The Noah of Scientific Fact
The story of Noah’s ark takes some believing! And the truth is that Christians often tend to accept a watered-down (excuse the pun) version of the story in Genesis, either an unusually large flood of the Euphrates river – for which there is plenty of archaeological evidence – or the rather fashionable Black Sea flood, the occasion on which the waters of the Mediterranean are supposed to have come crashing into the semi-dried out Black Sea basin. Yet neither of these could have left the ark high and dry on Mount Ararat; or even amongst the ‘Mountains of Urartu’ – a more correct rendering of the text.
So what is the truth? Does the Bible exaggerate on an embarrassing scale?
The truth is that the Bible doesn’t exaggerate at all. Translations may mislead; that’s undeniable. But the Bible text is scientifically pretty much spot on. Where our translations speak of ‘the earth’ we simply have to appreciate that the word really means ‘the land’ which, in the context of the Noah story, means Iraq and its surrounds, the land known in Genesis as ‘Shinar’. The ‘mountains’ that were covered were the mountains local to Iraq therefore; those who died (‘everyone on the face of the earth’) were those who lived in Iraq; the animals that accompanied Noah were those known in Iraq. However, once translation difficulties have been ironed out it is my firm belief that the story in Genesis is scientific fact. There really was a flood of quite staggering proportions in which millions drowned and it really did leave Noah’s ark stranded among the mountains north of the Iraqi plain. And I do not say this simply because I am a Christian; I say this because I am a scientist – well, an engineer really, an applied scientist!
You may well be aware that the story of Noah has parallels in other ancient tales from Iraq; and when I say parallels I really mean that they are different versions of the same original story. However, what you may not realise is that there are literally hundreds of flood myths, from every continent on earth, and the consistent message is that there really was a day, long, long ago, when the oceans rose to cover the land. In the words of Genesis, ‘the springs of the great deep burst forth’. I have space here for just part of one example, from the Chippewa people who live on the Canada-US border.
In the beginning of time, in September, there was a great snow. A mouse nibbled a hole in a leather bag which contained the sun’s heat and the heat escaped and melted all the snow in an instant. The waters rose to cover even the highest mountains. One old man had foreseen the flood and warned everybody, but the others had thought to escape to the hills; they drowned in the flood. The old man had prepared a canoe and survived, rescuing animals he came across.
I am not asking you to believe the mythological details here of course. I just want you to see the sort of thing that has been preserved in the folk memories of peoples right across the planet.
Archaeology brings us clues as to the real date of the flood. It was a little before 6000BC. This was the approximate date when the civilisation known to archaeologists as Pre-pottery Neolithic B collapsed right across the Middle East. The same date saw the end of the advanced Hoabinhiam civilisation of Thailand and Laos – followed by a deeply puzzling lack of evidence. A similar puzzling lack of human presence seems to have afflicted large areas of lowland North and South America. In India, artefacts from the Mesolithic period (6000-4000BC) are almost exclusively found on high ground. The common factor in all these lands is the apparent disappearance of the human population in low-lying areas. And 6000BC is more or less the latest possible date for anything on such a truly devastating scale since from this time on there is evidence of continuous occupation at lowland sites in Iraq and China – and even at the sub-sea-level site of Jericho in the Jordan valley.
The study of relationship between languages allows us to estimate when each family of language originated and, very approximately, where. Whether you appreciated it or not, English belongs to a family known as Indo-European, which can be traced back to southern Russia in about 5500BC; in my view it stemmed before that from the Caucasus Mountains in about 6000BC. Uralic is another language family; it includes Finnish and Hungarian and it originated in the Ural Mountains in about 6000BC. Dravidian languages (such as Tamil) stem from the hills of west central India in about 6500BC, while the same date sees the beginning of the explosion of Austro-Asiatic language (e.g. Vietnamese) from east central India. I could go further and mention Panoan and Cariban languages in South America, North Caucasian languages in Central Asia and Pama-Nyungan languages in Australia. In each case there is good reason to believe that a rapid spread occurred starting in the 6500-6000BC period and in every case the spread was from an area of high ground. Coincidence?
Here are some of the mysteries that puzzle biologists and that find their solution in Noah’s flood, or the events that surrounded it. How did the common cockle turn up in the Caspian Sea in about 6000BC? What caused the sudden explosion of cichlid fish species in Lake Malawi? How did the jellyfish arrive in the lake in Palau in the Pacific where they are now a famous attraction to divers? Why did Mediterranean plants suddenly turn up in the Crimea in southern Russia? How can the fact that similar fish are spread across several unconnected river systems in southern Africa be explained? Why are native Mauritian ants only found at the tops of mountains? How on earth did so many east Pacific mollusc and coral species cross to the Atlantic?
In most cases dating can only be very approximate – but in all cases we are talking of unexplained phenomena from only a few thousand years ago.
There are those who use Noah’s flood to explain much of the fossil record. This is a false path. Noah’s flood involved a slow rise and fall in sea level. There was no cataclysmic rush of water or permanent reshaping of the landscape. The chief geological clues are those connected with salt; the salt of the Dead Sea for instance. There is evidence that it was much less salty as recently as in 8000BC. Yet since that time a salt deposit several metres deep has been left right around the shore line and the current Dead Sea is so salty it is at saturation level. How is this possible? The Black Sea flood, though it never occurred in the form in which it has been popularised, i.e. as a break-through of Mediterranean water flooding a partially dried-out basin, certainly occurred in a different form. The Black Sea genuinely turned from freshwater to salt in about 6250BC, and it happened because the Mediterranean rose by several hundred metres, bringing the ocean flooding in!
Noah’s flood happened because God ordained it. However, the way he achieved it was by means of the collapse of an ice dam in Canada. Glacial Lake Agassiz once covered large parts of central Canada, sandwiched between hills to the south and an ice sheet to the north, the remains of the great ice sheet that had once covered all of Canada. Its collapse, dated to about 6250BC, is acknowledged scientific fact, and one consequence was a cooling of climate worldwide for about 300 years. The volume of water released was enough to raise ocean levels by about half a metre.
However, what is not yet acknowledged by mainstream science is that the sudden loss of 163 trillion tonnes of water from Canada destabilised the entire planet. The calculations are not straightforward. They concern the way that the Earth’s mantle ‘floats’ on the liquid iron core and the fact that the thickness of the mantle is different at the equator compared to the poles; they concern the bending and shearing of the mantle as the planet tried to get itself ‘in balance’ once more by changing shape slightly. The result is a prediction that the solid Earth, the ground beneath our feet, should have tilted by about 20 degrees, first one way and then the other, before returning to its proper orientation. The slight change of shape that this would have caused was the real reason for the flood. It lowered (or in other places raised) the level of the land relative to the sea by as much as a kilometre in some parts of the world – by about 400 metres in Iraq – causing unprecedented floods in every continent.
I have absolutely no doubt that this event was Noah’s flood. The water depth looks right; the predicted duration is exactly right. And it would have left the ark high and dry on the side of a mountain in southern Turkey, the land known as ‘Urartu’ at the time the Old Testament was compiled. The fact that it would also have left Australian aborigines in the hills of the Great Dividing Range and Native Americans in the Rockies is no reason to doubt the Bible – it merely helps us grasp its meaning more correctly.
More detailed information on this subject can be downloaded from www.nickthom.co.uk
Nick Thom was educated at Cambridge University, where he studied engineering. He then worked in civil engineering consultancy for 6 years before taking a PhD at the University of Nottingham. After a further 4 years in consultancy, now specialising in highways, he obtained a part-time post at Nottingham. For the past 18 years he has divided his time between teaching and research in highway, railway and airfield engineering, and engineering consultancy work, claiming to act as a bridge between academia and the ‘real’ world.
His other interests include language and ancient history where he has sought to apply the logical discipline of engineering to some of the mysteries of the past, specifically with a view to illuminating the pages of the Bible. Two of his recent publications, History Rewritten and The Great Flood address the factual basis for Biblical accounts, concluding that the Bible is a great deal more trustworthy than many scientists, historians and even some theologians seem to believe.