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.
I’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.
It’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
Occasionally, 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.
- Was 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?
- Were 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.
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.
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.