The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence

By Davis A. Young
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1995). xiii + 518 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
7.1 (Spring 1996) : 145-147

The author, professor of geology at Calvin College, has collected an impressive array of information on the history of interpretation of the Genesis flood account. He chronicles the interpretation of the flood in Christian and Jewish thought with an emphasis on how Christians have interacted with "extrabiblical" evidence related to the flood.

Young categorically rejects the notion of a "universal flood," interpreting Genesis 6—9 instead as "language to describe an event that devastated or disrupted Mesopotamian civilization" (312), i.e., a local flood. Young reaches this conclusion based entirely on "scientific evidence," that is, data from various disciplines including geology, paleontology, and zoology. This reviewer sees two flawed assumptions underlying Young's conclusions: (1) General Revelation is self-defining in terms of its scope and authority apart from Special Revelation, and (2) General Revelation has sufficient authority to inform and correct Special Revelation.

Young includes in general revelation all types of human intellectual pursuits leading to the discovery of "truth." Discovery of truth is revelatory and falls into the category of general revelation or as Young often calls it, "extrabiblical evidence" (xi). This expanded view of general revelation is the foundation for various "integrationist" proposals, which the author favors. In the final chapter he calls for an exegetical methodology that integrates "discoveries" in various academic disciplines with Scripture as equals (313). Thus general revelation has the authority to inform Scripture or even correct it (308). Admitting that Christians for 1700 years have interpreted Genesis 6—9 to refer to a global flood, Young declares on the basis of his view of general revelation, "The extrabiblical data pertaining to the flood have been pushing the church to develop a better approach to the flood story and indeed to all the early chapters of Genesis" (310). He admits that some years ago he believed that the "biblical data favor an essentially global flood" (272); but elsewhere concludes, "The cumulative pressure of general revelation can be ignored for only so long" (309).

He spends considerable space discussing John Whitcomb's and Henry Morris' The Genesis Flood, but does so at a superficial level. He calls their conclusions "obviously incorrect" (311), based on "untested and untestable speculations that have a more solid grounding in the imagination than in God's creation" (265), and their handling of the evidence "highly prejudicial" (262). Yet he never interacts with their substantive discussions. Young also mistakenly contends that only "Whitcomb and Morris have attempted to address the serious problems posed [by a global-flood view] of biogeography and anthropology" (265), ignoring the extensive work of scientists from such institutions as the Creation Research Society andThe Institute for Creation Research.

Pejorative terminology and a condescending spirit characterize Young's summary of the views of modern commentators who favor a universal flood (280-93). He also displays a consistent antipathy towards "flood geology" and the notion of a "young earth." He refers to flood geology as a "pseudo-science" (215) and "reactionary science" (244), in which "scientific competence, sophistication and integrity" are lacking (266). He describes the proponents of flood geology as those who are "typically self-taught and lack the requisite qualifications for discussing geology" (244). This animosity is clearly visible on pp. 274-76 where he introduces a discussion between Stephen A. Austin of ICR and Donald Boardman of Wheaton College, but he expounds only the conclusions of Boardman. As another reviewer has noted, Young has also mishandled the works of Gerhard Charles Aalders and Oswald T. Allis (David J. Engelsma, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 29/1 [November 1995]:59-60), saying they are "agnostic about the extent of the deluge" (293).

Young has opted for a dichotomy between Scriptural declarations on matters of faith (theology) and matters touching other disciplines (science, history, etc.). He states, "The doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of providence, the two natures of Christ, and the concept of God's saving grace in Christ" must be affirmed "no matter what—simply because Scripture teaches them" (308). However, Young is just as ready to recommend the abandonment of the "traditional interpretation of the Bible in the face of a mass of conflicting extrabiblical evidence when the issue is a matter of a more historical, geographical, or scientific character" (ibid.). He admits that the NT presents the flood as unique and global and Noah and the flood as historical, but he strongly implies that the NT is in error on those points (15, 29-30).

Scholars and theologians who properly understand the nature and scope of general revelation as presented in Scripture and the inter-relationship between special and general revelation must address the questions raised by The Biblical Flood. Though Young calls for a "re-interpretation" of the Genesis flood account, this reviewer thinks that his re-interpretation is simply a rejection of the historicity and reliability of Scripture and of the historic Christian view of the doctrine of inspiration.