Does the Biblical Flood Require 11 New Species to Evolve Daily Afterward?
Critics of the biblical Flood have argued that the implications of the Flood make its reality implausible. For instance, Bill Nye has argued that there are some 16,000,000 species on the planet today.1 If there was a Flood only 4,000 years ago, only 7,000 representative species on the Ark to start with, and all of the planet’s other species were wiped out by the Flood, those 7,000 representative species would have to turn into 16,000,000 species in only 4,000 years. That would mean that 11 new species have evolved every day over the last 4,000 years since the Flood. Does such an implication prove the biblical Flood narrative to be unreliable at best and mythical at worst?
One Aspect of the Flood that Nye Got Right
First, note that critics who highlight the implausibility of the Flood model in this instance are correct in one aspect. The Creation/Flood model does in fact propose that not all modern species were on the Ark, since the word “kind” in the Bible (e.g., Genesis 6:20) is not equivalent to the modern nomenclature of “species,” but might be closer to the modern taxonomic group “family.” On the Ark, therefore, there would have been representative species (the biblical word, “kind”) of, for example, the “dog kind,” equipped with the genetic capability to produce all other species within that kind (e.g., coyotes, foxes, wolves, domestic dogs, etc.2). Speciation (i.e., the appearance of new species) would have occurred through various means, including inter-breeding and microevolution (i.e., evolution involving only minor changes within kinds, such as beak size and color changes, staying within narrow genetic boundaries; as opposed to macroevolution/Darwinian evolution, an unobserved phenomenon which involves change across phylogenic boundaries between “kinds”).
Though the original number of “kinds” was much smaller than the modern taxonomic term “species,” it is true that whatever the number of kinds were on the Ark, they were also the only species of those kinds in existence when they left the Ark. All other species today had to descend from those original representative species. Based on recent creationist studies of the subject, it is unlikely that 7,000 is a good estimate of the number of those proto-species. Creation biologists currently estimate that fewer than 2,000 kinds were represented on the Ark.3 It is true, then, that a Flood believer must be able to explain how the few animal varieties on the Ark could have given rise to the multitude of species on the planet today. According to Bill Nye:
So you’d go out into your yard. You wouldn’t just find a different bird: a new bird. You’d find a different kind of bird. A whole new species of bird, every day…. This would be enormous news. I mean, the last 4,000 years? People would have seen these changes among us…. We see no evidence of that. There’s no evidence of these species.4
Does the Number of Species on the Planet Today Disprove the Flood?
In response, we first must ask where Nye and others are getting their information when they argue that there are 16,000,000 species on the planet. Some studies have species counts as low as 2-3,000,000.5 A projected estimate of species on the planet published by Public Library of Science Biology (PLoSB) including the Plantae, Fungi, Protozoa, Chromista, Animalia, Archaea, and Bacteria Kingdoms (i.e., including beetles and bacteria, which Nye implied were not in his estimate), is 10,960,000,6 not 16,000,000. [NOTE: This is an estimate, which fluctuates based on those variables being considered by the researchers. The scientific community does not agree on how many species may exist and many competing methods of calculating those estimates are available. The actual catalogued number of living species on the Earth at the time of the study was 1,438,769.7]
All marine creatures, of course, though they are included in the 10,960,000 estimate, were not on the Ark, and their diversification would have continued without being filtered by the animal kinds brought on the Ark. That brings the estimate down to 8,750,000 species in existence today that came from the creatures on the Ark, based on the PLoSB study. More could most certainly be removed, considering that the estimated number of those creatures designated as “ocean dwelling” species in the study did not include other creatures that can survive in water (e.g., amphibians and freshwater creatures8), but are not defined as “ocean dwelling” in the study.9 Many such creatures would not have been on the Ark.
The biblical text also does not mention Noah carrying plants onto the Ark to save them from destruction (except those that the animals and Noah and his family ate, Genesis 6:21), since they are not “flesh” (Genesis 6:19). Removing plants from the list of species brings our count down to 8,435,400, based on the PLoSB study. Incidentally, while Nye insinuated that the plants of the Earth would have died in the Flood, and it is certainly true that many would have, it is also true that (1) Noah could have brought seeds on the Ark; and (2) most of the world’s vegetation is underwater, and survives well in that environment. Scientists estimate that 50% to 85% of Earth’s oxygen comes from ocean plants.10 Further, many dead plants (with their seeds intact) would have been floating in piles on the surface of the Flood waters. It is also true that studies show that seeds can survive submersion in salt water for extended periods of time.11 Ironically, Darwin, himself, verified several ways in which seeds can survive and be viable after extended travel in and on salt water. 12
It is also virtually certain that the number of current species on the planet could be significantly reduced due to the inevitability of synonymous species (e.g., two names given to the same species—creatures originally thought to be two distinct species that are now considered one and the same, or one creature whose name has changed over time and yet both names have been counted). The PLoSB study noted this weakness in species estimates, explaining that “[a] survey of 2,938 taxonomists with expertise across all major domains of life…revealed that synonyms are a major problem at the species level.”13 They believe that 17.9% of species could be synonyms, and possibly much more (as much as 46.6%). The World Register of Marine Species documents that 44.5% of all accepted marine species are synonyms.14 If we, for the sake of argument, accept the smaller average amount given by the PLoSB study, that only 17.9% of the remaining species are indeed synonyms, that would take 8,435,400 species down to 6,869,150 species on the Earth today and 6,862,000 new species since the Flood, based on the supposition that there were 7,000 kinds on the Ark. Such an estimate is a far cry from Nye’s estimated 16,000,000.
Further, if the Flood was 4,500 years ago (which is closer to our estimate of the biblical timeline), that would bring Nye’s total from 11 new species per day down to 4 (and some estimates push the Flood back farther than 5,000 years ago). If there are indeed fewer species on the planet than the researchers’ projections, more synonyms, more years since the Flood, more species that could survive outside of the Ark, and more representative kinds on the Ark—all of which are possible and even highly likely in some cases—this number decreases even more.15
Further, consider the fact that about half of the remaining species are insects,16 including the many beetles Nye mentioned, many of which are known to reproduce quickly. Flies (Drosophila melanogaster), for example, can lay as many as 100 eggs each day, and up to 2,000 eggs in their lifetimes.17 Bacteria, also included in the list of species, can reproduce even quicker. According to the American Society for Microbiology, in only 10 hours, one bacterium can propagate through binary fusion and produce ten billion bacteria.18 Rapid reproductive rates make the potential for rapid microevolutionary speciation more plausible, especially in the centuries immediately following the Flood. The proto-species on the Ark would have likely been chosen by God due to their immense genetic variability, which would have lent itself to rapid speciation immediately after the Flood. The speciation rate may have gradually been hampered through the localization of species communities, creating what evolutionists call niche conservatism.19 Note that it is also possible that many insects, other invertebrates (which comprise “95 to 99 percent of the planet’s animal species”20), fungi, protozoa, and bacteria species could survive outside of the Ark and therefore, could be removed from the list—decreasing the number of species in PLoSB study list by as much as 4,500,000.
Also, according to the Creation model, human lifespans were longer for several centuries following the Flood and, as with the pre-Flood era, the childbearing age ranges appear to have been longer (e.g., Genesis 11:10). The genealogies of Genesis 11 show an apparent exponential decay rate in life spans in the centuries immediately following the Flood, while the genealogies of Genesis 5 show consistently high life spans before the Flood. This seems to indicate that the Flood dramatically changed the Earth in a way that affected its population’s health (2 Peter 3:6 describes the pre-Flood world, “the world that then existed,” as having “perished”). If the health, reproductive capacity, and lifespans of animals on Earth paralleled those of humans—and it is reasonable to assume that they did for the same reasons—then animal productivity could have also been higher before the Flood and immediately after the Flood, allowing for quicker diversification (i.e., quicker speciation). Many new species were likely coming about throughout the world every day for centuries after the Flood, though that rate would have slowed significantly over time.21
In summary, skeptics argue that the Flood model requires the emergence of 15,993,000 new species in the 4,000 years since the Flood. However:
- More kinds may have been represented on the Ark.
- More years could have passed between the Flood and today.
- It is highly unlikely that there are anywhere near 16,000,000 species on the planet—there may be far fewer than 5,000,000.
- Marine creatures (as well as other water dwelling animals) should be subtracted from the list of those animals that must emerge since the Flood.
- The kingdoms Plantae, Fungi, Protozoa, Chromista, Archaea, and Bacteria should be subtracted.
- Other species could be subtracted which could survive outside of the Ark (e.g., various insects and invertebrates).
- Synonymous species must be subtracted.
Bottom line: it is not far-fetched to argue that there could have been (and could be) multiple new species appearing around the world every day after the Flood, especially among the smaller creatures on the planet that reproduce faster. In fact, Science magazine published an article in 1988 highlighting the correlation between smaller sized creatures being represented by more species on Earth, which supports this hypothesis.22 As opposed to Nye’s claim, mankind simply would not tend to notice the introduction of many of these new species, since they would be smaller life forms. The Earth is enormous, with many things proceeding unnoticed by mankind. If, for example, four new species were to appear every day somewhere on (or in) this enormous planet (with a volume of 1,083,210,000,000 cubic kilometers),23 at least three of the four would likely be tiny: not birds or fish as Nye suggested. The odds that any of them would happen to be in your yard, much less that you would notice them, are basically zero.
And yet, keep in mind, in spite of that fact, scientists are still consistently documenting 15,000 new species each year that we had not noticed before—an average of 41 new species found every day.24 While many of those newly discovered species are certainly already existing species that scientists are now simply discovering and documenting (i.e., they are likely not newly evolved species), who’s to say how many of them are not also newly evolved species (in the microevolutionary sense)? Regardless, contrary to Nye’s claim that humans would have (but have not) noticed 11 new species emerging every day, the newly discovered species being identified today are new to mankind, they are being noticed, and many are making the news somewhere in the world—ironically, exactly what Mr. Nye said should be the case if the Flood happened. The catch, however, is that the number of newly discovered species each day is 41—not 11.
1 Bill Nye and Ken Ham (2014), Uncensored Science: Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham (Petersburg, KY: Answers in Genesis).
2 Cf. Brian Thomas (2012), “On the Origin of Dogs,” Acts & Facts, 41:16, http://www.icr.org/article/origin-dogs/; Katarina Ahlfort (2011), “Genetic Study Confirms: First Dogs Came from East Asia,” KTH Royal Institute of Technology, November 11, http://www.kth.se/en/aktuellt/nyheter/vargen-tamjdes-till-hund-i-sydostra-asien-1.269636.
3 Nathaniel T. Jeanson (2016), “Which Animals Were On the Ark with Noah?” Answers in Genesis, https://answersingenesis.org/creation-science/baraminology/which-animals-were-on-the-ark-with-noah/; Michael Belknap and Tim Chaffey (2019), “How Could All the Animals Fit on the Ark?” Answers in Depth, April 2, https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/how-could-all-animals-fit-ark/.
4 Nye and Ham, emp. added.
5 Mark J. Costello, et al. (2013), “Can We Name Earth’s Species Before They Go Extinct?” Science, 339:413-416; Carl Zimmer (2011), “How Many Species? A Study Says 8.7 Million, but It’s Tricky,” The New York Times, August 23, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/science/30species.html?_r=0.
6 Camilo Mora, et al. (2011), “How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?” PLoS Biology, 9:e1001127, http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001127#pbio.1001127-Appeltans1.
7 Ibid. Since 2011, roughly 1,000,000 more species are thought to have been identified [“Summary Statistics” (2022), IUCN Red List, Table 1a, https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/summary-statistics. (Note that the IUCN Red List does not include prokaryotes.)].
8 For a discussion of how freshwater/saltwater fish could have survived the Flood, see: Andrew Snelling (2014), “How Could Fish Survive the Genesis Flood?” AnswersinGenesis.org, June 16, https://answersingenesis.org/the-flood/how-could-fish-survive-the-genesis-flood/.
10 “How Much Do Oceans Add to World’s Oxygen?” (2013), Earthsky, http://earthsky.org/earth/how-much-do-oceans-add-to-worlds-oxygen.
11 George F. Howe (1968), “Seed Germination, Sea Water, and Plant Survival in the Great Flood,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, December, pp. 105-112, http://www.creationbotany.org/12_Plant_survival_and_the_great_Flood.pdf.
12 Charles Darwin (1979), The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (New York: Avenel Books), pp. 352-359; See the following for an in depth discussion of plant survival in the Flood, including the effect of salinity on seeds: David Wright (2012), “How Did Plants Survive the Flood?” Answers in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v7/n1/how-did-plants-survive-flood. See also: Jeff Miller (2014), “Tying Up Really Loose Ends,” Reason & Revelation, 34:43-44, https://apologeticspress.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/1404w.pdf.
13 Mora, et al.
15 NOTE: Though Nye did not mention it, the Creation model must also account for species that have descended from the original proto-species, but that are now extinct. It is unknown how many extinct species are in the fossil record. (Evolutionists assume there are billions because of the need for transitional creatures under the evolutionary model. That prediction has thus far been shown to be false.) It is estimated from the fossil record that “one species per million species per year” goes extinct [“The Current Mass Extinction” (2001), PBS: Evolution—Library, WGBH Educational Foundation, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/03/2/l_032_04.html]. If all 7,000,000 current “land” species had been in existence since the Flood (which would not have been the case), that would only add 31,500 extinct species to the count, which is negligible in our estimates. Creationist Kurt Wise, whose Ph.D. in Paleontology is from Harvard University, cites research indicating that at least 75% of the 250,000 species identified in the fossil record are still living, meaning that, at most, 62,500 extinct species exist in the fossil record, and likely, far less [Wise, Kurt (2009), “Completeness of the Fossil Record,” Answers in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v5/n1/completeness-fossil-record]. Some of those would also be marine species and thus not added to our count. Regardless, again, this number is negligible in our calculations. Keep in mind also that much of the fossil record represents species that were in existence at the time of the Flood and before (i.e., that were killed in the Flood), but that would not have necessarily developed since the Flood. So, the actual number of species that have evolved since the Flood but have gone extinct is no doubt much smaller.
16 Andrew J. Hamilton, et al. (2010), “Quantifying Uncertainty in Estimation of Tropical Arthropod Species Richness,” The American Naturalist, 176:90-95, July.
17 E.C. Reeve and Isobel Black, eds. (2001), Encyclopedia of Genetics, http://books.google.com/books?id=JjLWYKqehRsC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=Drosophila+Fruit+fly+mutations&source=web&ots=V5yPPBPE6h&sig=fOkUSqLsARelWNDqpe5uhq70mI&hl=en.
18 “Microbial Reproduction” (2012), Microbe World, http://www.microbeworld.org/interesting-facts/microbial-reproduction.
19 Robert D. Holt and Richard Gomulkiewicz (1997), “How Does Immigration Influence Local Adaptation? A Reexamination of a Familiar Paradigm,” The American Naturalist, 149:563-572; John J. Wiens, et al. (2010), “Niche Conservatism as an Emerging Principle in Ecology and Conservation Biology,” Ecology Letters, 13:1310-1324.
20 “Meet Our Animals: Facts” (2014), Smithsonian National Zoological Park, http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/invertebrates/facts/.
21 For thorough discussions of the plausibility of rapid, post-Flood speciation see: John Woodmorappe (1996), Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research), pp. 180-213, and Daniel Criswell (2009), “Speciation and the Animals on the Ark,” Acts & Facts, 38:10, http://www.icr.org/article/speciation-animals-ark/. For a discussion of research involving rapidly changing bird species, see: Brian Thomas (2011), “Study Shows Bird Species Change Fast,” Institute for Creation Research, http://www.icr.org/article/study-shows-bird-species-change-fast/.
22 Robert M. May (1988), “How Many Species Are There on Earth?” Science, 241:1441-1449.
23 “Earth Fact Sheet” (2013), NASA, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/earthfact.html.
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