The Problem Of Noah’s Ark

Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.02.10. Updated 2017.08.02

When attempting to reconcile the Bible with reality, especially for those who consider the Bible to be literally true and inerrant — as I did for many years — one huge issue is the story of Noah’s Ark, found in Genesis 6-8.

It’s actually a big group of problems rolled into one three-chapter story. Only one of the problems stood out for me at first, and that was the capacity of the ark itself versus what it was required to carry for the story to make sense. Later, it didn’t help when I learned there was no geological record of a worldwide flood. But there are a dozen other issues too, which I have listed below.

For me though, the first is the most important and most damning, because it doesn’t require extensive scientific or historical knowledge and evidence. It requires only math and knowledge of animals and their eating habits.

Capacity Of The Ark

The problem is the capacity of Noah’s Ark, and which animals, exactly, were on it.

The Bible gives precise measurements for the ark (Gen. 6:15) of 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Even using the longest possible cubit (21 inches), the ark that Noah built is only 525 feet long, 87.5 feet wide, and 52.5 feet tall. Using the more standard 18-inch cubit, the ark would have been significantly smaller. With such measurements, even assuming a boxy shape — which provides for more volume than the stylized curvy designs often pictured — the largest possible interior volume would be 450,000 cubic cubits, or 2.4 million cubic feet.

To put the cubic feet into perspective, 2.4 million cubic feet is about the volume of a 13-story building that’s 133 feet wide and 133 feet long — a fairly large building by small-town standards, or a relatively small building by large city standards. For comparison, the Empire State Building’s volume is about 37 million cubic feet, and the Chicago building formerly known as The Sears Tower occupies about 53 million cubic feet.

(Perhaps obviously, the volume listed above includes the volume of the wood itself, and thick beams are assumed, which leaves somewhat less actual space for humans, cargo, and livestock. Also, the cubit is generally understood to be 18 inches, not 21.)

So, the volume of Noah’s Ark — again, I’m using the exaggerated 21-inch cubit — is equal to about 22 floors of the Sears Tower. That’s a lot of space, and would hold a lot of animals. But could it hold all of them? And all the food they needed for their trip?

Gen. 6:19 says the ark will hold “two of all living creatures”, and subsequent verses specify that this includes “two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground”. In addition, Noah was to take enough food for himself and all the animals. But wait, there’s more: Gen. 7 says seven pairs must be taken of every “clean” animal — it’s only the unclean animals that get just one pair. And also “seven pairs of every kind of bird”.

(Scripture does not explain the discrepancy, why Noah was first commanded to take two of every living creature, including specifically “two of every kind of bird”, and then just a few verses later commanded to take seven pair of every kind of bird. This could be seen by some as another problem with the story.)

How long were they in there? About a year.

Gen. 7:11-13 says the rains began on the “17th day of the second month” and “on that very day” Noah and his family entered the ark. In Gen. 8:14-18, a year later, it was “the 27th day of the second month”. Commentators disagree on how Genesis’ author measured months, but the estimates I found ranged from 364 days to 378 days. For our purposes, it’s safe to say: “About a year.” Note that the animals were in the ark seven full days longer than Noah and his family, so for them a range of 371 to 385 days.

It’s worth noting that the literal biblical believer must include dinosaurs on the ark’s manifest, since dinosaurs would have been created along with all other animals, and thus would be included in “all living creatures” that God wanted on the ark.

We don’t really know what dinosaurs ate, or how much, but the amount is a known quantity for other animals. The elephant, for example, eats about 350 lbs. of vegetation each day, so two elephants would have consumed 255,500 lbs. of food in a year. That alone fills a good bit of one floor of the Sears Tower analogy. As for cows, I found only information for dairy cows, which weren’t bred separately in the days of Noah, but they drink about 16 gallons of water per day, and eat anywhere from 50 to 100 lbs. of food each day (11,700 gallons and 55,000 lbs. of food for two cows for a year). A hippo eats 80 lbs. of grass every day (58,400 lbs. per year for two of them). I mention here only the larger animals, since their food and water would take up most of the cargo space in the ark. (A mouse, for example, would eat very little relative to any of them.)

The calculations then boil down to what “kind” means in Genesis. In other words, did the seven pairs of birds and clean animals, and one pair of every unclean animal, represent every species? Or some broader group? This is unknown.

Despite it being unknown, every Christian reference I’ve ever seen always stipulates that the “kind” is a very broad group — definitely not species, and probably genus. One popular Christian organization, which claims to have done calculations on foodstuffs needed for the ark, says some of the “kinds” brought on the ark would represent entire genera, and “the ‘kind’ may in some cases be as high as the family”. These folks then say that Noah wouldn’t have brought every type of horse or donkey or zebra aboard, but just one pair of breeding equines — which later resulted in every equine type we see in the world today (though they still insist evolution is impossible).

They go on to assume that of all the animals on the ark, most were not fully grown (especially the dinosaurs), that many of them hibernated, that the foodstuffs brought on board were “compressed and dried... and probably a lot of concentrated food”, that the floors were sloped and the cages slatted (so urine and feces could fall away — to where?), that the animals didn’t require as much space for exercise as “skeptics” assert, and other possible — but increasingly unlikely — scenarios.

Most base their assertions on John Woodmorappe’s book “Noah’s Ark: a Feasibility Study”, which assumes that Noah spent part of the preceding 100 years training thousands of animals to survive on the ark — to defecate and urinate on command into buckets, to leave cages (and return) on command, and so on. Snakes and bats, which only eat live food, were purportedly trained to eat inert food. Woodmorappe goes on to say Noah must have bred the animals prior to the flood to minimize the downsides of inbreeding after the Flood, to maximize the likelihood of hibernation, to come up with a pair of Koalas who would eat dried (rather than fresh) Eucalyptus. He acclimatized cold-blooded animals to the temperatures they would endure on the ark. Of course, he must assume all of this, because it’s the only way possible for the story to be true.

There are also quite a few inconsistencies with Woodmorappe’s book (as there are with others who have attempted similar works), such as his claim that there wouldn’t have been snails or earthworms on the ark, then elsewhere saying snails were brought for food and earthworms helped to decompose the waste of the ark’s larger animals. There are tables that purport to show how much drinking water would have been brought on board, how much heat and water vapor each animal would produce, and so on, and there are problems with these as well.

He says vegetables could have been grown hydroponically on the lowest levels of the ark, that Noah and his family could have used “luminous gems” to light their way inside.

It boils down to biblical literalists (using hundreds of contingencies like those listed above) say the ark could hold all the necessary animals, food, and water, with a little space left over, while scientists say there’s no possible way.

For me, it sounds like the author of Genesis wasn’t fully aware of the great diversity of life on the planet. Clearly he didn’t know about the Amazon rain forest, or polar bears, or the Americas, and all the types of life in those places. In truth, he probably didn’t know about dinosaurs either, since they had died out millions of years earlier. If he had known all these things, he might have accounted for them in his story.

But God must have known (if he existed), and is said to have inspired the author.

To believe the story of Noah’s Ark, as it is written, means you believe that all of today’s land animals and birds are descended from those that rode in the ark. Genetic science says there just wasn’t room to contain enough animals with enough alleles to account for the diversity of life we see today. Creationists who’ve studied this make some surprising (and unfounded) assertions about the way genes and chromosomes must have worked in Noah’s day.

Not Enough Time

There were eight humans on the ark. By the most conservative count, there were as many as 10,000 “kinds” of animals aboard, though most calculations give a much higher number, like 30,000, 50,000, or well over 100,000 (scientists). Even using the lower number, there wasn’t enough time in the day for these eight people to feed the animals.

(This is why the creationists who write books on this subject must assume that many of the animals hibernated for much of this journey, or that they were trained to feed themselves from food stores without overfeeding or trampling what was left over.)

Not Enough Light

It was dark inside the ark. At most, there were few very small windows near the top, and these were (according to the Bible) shuttered for much of the journey. It’s generally assumed that Noah and his family would have used torches or lanterns of some kind to light the way inside. (Remember, they had thousands of animals to feed and water every day.)

However, the thousands of tons of animal feces that collected inside the sealed ship would have produced enough methane to make an explosion very likely if anyone used fire. So it’s unlikely that they did.

So writers of explanatory books have come up with glowing gems and other explanations for how Noah and his family could have had light inside.

What About The Fish?

No marine animals were taken aboard because the ancient author assumed any water-dwelling creature would survive a worldwide flood just fine. Today we know that many, if not most, marine life is fairly delicate in that it cannot survive in a much-changed habitat, including changes to the salinity of the water that must have occurred with such a Flood as Noah’s. And many species of fish cannot survive in salty water at all. Others require that it be extremely salty.

What About The Insects?

Since the Bible specifies that only animals with “breath in their nostrils” went aboard the ark, insects were not included. It can be assumed that some went anyway, following the stinky animals they live near, but most would have died in the flood, leaving a nearly insect-free world today.

Authors strive to explain this by saying the insects survived on “floating mats of debris”. Biologists say this is only possible for a small percentage of insects; most would have died, making it impossible to see today’s diversity of insect life around the world.

Stack And Stacks Of Eggs

Some literalists have suggested Noah could have brought dinosaur eggs (to explain how everything fit), but there would have been no way to tell whether the incubating beasts were male or female. Further, the Bible says that the animals “came to Noah and entered the ark”, not that Noah went around collecting them. Eggs can’t find their way to the ark and get on by themselves.

Even stipulating that he did bring eggs for some creatures, there is no known species whose eggs last more than a year before hatching. Many birds (which remember, are descended from dinosaurs) require only days for eggs to hatch — two weeks for songbirds, 21 days for a fertilized chicken egg, 28 days for most ducks, 35 days for a penguin egg, and no more than 45 days for an ostrich. Among today’s reptiles, times vary — five weeks for many lizards, 65 days for alligators, 80 days for crocodiles. Among the very longest are Komodo Dragons, which incubate their eggs for seven or eight months.

Noah and his family would then have been left caring for hundreds of freshly-hatched baby dinosaurs instead of big ones they’d spent a hundred years training to sit in cages.

No Geological Record

Geologists have indeed uncovered records of extensive flooding in the Middle East, some of which coincides closely with when Noah’s Flood must have happened. However, the problem is that these floods did not occur at the same time.

The biblical record is clear: this single flood covered the entire Earth and the highest mountains thereof. It didn’t say “in this area” or use any other qualifier, which would indicate the guiding hand of an infallible, all-knowing God helping the author. Instead, the author is at pains to make sure the flood is described as covering the entire world.

Those who say the Flood story is literal must by necessity assert that all modern scientific dating methods are inaccurate, and they do assert this. They’ve even gone as far as to say that the Flood was responsible for much of the stratification of Earth’s surface, including the compression necessary for the formation of fossil fuels (since this is the only huge cataclysmic event mentioned in the Bible). So for them, with the dates in the Bible overriding the dates provided by geologists, there is a geologic record of a worldwide flood.

Further, we have historical records of ancient civilizations that existed during that time period — Young Earth Creationists typically date the flood at around 2350 BCE. For example, Egypt’s Old Kingdom flourished then, and had already been building pyramids (which show no signs of having been buried under many tons of sea water). The Egyptian civilization did not experience a gap — which it must have if there was a worldwide flood at this time. The ancient Minoans on the island of Crete are known to have had a thriving civilization as early as 2600 BCE, and evidence on Crete shows continuous occupation through the next thousand years or so — no gap from a flood. Very recent genetic tests have shown that today’s Greeks are closely related to those Minoans, which would be impossible if the flood had wiped them out and the area had to be repopulated from Noah’s descendants.

The Oxus civilization of central Asia shows continuous occupation from about 6,000 BCE through well after the alleged global flood. And perhaps the largest example is that of the Indus Valley civilization, with a population of over 5 million at its peak, which existed continuously from well before Noah’s time to well after — and which developed out of earlier cultures in the same area.

Too Much Water

The Bible says the floodwaters covered “all the high mountains under the entire heavens” to a depth of “more than 15 cubits” (about 22 feet). Where did the water come from, and where did it go?

The highest (above current sea level) mountains in the world are all in the Himalayas, 12 of them more than five miles high. Assuming there was no miraculous/magical flattening of the Earth’s landscape just before the Flood (and/or a miraculous/magical growing of the world’s tallest mountains just after it), then most of the mountains we know today existed 4,000 to 5,000 years ago — the time of the Flood.

Therefore, the amount of water necessary to cover the mountains is something like 1 billion cubic miles (4.5 billion cubic kilometers).

Gen. 7:11 says that not only rain, but “all the springs of the great deep” contributed to the mass of the water. It does not say how long the springs gushed — though Gen. 8:1-2 indicates they lasted as long as the rain — but it does say rain fell for “40 days and 40 nights”. No ratio is listed for how much water came from the rain versus from the springs. But assuming a 1:1 ratio, that means half a billion cubic miles of water came from rain, which is (divided by 40 days), about 60,000 times more than the current daily precipitation total for the world.

Here is the first major issue. The amount of water vapor necessary in the air for that much rain would have rendered the atmosphere unbreathable before the flood. That negates the necessity of the flood itself; just getting the air that saturated would have killed off nearly every living thing on Earth. All God needed to do was provide breathing apparatus for Noah’s family and a few hundred thousand animals and plants. Done.

The second major issue is that an atmosphere sustaining that much water vapor would also be drastically heavier than is normally considered survivable — perhaps 500 psi instead of the 14 or so that we live with today. Much of life on the surface would simply be crushed — if it hadn’t already drowned just from breathing.

Even if the spring-to-rain ratio was far from 1:1, the atmosphere is still a problem. Of course, the Bible doesn’t list a ratio, so almost all of the water could have come from these mysterious springs that have never been found anywhere.

Some literalists have “solved” these problems by introducing various other sources of water, including interpreting the “firmament” (found earlier in Genesis) as a giant ice or vapor canopy around the Earth that then fell as rain during this time, supposing that comets (heavy with ice, as far as we know) crashed into the planet at this time, or imagining huge underground chambers full of a billion cubic miles of water that somehow exploded out of the Earth’s crust in liquid form (in reality it would be steam). There are serious problems with all of these theories, mostly involving tremendous amounts of heat and therefore complete sterilization of the Earth’s surface of all life.

Once the water was all over the Earth’s surface, completely covering every mountain, God then “sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded... The waters receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down...” (Gen. 8:3-4). Where did it go?

One of the most popular answers provided by literalists is that all that water formed today’s current oceans. This of course requires us to believe that prior to the Flood, the oceans did not exist in their current form, and they say that too — that the power of the Flood helped create the shape of today’s ocean beds.

Sadly for them, today’s oceans contain less than a third (about 28 percent) of the necessary volume of water. That leaves the mysterious giant underground caverns that were emptied to make the flood; the water could have drained back into them.

The author could not have known about the life that marine biologists have found at the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches within my lifetime, life that can survive only at very great — and specific — pressure. These creatures could not have existed prior to the Flood if the oceans were very shallow in previous years, and would have died during the Flood due to extreme pressure increases from the sheer weight of the water required to cover the tallest mountains.

Animals From Different Climate Zones

Even stipulating the miracle of God gathering all the animals from around the entire world, many of them could not have survived the journey to the ark, nor the ride. Those from other continents would have had to be miraculously transported over the (allegedly very shallow) seas. Many, like koalas, require special diets found only in small parts of the world. Others, like some cave-dwellers, not only can’t survive in daylight, but don’t even survive when moved to a different cave. There are hundreds of these.

All types of animals from all over the world were stuffed into the same boat and expected to survive in the same climate as all the others.

Physical Limit To Wooden Ships

Also unknown to the author of Genesis, since no large wooden ships existed in his time, is that there is a physical limit to the size of wooden ships — about 300 feet. A few wooden vessels in history have been known to be longer, and all of them suffered from leakiness. The larger a wooden vessel, the more flex there is in her beams. And the more they flex, the more they leak. Wooden vessels known to be over 300 feet have all suffered this issue. Water pumps were required to keep them from sinking; even then, none of them survived for a year.

Noah’s boat would have been on much rougher seas, especially given the incredible volume of water and no land to break up the waves. It’s been estimated that some waves could reach miles in height under those circumstances.

There is zero evidence that the ark could have been “amazingly seaworthy in even the roughest seas”, as asserted by some.

Technology To Build The Ark

Counting backward from today using ages and dates in the Bible, the event is dated to about 2350 BCE, or more generally, 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. This is smack in the middle of the Bronze Age. Shipbuilding was known at the time, but not in the modern sense.

Egyptians, for example (whose kingdom arose long before the Flood and continued through 2350 BCE without apparent interruption), were sailing in boats like the Khufu ship — which was sealed into a pyramid around 2500 BCE and discovered in 1954 CE. It was 143 feet long and 19.5 feet wide, and like most boats at the time it was intended for navigating rivers and small seas, not wide open oceans. It wasn’t until much later that large ocean-going vessels were developed. Even then, they kept very close to the landmasses where they originated. The majority of boats on Earth were hollowed-out logs or rafts made of reeds, though a few cultures had begun to build hulled boats with wooden planks.

This is relevant to the story of Noah since no technology existed at the time for building such a large vessel. There were no shipyards capable of building such a ship, and few large trees with which to make giant wooden beams — it is supposed by almost everyone that Noah would have built the ark in what is now Iraq. Even using the smallest cubit size (18 inches), the Ark would have been the largest wooden ship ever built, requiring more trees than were likely available.

Assuming Noah and his sons traveled to a far off wooded land or miraculously grew a forest of cypress (“gopherwood” in the Bible is often understood to be cypress) right there in the desert, the time taken to fell the trees and form beams would have been tremendous. (All during the time Noah was supposedly training the animals to hibernate and poop into buckets.)

Metal tools were available in the day, though not yet iron or steel; just bronze. It wasn’t terribly conducive to chopping down 10,000 trees and forming them into beams. Constantly replacing tools that had blunted and broken would have been a major time-consumer as well.

And perhaps most astonishing of all is that Noah had the know-how to built such a giant floating structure. You can’t simply nail a bunch of beams together and expect the whole thing to be solid when it starts floating. The largest wooden ships known to history (all from the 1800s CE) were the result of hundreds of years of practice, apprenticeships, and compounded knowledge of how to fit the beams together properly and how to alleviate stresses on the joints. And they all leaked, and none of them lasted very long.

Once Noah and his family gained this know-how, taking ship-building from a non-existent art to the peak of perfection, unknown to the rest of the world, they completely abandoned the knowledge as soon as the floodwaters retreated. Obviously, they had to spend a few years building new homes, growing the first-ever post-flood crops, and making sure the animals returned to the many continents safely, not to mention having a bunch of descendants to result in modern humanity. But Noah lived 350 years after the flood; his sons even longer. They did not pass on their superior shipbuilding knowledge to any of their descendants, who (according to archeological finds) went right on building small wooden rafts and reed boats until many hundreds of years later.

Replenishing The Earth

Perhaps the primary responsibility of Noah and his family after the flood was to have children. Lots and lots of children. (In case this isn’t obvious to the reader, Genesis specifically clarifies in 9:19: “from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth”.)

Some critics have trouble with this because the global population is said to have remained steady throughout that time period, but it’s easy to counter that those population statistics are just educated guesses. And they don’t agree with each other. One set says the population grew from 44 million to 72 million during the 3000-2000 BCE period, while another estimate shows a growth from 14 million to 27 million over the same time period.

According to the Bible, Noah’s three sons provided him with 16 grandsons. No daughters are listed, but we can assume they were there too; otherwise the race dies out quickly. That gives us a generation of (guessing) 32 people, giving us an increase of 5.3 times the previous generation of six people. If that rate held, then the second generation born after the flood has 171 people. The third, 905. The fourth, 4,794. In fact, if that same rate of birth continued, the 10th generation after the flood could easily have over 100 million people. And, with all the long-living going on, many older generations would still be around too, putting the population closer to 125 million after just 10 generations — even assuming older first-time mothers, 10 generations is only 300-400 years.

So, if the sheer numbers aren’t the problem, what is? There are actually two problems.

One is that the archeological record doesn’t support a huge decrease in human population around this time. There is also no apparent gap in written history, which had begun to emerge in Egypt and Sumeria by this time.

Another problem is DNA. Geneticists have determined that humans have “virtually identical” DNA, compared to other species like chimps, but still far too much genetic diversity to have come from five people 4,000 years ago. (Five, because Noah’s three sons would have had the same genetic material as their parents. Only Noah, his wife, and his three daughters-in-law would have [presumably] had unique DNA.)

A recent study points to a “genetic bottleneck”, but of about 2,000 people and about 70,000 years ago. A group of five people, even assuming no repeated genes, couldn’t account for the genetic diversity among humans today.

No Plant Life On Earth

Except for the plants (and hopefully seeds) that Noah brought on the ark with him, there would have been no plant life left on the planet after the flood. Not only were all land-based plants buried under vertical miles of water — which would have crushed them to bits — but it was salt water — even if diluted by freshwater rains.

Plenty of kinds of plants — including their seeds and spores — would have died during the extended submersion. Other plants do not reproduce by seeds (like the St. Augustine grass in my back yard) and would have been wiped out completely.

Further, most who believe the Bible is literal truth credit the Flood with shaping the planet as we know it, including raising mountain ranges, depositing miles of sediment, and even carving giant canyons like the Grand Canyon as the water drained off. Such an ecological upheaval would not have left a living plant on the surface, certainly not what we know as forests, grasslands, etc. In fact, all of that is what was buried by the flood to form fossil fuels, according to the literalists.

Noah, his family, and the animals would have exited the ark after one year to a completely broken ecosystem: no grasses for the larger animals to graze, no forests or jungles in which the monkeys could take up residence, or trees on which the birds could perch (nor branches or twigs for them to build nests).

Assuming Noah brought seeds on the ark, it would have been years before anything resembling living space would be available to the animals on board. This means the ark had to have contained extra years worth of food — something to sustain them while waiting for all new plants to grow.

And remember, there are hundreds of thousands of kinds of plants today. Noah wouldn’t have gotten by with a few jars of seeds or even a wall of drawers. A great portion of the ship must have been devoted to storing and organizing these seeds, keeping them in perfect condition for sprouting after the flood (not to mention living samples of non-seed-bearing plants in complete darkness for a year). And all of these new plants would have to be able to survive in the ecosystem near where the ark landed — unless Noah built a new, unmentioned ship to transport the seeds to the various continents.

Preponderance Of Ancient Flood Stories

At first glance, it might seem like supporting evidence for the Bible’s Flood story that other cultures — a great many of them — described an ancient flood that destroyed the world and saved only a small number of humans.

However, in light of the problems with the story listed above, it seems much more likely that the biblical author of the Flood story was simply passing on a longstanding cultural myth — something everyone at the time would have accepted as fact, and then stamping the YHWH imprint on top of the popular story.

Even if certain aspects of the story aren’t literally true, it’s reasonable to suppose there could have been a humanity-endangering flood at some point in the distant past. If so, stories of the survival would have been passed down orally through many generations, likely picking up embellishments along the way.

As humanity spread throughout the world and written language was developed, it also seems reasonable that various scribes would have set down this important story in writing. Each culture would have added its own touches. The Israelite writer of Genesis would have worked it into the framework of the current YHWH religion.

The Moral Problem

For many people, this problem would be listed first. The problem is the morality of God’s genocide.

Genesis 5, the chapter before the Flood story begins, lists the descendants of Adam. Every male listed, including Adam (but not Noah), had unlisted “other sons and daughters”. Unless we assume that only the sons of the named men lived, which would be silly, then we must assume that the “other sons and daughters” were marrying and having children as well. If “sons” (plural) means two or more and “daughters” (plural) means two or more, then these folks were having a lot of children. The point of this paragraph is that by Noah’s time, the Earth — or at least the area immediately surrounding the original Garden of Eden — would have been somewhat heavily populated. Conservative estimates show that a million people could have easily existed by Noah’s time. In fact, Genesis 6 begins by mentioning that “human beings began to increase in number on the earth” Unexplained is that “the sons of God” also fathered children by the “daughters of humans”; perhaps those half-god-half-human people (YHWH’s grandchildren) lived on Earth too.

Even if we accept YHWH’s pronouncment that humankind had become too evil for him to accept, we cannot accept that newborns, infants, toddlers, and children could be included in this number. But YHWH did include them in that number. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention children here, which it would have if none had existed at the time — this would have been an easy out on the moral question of killing thousands or millions of children, just adding a few words: “God made sure no one gave birth for a few years, so no children were killed in the flood.” But it doesn’t say that. It several times makes clear that “all the people”, “all mankind”, “every living thing on the face of the Earth” was killed.

We are to believe that every child, every baby on the Earth at the time was “wicked” and deserved to die by drowning. It’s not a stretch, if you believe the Bible; God often killed women and children for the sins of their husbands and fathers, or ordered them to be killed. But it is a stretch to modern, Western morality, if you then insist this same God is moral and just.

For some people, me included, this point alone means either that the story is not true, or that the God of this story is not worth worshipping.


In light of various known facts — including physical limits of wooden ocean-going vessels, the genetic diversity of life on Earth today, the size of the Earth (and thus the volume of water necessary to cover it), written histories from Egypt and other ancient societies, the pressure-sensitive nature of deep-sea fish, and the dating of geological flood records in various parts of the world — it’s almost inconceivable that the biblical flood story is literally true.

I say “almost” because biblical literalists have one ace in the hole: miracles.

There is an almighty God behind all of this, they affirm. That indeed could explain a lot. If He created the universe out of nothing, He could certainly create water out of nothing, and then make it disappear later. There is no question he could have protected the animals from various climates, held the ark together, provided food stuffs (like the “manna” He brought to the Israelites in the wilderness), and miraculously saved certain plants on the surface under all the water until the floodwaters receded. If you stipulate this deity, then all of it is possible.

Even if I stipulate miracles for each of these problems, it’s an improbable way to go about things. As I mentioned near the bottom of another page, God would have had no reason to perform so many miracles to accomplish his purpose. He could have used his power just once — kill all the unrighteous people, for example.

If I suppose an almighty, all-knowing God, I simply cannot suppose one that (1) foreknew how badly the Genesis author would tell the story, and therefore (2) made it happen just that way. Nor can I suppose that this God would create such an event on purpose and then (perhaps jokingly?) make sure to cover all traces of such an event by confusing the geological evidence, making sure no one ever found the decayed ark itself, causing Noah and his family to mysteriously forget how to build gigantic ships, adding species into the mix later, and so on — just so the Flood story would seem implausible.

This is the updated version of this page. To see the original version, click here. Known edits are listed below.

• EDIT, 2016.01.23: Added link to original version of this page. Moved in-page navigation to top of the More menu. Added link to this Edits section in the More menu. Reworded next-to-last paragraph of Capacity section. Reworded second sentence of Time section. Added the Moral Problem section

• EDIT, 2017.08.02: Added meta tags into header (invisible to most readers). Added information about ancient Minoans and other civilizations, in the Geological section.

Next: What I Believe

Or, use the More menu to navigate.

comments powered by Disqus