Chapter 6

Defense—A Local Flood?

by Dr. Jason Lisle and Tim Chaffey on February 2, 2012

If they are to be consistent, old-earth creationists are forced to believe in a local flood. Can they provide adequate responses to the prosecution’s case?

As mentioned in the previous chapter, if they are to be consistent, old-earth creationists are forced to believe in a local flood. Can they provide adequate responses to the prosecution’s case presented in the last chapter? We shall see. Perhaps the two leading promoters of the local flood idea are Dr. Hugh Ross and Davis A. Young. Ross is the founder of a ministry called Reasons to Believe and Young is a professor of geology at Calvin College.

What Is a “Universal” Flood?

Dr. Ross often claims that the Flood was universal but not global. You may be wondering exactly what that means, so we will allow Ross to explain himself.

Any flood that exterminates all human beings, all the soulish animals with whom they have contact, and all their material possessions—except those on board Noah’s Ark—would be universal and would achieve God’s purpose in pouring out judgment.1

By using the term “soulish,” Ross is referring to those creatures that are described in the Hebrew language as nephesh chayyah. His view is that the Flood destroyed all of humanity, except Noah and his family, and every nephesh creature that had come into contact with fallen humanity. He explains:

If no people lived in Antarctica [prior to the Flood], God would have no reason to destroy the place or its penguins. Nor would Noah be required to take a pair of Emperor penguins aboard the ark.2

This view has some serious problems. First, Ross assumes that Antarctica existed before the Flood. This demonstrates his acceptance of the uniformitarian philosophy—the present is the key to the past. It was demonstrated in the previous chapter that the pre-Flood world was much different than the post-Flood world.

Second, Ross did not obtain this idea from the text. Ross begins his argument this way:

Determining the extent of the great Flood that eradicated all humanity except Noah and his family will depend on discovering the extent to which the population (thus, the wickedness) had spread by Noah’s time. My first approach to this determination is simple: Through science we can deduce that pre-Flood humans never settled Antarctica.3

This is typical for Ross, even though he often claims that his ideas came from Scripture. We have studied a number of his debates, and he almost always argues this way. Scientific arguments are given first, as though they are the authority to which all others must bow, and then he cites the text in an effort to justify his scientific opinions. In this particular case, his conclusion is based on his belief that there was never a worldwide flood on earth. Remember, the Bible clearly teaches a worldwide catastrophe. The local flood theorists’ views on the biblical text will be dealt with shortly.

Finally, Ross implies that somehow sin’s impact was limited to man, his belongings, his locale, and his animals. Yet the Bible teaches that all of creation “groans and labors with birth pangs” because of man’s sin (Rom. 8:22). We have noticed that old-earth theology has a tendency to minimize the effects of sin. After all, if death, suffering, disease, bloodshed, thorns, and thistles were already in the world before Adam sinned, then what did sin do? It seems that sin had very little impact on the world in old-earth theology. Yet, a straightforward reading of the Bible indicates that sin ruined the original paradise.

A Limited Curse?

Some old-earth creationists have claimed that the curse on the ground (Gen. 3:17–19) was limited to the Garden of Eden. Based on comments made during the 2006 Ankerberg debate, it seems Ross shares this view as well. He claimed that Adam knew what death and thorns were based on his experience in the world before God placed him in the Garden of Eden.4 Ross believes that it would have been impossible for Adam to have known what death and thorns were if he did not have prior experience with them.

Once again, this argument just fails to hold up when exposed to the light of Scripture. The third chapter of Genesis provides the account of the Fall. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and consequently God punished them and the serpent. Verses 17b–19 state:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Notice there is no indication of a limited curse. God said it was “the ground” that was cursed for Adam’s sake. Ross interprets this to mean that God was only talking about the Garden of Eden. This simply is not true. God said that Adam would return to “the ground” from which he was taken. In context this is the same ground that God said He would curse; the Hebrew term adamah is used both times. God did not curse only the ground of the Garden of Eden with thorns, for that is the area from which Adam was expelled. God cursed the ground that Adam was expelled to and the ground to which he would return after death. That was all the ground outside the Garden.

There is another problem with this argument. When Noah was born, his father Lamech said, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Gen. 5:29). Once again, we see that the ground was cursed (and the same Hebrew words for “ground” and “cursed” are used). This ground could not have been the Garden of Eden, since God had placed cherubim at the edge of the Garden to keep man from reentering it (Gen. 3:24). We can be sure that Lamech did not overpower these cherubim so that he could live in the Garden again. The Bible is clear on this point: all of the ground was cursed because of man’s sin. There was no limit to the extent of the curse, as Ross claims.

A Different Approach

Davis Young does not agree with Dr. Ross concerning the extent of the Flood. Interestingly enough, he does not even agree with his own earlier writings. In 1977, he wrote Creation and the Flood, in which he promoted the idea of a global yet tranquil flood.5 He now believes in a local flood but he differs with Ross because he does not believe that it wiped out all of mankind. Young has abandoned one bad idea for another one. This is a common practice among those who insist on allowing man’s fallible teachings to be their guide rather than the unchanging Word of God. Here is Young’s view in his own words:

But archeological investigations have established the presence of human beings in the Americas, Australia, and south-eastern Asia long before the advent of the sort of Near Eastern civilization described in the Bible and thus long before the biblical deluge could have taken place. In the light of a wealth of mutually supportive evidence from a variety of disciplines and sources, it is simply no longer tenable to insist that a deluge drowned every human on the face of the globe except Noah’s family.6

Young does not accept that the Flood wiped out all of humanity because he believes that people have been living in the “Americas, Australia, and southeastern Asia” since well before the timing of the Genesis flood. He believes this “fact” has been well established by several disciplines of science, which he calls “extra-biblical” evidence.

Young’s rejection of a worldwide flood is based on secular scientific majority opinion rather than the text itself.
First, notice that Young’s rejection of a worldwide flood is based on secular scientific majority opinion rather than the text itself. In fact, Young seems to imply that the New Testament authors believed in a worldwide flood! He wrote, “These New Testament writers clearly assumed the historical existence of Noah and the deluge, and they viewed the deluge as a unique event.” The only way this event could have been unique is if it were worldwide, since there have been countless local floods, some of them quite large in geographic extent.

Think about that for a minute. If the New Testament authors accepted a global flood, and wrote about it, then why would Young reject it? Is he actually claiming that the Bible is wrong? Yes, indirectly! First Peter 3:20 clearly states that only eight people survived the Flood. Young does not accept this even though there is strong “extra-biblical” support for a worldwide flood.

Literally hundreds of ancient cultures tell of a massive worldwide flood in which only one family survived, with animals, on a large boat. It is true that many of these accounts sound legendary and mythical, but these things often have a basis in truth. This becomes very intriguing when one examines the points of similarity in these stories. In fact, many of these ancient stories are not limited to the Flood. Some of these cultures tell stories that correspond to the major events of the first 11 chapters of the Bible, such as the creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.

In 1997, Ethel Nelson, a missionary to China, published God’s Promise to the Chinese in which she demonstrated how the ancient Chinese language, through its use of picture-characters instead of letters, revealed their knowledge of creation and the Flood.7 This fascinating discovery lends tremendous “extra-biblical” support for the veracity of Genesis.

Sadly, while claiming to uphold biblical inerrancy, Young soundly rejects it in his writings. He calls for a reinterpretation of Genesis 6–9 even though he recognizes that his view is contrary to the Church’s historic position on this issue. Young’s changing views of the Flood provide a strong example of how dangerous it is to compromise God’s Word with changing (secular) scientific opinion.

Redefining Words and Phrases

We come now to the first real purportedly biblical argument offered by local flood theorists. Dr. Ross claims that when the reader sees phrases such as “under the entire heavens” and “every living thing on the face of the earth,” we must learn to “interpret in light of their [the authors’] frame of reference, not ours.”8 In other words, when the Bible claims that “all the high hills under the whole of heaven were covered” (Gen. 7:19), we must interpret it through the eyes of Noah. From his vantage point, it looked like all the mountaintops were covered, so it would be safe for the biblical author to write it this way without being accused of error.

A figure of speech in which the author exaggerates for emphasis.

In support of this view, Ross cites a few passages which most scholars do interpret this way. Genesis 41:56 speaks of the seven-year famine during Joseph’s life. It states, “The famine was over all the face of the earth.” It is true that most commentators would view this as hyperbole. The author did not really mean that every single part of the earth was enduring the famine. Instead, the world known to the Egyptians, or perhaps the author, was suffering from the famine. He also cites Romans 1:8 in which Paul wrote, “… your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Again, the reader is not to think that the Native Americans heard about the faith of the Roman Christians. We do not know of any commentator, old-earth or young-earth, who would dispute that hyperbole is used many times in the Bible.

Nevertheless, the burden of proof still falls on Ross because “all” and “every” do often have an absolute sense. For example, when Romans 3:23 says all have sinned, that is not hyperbole—literally all (each and every one) people have sinned. Jesus literally has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18) and literally every knee will bow to acknowledge Him as Lord one day (Phil. 2:11). Furthermore, a cursory reading of Genesis 6–9 reveals numerous references to total destruction. For Ross’s view to be correct, every single one of these must be interpreted as hyperbole. Some verses contain two words or phrases that indicate a worldwide event. Ross cited Genesis 7:19 as an example of hyperbole. It reads, “And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered.” Of course, Ross wants the phrase “all the high hills” to refer to a local area. This interpretation simply cannot be because the text says all of the high hills under “the whole heaven” were covered. The second phrase demonstrates conclusively that the text is not simply referring to all the hills of the area, but rather all the hills under the entire sky (the “whole heaven”) (i.e., all the high hills on earth). In order for Dr. Ross’s view to be correct, both of these phrases would have to be hyperbole, when the context shows that neither one of them is. Verse 20 adds, “The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.” Not only did the water cover the mountains, it was some 22 feet (15 cubits) above the top of the highest mountain in existence at the time.

Ross would have us believe that the confusion is due to the “small vocabulary” of the Hebrew language. He states, “The translators’ wording of this passage [Gen. 7:19–20] explains why so many English-speaking Christians firmly conclude that the Flood must have been global.”9 He then goes on to quote the King James Version and the New International Version to show why so many “English-speaking Christians” reach the global flood conclusion. For Ross, the debate hinges on the proper translation of the word translated as “covered” (Hebrew kacah כסה). He claims that all of the English translators were “influenced, unawares, by preconceptions about the story.”10 In other words, the English translators believed in a global flood so they mistakenly, yet unintentionally, translated this passage to support their view. He cites the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament in which R. Laird Harris states, “In Gen. 7:19–20 the hills were ‘covered’; the Hebrew does not specify with what. The NIV specification of water goes beyond the Hebrew.”11

With all due respect, perhaps it is Harris and Ross who have been influenced by their own preconceptions about the story and are not reading the biblical text very carefully. If it were not so misleading, it would be laughable that Harris claims that the hills were covered but “the Hebrew does not specify with what.” What else could have covered the mountains to a depth of 15 cubits? This passage is right in the middle of a graphic description of the Flood! The translators had very good reasons for translating this passage in the way they did. The Hebrew word for water (mayim) appears in both verses! Obviously, the water covered the mountains to this depth.

In addition, there are references to complete destruction, which cannot be interpreted hyperbolically. For example, in Genesis 6:7 God declared, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Ross accepts that God was going to wipe out all of humanity with the exception of Noah and his family. This verse puts the land animals and birds in the same context as mankind. They were all going to be destroyed. How does he justify his belief that God would not destroy Antarctica or its penguins? Not from the text. His views are based on his acceptance of secular scientific opinions. As sad as it may seem, all of the penguins, except for those on the ark, were killed during the Flood, despite Ross’s reasoning. And besides this, penguins don’t just live in Antarctica. They are found on every continent in the Southern Hemisphere, including the southwest coast of Africa and the west coast of South America all the way up to the tropical areas of Peru and the Galápagos Islands.12

Ross provides another argument that betrays his a priori acceptance of uniformitarianism. Near the end of the Flood, Noah released some birds to help determine if the land was suitable for life yet. Ross states:

At first, neither the raven nor the dove Noah released could fly far enough to find a landing place. A week later, when Noah sent the dove out again, it recovered a leaf from an olive tree. Olive trees do not grow at Earth’s highest elevations, and yet this tree lived. We can reasonably assume that the har [Hebrew for hills or mountains] Noah finally saw were low-lying hills or foothills.13

This assumption is only reasonable if one assumes a local flood. This is circular reasoning. As the waters receded from the earth and the mountaintops became visible, it is certain that they were not snow-capped. The warm ocean water would have kept the land, which at the time consisted of mountain peaks, warm enough for plant life to grow. Perhaps Dr. Ross does not realize that Dr. Henry Morris and John Whitcomb already addressed this issue over 40 years ago in their seminal work The Genesis Flood.14 They demonstrated that it would not be very difficult for an olive branch deposited near the surface of the sediments to have asexually reproduced to generate a new tree as the ground dried. This is a likely explanation for the source of the olive leaf carried by the dove (Gen. 8: (11)).

Poetic Considerations . . . Again

As we saw in chapter 3, old-earth creationists have resorted to citing selected poetic sections of the Bible as justification for reinterpreting the clear meaning of the historical narratives of Genesis. This has been applied not only to the days of creation, but to the Flood as well. Old-earth creationist Steve Sarigianis wrote about Psalm (104), “Verses 5–9 describe the recently formed Earth, a period before creation of advanced life, when oceans completely covered the globe. . . . The Psalm then goes on to clearly state that water would never again completely cover the planet.”15

By treating a Psalm of praise as if it were a creation account, Sarigianis is arguing that the Flood could not have been global. He has used poetry to override the clear meaning of Genesis 9:11. The proper hermeneutic is the reverse; Genesis 9:11 is the historic account of God’s promise to never again flood the earth with water. Psalm 104:9 was written long after the Flood, and it reiterates God’s promise that the flood waters will never return to flood the entire world.

The description of the great flood fits these verses better than creation. When we read Psalm 104:7, the description of the waters standing above the mountains reminds us of Genesis 7:20, which teaches that the “mountains were covered” by the Flood waters. The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown (1871) states the following about Psalm 104:6–9:

These verses rather describe the wonders of the flood than the creation (Genesis 7:19–20, 2 Peter 3:5–6). God’s method of arresting the flood and making its waters subside is poetically called a “rebuke” (Psalm 76:6, Isaiah 50:2), and the process of the flood’s subsiding by undulations among the hills and valleys is vividly described.16

Dr. John Whitcomb, a contemporary Bible scholar who has given much study to this matter, states:

A second passage that sheds important light on the termination of the Flood is Psalm 104:6–9. Though it contains several figures of speech, the passage is clearly historical in its reference to the Flood. Note, for example, the statement of verse 6—“the waters were standing above the mountains,” and that of verse 9—“Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over; that they may not return to cover the earth.” The latter is obviously a reference to the Rainbow Covenant of Genesis 9, in which God assured mankind that there would never again be a universal Flood (cf. Isa. 54:9).17

Dr. Whitcomb rightly uses the historical account in Genesis to shed light on these poetic passages. In a very similar way, we must take the historical narrative of the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14 as our basis for understanding the poetic song celebrating that event in Exodus 15. We would get some very erroneous ideas about the Exodus if we use chapter 15 to interpret chapter 14.18

Even if Psalm 104:6–9 were referring to events of the creation week, as some commentators suggest, these poetic passages cannot be used to override the clear teaching of Genesis that waters did cover “all the high hills under the whole heaven” (Gen. 7:19). The narratives tell us how to properly interpret the poetic imagery.

Misrepresenting the Other Side . . . Again

In chapter 4, we demonstrated that some old-earth creationists have resorted to straw-man arguments. Once the straw man is built, it is very easy to knock down. Misrepresenting the position of one’s opponent may be effective, but is not a proper debating procedure—especially for Christians. We are followers of the One who called himself the Truth (John 14:6). As such, it is important for us to strive to accurately represent the position we are critiquing. Only when this is done can the reader make an honest and informed decision.

Unfortunately, straw-man arguments are common in Dr. Ross’s books. While addressing the amount of water needed to cover the mountains in his book The Genesis Question, he wrote:

Some global Flood proponents who acknowledge the problem of a grossly inadequate water supply propose that Earth’s surface was “smoothed,” or flattened, by the Flood, thus reducing the water requirement. More specifically, they claim that during the forty days and nights when the floodwaters rose, Earth’s mountains radically eroded from their lofty heights of ten, fifteen, and even twenty thousand feet to just one or two thousand feet, perhaps less.

It is not surprising that Ross does not provide any documentation for this statement, since we have never heard any young-earth creationist claim this. In fact, Ross has it entirely backward. Young-earth creationists do not believe the pre-Flood world had the lofty peaks that we see today. Also, the oceans were probably not as deep prior to the Flood. Ross claims that young-earthers believe these things were a result of the Flood. In reality, young-earthers believe the high mountains and the current depths of the oceans were produced in the recession phase of the Flood. As was discussed in the previous chapter, Psalm 104:8 (NASB) states, “The mountains rose; the valleys sank down.

In his book A Matter of Days, Ross includes a chapter entitled “Young Earth Darwinism.” He writes:

Young-earth creationist leaders’ views on the Fall (Adam and Eve’s original sin) and on the Genesis Flood drive them—knowingly or not—into the surprising corner of belief in ultraefficient biological evolution.19

This is another example of misrepresenting the young-earth side. What makes this case particularly indicting is that Dr. Kent Hovind had previously explained this to Dr. Ross during their debate on the John Ankerberg Show. Young-earth creationists do not believe in particles-to-people biological evolution at all. What Ross is referring to is the belief that every dog observed in the world today descended from two dogs that were on board Noah’s ark and that this diversification of wild and domestic dogs happened quite rapidly (in about 4,000 years since the Flood). However, the concept of dogs turning into dogs is not evolution. This process of diversification within the original created kinds or from the kinds that came off the ark has been frequently and thoroughly explained by young-earth creationists,20 so Ross really ought to know better than to claim it has anything to do with Darwinian evolution in the molecules-to-man sense.

Young-earthers do not have a problem with natural selection. But natural selection is very different from evolution, though Darwin popularized it as the means by which he believed evolution occurred. It may come as a surprise to most people, but Darwin did not discover natural selection. A creationist, Edward Blyth, discussed the idea 24 years before Darwin published Origin of Species. Although he did not use the term, Blyth rightly understood that natural selection is a conservative process, allowing the created kinds to adapt to changing environments, food supplies, etc., but not changing one kind into a different kind. Further research has demonstrated that natural selection can only act upon genetic information already present. It can never add any new information. But Darwinian evolution would require that organisms somehow gain new (previously non-existent) genetic information (new instructions in their DNA) in order to evolve from single-celled organisms to people. Overall, natural selection results in a net loss of information; it goes in the “wrong direction.” As such, it has nothing to do with evolution in the Darwinian sense of the term. Ross also knows that most of the domestic breeds of dog in the world today are the result of artificial selection (humans choosing which animals will mate to produce a desired trait in the offspring) over the past few centuries.

This straw-man attack is nothing more than an attempt to make the young-earth position appear to contradict itself. Young-earthers do not accept Darwinian evolution; however, in this argument, we are portrayed as accepting an “ultraefficient” form of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that we have no problem with natural selection and have produced numerous resources explaining our position. (See Appendix F for a recommended list of books on the scientific aspects of the debate.) Natural selection actually confirms biblical creation; the gradual loss of information is what we would expect in a cursed, fallen world.


We have seen that the local flood arguments simply do not stand up to scrutiny. The language of the Genesis account makes it abundantly clear that the Flood waters covered all the high hills under the whole heavens. Local flood proponents have argued for a limited extent of sin. They have tried redefining words and phrases. They have attempted to use poetic sections to override the historical account in Genesis. When all else fails, they sometimes misrepresent their opponents’ position. However, we have seen that these tactics are neither biblically nor logically sound. Yet, old-earth creationists must hold to a local flood, because a global flood “washes away” the supposed evidence for an old earth. The rock record is exactly what we would expect from a year-long, global, catastrophic flood. If the majority of fossils and sedimentary rock layers were deposited in the worldwide flood, then they cannot have been deposited over millions of years. The biblical evidence for the global flood is further strong confirmation that the world is young.

Old-Earth Creationism on Trial

As the modern Church struggles to find a place of relevancy for a new generation that already has massive demands on its time and attention, more and more young people raised in the Church are leaving it—failing to find the answers to their questions of faith and life, beset with doubts raised by issues that the Church chooses not to address. Opting to skirt the controversy of Genesis as literal history, the biblical authority of the Holy Word is called into question and reduced to a collection of mere stories.

Read Online Buy Book


  1. Dr. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), p. 140.
  2. Dr. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), p. 140.
  3. Ibid., p. 141.
  4. The Great Debate, Program 3.
  5. Davis A. Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), p. 172–174, 210–212.
  6. Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), p. 242.
  7. Ethel R. Nelson, God’s Promise to the Chinese (Dunlap, TN: Read Books Publishers, 1997).
  8. Ross, The Genesis Question, p. 142.
  9. Ross, The Genesis Question, p. 145.
  10. Ross, The Genesis Question, p. 145.
  11. Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999, c1980), electronic ed., page 449.
  12. Accessed May 17, 2007.
  13. Ross, The Genesis Question, p. 146.
  14. Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1961).
  15. S. Sarigianis, “Noah’s Flood: A Bird’s-Eye View,” Facts for Faith, issue 10, 2002. <>
  16. <> Accessed May 30, 2007.
  17. J. Whitcomb, The World that Perished (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 37, 40.
  18. The same applies to Deborah’s poetic song in Judges 6 commemorating her military victory historically recorded in Judges 5.
  19. Ross, A Matter of Days, p. 122.
  20. See “Speedy Species Surprise” at Accessed May 30, 2007.

Recommended Resources


Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

See All Lists

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.