Saturday, January 14, 2006

Noah's Ark

I may as well begin this blog by starting with one of the biggest clashes between science/common-sense and biblical 'history': Noah's Ark.

The story is presented as history. I know some Christians who believe it happened as the bible said it did. But let's consider the details.

In Genesis 6, God is apparently very precise about the size of the ark: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high (about 140 metres long, 23 metres wide and 13.5 metres high) - that's a total volume of 43470 cubic metres.

Now, science tells us that there are about 30 to 50 million species of animal, even supposing that three quarters of these are marine animals, and can therefore survive the flood, that still leaves us with at least 7.5 million species to go on the ark. And, of course, two of each unclean species and seven of each clean species are required. So more than 15 million animals have to be fitted on the ark.

That leaves only 0.002898 cubic metres per animal. And even if Noah was able to find one animal per minute, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (he was righteous in the eyes of the Lord, so must have kept the sabbath), it would take 33 years to fill the ark.

I could go on. The point is this: the events described could not have taken place as described. Perhaps there was an ark and a lot of animals were taken on it, but there is no way that the flood could have been worldwide as other land animals clearly survived the experience even though they were not on the ark.

The problem this introduces is that it clearly shows that some of the stories in the bible, which are presented as history, are merely stories. They may have some roots in history, but time and embellishment have changed them to such a degree that the actual history is lost. But this leads us to question every story in the bible - if Noah's ark is just a myth then what about Moses, King David and so on, what about the things Jesus is reported to have done?

More than that, it leads us to challenge one of the fundamental aspects of belief for many Christians - the divine inspiration and infallibility of the bible.


Chris HH said...

I don't know where you got 30-50 million species from. Here's something I pulled off an online encyclopedia:

"There are about 900,000 known insect species, three times as many as all other animal species together"

That gives 300,000 non-insect species, and by your 1/4 estimate, about 75,000 non-marine non-insect species.

If you leave the generally tiny insects out of the equation, that gives just over half a cubic meter on average per creature, and just over two months to fill the arc.

It still requires faith, but it doesn't require you kiss your common-sense goodbye.

Ricky Carvel said...

Ah. The pitfalls of using the internet as a reference guide. I searched for "how many species" and took the numbers off the first page that looked vaguely reputable.

As far as I can tell (after a bit of 'proper' research), there are 1.75 million known and catalogued species (P.M. Hammond (1995) 'Described and estimated species numbers: an objective assessment of current knowledge'. In: Microbial Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function eds D. Allsop, D.L. Hawksworth & R.R. Colwell, pp 29-71. CAB International, Wallingford.) although most scientists would accept that there are at least as many unclassified ones. I found a number of estimates on a university page ranging from 3.6 million to 111 million - although it is unclear to me if these numbers include plant life too.

But that raises another problem. Suppose Noah could have got all the animals on the ark, what about all the vegitation on the planet? It would have been destroyed in the flood too.

Even if all the animals could, theoretically, have fitted on the ark, I still think it is immensely improbable that a single family could have rounded up all those animals in a sensible period of time. Also, what about food and water for all the animals?

Also, the Noah story is essentially the same as several non-biblical (indeed, pre-biblical) stories, some of which are less fantastic and, apparently, more grounded in reality (see

It just seems far more reasonable to believe that this is a story which has been augmented and embellished over the centuries, rather than believing that it is accurate historical fact.

And for me, faith is all about what God will do in the future - trusting in His promises, His love and His faithfulness. I'm not sure what the point of having faith in the flood story is; whether it happened or not has no perceptible influence on my life now, my future or my salvation.

storyguy said...

Hope you get to meet Noah and find out for yourself what really happened.

Ricky Carvel said...

Yes! So do I! Although there are likely to be millions of others also wanting to speak to him, thanfully we'll have eternity, so that's OK. I wonder if Gilgamesh will be ther too and Noah and Gilgamesh can compare stories...

Another aspect of the flood story that I haven't picked up on until now is where did all the water come from? Even if all the polar ice caps melted and all the rain fell from the sky, there still wouldn't be enough sea to cover all the land. Indeed, most of the Euraisan landmass would still be well above sea level. Did God just create all those thousands of cubic miles of water and then destroy them again after 40 days?

Anonymous said...

I read a critique once which posited that if you limited the animals to just large animals such as elephants, tigers, lions, etc, one would find that the Ark, as described, had insufficient space for even one week's worth of food for them, let alone having space for them as well.

While apologists insist that "God" could have made all the aforementioned animals peaceful enough to live together (imagine lions and gazelles in the same quarters), and could have provided for their sustenance, and could have created all the water on demand, as well as making it go away as quickly as it appeared, I find that position troubling.

The God I worship gave me a rational mind, and does not require me to abandon it in the search for Him. And anyone with a rational mind instantly sees the story (as told) as being factually in error.

But there's an old cliche, "Can't see the forest for the trees". While I reject the telling of this story as being factual, and thus reject the claims of historical infallibility that some seem to so cherish, I note that there is an important lesson that can be derived from the story. The facts of the story may very well be lies, but the Truth contained in the story is quite evident.

Interesting then, that Jesus himself taught in parables, which is nothing more than using a little snippet of fiction to illustrate a great Truth.

Anonymous said...

the animals came to Noah, instead of Noah having to gather them

Ricky Carvel said...

Did they also cram themselves into the available space like a jigsaw?

Chris & Esther Hilling said...

1) As has already been stated, Abraham didn't go looking for the animals, they came to him.

2) As for all the different species, there is some micro-evolution that has occurred within species. All the different varieties of dogs, cats, etc., were not necessarily brought onto the ark ... only 1 male/female representative of that species.

3) As for large animals ... Before elephants get big, they are what? SMALL. Who says all adult animals were brought on board the ark? Babies of each kind would take less room, be less aggressive, and take less food.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Chris and/or Esther! Nice to have some non-anonymous commenters for a change.

"1) As has already been stated, Abraham didn't go looking for the animals, they came to him."

How do you know this? I don't remember ever reading this in the bible. I guess you must have some non-biblical, absolutely trustworthy, three thousand year old document for this?

"2) As for all the different species, there is some micro-evolution that has occurred within species. All the different varieties of dogs, cats, etc., were not necessarily brought onto the ark ... only 1 male/female representative of that species."

Possibly. But I still don't see why God went to all this bother.

"3) As for large animals ... Before elephants get big, they are what? SMALL. Who says all adult animals were brought on board the ark? Babies of each kind would take less room, be less aggressive, and take less food."


This kind of reasoning shows one of the issues I have with things like this. The bible contains a very simple story with almost no detail. In order to get the story to make sense to a modern audience, some huge assumptions have to be made, such as reducing the number of species, only taking babies, the (baby) animals making their own way to the middle east from all over the world just to go on a boat for 40 days.

All that is pure speculation with no basis in anything - least of all rationality OR consistency with the character of God as experienced in the Church today.

Why do this?

Really, why?

I strongly believe that God speaks to his people through his word. And I believe that the bible contains his word. But where does it say that every detail in the compiled document that is the bible is historically accurate and infallibly correct?

Jesus told stories to make his points. Not actual events, just made up stories. Why can't we accept that perhaps God did the same centuries before? And all that has happened is that some later editor of the document mistakenly wrote something fictional as being part of the timeline?

Robin said...

God is the creater of everything.Is there anything to hard for the LORD your GOD? Why try to put limitatins on him? Why put GOD in a box ,so we can try to wrap our minds around him. He's to big , He's GOD. With GOD all things are possible.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Robin, thanks for your comment.

If I may be pedantic for a moment, (as far as I am aware) it never once states in the bible that God made everything. In Genesis he makes 'heaven and earth' but he makes this out of the pre-existing 'waters' - the message is not that he created something out of nothing, but rather that he created order out of chaos.

And while phrases like 'almighty' are regularly thrown about in the OT, we shouldn't necessarily take these to mean literally 'all-powerful' as the exact same word was used of human rulers at the time. Not 'having all power' but 'having more power than everyone else' - but never considered to be infinite power.

Furthermore, I think there are good grounds for believing that God has imposed limits on himself. He has put himself into a box, as it were. Is it wrong to try and determine the limits he placed on himself?