December 1995 GM Humanist

I have long been surprised at how little of our humanistic literature actually deals with theological investigation. I have occasionally looked at important biblical stories with a question or two in mind. The Noah's Ark story is one that many creationists take very literally indeed. It goes like this:

One upon a time, people became too wicked, and the all-loving God decided to teach them a lesson. He would kill them all, and start again. This second beginning meant that someone had to survive, and the lucky man was called Noah. God thought Noah was righteous, but we never find out why.

God spoke to Noah, and told him to build a big boat, the Ark, out of gopher wood, three stories high with a single door and a single window. The crew of the Ark was to be small, consisting of Noah, his wife, three sons (Shem, Ham & Japeth) and their respective wives - eight people all told. The rest of the boat has to serve as a vast floating zoo for two of each animal on the planet, one male, one female. Noah was also to take along enough food for every animal and human on board. Noah was to work quickly, because God was going to make it rain and rain and rain until the world was completely drowned. The only survivors would be the crew of the ark and their new pets.

Noah, aged a mere 600 years old, completed his Ark of gopher wood and rounded up the animals, two by two, as instructed (or ordered?) by God. He even took on the additional burden of finding seven of every male, and seven of every female clean beast.

The rains came, and the animals, and crew floated around on the flood tide for forty days and forty nights. Even after it stopped raining the water stayed on the earth for 150 days. The Ark finally settled on top of Mount Ararat. Noah let the animals out and they all, beasts and humans alike, went off to multiply happily ever after.

God put a rainbow in the sky to show that he would never cause such a However the Ark must have been very flood again, because next time he big indeed. Some people say that it wants to kill us all, he's going to burn us to death instead.

Many creationists believe in the flood story. People have searched on the slopes of Mount Ararat in Armenia

for traces of the Ark itself, and some even claim to have found it. Could the flood story therefore really have happened as described in The Bible?

God is rather fond of changing his mind isnít he? Adam and Eve were told that they would die horribly if they ate the fruit of the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good & Evil, but they were merely ejected from Eden. Then God decides to wipe out all the people and all the otherwise innocent animals and plants too, save those chosen by Noah for the survival programme. This is the behaviour of a sociopathic serial killer.

Gopher wood always struck me as a joke: Come, Noah, go for wood, gopher more wood, gopher nails. The Ark had to be immense to fit so many animals on board, so why just the one door and window? The smell must have been appalling and most animals if not all the people on board would have died from lack of ventilation.

The precise dimensions of the Ark are lost to us, as the measurements are given in cubits. The cubit is a measurement not unlike the measurement unit known as hands among horse-breeders, and often varied from town to town,, and village to village. However, the Ark must have been very big indeed. Some commentators say it must have been at least 450 feet which is much smaller than many cargo and passenger ships currently afloat. The average city zoo would be hard pressed to fit its entire menagerie alive on board the biggest ships afloat today, the oil tankers where the crew use motor bikes to get about.

Consider the difficulties of keeping certain creatures apart, of allowing room for movement; consider the effect of rising sea levels or freshwater life.

Nothing is said of the flora for that matter; many plants would have bee wiped out by the rising waters and not all seeds would have been carried through the storm to repopulate the desert globe.

Some pictures of the event have the animals coming voluntarily to the Ark but the bible says Noah was to fetch them. So how did Noah catch the animals, especially in places like Australia and South America? Some Creationists might say that the flood waters carried the Ark around to the countries that had not yet seen too much rain but Genesis days that all the animals were happily on board before the rain came. One theory I have come across is based on the line Genesis I:9 about the waters being gathered in one place and the land being gathered in a separate place. Coupling this with modern theories of continental drift Creationists believe all the continents to have been united, and separated only by some cataclysm like the Flood. However, the Flood story says nothing of the waters driving the continents apart in such a way. Nor does it explain how Noah was able to send the kangaroos and platypuses home to Oz afterwards. If the continent divided in some later catastrophe you would think someone would remembered it. No doubt some humans were able to reach islands and land-masses causeways and glacial ice which later crumbled through earthquake, etc., but most drifting had occurred long humans ever evolved.

The flood itself is one of the Bibleís most spectacular events. The waters level rose just because of rain, but also through the opening of underground and undersea springs to release the waters contained in the Earth. The flood waters would have risen at the rate of 725 feet a day for forty days until the whole planet was covered beyond the of a peak of Everest. Most land creatures would have been wiped out in the first the few days.

The human crew of the Ark must have terribly been busy feeding a million highly ~ specialised diets to the various animals, or was it all porridge, like it or lump it? The average zoo could not possibly cope using a staff of eight, if even if the public were not allowed to visit. This zoological and veterinarian work was on top of crewing the Ark through the worst storm in human history (Whoops, did I say history?), and cleaning up after seasick animals. This was no pleasure cruise: Such good surfing waves and no time to enjoy it!

The storm over, there were still a a hundred and ten days of floating around to go. Finally. the Ark strikes dry land at Mount Ararat, and the animals would appear to have been left to find their new homes without help from Noah, as everyone gets down to some serious multiplying, not to mention the long and difficult homeward travels faced by some.

The Ark then disappeared from view until discovered by a Creationist "archaeologist" .

Every race of humans has ~ experienced a flood at some time. Early human communities had to settle within twenty walking miles of a source of fresh drinking water that wouldn't dry up, so major river valleys such as the Nile, Indus, Ganges or Jordan were idea. Inevitably, such rivers flood from time to time, so that it is no surprise that early cultures all have legends associated with great floods. Perhaps the melting of the glaciers of the last ice-age even caused from time to time a sudden, global rise in sea

level. The flood stories found in the religions of many peoples may well share a common origin in a particularly memorable and disastrous flood. There would, however, have been no chance of any single flood having killed all but a single boat load he of animals.

The Genesis myth would seem to have been drawn from that of the Mesopotamians who have a similar story with an Ark and a terrible flood in the Gilgamesh saga.

Why do Creationists maintain a belief that there really was a flood, an ark and a Noah? What difference would it make to the Bible narrative as a whole if it passed straight from Cain and Abel to Abraham and family?

Creationists, fundamentalists and many other believers feel that if we undermine any part of the Bible, then we might as well discard the lot, as it would no longer serve as the infallible Word of God.

The Flood story serves as part of the defence case against the dreaded a Charles Darwin, and a variety of palaeontologists, geologists and other scientists. These scientific types claim that the evidence in the ground at our feet shows that the world was never made in six days, but developed over at least four and half billion years with nary a designer or architect in sight, and for most of that period, people and animals were nowhere in sight. Scientists say that any time traveller setting co-ordinates for a meeting with Adam on the sixth day of the planet's history would be frazzled to oblivion like a spit on a griddle in the molten lava that was the still-cooling surface . of the planet.

The same scientists say that before humans and other mammals became dominant, the world was inhabited by reptiles called dinosaurs, some very large, who died off before they got to meet us and eat us. They keep on finding bits of bone and even eggs belonging to these creatures. The Creationists are very embarrassed by this. If these creatures were for real, why did they die off? Why didn't Noah round up a pair of diplodocuses or pterodactyls? The fact is that dinosaur bones prove that Noah's Ark is a myth. Creationists try a number of arguments to discredit anyone making this formidable factual assertion. Some say in all seriousness that the dinosaur bones were planted by God in the fossil record to test the faith of the faithful. Those of us who prefer to believe that the dinosaurs were real, and that Noah wasn't, have failed the corpse test, and we will therefore burn in Hell.

The idea that an open, honest and loving God could test the faith of the masses by making bones that look as though they are millions of years older than they really are is utterly bizarre. What he is doing is creating evidence for his own non-existence and then asking his chosen people to deny the evidence of their own eyes and say that he really exists anyway. The argument expects a considerable leap of faith and an acceptance of the blatantly ludicrous.

Some Creationists say that the dinosaur bones are an elaborate conspiratorial hoax perpetrated by palaeontologists who are apparently able to plant man made dinosaur bones under veritable mountains and find them again later....

One Creationist cited the famous Piltdown Man hoax to me as proof of this conspiracy. Because this fossil consisted of an orang-utan jawbone attached to a human skull of no great age, it was alleged that all fossil finds are similar hoaxes. One might On just as well say that because the Turin Shroud was proved a fake, therefore Jesus, ipso facto, did not exist either. The Piltdown hoax was perpetrated on scientists, and it was scientists who proved it a hoax, not Creationists.

Another explanation for fossil remains put forward by Creationists is that the flood waters threw around the corpses of the drowned animals and pressed them into the earth as they so settled, distorting the bone shapes and compositions. Another non-starter, since flood water throws things about randomly, whereas the layered deposits discovered by many fossil hunters and geologists demonstrate a periodic dying-out of creatures through geological time.

Creationists have a limited range of responses to such damming evidence. They may say "Lies, lies, lies, damn you all to Hell." Or they may say, "Very well, let's drop Noah's Ark." But wait: if Noah goes, then the word of God is flawed, written by men, or least that bit is. So what about the other bits of Genesis, and the Bible as a whole?

On 17 September 1992 the Guardian reported that an Australian called Adam Newman completed his fourth Ark in a twenty-eight-year history of boat-building. One of these arks is his own house, watertight and at least apparently seaworthy. He has been making them since God told him he should. He has only a cat, a few pigeons and several rats on board. Perhaps Adam Newman knows something we don't.

Arthur Chappell Readers may like to read more about the complexities of Genesis. Try In the Beginning by the late Isaac Asimov, New English, Library, 1981, or The Unauthorised Version by Robin Lane Fox, Penguin 1992

Arthur Chappell