- Religion and Philosophy
Noah's Ark: A Comedy of Epic Proportions
Of all the absurd tales sprinkled liberally throughout the Bible, the
one of Noah's Ark decidedly has to take the cake. I decided to write
this piece after recently stumbling across an online article detailing
how a Dutch building contractor named Johan Huibers decided he could
best spread the message of Jesus Christ, not by helping the needy or
feeding the sick, but by spending 18 months worth of man-hours and
close to 1.2 million US dollars reconstructing a half-scale replica of
the world's most famous floating zoo, to the best of his abilities. (Or more accurately, stumbled across an essay at The 1585 making fun of the article about Huibers that they stumbled across first. I thought it made a great topic of mockable topic-i-ness, or something, and since I had a completely different take and point on the subject than they did, I dove on in.)
Just when you thought the religious nuts had finally run out of inane, pointless undertakings to consume what might otherwise be valuable time and money, some Dane decides his God of choice is best served by constructing a monstrosity of a mythical landmark. (Up next, a 1/3 sized-replica of the Tower of Babel (kidding)). The funniest thing about this entire endeavor is that boat-makers, architects, engineers, and various other academics and scientists around the world have been pointing out for decades that a vessel of that size, comprised of those construction materials, not only wouldn't be able to float - let alone withstand an epic storm - but would probably be crushed by its own massive weight before the first drop of rain began to fall. Basically, it would just buckle in half. Enter Huibers, who, using modern tools instead of Noah's rock-and-chisel, and American cedar and Norwegian pine, rather than "gopher wood," (both much less dense) constructs a 1/2 size replica, which, as it turns out, can't float either. I hope the irony is not lost on you. Instead, it is transported on 5 barges welded together, pulled by a tugboat to its various destinations, possibly the result of a similar-sounding conversation:
Biblical Skeptic: I heard your story about Noah's Ark. I don't think such a boat is possible.
Christian Fundamentalist: You don't have enough faith.
Skeptic: Maybe you're right. I do kinda suck. But I studied engineering before I moved into my mom's basement, and I'm pretty sure a primitive man, with no construction experience, using stone age tools and the building materials listed in Genesis, could not realistically construct a floating vessel as described therein.
Fundamentalist: That sounds like a challenge. I'll do you one one better: I'll follow the same blueprints, construct something half the size, using Dewalt power drills and modern engineering - and much lighter materials - in a half-ass attempt to show that this precise scenario is actually semi-plausible. Oh, it'll float, all right.
Skeptic: You're on.
Fundamentalist (a year and a half later): Crap.
Yes, that's my boat. No, it doesn't float. Please stop asking me questions.
Noah's Ark with Johan Huibers and his hammer (Ark on left)
After I was finished thoroughly pinching myself all over to ensure that I was, in fact, actually witnessing this, I reread the story of Noah and his Ark for perhaps the 800th time, and was amazed at how many of the details made little, if any sense. Here is everything that I thought so wrong with the story that, had it been delivered to the desk of a Hollywood script reviewer, he would have promptly ordered his faithful assistant to immediately return it to whichever elementary school student had penned it (in crayon).
1. The story starts off by telling us that earth was so full of wickedness that "it repented the Lord that he had made it." The Bible will later assert that God never repents and never changes His mind, but you will also recall that the Bible is largely made up of plagiarisms and absurdities.. The Bible tells us that this all-pervasive "wickedness" is not, say, rapings, or molestings, or adulterings, or covetings, or things of that nature, but simply violence. God is very upset that all his creatures are busy killing each other, so He's going to solve the problem by killing everybody. Odd, as God has not seen fit to give anyone a set of rules, laws, or guidelines to this point. That won't happen 'til the Ten Commandments, a thousand or so years later. Right now, nobody has any idea that rules to this game even exist, let alone what they might be. Nevertheless, God is furious that his various sea monkeys have utterly failed to follow the instructions He's neglected to give them, and decides it's a-killin' time. If this course of action doesn't strike you as expertly judicious, you're probably functionally retarded. As I, personally, am not immediately struck by the apparent, expert judiciousness of this decision, I submit myself to you as your functionally retarded buddy. Perhaps this explains why I am sitting in my office wearing a cape, Velcro shoes, and a helmet.
2. The manner in which God decides to go about killing everyone is somewhat puzzling. Now I would assume that since God is supposedly capable of doing absolutely anything (he just finished making a freaking universe, remember...from scratch!), He very well could have just wriggled his nose and all the wicked offenders would have instantly keeled over in their tracks. He could have just snapped His fingers and everyone on the planet not directly attached to Noah could have simply vanished from existence. Yes, well, God works in mysterious ways, and His ways are not our ways. Rather than exacting immediate, swift justice, God decides to let the wickedness continue unabated for 100 more years, while a goat-herder/farmer named Noah tries to figure out how the hell to build the largest structure the world has ever seen. He gives Noah - who is now 500 years old - some detailed measurements: it is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high, containing 3 floors; some recommendations on the building materials: gopher wood, covered in pitch; and a few tips on accessorizing the whole thing: one door, one window. Now, simply telling someone what to build, how big to build it, and what to build it out of is not entirely helpful in instructing them how to build it. You could tell me that you wanted a Cadillac, painted candy-apple red, 17 feet long, constructed from steel, and with a cool pair of racing stripes down the hood, but I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to go about assembling such a project for you. What did Noah conceivably know about boat-making? For that matter, why could God create a universe but not a beach-craft? Since this monstrosity takes a century to piece together, and since the average life expectancy in the Bronze Age was somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years (with the exception of our Hebrew patriarchs, who displayed Yoda-like resilience), by the time God got around to his eventual killing, he was drowning people 2 or 3 generations removed from the people who pissed Him off in the first place. ("I'm really angry at you! Now go back to whatever evil deeds you were doing, and some day, in like 10 decades, I'm going to smite your grand-children!")
3. Now, I get that God is pretty upset by the goings-on of most of His children (though I have my severe doubts that simply every single member of the entire human race occupied their time by kicking puppies and hurling stones at their neighbors' heads). But at what point did He become displeased with Koala bears? Why kill them? They're so freaking cute! The earth and everything in it has already been declared good. The mountains are good. The trees are good. The flowers are great. And the wildlife - with the exception of some form of talking, non-slithering snake - are positively exceptional. Why must all these "good" things be destroyed? Are you seriously telling me that there weren't some pregnant woman or 2-year old children who weren't hopelessly entangled in perpetual camel-back drive-by's, gang wars, and assorted, similar tomfoolery?? Freaking everyone? Sort of speaks volumes about the Creator, if you ask me.
4. The only length of time most people are familiar with regarding the Flood story is "40 days and 40 nights." But that's not how long they were actually on the Ark, that's just how long the rains fell. According to Genesis 8, Noah & Sons Floating Circus were boarded up inside their vessel for over a year! This tells us two important things: (1) every person and animal aboard the Ark had to have a years supply of food, and (2) after Day 3, the whole joint probably stunk to high heaven. Remember, they didn't have toilets. If you needed to relieve yourself, you just did it in a bucket...or possibly even on the floor. And since the door and lone window were sealed up the entire trip, there was no dumping it over the side. You were just stuck with whatever gems you managed to produce. That to me sounds like a pretty horrific way to spend 13 months of your life - people just defecating all over your living room - and it seems like a pretty ripe ingredient for all kinds of unimaginable diseases to breed. In addition to banging around in this floating Port-o-john, they're in pitch blackness, literally. There are no light bulbs. There are no flashlights. There are no windows (besides that one that stayed shut the whole time). It is the darkest blackness imaginable. The only possible light would have to come from a candle or lantern. Now, since the animals were not permitted to eat each other, after Noah caught the Siberian Tigers polishing off the unicorns, the animals were most likely eating hay or something like it. If I were me, I might not like to light an open flame in a giant wooden crate covered in pitch, stuffed with hay, and undoubtedly filled with a years-worth of methane. Particularly during a storm of rolling and heaving seas of such extreme violence that the entire earth was being undone. Where would you cook on this sabbatical? How would you even start a fire in the first place, should you questionably decide to do so? Is Noah's family eating hay too? They weren't eating meat. Any fruits or vegetables they had on board would have spoiled and rotted within the first 3 weeks. Rolling, pitch-black boxcars are generally not all that conducive to pasta-making. Chips and salsa? Sorry. You just drowned the Frito-lay dude. What were they eating for a year and how were they making it?!
5. One of the points that usually gets overlooked when Fundamentalists and skeptics are debating over the likelihood of Noah's sea-faring holiday is the amount of space on the Ark that would've needed to be reserved for food. The dimensions given for the boat tell us that there were roughly 100,000 square feet of floor space (450' x 75' x 3 floors = 101,250'). The Ark was 45 feet tall, and since some of these feet would be comprised of building materials, rather than empty space, we could possibly estimate that there was between 35 and 40 feet of vertical room between the 3 floors, averaging 12-13 feet of ceiling height on each level (I'm assuming that the 3 levels were not all the same height, in order to accommodate the elephants and giraffes), totaling 4,000,000 cubic feet of Ark room. Anyway, back to our food storage issue. An African male lion requires about 15 lbs of meat a day, and a female around 11 lbs. That's a total of 26 for those of you keeping score at home. Since meat wasn't on the menu, and for the sake of argument, I'm just going to assume that every animal on the Ark was sharing the same hay the horses got. Now, I realize that Noah's boat-mates did not have the hay-baling technology available to modern agriculturists, and probably just heaped hay into piles with a pitchfork. But let's assume they had some magical baling tools at their disposal, allowing them to condense as much hay as possible into the smallest possible space. I bought 3 bales of hay from Home Depot last year when I re-seeded my lawn. They were about 24" x 24" x 48" and weighed 40 lbs. That's 8 square feet of floor space, and 16 cubic feet of total volume. To work with nice round numbers, let's bump the lions' daily requirements from 26 lbs down to 20. The lion couple would go through through a single hay bale in 2 days. That means over the course of 13 months they would burn through approximately 195 bales of hay, comprising a total of 3,120 cubic feet of space. If the lions were housed on a floor with 10' ceilings, their food would take up 312 square feet of floor, the dimensions of a 20' x 15.5' den, stacked to the ceiling. Now obviously, what goes in must also come out, and since felines are not well-known for their fondness of ascending steaming piles of dung to add another log to the pile, it must be concluded that the square footage required for their...er..."return gifts" must be significantly more spacious than that reserved for their food. Be it as little as even 4 times the allotted space, the lions would still be climbing a 2-and-a-half foot mountain of their "leavings" by the end. That would be another 1,248 square feet of room, and we haven't even gotten to the lions' personal living area! Let's estimate it on the low end, that 2 African lions are able to subsist (on a diet of hay, or something) in a 10' x 10' cubicle, 100 square feet. That's a grand total of 1,660 square feet. That's almost 1.7% of the Ark's total available floor space, reserved for a single species out of potentially millions! Horses would require twice that, and elephants at least 4 times the amount, meaning a full 13% of available space would be taken up by only 3 species.
Scientists and zoologists estimate today that there are roughly 1,000,000 known species in existence, and that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. That's approximately 100,000,000 species Noah had to contend with. Let's assume that half of those lived in the water, and didn't need to come aboard the Ark. (This itself is a bold assumption since fresh water fish can't survive in salt water, and vice versa. The earth is ostensibly being turned into a mixture of the two, spelling trouble for all of them.) Anyway, Noah is instructed to take either 2 or 7 of every living thing - the Bible can't decide - so we must ask ourselves if those 99.9% of now-extinct animals became instinct after the Flood or before. If it was afterward, we have to give Noah's floating menagerie about 50,000,000 pairs (or sevens) of guests. If it was before, we can pare that figure down to "just" 500,000, 3 of whom are already taking up more than a tenth of the available room. Throw in cows, buffalo, camels, giraffes, tigers, hippos, rhinos, wildebeests, llamas, zebras, walruses, polar bears, panthers, emus, leopards, gazelle, gorillas, warthogs, moose, reindeer, giant tortoise, and I could go on and on. You see how quickly we're running out of room, and we haven't even named 2 dozen species yet. Then of course, you have to build aquariums for all the amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that require a water environment: alligators, crocodiles, anacondas, turtles, penguins, walruses, sea lions, beavers, otter, platypus, frogs, etc. Then, of course, you have to somehow provide a years-supply of fresh drinking water for all these creatures. Where does that go? The absurdity of this story is staggering.
I call dibs on the vaulted ceilings-and-sunroof floor!
The Fly Problem
6. Two common houseflies must have made the boat trip because we still have flies today. In North America alone, most of them live in my kitchen. Flies, however, don't live 11 months. Their average lifespan is 15-30 days, and they reproduce exponentially. A female will lay an average of about 500 eggs, which will hatch within 8 to 20 hours as larvae, or more commonly, maggots. After about 4 to 10 days, a maggot will move into the pupa stage of its life, encasing itself in a thick shell like a caterpillar anticipating his butterfly form. This metamorphosis takes 4 to 6 days. Two days after the female fly emerges from her cocoon, she's ready to start laying eggs of her own. Get out your calculators and let's start doing the math. Within 9 to 17 days of boarding the Ark, the fly population will have increased from 2 to about 500, a 250% increase. Since the Ark was stacked to the roof with both food and feces, none of the flies would have to compete for survival. They would all thrive. 250 brand new female flies would each be capable of laying 500 new eggs apiece, again a 250% increase, or 125,000 eggs in total. After only 4 reproductive cycles, extending possibly a month or month and a half, the fly (read: maggot) population aboard the Ark would be 7,812,500,000. Beyond that, the numbers get too big for my calculator to handle. So, we've got a fly problem. We've also got a maggot problem. Which means we also have a food problem. We probably also have a disease problem. Since thousands of diseases and harmful viruses are still around today, God must have either brought them on the Ark, or thoughtfully created them afterward...you know, because He "loves" us.
7. The violence of this storm must be taken into account. We're told that Flood covered the tallest mountains on earth by at least 20 feet. The tallest of these ranges would be Mt Everest's mind-boggling 29,029 foot summit, nearly 5.5 miles above sea level. 20 feet under water would place the global water level at 29,049 feet. Reaching this level in 40 days would have required it to climb an average of roughly 726 feet per day. According to NASA, the highest single-day rainfall on record is 76", which fell during a hurricane on Reunion Island near Madagascar back in February of this year (2009). That's just over 6' of rain in a single day. Now multiply that by 121 and you get an idea as to the severity and violence of the storm the Ark was enduring. It would make Southeast Asia's tsunami look like a pond ripple by comparison. Techtonic plates are shifting, and mountains ranges are being created and destroyed, creating waves and sea swells hundreds of feet high (if not more). I recall a 4th of July a few years back where my wife and a few friends and I rented a ski boat for the day. It was cloudless and sunny most of the day, but late afternoon a freak storm blew in and turned our glassy lake into 6'-8' choppy waters. The rain was so dark and blinding that we couldn't tell which direction to go, but you can't keep a boat that size still in a storm like that or it'll capsize. You have to just get moving and hope for the best. I tried to ride with the waves as best as possible, but at one point the bow of our boat slammed down into a trough so hard it shattered the entire windshield. One of my buddies threw up. It only lasted about 30 minutes, but our boat was ruined, and everyone who wasn't already nauseous became so as soon as we realized we were all covered in broken glass and vomit. It wasn't pretty. It was, however, decidedly in our favor that no one had felt the urge to visit the bathroom, nor been called upon to pacify some cranky grizzly bears at the time.
Noah's Ark, on the other hand, had no method of propulsion, no steering wheel, no one who could see to operate it even it had, no rudder, no keel, no nothing. It was like a giant wooden shoebox lost at sea. It would have been twisting, and turning, and spinning, and rolling, and heaving in waves a 100 times higher than ours, not for a mere 30 minutes, but for well over a month straight. I would imagine animals with broken legs, cuts, and bruises, feces and urine flung about willy-nilly, and 8 blind-as-a-bat senior citizens crashing into walls, slamming into furniture, and puking all over themselves. And that's assuming this barely-seaworthy craft could be somehow kept from being dashed into a million pieces of flotsam, feathers, and fur.
"Good thing we left the giraffes on land!"
8. I saved my final complaint with the story for last, both because it actually is the last part of our tale, and because it is the most ridiculous and therefore my favorite. By coincidence, it also happens to be found in chapter 8. Genesis 8:1 begins by telling us that Noah and his family have been drifting about aimlessly at sea for 6 months when God remembers that they are still drifting about aimlessly at sea. Seriously, it says that. (and you thought it sucked when you're mom was 45 minutes late to pick you up from soccer practice!) Suddenly collected of His cosmic wits, the Almighty unstops the drains of the deep, and sends a wind to...um...well, it doesn't say what function the wind was supposed to serve. But, hey! there's some wind. Yey! On the 17th day of the 7th month, after 3 months of drainage, the Ark finds itself wedged onto the side of Mt. Ararat, which is on the border of modern Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. On the 1st day of the 10th month, the tops of the mountains become visible. Hmmm..... If the Ark is stuck on a mountain, and the waters are receding several dozen feet per day, how is it that takes 2 and a half months! after alighting on Ararat for the top of the mountain to become visible?
40 days after the mountain tops become "visible," Noah opens the window for the first time, and sends out a raven to scout for land. Anyone besides me catch 2 very odd issues in that last line? I'll humor you; here goes: (1) how did Noah, opening the window for the very first time, know that it had been 40 days since the mountain tops appeared? How would he have the faintest clue whether it had been 60 days or 12 minutes? I'm just sayin'. (2) If all the mountain tops are visible, and the boat is firmly lodges on a mountain, from which the waters have now receded several hundred feet, why is the raven flying all over the place and then returning to the boat? Wouldn't it just go perch itself on one of the mountains, possibly the one it was parked on? Next, Noah sends out a dove in search of land, but the dove returns because - as vs. 9 tells us - "it could find no place to set its feet because there was water all over the earth." Arghh!!! Somebody please shoot this writer! Perhaps it was a blind dove, and couldn't see all the mountain tops Noah magically deduced appeared some 40 days prior. "Psst! Hey dove, try Mt Ararat, you stupid bird!"
Noah waits 7 days before sending the dove out again. This time the dove returns with an olive leaf in her mouth. Strange, because olive leaves come from olive branches, which tend - more or less - to find themselves attached to olive trees, which have (1) all been recently destroyed; and (2) are typically found at altitudes so low that were one actually visible, Noah would be able to see full well the giant mountain range he had just crashed into. This story sucks. Seriously.
After waiting one more week, Noah sends the dove out again, and this time it does not return. So, Noah - being 601 and senile - keeps the kids and pets on the boat for 2 more months, "just to be sure." Finally, God opens the door, and pandas, goats, monkeys, and senior citizens go stampeding off the gangplank. Noah's first order of business is to build an altar on which to sacrifice a sizable portion of the critters he just saved to God, who is quite pleased by the smell (throughout the Bible, there is nothing more pleasing to the Creator than the sight and stench of the butchered and burning carcasses of His magnificent creations). The wrap party is over. God is in a pleasant mood for the first time since the Garden of Eden, and solemnly swears never to destroy the entire earth again. Well, by flood anyway. He places the rainbow in the sky to remind us all that - though He may whimsically decide to decimate the entire lot of us before next Tuesday - He definitely won't do it with water this time. Isn't that awesome? It is indeed. In fact, it is so awesome that even today millions of people gather annually at Disney World and Washington D.C. to march under the rainbow flag, presumably as eager as one Johan Hulbers to return the attentions of all the rest of us back to the Lord, where it belongs.
Amendment: Since I wrote this article, one of the commenters below directed me to another hub attempting to argue for the plausibility of Noah's Ark. I read his entire article, which was mostly just a rehashing of arguments from an article an ChristianAnswers.net, and decided to respond to it (the article, not the hub) at extensively as possible. You can read my response, Noah's Ark: An Impossible Voyage, here.
For a comprehensive examination published by the National Center for Science Education on why Noah's Ark simply cannot be anything more than mere mythology, see this excellent article by Robert A. Moore http://ncse.com/cej/4/1/impossible-voyage-noahs-ark