In his book, In Quest of the Historical Adam, distinguished Christian apologist William Lane Craig labels the Genesis accounts of Noah’s Flood, the Table of Nations, and the Tower of Babel as “fantastic elements.”1 By this designation, Craig means that these Genesis accounts cannot be interpreted as literal history. He views them, rather, as what he refers to as “mytho-history,” partly historical and partly mythical. Concerning Genesis 6–9, Craig writes, “In the flood story we are dealing not just with exaggeration but with the genre of myth.”2 He adds that mytho-history clearly “distinguishes Gen. 1–11 from Gen. 12–50.”3
Craig is not alone in his assessment of this portion of Scripture. In their book, The Lost World of the Flood, theologians Tremper Longman III and John Walton also claim that the author of Genesis 6–8 repeatedly used hyperbole to describe the extent of Noah’s Flood, as well as other elements of the story—the people and animals destroyed, the waters’ sources, and the dimensions of the ark.4 Other Christian scholars also conclude that the descriptions in Genesis 6–11 must be hyperbolic, based on their assumption that the human population at the time of Noah had already geographically dispersed throughout most of Earth’s landmasses. If that were the case, they would have good reason to agree with geophysicists and geologists who are adamant that there is no physical evidence for a flood covering all or most of Earth’s continents and islands.
Unfortunately, these alternate views have led many Christian apologists and theologians to abandon the historical interpretation of Genesis 1–11. These individuals have become convinced that recent scientific findings require a reinterpretation. The sad irony, here, is that recent scientific findings go a long way toward affirming a literal, historical interpretation of Genesis 1–11.
Dispersal of Humanity
Genesis 9–11 records that after the Flood, humans remained in one region, refusing to obey God’s twice stated command to “spread out over the earth and multiply upon it” (Genesis 9:1, 7). In Genesis 11:4, we read that post-Flood people had a different plan, their own plan, not God’s: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered throughout the earth.” Genesis 11:7–9 describes how God dealt with this bold rebellion. He forcibly scattered people across Earth’s continents and islands.
Evidence now shows that an aggressive, nearly simultaneous scattering of humanity from the region encompassing the Near and Middle East, and parts of Africa did, in fact, occur. Researchers use four means for determining when humans first colonized Europe, far-eastern Asia, and Australia, in particular. The four include (1) fossilized remains of anatomically modern humans, (2) archaeological artifacts associated with anatomically modern humans, (3) indicators of agriculture and food preparation, and (4) genetic analysis.
The earliest undisputed evidence for anatomically modern human fossil remains in Europe date to 44,000–39,000 years ago.5 The earliest undisputed modern human archaeological artifacts in Europe date to 42,000–38,000 years ago.6 The earliest evidence in Europe for harvesting grains and roasting and grinding of these grains to make bakery products dates back to 32,600 years ago.7 Food preparation as evidenced by soaking, grinding, and charring of seeds has been dated (via carbon-14) to have occurred in Greece as early as 40,000 years ago.8 The earliest genetic evidence for anatomically modern humans living in Europe dates to 45,000–39,000 years ago.9 These four methods yield consistent dates indicating that anatomically modern humans migrated and began to colonize nearly all of Europe between 44,000 and 40,000 years ago.
The same four dating methods establish that anatomically modern humans began to colonize virtually all the land area of Asia between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago.10 The first human colonization of Australia dates back to between 47,000 and 40,000 years ago.11 The colonization of southeast Asia and Australia by modern humans was made possible, even facilitated, by the much lower sea levels known to have existed at that time.
The lower sea levels provided several essential land bridges. These land bridges connected most of the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines to the mainland of Asia, a region called Sunda. Present-day Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania were all one continent, called Sahul. The waters separating Sahul from Sunda were narrow enough that people could see one landmass from the other (see figure).
Figure: Sunda and Sahul during the Last Ice Age
Credit: Kanguole, Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike
The best scientific dates for the arrival of anatomically modern humans to Europe, the far-eastern part of Asia, and Australia all coincide. Genesis 10–11 makes clear that Noah’s Flood predates— by at least several generations—humans’ first efforts to colonize regions beyond East Africa, the Near East, and the Middle East. On this basis, it seems likely that Noah’s Flood occurred prior to 40,000 years ago, most probably earlier than 45,000 years ago.
This early date for Noah’s Flood and the subsequent, near simultaneous dispersal of humanity throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Guinea appears consistent with a literal, historical interpretation of Genesis 1–11.12 It also aligns with the most reliable scientific methods for dating the origin of anatomically modern humans.13 Thus, the dispersal of humanity described in Genesis 10–11 need not be considered a fantastic element. The data provide no warrant, scientific or otherwise, to abandon or alter the traditional historical doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The doctrinal and hermeneutical affirmations and denials of the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy still stand.14
- William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021), 104–129.
- Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam, 127.
- Craig, 128.
- Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018), 36–41.
- Tom Higham et al., “The Earliest Evidence for Anatomically Modern Humans in Northwestern Europe,” Nature 479, no. 7374 (November 2, 2022): 521–524, doi:10.1038/nature10484; Stefano Benazzi et al., “Early Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe and Implications for Neanderthal Behaviour,” Nature 479 (November 2, 2011): 525–528, doi:10.1038/nature10617; Mark A. Jobling, Mathew Hurles, and Chris Tyler-Smith, Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples and Disease (New York: Garland, 2003), 284–285.
- Sahra Talamo et al., “A 41,500 Year-Old Decorated Ivory Pendant from Stajnia Cave (Poland),” Scientific Reports 11 (November 25, 2021): id. 22078, doi:10.1038/s41598-021-01221-6; Jonathan A. Haws et al., “The Early Aurignacian Dispersal of Modern Humans into Westernmost Eurasia,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 117, no. 41 (September 28, 2020): 25414–25422, doi:10.1073/pnas.2016062117; Benazzi et al., “Early Dispersal of Modern Humans, 525–528; Jobling, Hurles, and Tyler-Smith, Human Evolutionary Genetics, 284–285.
- Marta Mariotti Lippi et al., “Multistep Food Plant Processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 Cal B.P.,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112, no. 39 (September 8, 2015): 12075–12080,doi:10.1073/pnas.1505213112.
- Ceren Kabukcu et al., “Cooking in Caves: Palaeolithic Carbonised Plant Food Remains from Franchthi and Shanidar,” Antiquity 97, no. 391 (February 2023): 12–28, doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.143.
- Rasmus Nielsen et al., “Tracing the Peopling of the World through Genomics,” Nature 541 (January 18, 2017): 302–310, doi:10.1038/nature21347; Iosif Lazaridis, “The Evolutionary History of Human Populations in Europe,” Current Opinions in Genetics & Development 53 (December 2018): 21–27, doi:10.1016/j.gde.2018.06.007; Serena Aneli et al., “Through 40,000 Years of Human Presence in Southern Europe: The Italian Case Study,” Human Genetics 140, no. 10 (October 2021): 1417–1431, doi:10.1007/s00439-021-02328-6.
- Qiaomei Fu et al., “Genome Sequence of a 45,000-Year-Old Modern Human from Western Siberia,” Nature 514 (October 22, 2014): 445–449, doi:10.1038/nature13810; Solange Rigaud et al., “Symbolic Innovation at the Onset of the Upper Paleolithic in Eurasia Shown by the Personal Ornaments from Tolbor-21 (Mongolia),” Scientific Reports 13 (June 12, 2023): id. 9545, doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36140-1; Melinda A. Yang, et al., “40,000-Year-Old Individual from Asia Provides Insight into Early Population Structure in Eurasia,” Current Biology 27, no. 20 (October 23, 2017): 3202–3208.E9, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.030; Fabrice Demeter et al., “Anatomically Modern Human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109, no. 36 (August 20, 2012): 14375–14380, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208104109; Graeme Barker et al., “The ‘Human Revolution’ in Lowland Tropical Southeast Asia: The Antiquity and Behavior of Anatomically Modern Humans at Niah Cave (Sarawak, Borneo),” Journal of Human Evolution 52, no. 3 (March 2007): 243–261, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.08.011.
- J. F. O’Connell and J. Allen, “The Process, Biotic Impact, and Global Implications of the Human Colonization of Sahul about 47,000 Years Ago,” Journal of Archaeological Science 56 (April 2015): 73–84, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2015.02.020; Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas et al., “A Genomic History of Aboriginal Australia,” Nature 538 (September 21, 2016): 207–214, doi:10.1038/nature18299.
- I discuss this consistency in my forthcoming book, Noah’s Flood: Global, Worldwide, or Myth? (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2025), chapter 10.
- Hugh Ross, “Errors in Human Origins Dates,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, June 29, 2020.
- International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Articles of Affirmation and Denial (November 7, 1978); International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics: Articles of Affirmation and Denial (November 13, 1982).