The Science Behind Noah’s Ark

See my post from day 2 when I read the story of Noah’s Ark.

From my exposure to Bible stories as a child, I recall there being debate between scientists and religious folks about the science of many of the stories in Genesis. Creation, of course.

Creation is the big hitter, but it’s just too big of a topic for me to dive into. I personally believe in the big bang and evolution. But in my mind, I can’t completely rule out some sort of higher power (be it God, the universe, multiple gods or whatever) being involved in how we came to be.

The other story that draws together science and the Bile is Noah’s Ark, the story of the great flood. So I’ve done some research on the story as it’s told in the Bible, and the evidence (or lack thereof) of a great flood.

I’m by no means an expert, and I’m not claiming to be. I’ve simply poked around the internet and obviously read the source text of Genesis. So read this for what it’s worth, which is nothing, unless you want to support me by becoming a Patron. Wink, wink.

 

The Interpretations

As a kid, I always assumed the story of Noah’s Ark was metaphorical. It didn’t even dawn on me that others interpreted it as historical fact until college when a friend posted an article on Facebook with a title along the lines of, “Remains of Noah’s Ark Found in <some mountain range that I can’t remember>.”

I thought it was just assumed that a story about two of each animal (and I know now from reading Genesis that it was actually 14 of some animals, 2 of others) being kept on a wooden boat for 150 days was hyperbole. But not everyone sees it that way.

 

The Great Flood in Many Religions

Many religions and cultures tell stories of a great flood.

The Bible includes the story of Noah, obviously.

A great flood is portrayed in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem from ancient Mesopotamia, which had a handful of religious beliefs and long predated Christianity. The flood is used to mark periods in history: pre-flood and post-flood.

Hindu texts also tell the story of a deity warning man of an impending flood and instructing him to build a boat.

Plato, the Greek philosopher, tells the story of Zeus flooding all of Greece because he was angry.

So the story of a flood, purposefully caused by a deity or not, isn’t uncommon in historical texts, literature, and religious texts. To me, the stories with flooding in a particular area (i.e., Greece) rather than the whole world (as presented in the Bible) are more realistic to me.

With the vast number of references to it, it seems as though a major flooding event likely has happened at least once.

 

The Ark

In Genesis, the ark, as instructed by God, was built at 450 × 75 × 45 ft.

(I’m curious about the size translations from old-timey measurements to feet…I’ve seen other references to cubits, which was an ancient measure of length).

Noah, his wife, his sons, and his son’s wives were all saved via the ark. As were two of every animal on earth and 14 of all sacred animals. How did they all fit? Arguments for a literal interpretation of the story say there was plenty of room on the ark for everything and everyone. Arguments against literal interpretation, of course, argue the opposite—that it would be impossible to house the amount of people and animals described on the boat described. The answer to this question depends on where you look for your answer.

Possibly the most important question: What happened to all the poop? It’s funny, and I’m kind of joking, but it’s mostly a serious question. 150 days, 8 people, tens of thousands of animals. That’s a lot of poo…disease-ridden poo, most likely.

 

The Questions

After basic research, I still have so many questions. I can see why researchers can spend their entire lives studying something that takes up just a few hundred words in the Bible. My project is focused on breadth, not depth, so I still have a lot of remaining questions that I just can’t answer:

  • Seriously, though, the poop thing
  • Was the flood global? The Bible indicates yes, but back when this story was documented, how much of the earth did the authors really know about? Maybe it was “global” for them but didn’t literally encompass the whole earth.
  • What happened when an animal died on board?
  • What about animals from different parts of the world? For example, kangaroos and polar bears.
  • If we interpret Noah’s Ark literally, then we likely would interpret the 6,000-year earth age literally. How could 4 couples repopulate to our earth in that time with the racial and genetic diversity we currently have?

 

My Thoughts

Again, take this for what it’s worth. I’m just a chick with tangential exposure to religion reading the Bible.

Do I think the whole world flooded, a single family was spared, and two (or 14) of each animal were kept on a boat for 150 days? No. I don’t interpret this story literally. I see it as a story, a metaphor used to teach a lesson (a parable, if you will).

Regardless of whether the story depicted really happened or not, I still struggle with the vengeance the story presents. God killed all humans except 8. He made us in his image, and yet he gets frustrated and just kills 99.9% of us all off? I just have a fundamental problem with that. I thought the positive parts of religion and God were things like forgiveness and love. I know I’ll get to that stuff later in the Bible, but at this point, it’s really easy for me to understand why younger Megan saw the red flags in stories like Noah’s Ark.

I know I haven’t provided any “answers” here. In fact, we might all be walking away from this with more questions than when we started. That’s going to be the theme of this project, I’m afraid. I’m not here to prove anything or find definitive answers. It would be silly of me to set out with that goal. I’m here to open my mind, learn some stuff, and write some stuff. I don’t want people telling me what to believe or think, and I’m sure not going to do that to others. So I’ll continue to provide reflections and references and a few opinions here and there.

 

Further Reading

For views against the literalism of the story of Noah’s Ark, check out, “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark” by Robert A. Moore. You can view an archived version here.

For the argument that Noah’s Ark was a historical event, read, “Was There Really a Noah’s Ark & Flood?” by Ken Ham and Tim Lovett. You can view it on Answers in Genesis. Shout out to Blake for the resource!

Whichever camp you land in (I know it’s not black and white, but I need to stop somewhere), I recommend reading through both views. I’m doing this project to broaden my horizons and expose myself to views outside of my own. Try doing the same without bias. It’s a fun challenge.

 


 

This post is brought to you by Syntha-6 protein bars. I’m always hesitant to try new protein bars because I don’t like most of them. But these ones are delicious. Picture a Rice Krispy Bar…but chocolate. Yum. I use them any time I need an on-the-go meal.

They’re not low in carbs—quite the opposite, actually—but they’re a great meal replacement option with a balance of protein, fat, and carbs. I can usually go 4-5 hours on one of these, and I tend to need to eat every few hours.

 

About Megan Horn

I'm spending portions of the next 365 days reading the Bible. And document my thoughts as I work through the Holy Book.

11 thoughts on “The Science Behind Noah’s Ark

  1. Megan,

    The one thing about Genesis is the difficulty in knowing whether one’s mode of hermeneutics and exegesis is correct or not. And there is always the risk that we are missing important information about the pre-Jewish culture as well as information needed in translating the old Hebrew language.
    And yet there is also the possibility that God spoke through the author in a way that was condescending and simplistic – speaking to them as an adult would speak to a 1st grader about incredibly complex topics. Otherwise, it would have gone over their heads completely.

    Even today, we can barely even grasp the potential information contained just in Genesis 1:1. It is said that Herbert Spencer, a well-renowned agnostic philosopher, scientist, and evolutionist – discovered that all reality in the universe is contained in five essential categories: time, force, action, space, and matter – a theory which took thousands of years to discover. And yet…

    Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning [time], God [force] created [action] the heavens [space] and the earth [matter].

    Was that part of what the verse was trying to tell us? I have no idea. But it is intriguing nevertheless.

    But IMO, what it comes down to is this: we may never know if parts of Genesis 1-11 are to be taken literally, poetically, allegorically, metaphorically, or otherwise. And to even try is something that incredibly knowledgeable people have been trying to determine for millennia. And to a degree, I have come to the personal determination that it is essentially unimportant. What is important is what these stories are trying to teach. What is being communicated?
    That to me is the utmost priority. Not determining whether it is literal or metaphoric, but *what* is being taught! And again, we must also contend with the fact that much of what was being communicated was incredibly complex and complicated even for us today, much less desert nomads in a more primitive time. It can be said that words for many of these concepts did not exist and that in the Hebrew language things such as the inner workings of the universe, spiritual realms, and moral concepts may at times had to be written figuratively to be understood.

    Many look at these writings as obsolete myths and against scientific rationality. Others look at them as being literal. And as such, it causes an inevitable clash for many. And as such, arguments are raised based on those stands that if Genesis is not in absolute agreement with history and science as we know it today, then all of Judaism and Christianity are complete bunk (as well as vice-versa). And IMO, both camps miss the point and get wrapped up in unnecessary squabbles.

    I was given very sage advice when I first tackled Genesis: don’t set your mind about determining whether something is literal or metaphorical – focus first and foremost on determining *what* the scripture is trying to communicate to you. Leave the other aspects for later examination.
    That very same wise person also told me that God doesn’t assign points to those who try to figure out whether a verse is to be taken literally or metaphorically if they completely miss the point of what is being communicated and taught in the process.
    It’s not that determining the proper genre for a specific book is not important, but that you can get led astray by doing do without first understanding.

    Look at it as though through the eyes of a child for the first time. Try that, and see how things appear to you from there on.

    1. I think this is a great point. I definitely look at these stories as just that…stories. They were passed down (likely verbally) as entertainment, teaching, or other reasons. I do run into so many believers who take these stories literally and try to present evidence that an ark existed and a flood happened. I just can’t wrap my head around that. All while understanding there are plenty of believers who see what you said….the “what.”

      It’s funny you mention seeing it through the eyes of a child…because as I’m reading through these stories, it’s bringing back the feelings, thoughts, questions, etc. that I started to form at a very young age.

      1. “I think this is a great point. I definitely look at these stories as just that…stories. They were passed down (likely verbally) as entertainment, teaching, or other reasons.”

        I didn’t mean to imply that what Genesis tells us isn’t true, or that it is based on mythology or allegory. I simply meant that we simply do not have enough information or details to render a decision as to *how* they occurred and in what specific fashion. And that worrying about those details causes us to lose focus on what is being taught to us.

        I explained this in a previous post to someone else, I think it applies here as well: If God was trying to explain the specifics of how a manned rocket travels to and lands on the moon, and then comes back, how would He do it in a fashion in which in primitive culture such as the Hebrews would comprehend without causing the author to write perhaps hundreds of scrolls doing so? Even to the modern layman, this topic would be difficult and boring to digest. 99% of those details are not only confusing to us but utterly irrelevant.

        Now take such topics that are largely incomprehensible in comparisons, such as the creation of the universe, the galaxies, the solar system, the earth, the animals, and mankind, and edit it down to a form that is both feasible for the author and understandable for the more primitive audience of the time.

        The biggest thing to remember is, the first several chapters of Genesis are not about how creation occurred but tells about the *Creator* Himself. That is what we should be focusing on when reading it – not busy trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

        Ultimately, God reveals what He does at His own pleasure. Who are we to say He’s wrong?

  2. “I still struggle with the vengeance the story presents. God killed all humans except 8”

    Many do, no doubt. However, there are noticeable patterns that will hopefully become noticeable to you in the future that pertain to the nature and characteristics of God, local and ‘bigger picture’ patterns that will become more noticeable if you pay attention. Some have already been revealed to you already with the Fall of Man and the Great Flood. More will come apparent throughout Genesis and repeat consistently all the way through the New Testament.

    But again, learning about the consistent nature and characteristics of God is essential for doing so. And if you are able to do so, you may find many of the events that you find disturbing and confusing to be much more understandable – something few people attempt to even try.

    But that’s enough hints for now. I will be very interested in seeing if these patterns start to occur to you as you read on. Good luck.

  3. I think you’re going through a lot of the feelings I started going through which is it’s hard to grasp a God that could be, well, such an ahole to be honest. It’s gonn as be interesting when you get all done with this if you end up having similar views I did. In order not to bias, I’ll share mine at the end

    Also, cant there be both creation and evolution? All has to start from somewhere, right?

    1. I went through these feelings already back in the day when I decided to no longer have religion in my life. So feel free to share whenever! I have a theory on good vs evil and God vs Jesus filling those different roles. We’ll see where that goes.

      And, yes, plenty of believers I talk to say they see a combination: a creator master planned everything in the beginning, and then evolution happened over time.

  4. I wish I’d had that advice when I tried reading the bible as an adolescent. I got to the people being 900 years old and I asked my (wise, religious) father what to make of it, He said, “What?! Don’t pay any attention to that, it’s not true.” It sort of deflated my whole project. If only someone had said, “Look for the meaning, don’t try to work on it being literal.”

    But then again, that shrugging flexibility made him my most accepting family member when I came out.

    1. Oh no! You didn’t make it very far, then, that’s like day 1 (if you’re starting in Genesis).

      I plan to research the concept of time in the Bible…Noah lived 900 years. People in Abraham’s line lived ~180 years. What happened between those generations? And why are we at a 75 life expectancy now? I plan to dive in.

      I’m so glad your father was accepting when you came out. I’m very fortunate with an incredibly accepting family as well. We mostly made jokes when I came out because humor is how we cope.

      1. “And why are we at a 75 life expectancy now? I plan to dive in.”

        That’s easy, poor dietary habits. Look at the Okinawans and the seventh day adventists out of Loma Linda. Centenarians galore and the lowest rates of our most chronic diseases.

        Do as they do.

    2. You two are blessed to have such understanding and supporting family members. When one of my closest friends came out, we were all very accepting because we all pretty much knew already, but it definitely took his family some time to cope. Never understood it. I’d like to think if I ever settle down and start a family, and one of my kids comes out that my first thought will be “they’re happy and healthy and that’s what’s best”.

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