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18th-Century Physician Claimed He Discovered an Eyewitness to the Biblical Flood, Did He?

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A Swiss physician believed he found the remains of a person who died in the biblical flood. We can learn from his sense of awe and desire to discover.


Since ancient times, people have been fascinated by the past. Human beings are constantly trying to uncover evidence of stories and myths from long ago. One of the most famous stories of human history is that of the epic flood that wiped out civilization. As told in Genesis 6-9, God told His servant Noah to build an ark in order to survive the flood that would wipe out all humankind due to their sinful natures.

One of the most obvious types of evidence from the past is that of fossils. People have often been interested in uncovering fossils and finding out where they originated. This used to be done with a biblical context. In his 1695 Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth, the English scholar John Woodward posed the theory that rocks were layered in many places because they sunk to the bottom of the ocean as the waters of the flood receded.

Swiss physician and naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733) later translated Woodward’s essay into Latin so more people could read it across Europe. The contents of the essay were intriguing to Scheuchzer, who had studied mathematics and medicine. He eventually became his hometown’s physician and a professor at a university, but he was fascinated by the world around him and felt drawn to discovering more about the fossils he discovered in his village.

At the time, this quest wasn’t as popular as it is today. Many people felt that looking for evidence of the truth of the Bible implied a lack of faith. Most believed that one shouldn’t need evidence to prove that the Bible was true.

When he was on one of his excursions, Scheuchzer found a fossil that he believed to be the remains of a person who witnessed the biblical flood.

He named his finding, “Homo diluvii testis, meaning ‘man, witness of the flood” and “in 1726 he published a broadside to announce his discovery.” He also published Physica sacra in 1731, which was his natural history account of the Bible. In it, he “cited the Reverend Johann Martin Miller as expressing the hope that the ‘sad bony frame of an old sinner’ would soften the ‘heart of new children of evil!’” This shows how scientific discoveries were often made with a religious backdrop, and perhaps needed to be in order to be considered valid.

Scheuchzer’s theory was later proven to be incorrect, although he died believing that he had discovered the remains of someone who perished in the flood. The fossil was later proven to be that of an ancient salamander, although the rocks from which his fossil was found could be traced back almost 13 million years.

Even though Scheuchzer was wrong in his assumptions, he is still praised for figuring out that fossils were from the “remains of once-living beings rather than products of some mysterious force.”

It’s still inspiring to see how much wonder and awe Scheuchzer had in looking for evidence of biblical events. Even today, some shy away from looking at science through a biblical lens, but Scheuchzer believed they didn’t need to be separated.

It’s intriguing to think about what it would mean for us today if Scheuchzer had proven the events of the flood. Maybe it wouldn’t change anything for some people, but maybe it would change everything for others.