Here we go for another one of my ramblings. A few months ago a movie based on the story of Noah hit the cinemas, and since then it has kicked up a storm and led to a flood of comments from all sides (OK I promise no more water-based jokes). With the wave of criticism (sorry – another water joke) I thought I’d add my own thoughts, not so much of the movie but of the story of Noah itself and the comments that have been thrown up, but of the story of Noah itself. I confess that I started to write this article months ago when the movie was first released. As I started to look more into the subject it took me longer to work on it and eventually this post fell by the wayside as other things came up. With the Noah movie being released on DVD I decided that I should really finish this article. This article will be looking more at the story of Noah, and not so much about the recent movie. As a little note, I have seen the movie and as a piece of cinema I thought it was OK. The acting was good, the characters nicely developed and the special effects were of a reasonable quality. It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from the worst. But it’s not these factors that have caused the outcry from both the Christian and Atheist communities, but rather the story itself. As a heads up this post is rather lengthy, so you might want to go to the bathroom now, get yourself a drink or light snack, but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with some pictures of cats ;).
The obvious religious connection has been the cause of most of the trouble. From some atheist circles there has been criticism regarding the religious origins of the movie (for me personally this hasn’t been an issue, I see it as a good bit of story telling nothing more), but I am aware that there are those who decry anything relating to a religious story being told in mainstream media. The biggest complaints though are from those people who take the Bible a little literally. From a number of religious groups the criticism is basically that the story is not true to that recorded in the Bible. This in turn has led to atheists responding with comments to the effect of “you’re complaining that your made up story is even more made up?” I have personally found these exchanges to be rather entertaining. If you want to see some of them, just go on YouTube and search for something like ‘Christian reactions to Noah movie’ and you’ll see what I mean. There has even been considerable effort made by Creationist websites such as Answers in Genesis to discourage people from seeing the movie and by posting material on their own site explaining how accurate to the Bible story the movie is.
As for me I am an atheist, though born & raised into a Christian family. By atheist I mean that I do not believe in a god, but I am open to the possibility if sufficient evidence can be presented; this has not happened therefore I don’t believe. I do own a copy of the Bible (King James version) and unlike most of the Christians that I know I have read the thing from cover to cover. The story of Noah is found in Genesis chapters 6-9. So with this as a background I delve into the muddy world of creationist criticism.
Size of the Ark
This has always been a problem for both believers & none believers alike. There have been some comments regarding the size, with one creationist claiming it had the capacity of about 500 railroad cars. This led to a number of atheists crying “rubbish it’s not that big”. Well of all the issues this is perhaps the easiest to resolve. The bible measures the ark in cubits; 300x50x30. The cubit varied in length over time but this leads to the ark being around 137.2×22.9×13.7m. This gives the ark a volume of about 43,043.8 cubic metres. The International Union of Railways (UIC) has standard sizes for goods wagons varying between 63 and 131 cubic metres. Lets take a medium sized, 2 axle car which has a volume of 88 cubic metres. This gives the ark’s volume of around 489 railroad cars. So yes in a moment of creationist maths success the volume of the ark is about 500 railroad cars, depending on which size of car you use.
According to Genesis 6:16 the ark had three levels to it. Could such a thing be built? Well yes & no. We build ships bigger than this but in metal and there have been a number of people who have recreated arks albeit as tourist attractions rather than sea-going vessels. Large wooden ships have all sorts of problems. I refer you to the Wyoming (1909-1927) and the HMS Orlando & HMS Mersey (both in 1858), which are amongst the largest wooden ships ever built. They suffered severe structural problems from the wood warping & bending, seams opening and just a general strain on the wooden hull. These problems could only be solved with steel & iron reinforcement. All of these ships were smaller than the ark is suppose to be (by at least 37m). Beyond the size and what type of wood to use there are no further instructions on how it was built, and as wrought iron working didn’t develop as a technology until at least the 1st Century BCE this lends doubt to the ark being real. And before anyone asks about copper & bronze being used, these materials are too flexible for the kind of strength needed. This is why iron swords replaced bronze ones. Suffice to say it would have been virtually impossible for a an unskilled man to build a wooden boat of this size and have it work in what would be an almighty storm.
Now here’s where things get interesting. The traditional view is that the animals came in two-by-two. Well this isn’t entirely accurate…welcome to one of the contradictions in the Bible – yes Biblical literalists the Bible is not perfect. In Genesis 6:19 it says that “two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee”, whilst Genesis 7:2 “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.” So is it by 2’s only or 7’s and 2’s? Next comes a second contradiction. The laws given regarding clean & unclean animals are recorded later in the Bible (Leviticus 11) when God spoke to Moses…an event at least 700 years after the supposed flood. This gives us two possibilities; 1) God gave Noah a description of which animals were clean & unclean that is not recorded in or has been lost from the Bible; or 2) clean & unclean was a later edition by scribes who altered the text. Either leads us to one conclusion – the Bible has been altered by later peoples, which makes taking it literally a bit difficult.
Next I’d like to bring up the space for animals. This is where it has taken me some time to write this post as I’ve been reading up animal sizes. Here’s a list of some of the larger land mammals currently on the earth, their size and how much space of that 43,000 cubic metres they would take up.
I hear what you’re about to say “hold on 7 giraffes?” Now I confess to not being an expert in the Rabbitic traditions & commentaries of the past 2,500 years so there may be an exception here, but I’m just using an English translation of the Bible. As said the descriptions of clean & unclean animals are in Leviticus 11 and in the case of land animals if it is cloven hoofed and chews the cud (i.e. a ruminant) then it is clean if not then it is unclean. Well guess what giraffes and the closely related okapi do both so that’s 7 each of them. I am also aware that I have been using round figures, and that animals are not cuboid shaped. If you wanted to put smaller animals under the legs, or above the backs of the larger animals you could do so…though I would ask what happens if the larger creature falls asleep or needs to scratch its rump?
Now a number of leading creationists (most notably Ken Ham) have stated that you don’t need to bring on full sized adults and can thus save space. You could, but I dispute this with 3 points.
1. The animals will need to have developed the learned skills for survival from their parents, so they can both survive themselves and teach these skills to the next generation. This will be even more important in a post-flood world where survival will be even harsher. This means you’ll need older, more experienced individuals. You will also need animals to be at an age where they do not require their parents to provide the food.
2. The idea of bringing the animals onto the ark is so that they can be saved to repopulate the Earth. For this you will need sexually mature individuals, or those that are about to reach sexual maturity. Some animals do reach reproductive age early on (brown rat 5 weeks) but others take a long time (African elephants 15-20 years). So you’re taking young elephants onto the ark…they now need to survive in a devastated world for at least a decade before they’ll produce a new elephant. Not good if you need them to be popping out babies ASAP.
3. If the ark is to be floating around for about a year then many of the animals will grow and some will reach sexual maturity during the voyage. Again brown rats, 5 weeks before baby making, leading to at least 10 generations of rats in a year. This means that regardless of whether you’re taking juvenile or adult individuals on board, there will be adults by the time you land, so you have to accommodate for adults, PLUS the babies they will be making on board.
So out of the 43,000 cubic metres of space in the ark, the 7 large mammals in the table together have used up over 1000 cubic metres already…and that’s just a few large mammals. I have been working on lists for other animals, and after a several pages of numbers I got board and gave up. I’ve done tables for both even and odd toed ungulates and I’ve so far reached 4,088.77 cubic metres used for them, plus the 1040 cubic metres of the larger animals for a 5128.82 cubic metres…basically 1 eighth of the space in the ark…and I’m not done. This is just some of the mammals currently existing, not to mention the masses of fossil animals known.
One of the common creationist counters is that you don’t need a mating pair from every species currently existing, just a pair from each ‘kind’ and then these can reproduce afterwards to create the present number of species. The first problem with this is one that Bill Nye presented in his debate with Kem Ham in February 2014; the rapid evolution required to go from the number of species on the ark to the number we have now. One of the major straw-man arguments used by people who don’t understand evolution is that you “never see a dog giving birth to a non-dog”. This is a story for another time, but that is what would be required if we are to go from what went on the ark to what is around now; animals giving birth to very different species of animals and 100’s of new animals evolving every year.
So you would take on board a mating pair from the dog ‘kind’, another pair from the cat ‘kind’, a pair from the elephant ‘kind’ etc. Problem is that ‘kind’ is a very ambiguous term. A general definition is based upon Genesis 1:24-25 where it describes ‘kinds’ as being able to “bring forth” i.e. reproduce with each other. This is interesting as a similar definition is used to help scientists characterise species; how easily the organism can reproduce with another individual. The problem is that in the real world of science there is no line in the sand separating species, but instead a rather fuzzy area. Let’s take the Cat (Felidae) Family as an example. At this point I would recommend a video by YouTube user AronRa, it’s part of his Falsifying Phylogeny series and is called Foundations of Feliforme Families as he’ll explain it much better than myself. We all know what a ‘cat’ looks like, but here are some pictures to illustrate my point (most of the images were taken from Wikipedia)
All of these are Felids; we have a Cheetah (top left), a Margay (top right), an African Lion (bottom left), a Bengal Tiger (bottom centre), a Eurasian Lynx (bottom right) and my late Domestic Cat called Poppy (centre). These are all from the Felid Family, but then their lineages really start to diverge. The Cheetah is from the genus Acinonyx, the Margay is of the genus Leopardus, the Eurasian Lynx if from the genus Lynx and Poppy was of the genus Felis. All of these are from the Subfamily Felinae. None of these cats are able to interbreed with each other (or as the Bible would put it, bring forth after their own kind), yet they are still all cats. As cats evolved the various groups become genetically isolated over time so that breeding first becomes difficult then unlikely and finally impossible. In the Subfamily Pantherinae, the Lion and the Tiger are an example of this at an earlier stage. Their respective lineages separated much more recently, they are even still classed part of the same genus (Panthera leo and Panthera tigris respectively). Breeding lions & tigers is not unheard of (ligers and tigons), but this is difficult and the hybrid offspring is often (though not always infertile). Eventually the lion & tigers lines will diverge even further to the point where they can no longer interbreed at all in the same way that they currently can’t with a Cheetah, Margay, Lynx or Domestic Cat.
So why do I bring this up? Well it means that you can’t just get away with saying Noah only needed to bring one pair of cats on board and from their you’ll get all the variety we see today. If this was so they should still be able to interbreed with each other to produce fertile offspring. As it happens they can’t. This means you’ll need many more ‘kinds’ than is talked about. And for an extra nail in the coffin of creationist ‘kinds’ in Leviticus 11:21-23 there is made distinctions between different types of “locust after his kind”…in fact at least three different ‘kinds’ of locust. This would mean that the still rather ambiguous Biblical definition of the unscientific word ‘kind’ is much more like the scientific Species and Genus rather than the Family or Order as some creationists would suggest.
Currently our known species count is around;
- 1,000,000 insects
- 100,000 arachnids
- 47,000 crustaceans
- 85,000 molluscs
- 17,000 ringed worms
- 25,000 nematode worms
- 16,000 centipedes & millipedes
- 20,000 flat worms
- 6,000 sponges
- around 43,300 other invertabrates
- 300,000 plants
- 100,000 fungi
- 5,500 mammals
- 9,990 birds
- 8,700 reptiles
- 6,500 amphibians
- 31,000 fishes
- 25,000 algae
- 29,000 other protists
- 10,000 bacteria & archaea
Now not all of these creatures will need to go on the ark. Let’s forget for the minute that there is a difference between fresh & salt water, and that this means that the various fishes, crustaceans, corals, sponges, whales and all other creatures that live there entire lives in the water will not need a space. This still means that space must be found for several thousand birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, worms and arachnids, plus several hundred thousand insects, the seeds & spores of four hundred thousand plants and fungi, plus all the food and water for each animal AND their offspring for the time spent on the ark (about a year) and the time spent out of the ark whilst the landscape recovered before grass etc. can grow back. And this is just for the animals that are alive today, to say nothing of extinct animals.
This brings me to my next point. Extinct species. We know that they can’t have been left out as the Flood story in Genesis tells us that God commanded Noah to take male & female from every kind. This means that not one kind must be left behind, so that means all of the extinct ones too. Let’s have a look at the Elephants. Today there are 3 recognized species of elephant; the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Asian Elephant (Elephus maximus). There are also several recognized subspecies.
Now you could say “well they’re all of the same kind” and in the case of the two African Elephants that argument might stand, but the Asian Elephant is very much a different species. Then what about all of the extinct elephants? Isn’t it just the woolly mammoths and the mastodons? Think again…
This is just a small sample of the dozens of known genera of extinct elephants. In clockwise order from top left we have a Stegodon, a Deinotherium, a Dwarf Elephant, a Columbian Mammoth (not quite the same as a Woolly Mammoth), an American Mastodon and a Platybelodon. Although you could call all of these creatures elephants, many of them lived millions of years apart from each other (Platybelodon being the oldest of the above from about 15mya) and even those living at around the same time where from different geographic areas and looked very different. So the questions for those that believe in a literal reading of the Flood; which one of them is representative of the elephant ‘kind’? Which two do you bring with you? Do you bring all of them? If only two came along, how did they evolve and reproduce so quickly into the wide variety of elephants that have interactive with humans, to then become extinct so quickly…especially when you consider how long it takes for a baby elephant to reach sexual maturity? And why don’t we see such rapid evolution of modern elephants? This starts to lead us to one obvious conclusion.
This brings us to other extinct animals. When prehistoric life is mentioned people tend to only think of the Dinosaurs, and possibly a few ‘Ice Age’ creatures like mammoths and sabre-toothed cats…but there’s a whole host of other fossils creatures. Besides around 1000 species of Dinosaur, there are numerous non-Dinosaur creatures that lived at the same time – such as Pterosaurs and Ichthyosaurs (which most people think of as Dinosaurs but aren’t) plus the mass of extinct animals that lived both before and after the Dinosaurs. Take a look at some of the creatures below.
I’ve taken visuals from the BBC’s Walking with Beasts series as they give a better image of the creatures than a skeleton will. At the top left we have an Entelodont and a Hyaenodon battling it out, top right there is a Chalicotherium, bottom right are Macrauchenia and the bottom left Doedicurus. Although the Entelodont is closely related to pigs and the Doedicurus is closely related to armadillos, they are not ancestors of the modern forms. As for the others they have no living relatives, in fact they don’t even have anything that comes close. And these are just a couple of examples; a quick internet search will show you exactly how many extinct relatives these five creatures have, to say nothing of the multitude of other extinct creatures.
I know this has been a rather lengthy post and anybody who has managed to read the 3000+ words so far deserves a round of applause. The reason it is so long has been to emphasise a point; that Noah’s Ark could not have happened, at least not in the way described in the Bible. Regardless of what people my say in the story’s defence; the Ark was not big enough to include all of the animals in the numbers specified, regardless of what ‘kinds’ may mean. That’s about all from me today. I shall return with more information on how to debunk the Flood Myth at another time. Always keep learning 🙂
References: Wikipedia (I know not always the most reliable source, but it was good for pictures and measurements, plus a it’s a quick way to get general information on the animals mentioned). The BBC’s Walking with Beasts. Aronra’s YouTube video’s Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism (a series), and Foundations of Feliforme Families. The Bible (King James Version). Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate (you can see this on YouTube). Answers in Genesis website.