TSoA: Chapter 22: The Fossils and the Floods

We’re back in Murphy’s class.  Unfazed by his drunken boxing vs. professional rasslin’ match, he collects the assignment he gave his students way the hell back in Chapter 10, to “do a study” about Noah and the flood.  That seems like an awfully big topic, but then again, we are reminded here that Preston is a party school and even at a party school, Michael Murphy’s biblical arcaeology classes are the Easy A classes:

[Murphy] was impressed.  Everybody seemed to have written something.

Fuck me, Murphy, you gave them an assignment.  I bloody well hope they all wrote something.

You’re impressed by this?

And he wonders why his class is always full.  This has to be the easiest A in the whole university—“He’s impressed when we so much as write something down for an assignment!”

The students are also wise to what Murphy wants to hear, even going so far as to phrase their comments in exactly the same way:

“Professor Murphy, I was amazed to discover that around the world scientists have found fossils of sea creatures high in the mountains.”


“I was amazed to find that there are more than five hundred stories about a worldwide flood.  I think that The Epic of Gilgamesh is the most famous.”

“You’re right, Don, it is.  It’s amazingly similar to the Biblical account of the Flood.”

I am amazed to discover that amazingly similar parrots parrot each other in amazing ways!

So here are the two main arguments of this class: fossils found in the mountains, therefore flood (and creationism), and lots of flood stories, therefore biblical flood story is true.

The first is utter and complete nonsense which can be dealt with pretty quickly:


New York Times

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

National Park Service

Short version: fossils are on mountains because mountains rise, not because a giant flood (or Satan, for that matter) deposited fossils there.

Now, the flood stories.  Murphy has a handout for the class with the similarities between the Gilgamesh flood and the Genesis flood.  And there are similarities: a man is directed to build a boat to escape the flood, carries animals and a few other humans on the boat with him, and sends out birds to scout for land.

Two interesting things: One is that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written before the story of Noah.  Given the similarities, some people have wondered if the Noah story was just cribbed from Gilgamesh.

The other interesting thing is that Christian apologists actually argue about the two stories from both sides: Tim LaHaye is saying here that the two stories have so many similarities that there must have been truth behind them—a worldwide flood must have happened.

Other apologists argue that the stories are so different (that the Gilgamesh story is “silly” and “mythological” compared with the “logical” story of Noah), that the one could not possibly be a copy of the other.  But, um, yeah, the flood was still totally real.

Indeed, that is Murphy’s larger point, as he has yet another handout for the students, this one with a listing of all cultures with flood stories.  Many of the cultures listed on the sheet appear at the TalkOrigins article about flood stories.  You can read a few and decide if you agree with Michael Murphy that:

“While the specific details of these traditions may differ, there is no escaping that each of these cultures holds to a belief in a global flood occurring at some point in the past.”

Paul, bless his atheistic heart, argues that maybe different peoples got the flood story from travelers or missionaries, and that’s why there are so many.  Murphy shoots this down with the following infallible logic:

“It is believed that after Noah landed on Ararat and the people began to multiply, they built the Tower of Babel.  God then confused their languages and the people dispersed throughout the world.  Over time, as the story was passed down, it was changed in each location.  This seems a more logical conclusion as to why there are over five hundred flood traditions around the world.  I believe that they came from one source.  They had a common origin.”

And it could not possibly be that floods were (and are!) dangerous and terrifying events, ripe for myths and legends about the end of the world.

(The one larger point about a worldwide flood that has always struck me is this: we are talking about a world in which few people ever traveled more than a few miles from the place of their birth.  How in the hell would people even know the entire world was flooded, and not just their own immediate area?)

Anyway, Paul abandons his point to focus on another one: that the flood story and the theory of evolution are in conflict.  Paul even smirks “unpleasantly,” to remind us that he is a jerk and Murphy is awesome, not “fazed or annoyed.”

Instead, Murphy quote mines Dr. Colin Patterson. (Yet another TalkOrigins link!  Check it out!)

(Oh, and I see that Murphy knows the quote mined writings of Dr. Patterson, but doesn’t reference Dr. Francis Collins, evangelical Christian and former director of the NHGRI, who stated in this interview at The BioLogos Forum that the DNA record alone provides “overwhelming” evidence of evolution and common ancestry.

Murphy then pulls a Kirk Cameron (“Read the Bible!”), and ends his lecture on a pulpit-pounding note: if anyone *coughcough* Michael Murphy *coughcough* ever really found the ark, it would be Teh Most Amazingest Thing Evah:

“But even more awesome, it would be the proof that God did judge the wickedness of the world with the Flood.  And if the Bible was accurate in predicting the flood judgment, it must also be accurate in predicting the next judgment—the judgment of the Son of Man that Jesus talks about!”

Paul didn’t seem to have an answer to that…

Of course he didn’t.

Posted on November 11, 2012, in Books. Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. If Genesis were shown to contain an accurate record of a world-wide flood… why, yes, that would obviously mean that a completely different book written six hundred years later must contain accurate statements about the future! Just as when I quote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that means my predictions about the stock market are more likely to be accurate!

    Or to put it another way: Genesis is written in the past tense. So the Bible didn’t “predict” anything.

  2. Flying Squid with Goggles

    Wait – in order for the Bible to predict judgement by flood, wouldn’t it have to have been written before judgement by flood? And as far as I can tell, no one, even the craziest of fundamentalists, claims the Bible was written before the flood, mostly because the flood occurs only part way through the very first book.

  3. Over time, as the story was passed down, it was changed in each location.
    Oh, so accounts of great Biblical events can change in the telling, completely changing the nature of either the flood or the power behind it. Well, it’s a good thing the story as written in Genesis couldn’t possibly have similarly changed or attributed it to the wrong god because… because…

    And if the Bible was accurate in describing the flood in Genesis, that proves the ending which promises God will never ever do that again must also be true and PMD is bullshit or God is a liar.

    • The PMDs have an answer for that one – it’s just a promise that God won’t flood the world again. Nothing about fire, ice, giant demon locusts or TurboJesus.

    • It should come as no surprise that the RTC’s idea of god is as much a rule lawyer as they are.

  4. Paul didn’t have an answer to that, either because he was struck dumb by the sheer inanity of Murphy’s declaration, or he’s realized (to paraphrase Dr. Who) that it’s pointless to try to match wits against an unarmed opponent.

    I hadn’t thought about the roles missionaries et al may have played in spreading Biblical stories. Interesting. Although personally, I always attributed the global flood myths to the fact that floods happen anywhere and everywhere, and that humans can be tremendously narcissistic and self-centered. (Funny thing about the stories of Gilgamesh — they even include one where Gilgamesh is given a flower that grants immortal life, only to have a serpent take it. Hmm, where else have I heard an ancient story about mankind losing immortal life because of a snake . . . ?)

    Why is Murph even lecturing on Noah’s Ark in the first place? Yeah, it’s on his mind a lot recently but in Chapter 3 I got the impression that he had decided to abandon his syllabus in order to focus on Noah’s Ark. (Though I could’ve been mistaken about that.)

    • Yep, he’s still lecturing about the ark, even though it is a departure from the syllabus. (Once I could understand, but this is the THIRD time.)

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I feel so sorry for the students who thought they were actually going to learn about things on the syllabus, like mapping out a dig site, but are getting Flood Apologetics 101 instead.

      Also, for anyone interested in reading more on Bible stories as they relate to other mythic traditions, I highly recommend Secret Origins of the Bible, by Tim Callahan.


      • Then again, I get a strong hunch that to LaHaye, college courses ARE a sort of sequential sermon…

        I’m going to guess this is NOT the volume in which Gaia is listed as a Babylonian divinity. They already loused up in the first book by calling Kishar (the closest thing Babylon had to an Earth Mother; Tiamat was a Sea Mother) a “he”…

    • I feel mostly sorry for the Dean who’s treated as a villain for complaining that Murphy teaches his pet projects instead of what he’s being paid to teach, even though any complaints will be on his plate.

      But yeah, should be fun on those student’s internships or PhD positions.

      “Okay new kid, you set up the tents and begin marking the digsite. You learned how that goes, right?”
      “No, but if you need any information from the Answer’s in Gensis website, I know where to find it in a jiffy.”

    • Also, early ag communities would be more likely to settle in similar locations, fertile flood plains, and so would all be vulnerable to the same types of disasters.

      I always figured that stories spread over trade routes as well and got absorbed into local mythologies and given local spin.

      • Considering that there wasn’t much distinction between history, myth and fable, a tale that seemed to have some useful lessons might simply be adopted into the local gestalt of stories. (And, in at least some cases, expanded because our God is bigger than your God.)

    • I think Paul realized that Murph’s a bit of a capricious jerk and that most of the students are there for the easy A, so he’s decided not to point out how dumb his professor is.

  5. And why would Paul have an answer to that. Even Murphy has admitted that finding the Ark will prove that god judged the wicked. Which implies none of Murphy’s other arguments prove this yet, by Murphy’s own admission.

    I guess ‘not having an answer’ is supposed to be about that last sentence, because like all sinners Paul knows in his heart that “it must also be accurate in predicting the next judgment”, and he knows he’ll be brutally murdered by god for his pride in not admitted god loves him so much.

    But all I can see is “Oh yeah, you don’t believe me? But suppose I found evidence that my story is true? That would prove that my story is true!”
    What can you say to that except maybe “Uhm, yeah. Good luck with finding that evidence”

    Reminds me of that xkcd comic: “If Obama wins the election tuesday, it might prove devestating for Romney’s position in the tracking polls.”

  6. Now that I think of it, notice Murphy’s emphasis in that last bit. Not generally proving the veracity of the Bible (well, at least the veracity of the Ark bit). Proving that God judges the wicked. The whole point seems to be more about “Don’t get on God’s bad side” than “Here’s why God’s ideals are good in and of themselves”…

    Judgement this, judgement that. It really IS all about not suffering perdition in LaHaye’s eyes…

    • If I believed in this God of slaughter and torture, I would most certainly want to warn people about it!

      • Yeah, that’s kind of the reason why I can’t get really mad at Jack Chick, unlike Jenkins or LaHaye. He made a point of showing the two missionaries who saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans while a murder who saved one soul got a free pass. There’s of course a lot wrong with that, not in the least that it assumes that people who care about helping people with non-salvation needs must not care about salvation at all. As Fred put it, they assume that not believing in salvation through good deeds must mean a good Christian isn’t allowed to do good deeds. Anyone who does obviously doesn’t have enough faith in Jesus.

        But I can’t help but see that story as an admission. Yes, Jack Chick knows his god is a callous bastard. But he believes that this callous bastard has absolute power over your soul, and will torture you forever. He makes a point of showing people who really did good deeds, not those fakey liberals who don’t really care about other people. And he shows them going to hell. He really seems to want to warn people that god is unstopable and you’d better play along with his rules, not because of ‘right’ but because of ‘might’.

        Contrast this to the sequence here, which is a pure Rapture-boner. It’s not about hell, it’s about presenting proof for the judgement on earth. Y’know, that same judgement LaHaye has made a career out of predicting. As others noted, even proof that the description of the flood was historically accurate wouldn’t be proof that the prophecy of the Rapture is also correct. But this phrasing reveals that it doesn’t matter, and it shows what Murphy’s quest was about all along. Not about proving the bible right, but proving LaHaye right.

  7. Wait, but unless I’m mistaken, isn’t the flood in Gilgamesh only a fairly local flood, not a worldwide one? All of proves is that the bible over exaggerated

    • It’s still supposed to have destroyed all humanity except Utnapishtim and his wife. But then, remember that as far as the Sumerians knew, the world’s radius didn’t extend much beyond Italy…if that. We don’t have any surviving Sumerian atlases, do we? Important point: The Sumerians, Hebrews, etc. thought the world was a LOT smaller than what we know of today.

  8. “I was amazed to find that there are more than five hundred stories about a worldwide flood. I think that The Epic of Gilgamesh is the most famous.”

    Most real humans today would name the Book of Genesis as the most famous of the flood stories. But of course, Tim LaHaye can’t permit his characters to phrase it that way, because IT’S NOT A STORY IT REALLY HAPPENED!!! Thus it’s the Gilgamesh “story” versus the Genesis “account”. (*) As we see, even LaHaye’s unsaved, unconvinced characters regard the distinction — that, or more likely, this student is one of Murphy’s paid plants.

    It would serve Murphy right if the Secret on Ararat turns out to be hard evidence for a global flood, only it supports the Sumerian version and demolishes Genesis. Try suplexing your way out of that one, Mikey!

    (*) The Sumerians wrote a story based on an account that was written 500 years later. You know, as one does.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      As we see, even LaHaye’s unsaved, unconvinced characters regard the distinction…

      Remember one of the ironclad tropes of Christianese fiction:

      Even the “unsaved, unconvinced” Heathen all think and speak in fluent Christianese.

    • I’d say that LaHaye can’t allow his characters to acknowledge that Christianity is well known in North America. His theology is supposed to be simple and convincing, and all the non-believers out there are either rebellious cretins, to be eternally tormented, or ignorant savages, to be taught the will of Tim LaHaye.

      If LaHaye-rejecting people are numerous, it implies that there could be a third option: LaHaye’s message isn’t simple and/or convincing. And he can’t allow that question to come up.

  9. To expand a bit on previous comment, wouldn’t finding the Ark only lend credence to Judaism? Why would anyone think it would support Christian beliefs in particular? (Other than because it conveniently supports one’s preconceived notions, of course.) I just can’t see even a semi-logical path of “Ark, therefore TurboJesus” from that.

    • Not to worry, Left Behind’s resident Fox News Liberal Tsion Ben Judah has already explained why Jesus was obviously the Jewish Messiah, and the only Jews that could possibly object are those raging fundamentalists who slaughter entire families if they so much as hear anyone mention ‘Jesus’.

  10. Both the language used by Murphy (so proud that people /did their homework/) and by the students (“I was amazed to find”, etc.) sounds less like a college and far more like a middle school. Regardless of the subject matter, nobody at a higher level of education is going to talk like this in a classroom setting.

    I suppose the authors can’t bear to have positive characters even talk like those elitist latte-sipping academics, just wear the pretty trappings and formal titles.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Could it be that LaHaye NEVER got out of High School himself?
      (I’m not talking academically/educationally, I’m talking socially.)

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy

    “But even more awesome, it would be the proof that God did judge the wickedness of the world with the Flood. And if the Bible was accurate in predicting the flood judgment, it must also be accurate in predicting the next judgment—the judgment of the Son of Man that Jesus talks about!”

    Which is the reason why so many RTCs are obsessed with Finding Noah’s Ark. Expedition after expedition chasing down rumored sighting after rumored sighting. All after Absolute PROOF to rub in the faces of all the Heathen that I Am Right.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy’s quote made me realize something else. Murphy speaks of the Bible, as a discrete entity, making both predictions. Not particular books (Genesis and the Apocalypse) with centuries separating them. Just one single book, as though the two predictions had been simultaneous.

    I know the Gospel of John speaks of the Word being in existence from the infinite beginning, but do LaHaye and Phillips really think it’s referring to the Bible as we know it having been in existence from the infinite beginning?! What does that make Jesus–a Bible elemental? (The Glorious Appearing and Kingdom Come notwithstanding.)

  13. What all the students were really saying: “Professor Murphy, I am preparing to blow smoke up your ass.”

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