Clues from geology

When did the Flood happen in Earth's history?

We have seen that the biblical story of the Flood has the hallmarks of an authentic, world-wide, ancient tradition. But what about its relationship to the hard facts of geology? If a cataclysm did destroy the earth and wipe out all terrestrial life, the effect on the rock record should have been unmistakable.

If we are to take the story seriously, it is not sufficient that we can compare it with parallel oral traditions in Babylonia, North America and other distant places. While we have lost any such tradition of our own, what we have instead is the ability to reconstruct the essentials of the planet's history by means of painstaking, scientific investigation. So, does the story square up?

Any match with the geological record must satisfy at least three conditions:

  1. There must be a gap representing the destruction of Earth's 'crust', i.e. of the dry land above the 'great deep' mentioned in the biblical account.
  2. The whole Earth immediately afterwards must have been under water.
  3. Fossils should reflect a process of recolonisation, as ocean life now became established in basins on the Earth's surface and terrestrial life gained footholds on newly generated continents.

The destruction of the Earth

Because everything after the cataclysm would represent a renewal, any evidence for the complete destruction of the original dry land would have to occur at the base of the geological column.

FACT. Geologists can't trace Earth's geological record all the way back to the planet's formation. The first 700 million years of its total 4550 million years (in the received timescale) is totally missing.

This has only become apparent since the Apollo program of the 1970s, when it was discovered that the Moon's record is almost the exact opposite of Earth's: most of its rocks predate 3850 million years ago, whereas Earth's rocks (with one possible exception) are younger. Meteorite ages are also invariably older.

The Earth under water

The biblical tradition makes a particular point of emphasising that the whole planet was inundated, including mountains.

FACT: There is one, and only one, point in Earth history when the whole planet was under water - right at the beginning of the record (roughly the first 100 million years). Indeed most of the planet continued to be under water for a good deal longer than that. One recent study estimated that even at the end of the Archaean (2500 million years ago) only 2-3% of the Earth's area consisted of emerged continental crust (Flament et al. 2008).

Life recolonises the Earth

Reportedly all animal life on the face of the ground was obliterated - 'blotted out'. The dry land itself was destroyed. Thus fossils from the antediluvian world are out of the question. If the fossil record has anything to do with the cataclysm, it must relate to the recovery of plant and animal life on the new continents that formed after the cataclysm was over.

FACT: The fossil record does not show a single gradually branching evolutionary tree: major groups of life appear in successive waves, consistent with a sequence of recolonisation (with species diversification being part of the process). Bacteria appeared first - the most prolific of all organisms, capable of colonising the most hostile environments. Next in the terrestrial fossil record were algae and lichens - organisms that break down hard rock. These were followed by the first vascular plants, in low-lying wetlands where conditions were more stable than near the mountains. About the same time, centipedes, spiders, insects and other such invertebrates appeared, also as if from nowhere. Mosses and marshy plants were then joined by towering trees. A diverse range of reptiles followed and then birds and mammals appeared. Finally man appears, emerging from the forests of Africa to colonise the world.

Plants and animals did not appear all at once because it takes time to transform barren rock into a soil capable of supporting plant and animal life.

Conclusion

The three conditions listed represent scientific tests of the tradition which appear to be satisfied. If a global cataclysm really did flood the whole Earth, these are the paramount features we would expect to see.

An entire geological era is missing from the record, and it is the very earliest part. In the oldest part of the preserved record, there is a puzzling absence of sedimentary non-marine rocks, consistent with the whole Earth having been deluged. And far from showing a continuously branching 'tree of life', fossils of the major groups appear in successive, discontinuous waves, consistent with a pattern of ecological recovery.

Moreover, it is now possible to identify just what brought about this wholesale destruction, at least as regards the destruction from above: it was a belt of asteroids crossing Earth's orbit. All the big craters on the Moon date back to this time, and some are up to 2500 km across. Thus, when Genesis says that 'the windows of the heavens were opened' on the first day of the cataclysm, it seems reasonable to infer that this is what the pictorial language is referring to. One may well wonder how even the ark survived.