I listen to a lot of podcasts. I was looking around for some new ones when I stumbled on some podcasts by How Stuff Works. One of the podcasts tackled the question “Fact or Fiction: Could Noah’s Ark Really Have Happened?” Curious about what they might have to say, I gave it a listen. They hit on some criticisms I’ve heard before — like if there really was a vapor canopy above the atmosphere, as the Bible suggests, that the increased atmospheric pressure would make human life impossible, and that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to enough water on earth to cover all the land.
They talked about the fact that flood myths appear all over the world (suggesting that it might be true), and the possibility that the flood myth was just an exaggerated account of a real flooding. Overall, not a very through discussion about the plausibility of Noah’s Ark.
But, then, right at the end it got weird and non-committal:
Also, as you mentioned, it’s just impossible – atmospherically, meteorologically – for the water to have risen to the point that [it covered the] top of a mountain … [Robert Ballard] went diving at the bottom of the Black Sea to see if he could find any remains [of the Ark], and he didn’t. But, that’s not to say that the Ark didn’t exist, and it was never built. It could be simply that it wouldn’t have sunk into the Black Sea. Perhaps there was a different locale. And, so, really comes down to a question of ‘how much evidence do people really need?’ It sounds like it comes down to question of faith … So, if you want some empirical answer to whether or not the Ark existed, you could simply say, “the wood disintegrated”. Or skeptics could say, “It never really did happen.” But, we know for sure that there was the possibility that the world could have flooded based on the annual rise and fall of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, or there could have been an ice-cap. Whether or not anyone built an Ark to withstand the flood is a question that I think people have to answer on their own.
I see this all the time with popular magazines and television. They present a little bit of information – hopefully, stuff that people haven’t heard before so that they look knowledgeable and informative – and then retreat to a totally bogus non-committal conclusion so that they can please everyone, and not anger the religious people who actually think the flood was a historic event.
First of all, it’s obvious non-sense that the annual flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates or an ice-cap could cause a global flood. Maybe she meant that those things could’ve caused a local flood that was greatly exaggerated, or maybe she was looking for anything that could superficially justify “we know for sure that there was the possibility that the world could have flooded”. Based on the editing of the clip, I had to wonder if management forced them to go back and sound more conciliatory towards global-flood believers. (I can only imagine the kind of hate mail they would receive if they actually said that Noah’s Ark was fiction.)
How do we know that Noah’s Ark didn’t happen?
There are already a bunch of arguments out there about Noah’s Ark that I’m not going to discuss because they’ve already been discussed to death. They include:
– Could a person in 2350 BC build a wooden ship 450 feet long that was sea-worthy? (The only known wooden ship approaching this size was the USS Wyoming. It was 450 feet long, completed in 1909, and the water tended to flex the planks in high seas so water seeped in and had to be pumped out.)
– Could Noah fit all the world’s animals on that boat, including space for food?
Instead, I think the bigger problems for Noah’s Ark are:
(1) The Bible goes into quite a bit of detail about ancestral lineages, and how old people were when they gave birth to the subsequent generation. This allows us to calculate backwards and figure out when the global flood supposedly happened. According to the Bible, the date of the global flood ends up being around 2350 BC. This date is simply not realistic. Ancient civilizations go back earlier than that. Egypt, for example, has a series of dynasties leading back to 3000 BC. (See my post “Creationism versus Archeology”.)
(2) If the 2350 date were correct, then human civilization would’ve had to undergo an extreme population explosion in the millenium following the flood. According to Biblical sources, there would have been millions of Jews leaving Egypt, so assuming a global population of 40 million around that time (~1350 BC), and comparing that to global population estimates later in history (an estimated 200+ million by 0 AD), would require an incredibly high population growth between 2350 BC and 1350 BC (5,000,000 fold increase in 1,000 years), and a much lower population growth after 1350 BC – usually less than 5 fold population growth within any 1,000 year period between 1350 BC and 1800 AD.
(3) The distribution of animals is not what we would expect if there were a global flood killing all life. If all life was limited to the top of a mountain in the Middle East in 2350 B.C., then how to explain the distribution of animals across the world? All the kangaroos on the Ark went to Australia? How did the animals get to the Americas? If they crossed via an ice-bridge in the Bering Strait, then the Americas should be limited to animals that are warm blooded and capable of traveling hundreds of miles across snow. This means no reptiles, no spiders, etc. Yet, the Amazon contains a wide variety of animal biodiversity. And why didn’t American desert animals stay behind in the deserts of the Old World? (See related post: “Creationism versus Animal Biodiversity”)
(4) Genetic evidence shows that human beings are far to genetically diverse to be descended from a single family in 2350 B.C. If Noah’s Ark were true, then all men alive today would’ve gotten their Y-chromosomes from Noah, and all human mitochondrial DNA would come from Noah’s wife and the three daughter-in-laws. Studies of the human Y-Chromosome show that you’d need far more than 4,300 years to accumulate that many mutations. Human beings could not be descended from a single male in 2350 B.C. What the studies show, instead, is that, in order to explain the number of mutations in the human Y-Chromosome, you have to allow for roughly 60,000-90,000 years. Similarly, human mitochondrial DNA requires roughly 160,000 years to accumulate that many mutations — showing that Eve could not have lived 6,000 years ago as the Bible says. (See Carl Zimmer’s article on Y-Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve.)
(5) If the entire human race were repopulated from a single family in the Middle-East in 2350 B.C., then we would expect the highest levels of genetic diversity to be in the Middle East. Populations who moved to Africa, Europe, Australia, etc would carry only a subset of that genetic diversity with them. In reality, the highest levels of human genetic diversity occur in Africa. For example, the Khosian (in South Africa) have some of the most diverse genetics. If the Bible predicted Noah’s Ark landing on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, genetic diversity would at least align with the Biblical story. Unsurprisingly, humans appear to have arisen in the same location as our closest genetic relatives – chimpanzees and gorillas. (See National Geographic’s Genographic Project, which uses genetics to trace the migration paths of humans over the past 200,000 years.)
I suppose young earth creationists could side-step issues two and three by invoking miracles. For example, they can say that God miraculously allows a population explosion, and God miraculously moved animals back to their original locations (after miraculously moving them to the Ark in the first place — afterall, it’s not reasonable to suggest that Noah gathered all the world’s animals). Flood-believers already have to invoke a whole series of miracles (God sending enough rain to cover the earth, God talking to Noah, God removing the excess water from the earth after the flood, etc). Of course, if you add enough divine miracles to your story, nothing is “unreasonable”. However, it would be odd to say the other three can be cleared up by invoking a miracle — it’s not understandable why God would want to do a miracle in those cases (unless he was trying to deliberately obscure that a flood happened).
So genetics and archeology show that Noah’s Ark didn’t happen. Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims might suggest that Noah’s Ark did happen, but it was more than 4,400 years ago (i.e. the Old Testament is wrong about that detail). It still causes problems because you’d have to push back the date tens of thousands of years in order to allow for that level of human genetic diversity.