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A Catholic Perspective on a New Attraction

A new Christian tourist attraction, Ark Encounter, opened its doors this month in Williamstown, Kentucky, and thousands have already flocked to see the $100 million, life-size recreation of Noah’s Ark. According to CNN.com:

The massive exhibit, claimed to be the largest timber frame structure in the world, sits on the grounds of a Christian theme park, Ark Encounter, a for-profit enterprise founded by Ken Ham. He said the park is an evangelical tool aimed at teaching creationism, a literal interpretation of the Bible’s book of Genesis. “I find some of the aggressive secularists try to shut down people talking about the Bible,” Ham said. “So for us it’s, ‘How can we get a message out there about the Bible?’”

Critics say the attraction contradicts the conclusions of modern science. Bill Nye, who previously debated Ham on the subject of creationism versus evolution, recently visited the park and said, “On the third deck [of the ark] every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong. Not just misleading but wrong.” The article quoting Nye goes on to say Ham’s exhibit represents “a big departure from the science of evolution” and says “there’s no evidence to suggest an epic, worldwide flood occurred within the past 6,000 years.”

So is the story of Noah’s Ark an example of science contradicting religion, as Nye says? Is it an example of how we should trust Scripture instead of mainstream science, as Ham says? Or is there a third option?

How widespread was the flood?

The main complaint critics have about the story of Noah’s Ark is that there is no evidence the whole earth was ever inundated by a flood.[1] They say it is more likely that the Genesis account is a retelling of an earlier Babylonian myth called the Epic of Gilgamesh. In that story, a council of gods floods the earth and selects one man, Utnapishtim, to gather animals aboard a cube-shaped boat. After the flood, Utnapishtim releases a bird to find land and offers a sacrifice to the gods, just the way Noah did.

Accounts of a massive flood in the ancient Near East should serve to corroborate the Genesis account, not contradict it. Geologists have discovered that melting glaciers near the Black Sea could have caused the collapse of giant ice dams about 7,000 years ago.[2] Such an event would have triggered sudden, massive flooding across a wide area, which would have served as the basis for all the flood accounts in the region.

The article that reported Bill Nye’s reaction to the Ark says “some scholars are open to the idea that a historic flood of biblical proportions could have happened and inspired the Noah tale.” David Montgomery reaches the same conclusion in his 2012 book The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood. Montgomery says the geological evidence refutes the claim there was a worldwide flood, but he also says, “I now believe that there is no way to tell whether Noah’s flood was the Black Sea flood or a major Mesopotamian flood. No matter how intriguing either idea may sound, both offer seemingly reasonable explanations” (223).

What is the flood narrative’s genre?

The Catholic Church does not prohibit interpretations of Genesis 6-8 that include a worldwide flood, but neither does the Church require there to be a worldwide flood in all interpretations of these passages. Instead, Catholic theologians understand the first eleven chapters of Genesis contain, in the words of Pope Pius XII, “simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people” (Humani Generis, 38).

Modern readers may interpret passages in Genesis that describe water covering “the earth” as meaning that the entire planet was inundated. But a resident of ancient Mesopotamia may have understood the “the earth” to mean only “the land” or the region he knew. In fact, the Hebrew word for “earth” used in this passage, eretz, can also mean “land,” as in Genesis 41:57, where it says that “all the eretz came to Egypt to buy grain” when a famine struck the region. This doesn’t mean that everyone on the planet went to Egypt to buy grain, just those people who inhabited the region to which the author was referring.

The author of Genesis may have also used popular storytelling devices found in other flood narratives in order to show how the God of the Israelites was superior to pagan deities. For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods are afraid of the flood and flee to higher ground, but in the Genesis story God is in complete control of the disaster and is unaffected by it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh seems to have been derived from an even older story called the Epic of Atrahasis. In this story, a pantheon of gods floods the earth because human beings had become too numerous and noisy. The author of the Genesis account may even have been purposefully subverting this anti-life attitude in his own narrative in which God commands that Adam and Eve “be fruitful and multiply.” God’s decision to send the flood in judgment of sin instead of as a population control measure would be a further subversion of this theme. Pope Pius XII acknowledged that:

If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents (Humani Generis, 38).

Just as the Creation story communicated spiritual truths about God and the significance of humanity through figurative language, the story of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6–8 (as well as the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11) uses similar language to communicate truths about God’s attitude toward sin and redemption. The fact that the author chose to model his stories after existing narratives and literary conventions does not disprove the message he was communicating: that it was the true God and not any of his pagan competitors who intervened to save the survivors of the flood that devastated the land.

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By Trent Horn













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3 comments

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    “The Catholic Church does not prohibit interpretations of Genesis 6-8 that include a worldwide flood, but neither does the Church require there to be a worldwide flood in all interpretations of these passages,” …thus illustrating that “truth” is of little consequence to the RCC. There was no global flood. Trent has essentially admitted this. Why doesn’t the RCC drop all support for the mythical belief? What credibility should the RCC be afforded when they allow, permit, or encourage their members to believe this ancient legend through regular references to the mythical event as though it were true?
    .
    “If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents (Humani Generis, 38).” Prove this divine inspiration. The divine inspirer couldn’t even see to it that originals of His inspired works would survive so that we might know for sure, what they said. Why was Noah’s flood divinely inspired, but Gilgamesh’s was not?
    .
    There is little left to debunk in Genesis:

    There was no six day creation (why does an all-powerful god require six days, and why does He need to rest?)
    There was no two-person bottleneck in human evolution according to DNA evidence
    There was no mass Exodus from Egypt
    There was no Conquest of Canaan by Israelites, but archaeologists tell us the Persians paid a visit or two

    The entire foundation for Yahweh is based on these debunked elements. There is no other foundation There may be a god or gods, but the foundation for Yahweh has washed out to sea…

  2. Bill Holbert Reply

    “The Catholic Church does not prohibit interpretations of Genesis 6-8 that include a worldwide flood, but neither does the Church require there to be a worldwide flood in all interpretations of these passages,” …thus illustrating that “truth” is of little consequence to the RCC. There was a global flood. Many geologists today have essentially admitted this. A mythical belief??? And exactly what is the evidence that the Bible is a mythical document? The Bible is the singular most authenticated group of documents from antiquity and Bible scholars agree to that interpretation. I’m not a Catholic, and I do not subscribe to many of their doctrine. But I am a Christian, a Bible Believing Christian who has actually done my own research beyond the simple wild assertions made by the previous commenter.

    The previous commenter said: “The divine inspirer couldn’t even see to it that originals of His inspired works would survive so that we might know for sure, what they said.” No, He just made sure that sufficient copies of the inspired works were made to survive so that we would have to at least consider them and then have the faith to believe them because there was so much other data (historically and archeologically) to support what was written and saved.

    Why was Noah’s flood divinely inspired, but Gilgamesh’s was not? Seriously??? … Because God said He would save His chosen people and Noah was one of those and Gilgamesh was not. That’s the simple and truthful answer.

    There is little left to debunk in Genesis: Because there is none that can be debunked when the truth is presented.
    There was no six day creation (why does an all-powerful god require six days, and why does He need to rest?) Oh but there was and took the time He wanted to take. The previous commenter want’s to build a straw man argument in your mind because that is the only argument he can challenge and win.
    There was no two-person bottleneck in human evolution according to DNA evidence. The DNA bottleneck evidence is so overpowering that no really honest geneticist will argue this point. Can the scientific geneticist narrow down the genetic evidence to two people yet … No … So what … but they can narrow down the fact there was a serious bottle neck and it just so happens to coincide with an event that Christians know happened … Noah’s flood.
    There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. And yet the latest archeological data seem to be currently challenged to possibly consider changing the Egyptian calendar just for this reason. I offer a documentary for you to make your own conclusions: (Patterns of Evidence – you can find it on Amazon or see the trailer on youtube).

    There was no Conquest of Canaan by Israelites, but archaeologists tell us the Persians paid a visit or two.
    I offer one rebuttal to this wild and unsupported accusation: Archeologists actually consider the Biblical narrative to be the absolute truth … why … because the found the remains of Jericho and its remains are just as the Bible described, fallen walls and much burning.

    Biblical Chronology and the Conquest
    If the biblical narratives are accepted as reliable sources and the Biblical chronology followed, the Exodus, as already noted, must be placed around 1441 BC and the fall of Jericho around 1401 BC. With this agrees the view of the British excavator of Jericho, John Garstang. The chronological notices in Judges 11:26 and 1 Kings 6:1 support this position, as well as the evident time scheme underlying the OT historical books to the Solomonic era. In addition, this position has the distinct advantage of allowing at least a partial equation of the Habiru of the Amarna letters and the Israelites led by Joshua.

    The entire foundation for Yahweh is based on these debunked elements. There are NO DEBUNKED ELEMENTS, only the rantings of someone who does not want to believe the Bible could possibly be a true history, which most believe it is. There is no other foundation (that an atheist would accept, because they do not and will not believe an historical narrative written by men and inspired by God to make sure that His people remember Him.

    There may be a god or gods, but the foundation for Yahweh has washed out to sea… REALLY???

    I DON’T THINK SO.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Bill you said, “There was a global flood. Many geologists today have essentially admitted this.” Where are your sources? Where are the peer-reviewed papers submitted to reputable scientific journals? Who are these “many geologists?” Name one who doesn’t work for Ken Ham or a similar fundamentalist organization, but more importantly, provide some peer-reviewed scientific journals supporting a global flood. There simply is no such evidence, and I’m sure you know that, even if you don’t want to admit it.
      .
      “The Bible is the singular most authenticated group of documents from antiquity and Bible scholars agree to that interpretation.” Says who? Once again, where are your sources? Bible scholars are not in agreement with this statement. Read some of Bart Ehrman’s well footnoted and documented books for an alternative viewpoint. What sort of authentication can you have for events that occurred thousands of years ago?
      .
      You mention “so much other data (historically and archaeologically) to support what was written and saved.” Actually there is practically nothing to support the historicity of Jesus, and we know that many things in the OT are simply campfire tales. Read Richard Carrier’s peer-reviewed study of the historicity of Jesus. Surely there is some historicity in the OT – not much – but there is little or none in the NT.
      .
      Gilgamesh’s flood came long before Noah’s. The Hebrews just reworked the myth for their own purposes. There is no scientific evidence for a young earth creation. Indeed the evidence is overwhelming that we are here as a result of evolution and that the earth is billions of years old. Where are your peer-reviewed articles submitted to science journals, making a case for a six day creation? I searched, and found nothing, but there are libraries full of evidence supporting evolution.
      .
      You don’t seem to grasp the two-person DNA bottleneck problem. That was supposed to be Adam and Eve – where the fall from grace originated. The original sin – fall from grace story has nothing to do with Noah, though it is worth noting that Yahweh failed to fix original sin when there were only 8 mythical people left. Instead He waited another couple thousand years to send his mythical son. Heck, He didn’t even give them laws for another thousand years, when they had repopulated the earth. Without that two-person bottleneck, there is no reason for us to believe, say and do the right things with regard to Jesus in order to be “saved” – whatever that means. Without the Adam and Eve story, why do we need to be baptized and believe in Jesus? Actually we know that there was no 8-person bottleneck following the mythical Noah’s adventures; otherwise the lack of genetic diversity would be self-evident.
      .
      You make the same argument about the Exodus that every Christian has made since that silly propaganda video came out – the “Patterns” video is all about changing the date for the Exodus, but it presents no evidence at all, for the Exodus itself. I’ve watched the video. They make all sorts of conjectures, about when it might have happened, but they present no evidence at all, that it happened at any of the dates under consideration. If there was actual evidence, there would be no need to argue about the date, because they would carbon date the archaeological remains and we would know the date – but there are no remains to carbon date. Apparently the pillar of smoke and fire that followed them around was a giant vacuum cleaner, erasing all evidence of the journey. There’s a chance that a small group of Hebrews left Egypt to go back home to Canaan, and maybe they had some magic mushrooms on the way and wrote down their psychedelic experiences as some god thing, but there’s no evidence for any mass migration of 2 – 3 million people. 600,000 fighting men plus families, foreigners and livestock – and they left no trash behind, no shields or swords, or arrow heads, or wagon wheels or pottery – they left nothing. That’s pretty unusual, particularly since the bible tells us where they spent extended periods of time. If there were archaeological remains, we’d have found them by now. Archaeologists have given the search up as useless – it didn’t happen.
      .
      Read any apologist, and they will begin by agreeing that there is no evidence for the Exodus. They will then claim that just because there is no evidence, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Yeah, and just because I have no evidence that the center of the moon is made of green cheese, doesn’t mean it’s not made of green cheese. Finding forts and city walls and temples that have been destroyed in times gone by does not prove bible stories are true – it just proves that these places existed. This is the nature of myth. You take a dude like Zeus or Hercules and you write them into a historical narrative, placing them in places that actually existed – but it doesn’t mean they were real, does it? The bible does the same thing. The archaeological remains in Canaan show no evidence of a conquest by 2 – 3 million Hebrews, and indeed it turns out that the Israelites are Canaanites. Look up Canaan in Wikipedia.
      .
      Finally “most people” do not believe the bible is true. There are billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, and other religions that do not think the bible is true, and among westerners, the number thinking it is true is dropping like a rock. See the latest Pew Research surveys. The “nones” are now the largest voting block in the US. Science HAS debunked Genesis, whether you like it or not; and without that foundation, there’s nothing to support Yahweh. As I said, His foundation has washed away.

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