Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce’s Straw Man Global Flood

Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce’s Straw Man Global Flood August 30, 2022

Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce runs the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. He has in the past encouraged me to visit his site and offer critiques, and wrote under a post dated 12-14-21: “I even need to thank the naysayers. . . . Dave, you are welcome at my new place. Come challenge me. . . . thanks for your critiques of my pieces.” Again, in a post dated 1-27-22, he stated: “I do welcome disagreements because I don’t want [my blog] to [be] just an echo chamber. . . . [S]omeone like Armstrong does give me ammunition for some of my pieces!”

I replied (usually point-by-point) to Pearce’s arguments 72 times. He made some sort of response to maybe one-quarter of those and our relations seemed cordial enough. But when I provided him with several “meaty” critiques in February 2022, he wrote on 3-1-22:

STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Please stop this. All you are doing is spouting the absolutely debunked drivel apologetics that my book takes to task. . . . I welcome your comments, but these are totally off-topic and you show absolutely no desire to interact with my own material . . . [caps his own]

Despite this disappointing display (at which point I quietly left his blog for good, out of consideration for him, lest he have a heart attack or a stroke), I continue to think that he’s basically a nice guy. I think we’d have a great time in a pub over beer.
Presently, I am critiquing Jonathan’s insistence on bashing the global or universal or worldwide conception of the Flood of Noah, as if it is the mainstream (or biblical) position. It’s not. In logic, we call that a straw man. Here is what he wrote in his article, “Noah’s flood is a heinous story” (OnlySky, 8-8-22):

And don’t get me started on how it [a global Flood] is not physically or practically possible by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, there is simply no evidence for a global flood or even a large regional flood that some theists will try to argue [links to his replies to me on this topic] (a theory that makes equally little sense).

But let’s focus on the global flood. The one described in the Bible is a terrible event. Of course, this is mythology. It is obviously mythology. But an awful lot of people still believe that it is literally and historically true.

First of all, this involved the death of everyone on Earth bar eight. . . . the entire global population. . . . 

And that doesn’t even begin to consider the sheer volume of animal death throughout the globe. Every animal bar two (or seven, depending on which source you read) dies. 

Once again, I will provide basically the same argument that I already submitted to Jonathan and his buddies several times. I noted that the Catholic Encyclopedia way back in 1908, was already describing the global flood opinion as scientifically and exegetically obsolete:

Till about the seventeenth century, it was generally believed that the Deluge had been geographically universal, . . . But two hundred years of theological and scientific study devoted to the question have thrown so much light on it that we may now defend the following conclusions:

The geographical universality of the Deluge may be safely abandoned

Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations, render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth. . . .

There are also certain scientific considerations which oppose the view that the Flood was geographically universal. Not that science opposes any difficulty insuperable to the power of God; but it draws attention to a number of most extraordinary, if not miraculous phenomena involved in the admission of a geographically universal Deluge. . . .

Some Christians (along with biblical skeptics and atheists) assume that the biblical account of Noah’s Flood, or the Deluge can only be interpreted hyper-literally; in other words, as referring to a global catastrophic event in which the entire world was literally covered with an amount of water so deep that every mountain (including Mt. Everest: 29,032 feet = 5.5 miles elevation above sea level) was covered.

The consensus of both Catholic and Protestant biblical scholars for well over a century has been that the interpretation of a local Flood is perfectly in accord with the best exegetical and hermeneutical principles of biblical interpretation. In other words, it’s not “biblical skepticism” or “liberal theology” to believe in the local Flood.

Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm’s immensely influential book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (hardcover edition, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1954; reprinted in 1966) represented mainstream evangelical (as opposed to “fundamentalist”) Protestant, post-World War II thinking. Ramm argued:

To cover the highest mountains would require eight times more water than we now have. It would have involved a great creation of water to have covered the entire globe, but no such creative act is hinted at in the Scriptures. (p. 244)

Getting rid of such a vast amount of water would have been as miraculous as providing it. If the entire world were under six miles of water, there would be no place for the water to drain off. Yet the record states that the water drained off with the help of the wind (Gen. 8:1). A local flood would readily account for this, but there is no answer if the entire world were under water. (p. 245)

The flood was local to the Mesopotamian valley. (p. 249)

Dr. Ramm discussed the question of frequent biblical non-literal, hyperbolic (exaggerated) language:

Fifteen minutes with a Bible concordance will reveal many instances in which universality of language is used but only a partial quantity is meant. All does not mean every last one in all of its usages. Psa. 22:17 reads: “I may tell all my bones,” and hardly means that every single bone of the skeleton stood out prominently. John 4:39 cannot mean that Jesus completely recited the woman’s biography. Matt. 3:5 cannot mean that every single individual from Judea and Jordan came to John the Baptist. There are cases where all means all, and every means every, but the context tells us where this is intended. Thus, special reference may be made to Paul’s statement in Romans about the universality of sin, yet even that “all” excludes Jesus Christ.

The universality of the flood simply means the universality of the experience of the man who reported it. When God tells the Israelites He will put the fear of them upon the people under the whole heaven, it refers to all the peoples known to the Israelites (Deut. 2:25). When Gen. 41:57 states that all countries came to Egypt to buy grain, it can only mean all peoples known to the Egyptians. Ahab certainly did not look for Elijah in every country of the earth even though the text says he looked for Elijah so thoroughly that he skipped no nation or kingdom (I Kings 18:10). From the vantage point of the observer of the flood all mountains were covered, and all flesh died. (pp. 240-241)

Presbyterian geologist Carol A. Hill’s brilliant article, “The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?” (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 54, Number 3, September 2002), is a goldmine in terms of food for thought concerning a local Flood, in harmony with what we know from science. She impressively tackles the question of literal and non-literal biblical language at great length. I can only cite a small portion of it:

Earth. The Hebrew for “earth” used in Gen. 6–8 (and in Gen. 2:5–6) is eretz (‘erets) or adâmâh, both of which terms literally mean “earth, ground, land, dirt, soil, or country.” In no way can “earth” be taken to mean the planet Earth, as in Noah’s time and place, people (including the Genesis writer) had no concept of Earth as a planet and thus had no word for it. Their “world” mainly (but not entirely) encompassed the land of Mesopotamia—a flat alluvial plain enclosed by the mountains and high ground of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (Fig. 1); i.e., the lands drained by the four rivers of Eden (Gen. 2:10–14). . . .

[I]n Mesopotamia, the concept of “the land” (kalam in Sumerian) seems to have included the entire alluvial plain. This is most likely the correct interpretation of the term “the earth,” which is used over and over again in Gen. 6-8: the entire alluvial plain of Mesopotamia was inundated with water. The clincher to the word “earth” meaning ground or land (and not the planet Earth) is Gen. 1:10: God called the dry land earth (eretz). If God defined “earth” as “dry land,” then so should we.

Regarding specifically the water covering “all the high mountains” (Gen 7:19), Dr. Hill states:

[T]he Hebrew word har for “mountain” in Gen. 7:20 . . . can also be translated as “a range of hills” or “hill country,” implying with Gen. 7:19 that it was “all the high hills” (also har) that were covered rather than high mountains.

This being the case, Genesis 7:19-20 could simply refer to “flood waters . . . fifteen cubits above the ‘hill country’ of Mesopotamia (located in the northern, Assyrian part)”. The Hebrew word har (Strong’s #2022) can indeed mean “hills” or “hill country”, as the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon defines it. Specifically for Genesis 7:19-20, this lexicon classifies the word as following:

mountain, indefinite, Job 14:18 (“” צוּר); usually plural mountains, in General, or the mountains, especially in poetry & the higher style; often figurative; הָרִים, הֶהָרִים, covered by flood Genesis 7:20 compare Genesis 7:19; . . .

In the New American Standard Version, har is rendered as “hill country” (5) many times in the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 10:30; 14:10; 31:21, 23, 25; 36:8-9; Numbers 13:17, 29; 14:40, 44-45; Deuteronomy 1:7, 19-20, 24, 41, 43-44; 2:37; 3:12, 25; Joshua 2:16, 22-23; 9:1; 10:6, 40; 11:2-3, 16; 11:21; 12:8; 13:6; 14:12; 15:48; 16:1; 17:15-16, 18; 18:12; 19:50; 20:7; 21:11, 21; 24:30, 33; Judges 1:9, 19, 34; 2:9; 3:27; 4:5; 7:24; 10:1; 12:15; 17:1, 8; 18:2, 13; 19:1, 16, 18; 1 Samuel 1:1; 9:4; 13:2; 14:22; 23:14; 2 Samuel 20:21; 1 Kings 4:8; 12:25; 2 Kings 5:22; 1 Chronicles 6:67; 2 Chronicles 13:4; 15:8; 19:4.

The same version translates har as “hill” or “hills” nine times too: Deuteronomy 8:7; 11:11; Joshua 13:19; 18:13-14, 16; 1 Kings 16:24; 2 Kings 1:9; 4:27.

Lorence G. Collins is a geologist and petrologist. He wrote a fascinating article, “Yes, Noah’s flood may have happened but not over the whole earth” (Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 2009, 29(5): 38-41). It noted how the Bible habitually uses phenomenological language (including for the Flood):

Northeast and southwest of the nearly flat surface that contains the two rivers [Tigris and Euphrates], the topography rises to more than 455 m [1493 feet] in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. Calculations show that elevations of 455 m high cannot be seen beyond 86 km [53 miles] away, and these places are more than 160 km [99 miles] from the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers. Therefore, none of the high country in Saudi Arabia or Iran would be visible to a tribal chief (or Noah). On that basis, the “whole world” would definitely appear to be covered with water during the Flood, and that was the “whole world” for the people in this part of southeastern Mesopotamia at that time.

I found a good topographical map of Mesopotamia online; see also a second one. One can readily observe that there is a sort of “basin” in the alluvial floodplain in this area.

The question, then, is: why does Jonathan Pearce: an intelligent man, insist on warring against straw men? If he wants to debate the consensus position of Christian thinkers of all stripes, that would be the local Flood. But he derisively dismisses that as dishonest and goes right to the global Flood. It’s shoddy thinking to present the global Flood as undeniably the biblical view and that held by most Christians, when in fact it is held by only a tiny number of Christians: primarily among the sub-group commonly known as “fundamentalists.”
There are those (albeit a tiny — though very vocal and visible — number in Protestantism and even smaller number in Catholicism) who hold to older “Bible and science” traditions and so believe in a universal Flood (i.e., water covering the entire earth to a depth higher than Mt. Everest’s elevation), a young earth (6-10,000 years), flood geology (or “catastrophism”), a literal six-day creation, a complete denial of any aspect of evolution (even theistic evolution), etc. I have nothing against such people. Some are my personal friends. They are as sincere in their beliefs as anyone else and seek to hold a “high” view of biblical inspiration and the Christian faith (as I do). I simply think they are wrong on many levels.

But by no means can they be said (sociologically) to be “mainstream” or representative of the consensus of Christian thought or the entirety of Christianity regarding Noah’s Flood. And this is my point. Jonathan and many atheists pretend and falsely claim that they do represent that. Essentially, they attempt to collapse or reduce all of Christianity to the tiny number who hold to fundamentalism and “hyper-literal” views of biblical exegesis.

Atheists don’t speak for Christians, and almost never present accurately understand or convey in their critiques what the best thinkers in Christianity believe. We Christians speak for ourselves, thank you. If the best atheists can do is only battle against caricatures and straw men when they tackle Christianity and the Bible, then I suggest that they need to better understand the meaning of good dialogue and debate.

Every middle school debating team learns first of all that they must know their opponents’ views even better than their opponents do. Most atheists would spectacularly fail that test when it comes to properly understanding Christianity, and especially when it comes to offering critiques of the real thing, as opposed to cardboard caricatures of their own imaginations and fancies.


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Summary: Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce wrongly assumes that a global Flood is the mainstream Christian position and undeniably the biblical teaching. It’s neither.

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