A Review of Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence. Carlisle: The Paternoster Press, 1995
Davis Young opens by explaining why he wrote this book; to answer those who objected to his understanding of the Genesis accounts of the creation and flood. As Young holds that the flood was both geographically and anthropologically local in that it covered only the Mesopotamian basin [Young, 225] and did not wipe out all of mankind outside the ark it is understandable why people should object to his teaching [Young, 242].
A survey of the church's interpretation of the flood narrative through history leads Young to conclude that until the mid-seventeenth century the majority of Christians believed that the flood was universal [Young, 307]. He notes that the church has reacted in different ways to extrabiblical evidence about the world. Some writers ignored it completely, while others recognised it as an aid to biblical interpretation and understanding. As scientific knowledge developed and apparently contradicted the biblical account Young laments that conservative Christians became increasingly suspicious of science. He accuses recent conservative commentators on the flood of relying on out-dated evidences and pseudo-science in order to support their (mistaken) contention that the biblical flood was universal [Young, 306-307].
The key issue is the role which extrabiblical evidence plays in the interpretation of Scripture. Whether we recognise it or not, we all approach the text with our own pre-understanding of what it means, brought from our culture, life-experience, education, background, etc. As we read the Bible our pre-understanding is changed and when we read it again we see it in a new light. This process continues as we continue to study Scripture and is known as the hermeneutical spiral.
What Young is arguing is that Christians should recognise that extrabiblical evidence has always influenced the interpretation of Scripture; current geological, biogeographical and anthropological evidence modern dating techniques are extrabiblical evidence and therefore Christians should adjust their interpretation of Scripture in line with the conclusions of those sciences. The flaw in this syllogism is the secondary premise. While Young is correct in arguing that infallible Scripture is subject to our fallible interpretations (and demonstrates this at length), he appears to regard the interpretation of physical data as infallible and not open to any challenge. It is therefore not surprising that he comes to such strange conclusions.
In reality physical data can be explained in terms of the Creationist paradigm, as has been shown recently in work carried out at Mount St. Helens and the Grand Canyon. Among the evidences cited by Young for the earth's antiquity is the supposed evolution of the horse [Young, 173-174], but he fails to note that this interpretation of the evidence is simply untrue. In his survey of recent literature on the flood Young discusses at length an article by Donald C. Boardman who argues for a local flood [Did Noah's Flood Cover the Entire World? - No, Ronald F. Youngblood, ed. The Genesis Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 210-229] Although Young notes that Steven A. Austin of the Institute for Creation Research wrote an article in the same volume in favour of a universal flood, he doesn't mention any of Austin's arguments [Young, 274-276]. Dismissing Creationist explanations of physical sciences Young concludes that a literal interpretation of the flood demands
...that representatives of tens of thousands of different species left their natural habitats and restricted supplies of food, made their way from all the distant and isolated parts of the globe, crossing oceans, Arctic wastes, and any number of hostile environments to arrive at the ark, that these vast numbers of creatures somehow all boarded the craft, which (presumably) already held enough food to sustain them for a year, and then after the retreat of the floodwaters all made the journey back to their respective habitats to replenish the earth. Commentators who maintain that fossils were laid down in the flood must apparently also assume that representatives of all the species in the fossil record, including dozens of species of dinosaurs, were also aboard the ark. Is a literal reading of the flood narrative really so sacrosanct as to induce us to maintain such bizarre scenarios? [Young, 312]
Most Creationists will be disappointed that once again their views are reduced to an caricature on the basis of objections that have been answered adequately already. Creationists are not the only ones to recognise the growing difficulties in the evolutionary paradigm (See Richard Milton, The Facts of Life: Shattering the Myth of Darwinism & Michael Denton.Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.), yet if one were to believe Young they too must be accounted arrogant and pseudo-scientific for daring to challenge the dogma of infallible science.
© 1995 Robert I. Bradshaw