Belief, myth and reality in creationism and evolution theory

The Flood as a time reference

So, the path of genealogical lists does not help us much and we move on to another track: we are looking for one or more events that can be datable and that allow relative dating. As a matter of course, we end up at the large-scale dramatic event par excellence: the Great Flood or the “Diluvium”, the catastrophe in which humanity almost perished. Until the breakthrough of Darwinism, it was generally accepted as a dividing line in the history of the earth. It could be for us a clear “ante quem” time reference. It is well known that myths of the Flood can be found all over the world, which is a strong argument in favor of the historical authenticity of this event. But what should we imagine about it?

According to biblical history, the highest peaks were covered with fifteen cubits of water, or about seven meters! How would the inhabitants of the ark, floating somewhere in their well-sealed boat without propulsion, in an atmosphere filled with water vapors, with their hands full with the maintenance of a mass of animals, have circumnavigated the globe to gauge everywhere the highest peaks? But above all: where would all that additional water have come from? (More than twice all the water in the oceans) and where did it disappear afterwards? If all this water had fallen from the sky in forty days, everything would have been destroyed, including the ark. A creationist answer to this question speaks of the possibility that at that time there was a mantle of water vapor in the atmosphere. But even if, according to calculations, the air pressure would have been 2.5 times heavier than it is now, this mantle would have given us only 12 m of water, instead of the almost 9 kilometers needed to cover the highest peaks.

The Bible story may possibly represent a local flood disaster, that engulfed the then known world of the survivors and whose history has since spread throughout the world. Insofar as we want to take the Biblical figures (which of course do not constitute a Christian point of faith) literally, we must try to form a realistic picture of this catastrophe, as in the following example. After prolonged heavy rains – resulting in an unimaginably large-scale flood – the few survivors will have been drifting around for a while, meanwhile maybe eating fish, and possibly even gauging the bottom. The water must have been at least seven meters high for a long time, a measurement that could correspond to the draught of the described arch. Finally, it ran aground and when the sun broke through the rising mists, a beautiful rainbow arose. They saw it as a sign of benevolence from the Creator who had left them alive – a sign that should never be forgotten and was finally noted in Genesis.

However, the fact that the separate myths about flooding are found mainly in floodplains and that many of them have similar elements, rather points in the direction of an even greater global catastrophe, which has particularly affected coastal areas. However, there is absolutely no geological unambiguity about this yet. In various places, layers with highly concentrated fossil remains of large mammals are found. I have carried out excavation research in Ecuador in an extensive layer, which shows a massive animal death within a short period of time. The largest of the excavated species disappeared from the American continent around this time, including horses. The results of the excavation led to the conclusion that the disaster was the consequence of particularly heavy rainfall. The age of the fossils was calculated via the C14 method at 9400 BP ± 130. This result is remarkably close to the age which, according to geologists E. and A. Tollmann, best approximates that of the Flood: ± 9545 BP. According to their research, it was one of the consequences of the impacts of the pieces of a fragmented comet (1).

A disaster model is perfectly acceptable for explaining all kinds of geological and paleontological observations. Most likely, the global catastrophe of the Flood, about ten thousand years ago, was not the first and only one to have ravaged our planet. Some creationist arguments show, in my opinion rightly, that the paradigms or frameworks of thought of different branches of science based on so-called “uniformity” (according to which all changes occur slowly and in the same way as today) have serious gaps and errors. But much of the creationists’ argument turns out to be highly speculative and is not based on strict scientific findings.

As we have already seen, the hypothesis of the mantle of water in the atmosphere, with which they try to explain the Flood, is not enough at all. When they want to interpret the geological layers as deposits of the “great flood”, they mock of the studies, field observations and deductions of thousands of geologists who, over the course of a century and a half, have compiled their geomorphological explanations with the great patience that characterizes serious scientific work. The alternative explanation given by creationism is not at all satisfactory and even childish, especially if it contains, for example, dinosaurs that would have cohabited with humans.

Among other things, the aim is to demonstrate that the succession of the different organisms found in the rock layers from bottom to top is not the result of successive deposits. According to the creationist explanation, this vertical classification of the remains of distinct groups of animals would be the result of where they were during the Flood event. First the animals of the seabed would have been buried, then the fish, then the coastal plants and animals, then the land animals and finally the people who could escape the longest (why is that so certain?).

For anyone familiar with sedimentology, this explanation makes no sense, because the deposits conform to known mathematical laws, in which the lightest elements are transported further into the current and the heavier ones are deposited more quickly. In the same deposition layer, the heaviest bones are then found at the bottom and upstream, and the lighter remains at the top and downstream. This results in a continuous series without sharp separation lines, and certainly not a succession of different typical fossil species that are part of clearly distinct sedimentary layers, each with its own sorting, with the heaviest materials at the bottom and the lightest at the top. It is such a stratigraphic sequence of layers that can be found on the entire surface of the Earth and that can only be explained by sequential deposits, therefore spread over time.

In “Les Cahiers d’Edifa” n° 3, 1998, we find a creationist explanation by Guy Berthault, who develops his “sedimentological experiments” (without saying anything new) and ends with the conclusion that his results “might question” the theory of evolution. It is true that in certain regions (e.g., in Siberia) enormous single deposits are found that can be attributed in their entirety to catastrophic events. But these types of “mass graves” of animals, with chaotic content and largely without layers, have nothing in common with the orderly accumulation, here and there on the flanks of mountains and ravines, of clearly distinguished rock layers that sometimes reaches kilometers high. They testify to the steady build-up of the material that makes up the uplifted mountain ranges, and to the varying circumstances in which this happened. In the following chapters, we will discuss this in more detail.

If we really want to take the Bible literally seriously, then we must assume that Noah had an exceptionally developed knowledge, to build in his time a ship with dimensions that can even now still be described as impressive. In addition to the architectural and mechanical qualities that the Ark had to possess, it had to be equipped with well-thought-out ventilation systems and disposal options for the waste products of the animals taken along. By what means did he pull off that gigantic tour de force?

In the caves of the Israeli Carmel Mountains, in the same Near East where, according to tradition and logic, the homeland of Noah was located, is a well-documented sequence of archaeological layers that were not disturbed by the waters of the Flood, with modified stones, evolving from bottom to top from primitive Acheulean axes to the Mousterian artifacts of the Middle Paleolithic and then to the more sophisticated tools belonging to the early Neolithic. Skulls of both Neanderthals and modern Homo Sapiens were also found there. How can it that these cave remains there – like those uncovered here or elsewhere – show no sign of disturbance from the Flood catastrophe? Are the many unearthed rudimentary artifacts post-Flood? Or has this disaster only affected certain areas; or could people hide in caves? Could Noah have built his colossal ark with primitive tools?

We can bring up a whole list of questions here, but this is probably enough to make it clear that the creationists still have a lot of work ahead of them, before they can attack the theory of evolution more convincingly. For now, we can only say that there is serious evidence of a global rainfall catastrophe towards the beginning of the Near East Neolithic, probably because of the impact of a (exploded) comet.

The Flood is a fascinating topic about which much has been written and that is far from exhausted. But as promising as it may be, he remains quite mysteriously shrouded in the mists of time, so that even this fascinating Bible story does not bring us much closer to our ancestors.

A different approach

Another fact that might be helpful is the fact that Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve, are presented to us as a cattle breeder and a farmer. On this basis, they could be located at the beginning of the Neolithic period (about 10,000 years ago). But what about the hunter-gatherers who landed in Australia long before (the oldest archaeological finds were dated to ± 33,000 BP). We limit ourselves here to the finds assigned to hominids of the current subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Are the Australian Aboriginals perhaps not descendants of Adam and Eve? Even with this approach, we are still left with many unsolved questions.

But why does our search for Adam and Eve remain so sterile? The answer is that we still haven’t formed a useful robot image that shows us who they essentially were and what characterizes them fundamentally. In fact, since the beginning of life, a continuous series of “Adams” and “Eves” has developed. After all, each of us is the potential progenitor of countless human generations. So, if we want to get out of the impasse, we must reflect on the fundamental character of the first parents presented in the Bible.

The basic characteristics of our early biblical parents, that is, the characteristics with which they clearly present themselves at the origin of human history, are not so much of a biological or material nature, but cultural and spiritual. It is in this area that we will look for them later in the last chapter on “the emergence of man”. But before that, we need to crack some hard scientific nuts in the next part.

(1) Edith en Alexander Tollmann, De Zondvloed: van mythe tot historische werkelijkheid, Ed. Tirion, Baarn, 1998, p. 244.

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