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I don’t deal personally with a lot of literalists. In my entire teaching career I’ve only had two in my classes. Mostly it comes up with evolution which I quickly extinguish because I don’t teach biology and it was never on topic to begin with. It’s only tangential to the topic as I introduce some proofs of God’s existence and both times Creationism was brought up is because I don’t count, “the bible says its true” as a proof, it’s not it’s question begging. I know I’ve had more literalists in my courses than I’ve talked to because I have all of my INTD students take a belief quiz and one of the questions is whether or not the Bible is literally true. Again, I don’t directly cover it, except to point out that a Bible literalist would also have to be a flat-Earther.

I’ve never had the direct confrontation with a Noah’s Ark person. Literalist or not, people believe this story as though it really happened. This is because it’s one of those stories that get taught to children. Because it’s a fun story about a vengeful angry god who genocided the entire planet minus eight people, but it has animals so there’s that. That’s the hook, it’s why there are coloring books, pop-up books, and a veggie tales movie that all celebrate the time that Noah saved the animals…ignoring all of the people that died, including the little children who were also wicked and full of violence (to be fair, my 2 year old is full of violence). If you’re an adult you kind of know this story is bullshit. A world wide flood just isn’t possible. Some people claim that it was a regional flood and while that’s more plausible, it’s still not a story of a thing that happened.

However, enough people do believe it that the state of Kentucky gave a whole bunch of tax breaks so that Ken Ham’s ministry can charge 40 bucks a person to walk inside a big boat. As of right now there are no animals in the boat, just some stuffed ones, and a lot of empty space. Now, I haven’t been there I’m just reading reviews of it on Yelp and other sources, but from what I gathered even Christians thought that it was a rip off (although almost universally everyone agrees, even the atheists, that the boat is huge and impressive looking). Some reviews by Christians are even disputing how close to the Bible the entire experience is, which is funny, because it’s in-fighting between literalists.

Anyway a recent episode of Cognitive Dissonance raise a great point about the story. Typically the best evidence against the historicity of the account is to point out a few animals: the Turkey, the Penguin, and most things that live in Australia. Not one of these creatures could have been on the Ark as they couldn’t have made the journey. The Turkey, native to North America, isn’t capable of making the flight for instance. The penguin would have died on the way there from the temperature. These are problems for the story. Let us ignore those for now. Let’s pretend that they don’t matter and buy Ham’s ridiculous “kinds” explanation where he states you don’t need all of the dogs, just one dog (because they evolve?), the same with lizards and birds as well.

This is a similar explanation that Apologists (which is the most apt word for them) give in the story. They either claim something like Ham’s explanation or just “jingly keys” away. I’m willing to concede the point for just this one time. Just to be clear, I’m going to ignore the fact that Ostriches, Emus, and Kiwis–all flightless birds–we’re able to get to the Ark in time for the flood. I’m repeating it because it’s actually hard to write that down. Let’s also ignore the impossibility of the construction, that a 600 year old man (950 according to the Quran) built a 450 foot long boat, half the length of a modern US Aircraft carrier, with only one 18 inch window in it for ventilation, by himself. Also, it must have smelled terrible. We should also ignore that the boat, made out of cedar wood, would not have survived 150 days at sea. An empty ark, maybe, but a full ark would have capsizing problems due to the weight pushing it low enough for waves to get into that one window (Youle et. al 2013).

Other things to ignore are the food supply. The people are fine, they can just start eating animals but the carnivores pose a problem. You need approx. 2.5% of an animal’s mass in food to keep it alive per day. So your cow needs about 41 pounds of food (2.5% of 1660lbs-the average weight of a cow) per day for 150 days. With carnivores it’s more complicated because if the animal needs 2.5% of its weight, you need a comparative number for its food to keep that alive. For example a Puma (native only to the New World) weighs about 200lbs and requires 5lbs per day of food. Yet that 5lbs of food needs to be kept alive and will require its own 2.5 percent of whatever animal it is, remembering that a simple 5lb animal won’t suffice as it’s not all edible. We’re going to ignore that hastily researched point. Maybe, as Gary Larson in the Far Side pointed out, that’s what happened to all of the unicorns and dragons, both of which make post flood appearances in the Bible.

The problem that gets ignored, that DissonancePod raised, was the plants. God commands Noah to collect the animals but there are many plants, i.e. nearly all of them, that could not survive underwater for 150 days. They wouldn’t be able to survive being buried underneath the sediment that allegedly covered the dinosaurs. Did Noah collect cacti? California redwoods? Plants are numerous and they can’t be reduced to kinds like animals can. Sure maybe the errant fungus can survive, but we have too many plants in the world that make this story reasonable. Pineapples take forever to grow and are difficult to do so, there’s simply no way that this could have happened. Yet, most notably, plants don’t move. Noah has to physically traverse the planet in order to gather these samples. Just staring out my back window I can see about a dozen unique plants and the Bible is telling me, well nothing. The plants aren’t mentioned. At least Veggie tales explained how the cucumber survived.

Literalists can’t go to their source book for this information so they’ll probably have to resort to deus ex machina for an explanation. If that were the case, then why even bother with a boat in the first place.


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