Noah's Flood

(Click play to watch this video of a recent Japanese tsunami washing away an entire town.)

The Bible says that there was once a worldwide Flood that covered all the mountains on earth and destroyed all life on the land surface of the earth:  the Flood of Noah (Gen. 7-8).  Is this true?  Did it really happen?  And if it really happened, what evidence is there that it happened?  If it really affected the whole world, shouldn’t we be able to see evidence of it all around the world? 

To answer this question, first we need to understand what happens when there is a flood.  Floods, especially flash floods, are the #1 weather-related killer in many places, including the US.  They are 40% of all natural disasters.  They usually occur within a few minutes or hours of a heavy rainfall.  They can roll boulders and tear out trees by their roots.  They can destroy buildings and bridges, make new river channels, and dig up solid rock river beds.  They can trigger mudslides and landslides. 

Why is flood water so powerful?  Because it’s not just water.  It’s water mixed with dirt and other material, which makes it much heavier than normal water.  Plus it’s often moving faster.  Just six inches of flood water traveling at six miles an hour can knock you off your feet and drown you.  One to two feet of flood water will float your car.  Floods of water are very powerful.  The more water, the more powerful. 

Here’s something very important to remember about flood water.  If you double the water, you get four times the power.  If you quadruple the water, you get 16 times the power.  It’s an exponential relationship.  At this rate, it doesn’t take much water to do a lot of damage.

A flash flood in 1972 in Rapid City, South Dakota, in the U.S. followed 15 inches of rain that fell in 5 hours.  It resulted in 238 fatalities and $164 million in damages.  All this from just 5 hours of rain.

The Johnstown flood of 1889 killed 2,209 people and caused $17 million of damage (the equivalent of about $425 million today).  Because of heavy rains, a dam broke. 

These are just two of dozens of examples that could be given.  But the worst river floods in history have taken place when the Yellow River overflowed (the Huang He in China). In 1931, 1-4 million people were killed.  88,000 square kilometers of land flooded. 

But this is only from one river flooding.  What if there was a lot more water, like the water of the ocean?  I’m sure you heard of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.  More than 200,000 people were killed.  Or the recent tsunami in Japan in 2011.  5,600 were confirmed dead, 10,000 more are missing.  Floods can do an awful lot of damage.   

And what do you see when the flood is over?  Dirt and mud everywhere.  Not only is everything destroyed.  Many things are buried deep in the mud.

Compared to the size of the earth, all the damage and destruction I have mentioned so far is from floods that affected only very tiny parts of the earth, a single river, a single coastline.  What if there was a flood that affected the whole earth?  How much damage do you think that would do?  What if there were thousands of times more water, and therefore tens of thousands, even millions of times more power? 

One question that many people have about Noah’s Flood is, where did all the water come from?  According to the Bible, not only did it rain for forty days and forty nights, but water also came out from beneath the earth:  The Bible says the “fountains of the great deep” erupted (Gen. 7:11). 

Is there really water under the earth?  Yes, there is water almost everywhere under the surface of the earth.  This is what makes wells possible:  they draw up water from this subsurface water.  It used to be believed by scientists that this water did not go down very deep.  This is because at 5 km below the surface, the rocks are compressed so tightly that no water can flow through them.  Or so they thought.

But now there is evidence that water is found very, very deep in the earth’s crust, and lots of it.  This recent discovery has found more than three times more water than on the surface of the earth.  It also suggests that all of the earth’s water came from below.

This is not the only water recently discovered under the earth.  There are also new discoveries of water under the oceans, and under earth’s tectonic plates:  these are the large flat areas of the earth’s crust that move in relationship to one another.  This movement is what causes earthquakes.  Water (combined with molten rock) under these plates is what enables them to move around.  Sometimes a volcanic eruption or other event will bring some of this deep water (known as “juvenile water” or “magmatic water”) to the surface.  So there’s plenty of water underground to more than account for a global flood.

So then where did all this extra water go after the Flood?  This is what created our modern deep oceans.  As it says in Psa. 104:6-8:  “You covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains.  At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they hurried away.  The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place that you established for them.”  If you pushed down the mountains and raised up the seas to where they were before, the earth would still be covered by almost two miles of water!  70% of the earth is still under water today! 

Okay, so a worldwide flood is possible.  But did it really happen?  If there was really such a worldwide event, there should be evidence of it everywhere.  But what kind of evidence would we expect to find?  The Bible says it was a worldwide flood that killed everything living on the surface of the earth.  That means we would expect to find billions of dead plants and animals buried in dirt, sand, and other sediments that were laid down by water (flood mud) all over the earth. 

And guess what?  That’s exactly what we see everywhere.  Scientists at all the top universities around the world, including Harvard and Oxford and others once identified all the rock layers we see everywhere around the world today as layering produced by the water of a great flood.  Have you ever taken a good look at that layering?  What could lay down those layers so perfectly flat like that?  Only water. 

What made these scientists think these are flood deposits?  Some of these layers are huge.  They go clear across continents, even sometimes between continents.  What could lay down such large, flat layers over such huge distances?  No river could do that.  Nor would a shallow sea.  It can only be explained by a worldwide flood of water.  Evolution has no convincing explanation for these huge, thin layers. 

Maybe you’ve heard the explanation that each of these layers were the surface of the earth for a year or for many years.  But if that’s true, where’s the topsoil that the trees and other plants would have needed to live?  Or where did their roots grow?  Sometimes these layers are tiny.  A tree or even grass growing here would have broken up the layers.  But the lines are perfectly straight.  And there is no topsoil in any of these layers.  They are all sterile.  And where’s the little gullies and depressions where water would have run off?  There’s no place on the surface of the earth that is as flat as that today.  So where did all these perfectly flat layers come from?

Have you ever taken some dirt and sand and rocks, put it in a jar, filled it with water, and then shook it around for a while?  Then let it settle for a while, and what will you find?  Layers.  Just like we see in the rocks of the world:  layers of sediment laid down by water.

The Bible says that the Flood covered all the mountains on earth.  That means we would expect to see fossils up in even the tallest mountains in the world.  Guess what?  There are fossils high up in all the major mountain ranges of the world.  Some ancient peoples recognized this as evidence of a worldwide flood. 

Not only are there fossils up in the mountains of the world, there are also pillow lavas.  Do you know what a pillow lava is?  It’s the shape that lava takes when it flows out into a body of water.  In other words, it is formed under water.  But there are pillow lavas high up on many of the mountains of the world.  How did they get there, unless those mountains were once covered by water?

The Bible says that the Flood lasted only about a year.  This means that everything happened very quickly.  Is there any evidence for this?  Yes, the fossils themselves.  Most animals do not form fossils when they die.  Their bodies are eaten or decompose long before they become a fossil.  But so many fossils are found in perfect condition.  Nothing started to eat them before they were buried.  They didn’t start to decay.  Often every little piece is there.  This tells us they were buried very quickly. 

One of the most common fossils of all is fossil ripple marks.  This is clear evidence that these layers were laid down by water.  And it had to happen quickly or that pattern of ripples would not be preserved.  Right?  If there are ripple marks on a beach, will they be preserved for thousands of years?  No.  They’ll be blown away or washed away in the tide or by a storm.  These kind of marks can only be preserved if they are buried very, very quickly. 

The same thing is true of footprints, like dinosaur footprints.  These had to be made and buried very quickly in order to be preserved.  If you make a footprint in the mud today, will it be preserved for thousands of years?  No.  These things are only preserved if they’re buried immediately after they are made. 

What about the many places where rock layers have been deformed without breaking, sometimes into the most incredible shapes.  Ordinarily rock doesn’t bend when forces act on it; it breaks.  So how can a rock layer, or sometimes several different rock layers together, bend or sag or compress without breaking?  These layers must have been bent while they were still soft, before they turned into rock.  And that means that all these layers that were bent together in the same way were all soft at the same time, and bent at the same time.  This also means that they were all laid down at the same time.  That’s why there are no gaps or breaks between the layers.  This tells us that these layers were not laid down over millions of years, but all at once, suddenly, as in a flood.  And that means the Flood was not that long ago. 

Well if that’s true, then fossil animals should look just like animals we see today, except of course for species that didn’t survive the Flood or that have died out since then.  And guess what?  That’s exactly what we find!  Many fossil animals look just like those we see today.  These include crocodiles and turtles, millipedes and dragonflies, and lots of other bugs.  They look exactly like those animals look today, although some were much bigger than today.  There are also palm trees that look just like they look today, as well as lobsters and shrimp, crabs and sharks, and so many others.  Instead of more and more variety over time, as evolution claims, with things getting bigger and better; what we actually see in the fossil record is less variety today than in the past, with fewer different kinds of things, and often smaller sizes than before.  Some people think that the fossils are opposed to the Bible, but actually the fossils provide some of the strongest evidence of the truth of the Bible.    

The most exciting recent discovery has come from carbon dating supposedly ancient fossils.  At first, nobody bothered to carbon date fossils, because they were assumed to be too old for carbon dating.  (Carbon 14 dating can only be used to date things younger than 100,000 years old.)  But now, dinosaur bones and other fossils have been dated to only 5,000 years old.  That’s a long way from millions and millions of years! 

In fact, the evidence of the Flood is all around us.  But this evidence is not only in the rocks of the earth.  It’s also in the memories of the survivors.  Because as you know from the Bible, Noah and his family escaped the Flood in a huge boat.  The Bible tells us that in this boat (or ark), Noah and his family were saved, together with two of every kind of animal on the earth.  Outside the ark, everything living on the land was destroyed, including all the people.

After the Flood, the ark landed on a mountain (Gen. 8:4).  First, Noah sent out a raven to see if the water was dried up, but it found no place to land (Gen. 8:7).  Then he sent a dove, and it also could find no place, so it came back to Noah in the ark (Gen. 8:8,9).  Then, after a few days, he again sent the dove.  This time it returned with an olive leaf in her beak (Gen. 8:10,11).  A few days later, the dove didn’t return at all (Gen. 8:12).  Then Noah and all the animals left the ark, and Noah offered up a sacrifice to God (Gen. 8:20). 

But the Bible is not the only ancient writing to mention the Flood.  Another ancient version comes from the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic.  This was discovered in the 19th century by the British explorer Henry Layard at Nineveh in Iraq.  This was a very early archeological excavation, one of the first of a city mentioned in the Bible.  Layard sent back thousands of clay tablets with writing on them to the British Museum in London to be analyzed.  In 1872, George Smith, an assistant at the museum, discovered that one of these tablets had the story of the Flood.  The tablet was broken, and some of the story was missing.  So Smith went to Nineveh to find the rest.  The next year, only five days after arriving on the site, he found another tablet with the missing lines!  This was an exciting discovery!

According to this Babylonian account, Noah, whom the Babylonians called Utnapishtim (which means “he found long life”), was warned of a coming Flood and told to build a large boat to preserve himself, his family, and all the animals.  After the flood, the ark rested on a mountain.  First, Utnapishtim sent out a dove that came back.  Then a swallow that came back.  Then a raven that didn’t come back.  Then they all got out of the ark and he offered a sacrifice.  The order of the birds is a little different.  But this is very close to the Biblical story!  Here we have two different flood stories, from two different cultures, yet are similar even in many of the small details!   

But it’s not the only one!  Flood stories can be found all over the world.  About 200 of them have been recorded so far!  They come from Europe (9), the Middle East (8), Africa (15), Asia (37), North America (78) and South America (22), even from Australia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean (27)—in other words, from the whole inhabited earth!  Though most of these stories have changed over the years to reflect changing religious beliefs, there are at least seven common elements worldwide:  1) Most of them are very clear that this was a Flood that flooded the entire earth. 2) They say that this Flood took place because of the disobedience of mankind, except 3) for one tiny group of people, usually a single family, that did not disobey.  4) One man of this family was warned in advance of the coming Flood.  5) This small group were the only ones to survive the Flood.  6) They survived by floating in the water, often on a boat, though sometimes by going to the top of a very high mountain.  7) From this tiny group, the entire earth was repopulated. 

These common elements can be seen in the large majority of Flood stories around the world.  It’s remarkable that there is such worldwide agreement about these basics:  that it was a worldwide flood that destroyed all but one tiny group, who coming down from a high mountain, are the source of the world’s current population.  If we had only two or three of these stories, we could say that perhaps one of them influenced the others.  But when we have them from all over the earth, if this is only a myth, how do we explain that? 

Some say that the reason for so many Flood stories is that floods are a common disaster around the world.  But why then do they have so many common elements?  Why are there are no similar worldwide stories about other catastrophes, like earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, or drought?  Why only a Flood? 

In several of these stories, other elements are preserved that are remarkably similar to Genesis:  For example, several of these stories agree that the Flood was caused by waters coming from under the earth, the “fountains of the great deep” mentioned in Genesis. 

Several accounts mention the survival of exactly eight people in the Flood.  This includes the Chinese account.  In fact, one of the Chinese characters for “boat” includes the sign for eight people, exactly the number that survived in the Bible.  The Hindu account of the Flood mentions that three of these were the sons of the primary figure, whose names are given as Sharma, C’harma, and Jyapeti.  This is very close to the Bible (Shem, Ham, and Japheth)! 

In many accounts, the survivors save animals along with themselves.  Several specifically say that they saved all the (land) animals, just like Noah.  In several accounts, these animals are brought in pairs, just like in the Bible.    

After the Flood, several mention that the boat came to rest on a high mountain, after which a test was done to see if the waters had dried up, often using birds.  In several, the birds used for these tests include doves and/or ravens.

And in several, a rainbow is associated with the story, just like in the Bible.  A few even remember that a sacrifice was made after the Flood.  This is a remarkable set of similarities!  Could they have happened just by chance?  The statistical probability for that is near zero.  It’s very hard to explain all these similarities in such different and distant cultures unless they all preserve the memory of an actual, historical event. 

If the Flood of Noah was just a myth, we would not expect there to be any agreement among the different flood stories as to where the ark landed after Flood.  And in fact, many of the later Flood stories disagree on this point.  Each one points to a mountain within the territory of the people telling the story.  But among the earlier Flood stories, there is a general agreement about where the ark landed:  in southeastern Turkey.  Not only do these stories agree about the place, they also agree that the ark of Noah was still there for all to see! 

These claims were not just made by the Jews.  Two thousand years ago, claims that the ark could still be seen were made not only by Josephus the Jewish historian, but by Berosus the Chaldean and Nicolaus of Damascus.  Dozens of other ancient writers have confirmed its existence since then, mostly Christians and Muslims. 

The Bible says that Noah's ark landed in the "mountains of Ararat" (Gen. 8:4), the region known to historians as Urartu, north of ancient Assyria (in modern Armenia and eastern Turkey).  Today, some people believe the ark is on the mountain Agri Dagh at the eastern edge of Turkey.  This is the mountain usually marked on maps as Mt. Ararat. 

Satellite surveys recently identified a strange feature on top of the mountain that some believe is the ark of Noah.  This is not the first time that high-tech interest has been drawn to Mt. Ararat.  A U-2 spy plane in 1949 spotted something unusual at the 15,500 foot level that convinced many people the ark might really be there.  These photos certainly show something up there that looks like a huge ruined boat—more than 600 feet long (183 m). 

The excitement increased when spy satellites looked at the same area in 1973 (the Keyhole-9 spy satellite) and again in 1976 and confirmed what is now called the “Ararat Anomaly.”  Because of this and other evidence, several groups have gone up the mountain to see what’s there.

The latest group, which includes several Chinese from Hong Kong, found a structure with several wooden rooms.  They plan to return again in the future to see if this really is Noah’s Ark.  Unfortunately, so far the wood from this structure has not dated old enough to really be from Noah’s Ark.  So what it really is, nobody knows (although there have been accusations of fraud). 

But the identification of Agri Dagh with Noah faces another, much more serious problem:  it may be the wrong mountain!  The earliest reports put the ark in the area of Cudi Dagh, a mountain in southeastern Turkey.  The Church of the East—the ancient church of Christians living in this area (also known as Nestorians)—built several monasteries around Cudi Dagh, with one on the summit called the “Monastery of the Ark.”  According to a Muslim writer, this monastery was built using wood from the ark itself.  This monastery was later replaced by a Muslim mosque, also with wood from the Ark.  Every Sept. 14th, members of many different local religions (including non-Jewish and non-Christian religions) used to gather at the mountain to celebrate Noah’s sacrifice after leaving the ark.

Near Cudi Dagh, the earliest evidence of agriculture and domesticated animals has been found in the world.  This is exactly what we would expect to see if Cudi Dagh is, in fact, where Noah landed.  (None of this is found in the area of Agri Dagh.) 

So what do you think?  We have only looked at a very small part of the evidence for the Flood of Noah.  But we have found that there really is strong evidence of a worldwide flood all over the world:  both physical evidence and historical evidence.  Why is this important?  First, it supports the accuracy of the Bible.  Second, it is a powerful reminder that God has the ability to destroy the world.  This is how Jesus himself used the story of the Flood:  as a warning that God will again destroy the earth because of sin and wickedness (Luke 17:26,27,30).