Most Christians generally fall into one of three groups: those who believe in a recent global flood, those who believe in a not-so-recent global flood, and those who believe in a recent localized flood. Advocates of a recent global flood do not believe in evolution, and receive scientifically determined ages anything older than 5,000 years with suspicion. Advocates of a remote global flood accept mainstream science overall, but do not believe the dates and ages in Genesis can tell us how long ago the flood occurred. Finally, advocates of a recent localized flood accept the science and scripture on their face, but cannot generally identify where or when the flood occurred. The work of Dr. W. Bruce Masse however suggests a different approach.
Dr. Masse has argued that a comet impacted the earth around 2800 BC. By analyzing it scientifically, and comparing it with ancient myths and known history, it has the chance of resolving the conflicts between the three perspectives described above.
Scientific Evidence of Noah's Flood
According to an article by Scott Carney in Discover Magazine, "Masse's biggest idea is that some 5,000 years ago, a 3-mile-wide ball of rock and ice swung around the sun and smashed into the ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The ensuing cataclysm sent a series of 600-foot-high tsunamis crashing against the world's coastline and injected plumes of superheated water vapor and aerosol particulates into the atmosphere. Within hours, the infusion of heat and moisture blasted its way into the jet streams and spanned super-hurricanes that pummeled the other side of the planet. For about a week, material ejected into the atmosphere plunged the world into darkness. All told, up to 80 percent of the world's population may have perished, making it the single most lethal event in history."1
To research this thesis further, Dr. Masse and others formed the "Holocene Impact Working Group". Dr. Dallas Abbott was asked to join the group, with the hope of finding sound physical evidence of a catastrophic meteor impact around the time and area the flood was thought to have occurred. Carney describes the theory Dr. Abbott was following. "If a 600-foot-high wave ravages a coastline, it should leave a lot of debris behind. In the case of waves generated by asteroid impacts, the debris they leave in their wake is believed to form gigantic, wedge-shaped sandy structures--known as chevrons--that are sometimes packed with deep oceanic microfossils dredged up by the tsunamis. When Abbott began searching satellite images on Google Earth, she saw dozens of chevrons along the shorelines and inland in Africa and Asia. The shape and size of these chevrons suggest that they might have been formed by waves emanating from the impact of a comet slamming into the deep ocean off Madagascar."
In determining the age and source of the chevrons, Sandra Blakeslee of the New York Times writes, "Dee Breger, director of microscopy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, looked at the samples under a scanning electron microscope and found benthic foraminifera, tiny fossils from the ocean floor, sprinkled throughout. Her close-ups revealed splashes of iron, nickel and chrome fused to the fossils."2 As for their source, Dr. Abbott observed that the chevrons all pointed in the same general direction, toward a point in the Indian Ocean. It was there where she found Burckle Crater. Though the crater has not been formally dated, its potential connection to the chevrons suggests a possible date of around 2800 BC.
Historical Evidence that Creation of Burckle Crater Caused Noah's Flood
"While in general historians, archaeologists and palaeoecologists see no sign of any catastrophic impacts from space in the last 5000–6000 years, in their records, there undoubtedly are craters that have been formed during this time period," writes Mike Baille of Queen's University's Department of Geography, Archaeology, and Palaeoecology. "70% of the planet is covered by water so only land impact craters have been identified. For every 10 impacts on land there should be 23 on or over water—an issue that immediately introduces the question of tsunami frequency and cause."3
The question is whether these ancient tsunamies have been recorded in some identifiable way. Given the sub-primitive science of the time, the most likely place to find such recordings would be ancient myths. The challenge is to read the myths and determine the scientific truths written in between the lines, which is exactly W. Bruce Masse set out to do. Masse acknowledges that "not all myths are amenable to such analysis, and fewer still provide the details necessary to identify actual geological processes much less specific datable events such as major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and cosmic impacts. However, it is certain these defined events provide us with the opportunity to understand local geological histories and the actual risks posed by certain types of natural phenomena."4
Masse's approach would appear to take a legend or myth on its face, then extrapolate from the physical details the potential realities that actually occurred. For example, bright lights in the sky could have been a comet's tail. Sudden darkness could be a dust cloud blocking out the sun, or perhaps even a total solar eclipse. Then, there are the practical impacts on an ancient kingdom reacting to a catostrophic flood. Consistent with the chevrons' dating of 2800 BC, "the 3rd century BC Egyptian historian, Manetho, noted that during the reign of Semerkhet, [the] 7th of the 8 kings in Egypt’s First Dynasty, 'there were many extraordinary events, and there was an immense disaster' (Verbrugghe and Wickesham 1996, p 132)." Masse goes on to explain the evidence for this disaster and its similarities to the impact of a flood. "These data together suggest that the tomb of Qa‘a was under construction at the time of the Flood Comet impact, suffered extensive water damage, and after a lengthy period of time was repaired and completed. This interpretation is also consonant with the fact that the succeeding kings of the 2nd dynasty abruptly shifted the location of their royal tombs at Abydos from the upper floodplain of the Nile to the nearby mesa tops, but returned to the original upper floodplain location at the end of the 2nd dynasty."5 In other words, the scientific dating of 2800 BC clearly fits the historical evidence of the time.
Flood Myths from Around the World
In an attempt to date the impact more precisly, as Blakeslee notes in her NYT article that Dr. Masse "thinks he can say precisely when the comet fell: on the morning of May 10, 2807 B.C. Dr. Masse analyzed 175 flood myths from around the world, and tried to relate them to known and accurately dated natural events like solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions. Among other evidence, he said, 14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C."
The research of Dr. Masse and the Holocene Impact Working Group has several advantages over other approaches toward dating the flood. The most important is the identification of an actual catastrophic event that dates to the very time when 175 or more ancient flood myths originated, including the Bible's recording of Noah and the Ark. It is global in nature, yet manifested itself differently in different parts of the world. It explains how the writers of scripture could truly believe the flood was global, and yet people they did not know existed survived.
Perhaps most important, Dr. Masse's theory powerfully illustrates a proper usage of the scientific method, of coming up with a theory based on evidence, and then searching for (and finding!) what further evidence the theory predicts. This is key, because in essence, he has proven the historical validity of scripture, using the very science that many Christians formally reject. Fortunately, the doctrines of Original Sin and salvation through Christ are tough enough to survive such discoveries, though unfortunately some will question this conclusion. In the end, as we better understand our God and the world in which we live, I believe this work will prove critical in bringing together a splintered church, and winning more souls for Christ.
1. "Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood?" - Scott Carney, Discovery Magazine, November 2007
2. "Ancient Crash, Epic Wave" - Sandra Blakeslee, The New York Times, November 14, 2006
3. "The case for significant numbers of extraterrestrial impacts through the late Holocene" - Mike Baille, 2006
4. "Exploring the nature of myth and its role in science" - Masse et. al., 2007
5. "Comet/Asteroid Impacts and Human Society: An Interdisciplinary Approach", p.52 - W. Bruce Masse, 2007