Re: Geo-hydraulic event as referent?

Glenn R. Morton (
Wed, 19 Aug 1998 21:10:41 -0500

Hi Howard,

At 11:55 AM 8/18/98 -0400, Howard J. Van Till wrote:
>Faithfully and patiently you have served this list with your well-informed
>reflections on how to craft a harmonization of the Genesis 6-9 flood
>narrative and modern geological knowledge about Earth's history. Your
>working assumption appears to be that the referent of this portion of
>biblical text is some particular "geo-hydraulic event," whether it be local
>or global or anthropologically universal in character.

I appreciate the kind words. I have to be patient because I do not believe
I will ever influence very many people in my life to attempt to solve a big
problem I see in Christianity's relationship to history and science.(the
retreat from verification--see my note to Tom Pearson tonight)

>Having watched these and many other similar efforts for decades, and seeing
>the multitude of serious problems that plagues each proposed solution, I am
>personally convinced that the working assumption is faulty. As I see it,
>the story is not about a particular geo-hydraulic event at all. Rather the
>biblical text employs a form of narrative common in the religious
>literature of the Ancient Near Eastern world and employs that familiar
>genre to speak in a radically new way about both divine judgment and divine
>grace. (That genre was familiar to the first readers and hearers, that is.
>We, on the other hand, are all too likely to miss that feature of the
>Because I am convinced of this, I choose not to attempt any concordistic
>harmonization of the textual details of the flood narrative with our modern
>understanding of the character and chronology of terrestrial history. The
>"truth" about divine judgment and grace is in no way dependent of the
>"facticity" of some historical geo-hydraulic event. To accept the idea that
>one has to make a choice between only two options, 1) the flood narrative
>in Genesis 6-9 refers to a particular geo-hydraulic event that conforms to
>all of the textual details, or 2) "God is lying in the book He wrote," is,
>I believe, a choice that no Christian need ever to accept.
>Furthermore, I fear that all of our bickering over which concordistic
>harmonization is best serves only to distract us from the theological
>message of the text.

You and I share many many common scientific and theological beliefs. But
on this issue, for epistemological reasons, I simply can't go where you do.
Before I became a believer in college, I had studied other religions fairly
extensively for a kid of that young an age. All religions made certain
claims which appear outlandish. Hindu's believe in the heavens filled with
water, clarified butter, honey etc. How do I evaluate their claim? The
only way I can evaluate this claim is to compare the details of that
account with the details of the scientific data. If there is another way to
evaluate that claim, please tell me.

I know of no way to evaluate the claim of the Mormons that J. Smith
translated marvelous golden plates and produced the Book of Mormon other
than by evaluating whether what it says is true. Tom Pearson suggested that
if a 19th century religious fanatic authored the Book of Mormon, then it
was OK to fire away at it. But that is really a very bad criteria. I
don't know if J. Smith is a religious fanatic or a divinely inspired
prophet until I analyze his book. If what he says is inconsistent with
itself, untruthful etc, then he is a religious fanatic. But I can't fire
away before looking at the data as Tom Pearson implied.

So now we come to the Bible. Would you believe the Bible if there was no
evidence of the flood, no evidence of Ur, no evidence of the exodus, no
evidence that Egyptians ever existed, no evidence that Babylonians existed,
no evidence that an ancient state of Israel existed, and no evidence of
Ammonites, Hittites, Amorites, Jebusites, Philistines? Would you believe
the Bible under those circumstances? I wouldn't! And I would submit that
you wouldn't either. If you would believe the Bible with no supporting
evidence, then you have fideism; if you wouldn't then you, like me, are
using external data to evaluate the veracity of the Bible. Maybe you
require less verification than I, but in that case you would be doing the
same thing I--holding the Bible up to some level of historical and
scientific verification.

Adam, Apes and Anthropology
Foundation, Fall and Flood
& lots of creation/evolution information