Lemons Make Great Lemonade

I’m not upset about Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter. I think it’s one of the best things to happen to the atheist movement in years. Why? Because it is a gigantic object lesson in the unfeasibility of a literal interpretation of the Noah story.

2ee9dbb16c2bd4efa78850d674780ebaI’m being a bit facetious. Like other atheists, I have many problems with the ark park. They received $18 million in tax credits, a violation of the separation of church and state. The
park’s hiring policy is Draconian – openly discriminating against LGBT, non-Christians, and even more enlightened Christians who reject young earth creationism. The park will no doubt be used as another indoctrination tool for young children and gullible adults. All that is cause for concern. However, the ark is now open and that’s something we can use in our favor.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an atheist. We know the ark story is ridiculous. The ark, as described in the bible, is a physical impossibility. It seems like this should be obvious to anyone with a brain. Yet here we are, in the year 2016, debunking bronze age mythology that should have been put to rest centuries ago.

13606486_1140864862623541_2833939429640108388_nIt’s a constant source of embarrassment for me to admit that I used to be a biblical literalist. I actually believed in young earth creationism and the Noah story. I would scoff at the ridiculous idea of evolution, but a 500-year-old man and his three elderly sons building a huge wooden boat and packing it with 10-20 million animals seemed perfectly plausible to my religion-addled mind. I was an eager student of Ken Ham and his ilk, always looking for reasons why my faith was justified.

This far-fetched Genesis story was also the first crack in the bedrock of my Christian faith. The story simply cannot stand up to close scrutiny. It’s a great place to start with fundamentalist believers. Now we have a life-sized ark we can show them as we deconstruct this flawed narrative.

Obvious Questions, Ludicrous Answers

aa9d5b9c16fb2d5abeab0f682eb05cb2Occasionally, I would have brief moments of clarity that brought a few nagging questions to my mind. There are about 8.7 million species of animals on the planet. Of those, 6.5 million are land-dwelling. That means the ark would have to house at least 13 million animals to account for two of each one. This doesn’t factor in any animals that have gone extinct within the last 4500 years. How did they all fit? According to my mom and (pastor) dad, the answer is simple. Only babies were allowed on the ark. And yes, that includes baby dinosaurs who then had the worst luck and went extinct for unknown reasons shortly thereafter.

I accepted their answer and put my doubts to rest. But I had more questions and the answers were unsatisfying, to say the least.

  • 25eee16787b2e637bf6bde7ffd776763Was mass murder really god’s best solution?
  • How did an elderly man with no shipbuilding experience build a huge, seaworthy vessel based on vague instructions supposedly given by god?
  • How did all the animal species on Earth make their way to the Middle East?
  • How did they get back to their original habitats?
  • Where did all the water come from?
  • How did it fill the entire earth in just 40 days?
  • Where did it all go afterward?
  • How did the plants survive? Did Noah carry millions of seed packets onboard?
  • How did marine animals survive the mixture of fresh and salt water?
  • How did eight elderly people care for 13,000,000+ animals?
  • How much food did they have? How did they preserve it for over a year?
  • Did they store fresh water on the ark? For 8 people and 13,000,000+ animals for over a year?
  • How did they clean up all the animal shit? There was only one small window on the ark after all.
  • Speaking of having only one window, how the hell was it ventilated?
  • a80547c9ec4e6e741dee7075a836fcc8Were parasites and pests included on the ark? Was it really necessary to preserve ticks and mosquitos?
  • How healthy would the animals be after a year with no exercise? They wouldn’t even have space to move.
  • When the animals disembarked, why did the carnivores not immediately eat the others? They’d need food after being released and wouldn’t be able to wait for a sustainable population of prey.
  • How did one elderly and incestuous family of eight repopulate the earth in such a short amount of time?
  • Was the muddy, post-diluvian earth covered in corpses from the mass genocide?

And the list goes on. Creationism and Noah’s ark were the two most cognitive dissonance inducing beliefs I had. I was constantly struggling to reconcile my deeply held beliefs with what I knew to be demonstrably true. This is why I see the Ark Encounter monstrosity to be a positive for atheism. It gives us a starting point with biblical literalists. They can see Ken Ham’s ark for themselves and that helps us to frame our objections in a much more tangible way.

Modern Marvel = Bronze Age Impossibility

Ark Encounter features a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible. Spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high, this modern engineering marvel amazes visitors young and old.

From the Official Ark Encounter website – https://arkencounter.com/about-the-ark/

Did you catch the key word in the above quote? The Ark Encounter website describes itself as a modern engineering marvel. This is the 21st century. We are a technologically advanced society with state-of-the-art construction tools and machinery. Building materials are readily available and  delivered by the truckload to the building site. Educated architects and engineers are hired to plan every step of the construction process. Skilled carpenters and construction workers, using modern equipment, are hired to build the structure. If you want a giant boat filled with plastic animals, $101,000,000 will buy you a giant boat filled with all the plastic animals your heart desires. The Ark Encounter website provides a handy pdf guide to show just how involved and difficult this construction project was if you’re interested. Oh, and there’s no way in hell this thing will ever float.

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Noah had a much more difficult task. He was already half-a-millennia old. His sons were nearly a century old. They had nothing but bronze-age tools to work with; no cranes, no chainsaws, no electric drills. They had to gather and prepare massive amounts of wood themselves. The nails had to be forged by hand. They had to construct every last detail without any of the modern equipment we take for granted. Even if Noah hired local help they would still be constrained by the tools and resources of their era, only to be cruelly shut out and left to die when the rain started to fall.

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The Noah’s Ark Park, if built, would be the first theme park to celebrate an act of mass genocide. It’s like building a Six Flags Over Auschwitz or a Killing Fields Disney World.

– Ed Brayton

Seriously, Ken Ham?!

Does Ken Ham not see the problem here? How can you not question the feasibility of an actual ark after undertaking the project yourself? Does he not see how difficult this would have been for a primitive person to construct? It’s flabbergasting. But maybe we can point to this extreme dichotomy when engaging with evangelical Christians. Maybe, like me, the cognitive dissonance will hit a breaking point. If we can get them to start asking questions, then the first seeds of skepticism can take root and grow from there.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. This is a pretty decent article and I appreciated some of the memes. However, to disbelieve in the historical/factual veracity of the Noah’s Ark story (or some other stories in the Bible) doesn’t need to be a quick step to atheism. A book (or in this case, a collection of books and oral sources compiled over a very long time period) can be read more in line with how it was written and the culture of the time without necessarily discounting many of the truths it (might) contain. I’m not saying you have to believe any part of the composite book known as the Bible. But disbelieving the historicity of Noah’s Ark doesn’t require you to disbelieve the (much different) historical claims about Jesus. And when I say much different I’m not saying the claims about Jesus aren’t equally fantastic (they certainly are) or that they can be verified by science (I sincerely doubt they can), but that the multiple writings about him from the same time period were clearly attempting to be both historical records and propaganda pieces, and the people claiming their veracity were multiple and diverse. Whether or not you believe those claims is up to you, but they definitely had an immediate impact on their world and also a long-lasting one. By contrast, the Noah story was written at least a thousand years after the claimed events, from oral sources, and in the style of myth. I would argue it was never intended to be history, that the “facts” of the story were less important than the vivid imagination inspired by it, and all for the purpose of teaching/informing a people group about the character of their shared identity as well as the character of their God (particularly his graciousness towards those who obey him – though from a modern perspective it’s easy to focus on the genocidal and vengeful aspects, that wouldn’t have stood out as exceptional to an ancient audience). Anyway, that’s my two cents. But I did appreciate some of your analysis and particularly the memes.

    • actually there wasnt writings of jesus during his time .. non of the known writers in that era ever wrote about jesus .. he’s only mentioned in the bible .. paul the apostle never once mentions jesus on earth .. paul wasnt even around until 30 years after jesus supposed time and teh gospels came around 70/80 years after .. sorry but there is no sky daddy

      • I consider myself an atheist, and although I do find Ken Ham’s Noah’s Ark ridiculous, it’s not strictly speaking true to say that there are no non-biblical writers who refer to Jesus. Flavius Josephus mentions “Jesus, who was also called Christ,” in his “Antiquities of the Jews,” although it’s not clear if the “who was also called Christ” bit was actually written by Josephus, or added later by a Christian scribe, to add weight to the biblical account of Jesus. This can’t be proven one way or the other, but the existence of a historical Jesus seems likely. Tacitus also mentions “Christus” in “Annais (AD116) and his execution by Pontius Pilate. Tacitus’ very negative comments about Christians makes it unlikely that this writing was a forgery by later Christian scribes. Of course none of this makes Jesus a “Messiah,” or “Son of God,” more likely one of many Jewish rabble rousers, who were common around this time. Josephus himself, for example, was a Jewish rebel, who lead a major revolt against Roman rule, which was crushed by the famous Roman General Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who later would become the Emperor Vespasian, following the civil war which ended the Year of the Four Emperors. Of course Josephus himself only escaped execution by siding with Vespasian, after the Jewish defeat, even taking the Flavian name, so maybe he was writing what he assumed Vespasian wanted to hear; I’ve no way of knowing. Still, the fact that Tacitus mentions Jesus being crucified is interesting, and adds to the “rabble rouser” idea. Crucifixion was reserved for the political enemies of Rome, and certainly not a sentence that the Jews could have demanded from Pilate; who wouldn’t have given a second thought for their views in any case.

          • Of course, and we all know that. Josephus makes several references to Jesus. He is called; Jesus, who was called Christ, Jesus, son of Damneus (a Jewish High Priest,) and Jesus, son of Gamaliel, again another Jewish High Priest. It doesn’t mean that much really, although somebody called Jesus probably existed, and maybe there were several Jesi, or Jewish preachers at that time. The works of Josephus, and Tacitus, are all written after the event. In addition, these get copied over the centuries; maybe by monks, who have a reason to insert text like “who was called Christ,” into the copy, so it becomes “original,” who knows, but either way it proves nothing really. The man probably existed, but the myth is something completely different. For example, why does the Roman Empire suddenly adopt Christianity as an official religion, after years of persecution? Stuff like the virgin birth gets added, a copy from Mithraism perhaps; a religion popular in the army at that time? Support of the army would have been essential for any Emperor, so swap Mithras for Jesus and get the army on side. Who knows, all religion is basically about control, remember that when trying to work this out.

        • Flavius Josephus was born in 37 CE, and presumably didn’t begin writing until he could talk and poop voluntarily, so we’re talking maybe 40 or 50 CE. Thus he is not a contemporary of Jesus.

          • Thank you, Peter the Greek! Stephen Jenkins seems amiable enough and is careful to sugar coat his appalling ignorance on the subject of Flavius Josephus in the least offensive, mawkish terms possible.

            Those of us who have studied Josephus, early Christianity and its pseudo historic metamorphosis (Spengler) from ancient mystery schools to the present are certainly aware that the passages Jenkins attributes to Josephus are confirmed forgeries inserted into the Testimonium by the Christian apologist Eusebius in the 3rd Century CE.

            Sadly, this insidious and ‘persistent influence effect or “backfire bias” courses through Christian apologetics to this very day. (See Johnson, Hollyn M.; Colleen M. Seifert (November 1994). “Sources of the continued influence effect: When misinformation affects later inferences”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.)

            “Alice Whealey proved, quite conclusively, that in fact Agapius was translating the Syriac edition not of Josephus, but of Eusebius. And it therefore certainly did not come from any earlier manuscript tradition untouched by Eusebius, but the very same one, in fact from Eusebius himself!”

    • If it is just a story, who is the authority that determines such? The story of Moses talking to a burning Bush should be just a story. But the ten commandments resulted of this, nah that happened. The story about killing all the soldiers and giving the king their foreskins…..that teaches you what? The story of the ark, teaches you what? That god will be a murderous asshole who kills innocent babies, children and animals if the entire adult world turns evil? It serves no purpose.

    • Hi Adam,

      Your well written comment deserved a reply with better punctuation. Unless Cory was being an asshat and trolling, I wanted to appologize for his poor English skills.

      As it is 5:50am here and I woke up because my dog started screaming (she was hit by a car a year ago and has back issues), I will not be the one to give you that well-worded response because I’m going the hell back to bed.

      However, I’m sure that another kind member of this community will 🙂

      Let’s be thoughtful, caring, and intelligent in our criticisms/remarks okay guys? 🙂

      Peace out homeslices.

    • Psalm 119:160, The sum of thy word is truth

      2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness
      ‭‭
      Is Genesis not part of scripture?

      • That’s the equivalent of a child molester saying “This is right and good and fair. Don’t question it. The control group can’t come from the source material. The manufacturer can state “Our product is the best” but that doesn’t make it so. It has to be a separate entity such as Consumers Digest stating “THIS product is the best.” I get very tired of christians trying to back up their beliefs with one book. Shit don’t work like that!

      • You can’t prove the truth of the Bible by quoting the Bible. Patriarchal Jewish men wrote the Bible. Centuries later, other men decided which books would be in the Bible and then forgot the Jewish midrash roots of the Bible and literalized it.

    • As Cory says, there are no contemporary historical records of Jesus outside of the Bible. The “historians” that believers like to point to (Josephus, Tacitus, and so forth) weren’t even born until after the supposed date of the crucifixion (and that’s assuming that the limited references those individuals make are legitimate and not forgeries added long after the fact)

      Even the gospels weren’t written until years (decades actually) after the date of the crucifixion – and those were written by anonymous authors who never met him. The church added the names of the apostles to the documents sometime in the second century in order to enhance their credibility.

      But since the article is referring to the Old Testament it’s worth noting that the Exodus never happened. The Hebrews were never slaves in Egypt.

  2. THREE THINGS FORGOTTEN
    1) There are 300,000,000 cubic miles of water on the earth including that in the atmosphere.
    600,000,000 cu miles required to cover Everest.
    2) At 23,000 feet the water would be -30°c and the Ark would sail nowhere.
    3) And freshwater fish can live in marine saltwater conditions for a year ?

    • ” At 23,000 feet the water would be -30°c and the Ark would sail nowhere.”

      The atmosphere might become slightly thinner because the total surface area of the Earth will have increased, by would it be so cold at what would now be sea level? It gets colder the higher you go up because of a decrease in air pressure, but the air pressure would not be that much less since all the air would have been pushed up as well.

  3. It s kind of moot but the Genesis story was NOT for a year but 40 days and 40 nights. So about 1.5 months. Just a minor correction.

    • Hi Jason, I was referring to the total time spent on the ark according to the biblical story. The rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights, but they would have been stuck on the boat until the water had receded and dry land reappeared. If you add up the total amount of time mentioned, it comes to 378 days – just over a year.

      I wish I could add images in the comments, but here’s a link to a handy chart of the timeline: http://www.arkonararat.com/timeline.gif

  4. The white Jesus was certainly not anywhere to be found in the middle east. If you look at Cesar Borgia, son of a pope of the RCC you will find the man who posed for DaVinci when the RCC commissioned him to “make Jesus look more Roman Catholicky, you know, like we are. K?”

    • Good catch, Mark. Unless god magically made all the animals two-dimensional, you are correct. I didn’t actually check the math on that either. I’m terrible at math.

      Since we’re fact-checking, it’s worth noting that the sloth meme is WAY off too. It says the sloth travelled 57,000 miles from South America to the Middle East. Someone pointed out to me that the circumference of the earth is only 24,901 miles. By my (Google Maps) estimate, the distance is closer to 6,400 miles.

      • I glossed right over the sloth numbers so I guess my turn to do some math. If we assume a single flat deck space, given it’s 51′ tall, let’s wild-guess 30′ at the widest point (the part below the waterline would seep constantly, making it ill-suited for most species.) 30′ = 9144 mm so 6.5*6.5*9144 = 386334 cubic mm which converts to 0.0136432564 cubic feet… not a lot of space so… without checking the area math… oh damn it! If you convert 85’*510′ = 4027346784 sq mm / 13M creatures is 300 sq mm per creature x 9144 = 0.1 cubic feet. So someone is off by a decimal point but close enough for me! (Either way the point is moot.) 🙂

      • JT. That 6400 miles is as the crow flies. The sloths would have to have travelled all the way north through the Americas, crossed the Bering Strait then crossed all of Asia to reach the Middle East. They couldn’t follow a direct route from the Bering Strait to the Middle East because that would entail crossing the Gobi and other deserts. Sloths need foliage from trees to survive. The sloths would have been forced to pretty much follow the coast line of Asia round to the Middle East. 57000 miles doesn’t seem so implausible a distance when you consider that.

        • That’s awesome! LOL But how would it cross the Bering Straight, and could it survive the trip through [what is now] Canada and Alaska? (To say nothing of the gazillion species of insects indigenous to South America, some of which breed in very specific environments, and have lifespans shorter than the boat ride.)

          I showed this thread to a theist friend, she said, “just because it doesn’t share all the details doesn’t mean god didn’t work it out.” Which proves that, when your beliefs are founded in a vacuum of logic and science, sound reason is meaningless and has no value.

  5. There are 2 versions of this story in the old testament in order to promote unity between tribes who insisted that it rained for 40 days and that Noah released a dove and those who insisted that it rained longer and a raven was released.

  6. The one that killed my belief was Genesis 4:2 – if anyone can tell me who those other people were you win the prize.

  7. When I confront believers with the types of information you guys are providing, the answer I always get is that none of it matters, because God makes all things possible, so I should shut up, regardless of the absurdities involved.

  8. The man named Jesus
    Wasn’t sent here to please us
    He was sent here to show us the way
    He never got married
    Perhaps he was a fairy?
    Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay.

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