Essay:Noah's Ark Was Real
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Noah's Ark Was Real
- Main Article: Noah's Ark
Did the Great Flood actually happen? Every society has a legend of a global flood and of one man, or at least a leader of a small band or family unit, that survived it. uniformitarians routinely dismiss these legends as made-up stories, begging the question of why so many disparate societies should make up the same kind of story about a prehistoric event. Among the grounds that they use for that dismissal is that no group of men, of any size, could have built, in ancient times, a massive cargo ship that could have survived the awful hydraulic catastrophe (or to use the literal Greek word, cataclysm) that the Flood was.
In 1961, John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris II wrote their seminal book, The Genesis Flood, that some observers credit with starting the creation science movement in ernest. Few people remember that Noah's Ark has been the subject of serious feasibility study since at least 1904 and arguably for more than four centuries. But Whitcomb and Morris certainly started a process that has sought to answer a number of questions about the historicity and the feasibility of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These include how God created the heavens, the earth, and humankind, what sort of event the global flood was, and finally, how Noah and his family survived it.
This is to say that creation science has found an answer to the last question. The answer is: Noah's Ark was definitely real, definitely was as large as stated, and definitely would have served the stated purpose.
Genesis 6-8 tells the story of the global flood, the building of the ark, and Noah's voyage in it. The salient points of the narrative are these:
- God gave warning to Noah 120 years in advance of sending the Flood. Noah therefore had that long to build the ark.
- God told Noah to build the ark of wood and to coat it with pitch inside and out.
- God gave Noah explicit dimensions for the ark: 300 by 50 by 30 cubits.
- God told Noah to build the ark with three decks, with a topmost weather deck (intended solely as a roof, not a deck for walking) with one cubit of ventilation clearance.
- The ark was to carry eight adults (Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives) and at least two of every created kind of animal then on the earth.
- On the appointed day, God commanded Noah and his family to load the animals on board, and to board the ark themselves. This they did, whereupon God Himself shut them in.
- The Flood waters rose steadily and buoyed the ark off its resting place.
- The waters covered all points on the earth to a minimum depth of fifteen cubits.
- The flood covered the earth for 150 days.
- God sent a wind to blow on the earth while the ark was afloat.
- The ark came to rest "in the mountains of Ararat."
- The ark had at least one window, through which Noah sent out first a raven, and then a dove. He made three trials with the dove, and in the third trial the dove did not return.
- Noah then "removed the covering" of the ark to look out on the earth.
- Finally, God commanded Noah to disembark and unload the animals, which Noah did.
Any concept of the ark must conform to, or at least be consistent with, each of these points.
The chief objection to the idea of the ark is that no society, among the first of the ancient superpowers (Sumer, ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, etc.) ever built a ship nearly as large as the ark, nor do any artifacts remain of the antediluvian civilization to suggest that it was any more technologically advanced than were the post-Flood powers.
This objection raises two issues:
- What technology did Noah have available to him?
- What technology would have been required to build a ship all of wood to suit the requirements?
The second issue relates to another, more serious objection: could a vessel so large, made all of wood, stay afloat? The common reason to doubt that it could is that a vessel with a single layer of planking for a hull would warp, allowing water to pour in through the seams and sink the vessel within minutes.
Tim Lovett and the curators of the Creation Museum have suggested that the Bible, in Genesis 4 , suggests a minimum level of technology that would have been available to Noah. Specifically, Tubal-Cain, son of Lamech the Murderer, is credited with introducing metallurgy to antediluvian civilization. So Noah would at least have had metal corner braces available to use at key points in his design.
The maximum level of technology might not at first seem apparent. However, a number of out-of-place artifacts, some of which are buried in the geologic strata that the Flood likely left behind, suggest that antediluvian technology might in fact be more advanced than most students of the Flood story have previously believed. In fact, novelist and Project Apollo historian Shane Johnson has suggested that antediluvian society was far more advanced even than modern civilization today. In that case, Noah still would have built his ark of wood, because God told him to, but would have had available to him a composite wood that would have been stronger than the wood of any single tree.
Lovett, however, explicitly denies that any technology more advanced than that of ancient Egypt, with some metallurgy included for good measure, would have been required. He has diligently worked out a hull design including multiple layers of planks, with crossed seams, that would have held the water out and also withstood the structural stresses that the ark must have undergone.
Johnson points out that more than sixteen hundred years passed between Creation and the Flood—the same amount of time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of modern man to the point of landing teams of explorers on another celestial body. Twentieth century man could certainly build something like the ark—and, says Johnson, pre-Flood man might have been far more advanced, being so much closer to Adam's original state, not having the burden of multiple generations of downward genetic drift.
But as Lovett points out, such an advanced civilization would also have many other ships. The Flood would then have wrecked them all. That it wouldn't have wrecked the ark as well might have required a miracle—and perhaps we should borrow a turn-of-phrase from William of Occam and suggest that one ought not multiply miracles without sufficient reason.
In sum: we cannot know how advanced antediluvian civilization was. But the Bible presents enough hints that Noah had all the technology he needed to build a suitable vessel.
The Bible says nothing of the materials of the ark other than that the wood was called "gopher wood" and that it was covered with "pitch." The meaning of the phrase gopher wood is lost. Some commentators have tried to suggest various single-species woods as candidates for this "gopher wood." The Geneva Bible suggested pine; the New International Version suggested cypress.
Johnson suggested that Noah used a wood composite. Lovett knows nothing of Johnson's ideas but rejects out-of-hand the notion that any composite timber would be necessarily stronger than any single-tree timber that Noah might have had available to him. (However, Noah would not have used pine; pine is not nearly dense enough for such a job.)
Lovett does admit that perhaps Noah used a laminated wood. But neither does he state that lamination would be required for all elements of ark construction.
Lovett emphasizes that the proportions of the ark strike the best balance among the competing considerations of strength, stability, and a quality that he calls "sea-keeping" that affects the comfort of the passengers and, in this case, the cargo of animals that the ark carried. A taller ark might capsize; a longer ark might literally rupture amidships; and a wider ark would roll so badly that it might kill everyone and everything aboard.
Many other detractors of the ark story might subconsciously be reacting to the typical and unfortunate concept of the ark that far too many children receive in their Sunday Bible studies. The ark depicted in most children's versions of the Flood story resembles nothing so much as a claw-footed bathtub with a simple rectilinear house built on top. The proportions alone dictate that this cannot be an accurate shape.
The Bible does not tell us the shape of the ark. Whitcomb and Morris (and, for that matter, Johnson) assumed that it was a box, like a modern barge. Lovett, however, uses clues from the designs of ancient Greek and Roman ships and suggests that these ancient shipwrights probably copied many of their design elements from the ark. These include a protuberance below the waterline that shifts the center of water pressure toward that end, and a rigid sail, usually at the opposite end of the vessel. If sail and protuberance are so placed, then the ark would tend to turn with the sale away from the wind and waves and thus avoid the uncomfortable position of "broaching to," or being broadside to the wind and sea.
As previously mentioned, Lovett suggested that Noah would have had available to him a sensible solution to the problem of building a hull of sufficient strength that would also keep the water out. Instead of laying all the planks in one direction, Noah might have built the hull in three layers, each with planks running at a different angle. Such a hull would not warp and would therefore hold the water out. It would also be strong, as ancient ships' hulls generally were.
The unit of measure given in the Bible is the cubit, which literally is the length of a man's arm. If it were the length of a typical post-Flood man's arm, then it would have been little longer than 18 US Customary inches. But Lovett points out that even such a short base unit would have yielded an ark that was 450 by 75 by 45 feet, or 1,518,750 cubic feet—quite enough volume to carry two of every created kind of animal, if not necessarily two of every species.
Some have objected that brachiosaurs would never fit in such an ark. A fully-grown adult brachiosaur would not, but a young brachiosaur would.
Furthermore, the ark was likely much larger. Johnson assumed that the actual cubit used was as long as twenty-four inches. That, of course, is fiction. But the Babylonians used a royal cubit that was almost that long; the Egyptian royal cubit was somewhat shorter. At least two different cubits, a long and a short, are recorded as used by the Hebrews. Lovett assures his readers that a larger ark, built to a longer cubit, would have been able to withstand its structural stresses—and would in addition have allowed enough deck-to-deck clearance for the inclusion of mezzanine decks that would have made the job of caring for and feeding the animals that much easier.
According to the Bible, the ark had a door. It would need one, because this ship, unique in the history of shipbuilding, would not be able to load through hatches in the weather deck. But the door would not likely have been on the lower deck. It would have been on the upper deck, well above the waterline.
Lovett reminds us that the Hebrew word used for "door" never meant anything other than an ordinary, side-hinged door. Noah probably accessed it by climbing a system of ramps from ground level.
Once closed, that door likely never opened again. When the ark landed, the Bible says that Noah "removed the covering" from the ark. This probably means carving out a hole, either in the weather deck or, more likely, in the hull at lower-deck level, which would be ground level.
The window was not an ordinary window. That word probably referred to the ventilation system on the weather deck.
Launching the ark
Noah did not launch the ark in the same sense that a post-Flood shipwright would. Noah knew that the water would come to the ark.
The Bible gives few clues to the nature of the Flood, or to how quickly the Flood waters rose. They probably did not rise slowly and gradually like a river that overflows its banks and never stops rising. The only thing in modern experience remotely close to the Flood would be a tsunami. Even that might not have done the Flood justice. Johnson suggested that the Flood might have come as a wall of water, 1.5 to 2.0 kilometers high. If antediluvian civilization had the technology of shipbuilding, then it had ships, and the Flood must have wrecked them all. Why, then, did it not wreck the ark instead of merely buoying it up?
Of course, antediluvian civilization need not have had shipbuilding for Noah to build his ark. The ark could therefore have been the very first ship ever built, and hence an even stranger object for Noah's neighbors to gawk at until the end came.
Lovett suggests that Noah might have chosen a hilltop site on a peninsula. We might never be able to map the pre-flood continents in great enough detail to find Noah's original site. But mountains did not rise as high before the Flood as after, and so even the highest mountains might not have had the "timber line" that modern mountains have. Noah would logically have built the ark on the very site where he had timber readily available and in quantity. He could easily have found such timber on a mountain high enough so that at that location the Flood would arrive as a more gradually rising water level, one that would slide underneath the ark as it sat on its construction cradle and then buoy it up. Or the water would arrive as a wall, but high enough only to spill over the ark and then rise steadily and lift it when it became deep enough.
The Bible says that the waters covered the earth to a minimum depth of fifteen cubits. Lovett suggests that the ark drew that much water as it floated. This would represent half its height, and would be in keeping with modern experience with supertankers and other heavy freighters.
No one has reliable found the ark. The Bible says only that it came to rest in "the mountains of Ararat." This might or might not have had anything to do with the Mount Ararat in Turkey near the Armenian border. All we have from that site are less-than-reliable anecdotes.
But God does not generally preserve relics of His miracles. For example, we have no material from the original Cross. The Shroud of Turin has become an object of worship of the least appropriate kind. The Bible records one other "sacred" object—Moses' brass serpent—that similarly became an object of worship, so much so that King Hezekiah ordered it destroyed to put a stop to the cult that had grown up around it.
Noah's ark not only was feasible, but also is the only reason why mankind survived the greatest catastrophe (Greek cataclysmos) that the world has known since its creation. It is also the common denominator in multiple legends of a global flood and the only way that any group of people could have survived it.
- Some of these same detractors also dispute the scope or the severity of the Global Flood, forgetting that they cannot have it both ways.
- Lovett, Tim. WorldWideFlood.com. 132 Web pages. Accessed April 24, 2008.
- Johnson, Shane. Ice: The Greatest Truths Hide in the Deepest Shadows. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002. 395 pp., paperback. ISBN 1578565480
- Johnson does, however, suggest a possible solution to this dilemma: that pre-Flood man, immediately before the Flood, had simply sunk to such an appalling state of anarchy and crime that they might well have destroyed all their marvelously advanced cities before the Flood happened. Johnson even suggests that pre-Flood man had an exploratory base on the Moon—but that the base crew, after watching the destruction of the surface of the earth, wiped one another out through mutiny, mayhem, and mutual murder, except for a few survivors who in the end committed suicide. In truth, neither astronaut nor telescope has ever demonstrated any such base, which, if found, would surely be the most remarkable out-of-place artifact ever found.