You are hereBeyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 5
Beyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 5
by Timothy P. Martin
A Regional Flood: The Oldest Historical View?
The suggestion that the Bible teaches a regional flood will cause some Christians a great deal of anxiety. If what has come to be the traditional reading of Genesis 7 is mistaken, it means that much of God’s Church has been in error for a long time. Some may even see this as good evidence to dismiss the biblical arguments presented here. (The implication being God’s people can never err in their understanding Scripture.) However, this assumes there is no evidence pointing to a local or regional flood in old historical records. A Regional Flood: The Oldest Historical View?
The suggestion that the Bible teaches a regional flood will cause some Christians a great deal of anxiety. If what has come to be the traditional reading of Genesis 7 is mistaken, it means that much of God’s Church has been in error for a long time. Some may even see this as good evidence to dismiss the biblical arguments presented here. (The implication being God’s people can never err in their understanding Scripture.) However, this assumes there is no evidence pointing to a local or regional flood in old historical records. Even if there were no historical evidence for a regional flood this approach to the flood issue reveals a dangerous presupposition. The presupposition is the oldest and most accepted historical traditions explain the true meaning of Scripture.
Those living in the shadow of the 16th century Reformation should be thankful the leaders of that Reformation were not generally swayed by such subjective arguments. After all, how old is old enough for a tradition to be true? How many must embrace a tradition before it is officially “accepted”? The role of historical views may be important, but the concept of authoritative tradition reveals an essential Roman Catholic rather than Reformational method. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, exemplified the idea of authoritative tradition explaining the meaning of Scripture in his “refutation” of Luther. Speaking for Rome he said, “For it is certain that a single brother is in error if he stands against the opinion of the whole of Christendom, as otherwise Christendom would have erred for a thousand years or more.”
While Charles’ argument was valid since Luther rejected old and accepted doctrines Rome taught for centuries, his argument had nothing to do with the biblical truth of the matters at hand. Luther was right in many of his criticisms of Rome’s doctrines and practices. Evangelicals who remain faithful to their own heritage will not deny the Bible is “the only rule of faith and obedience.” Though history is important, Scripture is the only authority on how to properly understand Genesis 7.
Church traditions can be wrong. Even very old traditions can be wrong. Protestants sometimes forget the Apocrypha was universally accepted in the Church as inspired for more than a thousand years. Prayers for the dead and meritorious works salvation are two more examples of ancient church doctrines dumped by the Reformers because they could not be supported by a coherent understanding of Scripture. Baptismal regeneration is certainly the majority view of the Church Fathers. Yet today, many, if not most, conservative evangelicals shy away from viewing the physical act of ceremonial cleansing as efficacious in its own operation. An objective look at the historical record reveals how traditionalism tends to be selective.
Conversely, developments in Christian theology are not illegitimate simply because they are relatively new as systems and currently remain minority positions (e.g., preterism). Children of the Reformation should never use accepted historical views to bypass arguing the case biblically.
With all that said, those who argue there is no historical evidence for a regional flood simply do so from ignorance. In fact, there is old and old historical evidence the flood of Genesis 7 was regional, not global. Josephus the historian gives powerful evidence in his Antiquities of the Jews. He writes:
Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood and of this ark: among whom is Berosus the Chaldean... Hieronymous the Egyptian.... Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them, where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses, the legislator of the Jews wrote.” [emphasis mine]
Josephus’ quote of Nicolaus is nothing short of amazing. The geographic location of the Genesis account is correct. The Mountains of Ararat correspond with Armenia. He says some inhabitants at the very edge of the flood escaped to the top of the mountain. He also gives an eyewitness account of the ark landing. There is no way to reconcile this passage with a global flood idea!
Josephus mentions another detail that presents grave difficulties for a global flood. He says:
Hereby Noah learned that the earth was become clear of the flood. So after he had stayed seven more days he sent the living creatures out of the ark; and both he and his family went out, when he also sacrificed to God, and feasted with his companions. However the Armenians call this place The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shewn there by the inhabitants to this day.
Notice how Josephus explains the position of the ark’s resting place. Creation Science literature presents the ark perched high on top of Mt. Ararat, in excess of fifteen thousand feet above current sea level. To say the ark is inaccessible is an understatement. Many Creation Scientists speak hopefully of finding the ark soon under the glacial ice cap high on the mountain. Josephus, on the other hand, explains that the resting place was easily accessible: the locals show off the remnants. A few sentences down in his text, Josephus quotes a Chaldean historian who says “some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” This points clearly to a low elevation, accessible resting place for the ark in direct contradiction to the Creation Science system. A low elevation landing of the ark presents serious difficulties for a global flood.
In a later passage, Josephus confirms he understood the flood to be regional. He writes:
Now the sons of Noah were three – Shem, Japhet, and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples. [emphasis mine]
Here, Josephus shows that others witnessed the flood besides Noah’s family. In fact, it is Noah’s family who has to “persuade” the others to return to the plain. How can this be reconciled with a global flood? Preterists love to quote Josephus on the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. When will they learn to quote Josephus on the flood? The credibility of Josephus alone is enough to cause serious problems for the global flood concept. Clearly, the regional flood view is the oldest historical view, predating medieval and modern interpretations by millenia.
The Recent Rise of New Flood Geology
Just as many are completely unaware of the great antiquity of a regional flood view, most are also completely unaware of the recent origin and ultimate source of what we now recognize as Creation Science. We have seen the heart of Creation Science doctrine, a global flood, rests on the dispensational-futurist hermeneutic principle known as literalism. We have seen how a global flood doctrine rests on dispensational futurist theology. Creation Scientists rely on their futurist, global understanding of New Testament prophecy, particularly the Olivet Discourse, 2 Peter 3, and the book of Revelation, to defend the doctrine theologically. However, the connections between Creation Science ideology and dispensational futurism go beyond hermeneutics and theology. Most of the basic ideas we recognize today as flood geology were originally formulated by Seventh Day Adventists early in the 20th century.
Bernard Ramm explains how Adventism (a hyper-futurist sect) would forever reshape the world of flood geology ultimately giving birth to the Creation Science movement in America:
Now we shall pass on to the great revival of flood geology in the twentieth century. This revival was carried on principally by the Seventh-Day Adventist apologists and was termed the new diluvialism or the new catastrophism to distinguish it from the older flood geology of Cuvier and Agassiz [theories of successive floods over the ancient past which explain geological layering – T.M.].
One of the strangest developments of the early part of the twentieth century was that George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist with very limited professional training, became American fundamentalism’s leading apologist in the domain of geology. Even this had a most peculiar quirk, because most fundamentalists accepted the gap theory as taught in The Scofield Bible, a theory which the Seventh-Day Adventists vigorously reject. At any rate, the influence of Price is staggering... It is not at all uncommon to find the most lauditory praise by fundamentalists of Price’s The New Geology (1923). It forms the backbone of much of fundamentalist thought about geology, creation, and the flood. Byron Nelson’s The Deluge Story in Stone and A.M. Rehwinkel’s The Flood are deeply indebted to Price, and adopt his major premise. Another disciple of Price has been H.W. Clark, who expressed his views in The New Diluvianism (1946).
A cursory look at The Genesis Flood reveals Whitcomb and Morris reference H.W. Clark, A.M. Rehwinkel, and Byron Nelson. Whitcomb and Morris also briefly reference George McCready Price. The chronology of the publishing of these books suggests a disturbing conclusion for anyone dedicated to both Creation Science and preterism. The modern Creation Science movement was spawned by Seventh Day Adventism from as early as 1923. Here is one more example of the symbiotic relationship between modern, radical futurism and Creation Science ideology. This connection does not disprove Creation Science ideology by itself, but it should foster caution and careful discernment when we examine its claims, particularly dogmatic claims on biblical interpretation.
Even though Creation Science traces its lineage back to Seventh Day Adventism through George McCready Price, there is one glaring omission in The Genesis Flood (1961). Their overall thesis is by no means new in the history of 20th century flood geology. Whitcomb and Morris rely heavily on the new flood geology writers who preceded them by decades, but they never, not one time, give credit for their ideas to George McCready Price. Nor do they give credit to anyone else who would be logically linked to him. Nor do they give credit to anyone, period. At the same time, Henry Morris berates Charles Darwin for this same character flaw in his writings. Morris writes, “...Charles Darwin is still something of an enigma... His theories were not original, and he consistently failed to give credit to his predecessors.”
There is a reason Morris and Whitcomb would not wish to acknowledge the intellectual source for their thesis. Don Stoner explains it this way:
The connection to Price and the Adventists worried Whicomb and Morris. Unfortunately their actions reflected more concern with the outward appearance than with the substance. Fearing that Price’s Adventist-tinted reputation might hinder the acceptance of The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb and Morris tried to avoid any visible connection with Price. Although they left the substance of their arguments unchanged, they removed nearly every mention of Price’s name from their book. This irritated many of Price’s friends who felt Whitcomb and Morris had not given him sufficient credit for the intellectual debt they owed him... The Genesis Flood, as it has been variously described, is essentially an “updated version” of Price’s New Geology or a “reissue of G.M. Price’s views brought up to date.”
In 1961 the Genesis Flood was presented to unsuspecting Christian conservatives as the first scholarly book on geological catastrophism. It is the foundational book for the entire Creation Science movement. The deliberate silence of Morris and Whitcomb about the pre-existence and sources of their basic thesis accomplished one important thing. It effectively obscured the Seventh Day Adventist roots of the theory, a very helpful thing considering how many Christian conservatives view Adventism as a cult.
The only discussion in print of George McCready Price by Henry Morris in print that I am aware of takes place in a 1984 book titled History of Modern Creationism. In Chapter 3, entitled “Voices Crying in the Wilderness,” Morris speaks in high praise of Price by saying, “The most important Creationist writer in the first half century, at least in my judgment, was a remarkable man by the name of George McCready Price (1870-1962).” Morris goes on to mention his Seventh Day Adventism and explains:
I first encountered his name in one of Harry Rimmer’s books... and thereupon looked up his book The New Geology in the library at Rice Institute, where I was teaching at the time. This was in early 1943 and it was a life-changing experience for me. I eventually acquired and read most of his other books as well.
Several other Adventist creationists published papers in The Naturalist and other Adventist publications, as noted in the following chapter. Although the influence of most of them was largely limited to their own denomination, some (especially Price) have contributed quite significantly to the foundations of modern creationist [young-earth – T.M.] revival.
Henry Morris could give that explanation in 1984 because, by then (23 years after release of The Genesis Flood) Creation Science had been swallowed hook, line and sinker by many American Christian conservatives in all denominations. Yet it remains an illuminating piece of history in the rise of Creation Science documenting its roots back to Seventh Day Adventism.
How many Christian conservatives would have looked at The Genesis Flood a little more carefully if they were aware up front of its Adventist roots? How many preterists will re-examine Creation Science once they discover it is the direct product of radical, modern futurism? Most Creation Scientists today remain completely unfamiliar with George McCready Price. Given the choice between Josephus and his regional flood comments going back millennia and George McCready Price and his global flood geology formulated in the early 20th century, the choice is easy for any reasonable preterist. The time has come to move beyond Creation Science.
Preterism refutes a global flood and therefore discredits the entire Creation Science movement. It negates Creation Science ideology by textual and theological analysis of the biblical language. Historical investigation reveals its ignoble background in hyper-futurism. A large factor in the future success or demise of the Creation Science movement will be the growth of preterism. Wide acceptance of preterism among American Christians will inevitably prove fatal to the Creation Science paradigm. The popularity of Creation Science in the 20th century will likely guarantee it’s grave will be marked for future generations as one more example of counter-productive cul-de-sac thinking related to global futurism.
To be continued…
Copyright 2005 by Timothy P. Martin. All rights reserved. Reprinted by Permission
[This book will be available through the Planetpreterist bookstore]
The specific issue of the geographical scope of the flood is one rarely mentioned in Christian theology until somewhat recently. Some argue this is because Christians everywhere at all times affirmed a global flood as strongly and in the same terms as Creation Scientists do today. Even if that is true, the fact remains that a systematic, detailed analysis of the textual and theological evidence for this question was not engaged by Christians until recently.
As quoted by Christian A. Schwarz in Paradigm Shift in the Church (ChurchSmart Rescources, 1999), p. 85.
This is not to say that Luther was right in all that he presented. Luther planted some bad seeds with his theology which resemble modern dispensationalism. He believed he lived at the end of the world. He also set obedience and faith or law and works in opposition to each other. That is why he rejected the book of James.
Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 3.
Augustine lists the Apocryphal books within “the whole canon of Scripture” by the 5th century. On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 8, “The Canonical Books.” Because of their traditional stance, Protestants may be missing out on at least the historical value and wisdom in the Apocryphal books. Today, most Protestants can’t even name them.
Those who do affirm the doctrine of baptismal regeneration would base their view primarily on their understanding of Scripture not tradition.
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 6.
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 5.
For a representative example see www.answersingenesis.org/docs2/4400arkahoy11‑25‑2000.asp (2005).
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 6.
A high elevation landing of the ark presents its own set of difficulties. Did the dove fly from the thin air of 15,000ft plus down to where olive trees grow and then back up to the ark on top of Mt. Ararat? Did all the breath-based life on earth today descend down a treacherous mountain in thin air and extreme climate conditions? Maybe that explains the extinction of so many species in the fossil record!
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1.
For an in depth look at the history of Creation Science, see Ronald Numbers, The Creationists, The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (Berkely: University of California Press, 1992).
Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) pp. 124-125.
John C. Whitcomb, Jr. & Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, pp. 93, 109.
Ibid., pp. 33, 75, 101, 111.
Ibid., pp. 33, 49, 54, 90, 91, 100, 101.
Ibid., pp. 184, 185, 189, 211.
Henry Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), p. 152.
Don Stoner, A New Look at an Old Earth: Resolving the Conflict Between Bible & Science (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1985, 1997), pp.126-127.
Henry Morris, History of Modern Creationism (San Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984), p. 79.
Ibid., p. 80.
Ibid., p. 83.