How did Noah prevent fresh water fish from dying when salt water inundated inland waterways during the claimed floods? I'm not sure which Christian doctrines take the literalist position but what is their explanation for this aspect of the claim?
Noah was command to take every animal that walks on the face of the earth - not those that "swim in the deep."
From Genesis 6:19 - 20, via the Amplified Bible.
Genesis 6:17 is equally clear that is only flesh that lives on the earth that shall perish:
The Hebrew Interlinear can be found here.
As such, Noah would neither be commanded to protect sea life (since God was wiping clean "the face of the earth" and not "the waters under the earth) nor would he need any special containers for fish. They were protected.
Interestingly, Genesis 6:20 also says that Noah didn't have to search for the animals, rather they came to him.
The point, however, is that marine life is not "all living creatures on the earth," and as such need not fit on the ark.
Okay, as pointed out in a comment however, there is still a question about how fresh-water fish would survive the flood outside of the ark.
A flood that covers the face of the earth is necessarily going to mix salt water and fresh. How would fresh water survive? Two hypothesis come to mind:
It could be that the fresh and salt water was kept in some kind of balance.
Am I stretching here? Yes. It was a miracle! But the basic point is still satisfied. Noah needn't have done a thing - God himself attended to the needs of marine life.
It should also be noted that many Christians believe the flood to be a local (and not global) event. Indeed, I have seen documentaries suggest that the flood occurred when the Bosporous opened up and flooded the Black Sea. They point to archeological evidence of civilizations at the bottom of the Black. That said, these people are not the "literalists" asked for in the question, so the point need not be pressed here either.
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I realize that what I'm about to put forward is not conclusively proven, but it is possible. It's specifically answering from the perspective of young-earth creationists, which isn't the only view out there. (But it is the one you specified you wanted in your question.)
Noah didn't have to save the fish.
Your question makes two assumptions that seem reasonable, but aren't really axiomatic.
It is entirely possible that at that early stage in earth's history (assuming a young-earth time-line) that the oceans were fresh water, or nearly fresh water. If this were so, there would have been no dichotomy between fresh and saltwater fish.
The oceans gain their salinity because material from land is constantly eroding into the oceans. Both sea water and fresh water evaporate, but all water eventually ends up in the oceans. the reason the oceans are more salty than fresh water is that the minerals can't travel back upstream, so when the water evaporates, the salinity increases. (more here if you want it)
Even secular scientists are saying that most salt-water fish evolved from fresh water fish. Even the young-earth creationists wouldn't argue that. We see it as a minor variation within the Biblical "kinds" Turning from a freshwater fish to a saltwater fish is a minor change compared to the transformation from a dinosaur (primarily reptile from what we understand) to a bird, for example.
One popular YEC view is that likely, at the time of the flood, most sea life was able to live in both ocean water and fresh water because the salinity of the ocean was much less than. During the flood, large amounts of materials would have been deposited rapidly, and as the flood waters receded, the ocean would have been much more salty shortly after the flood than it was before from that fact alone. Over the remaining years, the oceans have become more salty at a slower rate.
A similar argument can be found here.
And another here, with a story about someone who experimented an was able to get salt and fresh-water fish living together in the same tank. There's no reference on the story, but it's certainly possible to try it yourself if you'd like to experiment.
An article at icr.org has this to add:
To clarify, a number of literalists that I've spoken to about this subject cite "miracle" as their explanation. This is exactly the point that I'm trying to make in the last paragraph.
IMO, the question here extends far far beyond just fish; for example, you destroy all the plants and all the habitats, and all the insert / etc life that goes with it; you have no food (vegetable or meat) to sustain people or animals disembarking. Remember that a lot of the animals getting off the boat eat other animals, are specialized at that, and would need more than a few to raise young. Any time they eat, they drive another species extinct, and probably doom themselves if they are specialists. So they have the fun job of sitting in the fetid mud surrounded by debris and rotting carcasses, little food, little hope; floods do not sweep things clean; they leave foulness. Let alone the issues of the energy (often from other animals) necessary for the journey back to a climate where it can actually survive for more than a day (which, by foot and paw, could be many months)
My point? (yes, I do actually have one that is relevant): as a result of the issues of the life disembarking from the ark, it seems necessary to adopt one of two positions:
Each is entitled to their view of what happened; all I'm saying is: if you choose the literal Bible flood account: then it demands multiple additional (beyond that recorded in Genesis) supernatural events, not just the floods and the arrival of the animals. It is inconsistent to try to find a rational/natural explanation for the survival of (say) fish in the midst of supernatural events.
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