As the tension between science and religion reached a breaking point in the late 1600s there developed concerted attempt to establish correspondence between the newly understood orbits of celestial bodies and past events and catastrophes known from myths and the bible. Hence it was thought possible that the floods of Deucalion, Ogyges, and Noah might be found to be one and the same, and to correspond with some catastropheic natural event such as the famous comet that had been observed at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1680.
This attempt to smooth over a growing split between faith in scripture and the new observational science had been going on for some time; for example the work of Copernicus was interpreted in an unsigned preface to his work by a Lutheran clergyman Andreas Osiander as merely being a computational convenience rather than an absolute truth, a view that might be perfectly satisfactory to most philosophers of science in the post Kuhnian era, though it was repugnant to Kepler who said "it was the view of a jackass written for the consumption of other jackasses."
No one was more concerned with this tension than Sir Isaac Newton himself, who, after completing much of his most important scientific work went on to write a number of tracts on religious matters, among them his poathumasly published but little known Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms in which he made a concerted effort to reconcile both pagan and biblical sources of ancient knowledge with the newly defined scientific order, with particuarl attention to ancient Mesopotamia.
Newtons efforts were in effect a kind of negotiation between the ideas of the past and of the future, and he made every effort to blur the edges of the growing rift as in his claim that Moses' descriptions of events are not falsehoods but rather made "much after ye manner as one of ye vulgar would have been incline to do had he lived & seen ye whole series of what Moses describes."
In 1694 Edmund Halley concluded taht the flood had been universal, caused by global sloshing following a cometary near-miss.
Newton protege William Whiston took upon himself the task of differentiating the claims of science and religion by emphasising the hard-core millenial view that had dominated the middle ages, namely that the biblical prophecies of Daniel and Revelation should be interpeted as calling for a violent end of the world. Whiston had succeeded Isaac Newton in holding the chair of mathematics at Cambridge University in 1703 and his central belief held that the biblical and and scientific accounts of the deluge could be reconciled, a view he presented in A New Theory of the Earth, written in 1696, in which it was argued that comet impact was the probable origin of the deluge. Whiston's theory was controversial, but he received support from Locke and apparently Newton himself.
Whiston believed that the London earthquake of 1750 was a sign of impending doom, though other considerations suggested to him that 1866 would be the year. Newton ultimately set the date at some time after the year 2000. (Westfall, Never at Rest p 321-5)
Edmund Halley, on discovering the periodicity of the comet, later to bear his name, that appeared in 1682, had recognized that the periodic event could serve as a kind of clock, and efforts were then made to chart the periodicities of other comets including the one that had arrived in 1680, and it was concluded that its orbit might correspond to the date of Noah's flood, which was then taken to be 2342 B
According to Whiston the causative comet did not actually hit the earth but passed close enough to have deluged it with forty days of rain (from its moist tail) and, more importantly, stretched the earth's brittle crusts, through which then issued the waters constituting the "fountains of the great deep."
Whiston thought that field studies in the biblical lands would do much to shed light on these matters. He translated the work of the Jewish historian Josephus extended to the wish that the Holy Lands be cleared of quarreling princes and chiefs so that real scientific work on the bible could be properly conducted.
Whiston raised the possibility that these events might harbinger a great disaster or even the day of judgment; however Newton himself, though at some early stage having given encouragement to his successor, now announced that comets, rather than being harbingers of catastrophe, might be bearers of positive change and renewal, a striking foreshadowing of some contemporary thinking. Whiston writing of his predecessor's ideas claimed that Newton had stayed from the ancient authorities and scripture itself and relied principally upon "fond Notions, Vehement Inclinations, and Hypotheses of his own" and for that reason "an Imaginary or Romantick Scheme...built upon no manner of real foundation whatsoever."
Meanwhile Thomas Burnet (The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1691)),
whose biblical theories were a target of special criticism by the
likes of "creationist" advocates like George McCready Price Price
lumped Burnet with speculators whose "wild fancies deserve to be
called travesties alike on the Bible and on true science")
concluded after calculating that the waters of the earth are not
of sufficient volume to entirely cover it, that the early earth
must have consisted of a layer of outer crust underlain by an
inner concentric layer of water, such that when the outer crust
cracked the underlying water spurted from the earth and entirely
covered it, creating in the end as great ruin of tilted strata,
mountains, valleys, and oceans. This being much the same as
rlm / dak