The Desolation of Noah: An Unexpected Explanation

March 13, 2014 | 38 comments
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It seems like we’re being inundated with discussions about Noah lately. A major motion picture is set to discuss the tale of Noah and the Ark — but the picture will also include an unusual disclaimer stating that it shouldn’t be seen as the real Noah story. Meanwhile, the Noah story itself faces a rising tide of criticism, with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) publicly ridiculing the story on national television. In response to that wave of criticism, some writers have floated defenses of the Noah account. For instance, at Meridian Magazine, writer Ronald Millett gives an in-depth discussion of how the Noah account can be reconciled with science — and therefore, how its critics are all wet. Given the extent to which the discussion has made a splash, I thought I might dip in a toe as well.

Hi, I'm Noah.

Water you lookin’ at?

Ahem.

So.

Millett is, of course, on the right track. Obviously the Noah account is real; and obviously as well, there are significant gaps between the stated account and the understandings of modern science. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to find a way to reconcile the two.

And Millett makes several suggestions that show the work he put in to the reconciliation. He notes that miracles, by definition, are not scientific. He notes that the Bible contains a lot of accounts of physically improbable events, such as manna. And finally, he suggests a variety of answers to specific criticisms. For instance, in response to the kangaroo criticism (“did the kangaroos just hop over to Australia?”) Millett notes that animals could have been miraculously transported through the air by angels. Some animal population reservoirs could even have been preserved on other planets. It’s a miracle, people. So why do we simply assume that the criticism could not be addressed in perfectly adequate fashion through the possibility of teleporting space kangaroos?

I have to admit, when I read about the teleporting space kangaroos, I had my misgivings. I mean, if you have the power to teleport kangaroos into space, why go through the whole charade of a flood to begin with? Just vaporize the misbehaving people, Star Trek style.

Captain Kirk

But if the account can’t be rescued by using teleporting space kangaroos, then how can we explain it? The answer is in scripture itself:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

The fountains of the great deep.

That’s right. We need to look down, not up.

We need to look at Middle Earth.

The Matrix Whoa

Middle Earth and the Flood

The best way to reconcile science and the Flood clearly involves Middle Earth.

A Map of Middle Earth

A Map of Middle Earth (located via The Internet)

While this may seem counter-intuitive at first, there are a number of clear advantages to a Middle Earth approach to the Flood.

First, we don’t have to worry about where all of the extra water came from. It came from Middle Earth, of course. When you add up all of the rivers and such, plus the ocean that the elves sail across, it’s clearly enough to create a substantial flood.

Second, Middle Earth provides a place for the waters to go once they’re done flooding the wicked. They retreat to their normal boundaries in Gondor and such. Any leftover extra can be stored in the bottomless pit below Khazad-dûm.

Long way down

Third and perhaps most important, Middle Earth would provide a place for extra animals to stay during the flood. After all, there is a vast diversity of life on the planet today. How would that all fit on the Ark? And what happens if one or more Ark passengers were unfortunately eaten, stepped on, or otherwise perished in the interim?

Millett suggests that other planets may have been used as wildlife refuges. But we don’t have to believe anything so outlandish. The Book of Genesis makes clear that all animals upon the face of the Earth were killed. But it doesn’t say anything about the animals living inside the hollow center of the planet in Middle Earth. That’s where the animal preserves could be safely kept.

Yummy yummy wildlife preserves!

Yummy yummy wildlife preserves!

Now, you might be thinking, who took care of all of these creatures in Middle Earth? The answer is in the scriptures, and clear. The flood destroyed all people. But it says nothing about elves, dwarves, hobbits, and their kin. Maybe Dúnedain too, I’m not totally sure if they count as people for flood purposes. (The details of transport, such as via giant eagles, are beyond the scope of this post.)

Now it is possible to raise a few objections. For instance, someone might point out that there is no affirmative evidence of orcs, elves, dwarves, or the like, on Earth today. They might even say that there is no evidence of Middle Earth itself. This is all technically true, yes. But remember, we are not dealing with the fallen science of The World here. We are dealing with the Science of Miracles. Miracles are, by definition, acts that do not fit into The World’s understanding. So in fact, the very lack of evidence is really the best possible evidence.

God's Salad Dressing

The Lord’s Salad Dressing

In addition, I think we can guess what might have happened to the orcs, balrogs, and such. That’s right. Ammon happened. “Nuff said.

Ammon

Disarming, innit?

One might also wonder, if animals could be preserved in animal preserves in Middle Earth anyway, why go through the bother of the Ark and such? Good question. Obviously, it was all a test of faith.

So yes, in sum, it may seem silly to believe in a literal worldwide flood given scientific evidence today. There’s no real evidence for a flood, and the counter-evidence is strong. Critics may tell you that the story just doesn’t hold water. But as this post has shown, with just a few simple steps, we can reconcile the two. You can convince yourself of just about anything, if you believe hard enough.

I Want to Believe

And don’t forget to tune in next week for Moroni and the TARDIS — An Apologist Timeline (“wibbley wobbley scripture wipture”)

38 Responses to The Desolation of Noah: An Unexpected Explanation

  1. Jared vdH on March 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    What further evidence do you need that the Lord of the Rings is actually an extended allegory about the perils of pursuing a divorce?

  2. wreddyornot on March 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    It was time for another seasoning…

  3. Tim on March 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    This is brilliant.

  4. Josh Smith on March 13, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    The Star Trek gif gave me chuckle. But the rest may be a little over the top for your Millet critique. … I guess the Miracle Whip was good too, and the Far Side always makes me laugh. But that’s where I draw the line.

    The problem with the Noah story isn’t logistics. If full-grown adults like Ham and Millet want to draw up plans for boat salvation, I can respect that. Hell, if I didn’t have to make a living, maybe I’d join them.

    Here’s the real problem with Noah–everyone on the planet has already heard it. Seriously, if tomorrow, for the first time in your life, someone told you about a water apocalypse, an angry god destroying all but seven, and EVERY ANIMAL ON ONE BOAT, it would blow your mind. If I heard that story for the first time tomorrow … I’d probably quit my job and start building a boat. Noah and his ark is the best story ever told. It’s too bad it’s ruined by the time we’re five.

  5. Chris on March 14, 2014 at 5:27 am

    Who do you represent? Would you imagine the one you represent writing this? I know gentle rebukes aren’t in vogue and criticized for a variety of reasons, but the Savior and his apostles don’t mock scriptural events in order to…what exactly are you doing here? Build faith? Bring others closer to God? Or destroy a certain brand of faith you find distasteful?

  6. Tim on March 14, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Many of the Jews interpreted the scriptures wrong in Jesus’ time. Jesus wasn’t criticizing the scriptures when he pointed this out–he was criticizing the Jews’ interpretation of the scriptures.

    Likewise, an interpretation that has to make up the heavenly transportation of kangaroos thousands and thousands of miles back and forth from Noah’s boat just to defend the interpretation of the flood as a global flood that wiped out almost all life (not to mention a huge number of other “miracles”) deserves laughter and criticism.

    Another reason the global flood doesn’t work (and if Millet understood much about biology he would know this): how in the world did all the genetic diversity in almost every living species come from just two members of that species just a few thousand years ago? That’s not enough time for all the necessary mutations to explain the diversity today. Cheetahs are a good example of what happens when there’s serious inbreeding about 10,000 years ago. They have a very limited gene pool. We don’t see that with most other species, and yet, had there actually been a global flood that wiped out almost everything except two members of each species, we would be seeing that everywhere. More “miracles” from God? Did God just increase the mutation rate for a couple of thousand years in order to increase genetic diversity within a single species? If so, why does he hate Cheetahs so much?

    Or, just maybe, the flood wasn’t actually global in scope, and people like Millet are simply interpreting the scriptures wrong.

  7. Josh Smith on March 14, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Chris,

    For my part, I’m being completely sincere when I say that Noah’s ark is one of the best stories ever told. It’s a story written deep in my soul.

    Folks like Millet and Hamm are pimping the ark. Noah’s salvation upon the water is a holy story only to be appreciated within spiritual contexts. Millet, by creating his own “explanation,” has taken something holy and made it to perform debasing acts for his own gratification and profit.

    Kaimi in his own way is protecting the innocent from unholy violation.

  8. NonSequitur on March 14, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Dear Forum, on a profoundly personal and spiritual level, the Noah or Great Flood Story is an exceedingly troubling story to me. Assuming for a moment that this story should be interpreted as factual –I guess no metaphors are allowed in the eyes of the literalists such as Millett, God is depicted as the opposite of a Benevolent Being. The dreadful story unfolding in Genesis chapters 5 and 6 claims that God applied a horrific global genocide (Death by Drowning) because humanity “had become wicked”. Hmm, even as a child I couldn’t help but wonder if all of them were evil, even the little babies in their mother’s arms? How exactly can a benevolent God justify personally engineering the destruction of innocent life with extreme prejudice? The irony is that wicked and evil people continued to exist throughout the rest of the Bible even unto the present day. In other words, why would an omniscient God have to destroy all of his Creation for a specific quality that He knew full well would happen and continue to exist after the Flood?

    So, right from the get-go, so to speak, I am very sorry indeed that the moral foundation for this story failed to make much sense to me. Btw, I am happy to entertain the possibility that this failure to appreciate God’s mysterious ways dealing with His children as a profound failure of my own imagination.

    Moving on, the Noah Story also happens to show an uncanny resemblance to a much earlier story, known as the Epic of Gilgamesh of Sumerian legend. This story predates Noah’s story by at least a 1,000 years in the written form and by at least five hundred years for the alleged historical setting. The thought occurred to me that it is not unreasonable to assume that the author(s) of Genesis ‘borrowed’ the Gilgamesh’s Epic for their Biblical narrative. No?

    Anyway, even if we were to dismiss the preceding musings as irrelevant, as a scientist, I have wondered this simple, down-to-earth question: Did an actual global flood occur some 4,400 years ago, and if it did, what would have been the consequence and what would we expect to find?

    Well, it so happened that historical and archeological evidence of thriving civilizations such as found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China exists right through the grim reaper flood episode around 2,500 ~ 2,000 BC. This objective reality, in my puny mind, creates a host of obvious problems because the Great Flood supposedly destroyed the inhabitants of these civilizations. So, how come we possess tangible evidence of these peoples made before, -during- and after this global deluge? Shouldn’t the Great Flood have destroyed or prevented these societal accounts to exist?

    In addition, from a ‘hard’ scientific point of view, one would objectively expect at least a nominal amount of geological or natural evidence for a global flood to exist if this event did, in fact, take place. However, empirical evidence overwhelmingly points to the contrary without passion or prejudice. For the uninitiated, a cataclysmic global flood should have created a massive species extinction, such as the global “K-T” extinction event that occurred 65 million years ago causing the demise of the dinosaurs. No matter where we would put a proverbial shovel to the ground, or drag the bottom of the oceans, there should be ample evidence of large depositions of dead creatures and people, dating back specifically to about 4,400 years ago. Such is NOT the case.

    Many miles of ancient coral reefs, some hundreds of feet thick, still survive in the Pacific Ocean. The violent flood would have certainly effected these formations, yet the rate of coral depositions has revealed that the reefs have survived virtually undisturbed for at least a 100,000 years. Likewise, the great flood would have melted the polar ice caps. However, ice layers in Greenland and Antarctica have shown steady deposits for at least 40,000 years.

    So, what am I –are we– to make of the reality that essentially all imaginable conclusions of modern scientific scrutiny is contradicting the great flood story, including the combined scientific endeavors of anthropology, archaeology, zoology, botany, climatology, genetics, geology, linguistics, paleontology and evolutionary biology?

    In my opinion, there are many logical reasons why Noah’s Story doesn’t float. At the very least, it is not a viable option to believe in a literal global flood by all reasonable accounts. Therefore, apologists cheapen and sadly undermine the cause of reasonable faith. Whenever good meaning people of faith attempt to apply a scientific facade on the illogical, they diminish the broader spiritual Message and are unintentionally adding injury to credulity.

  9. Josh Smith on March 14, 2014 at 10:19 am

    This is my last comment. I promise.

    NonSequitur,

    The Gilgamesh flood myth. I’m fascinated by the Gilgamesh myth, but it doesn’t speak to my soul like Noah. Gilgamesh is not “mine,” if that makes sense.

    Genocide. You’re right. But, the story falls apart without complete and utter destruction by water. The power of the Noah story, for me at least, is salvation upon the water. If you could rewrite the story, and still preserve the essential salvation upon the water, how would you do it? How could one additional soul be saved in the ark and preserve the story’s strength?

    Maybe it could be done, but I doubt it. The Noah story does not flinch. Salvation upon the water happens only because all else perishes. Maybe I could be persuaded otherwise.

    I love the ark. God guides Noah to build something with his hands; something functional, something miraculous, yet built from Noah’s mind. God directs Noah to build the talisman! That’s a source of inspiration to me in a way that other stories are not. The ark separates Noah from the rest of his society. Noah is outcast because of it. The completed ark receives Noah, his family, and the rest of God’s creation, and it saves them upon the very forces destroying all else.

    Science has nothing to add to the Noah Story. It’s perfect just the way it is.

    … there’s more that moves me about this story, but I’ve got to get back to work. I look forward to reading other’s thoughts.

  10. Proud Daughter of Eve on March 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Boy, Kaimi, aren’t you going to feel stupid when you meet God and He says that teleporting the kangaroos is exactly how He did and why not? After all, nothing is beyond Him. ;)

  11. Cameron N on March 14, 2014 at 11:11 am

    This is why theories on the science behind miracles should rarely, if ever, be shared publicly. Some of the images and captions are fun, but as usual the tone is a bit unkind.

    I won’t comment myself, other than to say we don’t fundamentally understand how the universe works yet on a macro or micro level, and that I think we will be surprised when we learn the truth about it and stories like this.

    Eventually, we will know everything. At that point, will we be less impressed by our Heavenly Parents and their power? We will not be disappointed if we have been focused and developed for ourselves ‘the wonders of His love,’ for that is the most miraculous thing about Him and His Son.

  12. Frank Pellett on March 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    why does he hate Cheetahs so much?

    Probably because they’re vile imitations of cheese-like food.

    I’ve not given up on the story, as I don’t believe we’re anywhere near a point where we can declare something so far in the past as “impossible”. It’s fun to look through the different theories, even if many of them come through young-earth creationists. It’s neat to see all the very similar flood and creation myths from diverse cultures around the world, sharing similar elements that make you wonder at the complexity of something we can barely see fragments of.

    Hmm, I wonder if it’s possible there was more than one “Noah”. You could still have a global flood, but not be limited to trying to fit (and transport) the entire planet into one boat.

    I just hope that no matter what part of this we currently fall on, we can at least put up with those who have beliefs completely inconceivable to us.

  13. Ziff on March 14, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks for this, Kaimi. I really enjoyed it!

  14. Bryan S. on March 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Apparently, Kaimi is a bully…

  15. Old Man on March 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Did Noah/Gabriel exist? Yep. Modern revelation seems to confirm his existence.

    Do I understand exactly what the flood story means? Nope. I approach it with wonder. And if the story was an ancient metaphor for a significant (even astrological/cosmological?) event, as some rather serious scholars have suggested, we may all be tilting at windmills.

    For me, flood story is a beautiful metaphor of salvation and renewal. And I see no reason why ancient metaphors should not be in an ancient religious text. This book was not written for children. The ancients definitely had a message. But I am not so sure we get it.

    My problem with absolute literalists is that they declare that their 21st century fundamentalist perspective is the correct way to interpret an account that obviously originated millenia before Christ. So many want to assume that we understand ancient metaphors, culture and language, when we so obviously do not. Their problem lies in failing to doubt their own interpretations and views, especially when being confronted with a complete lack of evidence for our concept of a global flood. Therefore, they lash out at history and science.

    I personally take the entire book of Genesis very seriously. I love that book. But it is a product of ancient Near Eastern cultures. If we fully understood the cultures that produced Genesis, we would completely undertand that book. But I suspect there will forever be question marks over portions. I don’t mind that.

  16. Sean on March 14, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Amen to Old Man. Taking an extreme stance in any direction on this issue is silly. We simply don’t have all the facts, but we have things we do know. It’s often irritating when people base their faith on issues like this, or contend with one another about them. Our father in heaven doesn’t want us fighting over whether Adam had a belly button or not.

  17. dk on March 15, 2014 at 12:48 am

    So does this mean I should start looking at all of the miraculous/non-scientific things that occur in the bible as just a metaphor?

    - Jesus didn’t really walk on water…that’s just a symbol that he has control over nature, control which he never uses because he wouldn’t want to contradict the laws of science
    - Jesus didn’t really actually heal lepers, cast out devils, raise the dead, etc – those are just metaphors for salvation and healing that can be found in Christ.
    - The WHOLE FACE OF THE LAND didn’t change in Book of Mormon times in the short period, because of course we know geological shifts happen over large periods of time

    Silly Peter and Paul and others who believed in the Biblical narrative and the miracles worked by prophets of God. If only they were as advanced as us, and had all the scientific knowledge that we have about how the world ACTUALLY works, they’d back off of their clearly ignorant position and adopt something much more sensible.
    ————–

    I’m not actually trying to support Bro. Millet and his interpretations and the way he decides to reconcile inconsistencies. His reasoning is his own, and I am happy for him to be responsible for defending it.

    But I am questioning what is the course that you would suggest as an alternative. It seems I should reject the miraculous and chalk it all up as symbolic.

    Where does that put me in terms of Moroni 7. “If these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.”

    We talk so proudly of all that we know and how advanced our reasonable and rational faith is compared to the primitive cretins who have espoused a more literal belief in past (or current) times. And yet I am reminded of this: “Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either; and I will say that no man knows these things without this.”

    When someone who so happily ridicules the miraculous experiences of prophets of God who walked and talked with Him, who actually had the kind of faith Moroni and Paul speak of that precedes great miracles that defy science…when someone finally has their own visions and communion with God and learns through divine instruction that those Noah/Enoch/Moses accounts were just nice stories meant to inspire us (or make us question the justice of a God that would kill off an entire world)…and that they stories have no basis in actual proceedings and the miracles they worked didn’t actually happen but were important symbols…when you have that kind of experience, let me know. I’d be quite curious to hear it.

    Perhaps one day though, we will find that all our wisdom is but dross and filth before the power of the Almighty God. If there ever is a time of tribulations that culminates in a Second Coming (oh but don’t worry, that’s just a nice clever symbol as well), and God has endtime servants who actually have the faith necessary to move mountains, change the direction of the seas, and keep at bay the armies of the world….will we finally let go of our pretend wisdom and great knowledge?

    Or will we be like those Nephi laments in 2 Ne 32:8?

    Will we still mock the simplistic views of those who through faith in God can do literally ALL things? Those who have successfully cast off all of the toxic forms of unbelief so inherent to this world?

    Or will we run to those that God will endow with power BECAUSE they believe, and due to that belief and faith (and having been sufficiently proven like the Helaman 10 Nephi was) they have been set apart to act as proxy saviors and to prepare and deliver Zion?

    Oh I know, that stuff is all just crazy talk. God would never commit mass genocide of a large portion of the human population because of their unbelief or because of their inability to dwell in the Zion this world is supposed to become.

    You can mock the views of Bro. Millet all you want. I also disagree with him on many things. But be careful that in the process you don’t set up your own stumbling blocks to accepting that God is a God of miracles, the same yesterday, today, and forever. And if there comes a time where those miracles have ceased, it will be our OWN fault. It will be because our faith has ceased. And awful is the state of man if this is the case. For it would be as though no redemption had been made.

  18. NonSequitur on March 15, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Well, “DK”,

    In my universe, there are two kinds of people who never question faith -either their own or someone else’s. They are:

    1.) People who are convinced that their interpretation of the “truth” is the one and only and therefore have nothing to either question or learn about faith, and

    2.) People who don’t care about God or faith, one way or another.

    Between these two, I can’t decide which one is more objectionable. Can you?

    As a person of faith and as a scientist who -dares- to honestly question the veracity of the literalism of certain spurious scriptural stories, I continue to be puzzled by people who so easily dismiss scientific insights when it contradicts their beliefs but at the same time embrace it when it suits them. That is called hypocrisy.

    In any regard, it seems obvious that one would not question God, or faith, or even the origins and reliability of scriptural accounts if one simply didn’t care about God or faith. What is the point of questioning something one doesn’t care about?

    Further, it seems apparent that those who care enough to question, and also to struggle with their faith, are perhaps much closer to God than even they themselves may realize.
    And no, questioning Biblical stories such as the ‘Great Flood’, is not what causes people to stumble. It is the refusal to allow people the freedom to question that causes them to “stumble”, or, to put it more specifically, mocking or refusing to allow people to question is the best motivator for rebellion there is.

    I hope that I have given you some food for thought.

    No, “awful is the state of man” who has lost his or her ability to think critically and rationally, my friend.

  19. Josh Smith on March 15, 2014 at 7:52 am

    DK (and all other literalists):

    Here’s a riddle for you. If you can solve it, I’ll capitulate. Or at least shut up.

    Three words.

    Female spotted hyena

  20. Tim on March 15, 2014 at 7:53 am

    I’m a firm believer of miracles. And, quite frankly, there’s no way science can prove or disprove the miracles of Jesus–healing the sick, walking on water, etc.

    That’s quite different from the account of the flood. Many branches of science agree emphatically that there was no global flood that wiped out almost all land life just a few thousand years ago. There would be an immense amount of scientific evidence in available had the flood happened. That evidence is just not there.

    Unless, of course, you believe in a trickster, misleading God, who covers up all scientific evidence of a global flood in order to mislead his children. But that’s not the God I worship.

  21. dk on March 15, 2014 at 10:11 am

    FYI, I’m actually not a literalist myself. I don’t find myself attached to the ideas of a 6000 year old earth. I’ve pondered whether there isn’t something to the idea that God planted a garden in some portion of the existing world, and that this Eden must not have covered the entire earth, or there wouldn’t have been “lone and dreary world” to get kicked out into. One that perhaps was already inhabited by countless peoples.

    I’m fine with aspects of evolution playing a big role in the creation of this earth and its diversification, and with the idea that perhaps what Adam represents is the first human being with whom God makes a covenant, and through whom a covenant of salvation can be extended to all.

    I’m fine with all sorts of things being open to greater understanding, and I look forward to learning as much about the natural processes as I can from science. Science does not threaten my faith, but it also doesn’t define it.

    What I found interesting about this particular article is how mocking it seemed. How many other miraculous events would be just as easily dismissed because science doesn’t agree with them? Is there any room for the miraculous?

    Is there room for people I have met who have no veil in life? Who see and deal with dark entities regularly? Who also see and are instructed by and protected by angels? And no, they aren’t crazy…but many in the church think they are because these people don’t fit our paradigm of “gifts of the spirit”, and so they become outcasts.

    It sounds to me like the tone of this post is the same tone that would say to these dear friends that they most likely have psychological problems and should get on some medication to be treated for hallucinations. Praise Science!

    Like I said, I actually don’t support Bro Millet’s ideas either. But the mockery was pretty interesting to me, and I’m curious where it stops? Which kinds of miracles in our faith tradition are allowed? Only ones that science doesn’t disprove? Help me understand which miraculous accounts from the Bible or the Book of Mormon I am allowed to believe so as not to one day end up being mocked for my simplicity.

    Disagree all you want with someone. I love looking at all sides and learning from any and all sources and any and all religions. There is no need for absolute uniformity of belief.

    As Joseph Smith said:
    “I did not like the old man[Pelatiah Brown] being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

  22. NonSequitur on March 15, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Mockery? -Au contraire “DK”. We are having a rational discussion here. The burden of proof rests solely on the literalist: extraordinary claims indeed requires extraordinary evidence. Is it “mocking” to conclude that there’s no evidence whatsoever that a global flood happened around 4,400 years ago? -Or during any other point in time during the Holocene AND the Pleistocene (as long as humanoids have been around, since give or take 1.6 million years ago)? All righty then, let’s put aside the fact that a Great Flood would have been empirically impossible and that there are no geological or archeological records indicating one ever happened, and let’s just endeavor to use some rational thinking on this one. (A stretch for some, for sure, but please follow along with your kind indulgence.)

    For your consideration -I Googled it- here’s what an average zoo requires every single day.
    Here we go:

    * One ton of hay
    * 35 pounds of fish
    * 50 pounds of meat
    * 100 stalks of celery
    * five pounds of red onions
    * 100 pounds of carrots
    * 25 pounds of spinach
    * 15 pounds of kale
    * 10 pounds of mixed vegetables
    * 150 pounds of sweet potatoes
    * 10 heads of cabbage
    * 48 heads of romaine
    * 30 ears of corn
    * four loaves of wheat bread
    * 24 eggs
    * a pound of yogurt
    * 40 pounds of bananas
    * eight pounds of blueberries
    * 170 oranges
    * 500 apples
    * 36 cantaloupes
    * four papayas
    * 250 rodents (the yummy variety pack)
    * 6,000 mealworms
    * 600 wax worms
    * 7,500 crickets

    Remember, the story tells us that it rained for 40 days and nights, and in addition, the Ark Entourage had to patiently wait around for the many thousands of feet of water to miraculously drain/evaporate away for several more weeks. This list of food is what your average zoo requires every day. Multiply this by 50 or 60 days… Say that Noah only needed half a ton of hay a day. That’s still 30 tons of hay for the duration of this cruise. Exactly where did they keep this?

    And, come to think of it, how did the animals get there? How exactly did the Polar bears, wombats, kangaroos, koalas, penguins et al migrate to the Middle East? Did they paddle the Oceans, scale daunting Alpine passes and crawl vast deserts for tens of thousands of miles?

    Please, I beg your pardon for poking holes in this nonsensical story. In all seriousness, I’m just positing some commonsensical questions. And you know what, you don’t even need science to disprove the Great Flood story, just some rational thinking.
    However, there are much larger problems at play for the literalists than Noah’s grocery list. In fact, that is merely one of the smaller problems, but definitely worth jotting down.

    In closing, amongst the larger problems to solve for the literalists, here are merely two of them:

    1.) The increase of genetic material from 8 people to all the diversity we see today is impossible. And, remember, DNA doesn’t lie or cannot be so easily obfuscated.

    2.) A crushing 40,000 feet of water coming and going without leaving any evidence. Remember, this flood isn’t like any other ordinary flood, it would have left very distinct evidence behind than what the testimony of the physical Earth is offering us. A flood of this global magnitude would have demolished everything in its path. In order for the Great Flood story to add up, literally, we are talking about the global water levels to rise 1,000 feet of water per DAY which equates to 41 feet per hour. Even if half of it magically originated from beneath the surface of the Earth, this still leaves us with a horrendous downpour of a whopping 250 inches per HOUR… This would have left behind physical evidence like nothing else, my friends.

    In short, thermodynamically, this much falling water out of the skies would have caused the Earth to become so hot, it would have boiled the oceans. In layman’s terms, it would be like putting the Earth in an autoclave.

    But wait. The salinity of the global Sea would also drop precipitously, which would have killed off all sea creatures even if we ignore the fact that they would have been boiled alive -clam, shell and scales first. In order for them to survive as well, these marine creatures -all of them- would have to fit on the Ark as well. Good luck with that. We need to revisit Noah’s rations list.

    I know, I know, Miracles Happen, but in reality the preceding are essentially irresolvable obstacles that God would have had to magically fix to make this story viable, not to speak of making it appear that this event never happened…

  23. dk on March 15, 2014 at 11:39 am

    I actually prefer your citation of scientific facts that refute the possibility of Noah’s flood happening in the way that it is described in the bible (and accepted by literalists) than I do the tone of the original article which created a list of other “miracles” that happened in order to show how preposterous Millet’s article was.

    It sounded to me the very same as when an atheist mocks any one of the other miracles accepted by Christianity at large or Mormons in specific. All miraculous events look ridiculous when viewed through that lens.

    So let’s admit that Noah’s flood is impossible. I’m fine with that (really I am). I’m fine with the story being a response to the Gilgamesh stories and narratives already out there, and using the existing stories to make unique claims about the God believed in. Its claims really are too fantastical, and as you demonstrated, absolutely impossible to have occurred.

    I’m actually not arguing for the acceptance of Noah’s story as literal. I’m wondering what this tone suggests about everything else that is shown in scripture that doesn’t align with science.

    What happens when we get to the smallest of miracles. What do we do with water turned to wine?

    Is all of it metaphor? If it is your position that it is, that’s okay. I am not inclined to argue with you about it. If some miracles are allowed that aren’t so fantastical and clearly impossible, which ones are they? And aren’t they just as susceptible to someone doing what was done in the original post? Can’t they be compared to particularly imaginative fiction? Can’t they also be shown to be ridiculous and impossible and fly in the face of everything we know about scientific processes? Is that the kind of discourse we want to encourage?

    I’m very comfortable accepting science and learning from it and embracing it and understanding how what it teaches can enrich my faith and lead me to knowledge of the ways of God. I think diving into what science has to say about our world and our universe is one way in which we study the divine. I’m fine realizing some things just might need to be considered metaphor and not historical fact. I truly am not a literalist, as I don’t see the need to be one, and I don’t see my faith demanding it. I think it is a beautiful thing that in the 1600s the religious notions got turned on their head with the discovery that the earth isn’t the center of the universe. I think since then there have been many other discoveries that have turned what we “know” on its head. And I think there are still a great many things that will do the same all over again in the future, and what we “knew” will be taken over by greater understandings and improved theories and evidences. Truth should be embraced NO MATTER where it comes from. Science can be wonderful at doing that.

    I’m also comfortable in the same breath saying “all things are possible to them that believe”. There is a role that God can play in this world that goes above and beyond our understandings. I believe in, and expect the miraculous to happen.

    I’m okay embracing both parts, and I remain open to all things. Because if I’m not open to being wrong, then I literally cannot ever find truth….whether that truth is revealed in the halls of universities and laboratories, or whether it is revealed in the inner workings of the soul connecting to God and being made mightier than its physical surroundings.

    Close off either avenue for learning, and the search for truth ends…and what continues in its place is a search for things that confirm my paradigm…which unfortunately I will always find, as it is the curse of human beings to prove themselves right even when a greater reality exists outside the confines they have set up in their own mind.

  24. NonSequitur on March 15, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    DK, may I express a personal appreciation that you demonstrated a genuine openness for rational thought/inquiry? You pose some very perceptive if not thorny questions regarding the authenticity and the veracity of miracle stories as contained in the Scriptures. And by ‘miracle stories’, I generally think of stories that deviate inexplicably from established empirical facts and/or are in dire need of corroborating evidence whenever nature’s laws are claimed to have been abrogated.

    Firstly, I merely wanted to “stay on topic” –namely to discuss the Noah or Great Flood story.
    Therefore, may I suggest that you would initiate a new topic thread?

    I need to run, but thinking about your question for a minute, let me say that Mormonism has some exceedingly fascinating credulity issues quite unique amongst religions of the Christian persuasion. Among them, and quite possibly the most daunting, pertains to the ‘keystone’ of the Faith and called the ‘most correct of any book’ on Earth. Now, before I’m being accused of promoting ‘anti’ ideas which are deemed ‘damaging to the faith’ (you know, one could get disfellowshipped or excommunicated for said charge as my friend Grant Palmer experienced to his sorrow), all I am suggesting that we allow the scientific process to take its due course, sans passion or prejudice and definitely NOT allowing apologetic obfuscation to masquerade inconvenient truths with a veneer of counterfeit respectability.

    In other words, are there any testable scientific hypotheses offered in our scriptures, and, if such is the case, what has objective scientific scrutiny to say about it? –But I am digressing, my bad.

    In any regard, zooming out to gaze upon miracle stories from a broader perspective, the fact that so many of us find miracle stories consoling (me too, actually) really should give us further reason to pause and move us to be skeptical in scientific terms. I mean, this is why we have coined phrases such as wishful thinking and self-delusion. This is exactly why scientists do double blind control studies wherever possible, this is why they submit their ideas for independent peer review. If we have conquered any ground in our mortal career of rationality, it is on this point, namely that there is a profound difference between having good reasons for believing in miracle stories vs. simply wanting to believe in miracle stories…

  25. John on March 16, 2014 at 11:23 am

    As posted elsewhere, there are four scholarly and I think appropriate interpretations of the Flood that I have run into and all are worth considering; albeit one can choose how far one can take all of this. They are as follows:

    1. Folklore Rooted in History. Almost every culture around the world has a Flood myth (Mormons call them all myths except for the Bible story; which goes to show that all myth really is is another persons religion). Several folklore scholars believe that this is a common tale rooted in agricultural societies and based off localized geological floods. As most early cultures lived by water sources for survival (rivers and shores) flooding was a real experience with which they had to deal with regularly, and some floods no doubt were catastrophic in nature. So even the folklore interpretation has an historical basis.

    2. Major Geological Event. This is an upscale from #1, as some scholars (e.g. Ryan and Pitman) have suggested that the massive event around 50,000 BC where the Atlantic spilled into the Mediterranean Basin forming the Mediterranean Sea is the basis for the story. This event would have been cataclysmic, for an oral people global, and relatively quick.

    While I have not read specific scholars suggest the following, it is curious to me that at the end of the last Ice Age the ocean levels rose about 300 feet over a period of a few thousand years. Now this is not a 40 day catastrophe, but 300 feet in ocean rise would wipe out an enormous amount of once inhabited land, islands, etc. and change the topography of the world. It is very possible that people handed down knowledge of former settlements and cities that were now clearly under the waves, and this too could be a basis for the Flood story.

    3. Cosmological Event. A very curious and smart suggestion is from Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Deschend who assert that the world wide Flood is not even terrestrial but celestial. Due to precession of the equinoxes, stars which stood on the horizon for thousands of years receiving the sun on the morning of solstice and equinox slowly submerged below the horizon while new stars took their place. This essentially formed a “New Heaven and New Earth” defined by new celestial coordinates essential for the calendar and ritual associations in oral societies. This celestial flood is certainly global, covering all the hills and mountains, as the entire frame of heaven shifts and is witnessed on every inhabited spot on the globe.

    4. An Event Connected with Eschatology. My favorite interpretation which basically comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, wherein the hero is seeking for the secrets for immortality and eternal life and asks the only mortal who has experienced apotheosis how he got eternal life? This person responds, “I will reveal to you a great secret from the gods;” and then tells the Flood story. This is so strange that most scholars believe the Flood story is a late accretion added to the epic and told for its own sake. However, a quick check in Chapter 135 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead reveals the Flood story in this exact same context, as the secret to obtaining immortality and eternal life. Several other world flood myths link resurrection and the Flood directly.

    This at least presents the idea that the historical Flood (either #1 or #2) had been ritualized in the cosmology and cultus for the dead in at least a few cultures. This means that the new flood waters were in fact celestial, as in the world wide Flood is death, and every soul must build an ark in order to find the new dry land on the “other side.”

    It may be that all of these interpretations are correct in their own way. It may be none are, but I doubt that. We could add one more interpretation, and that is the one presented in the Ensign article and re-articulated by my own Sunday School teacher, and most other Mormons I know. Despite all their faith and zeal, and their warm giving of testimonies (which ultimately is the point) their interpretation is neither gospel nor inspired, no matter how many old commentaries or kumbayas they can quote. It is simply another approach.

  26. Josh Smith on March 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    John (#25)

    Thank you for taking the time to post this.

  27. dk on March 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Agreed, loved the insights in #25. Thanks!

  28. Ben S. on March 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    “However, a quick check in Chapter 135 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead reveals the Flood story in this exact same context, as the secret to obtaining immortality and eternal life.”

    Care to substantiate this? I have some passing familiarity with the ancient Near East. Though much less with Egypt, I did look up chapter 135. It doesn’t seem to have much relevance at all.

    Fact is, we have much earlier copies of Gilgamesh, and they lack the flood story.

  29. John on March 16, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Ben S #28

    Thank you for catching my typo: Chapter 175 (not 135) of the Book of the Dead. Papyrus of Ani, Translator Raymond Faulkner:

    O Thoth, what is it that has come about through the Children of Nut? They have made war, they have raised up tumult, they have done wrong, they have created rebellion, they have done slaughter…. O Thoth! so says Atum. You shall not witness wrongdoing, you shall not suffer it! Shorten their years, cut short their months, because they have done hidden damage to all that you have made…. I will dispatch the Elders and destroy all that I have made; the earth shall return to the Primordial Water, to the surging flood, as in its origin state. but I will remain with Osiris, I will transform myself into something else…. I have made what appertains to this place in the Bark of Millions of Years, and Horus is firm on his throne in order to found his establishment.

    A few notes. The name of this spell is “Chapter for not dying again.” This is exactly the knowledge Gilgamesh is looking for, and his entire adventure in the underworld could be summed up by these words.

    This Chapter shows a wicked world out of control, The population is doing “secret damage” that is works done in secret, that produces the most horrific violence. The God Atum releases the Elders (Council of Gods?) and floods the earth so that it returns to its primordial state. Horus (and by extension Ani) seems to escape the Flood on the Bark of Millions of Years. Besides all the animals, all the other elements of the Flood story are in this funerary text.

    Further, the papyrus of Ani is early 13th century BCE. The Flood story in Gilgamesh is late second/early first millennium BCE. This Egyptian account proves that the Flood myth was linked to eschatology, was shared beyond Mesopotamia, and was existent at least by the 13th cent. BCE.

    As for the Epic of Gilgamesh, what we have is a loosely connected cycle of adventures. Our most thorough rendition of it is late (8th cent. BCE), but fragments of it survive as early as 1900 BCE. Most scholars admit that it belongs to a tradition at least 1000 years even earlier. Further, we have only about 3/5 of the whole, with large lacuna existing. Our understanding of the epic is extremely sparse, and our translations probably caricatures of the original.

    Further evidence of the Flood story actually belonging in the Gilgamesh epic comes from the ark Utnapishtim builds. It is a seven storied cube. It is truly curious that the canopic chest built for Tutankhamen (14th cent. BCE) was a cube guarded by the four goddesses of the cosmic corners; in other words the cubic chest was a representation of the Bark of Millions of Years sailing through the heavens during the voyage to the celestial throne. Gilgamesh’s ark is the same thing. Cubic statues of divinized Egyptian dead exist even earlier. In other words, the Flood tradition in Gilgamesh, while later, may represent an earlier tradition.

  30. John on March 16, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Oh, one more thing. Admittedly you wont read this anywhere in the scholarly literature unless you look up my doctoral thesis where I proposed these and more relationships.

    The Flood Myth in the Bible is not to be taken literally-historically. We have forgotten how oral people’s composed their histories. They did not do it the way we do it; rather, they combined historical facts within mythological tropes. In other words, they had narrative templates associated with their rituals, temples, dramas, and cosmology, into which they would put historical data to remember. In other words, there is no real thing as pure history or pure myth among these people as their narrative can be both.

    We literate Protestants do not like that. Too bad. It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t up to us; and our interpretation of the material has been errant for centuries. That shouldn’t shake your testimony. It should strengthen our desire to learn and increase our excitement in the realization that much of Old Testament studies have yet to begin. No matter what our manuals say.

    This makes me happy.

  31. Ben S. on March 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    My graduate work was in Semitics, not Egyptology. While interesting, it seems that part of your interpretation is based upon a particular translation. This translation for example, doesn’t seem flood-connected at all. It’s also interesting that Egypt has no universal flood tradition, which would further undermine the idea of chapter 175 connecting a flood tradition to immortality.

    In other words, while skeptical of your (admittedly brief summary) of arguments, I’d be interested in your dissertation, if you can point me to it somewhere.

  32. John on March 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Thanks Ben. Yes, I am using the Faulkner translation. Yes, other, and more modern translations pull from Faulkner certain words and phrases which they think are potentially anachronistic. The James Allen translation of the Pyramid Texts remove all references to “Milky Way” and replaces it with far more ambiguous phrases. So now we know the difficulty of translation, especially from an ancient language whose religion and philosophy was shrouded in epitaphs and tropes.

    I do not read hieroglyphs or cuneiform and rely on leading scholarly translations. I believe all our translations are caricatures to some extent, as these early texts were never meant as texts, but were liturgical, choral, and cosmological.

    By the end of this year I should have a book published and you can read my arguments there. (Title, which probably will not change, Mythos and Cosmos: Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age.)

    My arguments are aggregative and look at the forest instead of the individual trees. To list them here is beyond the context of these postings. I am not arguing certitudes, and perhaps my use of the word “proves” in my previous post was hasty. In dealing with this material we cannot argue with certitudes or even probabilities; only possibilities.

    The purpose of my post was to show the different interpretations of the Flood Myth. What we do have, by all translators I have read, is a Flood Myth directly linked with an underworld journey and eternal life given to the dead in the Gilgamesh texts (by the 1st millennium. BCE). This is so strange that modern scholarship has rejected it, and by that I mean a few authorities rejected it and everyone else followed. I simply began an inquiry asking what I thought was a sensible question, “What if the Flood myth was the correct answer to the question of Gilgamesh, ‘How do I obtain immortality?’” While unable to prove the case, I certainly provide a lot of material that shows certain possibilities for the argument.

    The Biblical Flood myth remains problematic from several points of view. I cannot help but to note that Utnapishtim sailed his seven storied cube through the apsu to the edge of the cosmic sea where he obtained immortality. Compare this to the Hebrew Holy of Holies, which was built as a cube (in the Hekhalot tradition there are seven chambers over this cubic shrine) and which contained the ark of the covenant sitting atop the altar which itself sat atop, by traditiion, a cavern containing depth-less waters, sometimes called the “Well of Souls.” Further, in Jewish tradition (albeit late) King David dug the temple foundations down to a level of 1500 cubits until he breached the waters of the Abyss. These waters threatened to rise and Flood the earth. In order to prevent the world wide flood David threw a stone atop the Well. This stone would eventually be called the Eben Shetiyyah, or Foundation Stone.

    Curious imagery that is repeated in Lucian’s description of the Temple of Decalion in Heirapolis by the Euphrates. The temple was built after the survivor of the Great Flood in Greek myth. A cavern beneath the temple breached the underworld waters and threatened to flood the earth again; for this purpose priests every year throw shards into the chasm to plug the Underworld waters from flooding the earth. This same tradition survives at the Kaaba, the cubic shrine of Islam which is circumambulated in a ring dance seven times every year during pilgrimage. In pre-Islamic times the foundations of the cubic temple held a well which held back the flood waters from the underworld. A statue of the god Hubal was placed atop the well to prevent the flood. The statue of this god was a cube.

    In other words, our flood waters, temples, cubes, and underworld are repeatedly linked across traditions. While this does not argue for an eschatological interpretation, it certainly argues for a cosmological explanation well beyond a geologic flood. In short, our understanding of this cosmology is woefully inept, and our interpretations of both floods in Gilgamesh and Noah are supremely limited.

  33. James on March 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I just appreciate you use of the following sentence:

    It seems like we’re being *inundated* with discussions about Noah lately.

    That is all.

  34. Old Man on March 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    John,

    It has been some time since I read “Hamlet’s Mill,” but don’t the authors integrate the Mesopotamian account with their hypothesis? In short, could Noah’s account be both eschatological and cosmological? A cosmological “myth” given new life by retelling it with “newer” eschatological meaning? Or perhaps an eschatological event conveyed with prehistoric or ancient cosmological metaphors?

    Thank you for commenting.

  35. John on March 17, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Old Man. Yes. They do and it could. No interpretation is exclusive in my book. They all interest me.

  36. John on March 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    @nonsequitor
    “God is depicted as the opposite of a Benevolent Being. The dreadful story unfolding in Genesis chapters 5 and 6 claims that God applied a horrific global genocide (Death by Drowning) because humanity “had become wicked”

    How do you approach the scriptures that speak of the earth being cleansed by fire at Christ’s second coming (and apparently after the millenium at the Fathers coming)? It seems you would have the exact same feelings at that event as you do at a cleansing by water.

  37. NonSequitur on March 25, 2014 at 8:51 am

    @John: Excellent question! I’m time constrained right now, allow me to suffice with a quote with your indulgence. Here we go:

    ” … the subject of the coming of the Messiah, and the ushering in of that glorious day called the Millennium, … all the wicked will be destroyed from the earth by overwhelming judgments of God and by fire, at the time of his coming… cleansed by fire from its wicked inhabitants, AS IT ONCE WAS WITH WATER; and this burning will include the priests as well as people; ALL BUT A FEW shall be burned.”
    (Parley P. Pratt. ‘A Voice of Warning’, p.54, emphasis added.)

    Likewise, John, since the Global Flood never happened either, I wondered, what are the chances that this ‘cleansing by fire’ will never going to happen either? -Or are you telling me that you’re looking forward seeing people (again, babes included) burned to a crisp?

  38. John on March 25, 2014 at 11:48 am

    My understanding of the doctrine is that only those of a telestial nature and lower will be burned as the earth is made into a terrestrial world. Therefore only those who have exercised their agency unto wickedness would be punished, which means babies and children would not be burned. And what does it matter if people are physically killed? Everyone dies at some point and death is not permanent. They will continue to live in the spirit world and will regain their bodies in the resurrection. Death is simply a change of state and not an annihilation.

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