The biblical story of Noah's Ark cannot withstand scientific scrutiny

Stabroek News
July 6, 2001

Dear Editor,

The letter pages of the newspapers are fast becoming a forum for complaints about bad roads, poor street lighting and clogged drains. It's either disgruntled citizens complaining or politicians repeatedly staging reruns of worn out issues; I swear I will burn tyres or rip up streets if I read another letter about power sharing!

The recent evolution/creation letter exchange was welcomed as I am sure many young readers were exposed for the first time to the various ideas being explored about human beginnings.

The "Christian science mentality," prevalent in the United States, has found its way to Guyana and believers who tread this route are walking on thin ice.

Unappreciative of the rigorousness of scientific evaluation, some people have challenged the discipline to examine and disprove their mythical stories. Science agreed, but only to evaluate those stories which creationists have ranked as logically equal to scientific theory.

One story which plays a central role in the fossil record and the evolution/creation debate is that of Noah, his ark and a worldwide flood.

Geologists know that fossils are distributed in layers with the oldest at the lowest degree and the more recent ones at uppermost levels. For instance, they do not expect to find dinosaur fossils with humans' as millions of years separate the existence of these two species. The only way fossils are mixed is if there was massive earth movement as in the upheavals that occur during an earthquake.

Radiometric dating and other data from these materials make scientists believe that the fossil record took many millions of years to form.

Creationists disagree. They posit that the earth was "created" only 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. To explain the layering of fossils they point to the Genesis story of Noah.

In this story a 40?day rainfall flooded the entire planet for 371 days. But before this, God had commanded Noah to build an ark.

Scientists believe this boat had to be big enough to house thousands of species of animals and about 1 million species of insects and enough food to feed them all for just over a year. Besides that it had to be quite sturdy to withstand the deluge; Noah's big boat could not stop anywhere for maintenance and repair.

When the waters finally receded, creationists say, animals not aboard the ark were buried in sequence; first the sea creatures, next the slow moving amphibians and reptiles, then faster animals and finally, humans. Creationists are fully aware that the vertical columns of fossils unearthed by geologists correspond to this order.

Scientists began by converting the cubit dimensions outlined in the Bible into feet and inches. They measured the ark to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Ship architects found the ark to be about 150 feet too long for a seaworthy vessel made of wood; it would have warped and stresses would have caused the hull to leak and the big boat to sink.

The ark had only one door and a window which were closed throughout the long trip restricting light and air movement. This would have created an almost unlivable environment inside the crowded ark.

Some creationists quickly interjected that eggs rather than a parent animal could have been brought aboard. But it was pointed out that eggs do not have an incubation period longer than 371 days. The eggs would have hatched and caring for several hundred hatchlings would have been an almost impossible task for poor Noah and his small family.

Space constraint was obviously a serious problem. Room had to be found for a food supply for over a year to feed thousands of animals. Then there were enormous cages for creatures as big as dinosaurs, massive salt and fresh water tanks for fish and space for growing trees (fetched from all around the world.)

And what about animal waste products? A single elephant can produce 40 tons of manure in a year!

But more scientifically, how could the meagre gene pool of only eight people account for all the racial diversity and physical distinctions now found in the human race? Did some people change slowly perhaps? Careful now, changing slowly to acclimatise to an environment is called evolution!

Many parasites and infectious microorganisms cannot survive outside their hosts. This means that Noah and his family had to be suffering from serious diseases like small pox, syphilis and leprosy for these diseases were passed on to later humans.

And from where did all the water come? Melting the polar ice caps would raise sea levels no more than 30 feet, not enough to cover a 17,000 foot high mountain. Where did all the water go after the flood?

Creationists, perhaps regretting they invited a scientific critique, pointed out that a piece of the ark was found on Mt. Ararat in Turkey where legend has it that the ark had rested. But analysis of the wood revealed that it was not 5,000 years old; it was dated around 800 CE.

Genuine floods, as physical evidence, leave a narrow layer of sediments on the earth. Scientists could not find a single worldwide band of sedimentary deposit at a constant level in the earth. Such a find would have indicated a onetime planetary flood.

Scientists conclude that the Noah story fails under the light of scientific scrutiny as it is not consistent with experimental evidence.

They also pointed out that there are myths of worldwide floods in many cultures some even predating the Genesis story. There is the Sumerian story some ca.3,000 BCE in which the Noah character was named Zinsuddu, and the Babylonian texts told of their flood hero called Xisuthus and another called Utnapishtim. Each of these stories had similar themes of a God, secretly warning a hero about a flood, about an ark landing on a mountain and about birds being sent out to test for dry lands.

Besides, some cheeky scientists teased, why would a God who could create an entire universe not build a relatively simple boat by himself? And how can He hope to wipe evil off the face of the earth by killing all creation when he still had the old devil, Satan, the source of all wickedness just hanging around waiting to prey on Noah and his clan as soon as they stepped off the ark?

Other more gracious scientists caution that the Bible is a book of religion, not a book of science and they believe it inappropriate to hold the Bible to high scientific standards.

But some creationists still maintain that the Bible account is scientific. They plan round two with scientists. Next on the agenda: The second law of thermodynamics, the claim that dinosaurs and humans are contemporaries, that evolution has not been observed, and that random chance is not good enough as a principle for development.

Yours faithfully,
Justin DeFreitas