God’s biggest fail in the Bible is Noah’s Ark and the Flood.
And it caused me to lose my Christian faith.
A very kind, generous, and well-intended Christian friend gave my family some toys their child outgrew and it included a Noah’s Ark clock intended to be hung in a child’s bedroom (pictured above). In the center of the clock is a bald, 60-ish Noah with a long white beard holding a large green golf umbrella on the deck of the Ark. A male zebra stands to Noah’s right and a female zebra to his left. Behind the male zebra two giraffes twist their necks so we can see their confused faces and behind the female zebra one self-conscious elephant who doesn’t seem to know what to do with his trunk squeezes into the scene. There are three portholes in the ark. The first has a pair of snakes assessing two nervous blue birds. The second porthole features a baboon couple with school picture smiles. The third porthole has two human-sized, enigmatic bunnies staring creepily out the window (Donnie Darko allusion?). The happy ship bobs in the water beneath a huge rainbow framing the scene.
The Precious Moments cuteness of the Noah’s Ark scene that decorates many Evangelical Christian baby bedrooms and church nurseries censors crucial details from the biblical account. Hysterical mothers holding up babies pleading with Noah to save their baby do not appear. Neither do the bloated bodies of children floating face down in the water. We don’t see men and women scrambling up trees and hills to prolong their lives by a few more moments, hours, or days. Also missing is the 600 pound pile of dung the elephants produced that day. And that is just the elephants. Evangelical Christians repress the biblical account of the twisted sadistic actions of their psychopath God into a saccharine sweet story for babies.
I believed in a Literal, Historical Noah’s Ark & Flood Until I was 50
Noah’s Ark and the flood increasingly conflicted with what I believed to be historically, scientifically, and ethically true. But I continued to believe in a Historical Noah until I was 50 years old. Sometimes I feel so stupid for having believed this for so long. But I’m not stupid. I have one undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I am very curious, read and learn constantly. As pretentious as it sounds, I think of myself as an intellectual. I summarized below the reasons I sustained a belief in a Historical Noah for the first 50 years of my life:
The Bible was the perfect, inspired Word of God without Error
I believed the Bible was the most compelling and influential book in human history. I believed there was extensive manuscript evidence that proved the Bible I studied essentially represented the writing of the original authors. I believed that God supernaturally superintended the writing and preservation of the biblical texts, protecting them from error.
The Prophets affirmed a Historical Noah & the Flood
The priest and prophet Ezekiel affirmed a historical Noah when he wrote 500-600 years before Jesus in Ezekiel 14:12-14:
“The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men – Noah, Daniel, and Job – were in it, they could only save themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
The 8th century B.C. prophet Isaiah affirmed a historical Noah when he wrote in Isaiah 54:6-9:
“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit – a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.
To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.”
Jesus affirmed a Historical Noah & the Flood
In Luke 4:35 Luke lists Noah as a member of Jesus’ genealogy. “…the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech…”
Jesus himself affirms Noah, Noah’s Ark, and the Flood in Luke 17:26-27: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Similar passage in Matthew 24:37-39)
My Evangelical Logical Construct
My basic logical construct was:
The Bible is True + Jesus is God = If Jesus said Noah is true it must be true.
What about all of the logical problems with Noah, Noah’s Ark, and the Flood?
Universal Remedy: God can do anything.
Then This Logic Stopped Working for Me
I became increasingly uncomfortable with the giant leaps of faith and the benefits of the doubt my Evangelical Christian faith required of me. And the idea that explanations would be provided in heaven no longer comforted me. As a general rule, if someone tells you it will all be explained to you after you die you should be very suspicious!
My new standard of belief became:
Each truth claim must stand on its own.
With this new requirement I began facing my doubts about Noah’s Flood one by one.
First, I will deal with Noah’s Flood’s Rational Problems. Then I will deal with Noah’s Flood’s Moral Problems. And finally I examine the Theological Problems.
(Author’s note: Most of the stats and many ideas for this section of the blog post were sourced from the excellent but definitely crude Youtube video from Dark Matter 2525 Atheist Comedy – The Great Flood. If you have better statistics please refer me to your source.)
Rational Problem Number One: How did all the animals fit on the Ark?
What is the most famous ship in human history besides Noah’s Ark? That’s right. The Titanic. Because the Titanic is such a familiar reference let’s compare the Titanic to Noah’s Ark.
Size: 175′ high x 882′ long x 92′ wide
Capacity: 3,597 people
Provisions: a few weeks
Size: 45′ high x 450′ long x 75′ wide
Capacity: 17, 400 birds, 12,000 reptiles, 2,000,0000 insects, 8 humans (including one 600 year old man)
Provisions: for 370 days
Let’s use the largest zoo in the world for another familiar reference. The San Diego Zoo has 4,000 animals and the San Diego Zoo is on 400 acres of land.
Genesis Chapter 6 says the Ark has 3 decks. The picture is just thousands and thousands of animals milling about. There simply isn’t room. You would pretty much need to dedicate one deck to the really huge animals: elephants, gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, lions, bears, ostriches, wolves, crocodiles, kangaroos, moose, hogs, walruses, and camels. If you believe in a literal Noah then you would probably also need to include some dinosaurs in there. Then you have one deck left for every other living thing and one deck left to store millions of pounds of food without refrigeration. Even Marie Kondo could not tidy this place up and make it work!
Rational Problem Number Two: How did Noah take care of all of these animals?
Let’s ignore the impossibility of fitting 9,000 mammals on the Ark. How would you feed them? Two elephants eat 365,000 pounds of food per year. Two giraffes eat 54,750 pounds of food per year. Two hippos eat 65,700 pounds of food per year. Two lions eat 16,060 pounds of food per year. Where do you store all of this food for these and the other 9,990 mammals, 12,000 reptiles, 17,400 birds, 5,000 amphibians, 2,000,000 insects, and 8 humans.
And ignoring the impossibility of fitting the animals on the Ark and ignoring the impossibility of storing all of the food for the animals on the Ark, how do you go about actually feeding all of these animals? The San Diego Zoo has 1,785 employees. It would be impossible for 8 humans working 24 hours per day to feed all of the animals on the Ark. And what about the poop? The two elephants alone will produce 600 pounds of dung everyday. Even if the 8 humans shoveled poop 24 hours per day the poop would be piling up much faster than it could ever be shoveled out. Animals below deck would literally drown in their poop.
Rational Problem Number Three: There is not enough water in the world for a world wide flood.
There is simply not enough water in the world for a flood that covers the earth, much less a flood that would submerge Mt. Everest by 20 feet. And if there was a flood it would never subside because there would be nowhere for the water to go. Water doesn’t simply disappear, it has to run off somewhere. If the entire earth is submerged in water 30,000 feet deep that water is there permanently.
Rational Problem Number Four: The occupants would freeze to death or suffocate due to the elevation.
Genesis 7:17-21 “For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished – birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had breath of life in its nostrils died.”
Let’s overlook the impossibility of flooding the entire earth. What if it actually happened? Mt. Everest towers above the rest of the earth at 29,029 feet tall. According to the book of Genesis the flood waters were 20 feet above that. The ‘Death Zone’ begins at 26,247 feet. At this altitude there is 33% less oxygen. Mountain climbers do not spend more than 16-20 hours in the death zone. Once you enter the Death Zone your body is beginning the process of dying. Well, Noah and his passengers spent months at that altitude. If they didn’t suffocate they would certainly have frozen to death in the sub zero temperatures.
Rational Problem Number Five: How would Noah and the animal life survive after getting off the Ark?
- the impossibility of getting the animals on the Ark.
- the impossibility of caring for the animals.
- the impossibility of flooding the entire earth
- the impossibility of surviving the elevation.
Now let’s focus on the impossibility of life surviving on earth after the flood.
Even though he was lucky enough to have floated pretty much back to the exact place he started, when Noah opened the door of the Ark 370 days later he would not have recognized the landscape before his eyes. Virtually all plant life has been destroyed. Even most sea life would be dead due to mixing of salt water and fresh water and changing water pressure, sunlight, and filtration.
The now 601 year old Noah says to the 7 other humans, “Release the animals.” 9,000 mammals and 17,400 birds and 12,000 reptiles and 5,000 amphibians and 2,000,000 insects waddle and flap and leap and crawl and hop their way out of the Ark. Then the carnage begins. The lions eat the gazelles and the tigers consume the pigs. The owls snap up the mice and the hawks snatch the rabbits. The elephants and the giraffes are confused. The bees buzz around in vain. Species go extinct every few minutes. Herbivores are starving to death. The earth cannot sustain life and a male and a female from each species are not enough to preserve the earth.
Rational Problem Number Six: Kangaroos and Koala Bears
And how did the kangaroos and koala bears get back to Australia? That is a long swim for a koala bear. Australia actually has 3,000 endemic vertebrate animals. The website ‘Answers in Genesis’ provides one possible explanation:
“There is little secret, therefore, how nonflying animals may have traveled to the outer parts of the world after the Flood. Many of them could have floated on vast floating logs, left-overs from the massive pre-Flood forests that were ripped up during the Flood and likely remained afloat for many decades on the world’s oceans, transported by world currents.”
Oh my goodness.
When you start with the conclusion you can back your way into all kinds of ridiculous explanations.
Now let’s get into the moral problem of Noah and the Flood…
Moral Problem: If God drowned all life on Earth God is a Sadistic, Incompetent, Psychopath
We know who did it. God proudly confesses to Mass Murder in Genesis.
In any murder, especially a mass murder, we want to understand the murderer’s motive. God reveals his motive in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.”
Is killing everyone the best solution?
God created the Universe and everything in it and the best solution God can come up with is killing everyone? If everyone is evil this sounds more like a CREATION problem than a HUMAN problem. There is something wrong with the system that God created. And if God is going to kill everyone he at least will do it in a humane and painless way. Won’t he? They all die in their sleep. Perhaps a universal massive heart attack. Or maybe everyone just disappears? Surely God devised a method that reflects some empathy?
What does God’s method of murder tell us about God?
God drowns everyone. And all of the animals and birds and insects. God drowns the new born babies. God drowns the one year olds just learning to walk. Two year olds just starting to express themselves verbally. God drowns the mentally ill and those will special needs. God drowns everyone. Everyone is evil.
What do you call someone who seeks out inflicting pain on others? What do you call someone who wants to see women holding up their babies pleading with Noah to save them? What do call a God who wants people to struggle and scratch and claw to avoid their inevitable drowning? What do you call a God who wants to see the bodies floating in the water?
You call that God a sadistic psychopath.
Well that is disturbing, but….
….at least God killing everyone fixed the problem….right?
God selected Noah as the new hope for the human race. Surely God picked the right man for the job!
The world changing results of God killing everyone and everything clearly justified the carnage, right?
God is not only a sadistic psychopath.
God is incompetent.
At the beginning of Genesis 9 God is pronouncing a blessing on Noah and giving him Adam’s mission to reproduce and take dominion over the earth. By the end of Chapter 9 Noah is drunk and his son Ham ‘saw his father’s nakedness’. We are not sure if that is a cultural offense or a euphemism for something else. Regardless, Noah pronounces a terrible curse upon his son Ham, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” I am not sure what all this means exactly but it isn’t good and the downward spiral has begun.
God killed everyone and everything on the planet in order to start over with Noah and these are the results we get! God as depicted in this text is an idiot!
Theological Problems: This Proves The Bible is Not the Word of God and Jesus is Wrong
The Bible refers to Noah as a historical person and the Flood as a historical event in Genesis, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, and 1st & 2nd Peter. Luke lists Noah in Jesus’ genealogy. If Noah is not a historical person Noah could not be in Jesus’ genealogy. And Jesus compares his imminent return to judge the world to God’s judgement of the world through Noah’s flood judgement.
The problems with Noah takes down pillars of the Evangelical Christian faith:
- The Bible refers to Noah as a historical person and the Flood as a historical event in Genesis, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, and 1st & 2nd Peter.
- This means Genesis is in error and cannot be without error.
- This means the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel are in error.
- If Luke lists Noah in Jesus’ genealogy Luke’s history is in error.
- Jesus cannot be perfect or God if he believed Noah and the Flood were historical events.
- Hebrews is in error if it teaches Noah and the Flood as historical events.
- 1st & 2nd Peter are in error if they present Noah and the Flood as historical events .
- The Bible cannot be the perfect Word of God without error if Genesis, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, and 1st & 2nd Peter are in error.
- Jesus cannot be God or Messiah because he is imperfect.
If you believe Noah, the Ark, and the Flood are historical something is wrong. Unless there was a miracle!
From Junior High on I lived in a suburb north of Dallas. I can remember my high school biology teacher, Mr. Hembree, announcing on the first day of biology that he didn’t teach evolution because it was a bunch of….and then Mr. Hembree blew a raspberry. I am probably the last generation to grow up with this kind of ‘anti-science’ attitude. I am 54 and many Evangelical Christians my age still feel comfortable simply dismissing scientific claims. Blowing even settled science a raspberry. But this generation is fading and a new generation is emerging that places a high value on science, information, and data.
If you believe in a historical Noah you simply haven’t examined the information that is easily accessible. Twenty five years ago it would have been very time consuming and expensive to research this. I would have been spending time in the basement of college libraries reading microfiche. I would have been ordering obscure articles and books through the mail. But now all of this information is a google away. The facts are crystal clear. The story of Noah is absolutely impossible.
But what if there was a miracle? Well one miracle wouldn’t do it. It took one miracle to get the animals to the Ark and a second miracle to shut the door. A plethora of miracles applied liberally to the entire Noah narrative would enable Noah’s Ark to reach the plausibility of Santa Claus or the Chicago Bears finding a quarterback. A Costco-sized can of miracles is not a plausible explanation.
The story of Noah and the Flood as a pagan myth is a plausible explanation. There are several Ancient Near East Flood Myths. But here is what is unique about the Noah myth in Genesis 8:20-22. Ancient people were terrified of their God. Their mercurial God was always killing them and leaving them to guess why: flood, famine, drought, the neighboring tribe. And in order to calm down their hot-headed God sacrifice was required. But how much sacrifice was enough? A goat…a bull…ten bulls…100 cattle…a person…a son…a daughter? Watch what happens when Noah immediately offers God a sacrifice after getting off the Ark:
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
This is obviously still a primitive, pagan presentation of God. God is highly anthropomorphized in this text. God smells the smoke of the burnt offering and is pleased by it. God seems soothed by it. Then God promises He will never drown everybody again. And the sign of this promise is the rainbow God causes to appear after every rainstorm.
While still very pagan, we see a developing idea of a different way to relate to God. Maybe there can be stability in this relationship. Maybe there are some predictability…some guarantees…some promises…a relational commitment.
And just because Noah’s Ark and the flood are not historical events doesn’t mean there isn’t a God. And just because the Bible is a very human book doesn’t mean there is no value in it. And just because Jesus was very human doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t one of the most influential people in human history. And just because your beliefs are wrong doesn’t mean that your experiences are not true.
For more on that idea see True Experiences, False Beliefs.
APPENDIX: Brilliant Responses to Reader Questions & Counter Arguments
I have been debating how much do I want to research and address the various defenses of a literal, historical belief in Noah’s Flood. The whole Young Earth Creationist thing is more than a belief system. It is a sub-culture similar to the recent emergence of Flat Earthers. The speculations and theories are endless because all of them ultimately appeal to miracles and completely implausible and scientifically uncorroborated ‘natural’ explanations. Appealing to miracles is like writing a Superman movie. There is no situation you can create that Superman cannot Superman his way out of. Superman spun the world backwards to bring Lois Lane back to life in the 1978 movie. And it is the same with a miraculous God. God creates an morally abhorrent judgement plan but God is allowed to do it because God cannot be judged. Then God decides he must drown everyone, which is totally stupid, so it requires countless miracle upon miracle upon miracle for it to work. But let me respond to a couple of the most common responses .
Common Response Number 1: It was a Regional Flood
I remember mentioning to a professor in seminary that I was beginning to think Noah’s world wide flood didn’t make sense. My professor said that some people were beginning to think it was a regional flood and that the word earth was referring to the known world in the region. I remember thinking that seemed like a reasonable possibility. A Regional Flood seemed to present more realistic scientific scenario while still managing to kill all of the people and animals in the World of Noah. There was enough there at face value to enable me to repress my doubts for a few more years.
And that is what most Evangelicals who reference the Regional Flood Theory do. It has a surface logic to it and they don’t really think it through. But the Regional Flood has to meet some exacting requirements to work. The Flood has to be big enough to kill everyone in the Ancient Near East. That means you have to figure out a way that it would rain intensely enough for the waters to continue to rise to the height of 20 feet above the tallest mountain in the Ancient Near East while it was running off at the edges of the Region. Some estimates say it would need to be at a water pressure similar to a fire hose. And that creates many of its own problems. And why would a Regional Flood require any Ark at all? Instead of having all the animals hike to the Ark why didn’t God could just have them hike out of the region. Same with Noah. Just point Noah and his seven family members in a direction and give them a few weeks head start. And why would there be birds on the Ark for a Regional Flood? And then the whole mythic purpose of the Noah narrative seems to be that God would never drown the wold again. Well regional floods have happened frequently in history. Is the promise of the rainbow that God will only do small to medium floods but not large regional floods? And when Jesus says his final judgement will be like the regional flood of Noah….what does that mean exactly?
Common Response Number 2: It was some combination of a stack of miracles not mentioned in the Bible and highly improbable natural explanations of which there is absolutely no evidence (this addresses pretty much everything from Ken Ham, The Ark Encounter, Answers in Genesis, and Kent Hovind)
Here is a sampler of these arguments:
- How did all of the animal life fit on the Ark? God caused two sets of parents of every animal, reptile, etc…to walk to the ark and then have babies which then got onto the ark in pairs. Young Earther Creationists would, of course, include baby dinosaurs. That is how there was room for all of the animal life on the Ark.
- How did all the animal life unique to Australia get to Australia after the flood? The kangaroos and koala bears floated on trees to Australia because there were a bunch of uprooted trees floating in the ocean for a long time after the flood.
- What did the animals eat after they got of the ark? They ate the gelled remains of dead animals that had been buried during the flood. I guess the gelled remains tasted so good that the lions did not want to eat the gazelles.
- Where did all of the extra water needed for the flood come from? According to Kent Hovind a giant 300 degrees below zero meteor fractured and large pieces hit the north and south poles and penetrated the crust of the earth releasing a torrent of water from deep within the planet. This meteor also caused a bunch of other things that I simply do not feel like typing out. If this makes sense to you and you want to learn more about Hovind’s ideas first make sure that you took your medicine and then Google Kent Hovind.
- How was wild animal behavior managed? All of the animals hibernated for the entire trip.
- Where did all of the water go after the flood? During the seven months the water’s receded Pangaea was broken up and the continents pushed into roughly their current locations, the continents rose and the ocean floors sunk.
- How did Noah deal with the completely overwhelming structural, design, and process impossibilities? Noah constructed a mind bogglingly sophisticated Ark design that is better than anything Sir James Dyson could come up with, made completely of wood, and that is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
These arguments could only be considered plausible if you were already convinced that Noah’s Ark was literal history. You can only reverse engineer your way into beliefs. There is literally no support in the scientific community for any of these explanations. But what can you expect from a bunch of secular scientist clearly in the service of Satan?