Now, the Flood is the first major event in the Bible after the fall of Adam and Eve. For the moment, let’s put aside the issue of whether it literally happened or not, and look at what the story is trying to convey.
God gave his intelligent creation free will. This also included spirit beings called “angels” or messengers, sometimes called “sons of God.” 1 As humans multiplied on the Earth, the sons of God saw the daughters of men and took wives for themselves. 2 This caused YHWH to declare: “My Spirit will not reside with the human forever while he is flesh, and his days will become 120 years.” 3
This statement is ambiguous. In the original Hebrew, the word here translated “reside with” (idun) is related to the word meaning judge, adjudicate, or plead the cause of. God had made humans out of flesh and blood, so the comment about flesh is more likely a reference to human behavior rather than how they were built. The statement “his days will become 120 years” could refer to the length of time before the Flood, but God hadn’t yet declared his intention to bring one.
Therefore, the statement as a whole seems to be more of a pronouncement about the future human lifespan, which would be reduced to 120 years by the withdrawal of God’s Spirit. Limiting the lifespan would restrain the human ability to perpetuate badness. Curiously, in our modern age, despite all of our technical advances, the human lifespan still seems to have an upper limit of around 120 years, although individuals can sometimes exceed that. In other words, we could see this as a prediction of the ultimate lifespan humans could achieve without God’s Spirit, which has come true.
Either way, according to the story, the union of women and angels produced offspring that became “the mighty men who were from old, men of fame.” 4 Many ancient nations had legends of gods and demigods, and the Genesis account seems to be implying that these legends all have a common source.
As a result, “YHWH saw that the badness of the human was great in the earth, and every form of the devices of his heart was only bad all of the time. And YHWH felt regret that he had made the human in the earth, and it grieved his heart. And YHWH said: ‘I will wipe the human whom I created from the surface of the ground; from human, to beast, to moving animal, and to the birds of the heavens, because I regret that I made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of YHWH.” 5
If this sounds like an extreme response, then perhaps extraordinary circumstances required it. The account continues: “The earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth and look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth. And God said to Noah: ‘The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is full of violence on account of them; and look! I am ruining them with the earth.’” 6
The word “ruined” is used here three times to describe what had been done to the Earth by flesh. According to the story, God’s decision wasn’t based on a whim. The Earth had somehow been “ruined.” Perhaps the suggestion is that humans were on the brink of wiping themselves out. This would not entirely be a surprise, given that in our day, nations have weapons of annihilation aimed at one another.
The Hebrew word translated “reside with” (idun) in verse 3 is similar to the name Dan (dn), one of the tribes of Israel, which means “judge.” I have already shown in Jacob’s story that this is related to DNA. Perhaps then, the account is also implying that the pool of human DNA had become seriously damaged as a result of the human and angel hybrid offspring.
Whatever the case, the account implies this was an environment where a person could no longer choose good, because “every form of the devices of his heart was only bad all of the time.” God had given intelligent creation unlimited freedom, because there was as yet no divine law, but they had abused that freedom to the point of ruining themselves and the Earth.
Seen in that light, the Flood was not the act of a vengeful God, but was intended to preserve life on Earth in the face of its own physical and moral self-destruction. After all, according to the story, we are the offspring of Noah and his family. It was also about God bringing the “ruin” they had caused back on their own heads. It was a form of cosmic justice. Just as they had “ruined,” so God was “ruining” them.
Now, many ancient cultures around the world have legends about a universal flood, including isolated Amazonian tribes. The most famous flood legend outside of the Bible is the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian story about Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. In a later part of the story, Gilgamesh sets out on a search for his ancestor Utnapishtim, who had been given eternal life after surviving the Flood.
Utnapishtim’s story is very similar to that of Noah. He was told to build a ship, because a flood would wipe out all people and animals not on board. The Sumerian version is apparently older than the Genesis account, which has led some scholars to suggest that the Genesis account is simply a retelling of the Babylonian story.
If we look at both stories with the preconceived notion that the Flood never happened, then it is perhaps natural to assume the Genesis story was drawn from the earlier one. But perhaps a simpler explanation is that they both draw on a common source, namely, the actual events surrounding a global Flood.
If it really did happen, they could be two independent sources, which would explain why there are differences in the accounts. It would also explain why there are so many somewhat similar flood legends from around the world.
Now, from a scientific point of view, could a global Flood have actually happened?
In the early days of modern geology, James Hutton and Charles Lyell introduced a principle that became known as “uniformitarianism.” The idea behind it was that “the present is the key to the past.” Events occur at the same rate now as they have always done. This idea was also echoed in the subtitle of Lyell’s book Principles of Geology: “An attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface by reference to causes now in operation.”
To illustrate the idea, suppose we found a garden hose lying in the sand, and a small canyon carved out in front of it through the sand. We see that the hose is dripping water at a slow rate. Based on the current rate of the drips, we could deduce how long the canyon had taken to form. This is the principle of uniformitarianism as it is applied in geology, and it is often treated as an assumption, at least in certain contexts.
Modern geologists apply the Naturalistic Assumption just as biologists do in their field. Biologists tend to assume that life must have come about by itself, and that it gradually evolved through natural mechanisms such as mutation and selection. Geologists tend to work on the basis that geological history must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now, and that no powers are to be employed that aren’t natural to the world. In other words, they dismiss the idea of a Flood, not because of a lack of evidence, but because they see the evidence through the filter of naturalism, which I called the Naturalistic Assumption. This is similar to the Crooked Trial I discussed at the start of this letter.
However, other scientific fields do not make the same assumptions as geologists. An accident investigator doesn’t see a crumpled vehicle and assume it took millions of years to compress naturally into that shape. The investigator looks at whether an accident, natural disaster or deliberate act could have caused it to crumple.
But how could a worldwide Flood occur? According to the account in Genesis, “all of the springs of the vast abyss were ripped open, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” 7
The “abyss” here is simply the vast and deep ocean. It was introduced by Moses some chapters earlier, in the Creation account: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the abyss. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” 8
The word here translated “hovering” is related to a word suggesting shaking or fluttering like bird’s wings. 9 It may have been causing ripples or waves. This is perhaps God’s way of pointing out to the modern skeptic, but really to all of us, that light can be thought of as waves or vibrations in the electromagnetic field.
Furthermore, sound, water and bubbles can cause light. This is called “sonoluminescence.” If God said ‘let there be light’ loud enough, or the vibration from the hovering of God’s Spirit was noisy enough, light could have been created literally from sound waves through the water. If enough of the watery abyss was vibrated and lit up this way, as the Earth rotated in a 24 hour period it would create a night and day cycle. This is one way in which there could be “evening and morning” without reference to a Sun. All that was needed was a source of light and a rotating Earth.
Whatever the case, according to the Flood account, the prime sources of water were “the springs of the vast abyss” and “the windows of the heavens.” Prior to the Flood, vast amounts of highly pressurized water could have been contained in chambers under the oceans. These chambers could have been ripped open at the Flood, causing water to shoot out into the atmosphere and rain down upon the Earth.
Now, if a universal Flood really happened, what kind of evidence would we need to see? For one, we would expect to see something matching up with “the springs of the vast abyss” being “ripped open.” This is actually what we find. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which looks like a 40,000 kilometer rip along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, may have been the result of water being released from vast underground chambers.
Due to the intense heat that would have been caused by the rapid ejection of so much pressurized water, it could have caused mountains and crust to literally melt, and create ripple formations in some mountain ranges that can still be seen today, along with the formation of some of the taller mountain chains. In other words, mountains would have been pushed higher than they were before the Flood.
We would also expect to see fossilized animals, as a result of being rapidly covered with water and sediment and cut off from air, preventing rot or decay, and preserving their forms relatively intact. This is also what we find.
As the water drained off the Earth, canyons and other features would be carved into the Earth. This is also what we see. Geologists say canyons take millions of years to form, but they base this on the rate of river flow today, which is applying the principle of uniformitarianism I discussed earlier. However, a worldwide Flood would cause canyons to form much more rapidly. Going back to the illustration of the hosepipe in the sand, if someone had turned the hosepipe on at full power for a while, the water would cut through the sand much more quickly and effectively than a slow, steady drip.
Some of the water from the Flood would have frozen, particularly at and near the north and south poles, and would take time to thaw, which is perhaps what modern naturalistic science interprets as ice ages.
We would also expect to see some kind of genetic bottleneck, since all humans and land creatures alive today would be descendants of those on the Ark which God told Noah to build. There certainly does appear to be a genetic bottleneck, if measured by the molecular clock of mitochondrial DNA. Species seem to have diversified fairly recently.10 The timescale differs significantly from the Biblical account, but I will discuss timing issues in the second part of this letter.
Of course, none of these things prove that a Flood took place, but at least it could have happened, if we remove the naturalistic assumptions made in scientific fields such as geology.
For the moment, if we can allow for the possibility that it happened, let’s tackle a few key issues right now. An issue often raised by skeptics is, how could Noah possibly get every species of living creature onto the Ark? The simple answer is, he didn’t need to. God told Noah to bring in animals “of their kind.” 11 The Hebrew word here translated “kind” (min) is very different from the modern concept of a “species.”
For example, in the modern classification system, zebras, donkeys and horses are classed as being of the same family, but containing different species. Noah would only need to take on board creatures that would have been the common ancestor of the horse, donkey and zebra. Many or even most species could have been lost in the Flood, but representatives of their ancestors, perhaps at the family level, were preserved.
Of course, this raises other issues regarding species, which I will discuss in the second part of this letter. For now, I will simply say that Noah wasn’t asked to bring every species on board. We don’t know exactly what the Hebrew word min meant, but it was probably far looser than the modern concept of species. In other words, the Ark probably only needed to contain tens of thousands or perhaps even just thousands, of land and flying creatures, in order to represent all of the “kinds.”
Another objection raised by skeptics is, how could Noah have built such a big boat? After all, it was just him and his family. Again, the premise of the question is incorrect. He wasn’t asked to build a boat. He was asked to build an Ark. A boat needs to stay afloat and sail to various destinations. The Ark only needed to float in water. For that reason, it was a fairly simple design.
In order to float, a boat has to exert the same amount of force on the ocean as the weight of the water it displaces. The infamous Titanic that sank because it hit an iceberg, weighed about 53 million kilograms. The Ark would perhaps weigh around a million kilograms. If the bulk of the Ark was under water but still afloat, it would displace the equivalent of about twenty large swimming pools. It would have a capacity of about 50 million kilograms, the equivalent of about 2 million sheep. 12
Let’s say the amount of food consumed by one animal was, on average, a kilogram a day. Obviously, some would consume more, and some less. To support 20,000 animals for a year, the Ark would need about 7.3 million kilograms of food on board, or about one sixth of its capacity. The Bible indicates that all animals ate vegetation, seeds or fruits prior to the Flood.
In other words, the Ark was more than capable of supporting tens of thousands of animals that were representatives of their min or kind. If larger animals were a problem, a simple solution would have been to take younger animals on board. Not only would they take up less space, they would also consume less food.
Did Noah have to go out and collect the animals? No. God told Noah that “they shall come to you, to keep alive.” 13 Presumably then, God organized that part. Noah just had to take the gathered animals on board.
He did, however, have to gather the food, which would have been quite a task for one family. Perhaps he hired contractors. Whatever the situation, if God really did flood the Earth, he would have ensured Noah had the resources he needed to build the Ark and stock it with food.
According to the Genesis account, the Flood began in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the 2nd month, on the 17th day of the month.14 This is quite specific for a story that skeptics say is a myth. In the six hundred and first year of his life, on the first day of the first month, the waters had dried off the Earth, and Noah removed the covering of the Ark. Noah’s 601st birthday marked the beginning of a new era for humans.
God promised never to flood the Earth again, and never to curse the ground on account of humans, “because the form of the heart of the human is bad from his youth.” 15 Before the Flood, God had granted humans unlimited freedom, but they had ruined the Earth and filled it with violence. With no moral guidance, and no universal law, they had completely lost their way.
The end of the Flood marked a new beginning for humans and animals, a new era. God blessed them, but he also said to Noah: “Certainly, flesh with its blood, its soul, you shall not eat. And certainly, I will require your blood of your souls. I will require it from the hand of every animal, and from the hand of the human. From the hand of a man’s brother I will require the soul of the human. Whoever sheds human blood, by a human will his blood be shed, for in God’s image he made the human.” 16
The previous era had been marked by bloodshed, starting with Adam and Eve, who got humans barred from the tree of life, and continuing with Cain, who murdered his own brother and asked God, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” 17 The end result was an Earth filled with violence.
God was now laying down a few ground rules for the new era. Blood was the soul or life of a creature, and was not to be eaten. Animals and humans that shed human blood would have their own blood shed.
And to answer Cain’s question, the answer was yes. Humans were indeed to be the guardians of their own brothers. Of course, this has not prevented murder from taking place, but it has perhaps constrained it. After all, what nation on Earth does not have laws against murder?
Now, on the surface, God’s law here might sound hypocritical. After all, didn’t God just shed the blood of all flesh in a Flood? The answer is related to the idea of hats we discussed in the story of the Hammer Killer. In her capacity as a judge, the so-called Hammer Killer was legally authorized to put a man to death, but if she then went home and killed her husband, that would be murder.
If you held a person against their will, and locked them up in a small room, you would probably be committing a crime. But in order to prosecute the crime, the authorities would likely hold you against your will, and the sentence against you would perhaps involve you being locked up in a small room.
Skeptics could choose not to believe in courts because of the hypocrisy of the legal system, but perhaps a more reasonable approach would be to recognize that it is simply a matter of authority. A police officer has the authority to arrest you in the investigation of a crime, and a judge has the authority to put you in a prison cell if you are found guilty.
If God exists, then he is the ultimate lawgiver and judge. He has the authority to put to death in his capacity as Supreme Judge, without being subject to the same law. This was the authority he was exercising at the Flood. He would also be superior to a human judge, in that he would have access to information that human judges do not have.
Nevertheless, to present God merely as some kind of cruel or bloodthirsty judge would be similar to what I did with the Hammer Killer. We would be looking at God’s actions from a completely one-sided point of view. As I already said, according to the Genesis account, circumstances prior to the Flood were truly extraordinary. It says, “the earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” And again, “it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.”
Just as skeptics demand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, extraordinary circumstances may need an extraordinary response. If the word “ruined” isn’t a clue as to the nature of the extraordinary circumstances, then what would be?
Of course, I recognize that none of what I have written here proves the Flood to be true. That would take a whole book, and many books have already been written on the subject. In this chapter, I have shown that the Flood is certainly possible based on what we know from geology, if we remove the assumptions of uniformitarianism and naturalism.
I have also shown that the Flood was not an act of malice on God’s part, but was likely done to preserve the human race from the consequences of their own violence and destruction, which had already led to the Earth being ruined in God’s eyes.
1 Compare Job 38:6,7. 2 Genesis 6:1,2. 3 Genesis 6:3. 4 Genesis 6:4. 5 Genesis 6:5-8. 6 Genesis 6:11-13. 7 Genesis 7:11. 8 Genesis 1:1,2. 9 Compare Deuteronomy 32:11 which uses a similar word: “As an eagle rouses its nest, fluttering over its fledglings, spreading its wings.” 10 Stoeckle, Thaler, “Why should mitochondria define species?”, Human Evolution, 2018. 11 Genesis 6:20. 12 See the article "Could Noah’s Ark Float? In Theory, Yes" by Helen Thompson, published at smithsonianmag.com on April 4, 2014. 13 Genesis 6:20. 14 Genesis 7:11. 15 Genesis 8:21. 16 Genesis 9:4-6. 17 Genesis 4:9.