The Bible and Science
Some Relatively Non-Technical Problems With Flood Geology
DAVID F. SIEMENS, JR.
2703 E. Kenwood St.
Mesa, AZ 85213-2384
From PSCF 44 (September 1992): 169 - 174. Response: Lohr
A popular view among evangelicals holds that Noah's Flood produced almost all geological phenomena. Understanding most scientific difficulties with this view requires at least a little sophistication. Virtually none is needed to understand the arguments presented here. These include problems with the geographic distribution of marsupials, flightless birds, salamanders and other creatures. Also noted are problems with the nourishment of animals on their trek from the Ark to their various destinations. The argument from population growth is shown to be faulty. In addition, a careless contradiction is noted.
In the evangelical Christian world, many people adopt the view that almost all geological phenomena are the product of the Noahic Flood. Because they accept recent creationism, the theory that the earth is only a few thousand years old, diluvianism follows. This flood geology cannot be simply equated with the neptunism and catastrophism of the eighteenth century.1 So far as I can discover, contemporary flood geology began with the writings of the Adventist George McCready Price.2 Recent writers have repeated some of his arguments along with newly developed ones.
Most arguments against such diluvianism tend to involve some technical sophistication. Consequently, they have not reached the lay public. For example, Wonderly's arguments3 seem not to have produced changes in publications from flood geologists. Similarly, van de Fliert's study4 has had little effect. At least the untrained public can be led to believe that segregation of materials by a universal flood explains the observations, especially since flood geologists insist that only recently laid down, unconsolidated strata can be bent to the degree observed.5 Similarly, any radioactive dating is met by a declaration that the techniques are untrustworthy. Not many persons can read and understand the research papers that spell out the procedures used in such dating. Fewer can follow the quantum theoretical papers that explain the observations of the half-life of each of the radioactive isotopes. So the popularity of flood geology continues undiminished.6
In contrast, I propose to present some arguments which can be spelled out so that no special expertise is needed to evaluate the evidence, and no complications are likely to obscure their relevance.
I. Post-Diluvian Marsupials: Nutriment and Trek Vectors
The distribution of marsupials presents one of these problems. There are no pouched mammals in Africa, Asia or Europe. One, Didelphis virginiana, the common opossum, is native to the United States. Other opossums and the less-known caenolestids range southward from Mexico. But the vast majority of marsupials are found in Australia and the nearby islands.7 There are carnivores: marsupial "cats" and "wolves," as well as the Tasmanian devil. There are rodent-like marsupials, grazers, arboreal forms with prehensile tails--and without them, an anteater and some gliders. Why would the Creator specialize in marsupials in Australia to the almost total exclusion of eutherians (placental mammals),8 and in the "Old World," eutherians to the total exclusion of marsupials? It cannot be argued that the "primitive" marsupials would not survive in competition with the "advanced" placental mammals. The opossum seems to have no problem surviving. Indeed, it has extended its range significantly.9 But the Florida panther, Utah prairie dog, giant kangaroo rat, Stephens' kangaroo rat, black-footed ferret, a number of bats, and various other eutherians are on the current endangered species list in the United States.
However, since Morris and others claim that all living species had to get from Noah's Ark to their present homes, the specific complication is:10 how did almost all the marsupials and all the monotremes (egg-laying mammals) head unerringly to Australia? Why were there no stragglers across Asia? What did these pilgrims eat on their trip? Since a great circle route from Mt. Ararat across the Indian Ocean to the closest point in Australia is very close to a quarter of the way around the globe, the trek could not have been brief. Most grazers and browsers would presumably find plenty of grasses and other vegetation.11 But what did the koalas eat until they reached the first stand of the right kind of eucalyptus? If God caused mature eucalyptus trees to grow so that they would have nourishment, why have none of the trees survived along the route? Species of eucalyptus do well in the many parts of the world where they have been introduced.
It is important to understand the magnitude of the problem. First, there is the easiest case: the carrion eaters, who might be thought to have found year-old carcasses right after exiting the ark. According to the chronology of the flood, explicitly underscored by Morris,12 Noah, his family, and all the animals were in the Ark 371 days. The first 40 days were the time of rising waters, until every bit of land was under at least fifteen cubits of water.13 So the last possible death of terrestrial life had to have occurred at least 331 days before any creatures (except for birds) exited the Ark. Although the common scavengers we recognize (for example: vultures, buzzards, kites, hyenas, jackals, sarcophagus beetles and flies) would have drowned in a universal flood, bacteria and saprophytic fungi would certainly have been active. So all the flesh would have been putrefying for eleven months.14 While dead animals may mummify in arid areas, this will not happen in a warm, moist environment. So all the dead animals floating in the sea and deposited on the surface of the land would have been pretty well decomposed.
This is not the end of the problem, however. Morris speaks of the flood waters raging over the surface, specifying that
...a worldwide tranquil flood is a contradiction in terms, comparable to a tranquil explosion...it is obvious that a worldwide flood must have had worldwide geologic effects.
Especially this must have been true in such a Flood as described in the Bible....Such a Flood would have destroyed every earlier physiographic feature on or near the earth's surface, redepositing the eroded materials all over the world in stratified sedimentary rocks of the earth's crust.15
This seems to entail that any animal that was not deeply buried would have been torn to bits by the raging waters, especially since it had to have been pretty well rotted long before the waters receded.16 Hence it is unlikely that scavengers issuing from the Ark would have found any food available to them.
The situation worsens when a 6000-plus-mile trek is considered. How long would it take?17 While few people will think in terms of the Pony Express, at about 250 miles a day, they are likely to consider that a reindeer can travel about 40 miles in a day;18 camels, 30,19 and llamas, 20.20 However, the rate of travel that can reasonably be expected is much less. For example, the Confederate cavalry under Jubal A. Early spent July 2-11, 1864, getting from Winchester, VA, to Silver Spring, MD, about 90 miles.21 Of course, they were held up for two days. But this was a highly mobile force intent on surprise. Sherman took from January 10 to March 23, 1865, to make the 425 miles from Savannah, GA, to Goldsboro, NC - about six miles a day.22 But it took him 119 days, from May 5 to September 10, 1864, to get from Chattanooga, TN, to Atlanta, GA.23 The distance is about 119 miles.
What has just been noted involves large mammals--camels, llamas, horses, men. The pace of smaller creatures must be much slower. So, even if there had been some carrion available at the start of the trek, there would hardly have been any after the lapse of years. But, with only a breeding pair of each "kind" available, there would hardly be enough new deaths to meet the need for food for the carnivores. Even if "the dinosaurs, the pteronodons, the creodonts, the glyptodons, and other bizarre creatures of the past" were on the Ark,24 and lumbered on ahead of the trekkers and conveniently died, there would not be enough flesh to feed all the carnivores during the years immediately following the Flood. Beyond this problem, the Tasmanian wolf eats only fresh kills, to which it does not return.25 How many members of the sole surviving pairs were killed to keep these thylacines alive?
While almost all of the marsupials were heading for Australia, other mammals tended to spread in different directions. For example, lions were spreading south and west to Africa, east to India, north to eastern Europe, with some remaining in the Near East. Lynxes headed mostly for the northern hemisphere - North America, Asia and Europe - although one species also occurs in Africa.26 Leopards are found through Asia and Africa. Tigers are found only in Asia, but from Siberia to China and India. The problem of food for all these carnivores is essentially the same as that for the carnivorous marsupials, but aggravated by the greater number of species.
II. A Secondary Problem with Distribution
There is the additional problem of explaining why some kinds headed off in every direction, while the others went one direction only, with no stragglers.
III. Marine Barriers to Distribution
How did the flightless kakapo and kiwi and the wingless moas get to New Zealand? It is well over a thousand miles to Australia, and at least 400 from most other islands.27 According to the standard navigational charts, the water is at least 2000 fathoms deep on any track between New Zealand and Australia or Asia, and 1000 between New Zealand and the archipelagoes to the north.28 Sea level has been as much as 66 fathoms lower during the glaciations,29 but this is nothing compared to what would be needed. So walking is out. The distance excludes swimming. While ferrying the smaller birds might be possible, a 12-foot Dinornis maximus poses a large problem.
IV. Climatic Barriers to Distribution
How did the salamanders, especially those without lungs, get to America? In an experiment, two salamander species with lungs could go 0.1 and 0.13 kilometers per hour for two hours. But two without lungs, who breathe only through their skin and the lining of the mouth and throat, could go only 0.05 kilometers per hour for 90 minutes and two hours, respectively, before becoming exhausted.30 This amounts to just over a quarter kilometer for the best, and 0.075 for the worst--about a sixth of a mile and less than a twentieth. If they could rest and repeat the trip a second time each night, the one could go a mile in about three days; the other, in about 21 days. A direct route from Ararat to the tip of Siberia is over 5500 miles. From there to their range in the United States is about 4000 miles for the slower species. The trip would take over 40 years for the faster, and over 315 years for the slower. But there would have to be springtime stops at ponds for three of the species to reproduce, inasmuch as salamanders do not live forever. The fourth species, a lungless form, guards the eggs that it lays in a damp place. The need to reproduce would probably extend the longer trek to at least 420 years, and the shorter to 60--assuming that the hatchlings could keep up with the adults right after metamorphosis. Otherwise, the three months or so for metamorphosis into small adults would not be the only slowdown to consider. There would be the slower pace of the young as well.31 In addition, whenever any of the salamanders had to seek shelter from the cold of the winter, the time of the trip would be extended.
Of course, these numbers assume a direct route. Since salamanders cannot survive apart from moist surroundings, the routes would surely have been more circuitous. Hence, they would have taken even longer. Also, since salamanders need protection from extremely cold weather, they could be expected to have had very grave problems trying to cross a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Such a passage can only be opened by the extreme chilling of an ice age. The current distribution of all salamander species, including the most hardy, is south of Anadyr and Norton Sound on the two sides of the Bering Sea.32 This is at least 120 miles south of where the bridge would have been open. Is there any way that less hardy species could have made the trip when the area was much colder?
V. "Creationist" Perscription : Alter Parameters p.r.n.
One of the arguments repeatedly advanced for the recency of the flood involves mathematics. In a simple form this argument is presented by Morris:
...the present human population of the world supports the Genesis record. The world population in 1800 has been estimated at about 850,000,000, whereas in 1650 in was only about 400,000,000. The population thus seems to be doubling itself about every one hundred years, and there is no objective reason to assume this rate was significantly lower in the past. The present rate seems to be more rapid than this, in fact. Now if the original population was two (Noah and his wife), one can easily calculate that the population would only have to double itself thirty-one times to produce the present world population. Assuming the Ussher chronology to be correct, Noah and his wife had their family about 4,500 years ago. This gives an average doubling interval of 145 years, which is quite reasonable and conservative.
However, if the original pair lived, say, five hundred thousand years ago, which is much less than the usual anthropological estimate, the average doubling time is over sixteen thousand years, which is absurd.º 33
This uses the simplest approach, doubling. That is, beginning with 2 and assuming the period given, one has a total population of 4 after 145 years, 8 after 290, 16 after 435, 32 after 580, 64 after 725, 128 after 870, etc. But there is a little problem: eight people exited the ark, not two. Of course, the computation is easily fixed by shoving everything over--8 at zero, 16 after 145 years, etc.
There is also a more sophisticated approach, using essentially the same formula used to calculate compound interest:
Pn = P0<+>(1 + r)n
Two simplified forms of this general formula are given by Morris for an initial population of 2.34 There is a difference in the interpretation of the formula, of course. For finances, Pn represents the principal plus interest after n years; for population, the population living at the nth year. Similarly, P0 is the principal or the original population, respectively. For finances, additional elements are usually added to deal with percentages and compounding more often than once a year.
If we use Morris's figure of doubling every 145 years, r is approximately 0.00479 for annual compounding. Assuming that we are 4300 years from the flood, Morris's more precise date,35 and beginning with an original population of 8, there are between 29 and 30 doublings (29.66), giving a current population between 4,294,967,296 and 8,589,934,592 -- a little high. The formula calculates 6,712,710,724.36
If we apply the same procedure to the period between the Flood and the time of Abraham's entry into Canaan, about 400 years,37 we have time for fewer than three doublings. This gives a population of fewer than 64. The formula calculates a population of about 54. Yet, as Morris notes, there were cities and nations.38 Since this is impossible with a total population of 54, Morris shifts parameters. He calculates 40-year generations, an average family of 8, and a lifespan covering 5 generations, to give a population of about 2,800,000 after 400 years.39 This gives r = 0.0324 or a doubling about every 22 years. However, this has the consequence of allowing only about 3900 years to go from 2,800,000 to 4,000,000,000. Consequently, for this post-Abrahamic period, r = 0.00186 and doubling takes 373 years. Such changes of an order of magnitude are arbitrary, showing that the entire argument is purely ad hoc, unwarranted, and irrelevant.
VI. A "Creationist's" Careless Contradiction
Morris also writes that "many of [the million or so species of insects, whom], no doubt, could have survived outside the Ark."40 Within a few pages, however he notes that "everything in the dry land that had life would be, literally, 'wiped out' from the face of the ground."41 On the following page he again notes that the destruction applies to "all existence," including "plants as well as animals."42 Later he notes again that "every living substance [was] destroyed."43 Faced with the exclusive alternatives: that some terrestrial life could have survived outside the ark and that no terrestrial life could have survived outside the ark, how can he choose both? He has produced nonsense.44
These are a few of the problems with the theory of a relatively recent flood. The theory has no explanation for the restriction of marsupials and monotremes to the vicinity of Australia. There is no explanation how the carnivores' need for food was met right after the flood. There is no explanation for why some species spread widely and others went to one region. There is no explanation as to how slow, delicate animals like salamanders could get to their destinations. There is no sense in the computations of population growth that are used. These difficulties have not, to my knowledge, been faced by proponents of diluvianism. Their theory does not seem to stand up to critical examination.45
1 Werner, the neptunist, held that all rocks are sedimentary, laid down over time. He was opposed by Hutton, the plutonist, who had a place for sedimentary strata, but argued for a volcanic origin for granites. Both views require an ancient earth, though neither specified billions of years.
Evidence forced Cuvier, the catastrophist, to shift from a single Flood to multiple limited floods and multiple creations. Buffon presented a day-age theory, with as long as 35,000 years to one Genesis "day." He was forced by the theologians of the Sorbonne to retract this estimate.
There were recent creationists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But some were arguing that ours is a recreation of an earlier, perhaps original, creation destroyed catastrophically. In this scheme, the Flood is a minor event in a long geological history. So the Creationists should not represent themselves as simply continuing a universally held traditional view
2 His output included:: Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science. Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1902.
Illogical Geology, the Weakest Part in the Evolution Theory. Los Angeles: The Modern Heretic Company, 1906.
2nd ed.: The Fundamentals of Geology and Their Bearing on the Doctrine of a Literal Creation. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1913.
4th ed.: Evolutionary Geology and the New Catastrophism. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1926.
God's Two Books, or Plain Facts about Evolution, Geology and the Bible. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1911.
Q.E.D., or New Light on the Doctrine of Creation. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917.
Science and Religion in a Nutshell. Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1923.
The New Geology: A Textbook for Colleges, Normal Schools, and Training Schools; and for the General Reader. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1923. 2nd ed., 1926.
The Phantom of Organic Evolution. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924.
The Predicament of Evolution. Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1925.
A History of Some Scientific Blunders. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1930.
The Geological Ages Hoax: A Plea for Logic in Theoretical Geology. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1931.
Modern Discoveries Which Help Us Believe. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1934.
The Modern Flood Theory of Geology. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1935.
Some Scientific Stories and Allegories. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1936.
Genesis Vindicated. Takoma Park [MD], Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941.
How Did the World Begin? New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1942.
If You Were the Creator: A Reasonable Credo for Modern Man. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1942.
Common Sense Geology, a Simplified Study for the General Reader. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1946.
In addition, there were two textbooks co-edited by Price, a debate, two works on theology, a work on socialism co-authored by Price, and some pamphlets.
3 Daniel E. Wonderly, God's Time-Records in Ancient Sediments (Flint, MI: Crystal Press Publishers, 1977); Neglect of Geological Data: Sedimentary Strata Compared with Young-Earth Creationist Writings (Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1987).
4 J. R. van de Fliert, "Fundamentalism and the Fundamentals of Geology," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), 21:69-81 (1969). Howard J. Van Till, "The Legend of the Shrinking Sun: A Case Study Comparing Professional Science and 'Creation-Science' in Action," ibid., 38:164-174 (1986), and John R. Armstrong, "Seeking Ancient Paths", ibid., 41:33-35 (1989), deal with only one of their arguments apiece. Most other articles deal with the interpretation of Scripture, not with the specific scientific claims of diluvianists. This last is what I address. The closest previous approach to this is the pair: Thomas Key, "Does the Canopy Theory Hold Water?" ibid., 37:223-5 (1985), and Stanley Rice, "Botanical and Ecological Objections to a Preflood Water Canopy," ibid., pp. 225-229.
5 See, for example, John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth (Rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), pp. 80f.
6 See, for example, the responses of Morris, Wheeless and Raaflaub to van de Fliert in JASA, 22:36-38 (1970). Also the reference in Morris's note 5, p. 37.
7 With the exception of one family, the phalangerids, the range is from New Guinea to Tasmania. Some species of phalan-gerids are found on the Celebes Islands, the Timor Islands and the Solomon Islands.
8 In addition to Homo sapiens and Canis dingo, the only other eutherians in Australia when the first Europeans arrived were some rodents and bats.
9 See, for example, Robert Bruce White, "Opossum," Audubon Nature Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: Curtis Publishing Co., 1964-65), 7:1387; G. B. Sharman, "Opossum," Encyclopedia of the Animal World (Sydney: Bay Books, 1980), 7:1322. They note extension of the range from the southern United States to New England between 1900 and 1960, and into southern Canada by 1980.
10 Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), pp. 199-205, 683-86; idem, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 258-60, 313-6. In subsequent references, these will be abbreviated as Genesis Record and Biblical Basis, respectively. See also Steven A. Austin, "Did Noah's Flood Cover the Entire World?: Yes," pp. 210-228 in Ronald Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986).
11 A question that needs consideration: how many seeds will still sprout after at least 341 days soaking in turbulent water? On the theory, the water was fresh at the beginning of the Flood. But how salty did it become through dissolving continental deposits, if there were any? The answer to this question may affect the answer to the former.
12 Genesis Record, pp. 192f, 199-202, 207-211.
13 Ibid., pp. 200f.
14 Morris says that the nature of wine was probably known to the antediluvians. He further notes that "fermentation is a decay process" (Genesis Record, pp. 233f). Also, he claims bacteria and other microorganisms to antedate even the Fall (ibid, p. 125). So he cannot claim that the activity of bacteria and fungi on flesh did not begin until sometime after the Flood.
15 Ibid., pp. 198, 204.
16 According to a recent experiment, dead sea urchins held together at least 5 to 10 weeks at low temperatures. Then the ligaments holding the shell together were too rotted to maintain its integrity. See Richard A. Kerr, "Taphonomic Down and Dirty," Science, 252:33 (1991). It may be recalled it is claimed that the climate at the time of the Flood was warm. Warmth hastens decomposition.
17 Morris complicates the problem by suggesting that the trek had to wait for the Ice Age to open up land bridges sometime following the Flood. This would have made the trip much longer, entailing going via Malaysia and New Guinea. But he is not certain that there was a land bridge reaching Australia. See Henry M. Morris, Science and the Bible (Rev. ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), p. 87. [This book will be abbreviated Science in subsequent entries.] Also see Morris, Genesis Record, pp. 215, 261. For Morris, there is only one Ice Age, several centuries to a millennium long, after the Flood. Ibid., p. 215, cf. pp. 256, 261, 303; Science, p. 81.
A moderate lowering of sea level by an ice age would allow land animals to migrate between New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania. The water on a track between New Guinea and Australia is about 10 fathoms deep. Between Australia and Tasmania it reaches 35. See section III, below. However, between the main group of Indonesian islands and the Australia-New Guinea complex the water is at least 450 fathoms deep. See Defense Mapping Agency Hydrographic/Topographic Center WOPGN 524 and 623 (1970).
18 George C. Goodwin, "Reindeer," Encyclopedia Britannica (1989), 23:350. But Goodwin notes that this pace cannot be continued several days in succession.
19 J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson, "Camel," Encyclopedia Americana (1989), 5:263.
20 Fernando Dias de Avila Pires, "Llama," Encyclopedia Americana (1989), 17:626.
21 Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 692.
22 Ibid., pp. 697-698.
23 Ibid., pp. 687f.
24 Genesis Record, p. 215; cf. p. 252; Science, p. 87.
25 G. B. Sharman, "Marsupial 'Wolf'," Encyclopedia of the Animal World, 7:1198.
26 "Cats," Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia (5th ed.; New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976), pp. 455-7.
27 The exceptions are Chatham Islands, to the east, and Aukland Island, to the south. The ocean depth between New Zealand and these islands is at least 300 and 196 fathoms, respectively.
28 Defense Mapping Agency Hydrographic/Topographic Center, Map WOPGN 622 (1970).
29 Peter R. Grant, "Biosphere," Encyclopedia Britannica (1990), 14:1016.
Another author, D'Arcy McNickle, "North America," Ibid., 24:984, makes it 40 fathoms.
30 R. J. Full et al., "Exercising with and Without Lungs, I," Journal of Experimental Biology, 138:479f (1988).
31 G. E. Freytag, in vol. 5 of Bernhard Grzimek, ed., Animal Life Encyclopedia (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1979), p. 344, notes that the slowest species tested, Desmognathus quadramaculatus, has an extended larval period. It is almost an aquatic species. John L. Behler and F. Wayne King, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 317, note that it "prefers sizable, swift and boulder-strewn mountain streams." These factors would make it difficult for the creature to get from stream to stream at the divides, and down to the coast for a move from continent to continent.
32 G. E. Freytag, op. cit., p. 309.
33 Science, p. 86. Cf. Genesis Record, pp. 226f; Biblical Basis, pp. 424-426.
34 Biblical Basis, pp. 425f.
35 Ibid., p. 426.
36 We would come closer by assuming a doubling time of about 149 years or r = 0.00467. Seemingly insignificant initial differences become significant when compounded over millennia.
37 Biblical Basis., p. 422.
38 Ibid., pp. 422f.
39 Ibid., p. 423. Cf. Genesis Record, p. 285.
40 Genesis Record, p. 185.
41 Ibid., p. 191.
42 This seems to imply that only seed stored by Noah in the Ark would be available to grow plants. Can he mean this? But see note 11, above.
43 Ibid., p. 202.
44 At least as far back as the Middle Ages, logicians have recognized that introducing a contradiction, as Morris has done, allows the valid conclusion of every statement whatsoever. This includes "Morris staunchly defends organic evolution." Or, to phrase it differently, whenever a contradiction is introduced, all possibility of rational discussion disappears. Although Morris did not intend this, this is a necessary consequence of his statements.
45 Thank you, referees, for helpful suggestions.