Believe it or not, Joe’s question reminds me of a story about three men hitting the links for a fine round of golf. The first fellow, Jack, teed up his ball for a shot. The whoosh of his club sent the ball sailing over the wide water hazard and onto the front edge of the green where it rolled right into the cup. As the second fellow approached the tee, he remarked, “Nice swing, Mr. Nicklaus!” Without even a warm-up, the crack of the second club sent the ball directly toward the middle of the water hazard. Upon contacting the water’s surface, the ball bounced a couple of times before rolling to the shore, up the bank, across the green, and straight into the cup. Jack turned and said, “Well played, Jesus! Well played.” After placing his ball on the tee, the third fellow paused for some time, admiring the beautiful course. A quick swing of the club sent his ball arcing toward the deepest part of the water hazard. Just before striking the surface, a colorful rainbow trout leapt from the water, and the ball ricocheted off the fish’s tail into a large hole in a tree. A second later, a squirrel emerged from the hole, spitting the golf ball out of its mouth. The ball fell through the air, struck four different branches as it circled the tree, dropped onto the green, and rolled into the pin before landing in the bottom of the cup. Jesus turned around and proclaimed, “Excellent shot, Dad!”
Which of the three golf shots demonstrate God’s activity?
Most people would clearly identify Jesus’ shot as miraculous (golf balls rolling over water clearly defy the laws of physics). Many would also see God’s activity in the bizarre circumstances surrounding his Father’s shot, even though nothing about the shot defies the laws of physics.
But the easy-to-explain nature of Jack Nicklaus’ shot seems to remove any need for divine activity. Yet in a Christian worldview, the constancy of the laws of physics flows directly from the nature of God. Stated another way, without God continually upholding creation, it would simply tumble into nonexistence. But God so reliably sustains creation that we can talk about it being governed by constant laws of physics. This means that whenever science figures out how something works according to the laws of physics, we have a clearer picture of how God sustains creation.
In this context, Joe’s question basically asks, “Isn’t the flood a supernatural (beyond the laws of physics) event?” I wholeheartedly agree that the flood was miraculous and might have been unexplainable via the laws of physics, but there a few clues from the biblical text indicating that it’s legitimate to ask about the quantity of water involved. Genesis 7:11–12 describes some of the processes God utilized to bring about the flood. Similarly, Genesis 8 describes the rather natural-looking process of how the waters receded (aided by a divinely orchestrated wind). These passages indicate that the floodwaters originated from Earth and returned to the pre-flood locations afterwards. Consequently, it makes sense to assess the extent of the flood based on the amount of water Earth contains. God gave us the tools to make these measurements to help us understand, in some limited sense, how He affected the flood.
None of this in any way limits what God could have done. As a Christian and a scientist, my job is to study the Bible and to study creation in order to better understand who God is and how He has acted. In those studies I have found that where God intervenes beyond the laws of physics (e.g., the creation of the universe and the origin of humanity), the record of nature testifies to His involvement. I would expect the same principle to apply to the waters of the flood.