Friday, August 12, 2016

Mutiny on Noah's Ark

Last month, on July 7, 2016, a Christian theme park opened, featuring a full-scale model of Noah's Ark. This replica is 510 feet long, and contains many exhibits. The park, called Ark Encounter, is situated in Williamstown, Kentucky, and is operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG). It cost about $100 million, and whether it is financially viable remains to be seen.

Ken Ham, the president of AiG, explains that his Ark was built to remind people of the historical truth of God's word, to answer questions about Noah's Flood, and to present the gospel of Christ. He expects up to 2 million visitors annually. Full-scale arks have been constructed also in Hong Kong (2009) and Dordrecht, The Netherlands (2012).

For a sympathetic, but not entirely uncritical, account of a visit to Ham's ark, see the post Reflections on the Ark Encounter by Dr. Jason Wile.

Biologos on the Flood
Not surprisingly, there has been heated opposition, particularly from Christians associated with Biologos, an organization promoting theistic evolution among Christians.

Dr. Deborah Haarsma, president of Biologos, expresses grave concern:
We at BioLogos fully affirm the authority and inspiration of the Bible, while believing that proper interpretation of Genesis 6-9 does not conflict with modern science...The story points to the magnitude of Christ’s work, saving us from judgement and giving us new life. We must remember that the first ancient readers of the text saw its primary message as theological, not scientific....
The perspective offered by Answers in Genesis forces people to choose between the Bible and modern science, and reinforces the harmful cultural stereotype that modern science and biblical Christianity cannot mix...
Young-earth creationist teaching is causing unnecessary harm to the reputation of the Church and creates a stumbling block for people who are considering the Gospel. 
Even more disturbed is  Dr. Karl Giberson, former vice-president of Biologos:
Noah’s story, as a tale for children, has a certain adventurous charm and I was fascinated by it as a kid in Sunday School. But I am horrified by the story as an adult. Taken literally—the point of Ham’s new park—the story suggests that God drowned all the children on the planet for their parents’ sins. Even if we assume that all adults not sired by Noah were terrible sinners deserving to be drowned, the collateral damage in the deaths of innocent children and animals dwarfs every major genocide in history combined. If Noah’s story is literally true, God is a monster. I doubt God helped Ham with his project to establish this.
In convincing people that Noah’s Flood was a historical event, Ham has done a great disservice to Christianity and thinking people in general. For if Ham is right, almost all of contemporary science, biblical scholarship, and ancient history must be wrong. If there ever was a tail wagging a dog, this has to be it.
Dr. Giberson, having rejected the historicity of Adam and the Fall, seems to doubt also the existence of hell (see Dr. Al Mohler's On Darwin an Darwinism: a letter to Prof. Giberson).

Finally, Dr. Tremper Longman, advisor to Biologos and professor of biblical studies at Westmont College had a series of four posts on the Biologos website. Although he concedes that the Bible describes Noah's Flood as global, he argues that this should not be taken as literally true:
I read the Bible believing it is absolutely true.  It’s God’s Word after all.
The account of the Flood does not teach errors in what it intends to tell us. We need to determine what type of literature we are reading, in order to understand what the author wants us to learn from it. My conclusion is that Genesis 6-9 is telling us about a past event, but not giving us a literal, precise account of the event. Rather, the story uses figurative language (primarily, in the case of the Flood, hyperbole) and interacts with other ancient Near Eastern accounts as it tells the story of Noah and the ark...
According to Longman, hyperbole exaggerates in order to make an important point. For example, the huge size of the ark "is yet another indication that the original readers would have realized we are dealing with a figurative description of a boat." 

Interestingly, Longman criticizes the notion that the Bible describes merely a local flood: 
But even among those who acknowledge the evidence against a global flood, there are some who think the biblical story can still be read literally. This is often called the “local flood” interpretation: that Scripture really claims that the flood happened in the ancient Near East, rather than the whole world... My problem with this view is that the narrator says that the waters covered the mountains. It would be hard to understand that to mean the water literally covered mountains but also only affected a local area. Then there are also those who say the “whole earth” only means what people then thought the whole earth to be, namely their local area.  I also have difficulty accepting the view because I can’t imagine a time period or a scenario when people thought their local area was all that existed.
I believe the view that I have presented in this series—that there was a devastating local flood but it is described by figurative language as a global flood in order to communicate an important theological message—makes sense of God’s Word as well as God’s World. God’s Word tells the story as a global, not a regional, flood. God’s World (as geologists have discovered) gives no evidence of a global flood.  God’s Word and God’s World are true and the former imparts an important message...
The Flood story is a preamble to the story of Abraham, and ultimately to the story of Christ. We are sinners and deserve God’s judgment (the New Testament cites the Flood story in this way), but Jesus came to die on our behalf. He is the ultimate act of God’s grace. Through Christ, God brings blessing to those who, from the many nations, come to him. That is the true message of the story of the Flood. 
The following points stand out in the above discussion about Noah and the Flood:

1. Bible speaks of a global flood
Taken literally, as noted by Dr Longman, Gen.6-9 clearly speaks of a global flood. It destroyed all humans, except Noah's family (cf. 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6), destroyed "all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven" (Gen.6:17), every living thing that God had made (Gen.7:4), covered all the mountains (Gen.7:19), etc. Until the last few centuries, the vast majority of Christians believed in a global flood, including Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. For a detailed discussion see Richard M. Davidson, "The Genesis Flood: Crucial Issues in the Current  Debate" (Andrews University Seminary Studies 42 [2004]: 49-77).

2. Scientific Evidence regarding the flood
The prime reason Biologos rejects a global flood is that it allegedly conflicts with modern science, which Longman conflates with "God's World". According to Longman,"there is not a shred of evidence that supports the idea of a global flood". Of course, Ken Ham, and many others, disagree. They insist that the observed evidence is best explained in terms of a global flood.

Whose explanation is better? Ultimately, one must choose between viewing the Bible through mainstream science, with its anti-supernatural bias, or explaining the observed data through the lens of God's Word.

3. Inerrancy and hermeneutics
According to Dr. Haarsma, Biologos believes that a "proper interpretation of Genesis 6-9 does not conflict with modern science".  Thus, Dr. Longman, although affirming Biblical inerrancy, distorts the Biblical message by dismissing scientifically objectionable portions of Scripture as "figurative" or "hyperbole". For Longman, the (to him) impossibly huge size of the ark becomes simply another indicator that the flood account is intended to be figurative. This approach clearly makes the Bible subservient to mainstream science. 

A serious affirmation of Biblical inerrancy and authority requires embracing also an epistemology that places God's Word above human science, and applying a hermeneutical method that faithfully reflects a high view of Scripture.

4. Stumbling Blocks
Is Ham's Ark a stumbling block for the gospel, as claimed by Biologos? Ham's Ark certainly highlights the great antithesis between Biblical truth and worldly culture, which cuts across all areas of life, including history.

On the other hand, the Biologos policy of appeasement, trimming the Bible to suit modern culture, will ultimately leave us with no Bible at all.

In fact, it is the central Biblical message of salvation through Jesus Christ that is most foolish to worldly men. So, if the world will consider us fools anyway, we may as well be consistent "fools".


Steve Drake said...

Hi John,
I'm curious about the title for this post. I suppose 'Mutiny on Noah's Ark' in light of the post itself is to draw a contrast between what some Christians like Biologos believe about Noah's Ark and a worldwide global flood, and others like AIG believe, and thus a 'mutiny' among Christians?

When you first read this title, perhaps others like myself first think of Gen. 6-9 and the account written there and ask, "Wait a minute, I don't recall a mutiny aboard the Ark. Is there something I missed in reading Holy Scripture"?

I suppose that is the point, as I know from reading all your wonderful posts that you are a staunch supporter of a global and worldwide destroying Flood in the days of Noah and Scripture's support of this historical fact.

Anyhoo, thanks for bringing this to light, although do I detect a bit of sarcasm in the statement "It cost about a $100 million and whether it is financially viable remains to be seen"?

john byl said...

Hi Steve

Thanks for your comments.

Actually, I meant "mutiny" in the sense of "revolt against constituted authority" (Webster's New World Dictionary), in reference to Biologos's revolt against Scripture on the matter of Noah's ark and flood.

As to financial feasibility, no sarcasm intended. Just noting the huge cost.

Steve Drake said...

Hi John,
Yes, it is certainly that, a revolt and compromising acceptance of the unregenerate man's creation myth.

My understanding is that the cost of the 'Ark Encounter' was funded through private donations. I suppose if I had a $100 million dollars, and just one person was brought into the glorious light of God's grace through that $100 million, would it be worth it? Would it be God-honoring? Would I be able to stand in the presence of God and be able to explain and defend my choice and would God concur? Would my motives be judged aright?

MSC said...

I'm confused as to what Longman really believes about the flood episode. He says, "My conclusion is that Genesis 6-9 is telling us about a past event, but not giving us a literal, precise account of the event." What is this "past event" that he has in mind? Is it a flood event or something else? If it is a flood event, he clearly disagree that it is either global or local. So what is it? Does he hold that it is simply a fictional stories that illuminates some other unknown historical "event." Why would not the Scripture tell us what this event is if not a flood? Am I missing something here in his reading of Genesis 6-9?