Claim 4 - Noah's Ark

The Bible tells us of the way humanity was rescued from the flood by a man called Noah, who was forewarned of the flood by God, and was instructed to build a large boat, or Ark, in which he should carry two (or more) of every kind of living thing. (Genesis 6:9 et seq.). The Bible also tells us the dimensions of the Ark; "This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks." (Genesis 6:15-16). We are also told that the rain lasted for forty days and forty nights, after which the flood waters lasted a further 150 days. That makes a total of 190 days for which Noah and the animals were living inside the Ark.

Let us examine this account, and see if it is plausible. Firstly we will examine the case for building such a vessel, and then we shall examine the plausibility of gathering and storing all these animals at the story claims. Then we shall investigate the possibility of containing these creatures inside the Ark for the 190 days required by the Bible story.

Could Noah have Built the Ark?

Boat building is a very difficult and skilled discipline. The Bible does not say if Noah had any profession, or indeed if he had any previous experience at boat building, but let us assume for sake of argument that he was fully proficient. Building a boat of that size on his own would have been quite a task. Let us assume that his children also helped too, reducing the time by a factor of four. Sadly the Bible doesn't tell us how long it took to build the Ark, but we could at least estimate it. Bear in mind that Noah would not have had access to any sort of advanced tools, probably not even a saw.

Now this boat has to be strong enough to hold elephants and the like. Let's estimate how much wood this would take. Well the boat was 450 feet long. Let's assume an average tree is 30 feet tall and three feet thick. That means that, just to build the outside of the boat we would require over two hundred tree trunks. That's assuming they just use the tree trunks without splitting them - remember we're dealing with elephants here so the wood needs to be pretty strong. Now Noah didn't have modern tools, so we could probably say that it would take him the best part of a day to chop down a tree, chop off all the side branches, neaten it up and carry it back to the Ark. That means he's spent two thirds of a year just chopping down trees. That's ignoring the fact that moving all that wood a significant distance is going to become prohibitively difficult. Trees weigh an awful lot.

Building a modern ship takes years. The QE2, for example, took over two years to build in a large commercial dockyard employing thousands of people with modern equipment. Here we're considering one man and his three sons without so much as a screwdriver to their name. This is going to take an extremely long time. During that time the Ark would have needed to be waterproofed, protected from the many different kinds of problem to which wood is susceptible such as woodworm and mildew, and also protected from vandals and troublemakers intent on destroying Noah's project.

Furthermore, wood is not a particularly strong material, compared to modern ship-building materials such as steel. To build a boat of the dimensions indicated in the Genesis story seems inplausible without some sort of metal framework holding it together. Of course, this is difficult to quantify so I won't pursue it further.

Finally, the largest wooden ship ever built was the Schooner Wyoming, built in the first decade of the twentieth century with modern shipbuilding methods. It was about the same length as the alleged Ark, but only two thirds of the width. If you only consider the hull length, then the Wyoming was around 100ft (30m) shorter. This ship represented a tremendous feat of engineering, and posed several substantial construction problems. Most notably, it required large iron strapping for support, just to hold the boat together. There is no possible way Noah could have built a boat 450 feet long which held together under its own weight, let alone also carried hundreds of thousands of animals, and floated on the tempestuous seas of the Biblical flood!

As an amusing illustration of how difficult it would be for Noah to have built a boat of the dimensions given in the Bible, this page describes a modern attempt to rebuild the Ark according to its given dimensions. Note the following requirements;


Could Noah have gathered all those animals?

The Bible seems undecided about how many animals entered the Ark. In Genesis 7 we read "Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive." (Genesis 7:20). In the next Chapter we read "Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth." (Genesis 8:2 et seq.). Let's assume the former case, which is most regularly quoted.

Creationists deny evolution. This means that the two of every kind of animal must have meant not just two of every single species, but two of every single sub-species. This sounds like a ridiculous number of animals, but let's investigate it. This site tells us that there are some 9800,000 different insect species known in the world as a whole, and that is probably a tiny fraction of the total number, with many remaining as yet unclassified. Now that is a mammoth task. Even if the insects collaborated nicely and turned up in their pairs then Noah would still have the task of storing all of these creatures in their pairs into the Ark. And then he would have to remember to feed them all every day, remembering exactly what each one eats. In a day of 24 hours, assuming that he didn't sleep, that would give him fractionally under a tenth of a second to feed each insect.

Assuming that Noah could cage and dispatch one insect pair in ten seconds, how long would he have to spend in order to collect together all of the insects? Well over three months, and that's assuming that he knew exactly what each type of insect was, what they ate, how to store them, what conditions they required etc.

What about animals who lived a long distance away? Assuming that Noah lived somewhere in what we now call the middle east, what happened to those animals that came from Australia? How did they get across the Pacific or Indian ocean? What about the animals that live only in South America? What about the animals that live only in the Antarctic? We're talking of an enormous, global planned migration, over many thousands of miles through inpassable terrain. It simply could not have happened.

Now, just to make the point even more secure, let's consider the climate for each animal. Many animals require very specialised food, and several have enormously specialised dietary requirements. Consider the hummingbird who must feed on nectar. There are over 320 known species of hummingbird in the Americas alone according to this article. Each one would require a reasonable space in which to fly around, and a steady supply of just the right amount of nectar. What about rodents? According to this page, there are at least 1500 different species of rodents in the world. Each of these needs to be checked, fed and watered regularly. Again, this is assuming that they all just ran up to him and jumped in pairs into cages. Furthermore, different animals require different climates. You can't keep polar bears in the same area as tropical creatures such as ants, spiders or monkeys. The Ark must have had an enormous climate control system of the sort of standard that we can only just achieve now with all of modern science.

Would the animals fit in the Ark?

How much space would the 900,000 known species of insect require? Let's assume we can put them all in tiny cages measuring two inches on each side for each pair. This is assuming we don't have any insects that eat each other. So what volume would these cages take up? 113 cubic metres. That's approximately three thousand cubic feet. That's a large volume, and that's assuming that there is no breathing space between each cage. Remember of course that these cages needed to be built by somebody, too. If we can make one cage in a minute, we're going to require almost two years to make all of those cages, assuming we don't get any sleep at all!

And what about the larger animals? Let's start off with the large mammals, such as elephants. These come in two varieties, - African and Indian - that's 16 tonnes already. Next we can add the rhinoceros (5 species, 2 of each = 10 tonnes), hippopotamus (3 tonnes), that's almost 30 tonnes just in these three animal types. That's like the weight of a large lorry, fully laden, according to this site. That's a fully laden lorry running around inside your flimsily built wooden boat. And we've only just started. Add in the rest of the animal species and you soon see how the weight is mounting up. And that's just large mammals.

Now let's add in those 1,500 different species of rodent. Consider also all the birds, who require a significant volume just in order to move around. According to this site, there are over 10,000 bird species in the world. Now let's assume that all these birds are the size of a common sparrow, which is unrealistic when you consider the size of an albatross. Still, it will give us a lower limit. Let's estimate how much space a pair of these needs. I would say that a 15*15*15 inch box is the absolute minimum. So what sort of volume would these take up? Another 350 cubic metres (11,000 cubic feet). And each of these needs to be fed and watered daily. Furthermore, in such cramped conditions their muscles would soon waste away, and they would probably be too weak to fly after they were later released.

Of course the sum total of the volume we have so far calculated is far smaller than the volume of the Ark. According to the Biblical account, its total volume would have been somewhere in the region of 20,000 cubic metres. But not all of that space is going to be filled. For example, we need to be able to walk between our 900,000 different insects every day as we feed them, and we're also going to need somewhere to shovel all the excrement that this enormous volume of animals will create. That's another whole task in itself!

How much food would be required?

Of course, a fair amount of the Ark will also be taken up by food and water. But just how much?

What about the mammals? The larger creatures would need significantly more food. This site tells us that the african elephant weighs up to 14,000 pounds, and eats approximately 150lbs (70kg) of dry food every day. Multiply that by 190 days and you end up with a supply of over 50 tonnes of food just for the elephants, plus we haven't even considered drinking water. This is assuming that they eat dry food, which they do not. Storing any kind of greenery for 190 days without any sort of refrigeration device is practically impossible. Of course, the water is another problem. How could you possibly store enough fresh water for all these animals? Remember that the flood water covered the entire Earth, and according to my calculations here was approximately 5 times more voluminous than the sea water. That means that the water would still be approximately 1/6th as saline as sea water even at the best, and when the waters were beneath their maximum levels it must have been far stronger. Mammals simply cannot exist on that level of salinity. That means that you need to store enough fresh water not just for Noah and his family, but also for all the animals on board. Large volumes of water (and we're talking 60-70 tonnes just for the elephants) would have made the Ark extremely unstable to oscillations in the ocean, and would likely have capsised it extremely quickly. We would also need somewhere strong and watertight in which to store it.

Finally, and this is probably one of the strongest examples, we have also to remember that a large amount of life on Earth is carnivorous. What did the carnivores eat? There are three solutions. Firstly, Noah could have fed them on some kind of meat substitute. Now this seems unlikely - I certainly can't think of any substitute available at the time and the Bible mentions nothing about this. Alternatively he could have fed them on vegetables, but carnivorous animals such as lions would not be able to digest vegetable matter properly and would have died of malnutrition. Secondly, Noah could have stored all that meat from the beginning of the voyage. However he had no way of keeping it fresh, so I don't see how he could have done that. Finally, we must be forced to conclude that he carried on extra animals with which to feed the carnivores.

According to this site, a lion typically eats 8-9 kilos of meat per day. That's 17 kilos of meat to satisfy our two lions, multiplied by 190 days gives us 3230 tonnes of meat. This translates to approximately 8 cows. Now let's add up the requirements for all the carnivores, starting with tigers and pumas, moving through leopards and cheetahs. We're getting quite a sizeable herd already. Now add on their food and water.

Here's a list of what Dallas zoo has to purchase in order to feed all its animals for one single day;

(Source : Dallas Morning News, Fall 1996)

They most certainly don't have two of every kind of animal either. Where do you think Noah stored all these vegetables? How did he stop them from going mouldy? Answer - he couldn't. It's impossible.

What would life in the Ark have been like?

The most obvious thing that strikes me about life in the Ark is that it must have been both extremely noisy and unbearably smelly. Cleaning out just four elephants is a full time job, but when you multiply this by the thousands of different mammal species you soon get an enormous amount of excrement which would have to be removed every day. Then you would have to bear the incessant noises. Anyone who has owned a pet bird will appreciate how annoying their chirping becomes from time to time. Now multiply that by 20,000!

Noah and his family would have had their time pretty full when they were on the Ark. Apart from spending their entire days feeding the 1,500 different pairs of rodents, 10,000 pairs of birds and 900,000 insect species, they would also have to assure the individuals' wellbeing, clean them out and check them for disease. In fact disease is another aspect that we haven't even considered. Gathering together thousands of different species into one place is bound to cause enormous epidemics. These would probably have killed off many of the animals (and remember you only need to kill one of each pair and that animal is now extinct). And what about diseases that exist today in the world, but which require animal hosts? Noah must have taken them on the Ark too!

Also, bear in mind that the Ark is now sailing at a height of 8.85 kilometres above sea level. The atmospheric pressure is so low here that even the fittest climbers need breathing apparatus. Somehow Noah and his entire family managed to survive for 190 days without them. That kind of extended oxygen deficiency is likely to cause death, or at least severe brain damage.

The Rainbow

The Genesis story claims that God gave the Rainbow to mankind after the flood to remind mankind of his fate. Many creationists believe this literally, and claim that there were no rainbows before the flood. Of course, if there were a vapour canopy hanging over their heads then that sounds a little far-fetched. In addition, was there therefore no rain whatsoever before the flood? In that case, how did rivers form? How did freshwater aquatic life survive? How did farmers grow their crops?

Refraction is a basical physical phenomenon. It occurs when white light passes through water droplets (or indeed, any substance with a different refractive index to air). They are commonly seen around waterfalls where spray fills the air, and also in simple natural objects such as bubbles and translucent minerals. To suggest that nobody had ever seen a rainbow before the flood is extremely naive.

What about the animals left behind

Many life forms life in the seas. Many of them require a very precise salinity in order to survive. The flood proposes altering the salinity of the oceans by a factor of 6. That would be catastrophic for most forms of marine life, wiping them out completely. In addition, we are covering corals with many kilometres of water which would completely cut out all the light required for such creatures to grow. All coral reefs on the planet would have died.

If the coral reefs die, then so do the creatures which live around them. If the altering salinity kills off all the krill, for example, then you also kill off all the whales. The oceanic ecosystem is immensely complicated, and also tremendously fragile. We are just learning how fragile it is now. The thought of flooding the oceans does not bear thinking about. It would wipe out nearly all forms of marine life which we see today. And if they didn't evolve to be like they are today then they must have survived since the time of creation.

And of course, we should also take into account the survival of plant life. If anybody has ever tried to grow a variety of plants in carefully controlled modern greenhouse conditions with moden soil processing and fertiliser, you'll know that it's not a particularly easy task. Now try saturating the soil with salt water for many months and see how easy it is to grow plants. You'll be unsurprised to discover that many plants can't survive in heavily salty soil. This means that there wouldn't have been any plants of any type on the Earth after the flood waters subsided (let alone olive trees large enough for doves to pluck branches from them)! Trees photosynthesise, so a blanket of kilometres of water above them would block out the light that they require for life.

Conclusions

The story of Noah's ark is a particularly appealing one. We love the idea of a dear old man and his family escaping worldwide destruction. However, it just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. We are forced to abandon it as simply another heroic myth. Perhaps it is based on a certain amount of truth. Perhaps a farmer called Noah escaped a flood in his village, carrying with him a selection of his livestock. Perhaps this flood was caused by a tsunami or a meteorite impact in the ocean. Perhaps it was caused by flooding of the Black sea, as some archaeologists claim. It will probably remain a mystery. One thing is sure, however - Noah did not take two of every species onto the ark. It simply isn't possible.

This site is another good reference on the topic, albeit very biased against. It concludes with the following paragraph;

"God, who can create or destroy entire galaxies with no effort at all, has to
get some poor slob to build an enormous ship, transport millions of animals
from all over the planet to this ship, flood the entire planet, drain the
water and then redistribute the animals again. What is the point? Why not
just click his fingers and cause everything to be as he wishes it to be? Why
go to the trouble of causing the terrible deaths by drowning of billions of
animals, birds, insects and humans? This includes, of course, all those
innocent babies and children who haven't had time to even start sinning yet."




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Last Update : 2nd December 2005