Uniformity and Catastrophe
(the effect of geological uniformitarianism on Christian theology)
(Week 6 of SBTS 28960)
A. Biblically, the Flood was a global event (it could not have been a regional or local flood):
1. The Bible describes the Flood with universal terms, which argue for the universality of the Flood (Phillips 1993)
a. universal terms in the Flood account:
A) the earth ‘filled’ (Gen. 6:11, 13)
1) ‘all flesh’ (Gen. 6:12, 13; 7:15, 16)
2) ‘all that was on the dry land’ (Gen. 7:22)
3) ‘all flesh under heaven’ (Gen. 6:17)
4) ‘all flesh that moved’ (Gen. 7:21)
5) ‘all in whose nostrils was the breath of life’ (Gen. 7:22)
6) ‘all the cattle’ (Gen. 8:1)
7) ‘all the fountains of the great deep’ (Gen. 7:11)
1) ‘every sort’ (Gen. 6:19, 20)
2) ‘every thing in the earth’ (Gen. 6:17)
3) ‘every thing that creepeth upon the earth’ (Gen. 7: 8)
4) ‘every living thing’ (Gen. 8:1)
5) ‘every living substance’ (Gen. 7:4)
6) ‘every living thing of all flesh’ (Gen. 6:18)
7) ‘every living substance which was upon the face of the ground’ (Gen. 7:23)
8) ‘of every clean beast… and of beasts that are not clean…and of fowls also’ (Gen. 7:2-3)
9) ‘every beast’… ‘all the cattle’… ‘every creeping thing’… ‘every fowl’… ‘every bird of every sort’ (Gen. 7:14)
10) ‘every creeping thing’ (Gen. 7:21)
11) ‘every man’ (Gen. 7:21)
D) only: ‘Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him’ (Gen. 7:23)
b. Although some universal terms in Scripture may not be universal (e.g. ‘all have sinned’ in Rom. 3:23 does not include Christ; ‘all countries’ of Gen. 41:57 and ‘every nation under heaven’ in Acts 2:5 probably did not include, for example, people from the New World),
A) most often in Scripture the universal terms do have universal application. As a result, the burden of proof rests on any non-universal interpretation
B) the repeated use of universal terms in this text (rather than just one universal term) would suggest a non-universal interpretation is not possible.
c. Double universals are used (e.g. ‘all’ the high hills under ‘all’ the heaven), which suggests a superlative.
d. The larger context of the Flood account (Genesis 1-11) deals with the entire human race (in contrast to Gen. 12-50, which deals with a people chosen from among all mankind)
A) It would seem strange to have three chapters in the midst of this universal narrative having only particular application.
B) The 'earth' of Noah would have been the same (global) earth which Adam and Eve were told to fill, subdue and rule in Gen. 1:28.
e. The unqualified phrase 'under the whole' heaven (Gen. 7:19) appears five other times in the Hebrew OT (Deut. 4:19; Job 28:24; 37:3; 41:11; Dan. 9:12), and each time it seems to be universal (in its only other occurrence – Deut. 2:25 – the phrase is qualified, and thus non-universal).
2. The Flood was a unique event, so it cannot have been a local or regional flood (which have repeatedly occurred )
a. The Hebrew word translated ‘flood’ in Genesis 6-11 is mabbul. It comes from an older semitic root which means ‘to destroy’. Outside Genesis 6-11, the only other usage of the word is Psa. 29:10 which refers back to Noah’s Flood. Its exclusive usage suggests no other event in human history equaled it (Fouts, 1996). Other Hebrew words are available to designate local floods and they are not used to describe Noah’s Flood.
b. The Flood involved unique processes
A) The ‘windows of heaven’ (Gen. 7:11; 8:2) are not the same as rain (compare rain and ‘windows of heaven’ in Gen. 8:2), suggesting they were a unique water source.
B) Apparently the Flood messed up the daily and seasonal earth cycles (Gen. 8:22)
C) The Flood involved processes not currently observable on the earth (2 Pet. 3:3-7)
c. God promised to never again send a Flood of the magnitude of Noah's, and sealed this promise with a rainbow (Gen. 9:9-17). In contrast, many local Floods (and rainbows) have occurred since then.
3. The Flood covered mountains. Water covered the earth, including ‘all the high hills under the whole heaven’ to a depth of at least 15 cubits (Gen. 7:19-20).
a. Even if it covered only one mountain, it would require supernatural intervention to prevent such a flood from being worldwide. But the Flood also covered the highest mountains.
b. Geological evidence suggests there were mountains at this time across all the continents, meaning the Flood had to be global to even reach the bases of all the mountains, let alone cover them.
4. The Flood involved universal judgment.
a. The Flood was to destroy all flesh (i.e. all humans and all animals) on the earth (Gen. 6:7) and it’s reasonable to assume that both humans (1656 years after the creation) and animals had a worldwide distribution by the time of the Flood.
A) God repented that he had created humans in the first place (Gen. 6:6), indicating all humans are included.
B) All flesh across the whole planet deserved to be destroyed
1) The earth was described as corrupt (Gen. 6:11-12)
2) All flesh was corrupt (Gen. 6:12)
3) The earth was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11, 13)
C) God vowed to destroy
1) all humans from the earth (Gen. 6:7)
2) all animals from the earth, listing every category of land animal created in Genesis 1 (Gen. 6:7)
3) ‘all flesh’ on the earth (Gen. 6:13, 17)
4) ‘every living substance’ from off the earth’s surface (Gen. 7:4)
5) all flesh in a tri-fold repetition: ‘all flesh with the breath of life’, ‘under heaven’ ‘everything in the earth’ (Gen. 6:17)
D) All flesh died in the Flood:
1) ‘every man’ (Gen. 7:21)
2) ‘man’, so that ‘Noah only remained alive’ (Gen. 7:23)
3) ‘all flesh’ (Gen. 9:11)
4) ‘all flesh that moved on the earth’, including ‘every creeping thing’ (Gen. 7:21)
5) ‘all with the breath of life on the dry land’ (Gen. 7:22)
6) ‘every living thing’ (Gen. 8:21)
7) ‘every living substance on the face of the ground’, so that only the animals with Noah on the ark remained alive (Gen. 7:23)
8) every category of land animal created in Genesis 1 (Gen. 7:21, 23)
E) Noah and his family are the only survivors (1 Pe. 3:20; 2 Pe. 2:5; Luke 17:26-27; only ones mentioned in Gen. 6:8-9, 17-18; 7:1) (Phillips, 1993)
b. The Flood seems to be something of a reversal of the creation account (e.g. recovering the continents revealed on Day 3; restoring a ‘great deep’ over the whole surface of the earth described in Gen. 1:2) – the latter an account of the creation of the entire cosmos.
c. The (global) return of Christ is likened to the Flood (Luke 17:26-27; 2 Pet. 3:20).
d. Just as the curse was a universal response to man’s sin and was cosmic in scope (because man’s dominion was cosmic in scope), and just as the future destruction by fire will be a universal response to man’s sin and will be cosmic in scope, it’s reasonable to assume that the Flood was cosmic in scope as well.
e. In 2 Pe. 3:3-6, kosmos includes ouranoi kai ge (translated 'heavens and earth') (Alford:414), suggesting a cosmic scale for the Flood (Phillips, 1993);
f. The Flood is listed with two other global events in 2 Pet. 3:3-7 (the creation and the future judgment by fire).
5. The Flood was earth-changing.
a. “The flood not only covered the surface of the earth, but also destroyed it (Gen. 6:13; 2 Pe. 3:6)" (Phillips, 1993)
b. The fact that the present (post-Flood) rivers of Genesis 2:10-14 (Tigris, Euphrates, Nile and Pison) are not now connected argues that they have either been radically changed (by the Flood) or they are not the same rivers (but named, perhaps, after familiar pre-Flood rivers which were destroyed by the Flood). One way or another, since the four rivers are respectively in Asia off the Persian Gulf, in Africa off the Mediterranean, and in Europe off the Black Sea, the Flood must have affected at least three continents (and affecting all continents seems necessarily to follow);
c. “All the fountains of the great deep under the whole heaven” were broken up in a single day, suggesting global tectonic activity
6. The ark was necessary.
a. The ark was supposed to be the only way through the Flood just as Christ is the only way to God. If the ark was not necessary for surviving the Flood, perhaps Christ is also not necessary for salvation.
b. Genesis 6:8 may indicate that Noah was notified of the Flood 120 years before the Flood began. This is sufficient time to have Noah move and for animals to migrate out of the area. The building of the ark, the caging of the animals, and the storing of food and water for his family and the animals would all seem to be unnecessary. Besides, if he was not working on the ark he could have spent more time preaching salvation (Phillips, 1993);
7. The duration of the Flood argues for its universality as rains or floods of this magnitude are unknown (and probably naturalistically impossible) (Phillips, 1993)
a. Water fell for 40 days upon the earth (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17) and was not stopped or restrained until after 150 days (comp. Gen. 7:24 & Gen. 8:2).
b. The Flood took six weeks to achieve maximum depth (Gen. 7:24; 8:3), ten more weeks for the mountain peaks to again become visible (Gen. 8:4-5), and yet another 21 weeks for the waters to subside enough for Noah to disembark, for a total of a year and ten days (comp. Gen. 7:11 and Gen. 8:13-14). Local or regional floods of this length are unknown and would seem to be impossible unless God held the waters in place for the duration;
è Noah’s Flood could only have been a global event, and thus was a global catastrophe.
1. biology came to question Noah’s Flood as the New World was explored. The huge numbers of animals and plants being discovered around the world made it difficult to believe
a. that Noah’s ark could hold all the different animals of the world.
b. that all the animals of the world to get from the ark to their modern locations in the very short time which has elapsed since the Flood.
2. geology came to entirely reject Noah’s Flood.
a. Early church fathers and early reformers accepted a global Flood, and so interpreted high altitude fossils as having been buried in the Flood.
b. As the concept of deep time developed, more and more geologic history was placed into pre-Flood time (Noah’s Flood becoming by the late 18th Century – e.g. to Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) – the last in a series of global catastrophes).
c. By the first couple decades of the 19th century the only widespread fossil-bearing deposit which was thought to be dated from about the time of the Flood were Quaternary muds, sands, and gravels known to be spread across Europe (thus referred to at this time the ‘diluvium’). For example, William Buckland (1784-1856) defended this hypothesis in his 1823 Reliquiae Diluviane (Note, however, that by his 1836 Bridgewater Treatise Geology and Mineralogy, Considered With Reference to Natural Theology Buckland had rejected this hypothesis and, in fact, any connection between the biblical Flood and geology).
d. Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), in his 1840 Études sur les Glaciers, based upon a study of mountain glaciers in Switzerland, proposed the Ice Age theory as an alternate explanation for the ‘diluvium’. Rather quickly, geologists reinterpreted the diluvium as glacial till. In the mind of geologists this left no global sedimentary layers of the right age to be the result of Noah’s Flood. Since it was inconceivable that a global deluge would not leave evidence, it was concluded that either the Flood didn’t occur at all or it was merely a local event.
e. Even evidence for large local floods (e.g. Wooley’s Mesopotamian excavations of the 1920’s; more recent claims concerning the Black Sea) are not in the correct place or time for Noah’s Flood. Identifying these local events with Noah’s Flood has led some to altogether reject the truth of the biblical Flood.
è Modern geology’s rejection of the global Flood must itself be rejected as contrary to Scripture. Geology rejects a global flood because there are no global sediments of the right age, so the dating of rocks (i.e. deep time) which is the problem with modern geology.
3. geology first rejected catastrophism, then more recently, has swung back to accept a mix of gradualism and catastrophism:
a. James Hutton (1726-1797) in 1760 developed the rock cycle theory based upon perfect design for an everlasting earth. With its publication (read at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785; published as a paper in the first volume of the Society’s Transactions in 1788; published as a book in 1795; ‘translated’ into understandable English by John Playfair in 1802) he advocated strong geological uniformitarianism and an igneous origin for basalt (and later granite).
b. Charles Lyell in his Principles of Geology (12 editions from 1830 to 1875) argued persuasively (and successfully over the catastrophists) that geology was exclusively gradualistic – a doctrine which held sway for nearly 150 years.
c. J Harlan Bretz, in the 1920’s, began arguing for a prehistoric regional flood in eastern Washington. The hypothesis was heatedly debated off an on for 50 years and finally accepted in the earliest 1970’s, stimulating a swing in geology in the mid 1970’s to the acceptance of ‘neocatastrophism’ (acceptance of the substantial geological role of non-global catastrophes, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tidal waves, storm deposits, and local and regional floods).
d. Louis Alvarez, in 1980, argued for a global catastrophe (an asteroid impact) to extinguish the dinosaurs.
e. Now geologic activity is thought to usually be gradual and occasionally catastrophic, with the largest (global) catastrophes being 20-100 million years apart.
è Modern geology incorrectly rejected catastrophism, and has only recently come to re-appreciate the role of catastrophism in geology.