accomplish the “different rates and processes” needed in the past just may require slight adjustments to the laws of physics. Make no mistake—this is no small suggestion.
At first glance, Ross’ view seems justified! The problem is that Ross uses this passage to accomplish way more than is plausibly intended by its author.
First, there are those who would take issue with Ross’ application of this passage to the laws of physics. As a concordist myself, I can appreciate this interpretation, and I certainly want to affirm that it is speaking about God’s providence over the “natural order” of things. Whether we can plausibly say the actual laws of physics are in view, I don’t know, but I’ll grant for the sake of this discussion.
Second, and more importantly, Ross’ paraphrase of this passage almost always includes a detail that the passage itself does not include: namely, that the laws of physics have never changed in the past. Notice, this is nowhere in the text, yet it is simply assumed that Ross has the correct understanding of this.
After hearing this line a few times from Ross, I thought I would take a stroll through Scripture and see if there was a passage which indicated when this “covenant” was established. While we understand that God had finished his creative work at the end of Genesis 1, I see no “covenant” made there with heaven and earth, day and night, etc.
To my surprise, I found that there was, indeed, a verse in which such a covenant was established. Even further to my surprise was that this covenant was established immediately after the Flood, in Genesis 8:22! The verse reads like this:
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
Even the most amateur of readers can see the parallel between the language used here and in Jeremiah 33:25-26, and some Bibles actually include this as a cross reference, suggesting I am not the first person to make this connection. Ross will sometimes mention other verses to bolster his case (such as Romans 8:20-21, etc.), but each of these passages is just as dubious a proof text with respect to his point.
The Jeremiah passage is certainly his best chance (as confirmed by his frequent citing of it), but Scripture seems to place this covenant as having effect only after the Flood.
This is very, very significant. This gives us not only Scriptural warrant for our assumption of catastrophism, but seems a direct hit to the idea of interpreting the Bible under the assumption of uniformitarianism.
Let me be clear: I think Genesis 8:22 gives clear indication that rates of decay, natural processes, and yes—even the laws of physics—may have operated slightly differently during and prior to Flood Year. And if this is correct, we have the philosophical firepower we need to argue unencumbered for a global flood; both from the perspectives of science and Scripture.
- We should not think, however, that the Uniformitarian philosophy makes no room for catastrophe; it certainly does, but catastrophe has a much less significant role on this view.
- It’s been brought to my attention that Sailhamer’s suggestion would make room for long ages and a global flood. I have not researched his view myself, but I can think of no way for this to be possible other than some sort of “Genesis Gap,” which I believe to be untenable for hermeneutical reasons. Therefore, I still think this dichotomy is correct.
- This involves mathematical equations in what’s called the Isochron Method.