A Critical Look at Noah's Voyage

 

When Did the Flood Occur?

I Kings 6:1 says that 480 years passed from the start of the Exodus to the start of construction on the first temple by Solomon. Gal 3:17 says that 430 years passed from the covenant with Abraham to the delivery of the Law to Moses. Yahweh establishes the covenant with Abram about 135 years after he was born (11:32, 26). Abram was born when Terah was 70 (11:26). Terah was born when Nahor was 29 (11:24). Nahor was born when Serug was 30 (11:22). Serug was born when Re'u was 30 (11:20). Re'u was born when Peleg was 30 (11:18). Peleg was born when Eber is 34 (11:16). Eber was born when Shelah was 30 (11:14). Shelah was born from a 35 year-old Arpach'shad (11:12). Arpach'shad was born from Shem 2 years after the flood (11:10).

Since the date of Solomon's reign is agreed to be about 950[+/- 50]BCE, we can calculate the time of the flood using this chronology. Starting with Solomon and working backward, we have:

950BCE +480 +430 +135 +70 +29 +30 +30 +30 +34 +30 +35 +2= 2285BCE.

Even for many creationists, this date is uncomfortably recent. Yet the bible leaves no room for speculation -- the relevant geneaologies are not vague, but assert clearly that two events are seperated by X number of years [for example, Abram was born when Terah was 70, Terah when Nahor was 29, etc.]. The flood cannot be pushed back much further than 2285BCE without abandoning the biblical chronology.

Building the Ark

At 300 cubits long (about 450ft), Noah's ark would be by far the longest wooden boat ever built. It is more than a little doubtful that a seaworthy wooden vessel of this size could be built even today. According to ship-building expert A.M. Robb, there existed an "upper limit, in the region of 300 feet, on the length of the wooden ship; beyond such a length the deformation due to the differing distribution of weight and bouyancy became excessive, with consequent difficulty in maintaining the hull watertight" (p 355). Even in the twentieth century, the largest wooden vessels were little more than 300ft; these boats leaked so badly that even with constant pumping and iron reinforcement they were unsafe for either rough seas or extended voyages.

Noah's ark, on the other hand, would have been well over an hundred feet longer than the longest wooden boats of the twentieth century, and over half as long as the Titanic! In addition to its incredible size, the ark would also have to withstand the fiercest conditions ever to exist in the oceans, and for an extended period of time. Of course, since the ark would also need to have carried an enormous amount of weight, it would have to have survived these conditions while greatly overloaded. Moore observes:

"Arkeologists cannot have their cake and eat it; they can't have a cataclysm of the magnitude of the biblical flood and still expect the ark to survive. Each year approximately two thousand ships succumb to the forces of the sea, in conditions that are like the horse latitudes compared to the deluge. These include structurally sound steel freighters larger than the ark, some of which have vanished so fast in a 'mere' hurricane that people have even suggested a paranormal force behind their destruction" (p 24).

The ark, overloaded and structurally unsound, must float without sinking for an entire year while waves, the first 40 days of which would have been catastrophic beyond anything seen in human history. Whirlpools and hurricanes would batter the ark continually, as would floating detritus such as trees. The ark would pitch and roll violently in the waves, battering the ark animals against the walls of their cages, and making attempts to care for them [watering, stall cleaning, feeding] all but impossible. All the while, huge amounts of volcanic and tectonic activity are literally reshaping the earth's surface under the waves-- continents are ripping apart and sliding thousands of kilometers, millions of cubic kilometers of lava are being extruded into the seas. There is no reason to suppose that any boat could withstand these conditions.

Getting the Animals on the Ark

How did Noah and family retrieve two of "every living thing of all flesh"? Animals live in various climates, ranging from tropical to arctic, and usually cannot survive in a different one. Collecting two of every species obviously requires an estensive degree of travelling, and the Genesis story leaves us wondering just how Noah could have pulled off such an implausible feat. Did Noah literally walk to the ends of the earth, collecting kangaroos, tarantulae, birds, polar bears, rattlesnakes, ants, hippopatamus? Some animal species are found only on one particular islands, or in particulal lakes, and so forth. Other animals are found only in tropical forest canopies. Others live only in caves. No matter how Noah went about collecting the animals, this would be quite a feat for a man 600 years old.

Genesis 7:11-14 shows, curiously, that all of the animals boarded the ark on the same day. We can only conclude from this that Noah and company were world-class movers. If we give Noah 20 hours to get the 50,000 animals on board, and go with Morris's count of 50,000 species, then animals must have boared the ark at an average rate of 2500 per hour, or 41 per minute. This, of course, is not very plausible. The ark, remember, is over half as long as the Titanic, and is divided into three decks. Finding the right cage in such a large ship, placing the animals in the cage, and then finding your way back to retrieve two more animals, is bound to take longer than several minutes per 'load'. If we assume that the animals went into the ark two at a time, and if we assume that each pair could be loaded in a mere 30 seconds, then the 50,000 would still take about 8.7 full days (assuming no breaks, holdups, or mishaps during that time).

How many animals must Noah and family have loaded onto the ark?

Creationist attempts to answer this question range from inadequate to ridiculous. Morris and LaHaye settle on something like 50,000 animals, and hence only 25,000 species (actually much less, since clean animals came by sevens -- even though Noah promptly kills many of them as soon as he gets off the boat [Gen 8:20]). Consider the implications of such a small number of species. Today, in the single phylum Arthropoda, there is an estimated 923,000 species. There are as many 500,000 species of nematode. While no one knows the exact number of species on the earth today, there are unquestionably many millions of them. If creationists are to argue that all these species are descended from the 25,000 species on the ark, then they are essentially arguing for evolution on an unimaginably accelerated scale, far beyond what even the most radical evolutionists have ever posited. This would require not only a miracle of accelerated evolution, it would also require billions of beneficial mutations, something many creationists assert do not occur.

On the other hand, one could choose a more survivable number of animals, but this quickly exceeds both credulity and the room on the ark. Moore settles on a total of almost 4 million animals, yet admits that even that number "is so small as to be unrealistic." First, a many species can not survive except through social interaction with others of their species, and the "two of each" approach is not going to work for these species. Two ants, for example, a male and a female, are not likely to survive on their own. Second, animals have varying mortality rates. Even under ideal circumstances, a significant portion of the animals would be expected to die within the flood year. If this happened to either the male or female of the unclean species, they would go extinct, since only two of these animals were on the ark. Third, short of a miracle, the animals are not going to get on the ark, ride on the ark for a year, and depart from the ark after the flood without eating each other. One is left wondering what the animals on the ark ate for a whole year, if not each other as is normally the case! Since animals can be expected to eat many times its weight each year, the ark must have carried many times the weight in food as it did in animals themselves.

Either way you slice it, fitting the animals and supplies on the ark presents big problems for deluge theories. Either a small number of species entered the ark, in which case many millions of species must have evolved from them in a mere 4500 years, or millions of animals entered the ark, which is ruled out by the lack of space in a 450ft long boat.

Caring for the Animals on the Ark

50,000 animals are going to require alot of attention in order to survive. If the animals are fed only once daily, and if all 8 humans on board worked 20 hours a day, then each of the 8 humans on board the ark must have fed an average 312.5 animals per hour. Of course, many animals, such as birds, ruminants, rodents, and insectivores must feed constantly to maintain their health. Many animals have special dietary needs, needs which would put a considerably strain on the 8 humans on board. Moore again:

"Many animals have specialized diets: koals eat only certain types of Eucalyptus leaves; the giant Panda eats bamboo shoots; three-toed sloths so prefer Cecropia leaves that they are almost impossible to keep in captivity. Primates need fresh fruit; many birds develop cramps and spasms if they don't get sufficient calcium; desert rodents are poisoned by excessive protein; and the list goes on. How did Noah know what foods to get, how much, and where to get them? How were the stores kept from rotting during the lengthy voyage? Even hay rapidly becomes moldy and unusable" (28).

Of course this begs the question of where the food could have come from. Genesis says that only two of each unclean animal were taken aboard the ark. How can a predator survive for a whole year, when only two of its prey exist, and even those are off limits? Discussing annual food requirements, Moore quotes Neubuser of the Frankfurt Zoo regarding the comparatively small group of animals there:

"sixty tons of of horse, cattle, and whale meat are required to satisfy the demands of the carnivores. The boxes of cereals and oil seed, each containing about an hundred weight, it put end to end, would stretch over a half-mile. The annual consumption of fruit, vegetables, roots, and green clover would fill fifty freight trains" (28).

Similar problems would plague the water supply, since the water outside the ark would have been much too sediment-laden to drink. Whatever water was available on the voyage, it must have been carried aboard initially. A similar rate is necessary to dispose of animal waste; if each animal's stall is to be cleaned out once per day, each of the 8 humans must have cleaned an average of 312.5 stalls per hour, or 156.25 stalls per hour if the male and female of the same species share a stall. Of course, since the ark contained three levels, that means that manure from at least one level would have to be hauled up to be thrown off the ark.

Where Did All That Water Come From, And Where Did It Go?

According to Genesis, the deluge waters covered the highest mountains to a depth of 15 cubits (7:20). If we assume that Mt. Ararat, with a peak 5km above sea level, represents the highest preflood mountain, we are left wondering where the extra 5km worth of sea water came from and went to.

Walter Brown's Hydroplate

According to creation "scientist" Walt Brown (Brown is an engineer, and has no formal training in geology), the water came from a "hydroplate," essentially a thick layer of water which existed a couple of km below the earth's surface before the flood. For unknown reasons, this hydroplate ruptured and ejected its water onto the earth's surface, flooding it to a depth (presumably) of many kilometers. Later, after the hydroplate was evacuated, parts of the earth's crust sank, forming the world's ocean basins. The flood waters, following the past of least resistance, drained down into these basins, lowering sea level relative to the continents, and allowing the continents to remerge. At some point during the flood, after the hydroplate burst, a preflood supercontinent was rifted and seperated into more or less today's configuration.

Unfortunately for Brown, the hydroplate theory is neither plausible in itself nor consistent with the evidence. For one, continental crust is much denser than water. Hence there's no reason to suppose that several kilometers worth of crust floated on top of a thick layer of water. The last time I checked, boulders did not float in water. Two, the temperature several km below surface is above boiling, and its rapid release as steam onto the surface would poach Noah and his companions.

Three, if the ocean basins formed a mere 4500 years ago, and were all formed quickly during the flood, then why is there a gradient of sediment thickness, increasing with distance from the ridge? If all the ocean basins formed within a few years of each other, there should be no appreciable differences in sediment thickness on the ocean floor. Four, if the ocean basins formed when a previously flat surface collapsed, one would expect very definite signs in the form of large vertical fracture zones around the continental margins. These fracture zones do not exist.

Aside from this, since Brown's theory requires that Pangaea broke up during the flood year, it also requires the creation of a tremendous amount of oceanic crust. Being an engineer, Brown should know that the extrusion of so much magma in so short a period of time would have fried everything on earth. As Morton points out in relation Baumgardner's "Runaway Subduction" theory, the creation of the ocean basins during the flood year would require about 5.9 x 10^21 kilograms of molten lava to have been extruded in one year. He calculates:

"Assuming the current temperature of this basalt to be 200 deg C and when molten it was 1100 deg. C, this is a loss of 900 deg C. The heat radiated by the earth must have been 200 * 900 * 5.9 x 10^21= 1 x 10^27 calories. Each square meter must emit 2,080,782,000,000 calories during the year. This equates to 6.5 calories per square centimeter per second. which is more than 3 times the amount of energy we receive from the sun" (Baumgardner's flood theory, 1997).

Baumgardner recognized these difficulties; instead of offering an explanation for this flaw, he has simply declared it must have required a miracle. He says:

"These observations all point to the need to remove large amounts of heat from extensive bodies of rock in the earth in order to account for the geological change proposed for the Flood. It is the author's conclusion that this cannot happen within the framework of time-invariant physics" (1986, p. 21).

In simpler terms, Baumgardner is admitting that his flood model, as well as those like it, cannot explain the evidence from geology, in terms of a one year global flood, without explicitly appealing to the miraculous. If Baumgardner and others cannot explain one miracle except in terms of another, they should not mistake their explanation for actual science.

The other major prediction of Brown's theory, that sea level before the global flood was much, much lower than present, can also be easily falsified. If Brown's theory is correct, sea level about 4500 years ago was several kilometers lower than it is today. At the time of the flood, sea level rose quickly to roughly its current level (ignoring relatively small amounts stored in ice in the post-flood 'ice-age'). Yet, there are numerous indications that the average global sea level has remained comparatively "high" over at least the past several hundred thousand years.

One way to show that sea level has not changed in this fashion over the past 4500 years is by examing coral formations on volcanic islands in the Pacific. Since coral reefs grow only within a few meters of the ocean's surface, and since the rate at which they form can be reasonably well estimated, they can be used to estimate sea level in the past. Core samples from the Eniwetok atoll, the sunken remains of an ancient volcanoe, show coral to depth of at least 1380 meters. Even assuming that this coral formed at 1 cm per year, much faster than the fastest observed growth rate, the coral cap would still require at least 138,000 years to form (Weber, p 30). Since the coral could only have formed near the ocean's surface, this shows that sea level has not risen drastically ala hydroplate theory over the past 4500 years. If this had happened, one would expect two discrete levels of coral, one representing the preflood and the other representing the postflood sea level, not a continuous series of coral layers.

The Survival of Plant Species

Most plant communities would not be able to survive the conditions of the flood, for several reasons:

1. The seeds would soak in salt water for a year.

2. During this year, plant seeds would be subject to abrasion and damage by sediment-laden water. If the seed shells were cut during the flood, the chances of its survival after the flood would be practically nil.

3. Most seeds will have been buried deeply under sediment, deep enough to prevent sprouting.

4. For any seeds that did manage to sprout, another problem remains -- most seeds need established soils in order to grow. The post flood environment, in contrast, would have been a silty, saltwater-soaked wasteland.

5. Many flowering plants require animal pollinators in order to reproduce. Even if a few of these managed to sprout, most would likely die long before the last two pollinators made the journey down from Ararat. On example is the fig wasp, which Richard Dawkins discusses in Climbing Mount Improbable. There are something like 900 species of fig, and almost all require their own specific species of fig wasp in order to reproduce. The existence of both species is contingent on preserving this symbiotic relationship. In this case and thousands of others like it, how did Noah and family maintain these intricate, interdependent relationships through the flood?

Creationist George Howe (1968) made an attempt to assess the survivability of plant species in relation to a global flood. Using 5 different types of plant seeds, Howe soaked them in shallow sea water for 20 weeks. The result? Only one of the 5 seeds sprouted without being cut. Two sprouted only when the seed shell was deliberately cut, and the other two failed to sprout at all. Howe's conclusion from this is that "there is widespread resistance to salt or fresh water soaking among the seeds of flowering plants."

As Dr. Stanley Rice points out, however, the "results demonstrate nothing of the sort." First, Howe selected only one type of plant -- weeds. He included no mosses, no ferns, no trees of any kind, no shrubs, no herbs. Weeds are more tolerant than just about any other plant of environmental extremes, so Howe has attempted to stack the odds in his favor by selecting only a single, exceptionally robust type of seed. Second, Howe took his weed samples from Santa Barbara, a coastal area. Weeds close to the sea would be expected to have a higher salt tolerance than those farther from the sea. Third, Howe's experiment did not even attempt to replicate the same conditions which must have prevailed in the "Great Flood." For example, Howe submerged his seeds for 20 weeks, less than half the amount of time needed. Nor did Howe factor in other important variables, such as how many seeds would remain within "sprouting distance" of the surface, how many seeds would grow without established soils, or how many seeds could survive the flood with their shells intact.

The Survival of the Aquatic Animals

Most creationists suppose that marine animals were left in the ocean during the flood, and that there would have been no need to preserve them on the ark. When the ecological side-effects of a global flood are considered, however, it becomes obvious that little or no marine life could survive in the flood waters.

1. The flood waters would contain vastly more than enough sediment to choke most marine animals to death. According to Robert Moore, [Creation/ Evolution, Issue XI, Winter 1983, p. 10], the volume of the world's oceans amounts to 1350 10^6 km3, and the volume of Phanerozoic (i.e., later than Precambrian) sediments is 654 10^6 km3. This is only 2 parts of water for every part sediment by volume! Try mixing a cup of sand and silt together with two cups of water, and then put your pet goldfish in the mixture for a year. Almost no aquatic animal could be expected to survive for an entire year in the thick, muddy soup that Noah's flood would have made of the oceans.

2. Chemical changes in the flood waters --salt concentration, hydrogen sulfide, and other volcanic gasses -- would have been more than sufficient to kill the marine animals. Salinity changes alone would kill many marine species. Moore again:

"Although creationists seem to think that once your wet its all the same, there are actually many aquatic regimes and many specialized inhabitants in each. Some fish live only in cold, clear mountain lakes; others in brackish swamps. Some depend on splashing, rocky, oxygen-rich creeks, while others, such as a freshwater dolphin, a manatee, and a thirteen-foot catfish, live only in the sluggish Amazon. In all these instances plus many more, the environment provided by the deluge waters would have no more suited these creatures than it would have the desert tortoise or the polar bear" (p 9).

3. The amount of heat created by fossil lava flows (discussed elsewhere), meteoric impacts, and the formation of calcite would have been sufficient to boil off the oceans completely and fry all the animals in it. Moore's estimates from "fossil" lava flows alone show that the ocean would have been heated more than 2700 C. Obviously, this rules out the survival of any animals, whether in the ark or in the sea.

The Survival of the Animals After the Flood

Descending From Mount Ararat

According to some creationists, Mt. Ararat in Turkey is the same "mountains of Ararat" mentioned in Genesis. If this is the case, one cannot help but be impressed by the agility of the ark's inhabitants. Mt. Ararat is actually a large volcanoe, extending over 5km above sea level. Even experienced human climbers have found the trek difficult and dangerous. At this elevation, most animals would have found breathing difficult. Those that could breath would find getting down off of the mountain without breaking a leg even more difficult.

a) Food Consumption

The simple logic of food consumption shows that the disemb-ark-ing animals could not have survived in the post flood ecology. According to the biblical account, all of the land animals which were not on the ark died during the flood. Once the flood year was over, those thousands or millions of animals were bound to be hungry. Yet, the entire food chain had disappeared, and not more than 7 members of any species were left alive. Of most species only two members were left alive, so if either of them fell victim to predation, their respective species became extinct. So what did these carnivores eat? Its tempting to think that the population rebounded quickly, restoring the food chain, but this doesn't make sense either. Animals are not created ex nihilo, but out of other organic matter, either plant or animals. Animals that don't eat cannot reproduce.

And what about the herbivores? The entire earth had just been flooded in salt water for a whole year; floods leave thick layers of silt, and plant life other than algae must have been scarce to say the least. Wheat, fruit, and other human foodsources are not going to be available after the flood, at least for a whole growth season, assuming that seeds could be found. Many animals must graze constantly in order to maintain their bodyweight, yet green meadows would have been scarce after the flood.

b) Species Distribution

After the flood, the ark comes to rest, of all places, on a volcanic mountain. From there, the animals travel out to repopulate the world. But how could this happen? Moore notes some of the coincidences and absurdities entailed by the generation of present-day biogeography from the small community at Ararat 4500 years ago:

"A large number of marsupials, found today only in Australia, made the long journey to that continent, which, strangely enough, is the only place where fossils of their progenitors are found . . . In a similar vein, the ceboids (New World primates) found their way to South America, again, the very region where their fossil ancestors had thrived. The elephant bird, a nine-foot, thousand-pound giant, decided not to remain on the mainland like the ostrich but splashed across the sea to Madagascar. In a similar fashion, the dodo headed for Mauritius, the solaataire to Reunion, the white dodo to Rodriguez, the kagu to Caledonia, and the kiwi to New Zealand -- all flightless birds who [must have] swam to remote islands to make their only homes

"The fish of family Comephoridae somehow crossed Asia to live in Lake Baikal, while the family of electric eels opted fpr the transatlantic trip to South America. The gila monster and Mexican beaded lizard . . . choose not to stay in convenient Asian deserts but journeyed through Siberia and across the Bering land bridge, Alaska and Canada to arrive in the American southwest . . . and all of this occured despite the reproductive bottleneck of a single male and female, in which the slightest mishap, even a chance seperation in an unknown wilderness, would have meant instant extinction . . ." (p 35).

Sources

Baumgardner, John R. (1986). "Numerical simulation of the Large-Scale Tectonic Changes Accompanying the Flood," in Robert Walsh, Christopher Brooks and Richard S. Crowell, editors, Proc. First International Conference on Creationism, II, (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1986), pp 17-30.

Howe, George. (1968). Seed Germination, Sea Water, and Plant Survival in the Great Flood. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 5:105-112.

Moore, Robert. (1983). The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark. Creation/ Evolution, Issue XI.

Rice, Stanley. (1989). Faithful in the Little Things: Creationists and Operation 'Science.' Creation/Evolution. 25:8-14.

Robb, A.M. (1958). "Ship-Building." In Singer, Charles, Holmyard, E.J., Hall, A.R., and Williams, Trevor (ed.), A History of Technology, vol 5: The Late Nineteenth Century, c1850 to c1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp350-390.

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