The Genesis Flood Through Ancient Eyes: An Interview with John Walton and Tremper Longman

Hi Christy Hemphill, You are right when you say “almost no geologists set out trying to prove the Flood didn’t happen”. Noah’s Flood does not even come onto their radar. That the Flood never happened is just part of the unspoken, sub-conscious, academic culture that geologists live in. That is what a worldview is. It is a belief system that is just part of us. It is caught, not taught. We accept it, not based on a careful consideration of alternatives, evidence and logic. We just ‘know’ it is true because it is what we grew up with.
I could write a lot more about Noah’s Flood and geology, describing the history of geology, the underlying philosophy of uniformitarianism, how this philosophy excludes any consideration of Noah’s Flood as a possible explanation, how the application of this philosophy has changed in the last 50 years, evidences for the Flood, etc. But there is no way we could do it justice on a blog.
My hope is that there will be people reading this blog who will at least think to themselves, “I need to do some investigation on this issue.” I have met many people, including geologists, who have done just that, and realized that things were not the way they believed they were. One geologist said he read every geology article on the website I’m connected with (creation dot com). Another said that he saw no evidence of Noah’s Flood until it was explained what evidence we can look for, and he says he now sees it everywhere. Another geologist friend (not a creationist at the time) was involved in drilling in the South China Sea and realized he was looking at evidence of one massive flood. When he discussed that with his geologist colleagues they said that they could not say that in their paper because it would be rejected.
In other words, I’m not trying to prove this to you, or win a debate. I’m just pointing in a direction that I hope you will begin to investigate. For those who are looking for something with academic depth, a broad view, and an reasonably easy read, I would recommend the book "Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels by 9 creation scientists. You can see it on Amazon along with positive and a few negative reviews.

And as I am sure you know , George, earlier step pyramids were built that predate the ones at Giza. And, the idea that the pyramids might have been built after the flood runs into the problem of explaining the thick sediments under them, of course, plus the problem of reproduction of huge numbers of people and development of a complex society out of near nothing in a short period of time. And we won’t even touch on the erosion of the ancient Nile river canyon and subsequent infilling that would have had to have preceded the formation of the Nile delta as it existed as described in early Biblical accounts much as we see it today.
This all leads me to consider the heavy burden we all have to be careful in what we say and write, for to paraphrase Augustine, if we speak foolishly, how can we expect others to believe us in sharing the gospel of Christ?

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I disagree that it is. To disbelieve something requires taking a position. It can’t be something that simply “isn’t on your radar” if it is actually shaping your worldview. I don’t think most scientists actively disbelieve the global flood. They just have no reason to take a position on it at all. What you are saying is like claiming that believing aliens never landed in Nanjing, China in 1825 is part of my worldview. That’s not accurate, even though it is true I don’t believe aliens landed in Nanjing, China in 1825. I’ve never even thought of it before I typed the sentence and I have seen no evidence in my life pointing to it, and the fact or non-fact of the Nanjing alien landing has not influenced anything I have ever done or thought.

I will also sleep just fine tonight without “winning” anything. But I’ve already investigated my way out of the YEC/Flood geology view I grew up with, so I’m not going back. I just thought you might want to know where your arguments break down for people who don’t share your position. I hear the “scientists are biased by their worldview” line all the time, and I just don’t buy it. What worldview presupposition could possibly affect how one takes measurements? Science isn’t about deciding what evidence you want to see and then “seeing it everywhere.” People who approach things that way end up convinced that essential oils cure ADD and vaccines cause autism.

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Boy do you have this wrong. First, evolutionists (I assume you mean biologists that study evolution) don’t find fossils, paleontologists do. Second, paleontologists do make predictions about where the fossils they want to find will be located. They have to. Field work is expensive and grant money is hard to come by. They don’t just wander around looking for fossils. Amateurs might but professionals don’t. Neil Shubin described the research that went into identifying the location where he would be most likely to find a fossil that hadn’t been seen up to that time. And they found what they were looking for just where evolution said it should be. If those fossils had been laid down in a global flood there is no way they would have found them as quickly as they did.

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Great, @Tas_Walker, tell us what this evidence is?
You aren’t going to spend your entire time on this list explaining how we have to discover the evidence on our own, are you?

Your concluding thought (above) is, in my view, completely unacceptable - - and inconsistent with the your responsibility, as a participant here, to match your privilege to reject evolutionary science - - with an equal measure of effort to provide the evidence for your rejection.

Actually, there is no such requirement for participation here.

@Christy

Oh, my apologies! I mis-spoke.

I should have been much more specific, and said that there is such a requirement if he expects me to discuss anything with him.

There. I think that straightens out the confusion now. Right, @Tas_Walker? Let me know if there is any confusion with my clarification.

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That is mostly irrelevant in evaluating the claim: did a global worldwide flood 4,000 years ago produce the majority of the fossil record and geological column.

Believe it or not, and you wouldn’t realize this by reading creation.com; everyone who tries to use our understanding of floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, asteroid impacts (yes even flood geologists) practice uniformitarianism. Catastrophic processes can indeed occur! And it would be horrific to imagine that scientists pretend they don’t occur. Thankfully, no geologists do ignore such catastrophic processes! Like this nice Wikipedia writeup on ‘polystrata’ trees (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystrate_fossil – most are formed over a few hundred years at most but when a catastrophic event buries some trees-geologists know and write about it!).

Flood geologists do practice uniformitarianism in that they look at present processes as a key to understanding the past (i.e. trying to use Mt. Saint Helens to argue for the formation of the Grand Canyon).

No it doesn’t. The only thing it excludes would be supernatural meddling. I know what you’re referring to and it’s this:

  • “Uniformitarians” don’t accept catastrophic processes so therefore cannot even see the obvious flood evidence
  • “Catastrophists,” i.e. flood geologists point to catastrophic processes today and say see, a lot can happen quickly! Uniformitarians deny reality!

Note: both of these are rubbish!

Ah yes, the classic imaginary persecution complex that appears on many creationist blogs. Here’s the deal with science. There’s no bias against creationism. None at all! Here is in a nutshell how science actually works:

If you have a legitimate idea… YOU TRY TO PUBLISH IT. You face the sharks. They will critique you. One reviewer told me that my most recent paper was hopeless and its novelty was of the lowest quality with unfounded hypothesis. But I pushed through with my idea, took extra measurements and voila- I made it pass the sharks. Good ideas that are well supported get published. Yes, even controversial ideas can get published!.. if they are supported by evidence.

So I say to flood geologists: publish your results! If you have any. If the idea has merit… it will eventually succeed!

I have the book. It is very painful to read. I wish that the scientists writing actually knew why scientists have come to the conclusions they did on each of the topics in the book. But it’s clear either they don’t, or don’t want to tell you the mountains of evidence against their viewpoint from a scientific standpoint. The sense you would get reading the book is that scientists are buffoons who believe millions of years with no evidence by blind faith. That’s what I thought as I used to be a young earth creationist. I read creation.com like crazy! I eventually came to realize that most articles there and on other young earth creationist websites typically have the following:

  • Try to cast doubt on the science of some topic (through various tactics like quote mining-a favorite of most creationists)
  • Claim victory that their own explanation is therefore true (i.e. God just did it and man will never have an explanation)

That’s it! Throw in some Bible verses like Romans 1:20 (those foolish darkened hearts) or argue what’s is it gonna be, man’s word or God’s word and most Christians will accept it without any personal investigation. And then before you know it, generations of young people are gone from Christianity.

As a bonus: give people some catch phrases to throw around like “evolution is just a theory” and they will make great future apologists until they run into an actual scientist who explore’s God’s creation for a living.

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This would be fascinating to learn more about. Can you provide a link?

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There is a segment on Shubin’s work, and the prediction of when and where fossils with features transitional between fish and amphibians should be found, in the PBS NOVA documentary on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case.

Edit: the segment starts at about 41:00 into the linked video.

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I would be thankful if you could give precise data (time, location, size of flooded area) about these “local floods” you are referring to:

  • “a severe local flood (around 2900 B.C.)”

  • “numerous local floods”.

Actually that is exactly what they do. They make the predictions, and then paleontologists go and look for what is predicted. That is how Tiktaalik was found.

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I read this in his book, “Your Inner Fish” which is a great read by the way.

Another video which talks about finding Tiktaalik is on youtube

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Hi Tas -

Apparently the young earth creationist worldview has not carefully considered the physics connected with the formation of the Himalayas, because you have not been able to provide any evidence of such when we have discussed the issue.

You also stated that you agree with the critique of the RATE report’s inability to explain how earth-melring heat associated with hypothesized acceleration of nuclear decay was dissipated without leaving a trace. You claimed that there are promising alternative YEC explanations for radiometric dating results. When I have asked for those explanations, though, all I have heard is crickets.

Do you think that I am asking too much, Tas? Are you hoping that I will just accept your fine-sounding rhetoric without investigating these scientific issues?

Thanks,
Chris Falter

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Actually, I was quoting Pete Enns’ BL blog post that was in the link I provided. A quick Google search turned up an article at the NCSE website on The Flood: Mesopotamian Archaeological Evidence. It takes a skeptical angle and is from 1988, but it lists the usual suspects for such an event: Ur 3500 BC, Kish 3000 BC and 2600 BC (two floods), Shuruppak 2900 BC. I’m sure a little digging would turn up more info.

Tas, I think you’ll want to get that book by Brown on the “days” of creation: it’s really the definitive treatment.

You mention Sarfati’s book in the same connection, and I agree that he usually handled the history of interpreting early Genesis very well in “Refuting Compromise.” I also agree with him that Hugh Ross’ presentation of similar material is not very accurate in many instances. Kudos to Sarfati for much more careful work on that topic. I own the first edition of Sarfati (2004) and have written about it at least twice for BL, most recently here: https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/refuting-compromise-the-troubling-tone-of-creationism. You will see some of my disagreements with him there.

By far, the biggest problem I have with his book is what I regard as an unacceptable tone and overall attitude, indicated by both the title and the subtitle. He seems to think that anyone who uses their brain and takes a different interpretation of a given passage, partly on the basis of some idea or source outside the Bible, is necessarily “compromising” biblical authority, where “compromise” is not meant as a compliment or even simply as a neutral description of a hermeneutical strategy. This particular attitude, I dare say, is all too common among YEC proponents. I highlighted this for our readers in another place where I wrote about Sarfati, here (near the end): https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/creating-progressive-creationism-in-america. Readers should not miss the exchange (quoted there) between William Barrick and Jack Collins on this very matter.

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Perhaps others would assess my work differently, Tas, but I think I’ve devoted more than 40 years of my life to investigating Christianity and science–including a great deal of time devoted to investigating the narrower topic of science and the Bible. I hope I’ve done my own thinking, but I’d be the first to say that almost no one can operate in an intellectual vaccum, especially on topics such as these.

I share your desire to stimulate individual investigation and thinking by our readers. I honestly wish, very much, that AiG would let me drop in on their site and play the same role you are playing here. Perhaps it’s fair to say that we take a different attitude toward that, than they do?

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We have a big difference of opinion here, Tas. I think the interpretation of early Genesis is an enormous problem in YEC circles. The fact that (as far as I can tell) YEC authors don’t believe that their interpretation actually is an interpretation of the text, is an enormous problem. They seem to think that the Bible simply interprets itself, that the “plain meaning” of Scripture is almost self-evident, such that nearly all efforts to read the text carefully in its cultural and historical context are somehow “compromising” the biblical message. Perhaps this phenomenon is even more pronounced today than it was a few decades ago, but I’m less sure about that part.

IMO, however, it’s irresponsible not to acknowledge that one’s reading of a given text constitutes an interpretation of that text. I’m not suggesting for a minute, that anything goes, or that all interpretations have the same plausibility. However, I am suggesting that it’s a grand, unjustified presumption, to claim that we can be sufficiently certain of how to read many biblical texts (including early Genesis) with such a high level of confidence, that all other readings of that text constitute spiritually dangerous “compromise.” IMO, that attitude in itself is more likely to be spiritually dangerous, since it give lay people a powerful signal: if you ever find yourself persuaded that a different interpretation makes more sense, then you have started down the slippery slope to atheism.

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Since I am in this category myself, Tas, let me give a personal response.

First, let me contextualize my comments. I find my institutional home (Messiah College) in many ways ideal. I probably could be teaching at a very secular place: early in my academic career, I had a visiting position at Vanderbilt and I was on the short list (i.e., was invited to campus for an interview, something that happens only as the penultimate step in hiring a new faculty member) for jobs at two Ivy League universities and one major public research university. I declined an invitation to interview at another public university, where (they said on the phone) I was the top candidate. Several years later, I had a one-year visiting research position at Penn (not one of the two Ivies I just mentioned). And, several more years after that, I was approached about a pending full professorship at yet another research university, but the position never got advertised after strict budgetary restrictions had to be implemented. So, I think it’s realistic to say that I don’t teach at an evangelical college b/c that’s the only type of place where I would ever be hired. (You haven’t implied this, Tas, but I sometimes hear people say things like that about faculty at places like Messiah. So, I start by getting that out of the way.)

Why do I find this such a good fit? My interest is primarily the history of Christianity and science. Not only to I get to teach about that here–a lot, which I like–I get institutional support (both financial and emotional) for focusing on aspects of that history in my research. Even though a lot of my stuff is published in regular academic venues, I don’t have to worry about colleagues undervaluing the specific topics I choose to investigate. That could very well be a problem at a given secular institution, but certainly not at all of them, since I am an affiliate fellow (a certain type of formal faculty association) at one of the major graduate programs in history of science. But, this happens to some secular scholars too, for different reasons, so it’s not unique to Christian scholars like me. Still, it just doesn’t come up at Messiah–and it shouldn’t, given the nature of my work. I actually get rewarded for directing some of my work at “real people” (like readers of BL), rather than directing all of it at fellow nerds. And, I get rewarded for wanting to help the body of Christ think hard about science. (None of this means that my conclusions are correct, but it does mean that people want me to keep thinking and writing about such things, whereas that might not be true at many secular institutions.)

I’ve never been a YEC, Tas, not at any point in my life. I’m old enough to remember when the YEC view was not the default option for so many conservative congregations, and I watched it basically take over large segments of the evangelical world. The “problem” you refer to (Christian academics who don’t interpret early Genesis along the lines of Ken Ham) is one I am fully aware of, but I don’t regard it as a problem at all. IMO, the YEC movement is born more from fear of secularism and religious modernism (I am not and never have been a “modernist”) than from confidence in biblical truth (which does not equate with Ham’s interpretation of Genesis). It’s also born from a rigid, literalistic hermeneutic that someone like Augustine or John Calvin or B. B. Warfield would never have embraced, a hermeneutic that insists that all biblical statements about nature or human events must be “true,” in a manner that conforms to our modern (post-biblical) sensibilities about scientific or historical truth.

Given all of this (as I see it), Tas, it’s not so hard to understand why many academics at evangelical colleges and seminaries approach origins differently from YECs–you are right about that part, despite that fact that there are several dozen institutions where affirmation of YEC is required in order to be on the faculty. Many of us really do want institutional homes where we have genuine academic freedom to be encouraged to explore questions that many secular universities ignore or trivialize, coupled with genuine academic freedom to do our own thinking, whether or not Ham and company agree with our conclusions. I don’t object to Ham, or any of my colleagues here or elsewhere, concluding that the earth is just a few thousand years old: he and they must conclude what makes the most sense to them. However, I strongly object to Ham, or any of my colleagues, imposing their own conclusions about origins and the Bible on me, either by name-calling (“compromiser” is just one such term) or by formal strictures on employment involving these matters. It’s our job to be the church at thought. We don’t have to do this particular job, but if an institution wants us to do it, we must be allowed to do it properly, by doing our own thinking.

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@AntoineSuarez

I think your reference to 2900 BCE is a reference to Wooley’s famous report on the UR flood. It was a huge flood event … but quite limited in scope. Which is why this flood makes for a good inspiration … but not a good historical linkage.

Really, any flood would serve as inspiration to some degree. But the point of writing a story about a giant flood would be to explain substantial flood silt exposed while digging a foundation for a new building and such.

It would be a dramatic find (to those who understand what they are looking at)… and the desire to write a story about a really large flood deposit would probably be inevitable to any scribe or priest wondering how he can entertain the in-laws for the weekend!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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