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Noah's ark*

In the book of Genesis, Abraham's god [AG] is depicted as regretting he'd created such wicked creatures as human beings. He favors Noah and his family but destroys most other living creatures, not just the humans whose wickedness offended him, but all animals and presumably all plants as well. AG plans to drown the whole world in a flood. To save himself and other animal species, Noah is directed to build a big boat that will save them from the flood.

In Genesis 6:19-21, it is written:

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

In Genesis 7:2-3, it is written:

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

Presumably, this contradictory set of instructions was no bother to Noah and to future Biblical literalists. If he takes seven pair, then he also takes two pair. And in some ancient esoteric traditions it is possible that seven means two. Also of no importance is that these flood stories appear to be cribbed from the neighboring Bablylonians. Even though the scientific evidence strongly indicates that the Babylonian texts are older than the Jewish texts, Bible believers know that can't be so. Therefore, the scientists are wrong. The Bible story is older. End of story.

Noah's ark is the boat built by the Biblical character Noah and his family. At the command of AG, according to the story, Noah was to build a boat that could accommodate his extended family and a lot of animals. Some Bible folks say he only needed to bring about 16,000 pairs of breeders. (He just needed to bring "kinds" of animals, not samples of each species, which some moronic interpreters think is the intended meaning.) Others say that the number of species needed ranged from 1.5 million to 4 or 5 million. Of course, we're including insects and maybe a few bacteria or viruses. Anyway, the craft had to be big and had to be constructed to endure the divinely planned universal flood aimed at destroying every other person and animal on earth. Aquatic animals pose a minor problem since most can live only in sweet water or salt water but not both. A universal flood would mix the seas with the sweet water lakes, rivers, and streams.

There were no insurmountable problems, however, according to Dr. Max D. Younce, who says by his calculations from Genesis 6:15 that the ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet deep. He says this is equivalent to "522 standard stock cars or 8 freight trains of 65 cars each." By some divine calculation he figures that all the insect species and the worms could fit in 21 box cars. He could be right, though Dr. Younce does not address the issue of how the big boxcar filled with its cargo rose with the rainwater level instead of staying put beneath the floodwaters. Would the weight of all those animals keep a boat of these dimensions from floating? I don't know but it doesn't matter because even if the boat should sink it wouldn't because AG wouldn't let it. The story would make no sense if such a boat would sink under the weight of its cargo. In any case, as one Biblical scholar has pointed out: animals are mostly water and water floats in water. So, how could there be a problem?

Another part-time Biblical scholar, John Renish, who also does work pro bono for a certain skeptic, writes:

Using the good Reverend Younce's figures, the ark (not a boat, but a box in Hebrew) displaced (assuming it floated at half its height) just under 76,000 cubic feet of water. [I calculate this to be just above 500k cubic feet of water, but I can't be trusted to add 2+2. B.C.] Assuming further that the water was nearly as dense as seawater (64 lb./cu. ft.), we get 4,860,000 lb. or 2430 tons for the vessel's gross weight, presumably about 1600 tons of cargo, including people, animals, and food for all of them. A cow weighs about half a ton; so, for the clean cattle alone, we're talking 3.5 tons. Ditto for camels, perhaps 3/4 ton for sheep, and 1/2 ton for goats. Add in all the marsupials, bison, rhinoceroses, elephants, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and so on, and we quickly exceed 1600 tons for animals alone, let alone their feed. As for "kinds," the Bible makes it clear that doves and crows are different "kinds," suggesting that at best, kinds are roughly equivalent to genus. That's a huge number of "kinds" to be accommodated. For the box to founder, it could support somewhat less than about 3200 tons of cargo.

My figures are quick and dirty--I don't know how many genera of animals have been identified, for example, or how many genera of plants can't tolerate six months of total immersion. I also didn't consider how long it would take for plants to recolonize the Earth, providing the necessary forage for the vegetarians and, ultimately, the necessary food for the carnivores. What are the poor meat-eaters to eat before the bunnies, elands, etc. do their thing?

Feeding mammals requires about 15 kcal/kg of body weight per day (that varies widely: for shrews, for example, it's on the order of 250 kcal/kg. That is, 1600 tons of animals would consume something on the order of 32,000,000 kcal/day, probably more because the vast majority of genera are physically much smaller than humans. For six months, that would come to at least 4,800,000,000 kcal. Even if the food were entirely fat (the most calorie-dense food), that would require 53,333 kg (roughly 56 tons) of food. But since ungulates mostly eat grass or hay, we're talking a lot more food--each elephant consumes 65+ kg of forage a day and other large ungulates consume some tens of kg of food per day--the four elephants (two genera) alone would consume 260 kg daily, or more than 50 tons during six months. For that matter, since the Flood followed the Fall, many "kinds" would have to consume meat, which you can't preserve that long except by drying, requiring enormous amounts of fresh water in addition to that consumed by most animals--mammals require perhaps three liters of water per 100 kg per day. Those poor elephants have to consume among them some 750 liters (200 gallons) of water per day. Assuming the oceans were so diluted by the rain as to make the water potable (highly unlikely), the ability of the ark to carry cargo would be less--only about 98% of my original estimate.

The largest wooden ships in history were more modern and somewhat smaller--the odds are that the technology of the time and the reputed material (gopher wood or shittim wood = ?acacia) would have made such a structure too flimsy for the purpose.

Frankly, all this calculating makes me dizzy. It seems fruitless anyway, since believers think they can invoke a miracle whenever they get stuck in an apparently illogical corner. (Objections have been made to Mr. Renish's playful excursion into Biblical mathematics. Click here to see the objection in all its simplistic detail and the response in all its glory.)

Those not familiar with the story might wonder why AG would destroy nearly all the descendants of all of the creatures he had created. The story is that AG was displeased with all of his human creations except for Noah and his family. Annihilating those one is displeased with has become a familiar tactic of the followers of this and many other gods. In any case, we're talking about AG here and he doesn't have to make sense to us or explain himself to his creatures. If he wants to annihilate us, he can. It's his right.

Despite the bad example AG set for Noah's descendants--imagine a human parent drowning his or her children because they were "not righteous"--the story remains a favorite among children. I say this is a bad example because we were made in AG's image and we know we should strive to be as AGlike as possible. Imitating AG would be a good thing, wouldn't it? Anyway, it's clear that AG likes good people and dislikes wicked people. He lets good people ride on a boat with a bunch of friendly animals. He shows them a great rainbow after the storm. And they all live happily ever after and do wicked deeds no more...well, maybe that's an exaggeration. You'd think that if anything would teach us a lesson it would be a universal flood, but human memory is short and soon we were back to our old ways. In any case, even adults like the story, though they might see it as an allegory with some sort of spiritual message, such as AG is all-powerful and we owe everything, even our very existence to AG. Furthermore, AG expects us to behave ourselves. But there are many who take the story literally. (According to an ABC News poll in 2004, some 60% of American adults take the Noah story literally. This means that the majority of American adults believe that Noah was more than 600 years old when he built the ark with the help of his sons who were over 100 years old, and that they built the ark over a period of about 75 years.*)

According to the story told in chapter 7 of Genesis, Noah, his crew, and the animals lived together for more than 6 months before the floodwaters receded. There are a few minor logistical problems with this arrangement, but before getting to them, there is one other thing that needs commenting on. It is obvious that floods are no laughing matter. The destruction of life and property caused by floods has plagued many animals, not just humans, from time immemorial. To watch one's family or home swept away in floodwaters must be a terrible spectacle. To see one's children drown, one's life and dreams washed away in an instant, must be a devastating experience. But if one were to discover that the flood was not a whimsical effect of chance natural events, not unplanned and purposeless, but rather the malicious and willful act of a conscious being, one might add rage to the feelings of devastation. We must remember, however, that it is AG's world; he created it, so he can destroy it if he feels like it. But such an attitude seems inappropriate for an all-good, all-Loving , all-powerful god. The logical conclusion is that AG is either not all good and all loving or AG is not all-powerful. But we're talking about AG, here. AG doesn't have to be logical. We know the Bible is true, so if we are asked to choose between logic and the Bible, we choose the Bible.

There are, however, a couple of problems with this story. If there were a universal flood, there should be a lot evidence left behind. The problem is that scientists who have studied floods and scientists who have studied the sedimentary layers of the earth can't find any traces of a universal flood. We should find the geology around the world "beginning with coarse-grained poorly sorted deposits of sand and gravel and boulders from the fast-water stage of the flood. Once a flood recedes, it can leave only one kind of deposit: a single layer of mud" (Prothero 2007: pp. 66). Instead, we find enormous variety around the world, but mostly we find sedimentary layers that were put down one upon the other over long periods of time. Donald Prothero writes that "in a supreme twist of irony," Ken Ham's Creation Museum in Kentucky:

is built upon the famous Ordovician rocks of the Cincinnati Arch, which span millions of years of the later Ordovician. If you poke around the slopes all around the area (as I have often), you will find hundreds of finely laminated layers of shales and limestones, each full of delicate fossils of trilobites and bryozoans and brachiopods preserved in life position that could never have been disturbed by flood waters—and each layer of hundreds represents another community of marine organisms that grew and lived and then was gently buried in fine silts and clays. There is no possibility these hundreds of individual layers of delicately preserved fossils were deposited in a single "Noah's flood." (Prothero 2007: pp. 62)

We'd also expect to find a universal flood would have done severe damage to the fossil sedimentary record, mixing fossils from all time periods as it ravaged the earth. But just as we do not find the universal layer of mud from such a flood, so too we do not find any rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer, nor any layers with both dinosaurs and humans.

the "finding" of the ark

As preposterous as the Noah's ark story is, there are people in the twenty-first century who claim they have found Noah's ark. They call themselves "arkeologists." Yes, they say that when the flood receded, Noah and his zoo were perched upon the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey. Presumably, at that time, all the animals dispersed to the far recesses of the earth. (No small feat, when you think about it, but they had come to Noah from the four corners of the earth to get on board his lifeboat, so what was another 3,000 mile swim or flight? Especially impressive are animals like pandas and koalas who only eat bamboo and eucalyptus, respectively. Feeding to and from the ark for such creatures was no small feat.) How the animals got to the different continents, we are not told. Perhaps they floated there on debris or swam or walked on the water. More problematic is how so many species survived when they had been reduced to just one pair or seven pairs of creatures. Also, you would think that the successful species that had the furthest to travel, would have left a trail of offspring along the way. What evidence is there that all species originated in Turkey? None. But that's what the record should look like if the ark landed on Mt. Ararat. AG could have teleported them home, but you'd think Moses would have mentioned it in his book (assuming, of course, that Moses wrote Genesis 6 and 7).

Still, none of this deters the true believer from maintaining that the story of Noah's ark is the god's truth. Nor does it deter those who think the ark has been found. For example, in 1977 a pseudo-documentary called "In Search of Noah's ark" was played on numerous television stations. CBS showed a special in 1993 entitled "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark." The first is a work of fiction claiming to be a documentary. The second was masterminded by George Jammal, who has admitted that the story was a hoax. Jammal said he wanted to expose religious frauds. His hoax was seen by about 20 million people, most of whom probably still do not know that Jammal did not want them to take it seriously.

During his show, Jammal produced what he called "sacred wood" from the ark, which he later admitted was wood taken from railroad tracks in Long Beach, California, which he had hardened by cooking in an oven. He also prepared other fake wood by simmering a piece of California pine on his kitchen stove in a mix of wine, iodine, sweet-and-sour, and teriyaki sauces. He also admitted that he had never been to Turkey. The program was produced by Sun International Pictures, based in Salt Lake City and which is responsible for several pseudo-documentaries on Nostradamus, the Bermuda Triangle, the Shroud of Turin, and UFOs.

the evidence for a universal flood

Stories of floods are not unique to the ancient Jews.* What geological or archaeological evidence is there of such a universal destruction of all human societies, all plants and all animals except for the ones on Noah's boat (or Ziusudra's [Sumeria], or Utnapishtim's [Babylon])? There should be a layer of sediment dating from the same time which contains all the bones of these poor creatures. There should be evidence that all human societies were wiped out simultaneously. No such evidence exists of a universal flood. Evidence of a great flood, perhaps caused by melting glaciers bursting through the Bosporus strait some 7,000 years ago, has been discovered off the coast of Turkey by  Robert Ballard (who found the remains of the Titanic) and some (like Ryan and Pitman) have claimed this is evidence of Noah's flood, but this is pure and inane speculation. (In any case, this flood supposedly occurred because of melting glaciers 8,000 years ago, before AG even created anything!). The Biblical flood is due to rain, not a bursting dam. As archeological anthropologist John Alden notes

...the story in the Bible is clear -- it rained for weeks before Noah's flood, and after it stopped raining the floodwaters receded. The Black Sea flood wasn't caused by rain, and after the water rose it never went away. And neither [the Sumerian nor the Biblical] story mentions the most dramatic consequence of the Black Sea flood, which turned fresh water into salt. Noah's flood, in short, doesn't sound anything like the inundation of the Black Sea.

[Two articles worth reading on the myth of the universal flood are now available from eSkeptic: "A Flood of Nonsense!
The Myth of a Universal flood Myth" by Tim Callahan and "Real Geology vs. 'Flood Geology'” by Donald Prothero; for more real geology and the Biblical story of Noah, see David. R .Montgomery's The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood.]

However, for the sake of argument, let's agree that there was a universal flood, but that somehow the evidence got twisted around so that geologically and archaeologically it doesn't appear that the flood occurred. There are still a few questions we should ask before accepting this story. There is the problem of gathering the animals together from the various parts of the world that, as far as we know, Noah had no idea even existed. How did he get to the remote regions of the earth to collect exotic butterflies and Komodo dragons? Or how did he communicate to those animals that they needed to come to him pronto? Another miracle, I suppose. How did he get all those species of dinosaurs  to follow him home? How much time would it take to round up 5 million pairs of animals? or even just 30,000 or so?

But let's grant that Noah was able to collect all the birds and mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, and a couple of million insects that he is said to have gathered together on his boat. There is still the problem of keeping the animals from eating one another. Or, are we to believe that the lion was lying down with the lamb on the ark? Did the carnivores become vegetarians for the duration of the flood? Yes, of course, or Noah fed them dead meat that he'd stored in his food locker.

It's true that the Flood came after the Fall, so the need for meat as feed would be enormous and somewhat messy. For those who don't study the Bible regularly, like myself, I pass on the reminder that T. Rex was an herbivore before the Fall. How do we know this? Because there was no death before the Fall. If you don't believe me, watch the video below and listen to Bill and Rusty misguide children on their "Biblically Correct Tour" of a science museum.

How did Noah keep the birds from eating the insects? Again, Noah went to the food locker.  After all, if Noah could engineer the building of a boat that could hold all those animals, it would have been a small feat to add room to store enough food to last for more than six months. Of course, Noah would have to store enough food for himself and his family, too. But these would have been minor details to such a man with such a plan guided by AG.

Still, it seems difficult to imagine how such a small crew could feed all these animals in a single day. There is just Noah, his wife, their three sons and three daughters-in-law. The "daily" rounds would take years, it seems. Delicacy forbids me from mentioning the problems of the "clean-up" detail, but I would have to say that if the noise of all those animals didn't drive Noah insane (not to mention the insect bites), the smell should have killed him. At least they didn't have to worry about water to drink. AG provided water in abundance.

See also creationism, faith, miracle, and wishful thinking.

reader comments

further viewing

XXX-rated comic diatribe on the mass murderer with anger issues by Bill Maher

further reading

books and articles

Cerone, Daniel, "Admitting 'Noah's Ark' Hoax," Los Angeles Times, October 30,1993, p. F-1.

Feder, Kenneth L. Frauds, Myths and Mysteries - Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology 3rd ed. (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1998).

Montgomery, David. R. 2012. The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood. W.W. Norton.

Moore, Robert A. "The impossible voyage of Noah's ark," Creation/Evolution 11:1-43.

Plimer, Ian. Telling Lies for God (Random House, 1994).

Prothero. Donald R. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. (Columbia University Press, 2007).

websites and blogs

Creationists Fight Over "Real" Noah's Ark "...two groups of creationists ... each think they've found the real Noah's Ark in the Ararat mountains -- and they're each accusing the other of producing fake evidence."

The Whole Silly Flood Story by Bob Riggins

Problems with a Global Flood

Why Isn't "Flood Geology" Accepted Today? by Edward T. Babinski

Creationist "Flood Geology" Vs Common Sense -Or Reasons why "Flood Geology" was abandoned in the mid-1800s by Christian men of science by Edward T. Babinski

Order of the Geologic Column and Flood Geology by Edward T. Babinski

WAS MT. ARARAT UNDERWATER? Compiled and written by Edward T. Babinski

Sun Goes Down in Flames: The Jammal Ark Hoax by Jim Lippard

Has Anyone Discovered Noah's Ark?


The Search for Noah's Ark

Fact Or Fiction: Could Noah’s Ark Really Have Happened? - Tiny Frog

news stories

'Noah's Ark' found in Turkey A group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say they have found wooden remains on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. Yeung Wing-Cheung, from the Noah's Ark Ministries International research team, said: "It's not 100 per cent that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it." (Did you follow that, children?) The website says "ministering to God's [sic] children through his animals." It's hard to believe that there are still adults on Earth who think the story of Noah's ark is science. Even The Sun uses scare quotes to refer to the mythical ark.












...or maybe not.

Noah's Ark Discovered ... Again and Again By Benjamin Radford

Satellite Sleuth Closes in on Noah's Ark Mystery By Leonard David

Latest photo of the ark (or is it a turtle?)

Satellite Search Underway For Noah's Ark By Leonard David, Space.com


* With no apologies to those who take their Bible literally. This article is not intended to be a piece of Biblical scholarship, but a piece mocking those who take the story of Noah and the ark literally, especially those who try to defend the literal story by scholarship or arkeological finds. (If I were to approach this subject as a scholar, I would trace the origin of the Biblical myth to its Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian origins. Read the Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Homer Smith's Man and His Gods.) Please don't write to tell me that insects weren't included because they breathe through tubes rather than nostrils or that since Noah only needed two of each type of animal he didn't need 2 donkeys, horses, and zebras, etc. Also, I realize that Noah's god is omnipotent, so Noah could accomplish any task as long as the omnipotent one directs the show. No task would have been too difficult.

I do not take the story literally, do not believe Noah was a real 600-year-old guy, and certainly do not believe he built a boat to hold animals while AG flooded the world. It's a nice story for unsophisticated nomads of ancient times and for kids today, but excuse me if I can't take it seriously enough to be Biblical in my scholarship. Think about it. AG, according to Christian theology, is supposed to be perfect, yet he gets so angry with his creation he kills almost everybody and everything. Anger is an imperfection. We're supposed to be grateful he let a few folks live and they just happened to be his favorites, the ancestors of the chosen people, who just happened to compose and pass on the story. We're also supposed to ignore the fact that the descendents of Noah are not better than the folks that angered AG to the point of universal destruction. Then, the sweet fellow sent a rainbow with a promise that it would be fire next time. Is this book where you get your morals?

Last updated 28-Mar-2014

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