The flood is the center of a lot of disagreement and debate, especially between those who believe the Bible is true and those who don’t. Many years ago, Martin Luther made a startling announcement. He said, “I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell…Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the word of God must become corrupt.”1 It’s a concern many share today. When I was a brand-new Christian, I went to a local college in California. My science professor asked if anyone in the class believed in God and in creation. Now, I was naïve. I didn’t know he had an agenda. I thought higher education would be fair toward a biblical worldview; I was about to get schooled. Only a few of us raised our hands, and he jumped on the opportunity to berate the idea of special creation, and to tout what I can only describe as a form of uniformitarianism. That’s the idea that the way the natural world works is the way it has always worked, with no beginning and no end. Obviously, the Bible disagrees with that stance.
The apostle Peter, for example, was not a uniformitarianist; he was a catastrophist. He believed great catastrophes interrupted the history of mankind and shaped the earth. “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4). That, in a nutshell and in first-century phrasing, is uniformitarianism. “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:5-6).
In other words, there have been two massive, cataclysmic events in our past. One is the creation of the heavens and the earth. God created them, fully mature, in six literal twenty-four-hour days. The second event was the great flood. The first event, creation, took six days; the flood lasted about 370 days. Creation gave us the first earth; the flood gave us what we call the second earth, the earth we now live in.
The flood, which I believe was a universal flood and not a local one confined to a small geographic area, is the only explanation for certain phenomena in our natural world. For instance, take the existence of great inland seas. China has them, India has them, and we have the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah. You can see the shoreline there of what was once a vast body of salt water, the Great Salt Lake, surrounded by the vast acreage of the Bonneville Salt Flats. It has receded since its origin, but the question is, how did it get there? At one time, the Great Basin was covered in water. It’s difficult to explain that without a flood.
The fossil record is also difficult to explain without a universal flood. Massive forests had been compressed by the pounding of water pressure; that’s easily seen in the water-laid strata—or layers—of sediment that are filled with coal, a fossil fuel formed from heat-pressurized vegetation. Coal is found all over the earth in every continent, even near the North and South Poles. And atop and in between those layers are fossils of sea life that don’t currently exist anywhere near the places these fossils have been found. For example, fossilized whales have been found in Michigan. In Ohio, fossilized sharks. In Wyoming, fossilized fish have been discovered at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. A universal flood is the best explanation of how they got there.
There’s a sediment layer in Agate Springs, Nebraska, that houses more than 9,000 fossilized animal remains. Bones of a large variety of animals have been embedded there by some enormous pressure—the pressure of water mixed with dirt that drove these remains into the sediment. And in the strata that represent each era of history, certain fossils are layered in the wrong era, and some even transect, or cut across, strata. So, you can find tree trunks or mammal fossils embedded vertically through supposedly long-developing strata. Geologists say the strata developed over millions of years, but they have difficulty explaining the presence of those fossils that transect the strata. A massive flood is a good explanation, but for many scientists, to credit such a catastrophe would be to lend credibility to the biblical account. Science and religion shouldn’t mix, they say.
The flood is also embedded in the history, the psyche, of mankind. This was such an impressive event that the story has been told and retold from its source in Genesis 6–8. There are three other protohistoric accounts (which means from the time of the writing of Genesis, before modern historical records) that center on a flood: the Sumerian King List, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Sumerian Flood Tale, none of which come to us as more complete or more reliable than the Genesis account.2
In over 270 different tribes and nations and in virtually every part of the world, you’ll find ancient flood stories—South America, Wales, Lithuania, India, China, different Native tribes in North America, the Khoikhoi of Namibia, and the Aborigines in Australia, to name just some. The stories go all the way back to the Gilgamesh epic of ancient Sumer or the Babylonian flood epic, which are probably the most famous and the closest to the biblical narrative. According to John MacArthur, of these 270 stories,
“Eighty-eight percent...say that, in the midst of the flood, there was a favored family that was spared. Seventy percent say that survival was by means of a boat. Ninety-five percent say the sole cause of this great catastrophe that came on the world was a flood…. Sixty-six percent of these traditions say that it came because of man’s wickedness. Seventy-seven percent…declare that animals were also saved. Fifty-seven percent of the stories say the survivors ended up on a mountain. Many of them use some form of Noah’s name, like the Hawaiian legend about Nu’u. Many of them speak about birds being sent out. Many of them speak about a rainbow. And many of them say that eight people were saved.”3
Over time, those versions became garbled as the story was retold and elements were added to or subtracted from the accounts. For example, of the various vessels described in other accounts, only Noah’s ark was actually seaworthy; the rest of them—the Sumerian cube-shaped boat, for instance—would have capsized in the slightest of waves. Overall, you have clear evidence of a worldwide flood, found in both the written record of nations and the geologic records of the earth. The reliability of such evidence points to the reliability of the Bible.