Pages 5-7: spring 1993
COMMON SENSE AND NOAH'S FLOOD
"The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark" by Robert A. Moore
(Creation/Evolution, Winter 1983) is the most thorough exposure of absurd-
ities 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 Begin-
ning, 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 local-
ized, 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 ver-
itable 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 continu-
ous 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 sug-
gested 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 "explana-
tion" 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 evaporat-
ing water from one area of the globe while it was pouring down rain else-
where, 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 be-
lieve 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 hap-
pened. 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 warm-
ing trend continues, but even if it does, only the coastal areas of the con-
tinents 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 foun-
tains 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 any-
thing, 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 miracu-
lously 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,
"The greatest miracle in the world is the capacity of humanity to
believe--without evidence" (Edwin Franken Dakin).
"It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything
upon insufficient evidence" (W.K. Clifford).
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