Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/January 1902/Discussion and Correspondence
THE NOACHIAN DELUGE.
To the Editor:—My attention has just been called to the inquiries in the August number of the Monthly concerning the reply I would make to a number of objections which arise in connection with my theory of the Noachian Deluge. As they are apparently made in good faith I will briefly remark upon them, though it would require a volume fully to discuss the points raised.
1. The question respecting Noah's supposed relation to paleolithic man is answered by saying that it is by no means proved that paleolithic man in Europe and America was not coteraporary with civilized man in Egypt and Babylonia, whose existence is now thrown back in those countries several thousand years before the Christian era. I do not know that there is any evidence that paleolithic man anywhere developed into neolithic man, and so on to a stage of comparative civilization by his own efforts. It seems more likely that he received his new arts by contact with higher races than that he made the inventions of his own accord. Certainly, in America, he did not pass out of the 'stone age,' by himself.
2. With regard to the age of Noah as given in the Scriptures when his surviving children were born it is enough to say that language, like isolated geological facts, has to be interpreted; and it is a fair question whether Noah, here, is not the name of a dynasty, like Pharaoh, or of a family, like Israel. That is to be determined by a thorough study of the literature involved. Israel is indeed the name of a man, but it is constantly used to designate the whole body of his descendants. In so brief an account of a long period of history as we have in the early chapters of Genesis, it would not be strange if much more was compressed into single words than would be done in a fuller history.
3. In reference to the specific statement of facts, it is proper to remark that outside of mathematical and dry scientific treatises, there is little specific statement of facts by anybody. When I read in the papers that the whole town turned out to witness a pageant, I do not expect on inquiry to find that there were no women and children or busy or indifferent men absent, nor do I charge the writer with misrepresenting the facts in making the general statement. But, on the other hand, I take the nature of language into consideration and interpret it to mean simply that there was a great crowd, which had the appearance of containing everybody in the town. Again, when I read in a scientific treatise, as I frequently do, that a fact, or explanation of a fact, is 'generally' admitted, I do not charge the writer with either dishonesty or ignorance if it is found that nine tenths of the people of the world have heard neither of the fact nor of the explanation, nor yet if it is found that both the alleged fact and its explanation is disbelieved by a considerable portion of the civilized world. There are few questions on which there is perfect unanimity of judgment, hence if we use the word 'generally' at all, outside of mathematics, we must use it in a modified sense and leave the interpretation to the context.
Applying this well-known principle of interpretation to the case in hand, it is possible to get a pretty definite conception out of the language both of the Bible and of other confirmatory traditions without being pressed to accept it with mathematical exactness. The single point which I have made is, that, in view of the great instability of geological conditions which accompanied the close of the glacial period, and during which man was in existence, it is unscientific to apply to that period the standards with reference to the rate of elevation and depression of the earth's surface which apply to the present. I have also called attention anew to the unknown, but certainly extensive, destruction of life during the closing stages of the glacial period, and immediately after, in which man may fairly be assumed to have shared to a great extent.
The alleged object of the flood, namely, the destruction of the human race, may then well have been accomplished by submergence limited to central and western Asia, from which I have brought much new evidence going to show that at a very recent geological period, indeed since man's existence, there have been such changes of land level as render it easier than before to credit the existence of a great fact underneath the widespread traditions concerning a deluge in which the last remnants of the human race, except those saved by special arrangement, were destroyed.
G. Frederick Wright.
It must be left to readers of the Monthly to decide whether or not Professor Wright answers the questions addressed to him by our correspondent. They were as follows:
1. You say. Professor Wright, that "The Paleolithic man of science may well be the Antediluvian man of Genesis." Was Tubal Cain, 'an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron,' an antediluvian man, and, if so, had he not learned to use smoothed stone instruments? Was Noah, himself, a paleolithic or a neolithic man, and did he build the ark with flaked or polished flint implements?
2. You say: "But towards the close of this period there were 120 years (specially mentioned in the Bible as a time of warning) in which the movement was accelerated to such a degree that the rising waters gave point to the preaching of Noah." The period of 120 years here mentioned was deduced from the statement that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the flood. Do you believe that Noah was 600 years old, and that his grandchildren that peopled the earth were subsequently born?
3. You say: "During the last 371 days of this period the catastrophe culminated in the facts specifically related in the Book of Genesis." Do you believe that the 'facts specifically related in the Book of Genesis' are true? For example, that "every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark."