Picture of Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Why A Literal Interpretation Of Genesis Requires The Belief In Evolution On Steroids

Interesting fact: if you believe that Genesis is to be interpreted as literal, historical fact, you must also believe in evolution. Here's why:

Jesus Creed had some great thoughts over on his blog today. He went deeper into a point that was brought up in the debate but that didn’t get as much attention as in hindsight, I think it should have. This is the issue of how taking a literal (as is commonly understood) interpretation approach to Hebrew stories– such as Noah’s ark– actually requires such a person to believe in evolution.

And, not simply evolution– one would actually be required to sign on to a hyper-evolution that is absolutely mind-boggling.

The argument goes something like this:

The Bible gives the dimensions of Noah’s ark, and turns out, it’s actually quite a bit smaller than what would be needed to do the job– if in fact it were a global flood and the only living survivors were in the ark. YEC agree with this, and have compensated for the problem through a new definition of what the Bible means when it says “two of every kind”. In order to make all the animals fit, they argue for example, that instead of foxes, wolves and dogs there was simply one dog-like kind that later (post flood) became foxes, wolves, and domestic dogs. Likewise, they would also believe the ark contained a generic cat that later became lions, tigers and bears, other types of cats (such as the liger which is pretty much my favorite animal cause it’s a lion and a tiger mixed).

This argument fixes the problem of there not being enough space in the boat, but creates a bigger problem: if the animals from the ark story were actually the only animals to survive, the biodiversity we have today is a result of a hyper evolution that has occurred in just the past 4,000 years.

So, if one takes the flood story as 100% historical fact, one must also not only believe in evolution– but must believe in evolution on steroids in order to account for animal diversity today.

Brilliant points that I’m glad someone brought up in more depth. It seems that for those of us who affirm the inspiration of scripture, one is now forced to choose between two potentially uncomfortable positions. The first would be to affirm that evolution not only happens but has been rapidly occurring for the past 4,000 years (according to Nye it would be approx 10 new species per day), or we must affirm that the flood was obviously a localized flood.

I’ll stick with the localized flood.

Picture of Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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55 Responses

  1. I am an investor of gate io, I have consulted a lot of information, I hope to upgrade my investment strategy with a new model. Your article creation ideas have given me a lot of inspiration, but I still have some doubts. I wonder if you can help me? Thanks.

  2. I’ve used this argument with Young Earth Creationists for some time. I’ve never gotten much of a response back though.

    Although I do have to say. There really is no issue with this being illogical. If God can create everything in 6 days. Can create a firmament that somehow hold up vast amounts of water, yet letting sun through. Can Send a flood from water that then magically disappears without overheating the planet to make it evaporate. And then modifies DNA so that the population does not die out due to in-breeding…

    It’s really not a big stretch to think that he could hyper inflate evolution for awhile.

    What’s more silly, is that they try to enter into scientific discussions in the first place. I just tell them. Be Honest. Admit that your position comes from your Faith, and that’s it. At least that is honest. They still have to deal with the issues surrounding “blind faith” but at least they are being somewhat honest with themselves then.

  3. We can also get a good sense of what the flood story was really all about by reading versions of the story from other cultures in the same region. There are flood references in Assyrian remnants and even in the work of Berossus. The Assyrians apparently took the story quite metaphorically where the ark represented a ship of state and the flood represented the deluge of martial conquest. This kind of cultural investigation should be a sure antidote to fundamentalist obfuscation.

  4. Agreed. Ken Ham said that there were less than 1000 “kinds” on the Ark. To have that few, we’re not talking species or genera or even families but a single pair representing each taxonomic order on the Ark.

    I’ve gone into that as well as the Ham on Nye debate in more detail here. For example, rodents are one order (mice, rats, beavers, squirrels, etc.), so you’d have one pair for them. One pair for all carnivores (cats, dogs, bears, raccoons, etc.). And so on.

    The Bible can drive people to believe some nutty stuff.

            1. More like repeated appeals to conform to your folderol. Thankfully, though, you can’t send me to the gulag or a concentration camp as your atheist forbearers did with those who exposed their casuistry.

                1. Actually my avatar illustrates how the truth of our Magnificent Creator’s necessary existence overpowers the feeble attempts of craven atheists like you who try to occlude it.

                  Try as you might, though, you can’t censor the truth: God Almighty exists and he will not be denied.

                  1. Looks like the moon is doing a pretty great job at occluding your sun god, but whatever. Interpret it however you choose.

                    Best wishes for supporting your claims with evidence instead of theology.

  5. I don’t think a belief in “hyper-evolution” would necessarily invalidate the Creationist argument. It’s not the objection to evolution that informs their position, but the requirement that everything we know about the world be shoehorned into a belief in the literal accuracy of biblical cosmology. So if hyper-evolution works to explain how the small size of the ark could lead to current biodiversity, then that must be how it happened.

    Of course, it still makes infinitely more sense to view the biblical account of the Flood as a re-telling of an archetypical myth, intended, like fables or Jesus’s parables, to convey a moral message via fiction. Looked at that way, there’s no conflict between the biblical stories and scientific discovery.

    1. except for the claim that the fall of man happened because of two perfect humans leading to jesus being sent. because of evolution we understand there were no two perfect humans and no fall of man.

  6. If the Flood was only localized, why the the rainbow to show that God would never again flood the earth? Doesn’t that make God a liar if it were just localized.. since there has been numerous localized floods since then. Why would God say never again will I flood the earth… etc etc….

    1. No, don’t believe it makes God a liar. He could have just meant there will never be one “that bad” ever again- just like when Jesus said the great tribulation in AD 70 would be the worst ever. It doesn’t mean we won’t have future times of trouble, just that it will never be as bad as it was during the tribulation back then.

      Science shows there was not a global flood 4000 years ago, but– there were likely many localized floods in history, as a great flood story is present in many oral histories in various cultures– some pre-dating our flood story. Plus, science obviously disproves that all the animals needed would fit into the ark, which means we must work backwards and realize we’ve misunderstood the proper interpretation of scripture in that area.

      1. Ben — I love your blog and read it . . . ahem . . . religiously. But this is where you always lose me (or maybe just where our respective faith traditions part company.) It seems to me that, despite your reservations about a literal reading of Genesis, you’re still trying to argue for the historicity of an actual Ark, an actual Noah and the notion that God literally sent a rainbow at the conclusion of the Flood and explained what it meant. Is it your view that Genesis is basically an account of actual physical and metaphysical events, but with gaps and ambiguities that exegesis can fill in and validate (for example, the possible reinterpretation of the “begats” used by Ussher)? Or do you see it simply as a mythological metaphor that doesn’t need to be literally accurate in order to to be “poetically true.” Just curious, because there’s obviously a HUGE difference between those two viewpoints.

        1. Thanks for reading religiously 🙂 I think this might just be where our tradition or perhaps foundational theology differ– hard to say since I don’t know yours. But, it’s a big tent and there’s room for both of us!

          However, to give more insight to mine it goes something like this:

          I affirm the inspiration of all scripture as a primary view, and believe the “battles” to be had are over the best ways to interpret/understand scripture. I know a lot of the readership here likely doesn’t start with that premise, but that’s definitely one of mine. So for me, in regards to your question, the question would become: was the flood a mythological metaphor that God wanted in scripture or was it an actual event at least on a small scale?

          Personally, I think it was a literal event but on a much smaller scale because I don’t see this area of Genesis as being poetic in genre, such as Gen 1.

          I think exegesis can fill a lot of gaps, but not all– scripture is something that often invites us into tension not out of tension (an issue that’s an entire chapter in Undiluted).

          In short, I think scripture is inspired and so my question always becomes “what is the best way to understand this?” I don’t have a problem with a literal flood on a local scale (since we know they happen, it exists in other oral histories, etc but also know scientifically that it wasn’t global) but I also don’t have a problem with a metaphoric flood either– I just don’t believe that this passage is metaphor. (but, just my personal theological opinion).

          — the other issue is that I’m working things out, very publicly, so I’m not always going to have clear cut or permanent answers/positions… you’ll have to keep following to see where I land on things!

          1. Ben — thanks for taking time to respond. I’m also “working things out” and have really enjoyed your perspectives on things. Personally, I never found it made much difference to me whether the events in Genesis (or elsewhere in the Bible) actually occurred or not, any more than it makes a difference whether Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” is the literal story of some guy’s trip to Istanbul. Poetry, art, and myth carry a different kind of interior “truth” that, for me anyway, always felt much closer in kind to the type of insights found in “faith.” I think it’s likely that Genesis and other flood myths DO describe an actual event. The stories of Noah, the Ark and the rainbow, on the other hand, always seemed to seem to me to be more about this other kind of “truth” that they did about dry, empirical events. Maybe it’s the inner “zen” of the Bible that’s important, and not so much the literal truth of the tales it tells?

      2. so never again means… not that bad? Hmm… as for AD 70… how can you say that the Holocaust was not worse that the destruction of Jerusalem? Granted it was really bad, but 3 million compared to 6+…. Its just not making sense to me really. If you look at the different cultures history, you see one man one woman … an Ark type boat – a flood, Babel.. etc.. it seems to be right through a lot of the different cultures, and most believed in One God, either before or along with all their deities…. but anyway… i am going to read that book by your friend that you suggested. Will let you know how I get on. 🙂

      3. So Christ Jesus was wrong?

        “For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the Flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they took no note until the Flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” -Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27.

        1. No. Jesus isn’t weighing in on whether the flood was global or localized. He’s using the passage to show that his return would be like the flood, something that would happen without much warning. To say that this passage affirms a global flood misses the context and purpose Jesus is quoting it for.

          1. Yes, I see what you’re saying because small, local floods typically take about a year to dry out …

            Heck! Even New Orleans is still completely under water …

      4. Brother, you are right to continue to seek God on these matters. “misunderstanding the proper interpretation of scripture”? According to who? The flood story, as told in Genesis, predates many of the various cultures as it also predates the story of Babel, or how God sent out people onto the face of the earth instead of staying all in one place. So of course people are going to have versions of the flood story, they carried them with them into their new cultures. God appointed a people, the people of Israel, to be His people so that God’s truth would continue to be told and not watered down or changed as happened in these other cultures.

        Trying to fit God and His Word into the dogma of science will profit nothing. Remember how the science we learned in school (I was taught the Big Bang theory and that Pluto was a planet) changes as new discoveries take place. These are discoveries of things that already existed, not brand new things. Science is a method by which we can learn of the world God created when it is used as a vehicle of observation, which is its realm. When used for proposing theories, then it becomes another form of dogma, if people prefer to believe it over the Word of God. And in that, Ken Helm is right on the money. We cannot serve both God and the world – at some point we choose either the broad way or the narrow one.

  7. To me the above sounds like another excuse to not believe God. If you call yourself Christian and claim you believe and follow God, how can you accept other teaching than what is found in his Holy Word?

    What kind of example does that set for unbelievers? They will look at you and say, ‘why do we need to change then because you are believing what we believe?’

    Why should unbelievers change when they see that you do not represent God as he reveals himself and his work?

    You claim God lied or didn’t reveal himself or his work then you undermine the cause of Christ because you are saying you do not believe the very God you claim to follow and love.

    1. I can manage to believe in a/the Creator without believing in a literal flood legend. Which has at least two versions. In one it’s two pairs of all animals. In the other it’s seven pairs of the clean animals and two pairs of the unclean animals. Since we haven’t been told which is which yet makes me class this as more of a Just So story. And any God you can fully describe isn’t God. It’s a very pale reflection of ourselves.

    2. Who told you that the Old Testament is the word of God? Maybe your parents. But who told them? Sometime several thousand years ago, someone maintained that it was the word of God. Who was that, and how did he know? In reading the Old Testament, we should keep in mind that the Israelites proclaimed themselves God’s chosen people and that their enemies were therefore also God’s enemies, and God always came to their rescue. You surely don’t believe that God slew the firstborn of every man and beast as one of the Ten Plagues visited upon the Egyptians. That would certainly be in Egyptian history, but it is not. Instead of killing the first born of every person and every animal to punish the pharaoh, why didn’t a just God kill the pharaoh? Also, not everything was destroyed by the flood. Civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and China existed before and during the flood and exist today. If the flood covered the highest mountains, it would have covered 29,000-foot Mt. Everest where the temperature regularly reaches 100 degrees below zero, and oxygen is only one-third what it is a sea level. Everyone and everything on the ark would have frozen to death or suffocated. One can still believe in god without believing the ancient myths of the Old Testament.

      1. Indirect evidence is frequently and reliably depended upon to ascertain the reality of the world we live in . As a case in point , it’s long been widely-used to show that our Sun generates power via nuclear fusion , hydrogen is present on it or that the our planet features an iron core . In like manner , creation as well as the reality that not a one of fulfilled Bible predictions has at any time been completely wrong constitutes unquestionable attestation for the reality of it’s composer , Jehovah God .

        This is, by far the most persuasive logical reason why millions upon millions of rational people today the world over accept the Bible as the Inspired Word of Jehovah God. Simply no other book – religious or not – comes with such an illustrious prominence. Considering the fact that it’s literally ** impossible ** for any person to foresee with complete precision what’s sure to occur from one hour to the next, there’s no two ways about it: Bible prophecies are not of natural origin. I kindly invite you to examine for yourself numerous examples of these accurately fulfilled prophecies: http://bit.ly/1d0Y82v

        1. Presumably, the Holy Spirit can commit no error, but, as you know, the New Testament is full of error and contradiction among the four evangelists. as for you argument in logic,
          The “proof” that the Bible is inerrant is this: the Holy Spirit inspired its writers, and the Holy Spirit can commit no error. Therefore, the Bible is inerrant. In logic, this is called begging the question, attempting to prove one unproven thing (that the Bible is inerrant) by using another unproven thing (that the Holy Spirit inspired the
          writers of the Bible) as proof. This is a false proof.

          1. How do you know it’s not your understanding that’s flawed and that the Bible in fact does contain material errors?

  8. Slate.com ‘s Will Saletan did pick up on this part of the debate, so it didn’t entirely get missed. I agree that it is puzzling that more creationism advocates didn’t see this as a problem. I was raised YEC, yet was never aware that this concession had been made.

  9. The 6,000 year old age of the Earth is generally derived from Usher’s Annals of the World. He uses the Old Testament genealogy to derive the 6000 years, unfortunately this has some major assumptions and one extremely large problem. The word “begat” in Hebrew does not necessitate a father/son relationship. X begat Y could be separated by hundreds of years.

    With that said, another completely viable option would be to admit that 4,000 years is inaccurate and not defendable with the scriptures. You could keep the entire Genesis/Bible genealogy, believe in a literal 6 day creation, believe in a global flood, in an ark and noah and all that and still believe in an Earth much older than 6,000 years.

    I don’t know what this does for speciation over time, but it might make it more realistic.

  10. There are tons of large-scale localized floods in the geologic record, many as the last ice age came to an end and ice-dams on glacial lakes broke open. Geology has absolutely no problem with a localized, devastating flash-flood that scoured a region and became the stuff of legend. That has happened many times, and is recorded in the geology of the region that was inundated.

    There is, however, no evidence in the geologic record of a world-wide flood. Since the localized floods mentioned above left powerful physical evidence, a world-wide flood should have left a profound mark on the geology of the earth. There isn’t one. No evidence in the geologic record of a world-wide flood pretty much leads on to state “no world-wide flood.”

    The geology doesn’t lie. I’m afraid Mr. Ham appears to. Or at least be willfully ignorant.

    1. I live in Western Oregon the happy recipient of the results of the so called Missoula floods. Good thing Washington doesn’t want us to return the topsoil from the Scablands that were repeatedly inundated as ice dams broke, reformed and failed repeatedly. Between the floods and Mt Mazama (home of Crater Lake) blowing her top life must have been right lively for the newly settled immigrants that became what we Europeans called “indians.”

      1. Not to mention the repeated eruptions of St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainier’s occasional eruption or lahar, and an earthquake or two in the Cascade Subduction Zone. I live in Western Washington and am very glad that, in day-to-day life, I don’t have to think in geological time.

  11. Does “localized flood” mean you’re still trying to make this a story about a real flood, and not a re-telling of the very common flood stories of the cultures that surrounded Israel, that may or may not have had even a kernal of truth about them? Seems to me this is a story about God, not precipitation.

  12. It boggles my mind why people believe that there are only two options, that is Young Earth Creationism or Evolution regardless of whether it is theistic or humanist. What about Old Earth or commonly known as Progressive Creationism?! I think people are making this a either or scenario when it is a both and. I would like for some of these popular bloggers to check out “Reasons to Believe” with Hugh Ross and add their position to the conversation.

      1. Although my homie @benjaminlcorey:disqus … I think what @aogreen:disqus is referring to as “progressive creationism” is the same thing (essentially) as Old Earth Intelligent Design” which still rejects the idea that biological evolution happened. This sets up a less severe, yet similar dichotomy I think. Correct me if I’m wrong. With that said, this was a GREAT POST!

  13. There are a couple of other problems I have with the traditional interpretation of Genesis… Maybe these have been addressed here or elsewhere, but in light of the Nye/Ham debate, I would like to bring them up again.

    One, one of the pillars of YEC is that “evolution would have been unnecessary since God created a perfect world”. But Genesis says that after each day of creation, God said that it was “good” (towb), not “perfect” (tamiyim). The word “towb”. used to describe creation, means aesthetically pleasing, not perfect.

    Second, another pillar of YEC theology is that “there was no death in the world before Adam sinned”. But Genesis 3:22 directly implies that Adam was going to die; “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”

    So as I see it, the two main pillars of YEC theology are not at all stable… But I won’t go there.

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