Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Every few months or so, you see a “documentary” on a cable program searching for Noah’s ark. Every other year or so, the media picks up a story where someone has “discovered Noah’s ark.” The latest incident occurred when former Baywatch actress and Playboy model Donna D’Errico was injured trying to climb Mt. Ararat. All it takes is a quick web search to discover that these foolish quests and dubious claims happen over and over again, year in and year out, just like false prophets who proclaim the end of the world in six months. The most famous of these “false alarm” discoveries occurred in 1993, when George Jammal hoaxed a documentary about “discovering” the Ark; it was later revealed he never went to Turkey, and that the “wood” he showed was a piece of pine soaked in soy sauce.
What is striking about all these amazing claims that there is NEVER any further research, or follow-up. After the big splash of the hot story in the media, one never hears that they actually tested the “Ark wood” to see if it was really old, or return to the same place for more data. (Ironically, since creationists deny radiocarbon dating, they can’t very well use it for their own purposes and then reject it for all others). Most of the time we’re given some lame excuse, such as the “Ark” vanished under an avalanche after their visit, or the Turkish authorities would not allow them to return to Ararat. Surely, if they had actually found something, they would have gone back again and again and accumulated more and more evidence, as true scientists and archeologists always do. Instead, it’s a flash in the pan of media publicity, then…nothing. Lord knows these people have LOTS of money to follow the pursuit. Nearly every “Ark” story on their broadcasting or on their websites is followed by a plea for more money to continue this work. If real scientists were funded for real research at the levels these creationists are for phony research, just think of the useful discoveries we would have made by now! Instead, the money goes down the rabbit-hole of their mysterious and untaxable income, and we never get any results. Now they are taking an even bigger bite, not only out of their own flock, but out of taxpayers. Ken Ham’s ridiculous “Answers in Genesis” organization has bamboozled the Governor of Kentucky and much of their legislature to give them tax breaks and new roads and infrastructure to build a Noah’s ark replica in Kentucky, adjacent to their phony creationist “museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky. Now, no matter what you think of these matters, the State is supporting the Church, and Kentucky taxpayers who object to this expenditure of their tax dollars have no choice. Fortunately, the AiG organization is having trouble raising money for the “Ark Park” and has postponed construction indefinitely, and even attendance at the “Creation Museum” is declining and hurting their finances. (Check out this clever parody, “Koran Kountry”, that imagines a Muslim-themed park supported by Kentucky tax dollars).
Most creationists believe that the Noah’s ark story is historical fact. Never mind that there are actually two different stories in Genesis 6 from different sources that don’t even agree with one another, or that large parts of both flood myths are cribbed almost word-for-word from the much older Sumerian and Babylonian accounts in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Never mind that creationists must explain why one verse has seven pairs of clean animals on the ark, while another only has one. Creationist books are full of incredible mental gyrations needed to make the Noah’s ark story remotely believable. However, as I found out from my debate with Duane Gish in 1983, they will avoid discussing it if it is brought up in debate, since it sounds foolish and ruins their credibility with most audiences. First, let us start with what the Bible says and delve into the world of “arkeology”. McGowan (1984, Chapter 5) and Moore (1983) discuss the logistical details of the Noah’s ark story at length, so I will not repeat their entire analysis here. A whole series of questions and problems come up when you look at the ark story in detail. First of all, naval engineers learned long ago that wooden boats longer than about 300 feet cannot work, because there is no kind of wood in a boat that size that can stand up to the stresses and torques of the open ocean. Only with the invention of iron hulls was it possible to build longer boats. Then there is the issue of volume. McGowan (1984, p. 55) calculates that the Biblical dimensions give a boat with about 55,000 cubic meters of internal volume. Depending upon whose estimate you follow, there are at least 1.5 million species on earth today, which gives us only about 0.0367 cubic meters per species, or about one-third the capacity of a small shoebox—and these animals would have to be packed like shoeboxes stacked on top of one another to make this solution work. Clearly, this is not enough space for most large animals. The pair (or is it seven pairs?) of elephants, rhinos and hippos would take up much of the ark all by themselves. The problem gets even worse if we realize that the true estimate is about 4 or 5 billion species on earth.
The creationists, of course, are aware of this problem. When the flood myths were written, most ancient Middle Eastern cultures recognized only a handful of animals (domesticated plus wild), and paid no attention to insects or many other less conspicuous forms of life, so they saw no problem in accounting for all living things that were important to them in a single boat. But the modern-day creationists must account for all of the millions of life forms on earth, or else admit that some things have evolved from other since the days of Noah. They do this by claiming that Noah only took the created “kinds” (baramin in Hebrew) on the boat, and that these “kinds” have since evolved into many more forms (a concession that evolution occurs!). By this method, they claim that there were only about 30,000 to 50,000 created “kinds” on board, but then that only gives each “kind” about a cubic meter to live in—still not much of an improvement. This “solution” creates a whole new set of problems. Not only does it concede a tremendous amount of evolution from the created “kinds,” but the “kinds” have no basis in biology at all. When you examine the creationist literature or try to pin them down, sometimes the “kinds” are species, sometimes they are genera, and sometimes they are whole families, orders, or even phyla of animals (Siegler, 1978; Ward, 1965)! Creationists are so wildly inconsistent, and completely out of line with the known taxonomy of organisms, that it is clear that a created “kind” is one of those slippery words that people use to weasel out of difficult spots. As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice (in Through the Looking Glass), “Whenever I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” Nevertheless, a lot of the creationist “research” focuses on just this fruitless unscientific version of chasing their own tails, and they even have a name for it: baraminology. Some creationists try to squirm out of the problem by claiming that the fish and marine invertebrates stayed outside in the ark, and lived through the floodwaters. But this reveals their complete lack of understanding of basic biology. To a creationist, apparently, if it lives in the water, it’s all the same, but marine fish and invertebrates are highly sensitive to changes in salinity, so if the oceans were flooded by fresh water, these organisms would die immediately. If, on the other hand, these supernatural clouds rained marine water (a physical impossibility, since salt is left behind when water evaporates), then the salty world ocean would have killed all the freshwater fish and invertebrates, which cannot tolerate high salinities. Of course, pushing all these aquatic forms off the boat and into the water doesn’t begin to solve the space or numbers problem, since they account for only a few hundred thousand species, anyway.
But we have only addressed the issue of cramming millions of species into shoebox-sized spaces stacked to the top of the ark. Where would they put all the food for so many animals? How did the carnivores survive without eating their neighbors? Finally, the most unpleasant thought of all: so many animals produce a lot of dung. Did Noah and his sons spend most of their 40 days and nights shoveling out of the boat? Instead of evaluating a reasonable and testable hypothesis, all this special pleading and twisting of the facts of nature makes it clear that we’re dealing with an explanation that is a load of dung.
- McGowan, C. 1984. In the Beginning: A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists are Wrong. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.
- Moore, R. 1983. The impossible voyage of Noah’s Ark. Creation/Evolution 11: 1–40.
- Siegler, H.R. 1978. A creationist’s taxonomy. Creation Research Society Quarterly 15:36–38.
- Ward, R.R. 1965. In the Beginning. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
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