Most of us are familiar with the story of Noah’s Flood in the Bible and I suspect many think it is just a myth with no historic or scientific basis but still makes a good picture story book for little children. The concept of a flood that supposedly completely submerged the entire land surface of the Earth for over a year is certainly a very difficult one to understand and accept. But for those who believe that the Bible is the word of God, Noah’s Flood is a historic truth that gives an account of a major catastrophe that occurred some 4400 years ago which killed, by drowning, millions of people and all land based animal and bird life. Some believers think it was an extremely violet catastrophe that not only killed off all life on land but also resurfaced the earth’s land mass with new layers of sediments hundreds of metres thick. Other believers are more cautious in their interpretation and accept that the flood did take place but it was a local affair that affected only a small region of the land in Noah’s neighbourhood leaving only very minor flood deposits.
There is clearly a big difference in opinion on this subject so can the real truth be known? I believe it can and what I have set out to do in this article is to give an explanation for the cause of the Flood which is based not only on what we know about our planet but also on a careful analysis of what the Bible actually tells us about the flood.. First we need to look at some important features of the Earth we live on.
The ‘flexible’ foundations of the Earth
Our planet is in some respects like a huge ball with a highly pressurized interior that is constrained by a relatively thin spherical shell made from hard basaltic rock. The scientific term for this shell is lithosphere (3) (meaning a sphere of rock) and the Bible calls this the ‘foundations of the Earth’ (Job 38:4) (1). The reason why the Bible uses the term ‘foundations’ is because it supports not only the oceans but also the continents which are both late additions to our planet.(2) Another function of the foundations is to protect the continents and the ocean from the heat and radiation which is continuously being generated by the decay of radioactive elements in the earth’s interior. The Bible warns us about this heat (Deut.32:22) which at some time in the near future will result in another global disaster which will be far worse than Noah’s Flood.
The foundations were originally continuous when first laid (2) but have now cracked under pressure into what are called plates (Ps.82:5). They have therefore become fairly flexible now and capable of being stretched out if the pressure acting underneath them increases.
If this pressure increase was globally uniform the foundations would stretch out uniformly and form a very slightly larger sphere. If this happened the result would be a shallower ocean worldwide. However if the pressure was not uniformly applied the foundations would become very slightly egg shaped. So one extremely important and relevant feature of our planet is that it can change shape (Job38:14) from being reasonably spherical to slightly ellipsoidal and this can make a vast difference to the depth of the overlying ocean in any given area. Hence shallow oceans can become very much deeper and the reverse is also true if the Earth changes shape. Evidence for several major sea level changes in the past is plentiful as all professional geologists know.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are both manifestations of the heat and pressure that is being constantly generated deep below the ground we walk upon and we are reminded of this fairly frequently by news reports from round the world.
The supercontinent Pangaea
The next thing we need to consider is how the continents of the globe were distributed in Noah’s time. Scientists are now generally agreed that all of our present continents were once joined up in a roughly G shaped supercontinent called Pangaea (5) which covered about a third of the Earth’s surface area. The Bible agrees with this and calls the supercontinent ‘Earth’ (Gen.1:10). The Bible also tells us (Ps.24:1-3) about the spectacular manner in which the supercontinent was formed on top of the foundations in the long distant past.
While we now know that Pangaea eventually broke up to form the present continents the Bible tells us that this happened much more recently and rather more quickly than most scientists believe. According to the Bible the division of the supercontinent was only four generations after Noah’s Flood (Gen.10:25). What this means is that Pangaea was the land area affected by Noah’s Flood. This would make sense from a biblical viewpoint because Pangaea had been totally submerged only about 1600 years before Noah’s time. (Gen.1:10) and this submergence is recognized by some bible scholars as Lucifer’s Flood.
So the important point is that the Flood in Noah’s time was not the first submergence of the supercontinent. In fact the geological evidence suggests that there have been several submergence and re-emergence episodes of Pangaea in the long distant past.(3)
Having been dipped in and out of water several times in the past (2Pet.3:5) Pangaea consisted of mainly flat land barely above sea level with some ‘high hills’ (Gen.7:19) but no high mountains such as Mt Everest.
Next we come to a former very major feature of our planet that most readers will probably not have heard about before and may have some difficulty in believing it because it no longer exists. This was a remnant of the last ice age and was gigantic dome of ice that spanned over Pangaea. It is referred to in the Bible as the Firmament (Gen.1:6-8) and all of the second day of the Genesis creation account was devoted to its creation. We also know about it from many legendary accounts recorded by peoples from throughout the world who lived in the few centuries after the flood when it was still in place (4). A very detailed account of the formation of this stupendous structure is given in my book (2)
The Firmament is of some relevance to understanding Noah’s Flood because it was in place before, during, and for some time after, the flood and actually controlled the flood waters. In the biblical account of the flood the Firmament is referred to as ‘heaven’ and this name change from Firmament to Heaven took place in (Gen.1:8)
The cause of Noah’s Flood
With a description of the main features of the Earth in Noah’s time we can now go on to explain the cause of the flood which fully submerged the supercontinent and partly submerged the dome of the Firmament. Briefly Noah’s Flood was caused when the shape of our planet changed from being near spherical to slightly ellipsoidal. This change was due to a non uniform increase in the pressure under the foundations and. the foundations became very slightly egg shaped. This resulted in the ocean bed being raised in a wide band round the Earth which caused a division of the worlds single ocean into two smaller but much deeper oceans separated from each other by the wide band of very shallow sea or even dry ocean floor. On this band the foundations rose above sea level thus allowing sea water to drain into off into one or other of the two areas on both sides of the band where the foundations had become depressed into huge and deep circular basins. Water is obliged to form a sphere round the Earth but the solid foundations can become ellipsoidal for a short while.
During the flood Pangaea became submerged under one of the two deepened oceans and it this submergence that we call Noah’s Flood.
Biblical verses in support of the proposed hypothesis for Noah’s Flood
As explained above the flood was caused when the foundations of the Earth lost its near spherical shape for a while. This mechanism for the Flood has strong biblical support which can best be understood by considering the verses that relate to the Flood in the order given in Genesis
(Gen.6:5-7) God decides to destroy all living land forms ‘from the face of the earth meaning all land life on Pangaea is condemned.
(Gen.6:15) God instructs Noah to construct a huge four deck Ark some 120 years before the start of the Flood. This implies the Flood covered the whole of Pangaea otherwise God would simply have asked Noah to move on to a safe area.
Noah enters the ark as sea levels begin to rise and floods the neighbourhood. Actually it was the ocean bed that began to subside.
Most of the land surface is now covered with shallow water which gradually increases in depth.
The water depth in both oceans increases as it receives water from areas where the foundations are still rising The exposed raised ocean bed begins to crack up. Water enters the cracks and turns quickly into steam. This results in the formation of thousands of geysers called ‘fountains of the great deep’ (Gen.7:11).
The steam from the geysers disperses throughout the planet and condenses into water on top of the Firmament which has also become cracked by being stretched. Rain water thus flows through the windows of heaven and falls over the entire supercontinent continuously for forty days..
Sea levels still continue to increase. All the land that was under the whole heaven (the Firmament) is now underwater.
Pangaea remains totally submerged for five months.
As pressure under the foundations is released the geysers are shut off and the Earth returns slowly to its normal shape.
The depth of water over Pangaea begins to decrease slowly and continues to do so for the next three months.
The Ark runs aground on the newly formed Mt Ararat (alt.5165m) and the family see the tops of other mountains for the first time..
After spending one year and ten days in the ark Noah and his family leave the Ark to make a new life. It takes over a year for the foundations of the Earth to change shape from spherical to ellipsoidal and back again.
From the above verses it is clear that all of the flood water came from the ocean at the start and returned to the ocean at the end.. The rain that fell was ocean water that had first turned into steam in the sea floor geysers and then condensed into pure water. The contribution of this water to the Flood waters was quite negligible.
The consequences of the Flood
The flood was indeed global in that it submerged a large part of the supercontinent which was under the Firmament. It is however possible that there were animals and birds and human beings on volcanic islands and parts of Pangaea that was outside the Firmament which escaped being flooded. Before the flood the supercontinent had only some high hills but during the flood some mountains could have been formed as a result of upheavals of the Earth’s foundations. All the very high mountains like the Andes and Himalayas were formed as a result of continental drift which took place at least four generations after the flood according to the Bible. Apart from the above, the geological consequences of the flood alone may be regarded as minimal. The sea level rose slowly and fell slowly. All living forms that lived under the Firmament would have been killed by drowning and their remains would have rotted away in the ocean or been scavenged by aquatic life. The presence of the Firmament dome would have slowed down the rise and fall of sea level and would also have prevented the then land surface from being covered with new sediments. Hence Noah’s Flood did not allow any fossils to be formed. All fossils found on the Earth today were formed during previous submergence episodes during a very long period of time known by serious Bible scholars as the First Earth Age (5)
Some problems with the Flood
Sceptics of the Genesis Flood story question other aspects of the flood and so to finish this article a few comments on these.
Building the Ark
Noah had 120 years to do the job using locally grown timber which was in great abundance in the subtropical climate under the Firmament. Adam’s first Son built a city, and his great grandchildren made musical instruments like flutes and harps and there were craftsmen in bronze and iron (Gen.4:17-22) even at that time. Hence the people who lived many centuries before and after Noah were technologically very advanced. Noah had the expertise to build a very large buoyant structure that only had to stay afloat for about a year without going anywhere.
Food for the family and animals
Noah was instructed to take on board food for the family and the animals (Gen.6:21)
By this time the art of preservation of food by drying would have been well established so huge stocks of low volume dehydrated food could have been taken on board and hydrated to feed the family and animals as required. The food was required by the animals only to stay alive while not using much energy in their confinement. Fish and other sea food including edible sea weeds would have always been in plentiful supply anyway.
The climate under the Firmament was uniform everywhere so samples of all the species alive at the time were readily available close to where the Ark was built. Noah was instructed to take male and female of each kind to ‘keep the species alive on the face of all the earth’ (Gen7:3) Species have no doubt changed on the Earth since Noah’s time and hence today we probably have a much richer variety of species than in Noah’s time. Hence the task of collecting live specimens for the Ark would not have been too difficult. After their release from the Ark the animals spread out throughout the still intact supercontinent and adapted to new environmental conditions when the Firmament eventually disintegrated and Pangaea broke up into the continents we have today.
All scripture verses mentioned are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers 1991
Pimenta L.R. ‘The Firmament of the sky dome’ Matatdor Publishers Kibworth Beauchamp 2012 ISBN 9781780882017
Duff D Holmes’ Principles of Physical Geology Chapman & Hall 4th Ed 1993
Seeley P ‘The Firmament and the water above’ The Westminster Theological Journal 53(1991) p.227-40 (available on the internet in 2012)
There are now several hundred sites on the Internet which deal with the First Earth Age