I’m sitting on my lawn in the warm Swedish summer sun. A tepid breeze tickles the hairs on the back of my neck, and a butterfly with brown and orange markings takes a brief interest in me, then continues its meandering flight. Thoughts come to me in a light, steady trickle like the one from my armpit.
Are there really people who still believe every word in the Bible is true? Surely some stories, like that of Noah’s Ark, are obviously fiction? To make the stories true, you’d have to presuppose that the old world doesn’t work the way this world does.
The broad outline of the story is that God creates Man and all the animals. After a while, humans grew sinful. God spoke to Noah, instructing him to build a 450′ boat, where a pure pair of each type of animal along with Noah’s pure wife, three sons and their wives would survive a flood that would rid the Earth of the sinful. All creatures would then stem from these pure few, inheriting a pristine Earth.
Why animals had to pay this price for humans being sinful is beyond me. It’s hard to see how animals could sin.
I won’t debate the acts of God in this story; if He can create worlds, He can make it rain for 40 days and make one pure pair of each type of animal make a pilgrimage across the world and across oceans to willingly walk up the gangplank in an orderly fashion. He can even make the wild beasts not eat the small, tender-looking furry ones during the voyage.
But one thing is tangible. It was a boat, and it would host all the animals and food for the animals. (Interestingly, the story doesn’t mention insects, or we’d have tens of millions of species, perhaps making the reader wonder what life would be like for Noah out on the sea. Not to mention that he’d have to watch his step.)
But even outside the insect kingdom there are over half a million species of animals that have been named so far. (Source: “Animal.” World Book Encyclopedia. 16 vols. Chicago: World Book, 2003.) But a lot of species are capable of living in water. WWF says 45,000 vertebrates. The sensible mind takes a step back. 45,000 species, 90,000 animals. It’s perfectly obvious that there’s not room enough for them, not to mention food for them for ten months, on such a small ship.
This article calculates the volume of the Ark – as if the animals were stacked to the ceiling one on top of the other – but concedes the floor space to be the size of about 20 basketball courts. Again, use your sensible mind.
Species, you say. The Bible doesn’t mention species. True. But it’s a fact of this world that a horse and a cow can’t interbreed; even crossing a horse with a donkey doesn’t produce fertile offspring. This could be defended by saying it was a different world back then. Here’s where the sensible mind comes in. A boat is a boat, and an animal is an animal. Even defending the Bible by cutting down on the number of “kinds” of animals, you’d have to be pretty desperate to claim, say, that a lion and a giraffe could mate and produce some sort of animal we see in the world today. And if you don’t, you’re back at the overwhelming number of animal kinds, and two of each kind to boot.
There could have been a lot fewer species then. But then you’d have to propose a theory for why there are so many today – like the theory of evolution. Most Christians hesitate to do that, proposing instead that Man and all animals were created by God in Genesis. Full circle.
One idea for saving the story would be that God has been busy creating tens of thousands of species of animal after the flood; I’ve not seen a Christian advance this idea, however. It would be interesting to know if there is any mention in the Bible of God creating species after the flood.
The author of the story will also have us believe that all peoples descended from the sons of Noah. I shudder when I think of what it must have been like for brothers Shem, Ham and Japheth marrying their children to each other. Maybe incest was different back then.
All this is not to say that the Christian god does not exist, or that belief in gods in general is deluding yourself; just that we need to admit that not everything in the Bible is to be taken literally – a lot of it appears as fiction written to inspire, warn or instruct. Love the Bible for its interesting accounts rather than its mythology.