The Holy Spirit has given to mankind in the book of Genesis a rather detailed account of one of the greatest catastrophes in the history, of the human race. Is there anyone among us who has not at some time or other been deeply moved by the story of the flood? The picture of a dove returning to the ark with an olive leaf in its mouth has stirred the hearts and imaginations of countless children. The story of the rainbow and God’s covenant with mankind has proven to be almost as fascinating and still serves to remind us to this day that God is not only just and righteous but also kind and compassionate. The Christian church has consistently believed that this is a true description of an actual event in history rather than a mere mythological account of something which never transpired.
The Effect of the Flood
There always has been, and still is today, a considerable amount of disagreement among Christians as to the net effect which the flood has had on the earth. There are those who insist that all geology can be explained, in fact. they insist that it must be explained, solely in terms of the flood. Their motives in doing this are noble. Such individuals are much concerned about the inroads which evolution is making into our thinking today and they believe that the best way to combat evolution is by attempting to prove that all fossils were deposited simultaneously at the time of the flood. They believe that the geological ages theory commits one to the false doctrine of evolution. They would also have men believe that their system of geology, and theirs alone, is in complete agreement with the Biblical account of creation.
The chief spokesman for this group has been a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price, Byron Nelson, a Lutheran, also supports this type of geology in his book The Deluge Story in Stone. Last year another Lutheran minister, Alfred Rehwinkel, published another book in defense of this system entitled, The Flood. Other writers have included a chapter or two on this subject in books dealing with the general problem of the relation of science to the Bible. Most of them recognize Price as the leader in this field and hence we shall base this article to a large extent on the arguments he advances. Price has written several books on this subject.
The one entitled The Modern Flood Theory of Geology is probably the best for those who have had a limited training in the field of science. We mention the above works since we realize that some of our readers may want to investigate for themselves the fundamental arguments in support of the flood theory. It is only fair to give both sides of the case a hearing. Since it is reasonable to believe that our reading audience is largely, if not entirely, a Christian one, we think it worthwhile to critically evaluate the basic assumptions which the flood geologists use to prove their case. Very little material has appeared among us on the side which is not inclined to accept the flood geologist’s explanations.
What About Ussher?
Flood geologists ,as a rule, are also defenders of Ussher’s chronology. This is rather interesting in view of the fact that the largest segment of orthodox Protestantism no longer regards it as valid. Our Reformed brethren in other communions also disown this system. The repon of the committee on Creation and Evolution which was submitted to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod at Amsterdam in 1949 included among its recommendations the statement saying “that the Bible does not furnish any data for determining the age of the universe or of man.” This does not mean, of course, that the Bible is completely silent on the matter. There are several theologians who believe that the creation of Adam can be dated as far back as 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. But the flood geologists, with possibly the exception of Byron Nelson, want none of this. They are almost universally agreed that the flood took place some 4,500 years ago. We feel that, as far as their case is concerned, this is a dangerous assertion for them to make. It implies that their theory will fall as soon as it can be demonstrated that civilizations older than 4,500 years are known. In this respect Byron Nelson takes the better approach. In his book, Before Abraham, he gives some excellent arguments against Ussher’s chronology. He points out, among other things, that, if Ussher’s method is adopted, Noah and Abraham must have been contemporaries for 58 years and that Shem outlived Abraham by 35 years and would have been a contemporary of Jacob for 50 years. Nelson argues the impossibility o[ such a situation in view of the fact that the Bible is completely silent on this matter. The acceptance of Ussher’s chronology by the advocates of the theory of flood geology is in itself, of course, not an argument against the theory. The point was mentioned to indicate in general the type of beliefs held by these individuals and to help us to understand why they approach geology as they do. Flood geologists do not believe that the earth is very old. It might be well to mention also that we believe the case for flood geology would not be weakened by dating the flood some 10,000 years or more ago. The arguments against the theory are more basic than this.
The Extent of the Flood
Thc first assumption which flood geologists must make is that the Noachian deluge was a universal one, that is, that the waters of the flood covered the entire earth. Although there seems to be some disagreement among theologians on this score, this again does not affect our objections to the theory too much. We can grant this and still refuse to accept flood geology. The whole case for flood geology hinges, however, on the validity of this assumption. This is an important consideration in view of the disagreement on the matter among theologians. Unanimity of opinion among the exegetes of Scripture on this score would strengthen the hand of flood geologists to a certain extent. But the existing disagreement on this point weakens their case at the outset. In the January 1950 issue of the FEDERATION MESSENGER, a magazine devoted to presenting Bible study outlines and other material for study by adult societies in the church, the Rev. Henry Triezenberg mentions this problem. Although he personally believes that there are good reasons for accepting the idea of a universal flood, he is fair enough to state, “let me remind you that some believing interpreters of the Bible have granted the possibility of a flood that was limited rather than universal in extent. They point out that Scripture often uses expressions like ‘the whole world’ when evidently no more than the whole ‘known’ world or the whole world as far as the person mentioned had anything to do with it, is meant. Exegetically they have a point there.” Our contention is that the case for flood geology is weakened in the light of such disagreement among orthodox theologians. But suppose we grant for the sake of argument that the flood was universal, does this then imply that all geological formations can be explained in terms of this one catastrophe? Not at all. But it is important to note that flood geology cannot grant any other possibility since it is limited to one universal catastrophe, and a recent one at that.
Fossils and the Flood
The second major assumption on which flood geology is based is the contemporaneous existence of all fossils. This means, in simpler English, that all fossil remains were formed at the time of the flood. This includes the formation of coal beds and oil deposits as well as fossilized bone structures. Price definitely states that “the flood theory and the geological ages theory are utterly irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. If one is true, the other must be wholly and absolutely false.”* There are several problems which confront us at this point. Rehwinkel (p. 21) states that “all irrefutable proof for the unparalleled luxuriance of plant life in that prehistoric world are the great coal beds found in every continent of the earth today.” We mention this fact since there are some Christians who believe that God created coal beds in their present form and thus escape the problem of the time element involved. In view of the fact that radioactive carbon 14 measurements (discussed in the December 1951 issue of the Torch and Trumpet) indicate that coal and oil deposits are definitely older than 30,000 years, we feel justified in believing that the flood does not explain their formation. Price admits that beds of limestone are fossilized remains of creatures which once lived at the bottoms of deep waters and that these layers are found everywhere alternating with coal beds. Such regularity is difficult to account for on the basis of one flood. Flood geologists explain these alternate layers on the basis of a series of tidal waves, waves which they say would deposit sea life when moving in one direction and other forms of life when moving in the other direction.
The difficulty with such a mechanism for depositing fossils lies in the fact that in the majority of cases the simple fossil remains are usually found in the lower geological layers. Price admits that we find this to be the case in probably seventy-five percent of the cases. He explains this by saying that such bottom feeders would be destroyed first and that the land animals would be overtaken last of all. Price readily acknowledges (p. 16) that beds containing trilobites (simplest fossil forms) must have been deposited before the ones containing the dinosaurs and that these two beds were laid down before those containing mammals. It is difficult for us to see how such regular deposition could have taken place as a result of the huge destructive tidal waves which the flood geologist needs to spread these fossils over the surface of the earth. One might logically expect to find them mixed together. The flood geologist does not question the uniformity o( these fossil layers. He faces the fact by attempting to explain it all in terms of one huge catastrophe. He also fails to point out that the geologists insist that many of the fossils were deposited in water at various stages of the earth’s history. And if the flood geologist’s assumption is true, how is it that there is no clear evidence that these fossils are all of the same age?
The Later Elevation of the Mountains
Flood geology is also based on the assumption that the mountain systems of all the globe were elevated after all of the fossiliferous beds were deposited. Rehwinkel (p. 122 ff.) states that the mountains in Adam’s day were not as high as those we have today. Price states essentially the same on page 60 of the book to which we have been referring. The question which quite naturally arises at this point is, “Why is such an assumption necessary?” The answer is that the flood geologist is also aware of the fact that the tops of our mountains are overlaid with fossiliferous rocks; rocks which clearly indicate that the fossils were laid down in water. Such remains are found over the surface of the entire earth, Just recently a friend sent the author some beautiful specimens of this type of fossil which were found at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. The geologist explains the formation of these fossils in terms of long periods of time and a succession of inundations. The reader should be conscious of the fact that all workers in this field recognize the need for water in the formation of such remains. The flood geologist frequently leaves the impression that he alone lakes water into consideration in the formation of fossils, The real question involved is whether one catastrophe did this or whether these remains can be accounted for better in terms of several movements of water. The flood geologist cannot escape his problem by having the tidal waves carry these sea animals to the top of the mountains since he maintains elsewhere that sea animals were buried first. Hence flood geologists say that the mountains were elevated after the fossils were deposited, that is, after the flood, The average geologist differs from this in that he claims this took place much longer ago than that and that there is abundant evidence that many inundations took place in the process, A study of the Grand Canyon formation should prove to be very profitable in this connection.
We feel that this assumption on the part of the flood geologist does violence to some of our beloved passages in Scripture. What can Psalm 90 mean to such people? “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” The author of this psalm is trying to tell us something about the providence of an eternal God. When we consider that this psalm is considered to be a prayer of Moses, it is difficult to understand that such language would be used if the mountains had been formed only about a thousand years before his lime. The thought which the psalmist is trying to present is that even as the mountains and earth are of old, so much the more is our God an eternal God.
The Cooling of the Earth
Flood geologists also recognize the fact that the arctic regions were once warm. They claim that the cold climates set in only after flood, Thus the forming of glaciers would not have taken place until after the flood. Evidences of glacial drift are commonplace on our continent. In New England such deposits average from ten to twenty feel in thickness. Further south in ew York and the Ohio region it reaches a thickness up to 200 feet. Flood geologists do not deny the existence of this glacial drift. To make their position tenable, they must assume that this material must have been deposited some 4,000 years ago, Radioactive carbon estimates of the age of this drift material indicate that the last ice age took place at least 11,000 years ago. By the same method it can be shown that man lived on our west coast about 10,000 years ago and that civilization moved from the west to the east coast during a period of about 1,000 years. This would indicate that the flood must have preceded this time and again argues against the validity of Ussher’s chronology. Nelson in his book, Before Abraham, points out that a lowering of ten to fifteen degrees of the earth’s present annual temperature would again produce glaciers similar to those of the past and that such a drop in temperature would cause no great discomfiture to mankind, flood geologists as a rule use this ice formation to account for the frozen carcasses of large animals which have been found in arctic regions. Price (p. 73) pictures these carcasses as floating on the waters after having drowned and then freezing shortly thereafter. It is difficult to believe that decay would not set in between the time of drowning in warm water and the time of freezing in ice. Anyone living near a large body of water appreciates the time clement involved in such a process. The evidence again seems to indicate that a long period of time was involved in such glacier formation and subsequent movement.
Too Many Assumptions!
It is difficult to present all of the arguments against the flood theory of geology in one article, The author has before him as he is writing no less than three books by Price on the subject in addition to the other books which have been mentioned. “We feel that these men must assume too many things to make their case worthwhile. In the light of the evidence which science has uncovered, evidence which the flood geologists admit exists, such a theory docs not make sense. Nor does this commit us, as they erroneously suppose, to an evolutionistic interpretation of the scientific data, We cannot escape the feeling that the Hood geologist clings to his theory in pan due to his fear of the evolutionistic theories, We may well ask whether or not these arc the only two possible explanations which will fit the facts. We should like to emphasize at this point that there is little which can be said with any positive assurance on this matter by anyone. All workers in the field are dealing with events which transpired years ago and the best we can do is to place the pieces of the picture puzzle in their best possible place. We believe, in the light of the evidence submitted in previous articles, that flood geology fails to do justice to the available data.
What Was the Purpose of the Flood?
One more thought in closing. We might well ask what purpose God had in mind when he brought the flood. We have read the Genesis account repeatedly to see if we could find some new, hitherto unnoticed, detail. Try as we will, we can find nothing in addition to what has always been taught us. God saw the wickedness of the world and that it was very great. As a consequence he vowed that he would destroy man from the face of the earth. To do this by means of a flood it would of necessity have to include also “the beast, the creeping thing and the fowls of the air.” These are the living specimens that arc mentioned constantly in connection with the story in the Bible. In Genesis 7:22 we read, “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.” And this is followed by the text, “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven.” Nothing whatever is said about sea life. Yet, according to flood geology, this should have been destroyed first in order to explain the geological layers. Nor is any mention made of sea life when Noah leaves the ark—only fowl, cattle and creeping things are mentioned. This is understandable when we recall that sinful mankind was to be destroyed. Naturally such a Hood would also destroy the birds and land animals and it is for this reason that God made provision to save representatives of these animals also in the ark.
Some flood geologists use Genesis 8:22 as the basis for the assumption that the flood caused a change in climate and that the seasons began at this time. We feel inclined to regard this text as an additional promise made to Noah to assure him of God’s goodness. “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” One might argue that if this marked the beginning of seasons, it also marked the beginning of periods known as day and night. It is also difficult to understand what interpretation these individuals give to Genesis 1:14 where the lights in the firmament of the heaven are given for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. The logical interprclation of Genesis 8:22 seems to be that God promises that no flood will again destroy all mankind as long as the earth shall last.
A Real Problem
The reader no doubt senses that the Christian is faced with a real problem in giving the true interpretation to these geological formations. The explanation suggested by the evolutionary geologist is definitely erroneous. It is merely a theory—a theory which not only has countless missing links but, and this is of far greater significance, is theologically and philosophically untenable. This is to be expected since it completely disregards the God of creation and his revealed Word. But the attempt of the flood geologists does not satisfy the facts either, especially in view of the fact that they are seeking to prove a point which the Scriptures do not demand, namely, an earth which is only a few thousand years old. It is easy to understand why several Christians have taken to this theory since it does attempt to take the Bible into consideration. Noble as the attempt may be, the effort in itself does not necessarily make it the correct one. Nor does it follow that we must necessarily have a better one if we discard the flood geologist’s theory. The Dutch proverb, “Beter om verlegen als met verlegen” is applicable here also. (It is better to be in need of something than to be hampered by something which is undesirable.) There is a great need for a genuine Christian interpretation of the geological facts confronting us. The American Scientific Affiliation, a group of orthodox Christian scientists, is doing some work along this line. What will we of Reformed persuasion contribute to this movement?