Genesis Flood

PDF EBook by Henry M. Morris

EBook Description

This book, published in 1961, is usually quoted as the founding document of modern Young Earth Creationism. Genesis Flood PDF EBook Given my current interest in the relationship between science and religion, I felt duty- PDFbound to read it.

Some negative reviewers call The Genesis Flood a collection of lies, but I don't think that's really accurate. To me, it is a better fit to the philosopher Harry Frankfurt's famous definition of bullshit, as presented in his 1986 essay. Bullshit, argues Frankfurt, often consists of lies, but need not do so. It is rather characterized by the habit of using language without caring whether it has any connection to truth. In many ways, as Frankfurt points out, this is worse than lying, since it attacks the very foundations of what constitutes meaningful communication.

The authors, Whitcomb and Morris, spend 550 pages bullshitting — I am using this phrase in Frankfurt's precise technical sense — about the ridiculous thesis that the Earth, contrary to all evidence, is only 10,000 years old; download; they claim, moreover, that it was ravaged about 5,000 years ago by a worldwide flood which destroyed all non-marine life except eight people (Noah and his immediate family) and the animals they brought with them on the Ark. Their primary source, as the title indicates, is the Book of Genesis, which they argue is literally true in all respects.

As already noted, bullshitting is not lying, and feel I need to demonstrate my impartiality by pointing out several places where W&M have got it right. They give a reasonable historical overview of the reception that the myth of the Flood has received from geologists, concentrating on the period between 1600 and 1900 when the balance of informed opinion shifted, in a series of steps, from literal acceptance of Genesis to extreme skepticism and relegation to fringe/crank status. As they are honest enough to admit, the main objections are simple. It is obviously possible to justify the story of Creation and the Flood if one is prepared to hypothesize enough miracles; but a great many miracles are required, and the narrative is implausible. It is above all difficult to square the contradictions between Scriptual and scientific evidence with the Christian belief that God is Truth. As Newton said, the Book of Nature, even more than the Bible, is God's Word. Why should God, in effect, lie to His people? It seems completely out of character; Jehovah is no Loki. The authors deny all these charges (flat-out denial is one of their favored rhetorical tropes), but they are unconvincing.

While I'm bending over backwards to demonstrate fairness, it's also interesting to see that W&M manage, more or less, to call it right on some scientific questions. They spend many pages discussing the movement of rock strata, and correctly argue that the geological processes regarded as mainstream in 1961 could not adequately explain the huge forces required to cause the observed shifts. Within another few years, most geologists were ready to concede this point, and plate tectonics emerged as the new paradigm; but that was still in the future. Similarly, W&M are right in arguing that the extinction of the dinosaurs has all the hallmarks of a catastrophic event rather than a gradual decline. Again, the discovery of the Chicxulub meteorite crater came later, and surprised many experts.

These lucky hits are, unfortunately, more than counterbalanced by some of the most absurd pseudo-scientific nonsense I have ever seen. I will look at three of the more flagrant and central claims. First, there is the question of where the waters of the Flood came from. W&M, citing a Biblical verse about "the canopy of the waters", claim that most of the water was present in the antediluvian atmosphere, in the form of a vast quantity of water vapour. There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to start, but one obvious observation is that it would have made atmospheric pressure equivalent to that at the bottom of the ocean. Even though that ocean is in gaseous form, you're still under it.

Second, there is the sequence of fossil strata, where fossils from earlier periods are found under those from later ones. W&M deny that the strata were accumulated over the course of hundreds of millions of years, but claim instead that they were formed during the single year of the Flood; the fossilized creatures normally ascribed to later periods end up at the top because they were better able to look after themselves and survived longest. Again, one hardly knows where to start, but a) there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that strata can be formed at this kind of rate, indeed even a thousand times more slowly, b) the unimaginable violence of the Flood scenario seems impossible to square with the very well preserved state of many fossils, c) if the apparently more highly evolved creatures are in the top strata because they were best able to reach high ground, we would only find those fossils in a few places corresponding to antediluvian mountain peaks, and d) the explanation makes no sense for plants and other non-mobile life-forms.

Third, we have the evidence from radioisotope dating, which, as W&M point out, gives an age for the Earth measured in billions of years instead of thousands. Their answer here is so confused that I have trouble summarizing it. If I understand correctly, they say both a) that God initially created the Earth with isotope ratios apparently indicating a much greater age, and b) that the rate of decay of the radioactive elements may have been greatly accelerated during the Flood due to the presence of high levels of cosmic radiation. (a) is of course perfectly reasonable, except that similar arguments can just as easily be deployed, as Russell once pointed out, to claim that the whole Earth was created five minutes ago. (b), if it is feasible at all, would have led to Noah and his family at best dying of radiation burns in a few hours, and more likely being vapourised on the spot. Incidentally, the unusually detailed exposition in this part shows that W&M do not have the faintest idea of how radioactive decomposition works, even to the extent of not understanding the concept of a half-life.

In general, W&M reject the ability of science to pronounce on events in the past, and deploy the technique of aggressive quote-mining that has now become standard in denialist literature: they consistently look for disagreements in published papers, and suggest that, because science is uncertain about some aspect of a question, it has no understanding of it whatsoever. The most flagrant examples are in the ascription of dates. One scientist writes that our dating of a geological event is "very uncertain", by which they perhaps mean that it is not known to an accuracy of more than 20%; W&M quote this as supporting their claim that the date in question could be a hundred thousand times closer to the present than the mainstream estimate. I find this style of reasoning utterly immoral. Science thrives on freedom; it makes progress by allowing researchers to advance bold and novel hypotheses, debate them openly, and reject the ones which turn out to be mistaken. W&M remind me of totalitarian regimes which see freedom and interpret it as weakness. It is extremely regrettable that repeated attacks from creationists have made some scientists feel that they need to adopt a common line, so that internal disagreements cannot be used against them.

To conclude, this is one of the most distasteful pieces of writing I have ever come across. You may want to read it, as I did, on Don Corleone's principle of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, and in fact I encourage you to do so. But I'm letting you know now that you will be angry, revolted, and, above all, bored senseless. Consider yourself warned.
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I am glad to see that people found this interesting! I feel repaid for the pain I have suffered :)

I should add that the review owes a considerable debt to Pigliucci and Boudry's fine collection,Philosophy of Pseudoscience . In particular, I only read The Genesis Flood because it is referred to several times there, and my comparison with Frankfurt's analysis of "bullshit" borrows from James Ladyman's Towards a Demarcation of Science from Pseudoscience.
Like this book? Read online this: The Flood, Flood.

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