If there was a flood, then why are the oceans so salty and why are there salt lakes versus fresh water lakes?

Question:

My son asked me about why we have saltwater oceans and freshwater lakes in relation to the flood and creation. When the flood waters receded, where did freshwater come from?   Why would God create the earth with such an abundance of saltwater as compared to freshwater?  How were the land locked saltwater lakes/seas formed?  I am not overly knowledgeable on the theological and scientific answers to these questions.   Thanks

Answer:

I assume that the original oceans were not salty.  Water washing from land masses into the ocean carries sodium, chloride, potassium and other ions which make it salty.  I assume you are aware that there is a water cycle which takes the water which enters the oceans, and returns it to the land through evaporation and precipitation.   In the process of evaporation the salt is left behind.  It has been estimated that the total amount of salt now in the oceans would require somewhere around three hundred million years to accumulate at the current rate of transfer into the ocean from the earth’s rivers.   Geologists agree that in the deep past there was less total land area which means that less salt entered the oceans during earlier times.  Besides, occasionally, parts of the ocean become separated and salt is deposited which explains some of the huge salt domes which are found under the ground.

Landlocked salty water bodies were created the same way the salty ocean was created, except much faster.  The Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake both exist in very arid basins into which water flows and from which evaporation is very rapid, making these salty lakes accumulate their saltiness much faster than the oceans.  I am not an expert, so I cannot tell you how fast the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake could accumulate their salt, but I assume it is tens or hundreds of thousands of years, not many millions of years.   Fresh water bodies are ones with water flowing out of them, which, of course, is most lakes.

As for the flood, the Bible does not give us sufficient details to know for sure where the water came from and where it went to.  I assume that the entire event was a miracle.  I believe that there is no natural explanation of the flood.  I believe in the flood principally because it is recorded in the Bible.   The exact nature of the flood, how deep the water actually was, and how much of the earth was actually inundated is an open question in my opinion, but that God judged the earth and the people on the earth in the flood is something I believe because it is recorded in the scripture.

John Oakes

 
Should Christians oppose the Next Generation Science Standard, “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.”?

Question:

I am a constitutional lawyer representing a non-profit that is opposing the adoption of Next Generation Science Standards. We have a question regarding one of the assumptions used in the standards. I found your power point program on the net that identifies assumptions but did not see this one listed.     “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” (6K2)    and     Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” (1-ESS!-1)”      This is an odd assumption. Is it actually just an incorrect statement of the assumption of uniformitarianism? The assumption of uniformitarianism is that we can assume that what happens today happened in the past. But this states just the opposite, that we can assume that what previously happened explains what happens now. The problem is that we do not know what happened in the past. That is the whole point of the assumption of uniformitarianism. What do you think? Is the assumption actually used in science or is it a misstatement? I did not see this assumption listed on your power point.

Answer:

Actually, this assumption is in fact mentioned in my power point, although in different words.  In my power point, I state it this way (or something similar… I do not have the ppt in front of me). “Nature is ordered.” A more detailed statement is;”Nature follows invariant laws.” Another statement is “The laws of nature are unchanging over both time and space.”

This is definitely NOT an anti-Christian assumption. In fact, the idea that nature is unchanging comes directly from Christian theology. Because we believe in a single, unchanging God who is a God of order.  Therefore, we can predict from Christian theology that the laws which govern the natural universe are the same everywhere and that, like God, they are unchanged over time. The universe is not capricious. Its laws are entirely predictable. What happens here will happen in the next galaxy over, happened in the deep past and will happen in the foreseeable future. [note that, by faith, I believe that Jesus will come back, that the earth will be judged by fire and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (paraphrasing 2 Peter 2 and Revelation 21),  This is why I use the phrase "in the foreseeable future" above because science clearly cannot predict the second coming of Jesus!]

Like I tell my students when I teach on the history and philosophy of science, the fundamental presupposition of science (that nature is ordered and is inherently predictable… in other words the assumption mentioned in the science standards) definitely does not prove that the supernatural does not exist. God certainly can (and I believe does) interfere in the laws of nature he created. In fact, the laws of nature can be used to define what would be miraculous. When Jesus changed water to wine, this is a miracle according to the fundamental persupposition of science. Perhaps we do not need science to know that this is a miracle, but science can tell us WHY it is a miracle.  It would be extremely unwise for Christians to oppose this science standard, because it is completely consistent with Christian theology and it actually was invented directly FROM Christian theology.

I will admit that this assumption sounds a lot like what you are calling uniformitarianism, but, believe it or not, they are not the same thing. What I call the fundamental presupposition of science (the standard above) is an assumption of all science. It is the basis for examining the world using the scientific method. On the other hand, uniformitarianism is a theory of geology. It is NOT an assumption, but a theory/model/paradigm. It is not possible to prove the fundamental presupposition of science because it cannot be tested experimentally. Fundamentally, the presupposition is not a scientific statement because assumptions are not theories. It is more a philosophical statement.

On the other hand, uniformitarianism is a scientific theory which can be tested and possibly refuted by experiment. In fact, uniformitarianism has come into much question recently with the evidence for mass extinction events and the cambrian explosion. Catastrophism has had a bit of a rebirth in the last 30 years or so based on evidence for catastrophic events in the past such as the Chixlub asteroid.

I agree with your statement that we cannot know what happened in the deep past (I inserted the word deep, because we can know, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead or that the Babylonians ruled over Mesopotamia). However the fact that we humans cannot observe the past does not conflict with the fact that scientists can form theories which very reliably predict data which exists today but which suggests what happened in the past. For example, we can observe a galaxy which is one billion years away and observe events which happened in that galaxy one billion years ago. We can dig up dinosaur fossils, notice that nothing even remotely similar to dinosaurs exists today, look at Uranium/lead dating methodology, look at the fossil sequence, and reasonably conclude (but not prove!) that dinosaurs lived in the deep past.

To summarize, the statment in the science standards “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. It is the basis of the scientific pursuit, and it was first proposed by Christian natural philosophers. It is not a point that Christians should oppose and it does not in any way presuppose that miracles do not happen (although some atheists who do not understand philosophy wrongly use it this way).

On the other hand, uniformitarianism is NOT an assumption. It is a good scientific theory in that it is capable of predicting many scientific observations quite well. It is both testable and refutable. This theory is only a theory and there is important evidence, well-known to scientists, that it cannot predict or explain. Most scientists, if they are honest and if they think carefully, will agree that uniformitarianism cannot explain all known facts about the geological history of the earth. Those who, like me, believe that the flood of Noah is an actual event should not be defensive about uniformitarianism because the flood is not inherently opposed to the theory of uniformitarianism and uniformitarianism, properly understood, does not disprove that a miraculous flood may have occurred several thousand years ago.

Please note that I believe in the miraculous creation of Adam and Eve ex-nihilo and I believe that there was a massive flood in the days of Noah which God used to judge the world at that time. Neither event can be explained by science for the very reason that they were supernatural interventions by God into the natural world. I see no reason for those who believe in God’s miraculous intervention to create life, to create humans or to flood the world to oppose either the theory of uniformitarianism or the science standard “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.”

I have a question. Why are you opposing the science standards? Which standard to you find to be anti-Christian? I am curious about this. Perhaps it is one about evolution. I have not looked carefully at these standards, so I would love to hear from you which standards you find to be either unwise for the study of science or inherently anti-Christian.

Please do not hesitate for a moment to ask me follow-up questions. I would be happy to discuss this by phone as well if you like. I am passionate about these questions, both as a science professor and as a Christian apologist.

John Oakes

 
Your thoughts on a documentary I say on the boat-shaped article found in Turkey and the anchor as well. Could they be from the ark?
Question:
It was good to meet you and talk to you a little in Accra last July at the 20th Anniversary celebrations of our church in Ghana. Since then I have bought some of your books and have just finished “Is There A God?”, which I learnt a lot from but need to study again. The information on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the implications for life appearing by chance seemed to me to be an unanswerable argument against the “by chance” theories.  
Now on page 174 of your book you talk about the evidence, or the lack of it, for Noah’s Ark. I want to tell you of a TV programme I saw in the UK about 8 years ago or so. It was a documentary and showed people on a recent expedition in Turkey looking for the Ark. They found what appeared to be a large boat-shaped object buried at ground level at some place in the mountains, but they were not allowed to do any excavations on it by the Turkish authorities.   In the same programme they showed an enormous sea-anchor about the height of a man that they had found just lying on the ground somewhere in Turkey. Modern day fishermen use these also, but the ones they use are only about a foot tall, they said; however, the shape is identical to the big one. Both use a conical shape, rounded at the bottom, with a large hole near the top for a rope to pass through. Surely the big sea-anchor could only have been used by the Ark? Have you heard about this?
Answer:
I have seen dozens of articles and books by people claiming to have discovered the ark.  Without exception, all of these have proved to be either outright hoaxes (most common) or they prove to be completely debunked by those who look closely at the evidence.  I believe that the possibility of anyone finding remnants of the ark after several thousand years in a form which could be shown to be the ark is truly remote.  Wood rots over time.  Several thousand year old wood is almost never found.  Logically, Noah’s family would have used the wood for fuel or building in any case.  These searches are a waste of time, in my opinion.  That is just my opinion, and I do not want to force that opinion on others, but that is my conclusion from both common sense and from the plethora of bogus ark-find claims.  I probably have seen the article you refer to, but these claims are so common that it is hard to keep up with them, so I cannot say for sure whether I have looked at this one.  I invite you to send me the evidene for comment if you like.  An e-copy or a web site would be fine.
As for an anchor, yes, I have seen this claim.  There are three problems with this.
1. Almost certainly the ark did not have an anchor.  What would the use have been for an anchor?  They floated around until the ark came to rest on dry land.  
2.  Besides, if you found an anchor, how would you know it came from Noah’s ark?  A rule of science is that the theorist must spin alternative hypotheses.  Surely there are many more likely explanations of this object, other than that it came from the ark.
3. Clearly, they did not have iron back then. 
Between all these problems we are pretty much 100% guaranteed that the claim to have discovered the ark’s anchor is bogus.  It is either wishful thinking or, more likely it is someone who knows perfectly well that this is not the from the ark, and is abusing the situation to garner attention.  I am not sure which and do not want to judge the motives of others. 
A good friend of mine once confronted one of the purveyors of bogus Noah’s ark claims, asking him why he published bogus evidence.  The man (I kid you not) admitted that he did it so that he could feed his family.  He did not even attempt to defend his “evidence” but to defend his motives for deceiving people.
I am sorry to be so skeptical, but Christians have been made to look foolish on bogus Noah’s ark claims so many times that wisdom dictates our stance toward these claims ought to be a fairly strick skepticism.  In the US we have a saying:  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  I think this applies to Noah’s ark claims. The good friend I mentioned above is Rex Geissler.  He has done a fairly thorough study of the various ark claims over the decades. He is personally open to the possibility of finding a remnant, and has even gone on expeditions.  His conclusion is that, up until now, the great number of claims have no validity.  You can find a copy of his book by going to www.greatcommission.com.
John Oakes
 
Was the flood over the whole world or just part of it?
Question:
 
Was the flood over the whole world or just part of it?
 
Answer:
 
I have previously answered a similar enough question that I will copy and past below.  Let me add just a couple of thoughts.  The Old Testament is not a careful, scientific analysis of events in the past.  We should begin discussing such topics by asking what clear historical and theological material seems to be contained in the story.  Here is what I see to be essential to the Genesis flood story:
 
1. The reason the flood happened was the blatant rebellion and out-of-control sin in the world at that time.
2. The flood was a judgment by God, on the sinful world of that time.
3. There was an actual flood, and its impact was massive.
4. Some, including at the very least Noah and his family, survived the flood–a symbol of salvation for those who put their faith in God.
 
Personally, I am comfortable with any explanation of the flood which is consistent with this theological and historical information.  To me, personally, a global flood fits the picture better than a local one.  I cannot “prove” that this flood happened, but, as you will see below, there is some important evidence (NOT primarily scientific in nature) supporting that it happened.  I do not find the local flood explanation to be untenable, but I do not prefer it for reasons you will see below.
 
John Oakes
 
Did the flood in Genesis 6-9 really happen?   If so, was it a world-wide flood, or just a local phenomenon in
Mesopotamia? Is there any evidence for the flood happening?

This question has certainly brought about a lot of debate over the years.
Many have scoffed at the “myth” of the flood in the time of Noah. The
principle reason for intellectuals to scoff at the story of the flood is a
predisposition to assume that supernatural events cannot and do not
happen. It is easy to see that if one assumes before even examining the
question that miraculous, supernatural events do not happen, one will end
by assuming that the flood never happened.

However, the flood is an inescapable part of the inspired word of God–the
Bible. Jesus did not hesitate to accept it as a literal event which
actually happened (Matthew 24:38). Neither did Peter (2 Peter 2:5) or the
writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:7). Should we?

Well, yes, we should at least be open-minded enough to check out the
evidence. If the world-wide flood recorded in Genesis actually happened,
there might be some evidence of the event which one could point to. If one
were to search for evidence for the flood, what could one expect to find?

Some would claim that the flood created most of the sedimentary layers on
the earth–up to twenty-five thousand feet thick in places. They would
claim, for example that all the layers which can be observed at the Grand
Canyon were laid down in a single, universal flood, and that the canyon
itself was carved out as the waters of that single flood receded. This
claim is not credible at all. If fact, if a universal flood occurred, it
would at most redistribute a significant part of the top soil, sand and
gravel at the surface of the earth, leaving perhaps as much as a few dozen
feet of mud in some places, and eroded top soil in others. Therefore the
physical signs of a great, world-wide flood would be similar to those of a
major local flood. In Mesopotamia, for example, flood layers up to 15 feet
thick have been discovered, which some have attributed to the flood in the
days of Noah. This may well be, but it is difficult to prove, as major
floods occur naturally in Mesopotamia from time to time.

If physical evidence may be unconvincing, what evidence can one look for,
to confirm the flood described in Genesis? One significant fact is that
nearly every very ancient culture has a record of a great flood.
Traditions of a singularly massive flood are found in cultures in
Australia, China, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mesopotamia, North, Central
and South America and Europe. No other ancient event is remembered in
every part of the globe. This fact is very strongly suggestive that some
sort of great, world-wide flood actually happened. Due to their
presupposition against the possibility of a supernatural event, most
intellectuals are extremely unlikely to accept this hypothesis.

Although the common record of a great flood from every region of the globe
is quite suggestive, it is worth remembering that ultimately, for the
Bible believer, faith in the account of the flood in Genesis is based
primarily on belief that the entire Bible is inspired by God. The Old
Testament has every conceivable mark of inspiration by the creator. Peter
reminded his readers, in 2 Peter 3:5-7 that the grounds for belief in the
return of Jesus is the same as for belief in the flood. Both are based on
the Word of God.

Another common question about the flood is whether it was truly
world-wide. One answer is that the account in Genesis certainly implies
that it was. In Genesis seven one can find the words every and all
throughout. Besides, as already pointed out, there is a similar record of
a great flood found in every part of the globe, lending credence to its
being world-wide in its effect. Some have proposed the “Local Flood
Theory” to explain the Genesis flood account. The idea is that the flood
of Noah was a massive flood in the Mesopotamian area only. The problem
with this theory is that there is no way the water could rise so high for
one hundred and fifty days, just in Mesopotamia, without spreading to
surrounding areas. Others have proposed pseudo-naturalistic explanations
of the flood such as the “Canopy Theory.” This is the theory that in the
early earth there was a massive canopy of water in the upper atmosphere
which was released in the flood. This theory is easily dismissed as it
defies several well-known physical laws.

In the final analysis, the flood described in Genesis is clearly a
miraculous event. It is plainly described as a judgment for mankind’s
sins. Any attempt to find some sort of “natural” explanation is bound to
fail. Exactly how God did it we do not know. Unfortunately, many possible
questions about the flood will probably remain unanswered. Did literally
every kind of animal come to the ark? What happened to the water? Could
the flood have been world-wide in effect, but leave at least some
creatures behind in various parts of the world? Did God recreate certain
species after the flood? Because the Bible does not provide specific
answers to some of these questions, one can speculate, but it is unwise to
be dogmatic about one specific opinion.

A more thorough treatment of this question is found in the article at this
web site entitled, “Will it Be Fire Next Time??

 
What do you think about G. Edward Griffin’s theories about where Noah’s ark is located?

Question:

I wanted to get back to you about a synopsis of “The Discovery of Noah’s Ark” by G. Edward Griffin. (a low quality version is available on you tube) because it raises some valid points regarding the possible remains of a large, vessel.  This one NOT on Mt. Ararat, but rather about 18 miles south.  Genesis 8:4 says “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” Notice it did NOT say Mt. Ararat, but rather the MOUNTAINS of Ararat, which is the surrounding geographical area. We also know there are many similar pagan accounts of the flood story, and one of them is found in the Babylonian Tales of Gilgamesh. This one is similar because the main character also builds an ark, and puts animals into it to keep his family alive during a great flood. In 280 BC. A Babylonian priest named Berossus wrote a letter to Alexander the Great, telling him that this ark from Gilgamesh is visited by in his day, and that they would break off pieces of the ark to wear as jewelry to ward off evil spirits. Berossus describes the Vessel as being 5 long and 2 stadia wide. Unfortunately, many scholars dismissed this account because it was unlikely dimensions of an ocean vessel.   (Fast forward 2200 years later) Merchant mariner and marine salvage, David was reading this account, and believes the verse was mistranslated long ago. The Greek symbol for “stadia” is similar to the Egyptian symbol for “To Mera.” which also meant a Right triangle which was used in land surveying. If To Mera is substituted for Stadia, BEROSSUS WAS NOT GIVING THE DIMENSIONS OF THE ARK, BUT RATHER THE TRIANGULAR COORDINATES FOR IT’S LOCATION.  David Fasold followed these coordinates to a location in Turkey that was 18 miles south of Mt. Ararat. Asking the local natives, he found a town, where one of the natives believed a portion of the ark became visible since an earthquake 30 years earlier. There is a lot more to this story, but basically the most convincing findings are in the video showing -

(1) remains of pitch used to seal the ark, Fasold also reported the ark was not made of Wood but of reeds. (reeds rotted away?, but remains of the tar were still visible) The Hebrew meaning gopher (Genesis 6:14) is unknown but one of the components of tar is kafer- which when translated (or TRANSLITERATED? from which language?) to English is gopher, and the Hebrew word for “wood” can also be translated as plant, stalk or stick.

(2) Nearby, giant, drogue stones. One weighing as much as 20,000 pounds. They functioned similarly to anchors and used to stabilize ancient ships in turbulent waters. Most convincing of all, these drouge stones have carvings of crosses and other markings of other religious and Babylonian pilgrims.

(3) Pieces of Iron were found by metal detectors along the ground where the ship was exposed after the earthquake. One of these pieces Fasold believed looked like a bulkhead. This video shows geophysicist Dr. John Baumgardner of Los Alamos National Laboratories stating that this bulkhead still displays the grain structure of the Iron, and that it had the character of wrought Iron, and that it definitely was a man made iron.

Much of this is also based on David Fasold’s Book – The Ark of Noah.  I know that the media never ceases to publish stories about explorers going to Mt. Arafrat In search of Noah’s ark over and over again. Yet they never return home with any real evidence. This may lead us to believe that the whole concept of there being any remains of an ark is as impossible. I hope you find this information useful and challenging to that view. It challenged my view as well.

Response:

I believe that this is a hoax and is not worth your time or attention. Hundreds of hoaxters have gone to various sites in an attempt to, supposedly, find Noah’s ark. The data here is not at all suggestive of having found the ark. Finding pitch is not evidence of an ark from several thousands of years ago. Finding iron is evidence AGAINST this being the ark, because we know that iron was not smelted until after 2000 BC. The likelihood that actual physical evidence of a boat from several thousand years ago being found today is essentially nil. Even if, against all odds, some sort of physical material from several thousands of years ago were to be found, there would be no way to prove that it was the ark. I believe that this search is a waste of time and energy.

The account from Berossus does absolutely nothing to suggest the actual existence of Noah’s ark. No scholar would agree that this claim is significant in terms of locating the ark. Even if it were (which I believe it is not), then this would not support the theory of Edward Griffin. The fact that he mentions irrelevant information makes me suspicious that he is a pseudoscientist, not a real scholar. The idea that Berossus was giving triangulation coordinates for finding the ark is WAY out there. Triangulation from what? Did they use triangulation in 200 BC? This is very far-fetched. What do giant drogue stones have to do with an ark? Do you really think carvings of crosses on these stones are evidence that this was the site of Noah’s ark? An iron bulkhead on a reed ship? Hmmm….. This is clearly mere fact-gathering intended to deceive the easily convinced. My suggestion is to spend time on projects which are more likely to be fruitful.

I hope this does not come across too strong, but this is how I feel about this supposed find of Noah’s ark and about the search for the ark in general. I have read a number of books and articles on this subject and found all of them to be of a similar nature–they are by pseudoscientists and are not serious scholarship.

John Oakes

 
Is there any scientific evidence for a worldwide flood?

Question:

Our son is a Biochemistry Major at the University of Virginia and has been a faithful Christian for several years.  Now, he is starting to question the validity of the Bible.  He has a list, but one of his questions is that there is no scientific evidence for a worldwide flood?  Is this true?  Thanks for your help.

Answer:

Your son is essentially correct.   There is no really strong scientific evidence that the flood happened.  One reason for this is that the flood was a miraculous/supernatural event.  Science cannot study one-time miraculous events.  If your son was given the false impression when he was younger that the flood can be proved by science, then it is not surprising that he is struggling a bit now.  The problem here is not the Bible, but the unfortunate way some people handle trying to “prove” the flood story, using questionable science.  Very deep flood deposits have been found in Mesopotamia, but these deposits can be seen as evidence of a very large “local flood.”   By the way, before I continue, be aware that I am convinced that the flood in Genesis 7-9 did happen.  It is just that my belief in the flood is not principally based on science.

As I see it, the positive evidence for the flood comes in two areas.  First is the worldwide parallel “myth” of a great flood.  Nearly every ancient culture has a story of a great flood which judged mankind.  Dozens of cultures from every continent have a flood story.  One reasonable explanation for this nearly unanimous belief in a flood is that it is the result of an actual flood.  This can be seen as a remnant memory of the real flood.  The other “evidence” for the flood is the fact that it is found in the Bible, that prophets, apostles and Jesus himself believed in this as an historical event.  The inspiration of the scripture and the implication for the reliability of the Bible is probably the strongest evidence for the flood.  I am convinced that this flood happened, that the Genesis story is a faithful account of the flood, and that it was a miraculous judgment by God.  However, my belief in this is principally based on the well-established authority of the scripture.  

My suggestion to you is, rather than try to “prove” to your son that the flood happened (a difficult task), you should try to appeal to the general evidence for the inspiration of the Bible.  I have written two books which address these questions.  They are Reasons For Belief  and   Is There a God?   Both are available at www.ipibooks.com   The first is a general treatment of the evidence for the inspiration of the Bible and the other goes in depth on scientific arguments for the existence of God and for the Bible.  The second book has an entire chapter on the question of the flood.  You might want to get a copy.

John Oakes

 
What happened to the Garden of Eden? Where is it located?

Question:

What happened to the Garden of Eden?  More specifically, is the Garden of Eden intact and located at some point on the Earth?  Reading through Genesis shortly after The Fall of Man we see Adam and Eve no longer in the Garden, but I wonder what happened to this physical location?   A few possibilities come to mind: Destroyed during The Flood and wiped from the Earth, buried under millenia of sand/debris, located in some unreachable outer celestial realm i.e. guarded by flaming swords. I understand scripture does not mention this subject in much depth outside of Genesis, any insight you could provide would be much appreciated!

Answer:

The question is this: How should we answer questions that the Bible gives no answer to? My response is that we should do so with caution and humility. The bottom line is that the Bible leaves us at the end of Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve expelled from the garden and angels preventing them from re-entering the paradise which had been prepared for them and their descendants. From that point forward, the Scripture gives us no further information on the Garden of Eden.  Therefore, we are left to speculate about what happened to the original Paradise.

First of all, let me say that I believe that the Garden of Eden was an actual place. Some, including friends of mine, believe that the entire story of Adam and Eve is metaphorical–that they are symbolic of the first people who were given God’s image and that the Garden of Eden is symbolic of the relationship all of us have with God before we sin. They believe that there was NO literal Garden and that Adam and Eve are symbolic–not actual people who lived.  I do not agree with this interpretation, although I do agree that the entire story is loaded with symbolism. I believe that there was a place where the first two people made in God’s image lived in fellowship with God and that, because of their sin, they lost their favored place with their Creator.

So… What happened to the Garden after Adam and Eve left it? First of all, from the information we have in Genesis 2:10-14, I believe that the Garden was in Mesopotamia–in present-day Iraq. The Genesis writer mentions the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which seems to make the general location clear. If we go to the area today, we certainly will find nothing like a lush paradise. Mesopotamia today is relatively arid. Five thousand plus years of continuous occupation and high-intensity farming has made the area more arid and less fertile. It appears that after Adam and Eve left the Paradise prepared for them, God chose to let nature take its course. Whether we accept the local flood theory or the global flood theory to explain the account of the flood in the days of Noah in Genesis 7-8, we can assume that the place where the Garden of Eden stood was inundated by the flood God used to judge the world at that time. Today, it is apparent that there is no remnant of the original garden where the first accountable humans lived.

Of course, the Garden of Eden stands as a foreshadow of the future Paradise all of those who put their faith in Jesus will have in heaven. There is no point in us looking back to the first Garden. We have a newer, better Garden to look forward to in which our relationship with God will be restored to the pristine purity which Adam and Eve had before their fall into sin, and the subsequent state of sin into which all their descendants fell. Hebrews 4:4-7 talks about a better rest that God has in store for us–our eternal Sabbath-rest with God in heaven. We can have a kind of nostalgia for the Garden of Eden, but I believe anticipation of heaven is an even better motivator for those who put their faith in God.

John Oakes

 
Why is it that people say the ancient Sumerian tablets are similar to the book of Genesis? Why do people try to find relationships between these?

Question:

Why is it that people try to compare the ancient Sumerian tablets, saying that they are similar to the book of Genesis? Why is it that people try to relate those gods to the God in the Old Testament?

Answer:

It is difficult to judge the motives of people I have never met. I am sure that those who do this do so for a variety of reasons.

It is only natural that anthropologists, historians and those who study religion to look for parallels between the earliest docoments of the Old Testament and the Sumerian/Babylonian/Akkadian religions in Mesopotamia. Presumably, the book of Genesis has its roots in Mesopotamia from the early part of the second millennium BC. The parallels are not just a figment of the imaginations of scholars. The parallels between the Gilgamesh Epic and the Genesis flood story are really striking. Both have a universal flood coming on mankind. Both have a man building a large boat and saving his family and a number of animals on the boat. I am copying and pasting an article on the parallels between the Gilgamesh Epic and the Genesis flood account. The question naturally arises: Where did these obvious parallels arise? Did the Jews borrow their flood story from the Sumerians? Did both accounts arise from a common real event in the distant past? Might the Sumerians have borrowed their account from the Jews? The last option seems unlikely because there is evidence for the Gilgamesh Epic from before 2000 BC, but we cannot rule out that the ancestors of Abraham passed along the account we now have in Genesis.

So, good, honest, open-minded scholars and students of religion will look for parallels and comparisons between Judaism and Mesopotamian religion. When they do so, the differences are far more striking than the similarities, although some scholars do not agree with the rather obvious (at least to me!) fact. Mesopotamian relition was polytheistic. It had elements of ancient animism as well. It was "primitive" religion when compared to Judaism. Skeptical, non-believing scholars try to paint early Judaism as polytheistic, but there is no solid evidence for this. Judaism appears from its inception to be a fully developed monothism, with out all the superstitions of Mesopotamian religion and the fantastic (and unbelievable) stories of gods and their petty intrigues. The Genesis creation account is absolutely unique among all creation stories, both in its simplicity and in its scientific accuracy. To conclude that Judaism evolved from a nascent polytheism is speculation which is not justified by the Hebrew text of the Bible. Nevertheless it is not true to say that there is absolutely nothing in common between Judaism and Mesopotamian religion. Both were formed in the cultural context of Mesopotamia. Both were influenced by a massive flood.

The local religion of Mesopotamia finds its way into Genesis indirectly, for example when Laban chased Jacob down in an attempt to get back his household gods. In conclusion, it is not just skeptics and unbelievers who look for parallels between Sumerian religious ideas and customs and the book of Genesis. This is a potentially fruitful area of research for Bible believers as well. (do not forget the Q & A below with more details about the Gilgamesh Epic)

John Oakes, PhD

Question: 

I recently viewed a documentary claiming that ancient tablets (older than OT manuscripts) were found in Iraq, telling a story almost identical to Noah’s… and that the soil there showed signs of an ancient flood as well (unlike the land around Mount Ararat). The final conclusion was that Israel received this "story" from the Babylonians while in captivity. Do you have any insight about this?

Answer: 

The ancient tablets you refer to probably contained what is commonly known as the Gilgamesh Epic, although it is difficult for me to say for sure without seeing the source of the information you refer to. The Gilgamesh Epic was known to the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cultures. The epic was almost certainly composed before 2000 BC. It has been estimated by some to be based on a tradition as old as 3000 BC. If one takes Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation, as supported by the Bible, then one can assume that the Gilgamesh Epic is older than the written, Jewish version of the story which is found in the Bible, as Abraham died somewhere around 1850 BC.

There are significant similarities between the Gilgamesh epic and the flood account in Genesis, which seem to defy coincidence. For example, in Gilgamesh, a god speaks to a man Utnapishtim in a dream, telling him to constuct a boat because of a great flood which is coming. Although the stories are not identical (for example, when God spoke to Noah, it was not in a dream) there is obvious parallel to the biblical flood account. In the Gilgamesh Epic, Utnapishtum took his family, some friends as well as many animals on the boat. Again, one can see parallels but also differences in the accounts. To deny any possible common root to these two flood stories seems unrealistic.

There are two possibilities to explain this. One possibility is that the flood is an actual event, the memory of which was carried forward by the survivors, finding its way into both Gilgamesh and the biblical account. Another possibility is that one or the other was created first, and the other borrowed from it. Assuming the second possibility, the question becomes who borrowed from whom? Logically, one might assume that since the Gilgamesh Epic precedes the Bible account, at least in its written form, it was the source for the biblical story of the flood. From an historical or literary point of view, this is hard to disprove. However, if one can assume that the book of Genesis is inspired by God, then the idea of the Genesis flood account being borrowed from Gilgamesh does not work. There is a great wealth of evidence supporting the belief that the books of the Bible, and specifically the book of Genesis is indeed the inspired creation of God. Of course, much of that evidence is found at my web site, to include prophecies in Genesis which are fulfilled in Jesus (see my book From Shadow to Reality www.ipibooks.com), historical and archaeological accuracy of Genesis (Reasons For Belief www.ipibooks.com), and so forth. 

If the Bible, and therefore Genesis, is indeed inspired by God, then the most likely conclusion is that Gilgamesh represents a tradition which goes all the way back to the actual flood which is recorded in Genesis, and that the account in Genesis, being inspired by God, is a separate, but much more accurate depiction of the actual events which occurred in this massive event as described in Genesis chapters 5-7. If this is the correct explanation, then the parallels between the accounts are due to the fact that they both describe the same, actual event, although with a different level of fidelity to the actual events. This is what I believe to be the case, but I leave it to you to decide for yourself. As to the Israelites receiving the story from the Neo-Babylonians while in captivity, I find this explanation very unlikely for a few reasons. First of all, the Gilgamesh Epic was around in the time of the first Babylonian Empire, about 1800 BC, not during the Neo-Babylonian Empire, under Nebuchadnezzar. Second of all, there is sufficient evidence, in my opinion, to conclude that the book of Genesis was written in essentially its final form well before the time of the captivity (586-538 BC). This would make the claim that it was borrowed from Neo-Babylonian sources not work.

John Oakes, PhD

 
Can we prove or disprove the flood of Noah from evidence for floods in Mesopotamia?

Question:

I am starting to feel like Columbo with "just one more question, Sir."  It seems that if there was a global flood as the YEC affirm, then there would be evidence of such in that area of Iraq where it all supposedly occured.  And it would not be a layer of " sterile" soil but interposed with remains of life, tools, pottery.  Has anything of the sort been indeed found over there that would suggest one, giant Mesopotamian flood or global deluge?  If not, then maybe the flood story  is didactic rather than literal. I just don’t know right now which way it should go. Thanks for your help…again!

Answer: 

No problem. The answer is yes, there is plenty of evidence of massive flood events in Mesopotamia within historical times. Archaeologists have found flood remains near the Tigris and Euphrates of up to 15 feet in depth and even more. The problem with this is that it is not clear that scientists can clearly distinguish a massive 500-year flood from a literal flood of biblical proportions. What would be the obvious difference between the remains of a 500 year flood and the flood described in Genesis? My answer, is that it is not clear there would be a qualitative difference. Both would produce massive upheaval throughout Mesopotamia, devastating destruction, and very thick layers of mud. For this reason, I believe studying flood evidence in Mesopotamia will not be able to prove the flood of Noah either way, although we might find evidence which is mildly suggestive one way of the other.

Personally, I believe that the flood story is definitely NOT just didactic. I believe that this flood actually happened. 2 Peter 3 clearly tells us that our assurance that Jesus will come back and that final judgment will happen is based on the fact of the earlier flood. The language is fairly strong in 2 Peter 2. Just as in the days of Noah…. so it will be when Jesus comes back. Having said that, I do not believe that the evidence for massive floods in Mesopotamia, which is surely there, can give a definitive answer to your question.

John Oakes

 
How long was Noah in the ark prior to reaching land?
Question:
How long was Noah in the ark prior to reaching land?

Answer:

According to the Genesis account, it rained for 40 days., the waters continued to rise until the 150th day, and the floods receded sufficiently for Noah and his family to emerge from the ark after ten months and two weeks.  Probably there is some wiggle room in the last period, as the exact length of time between Genesis 8:5 and Gen 8:15 is not exactly clear.   It is possible that these numbers are approximations.  Besides, it is not clear that the point of the story is to establish the exact number of days, but I would say that the length of time was approximately 10×30 + 14 = 314 days.  Or to be more careful, one might say that it was a little less than one year.

John Oakes

 
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