Noah and his Ark: A critical examination

Noah and his Ark: A critical examination

by Dr. W. Sumner Davis

As I write this very sentence, there are those, climbing the mountains of Iraq and Armenia, searching for the ark of Noah.

The standard creationist model is a literal interpretation of the flood story in Genesis. The ark is the boat built by the Biblical character Noah as a command from God. Noah was to build a boat that could accommodate his extended family, somewhere around 50,000-75,000 species of birds and animals, and nearly one million species of insects. The ship, we are told, would be constructed to survive an upcoming universal flood aimed at destroying every other person and animal on earth (even those within the sea were said to have been destroyed – which makes one wonder where Noah put the whales).

There are those who have no difficulty believing the “fact” of this event. However, before we can try to figure the logistics of such an enterprise, there arise some obvious and troubling questions. Why would God destroy, with few exceptions, all the descendants of all of the creatures he had created? The Bible explains that God is displeased with humanity (except for Noah and his family). However, what had the animals, plants, and insects, etc. done? What would we do if we found ourselves at the mercy of some malicious and willful act of a conscious being? Would this not add a modicum of rage to the feelings of devastation? I suppose one could argue that it is God’s world; he created it, so he can destroy it if he feels like it. But such an attitude seems a bit childish, malicious, and very inappropriate for an infinitely loving God (the annihilation of those who have displeased him is a familiar tactic of many gods). God allows Noah and his family, and all the friendly animals to ride out the storm, which we are told lasted for forty days and nights (a lot of things seem to happen for forty days in the Bible – but that’s another story). God then shows them a great rainbow (which, as my Old Testament professor in Seminary stated was a misrepresentation of the word for “War bow”; meaning basically god said “I give”), and they all live together happily ever after.

Searching, not finding

According to the story told in Genesis, Noah, his family, and the animals lived together for more than six months before the flood deposits them on a mountaintop. As preposterous as this story seems, there are people in the twentieth century who claim they have actually found evidence of Noah’s ark. According to these creationists, when the flood receded, the animals dispersed to the far habitats they now inhabit on their own. (How they managed to cross-immense areas of ocean, and where the whales came from we are not told). Still, none of this deters these “believers” from accepting this tale as “God’s truth.”

During the late 1970’s, a documentary titled “In Search of Noah’s Ark” was aired. It was hardly what any scientist would call a documentary as it was filled with conjecture, speculation and few, if any, facts. Then, in 1993, a so-called special television event, titled “The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark,” was aired. While the first documentary was a work of pure fiction disguised as science, the second was an admitted hoax. The man behind it claimed he had only wanted to expose religious frauds. During his show, the producer exhibited what he called “sacred wood” from the ark, which he later admitted was wood taken from railroad tracks in Long Beach, California. He also confessed that he had never even been to Turkey! It might be of interest to note that this program was produced by Sun International Pictures, based in Salt Lake City. Sun International Pictures are also responsible for other films on subjects as diverse as the Bermuda Triangle, the Shroud of Turin, and the UFO phenomena.

No Animal Went Hungry?

If we are unwilling, at least for the moment, to toss aside logic and common sense, and 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 still exists the problem of keeping the animals from eating one another. Some claim that the “lion lay down with the lamb” just as they did in Eden (prior to the fruit and snake incident). Perhaps the carnivores become herbivores during the flood? If so, how did they store enough feed for the voyage? Perhaps, like tales of space voyagers, the animals were somehow put in cryogenic sleep. However, as modern science has yet to perfect this process, it is unlikely that Noah, regardless of his connections, could have pulled it off 5,000 years ago. But one might ask about the plethora of birds. Darwin’s discoveries alone would demand several hundred varieties of finches, let alone the other species. Why didn’t they eat the insects? Perhaps, the ark was stocked with plant foods for all the animals, but if so stocked where did Noah put it all? Anyone could quickly contemplate that the vast amount of food for this many animals, even on a six month voyage, would be incredible! We are told in Genesis that Noah was not sure how long the voyage would last, so we should figure he would have taken no chances with life and over stocked. If we take it as a given, that it all really happened, that Noah somehow found a place for the whales, and had plenty of food for all, how could such a small crew feed all these animals? The daily rounds, with just Noah, his wife, their three sons and three daughters-in-law would take well over fifteen months. I won’t even get into the waste removal system needed. In short, anyone the least skeptical about religious history will not need any further convincing, and those who desire to believe cannot accept the many reasons a global flood could not happen. To this latter group, the story of Noah and his family are all the proof they demand. As the reader can easily see, the request for one to take at face value – without even the smallest modicum of truth, let alone common sense – is ridiculous. But there are explanations in the Holy Books of many events that would make the story of Noah and his little ship seem quite reasonable. There are those, claiming to be objective scientists who have come up with incredible hypotheses to explain Noah and his flood. Perhaps the most incredible, with the exception of the “40 days and nights” rainstorm in Genesis, is known as the Hydro Plate Theory.

The Hydro Plate Theory

According to the Hydro Plate Theory, our planets crust once floated upon a thin layer of water, under immense pressure. Then, for some reason that is not actually surmised, the crust began to crack allowing the water to come to the surface. Of course, this water was under immense pressure, and once the crust was fractured, it shot up forty days and forty nights. According to the theory’s main proponent, Walter T. Brown, the original fissure spread very quickly, buckling the crust where today we find the mid-Atlantic ridge. Brown claims the shape of this ridge bears the specific outlines of the continents edges – which it does, but not for the reasons he claims. After the resulting flood, all the water eventually settled down to where it is today in the oceans and lakes of the world. This theory, according to Brown, along with the stories of a global flood, explain the origin of the historical events that have taken place on our planet, but which Brown does not accept science’s explanation for. These include ice ages, frozen mammoths, the mid-Atlantic ridge, submarine canyons, coal and oil formation, ocean trenches, mountains, the Grand Canyon, strata, salt domes, and volcanoes. How a global flood can account for these geological events, let alone in less than two months, is never thoroughly addressed. All of these events are indeed explained by modern science, despite what Brown and his followers would have us believe.

On the other side of the argument, the Hydro Plate Theory fails to explain a great many features which are explained by modern plate tectonics, such as the data gathered by measuring the magnetic fields of the rocks and crust of the ocean floor, by sampling core measurements the overlying sediments, and the nearly continuous resurfacing of our planet by lava flows, evident from these same mid-ocean ridges that Brown points to as his proof. When these science-based investigations are compared with radioisotope dates (dating the decay of known isotopes, such as carbon), the Hydro Plate Theory soon falls apart. In addition, a global flood scenario is simply unable to account for such things as the Arctic ice layers, trilobite fossils, the early Earth’s reducing atmosphere in which anaerobic life began, or middans. It really can’t account for much except to agree somewhat with the Biblical story of Noah and his ark. Brown and those who follow his theory call themselves “creation scientists.” This is no more than a conflict of terms, however it is one that many are happy to turn a blind eye to.

The scientific creationists see the universe, our planet and all life, as the central aspect of their belief system that is no more than several thousand years old. Even rudimentary geology shows clearly that it takes thousands of millions of years for the continents to move to their current positions. Furthermore, the current speed of movement has been deciphered to be at least .05 mm/year and no more than 3 cm/year, depending on the plate in question. In Brown’s scenario, the continents must be moving much faster in order to rest in their current position after only six or seven thousand years. According to the Hydro Plate Theory, the Earth would have been unlivable for hundreds of years, due to tremendous earthquakes and volcanic activity. What does this mean to Noah? How could he have landed less than a year after departure? It would seem that once all the water trapped under the crust was let out, the continents must have slowed down considerably (perhaps swooshed aside by the water). As one can easily see, there are many obvious facts that strain the credibility of Brown’s theory. Yet, if we want to believe what the “Good Book” tells us, are we willing to ignore science and a great deal of common sense? This theory, sounding technical and scientific, can be accepted as “proof” of the global flood – hence there is proof in the Bible. The problem lies in that Brown and his followers deluded their reasoning in order to feel good about life, and perhaps to find some sense of direction. Yet as the late Carl Sagan so aptly put it we must “accept cold hard fact over our fondest delusions.”

One final note

By my calculations, it would have had to be at least twice the size the Bible claims-just to hold the beetles.