Almost all Christian denominations, including the marginal ones like the Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), believe the Bible to be the Word of God. The far greater majority of these denominations, again also marginal ones like Jehovah’s Witnesses, even believe every verse of the Bible to be infallible. Moreover, the greater majority of these denominations (like Catholics—at least officially), believe the Bible is also scientifically accurate. For example, in his 1893 encyclical (universal letter), Pope Leo XIII states,
“Let them [scholars] loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures—and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures.” (Providentissimus Deus, 23)
Moreover, fundamentalist Christians, like Creationists, base all their so-called science mainly on the Flood, which supposedly happened in Noah’s time, as well as all other biblical accounts.
Very many Christians, therefore, believe a global flood actually happened close to 4,400 years ago (c. 2350 BCE). However, there happens to be an epic poem, commonly known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, found carved on twelve stone tablets dating back to between 2150 and 2000 BCE (a thousand-odd years prior to the writing of any Bible book) that seems to undermine this hypothesis: that is, suggesting the flood account was only a myth based on this poem. Please note my emphases (in italics) in what follows: they show the parallelisms between this epic poem and the biblical account of Noah’s Flood.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (Sandars)
I shall continue my account of Gilgamesh’s tale where I left it off in my previous blog, “Adam and Eve—Original Sin.” Gilgamesh had just lost his closest friend, Enkidu, and realized that he too must die and his body will decay like Enkidu’s: he is totally devastated by this realization. He recalls that his ancestor Utnapishtim, who had survived the global flood, was granted immortality by the gods; so Gilgamesh goes searching for him hoping to discover the secret of immortality as well. So, when Gilgamesh finds Utnapishtim, he asks him for an account of how he acquired immortality.
Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that it all happened in Shuruppak (modern Tell Fa’rah, Iraq). As the world population increased, the earth became so noisy that the gods could not sleep any longer; “so the gods agreed to exterminate mankind.” Enlil, the executive of the chief god Anu, decided to cause a global flood. But Ea (the god of fresh water, craft, and wisdom) secretly warned Utnapishtim of the coming flood. His advice was,
“Tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive. … Let her deck be roofed like the vault that covers the abyss; then take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures.”
He built a seven-deck boat and roofed it; he then caulked the roofed boat (or ark) with pitch and asphalt and painted it with oil. Utnapishtim continues his narrative,
“I loaded into her all that I had of gold and of living things, my family, my kin, the beast of the field both wild and tame, and all the craftsmen.”
When the flooding started, all life outside the ark was drowning; so “the great gods of heaven and of hell wept, they covered their mouths” at seeing the carnage. It rained for a whole week and all the land was covered with water: it covered even the mountain tops.
“I looked for land in vain, but fourteen leagues distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge.”
After spending another week on the mountaintop, Utnapishtim let out a dove from a hatch in the ark, but it came back because it found no food and nowhere to perch. Likewise, he let out a swallow, but it also came back for the same reason. Finally he let out a raven; it did not come back because it could perch and feed on floating dead bodies. When he realized the waters had subsided, he let the people and the animals out, and he “made a sacrifice and poured a libation on the mountain top.” The gods relished the sacrifice: “When the gods smelled the sweet savour, they gathered like flies over the sacrifice.”
Now when Enlil realized that some humans had survived his flooding of the earth, he was furious, but after Ea managed to calm him down, Enlil took Utnapishtim and his wife by the hand onto the boat and blessed them saying,
“In time past Utnapishtim was a mortal man; henceforth he and his wife shall live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers.”
The Biblical Account
For the benefit of the reader who might not be familiar with the biblical account of Noah’s Flood in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, following are the salient points. Note how similar it is to Utnapishtim’s account: clearly the biblical author plagiarized it from The Epic of Gilgamesh.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. … And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. … And God said unto Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. … A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.’” (KJV Genesis 6:5, 7–8, 13–14, 16–17)
So God, like Enlil, decides to exterminate humanity by means of a global flood because it became unbearable; however, like Ea, he decides to save one household from all of humanity by advising the family head to build an ark. Notice how close the biblical account is to the epic poem: it even mentions that the ark had to have a hatch, a ceiling, stories, and finally to be caulked with pitch. God continues instructing Noah,
“‘Thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.’” (KJV Genesis 6:18–20)
Like Ea, God’s main concern is to save life on earth: making sure it reestablishes itself in the aftermath of the flood. The rain poured for forty days and every form of life outside the ark drowned.
“And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man.” (KJV Genesis 7:19–21)
As the flood waters started to subside and dry up, the boat lodged on the mountains of Ararat. Noah then sends out a raven and a dove to reconnoiter whether the land was dry again.
“And the waters returned from off the earth continually …. And the ark rested … upon the mountains of Ararat. … And it came to pass … that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” (KJV Genesis 8:3–9)
After he sent the dove out a couple more times, Noah concluded that the land was dry again. So, he lets everything out, and, like Utnapishtim, he immediately offers a sacrifice to God.
“And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.’” (KJV, Genesis 8:20–21)
Notice that, like the gods in Gilgamesh’s tale, God enjoys the aroma of the sacrifice and also regrets what he had done. If the biblical account of Noah’s Flood followed a prior myth so closely, what are the odds that it really happened—that it is not a myth too? Moreover, The Epic of Gilgamesh comes from the same territory Abraham emigrated—Mesopotamia. According to the Bible, Abraham came from Ur in Mesopotamia, which is only about 107 km (c. 66 mi) south-east of Shuruppak.
“Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” (KJV, Genesis 11:31)
I propose that Abraham’s family carried the epic poem by word of mouth, and it was later adapted to a monotheistic setting in the Hebrew Bible.
Now is there any scientific evidence of a great flood? In Mesopotamia, being surrounded by the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris, extensive floods were very common. However, we have no evidence whatsoever of a global flood. According to Wikipedia,
“Excavations in Iraq have revealed evidence of localized flooding at Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq) and various other Sumerian cities. A layer of riverine sediments, radiocarbon dated to about 2900 BC, interrupts the continuity of settlement, extending as far north [northwest] as the city of Kish, which took over hegemony [leadership] after the flood. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (3000–2900 BC) was discovered immediately below the Shuruppak flood stratum. Other sites, such as Ur, Kish, Uruk, Lagash, and Ninevah, all present evidence of flooding. However, this evidence comes from different time periods. The Shuruppak flood seems to have been a localised event caused through the damming of the Karun River through the spread of dunes, flooding into the Tigris, and simultaneous heavy rainfall in the Nineveh region, spilling across into the Euphrates. In Israel, there is no such evidence of a widespread flood. Given the similarities in the Mesopotamian flood story and the Biblical account, it would seem that they have a common origin in the memories of the Shuruppak account.” (Wikipedia, “Flood Myth,” emphasis mine)
Now the distance between Shuruppak and Kish is only about 73 km (c. 118 mi.): so it was far from a global flood. And Israel (Jerusalem), where there is no evidence of extensive flooding, is only about 971 km (c. 604 mi.) away: this is less than 5% of the distance between opposite sides of the globe, which is more than 20, 000 km (c. 12, 400 mi.). Still, 73 km (c. 118 mi.) of just water in sight would leave quite an impression on humanity so as to be remembered for a very long time.
In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s?, Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that scientists have failed to report any evidence of a global flood because they misread the evidence. As an example, they quote from an article in the Scientific American periodical. It is a fact, they write, that, in the past, scientists have misinterpreted water action for glacial activity, leading them to believe there was a multitude of ice ages; on reexamination, however, they found the real causes (Fairbridge, “The Changing Level of the Sea,” p. 71). They suggest, therefore, that some of the evidence scientists might be assigning to glacial action in ice ages could, in fact, be evidence for the occurrence of a global flood, and it is being misinterpreted because of some bias the scientists might have (Watch Tower, The Bible, pp. 113–14). Perhaps! Mentioning that scientists made mistakes in the past does not necessarily prove that they are wrong today. There is no question that science was wrong in the past: in fact, scientists once thought that the earth was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and the universe was eternal. The question is: are they wrong now, and if so, can Jehovah’s Witnesses prove it: science requires more specificity than just wild hypotheses.
Numbers Never Lie
The highest peak in the “mountains of Ararat” is about 5,165 m (c. 16,946 ft.); according to the Bible, this peak was covered by “15 cubits” (c. 22.5 ft. or 7 m). Thus the floodwaters covered all the earth by about 5,172 m (c. 16,969 ft.) above sea level. The volume of water required to cause a flood of such magnitude is 4πR3/3- 4π r3/3 = 4π(R3-r3)/3 = 4π[(r+h)3-r3]/3 = 4π[(r3+3r2h+3rh2+h3)-r3]/3 = 4π[r2h+rh2+h3/3] = where ‘r’ is the earth’s radius (c. 6,371 km) and ‘h’ is the height of the floodwater (c. 5,172m). So the total volume of water required in Noah’s Flood was 4×3.141593x [63712x5.172+6371×5.1722 +5.17233/3] = 12.566371x [209.929623+0.170422+0.000046]x106 = 2.640×109 km3 above sea level.
But, according to Wikipedia, the total volume of water worldwide is only about 1.386×109 km3, and that includes oceans, seas, lakes, swamps, rivers, streams, icebergs, snow, and glaciers (Wikipedia, “Earth”). So God would have required 4.026×109 km3 of water, very close to three (c. 2.905) times the water available on our planet, to achieve this. Unless, of course, he made a double miracle: God would have had to, temporarily, create almost double (c. 1.905) the volume of water on earth out of nothingness, and annihilate it again after the flooding since it had nowhere to go afterwards.
Let us now look as some pseudoscience concerning the Flood.
(1) Plate Tectonics
For this reason, Creationists and Bible-inerrancy believers, refer to the plate tectonics theory, arguing that at that time, the mountains were not as high: that the world was much flatter. For example, in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? (pp. 111–12), Jehovah’s Witnesses quote scientist Herbert W. Franke’s coauthored book Wonders of Nature:
“Where the mountains of the world now tower to dizzy heights, oceans and plains once, millions of years ago, stretched out in flat monotony.” (Franke & Frank, Wonders of Nature, p.87, emphasis mine)
However, notice the phrase “millions of years ago.” Jehovah’s Witnesses misquote Franke and Frank because the Flood allegedly happened only 4,400 years ago: 4,400 years ago, in terms of geologic time, is like one hour ago in a human’s lifetime: a human does not get much older in just one hour.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also try to answer the question of where the floodwaters subsided after the Flood. They contend that these waters went into ocean basins; they argue that scientists believe that continents rest on large movable plates (the plate tectonics theory) and that movement of these plates can cause changes in the ocean level and land elevation. However, they should also know that these plate tectonic processes take millions, if not billions, of years: not just four-thousand-odd years.
So, they throw in a smokescreen; saying that such continental plate movement might have been triggered by the Flood itself, but they provide no real scientific evidence to support their claim: showing it is just conjecture. They add a note from science correspondent Ronald Bailey’s book Glacier (Planet Earth Series), that if the ice on Greenland were removed, the island would rise; he writes,
“If the Greenland ice were to disappear, the island would eventually rebound some 2,000 feet [c. 610 m].” (Bailey, Glacier, p. 7)
Presumably, Jehovah’s Witnesses mean that if the floodwaters were to recede, the land will rise slowly allowing more water to disappear underground (Watch Tower, The Bible, p. 113n). But let me remind the reader that in my calculation above, I included all the water on earth: there simply is not enough water to cause a flood of such magnitude as described in the Bible.
(2) Volcanic Action
There is also a significant amount of speculative literature as to what these floodwaters might have caused to the earth’s crust, but nothing substantial to write home about. Personally, I do not see any reason why the shape of the ocean floor or the shape of the mountains would change significantly because of a flood; but anyway, in the interest of fairness, following is such a proposal by Creationist metallurgist Ian Taylor. In his book In the Minds of Men, Taylor, realizing that it is difficult to conceive where all those floodwaters could have come from, expresses a similar view to that of Jehovah’s Witnesses above: namely, that the mountains were shallower in the time of the Flood. Taylor asserts that many of the mountains we see today have increased in height since that time, hypothesizing that the Flood triggered many volcanoes all around the earth to erupt. He argues that the ash they emitted would have formed a cement-like mixture that hardened under the floodwaters, thus driving mountain peaks higher (Taylor, In the Minds of Men, p. 111). Taylor does not explain how or why floodwaters would trigger volcanic eruptions, he just assumes they do; but, possibly, I guess, floodwaters could wear off loose dirt from cracks or weaknesses in the earth’s crust: thus, allowing magma (molten rock) to eject from them much more easily. However, this is only speculation. There is some evidence in the National Geographic website that heavy downpours can trigger earthquakes (not volcanoes) through their erosion a few months or years later, (Lovett, “Heavy Rainfall Can Cause Huge Earthquakes”), but most scientists seem to limit volcanic eruptions to internal pressure in the earth’s crust.
Jehovah’s Witnesses then turn to fossils in support of the reality of the Flood. They claim that all around the earth many species suddenly became extinct, apparently from a sudden climate change worldwide. For example, they claim that many thousands, if not millions, of mammoths were found quick-frozen in Siberia. They add that, according to naturalist Alfred Wallace, quoted in Winsor Chorlton’s book Ice Ages (Planet Earth Series), opined that the cause of this climate change must have been worldwide and of exceptional magnitude (Chorlton, Ice Ages, pp. 54, 55, 57): they suspect it was the Flood (Watch Tower, The Bible, pp. 114–15). To achieve this, according to calculations by the Birds Eye Frozen Foods Company, a temperature of one hundred degrees below zero Celsius (-100°C/-148°F) is required (Oard, “Frozen Mammoth Carcasses in Siberia,”). Unfortunately, Jehovah’s Witnesses give no age estimate for this fossil record: whether it corresponds to 4,400 years ago, when the Flood allegedly occurred; nor do they provide a specific mechanism as to how or why this happened. As I demonstrate next, it is so easy to be misled by incomplete or inaccurate information.
John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, graciously gives the following details concerning this claim, thereby shedding much light to the outsider; he writes,
“We’ve all heard the stories of how ‘millions of frozen mammoths are found preserved in Siberia, frozen so quickly their flesh could still be eaten today, complete with sub-tropical vegetation in their mouths.’ Temperatures two hundred degrees below zero [-200°F (c. -129°C)] are needed to quick-freeze an animal of such large bulk, it is claimed, requiring extraordinary catastrophism, the likes of which creationists feel could only be associated with Noah’s Flood. The specific scenario proposed might be a temperature drop due to the precipitation of the pre-Flood canopy [explained presently] or a cometary ice dump. What is the truth, what is the solution? To answer these questions, we must first establish the facts, checking the original sources. And when we do, we find that no more than several dozen mammoths have been found frozen or partially frozen. It is true that tens of thousands of mammoth bones are found, and mammoth ivory has been mined commercially in some places, but those were not quick-frozen. … The frozen parts, are, with few exceptions, found in the frozen banks of modern rivers, usually in small lenses within the larger tundra layer. Some specimens seem to have drowned after breaking through ice covering a river. Furthermore, the stomach contents and unswallowed food (actually caught between the teeth) are that of a mountain meadow, not unlike that of alpine regions today. The frozen meat itself, while wolves and sled dogs have been known to sample it on occasion, is usually somewhat rancid, not quick frozen and ready to be sold. I think we can reasonably say that the ‘elephant kind’ … were filling the recently devastated earth, adapting to various areas as they went. They flourished initially, but some varieties were eventually overwhelmed in major storms during the Ice Age” (Morris, “Did the Frozen Mammoths Die in the Flood or in the Ice Age,” emphasis in original).
So, most of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ fossil evidence is turned to smoke by a Creationist, nonetheless. Notice that both Jehovah’s Witnesses and John Morris refer to the ice age. According to scientists, the last ice age ended about 11,700 years ago (Zimmermann, “Pleistocene Epoch,”): more than two and one-half (c. 2.7) times the estimated time elapsed from Noah’s Flood. Such dates can normally be determined very accurately by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and radiocarbon (carbon-14/C-14/14C) dating.
(4) Pre-Flood Canopy
Now, by “the precipitation of the pre-Flood canopy” quoted above, Creationists mean the fusion (melting) of an ice canopy (allegedly, the biblical ‘firmament’—the sky) into water and falling as rain. This would require, they contend, a great amount of heat from the surroundings (i.e., earth) to provide the latent heat of fusion necessary for the ice to melt into water. Creationists believe that this led to an ice age following the Flood (Got Questions, “What Is the Canopy Theory?”). Scientists disagree both regarding the timing of the ice age being about 4,400 years ago and any past existence of an ice canopy in the sky. I have also shown, in my article “Science in the Bible,” that the ‘firmament,’ in ancient cultures, was allegedly a solid dome made of metal with floodgates—not made of ice. For example, even in Gilgamesh’s tale above we have, “Let her deck be roofed like the vault that covers the abyss.” I do not think the god Ea was telling Utnapishtim to cover his boat with ice.
Moreover, if anything, floodwaters (once fallen during Noah’s Flood) would keep the earth’s temperature rather constant, given the high specific heat of water. It is common knowledge that land masses near oceans, seas, or lakes sustain milder (less fluctuating) temperatures.
(5) Global Centrifuge
As happens in everyday tides, the gravitational attraction of the moon would supposedly lift a huge amount of the floodwaters: raising it up into a bulge (wave crest) protruding over the normal level of the floodwaters. However, according to Taylor, whereas this energy is dissipated regularly by splashing against beaches in everyday tides, presumably it could not do so if all dry land were below the floodwaters—a worldwide ocean. Now, the earth spins on its axis once a day, while the moon orbits the earth once every twenty-seven-odd days. Thus, as the earth rotates faster than the moon’s orbit, an undercurrent is created relative to this crest, which the moon is trying to hold back. Meanwhile, since the moon has lagged the earth’s surface, it creates another huge bulge but at a different location, which again does not get splashed against beaches, and this process keeps building up energy in the form of deeper and deeper undercurrents (Taylor, In the Minds of Men, p. 111).
Now, according to Genesis, this process continued for almost a year (343 days) before the mountaintops started to show (See Genesis 7:24; 8:3–5). Taylor suggests that the speed of these currents could have reached hundreds of miles per hour right under the bulge, tapering off to practically stationary near the earth’s axis of rotation (i.e., near the poles). Such a process would result in significant mixing of suspended matter and, subsequently, in depositing a complex, yet somewhat organized, multiple sediments of a similar nature across the whole earth (Taylor, In the Minds of Men, p. 111). In their book The Genesis Flood, creationist theologian John Whitcomb and engineer Henry Morris propose a hydraulic sorting mechanism for the deposition of fossils following the Flood. In fast-moving waters, suspended objects tend to be deposited in an orderly fashion: the denser material (such as clams) is deposited first, while the voluminous material (such as feathered birds) tends to be deposited last (Whitcomb & Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 273). They argue that such stratification (layering) may give the impression of macroevolution, or descent from a common ancestor, as is claimed by the theory of evolution (Taylor, In the Minds of Men, p. 111). This might sound reasonable enough, and it would explain, to some extent the geological column quite nicely. However, had dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with humans, as creationists claim, why did the dinosaurs end up buried in much lower levels? They should end up buried, roughly, together with humans: I presume their densities are roughly the same; and if they had feathers, like the Archaeopteryx, they should end up at a higher (or more recent) level, no?
Finally, we come to the fact that, although many people have looked for Noah’s ark for more than a century, despite many false claims, nobody has ever found a splinter of it on the mountains of Ararat where it allegedly lodged; although Taylor gives, as probable reason, the fact that there is a whole range of dangerous, snowcapped mountains to be searched, not to mention it is a politically very sensitive area (Taylor, In the Minds of Men, pp. 388–89).
We have no physical or scientific evidence whatsoever supporting the occurrence of a global flood some four and one-half thousand years ago. We also have a myth written on stone tablets a thousand-odd years before the first book of the Bible was written, which the author of Genesis seems to have plagiarized. Moreover, the myth seems to have moved with Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews, who wrote the Bible. All the evidence points to Noah’s Flood being a myth tailored on a prior Sumerian myth as a template.
Before I end this article, have a closer look at the picture in this blog, and keep in mind that, according to the Bible, practically all of humanity (including innocent children)—not to mention practically all land animals—was allegedly exterminated this way. So the Bible portrays God as a violent Judge while, in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus taught us he is a loving, merciful, and forgiving “Father” (See Luke 15:11–32). Indeed, Jesus never used any violence, and he is presumably the “Word” of God (See John 1:1, 14) who thinks and acts like his Father (See John 10:30). I believe the Bible portrays God with a dual character—a Jekyll-Hyde personality—and that God therefore conceived Jesus to set the Scriptures and our concept of God straight. In other words, we must read the Bible discriminately, not blindly as an inerrant book: that is, not cherry-picking what we like from it and discarding what we don’t, but accepting what our innermost being tells us is the truth—as we would read any other good human book.
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