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Noah's Ark: The Impossible Voyage (Part I)
A Rational Response to the ChristianAnswer.net Article: "Could Noah's Ark really hold all the animals that were supposed to be preserved from Flood?"
PART I of 5
I recently had the pleasure of stubbing my online-browsing toe on a website called ChristianAnswers.net, which appeared – after a precursory skim – to be a site set up by, maintained by, and designed for 6-year olds recently returned from an uplifting vacation Bible school afternoon of orange drink and glitter & elbow-macaroni art of Jesus prancing around on baby dinosaurs.
It is a website designed to provide answers to difficult questions Fundamentalist Christians are often faced with, with the apparent belief that any reader convinced and satisfied by their atrocious arguments have already downed a gallon or 6 of the kool-aid in advance. It is not a website for those honestly seeking answers; it’s a site for those seeking validation, and who aren’t very picky with their sustenance.
My first response was to get angry. Not angry that any of their ideas conflicted with stuff I believe, but angry that my 3-year old is frequently forced to carpool on highways shared with people who think this way operating motor vehicles.
One of my next thoughts was that English wasn’t these folks native tongue. Not because their grammar was poor or their punctuation terrifyingly sup-par, but because they appear to have a fundamental ignorance of information that is readily available to anyone with an English dictionary. They appear to think, for example, that the words “science,” facts,” “evidence,” “proof,” “opinion,” “hearsay,” “rumor,” “conjecture,” “imagination, ” and “magic mushroom hallucination” are all synonyms, and therefore interchangeable. If, for example, some 17-year old stoner walks up to you and says, “a werewolf ate my poodle;” this to them constitutes “proof” that a cross between a timber wolf and Ron Artest devoured Fluffy while they were out buying elbow-macaroni. They submit, for example (because they don’t want to have to explain how all the animals were individually cared for on a daily basis on the Ark), the argument that Noah’s team of 8 wouldn’t need to personally care for all the animals on the Ark because “someone” (who is never identified) told them that most animals hibernate (which isn’t true); and since this was probably occurring (it wasn’t), they have just provided “scientific evidence” that all of the animals on the Ark were hibernating, and thus would’ve had adequate care. And that…is about the extent of their academic proficiency. Buckle yourself in for this whirlwind…
(their writing in bold, mine in…um…not bold)
A growing number of scientists believe that geological evidence indicates our world has undergone a catastrophic flood.
(This article has no comment on whether or not there was ever a World Wide Flood in Earth’s history. The order and formation of the fossil record alone suggests to me there was not, but even if it turns out there was, it doesn’t in any way prove that Noah’s account of the Great Deluge is true. There are over 200 ancient Flood myths on record – many eerily similar to the Genesis account – so proving that a flood actually occurred no more vindicates Genesis than it does the Epic of Gilgamesh. The purpose of this article is merely to comment on the plausibility of Noah’s version of events.)
This is causing them to question whether or not the biblical account of Noah's ark could be true. Many people…
(12? 200? 40? )
…are rereading the Biblical description of the Ark to ascertain the feasibility of such a vessel to fulfill its designated purpose in light of present day knowledge of both zoology and our present day knowledge of shipbuilding.
One of the problems with Christian apologetic writing is that they love to cite “scientists” or “experts” or “increasing numbers of whatevers” without actually referencing their mysterious sources or citing the statistics they’re talking about. (Jumping from 4 to 6 is definitely a “growing number,” but since it’s so negligible, the nebulous phrasing ends up being quite deceptive - as if yesterday only a half dozen “scientists” bought the explanation, but it overnight ballooned to 2 million.) While I’m all for dressing up essays in all the ambiguity of, say, Revelation for entertainment value, it’s a bad habit to practice in scientific circles. One reason is that “science” isn’t so much a singular profession as it is a methodology employed by a wide variety of career options. Anyone with a telescope is conceivably a “scientist,” just as anyone with a basketball is ostensibly a “basketball player,” or anyone with a stamp collection or more than 1 color Star Trek uniform is a “Still Searching for that Right Someone” on eHarmony.com.
When you say “scientists,” are you talking about Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, or are you talking about your neighbor down the street with a butterfly net? Are you talking about Einstein and Marie Curie, or are you referring to your pre-med college roommate who blew his fingers off trying to invent rocket skates? It matters. If I tell you that “an increasing number of basketball players believe that I am The Next Big Thing in Hoops,” it is beneficial for the audience if I clarify whether I’m referring to LeBron, Kobe, and D-Wade...or to Steve, Chuck, and That Sweaty Guy With The Short Shorts down at the rec center. If you’re reluctant to name your sources, it suggests that maybe you’re, uh, a little embarrassed by them.
Another issue is that “science” encompasses a vast array of fields. Yes, an electrochemist is as much of a scientist as an astrophysicist or an oceanographer or a paleontologist, but being an expert in one field no more qualifies you to comment on another than the Latvian women’s water polo team coach is qualified to draw up a Hail Mary for Bill Bellichek in the waning seconds of the Super Bowl simply because they’re both “Sports Guys.”
How big was Noah's Ark?
I won’t reprint their several paragraphs here because we agree with their calculations as Genesis has them: about 450 feet long x 75 feet wide x 45 feet high, and comprised of 3 levels.
Was the ark big enough to hold the number of animals required?
It’s a bit weird that they decided to ask this question before saying how many animals would be required. That’s like calling U-Haul and asking them if their van is big enough to move all your stuff to San Diego without telling them how much crap you own.
The total available floor space on the ark would have been over 100,000 square feet, which would be more floor space than in 20 standard-sized basketball courts.
Well, not quite. Actually, not even in the ballpark. They’ve arrived at their figure by multiplying the outside dimensions of the Ark, but if you take into account the thickness of just the outside walls, which we don’t know for sure (but would guess as being at least a foot thick), our interior dimensions change to 448 x 73 x 3 floors, or 98,112 sq ft, which, if my memory serves me, is considered “less than” 100,000. For some bizarre reason that escapes me, they’ve decided it would be helpful to put this into basketball-floor terms (since all of us are intimately familiar with how many zoo residents one can typically squeeze onto basketball courts). They didn’t figure it was necessary to elucidate further as to which “standard-size” they were referring: high school standard, college standard, NBA standard, or FIBA standard, which are all different sizes; so, if you’re like me, you’re already brimming with confidence at the quality of academic excellence on display here. I assume they’re probably talking about an NBA court – which is 5,170 sq ft - which means we don’t have “more than 20,” we have “almost 19.”
Not even bothered to be taken into account by these champions of scholastic pursuits is the area comprised of interior structural supports: load-bearing walls, cage dividers, and aisles and ramps to move up and down. What, do they think this giant, hulking wooden structure was just all wide open like an airplane hangar?
It has been insisted upon often and repeatedly by professional ship-builders, carpenters, engineers, and physicists that it’s not even possible to construct something that size out of wood, let alone make it sea-worthy. Engineers suggesting that such a structure is at least theoretically possible to construct – not float – have said its interior columns would need to be set up like this:
…meaning at least 10-15% of your interior is dedicated to just making sure the damn roof doesn’t collapse on your head (but would still only be doable with modern tools and equipment and dockyards).
In 2005, some Dutch lunatic named Johan Huibers spent a year-and-a-half, about 2 million dollars, and all the technology at his disposal building a half-scale replica of the Ark for reasons not immediately apparent, but then had to weld 5 barges together to set it on ‘cause it wouldn’t float either. Since there’s no keel or ballasts in God’s blueprints, the whole thing would just roll over on its side like a tranquilized moose.
Basically, the only way to even have the boat you need in the first place is to make a quick stop in at Home Depot’s Divine Magic department.
Some artistic renderings, small-scale models, and a few large-scale models of what the inside if the Ark probably looked like (assuming it needed none of the structural support our boat engineers seem to think are somewhat important) include:
Like, a full third of your boat is taken up by aisles, ramps, and building materials; so you probably have closer to about 65,000 sq ft of available floor space to house your animals, people, and supplies.
The total cubic volume would have been 1,518,000 cubic feet - that would be equal to the capacity of 569 modern railroad stock cars.
No it wouldn’t. But even if that were true, so what? It would also be equal to the capacity of like 12.4 billion large pizza boxes, but what in the name of Papa John does that have to do with anything? First basketball courts, now railcars! What’s next, airplane bathrooms and phone booths? They botched the cubic footage the same way they did the square because they didn’t factor in the height of the building materials. Again, let’s say it was only a foot for each of the 3 floors and the roof. That’s 41 actual vertical feet of interior room. If the total sq footage is 98,112 sq ft, then each floor would be 32,704 sq ft of floor space (not counting interior building materials). Multiply by 41 feet of vertical room and you get 1,340,864 cubic feet. They’ve missed the total by about 240,000 cubic ft, but again I repeat, who cares?
Anyway, whether you take the apologists’ figure, which doesn’t factor in building material, or mine, which does, they still managed to screw up the pointless number of railroad stock cars. These are 50 feet long, 9.5 feet wide,10 feet high if they’re single-deckers, and 13 feet high for a double-deck.
Let me take a minute to just illustrate why these scholars (ß sarcastic usage of term) shouldn’t even be taken seriously for a New York second. When you want to know the volume of anything with straight sides, you multiply the length x the width x the height. Later in this essay, we will see where our apologist friends will quote the statistic of how many sheep one can squash into a boxcar. What they do not quote for you are the dimensions of a standard boxcar into which one can shove that number of sheep. The number of sheep they come up with – 120 – is standard fare, so far as sheep transportation goes. And the website that tells you it’s possible to ramrod that number of sheep into a single railcar (for 2 days, not a year, mind you) also tell you what the dimensions of that railcar are: 50’ long x 10’ high x 9.5’ wide: so we know that a railcar capable of handling 120 sheep is (L x W x H) 4,750 cubic feet. If you further wanted to figure out how many of said railcars could fit into the Ark, you’d need to take the Ark’s total cubic volume, and divide it by the volume of an individual railcar. So 1,518,000 divided by 4,750 = 320 railcars. Where did they get 569? I haven’t the faintest idea, and they ain’t sayin’. These people appear fairly comfortable inventing anything at any time for any reason in order to arrive at a conclusion they like and have reached before they even began to evaluate any of the facts.
So, 4,750 cubic feet for singles, and 6,175 for double boxcars. I ran both of these figure through our somewhat-less-than-infallible apologist’s figure of a 1,518,000 cubic foot Ark, and got either 320 single-deck or 246 double-deck boxcars (way off from their claim of 569 cars). Why? I still don’t know. Then just to be nerdy, I ran it by my more accurate figure of 1,340,864, cubic feet and got either 282 singles or 217 double boxcars. It turned out to be the most pointless math exercise I ever performed. Seriously, why did I just do this?
Now comes the question, how many land dwelling air breathing animals would have had to be taken aboard the ark to survive the flood?...
Nope. A better question would be: “How many animals would need to come aboard the Ark in order to account for all the diversity we have today?” Or an even better question would be: “How many animals were in existence 5,000 years ago?” Noah was instructed to take “2 of every living thing” aboard, so make an educated guess as to how many animals that was and multiply by 2 (and occasionally 7).”
…According to Ernest Mayr, America's leading taxonomist, there are over 1 million species of animals in the world.
…that we’re actually aware of. Mayr also suggests that there might, in fact, be double that. Do you really want to play this game?
However, the vast majority of these are capable of surviving in water and would not need to be brought aboard the ark.
…Spoken like a true pastor who has never spent a day in his life working in a pet store…
Noah need make no provision for the 21,000 species of fish or the 1,700 tunicates (marine chordates like sea squirts) found throughout the seas of the world, or the 600 echinoderms including starfish and sea urchins, or the 107,000 mollusks such as mussels, clams and oysters, or the 10,000 coelenterates like corals and sea anemones, jellyfish and hydroids or the 5,000 species of sponges, or the 30,000 protozoans, the microscopic single-celled creatures.
And now: Why Noah Would Need To Make Provisions For Most Of These Aquatic Critters…
Fun Fish Fact: As any of you who may have ever owned an aquarium (or just been a jackass as a teenager at Petsmart) may recall, if you take a fresh water fish and dump it into salt water, a funny thing happens: it dies.
Same deal with ocean-dwellers making the move to a river or lake (yes, there are a very small few number of species that can survive in both – salmon and sea bass come to mind - but they’re the exception, not the rule, so let’s not get off on this point). Even diluting the salt content doesn’t help things. If you take a gold fish in a gallon of fresh water, and a starfish in a gallon of seawater, and dump both of their contents into a 2-gallon container, know what you get? Two dead fish.
Hence, we’re not interested in how many species are capable of living in H2O period, we’re interested in how many species are capable of living in a fresh/salt mixture of H2O, which is basically…none of them. The waters of the world are mixing themselves into a similar concoction, meaning at the end of 40 days and 40 nights you’d have a crap (carp?) load of pretty much dead everything not taken aboard.
In addition, some of the mammals are aquatic. For example, the whales, seals and porpoises. The amphibians need not all have been included, nor all the reptiles, such as sea turtles, and alligators.
Um, actually pretty much all your amphibians would need to be included, for reasons detailed below. Seals, as it were, do not live in the water as was implied by their insertion - by our resident zoo-keeper - between whales and porpoises. They live on land and occasionally go swimming. As for non-fish types of water creatures – frogs, turtles, snakes, alligators, beavers, walruses, seals, sea lions, otter, penguins, etc., the main reason they don’t stay in the water for extended periods of time is their complete inability to hold their breath or swim continuously in 13-month stretches. Occasionally they have to crawl out of their pond or river, or find a nice iceberg to sit on what for to avoid drowning and such. Here are some of your critters doing what they need to do because, like people, they’re no good at sleeping in the water
And since all such rest stops are currently down…ooh, about 5 miles give-or-take, if Noah doesn’t get all these species on board too, they get right extincted. And since they’re quite obviously not right extincted, it means Noah would’ve had to build a bunch of aquariums on the Ark: some fresh, some salt. And as all our aquariums-having pals can attest to, aquariums take a wee bit of special care to keep sanitary enough that their inhabitants don’t die, most of which requires a little something called “electricity”. This can prove exceptionally tricky when your aquarium is the size of whatever the hell size aquarium you need to keep a couple elephant seals in for a year. Or if it’s, like, stocked with anacondas. And there’s no electricity.