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This was something Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong has recently been arguing for but also something I have been arguing about elsewhere.

The idea, advocated on pseudoscientific sites like this, is that the Genesis accounts are not talking about a global flood – because that’s obviously naturalistically impossible! (and impossible to rationally defend) – so they must be recounting a local one.

My previous posts on this are worth reading:

Tor recount quickly my general arguments:

  1. It’s obviously a myth, silly. My goodness, a Christian reads these sorts of stories in other religious traditions and, without blinking, announces them as myth.
  2. The contradictions and problems in the Genesis account are all best explained by a multiple source theory, as detailed in the links above, rather than ad hoc rationalising each individual problem.
  3. OmniGod (an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving god) did it because we were a sinful world. We still are; therefore, it didn’t work.
  4. This would have killed untold numbers of children, including foetuses in utero. Is this pro-life?
  5. The account is a reworking of Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story in the world. It details the building of the ark, the floods coming, the release of a raven and a dove through the window and more. We have parts of the epic dating to 2100 BCE, some 1500 years, arguably, before the Torah was completed, whilst in exile, surrounded by the culture in which the Epic of Gilgamesh was embedded. We very much advise the reader surveys Tablet XI of the Epic and compares it to the Noah story. It is astonishingly similar.
  6. If the deluge destroyed all, why do we have the writings and journals of people before, during and after the deluge?
  7. There is internal contradiction from the spliced accounts from the Bible – for example, were there two of each animal or seven?
  8. Eight people looking after the world’s biggest zoo is ridiculous.
  9. Noah lived 350 years beyond the end of the flood, dying at 950.
  10. The ark is physically bigger than a wooden vessel can be made, apparently by 50%.
  11. Clearly the gathering of all the animals is impossible: micro-organisms, polar bears, penguins, condors, glow-worms, koalas, snails, and so on. How did they all get there?)
  12. The ark’s reported dimensions would have to be considerably larger to fit all of the actual animals of the world.
  13. Population of eight could not rebound in the timespan claimed. It is simply not possible.
  14. Rainfall would have to have been six inches per minute. Again, not possible. A category 5 hurricane gives six inches per hour which is impossible to sustain over 40 days.
  15. The weight of the water would have disastrous consequences on the Earth’s crust, emitting noxious gases and eruptions, leading to, potentially, a boiling sea! In all probability, it would have imploded in some way.
  16. There is no geological evidence for any of this.
  17. There are reefs that have been undisturbed in the world for 100,000 years. These would have been crushed and destroyed. They were not.
  18. Lots more evidence of fossil, radiometrics and isotopes etc. mean that the flood clearly never happened.
  19. How did Noah actually get all the animals on the ark without them trying to eat each other or his family?
  20. Asexual animals and hermaphrodites appear to not be accounted for.
  21. Ventilation, food, faeces and many other terminal problems would have existed on the ark. How were all the animals fed, including the carnivores? There would have had to have been untold extra animals further down the food chains to sustain the predators and then the apex predators.
  22. The DNA pool finds no evidence of this. There no trace of this through DNA analysis (i.e., we know we came from Africa, etc.).
  23. All sea fish would have died from the influx of fresh water.
  24. All plants that do not rely on the seeds of Noah to survive would die. There are many plants that reproduce in many ways other than seeds.
  25. Explaining it away as a local flood is contradictory to Genesis, and would also not have killed all the humans who were so evil. Liquids find their own level, and so a local flood of that magnitude and description is physically impossible.

The classic get-out-of-jail card that supposedly answers some of these questions Is the local flood claim, as detailed in the link at the beginning. But the local flood theory is just as problematic, as I previously detailed and will expand upon.

Local flood

Some apologists, who don’t fancy doing much thinking, but do fancy explaining things away with the wave of the hand, claim that, to get round the mountains of evidence and arguments against a global flood, there was a localised flood instead.

Let’s just excerpt a little Genesis 8 & 9 for you all:

16 “Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every crawling thing that crawls on the earth, that they may [k]breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every animal, every crawling thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out [l]by their families from the ark….

21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma, and the Lord said [m]to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the [n]intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again [o]destroy every living thing, as I have done….

15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.

There are two reasons that this invalidates a localised flood.

  1. God admitted he destroyed every living thing. All flesh. Not just some. All. Every animal that crawls on earth. Not just local ones, every one.
  2. Localised floods still happen, and still kill people, invalidating his promise, unless his promise referred instead (more obviously) to a global flood.

The apologist tries to claim here that “every living thing” is better understood as “every living thing in the local area”. That the people of these stories didn’t have a global understanding, so their whole world was, say, the Mesopotamian region. I’ll leave you to evaluate whether this is persuasive or not.

Further to this, we can add the rather obvious issue:

Then in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the\month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. And the water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

Aside from the fact that we have discontinuity here because it is saying the same thing twice in a form of contradiction – the Ark came to rest on Mt Ararat in the seventh month, and then in the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible, we have another glaringly obvious problem. Let us not settle in t his article on the obvious problems with continuity and the fact that we clearly have two sources woven together, but let us concern ourselves with a flood covering the tops of mountains.

Yup, mountains.

But the apologists claim this sort of thing:

Didn’t the flood cover the highest mountains? The Hebrew word “har,” translated “mountains,” occurs 649 times in the Old Testament. In 212 instances, the word is translated “hill” or “hills” or “hill country”. In Genesis, it is translated “hill” in 10 out of 19 occurrences. Of course, 4 out of 9 times that it is translated as “mountain” is in the flood passage (the translators were wearing their global glasses when they did that translation!). In every instance in Genesis, the text could be translated “hill”. Since no specific mountain range is mentioned in this verse, it is likely that the word refers to the hills that Noah could see….

If the ark had come to rest on the top of Mount Ararat, this would be at 17,000 foot elevation. Olive trees (and every other tree) do not grow at 17,000 feet. In fact, you will not find olive trees growing much above 5,000 feet. Therefore, we know from the Bible that the ark did not come to rest on or near the top of Mount Ararat, but probably somewhere on the foothills of the mountain.

Here’s are the problems with such a claim.

Let’s go back to Genesis 7:

19 And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains [o]everywhere under the heavens were covered. 20 The water prevailed [p]fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. 21 So all [q]creatures that moved on the earth perished: birds, livestock, animals, and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; 22 of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. 23 So He wiped out [r]every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from mankind to animals, to crawling things, and the birds of the sky, and they were wiped out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. 24 The water prevailed upon the earth for 150 days.

I can’t do it. I couldn’t do it if I tried. It’s just dishonesty. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself trying to harmonise a local flood with this.

But it gets worse in Genesis 8:

Then he sent out a [d]dove, to see if the water was low on the [e]surface of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot, so it returned to him in the ark, for the water was on the [f]surface of all the earth. 

The Bible literally claims there was nowhere for the bird to rest its feet. So, no mountains just beyond the flooded hills? I mean, you would literally be able to see the mountains in the distance!

Additionally, if the flood only went to the tops of the hills, people and animals would just have gone up higher hills, or even mountains. In other words, no, not all humans and animals would have died. In the Mesopotamian region, this would have meant people fleeing up mountains like Ararat.

As mentioned in one of the above bullet points, water finds its own level. If water is above the mountains, and given that water is over 5,100m high to cover Ararat, then this cannot have been a local flood. This is obvious. Water cannot be 5,100m high here, but not there, unless we are talking about a 5,100m high bowl.

Which we are not.

But let’s imagine that the Bible can indeed be interpreted to suggest a local flood. Whilst almost everywhere on Earth has localised flooding, it’s not even remotely on the scale that apologists are talking about even when they claim a localised rather than a global flood. I’m surprised I have to explain this (with all due respect to them…) since it is basic physics, but here goes. A localised flood theory is not all that much easier to explain than a globalised one. In fact, it is arguably harder to rationalise since you have to claim that water will be contained in one geographical area for 150 (or 40…) days without really receding.

Actually imagine this. Imagine the topography of the Mesopotamian region. Imagine that there are some mountains and hills but also large areas of flat land that lead eventually down to the sea. But also understand that these areas of flat land lead on to other large areas of flat land. Go look at a map of the entire region.

What we don’t have is some kind of enclosed bowl with one tiny outlet. What we do have instead is a massive area with huge tranches of flat land that lead to the sea. And the sea level is the lowest point that you can get to in terms of water flow. In order for water to even get to the top of large hills, as some apologists suggest rather improbably, as opposed to the tops mountains as clearly suggested by the Bible (and thus just uniformly covering the whole globe), you would have to have rainfall that is adding greater volume of water than the volume of water that can possibly flow out of the entire region via gravity through all the flat land to the sea, or to other flat lands. This is why it is in some very real sense harder to argue for than a global flood.

The whole regional area has to not only fill with rain (and arguably, according to the Bible – rather non-naturalistically – from below) at a rate faster than it can flow out of the many areas of the whole region that lead to lower ground, but it also has to stay in place for 40/150 days without draining.

This is simply and absolutely and without any doubt at all impossible. We are not talking about floodplains and sodden ground and areas where water is collecting from a vast number of sources as we get every year in localised real-world flooding, we are talking about absolutely incredible rainfall exceptionally quickly filling up an area of land that is essentially unfillable to the level at which even they are suggesting.

And remember, by and large with these apologists, they aren’t invoking miracles. As one interlocutor told me elsewhere: “I wasn’t intending to imply anything other than natural stuff for causing the flood.”If you built this in your back garden, the only way you could achieve this is to pour water into your constructed region with buckets in such a large volume that is not remotely representative of rainfall.

Incoherence with the Rest of the Story

As a fellow skeptic, Paul Russell, stated during the other argument elsewhere, the problems with the localised flood aren’t just restricted to the physical impossibility:

And the “local flood proponent” has to rationalize how a local flood can be reconciled with the “rest of the story,” where Noah’s descendants become the “ancestors” of nations that were outside the local flood zone and were not wiped out by the flood. Or that God was only angry at a portion of the Earth’s population for being sinful, while sparing the vast majority of the world’s population that were presumably not sinful. Or that there was a reason to put the animals in the Ark at all, when there were still plenty of them outside the local flood zone that would have simply migrated back into the flood zone when the waters receded. And even with the animals on the Ark being saved from the flood, the large populations of these same kinds of animals outside the flood zone that migrated back afterwards would have greatly outnumbered the progeny of the animals on the Ark, making the whole “saving the animals” scenario into a comical waste of time and effort….I think that Genesis 10:6-20 makes it clear what the “context” is: that the sons of Noah (in this case Ham) were the ancestors of all the people which later became several great nations (in the case of Ham, this includes the Egyptians and the Canaanites, of which the latter includes the Hittites). Now, the Hittites occupied a pretty large part of Asia Minor, which included some very sizable mountains. And so if a “regional flood” covered this area, the waters would have had to be pretty high, and that would run right into the physics problems that Pearce outlined above. So, if both the Hittites and Egyptians were within the flood zone, it must have been a very large regional flood indeed. And if they were outside the flood zone, then Noah’s son Ham could not have been their ancestors, since they were already there. And if your trying to say that the descendants of Ham migrated to both an uninhabited Asia Minor and an uninhabited Egypt that had never before been settled, in order to establish these civilizations, you’re going to have big problems with modern archaeology.

So which is it?

So that’s your position? You’re agreeing that “God was only angry at part of humanity for being sinful, and the vast majority of humanity was not sinful?” Please think over the implications of this position for the need for salvation for the vast proportion of people on the Earth. The rest of us, whose ancestors were not descended from Noah, were doing just fine. And even though the text clearly says,”5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” “

you seem to be saying that He was in fact only talking about a very tiny fraction of all the people on Earth. This is your understanding of this passage? It seems very “stretched” to me, to say the least.

Really, I don’t need to add any more. This is brilliant and puts the theory to bed. The local flood claim makes no sense of the Tower of Babel, the theology of the flood story in and of itself, and so on and so forth.

The ANE Context

The local flood claim also makes no sense of (or doesn’t reference or take into account) the source material from which the biblical account draws, most pertinently the earlier flood myths of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis. Remember, the biblical account draws almost verbatim parts from tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh – a global flood.The similarities are plain to see as they all contain the following motifs: human problem for the god(s), a warning, a giant flood, a giant boat, all the animals being put on board, sacrifices made afterwards. But they have wildly different gods and pantheons, so far more likely a myth (since flood myths are a thing in every culture) that has successive cultures riffing off pre-existing ones. It’s the differences that deliver the meaning.

I don’t understand that Christians accept this mythological evaluation of every other anthropological assessment of global religions and cultures, but when it comes to their own, they special plead Christian biblical exceptionalism.


So, I am sorry to burst the bubble of apologists who try to create a solution for one problem but end up making a bigger problem: your solution is ridiculous.

Whether it is the global flood or localised/regional flood claim, it doesn’t matter; neither can be reconciled with the biblical text or wither natural reality.

That’s really all I need to say about a local flood. Reminder: water finds its own level and will run to the lowest point. Pretty quickly.

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A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...