Q. Another question I have after reading your book Paradigms on Pilgrimage is what to do with the story of Noah’s flood. Creationists claim that many cultures across the world in isolated regions have “flood legends” in which one of their ancient ancestors is said to have survived a world-wide flood. This ancestor was named something similar to “Noah” like “Nehu.” I don’t know how to interpret such claims if Noah’s flood was just a small scale or local flood. I also don’t know what to do with the Bible’s claims that God essentially wiped out all life except sea life if it wasn’t a global flood. Of course, the section in your book in which Dr. Godfrey discusses trace fossils is pretty much the scientific nail in the coffin of there having been a global flood, but I don’t know how to reconcile these other details with the Bible’s description of the flood.
I think the most important thing to realize when considering your question is this: whether Genesis is envisioning a local flood or a global flood, it’s not picturing it happening in the world as we know it today. Rather, it’s describing the flood within an observational ancient cosmology, so that the very word “global” is misleading.
Genesis doesn’t envision the earth as a globe, but rather as a flat stretch of land surrounded by heaped-up waters on all sides. As I say in response to a comment on the previous post (which was also written in response to one of your questions about our book), any attempt to “establish a one-to-one correspondence between details in the biblical text and events in natural history” is doomed, precisely because of this difference in cosmology. “You can’t get there from here.”
In the flood episode, God is basically wiping out the wicked human race by destroying the place of its abode. In the creation account, God makes “a place for everything” and then puts “everything in its place”: birds in the sky, fish in the sea, humans and animals on the land. The flood is an un-creation scene: the dry land disappears beneath the waters, just as it originally appeared from under them, and the whole race of wicked people disappear with it.
That’s the theological message of the account from within its ancient cosmology. We really can’t extrapolate from that to try to determine what actually happened in natural history. Comparative anthropology, as you note, may shed some light, and geology can as well, but we’re not getting natural historical details about the world as we know it today from the flood story in the Bible, precisely because of its ancient observational cosmology. This is a case like the many others we discuss in the book in which the Bible answers questions of “who” and “why,” but not (at least to our satisfaction) questions of “what,” “how,” or “when.”
(I earlier shared some additional thoughts about the question of a local versus worldwide flow in this post.)