2019-05-19 The flood is a fairy tale

Fundamentalist Christians maintain that the stories told in the bible are true– and in particular the stories of the creation, the garden of Eden, and the flood are all true, and true exactly as told in the bible.

But in fact these stories are all human creations, not facts. In this article I will just consider the story of the flood; in other articles I will discuss both the creation story and the garden of Eden.

There are many problems with the story of the flood. One of the easiest to understand is that the method of saving the animals described in the bible couldn’t possibly work. According to the bible Noah and the animals were on board the ark for a full year. That means that the animals that were not on board the ark had been dead for a full year– and as such their bodies would have fallen to the bottom of the seas where they would have been scavenged by bottom dwellers like crabs and hagfish.

So at the moment that Noah released the animals from the ark to repopulate the planet, what food source would have been available to the carnivores that were on board the ark? The only possible food source would have been: the other animals on board the ark. So as soon as the animals were released from the ark the carnivores would have run down and killed the herbivores that were on board. So after maybe 30 to 60 days the carnivores would have killed off all– or at least the great majority– of the herbivores. Then what? Well, then the carnivores would only have had each other left to eat. And within another 30 to 60 days the carnivores would have killed off each other as well, and the great majority of the animals that were on board the ark would be dead dead dead. The story as told in the bible simply doesn’t make any sense.

Another key problem with the flood story is that the ark is simply too small. Here’s what the bible has to say about its size:

This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.

Genesis 6:15 – 16, Revised Standard Version (RSV)

A cubit is a variable length measure, roughly the length of a human forearm. Let’s call it 18 inches. That makes the ark 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high, with a total of 3 decks below.

By contrast the largest cruise ship in the world, the Symphony of the Seas (as of 2019), is 1188 feet long from bow to stern with a beam of 415.5 feet, and it has 18 decks, not 3. In other words the Symphony of the Seas is more than two and a half times as long and more than five and a half times as wide, and it has six times as many decks. Just in terms of raw dimensions the ark is teeny.

The Symphony of the Seas has a capacity of 6,680 passengers with a crew of 2,200, but it only needs to stock up for a couple of weeks at a time. Noah had to stow enough food and supplies on board the ark for a full year. And he had to keep two of every kind of animal on board for the same period.

How many animals would that be? Well, because the authors of the bible didn’t know anything about prehistoric animals and plants, we would have to assume that Noah gathered up representatives of every species of land animal that ever lived. That would include the first arthropods to walk on land during the Silurian epoch some 450 million years ago. It would include every species of dinosaur, such as Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor of the late Triassic to the 80 foot long Memenchisaurus to the Tyrannosaurs of the late Cretaceous. It would include Mammoths and Saber-toothed tigers of the Pleistocene. And of course every living animal species today.

What about insects? Since the world’s plants were buried under six miles of ocean insects that depend on plants for their livelihood would have been wiped out. Noah would have no choice but to round up representatives of literally every species of insect as well. There are roughly 100,000 named species of arachnids. The total number of living insect species is estimated to be between 6 and 10 million.

The total number of species required to provide a full accounting of all known species of land animals that have ever lived is certainly in the tens of millions. That would make Noah’s task of gathering up representatives of all species of land animals impossible.

Apologists for this fairy tale have posed two moderately clever dodges for this state of affairs. The first is the conjecture that Noah didn’t use fully grown adult animals– he used babies. That does make some sense. A baby Memenchisaurus would take up far less space than an 80 foot long fully grown adult, and it would consume far less food and water throughout the course of a year.

But animals in the wild grow up very fast. They have to because they will need to fend for themselves within one year. A one year old lion looks like a fully grown adult lion. A newborn foal can trot within just a few hours and can gallop after 24 hours; within a year the foal will be close to a full sized adult. So this method won’t make up for the small size of the ark.

The second dodge has been to claim that the bible doesn’t actually say that Noah put two of every species on board the ark. It says he put two of every kind on board. Here’s what the bible says:

“Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, make and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face f the earth.”

Genesis 7:2 – 3, RSV

The key phrase of this passage is “…to keep their kind alive upon the face of the earth.” But the passage also says that Noah is to take “…seven pairs of all clean animals.” The use of the word “all” seems to mean all species.

The point is supposed to be that a “kind” in this context doesn’t refer to a species– it refers to an order in the Domain / Kingdom / Phylum / Class / Order / Family / Genus / Species taxonomy. And that would mean that Noah would have to put far fewer pairs of animals on board the ark. The claim often made by creationists is that Noah would only need to have put about 10,000 animals on board the ark, rather than tens of millions.

Consider, for example, the even toed ungulates. This is an order of land animals that includes the following families of species:

  • Alpacas
  • Antelopes
  • Camels
  • Cattle
  • Deer
  • Giraffes
  • Goats
  • Hippopotamuses
  • Llamas
  • Pigs
  • Peccaries
  • Sheep

This order encompasses some 220 terrestrial species of animals. So rather than having to stow 220 pairs of animals on board the ark Noah would only have had to stow one. That’s obviously quite a savings in both space and required supplies.

The problem is that this idea would never work. According to the bible Noah released the animals from the ark to repopulate the planet:

“Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh–birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth–that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.”

Genesis 8:17, RSV

So from the single pair of animals from the even toed ungulates the 220 species of that order were somehow regenerated. How, exactly, did that work? There are only two possibilities. The first is that Noah relied on cross breeding. To this end he would have put a male of one species from the even toed ungulates with a female of a different species of the same order on board the ark. For example he might have boarded a male sheep and a female camel. Then when the animals were released from the ark they would have crossbred and regenerated all of the species of the even toed ungulates order.

The problem is that this approach is just not how crossbreeding works. Usually the offspring of crossbreeds are sterile. There are some cases in which the offspring are not sterile– as in the case of mules. Donkeys can breed with horses to produce mules; but mules are sterile and cannot reproduce.

The other problem with crossbreeding is that when you cross a male of species A with a female of species B what you get are progeny of a species C that is neither an A nor a B. That means that crossbreeding would never be able to reproduce the species of the original two animals with which you started.

The other possibility is that Noah paired each male with a female of the same species and that the animals interbred and their progeny differentiated over time into all of the species of the order to which they belonged. That would mean the differentiation must have happened within just a few generations. But according to modern evolutionary biology it would take half a million to a million years for one genetically and reproductively distinct species to evolve into another through natural processes alone.

Which of these two hypotheses is correct? Did the animals that Noah put on board on the ark differentiate into all living species within just a few generations, or would it have taken millions of years? Whenever one is confronted with two completely different perspectives about a natural phenomenon the only possible way to resolve the discrepancy is to test the hypotheses in an experiment. And I have just the perfect experiment in mind for this dispute. Here’s how it would work.

We’ll pick an island somewhere in the world that has no even toed ungulates, then drop off one male and one female pair of animals of a species in the order–say sheep. Then we’ll leave them to multiply, and after just a few generations–say 20 or 30 years–we’ll return to the island to see what happened. If the biblical apologists are correct then the island should be populated with all 220 species of the even toed ungulates order.

A variation of this experiment is in fact conducted every year. Shepherds release their flocks of sheep into the fields every spring for the breeding season. And what does the shepherd get back? Does he get pigs and alpacas and giraffes and cattle? No! He gets sheep–of the same species that he released into the field with some minor within-species genetic drift. So the idea that Noah put pairs of each order on board the ark, rather than pairs of each species, would never solve the problem that the ark is simply too small.

Neither of the two dodges that have routinely been invoked by biblical apologists can explain how it would be possible for Noah to fit the millions of pairs of species that God expected him to save onto the ark. There just simply isn’t enough room.

There are many other reasons why the story of the flood is impossible, but these two basic facts about it are quite sufficient to prove that it is nothing but a fairy tale.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore