An Ark for a Flood

As we ended last week, we looked at Genesis 6:11, which reads “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

To endure the coming flood, Noah was instructed by God to build an ark, essentially a barge upon which he was to store the survivors of that coming judgement. This truth however has caused much turmoil over the years, as critics are quick to rush forward with unfounded challenges against the scriptures and the possibility of such a feat, but ultimately all miss the greater truths. Let’s look at a few concerns briefly.

First of all, how big was the ark? Could it really have contained eight humans, myriad animals, and the provisions for the duration of their stay?

The Bible is clear in Genesis 6:15 about the ark’s dimensions, with God specifying to Noah that the Ark was to be 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height, or in other words 450 feet long,75 feet wide, and 45 feet in height. When we calculate those dimensions further, factoring in the three stories called for by God (Gen. 6:16), we find that the ark had a floor space of over 100,000 square feet; a square footage of more than 20 basketball courts! In regards to three-dimensional space, the ark possessed over 1.5 million cubic feet, which is equivalent to 569 modern railroad stock cars!

noahs-ark

To be blunt about it, that is a lot of space. Now, what did Noah need all that space for? The survivors, of course!

Who was to survive the flood? While many people are quick to point out Noah, perhaps even his wife, three sons, and their wives also, most will immediately jump to the animals. Two of each animal, one male and one female! Many though would only be half right.

You see, while Noah and his family were certainly aboard the ark, when it comes to the animal occupants most people are plagued by misinformation in the form of oversimplification. Many read verses 19 and 20 and leave it at that. Those of course state:

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

Going on however brings us to Genesis 7:2-3: which reads:

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

Thus while our coloring books and the stories we may have heard repeated as youngsters led our minds to envision long, paired lines of animals, in reality it was only the unclean animals that came in single pairs; the clean animals (as later codified in Leviticus 11) came in by pairs of sevens! Care to guess why the clean animals were brought aboard in such numbers? The answer, we can assume, is for ritual sacrifice to God. After the ark came to rest, men and women would need sacrifices, and if there were only a single pair of sacrificial animals aboard, well, the long-held rituals of our ancestors would not have long survived the flood either.

Now comes the big question for many: how many animals were on the ark? Skeptics have latched on to this question with the tenacity of a rabid pit-bull time and again, but I assure you, there is a perfectly reasonable answer to their condemnations.

To address this question, we need to consider how many kinds of animals there actually are. While we certainly cannot say with any certainty how many were originally created in the beginning nor how many adapted beyond that first creation into the world at the time of the flood, we can draw some tentative estimates. Looking to our modern planet, a recent study declared that there are perhaps as many as 7.7 million species of animal alive today.¹ That figure however, it must be noted, is highly speculative.

Of those forms we actually know and have identified, there are approximately 1.37 million documented species of animals.²

Of those, the vast majority, coming in at 1.3 million forms, is found amongst the invertebrates (the worms, mollusks, crustaceans, arachnids, and insects) of the world. Setting those aside (as it is quite likely that these were not taken aboard the ark, but were rather left to survive the flood outside) we find that the remaining 66,000 or so species make up the whole of extant vertebrate life. Roughy then, there are 32,900 modern species of fish, 7,300 species of amphibians, over 10,000 modern reptile species, 10,400 species of birds, and 5,500 different species of mammal.

A question then? Were fish taken aboard the ark? No, certainly not. Amphibians? Perhaps a few, but likely only the more terrestrial of those, such as land-based frogs and toads. In fact, it is very likely that those animals which were naturally at home in the water, including everything from turtles to whales, would have remained outside the walls of the ark. Excluding them would greatly reduce our sum of vertebrate animal down to well less than 30,000 species.

There is another consideration at hand. Our modern conception of “species,” in fact our whole taxonomic system for the classification of life, though useful in carefully categorizing life, is woefully insufficient for identifying the Biblical kinds of Genesis, the baramin. Often times, we find that the designation of species goes too far in its divisions, separating what effectively is a proper kind into smaller, unnecessary groupings. For instance, there are some eight different species of modern bear recognized by modern taxonomy, yet ultimately all are of the bear “kind;” each being readily identifiable by sight as bears. As such, trusting God at His instruction to Noah to take aboard two (+) of each “kind” of animal, I believe we can greatly reduce the necessary animals again. In fact, even accounting for the ark-bound pairs of the many now extinct animals that I believe were alive and well at the time of the flood, the number of animals aboard would likely have been well less than 15,000 in total.

Though 15,000 animals would take up a lot of space, let’s consider for a moment that I’m wrong and there was as many as 50,000? How would we fit 50,000 animals aboard the ark?

Let’s look at the figures for a moment. If we consider that large animals, even in the past (much to many’s surprise), are relatively rare, and that the average sized animal is equivalent in mass to a sheep or large dog, then something interesting should begin to reveal itself. Consider this: a single double-decker stock car can easily hold 240 sheep. As such, three trains with 69 stock cars each would have plenty of space to transport the necessary 50,000 animals. If you recall, the ark possessed as much cubic footage as 569 modern railway stock cars! That means that even if there were 50,000 animals aboard the ark it would only take up 37% of the floor space, leaving room for an additional 361 cars in which to store food, supplies, and Noah’s family!³ 

The ark, we can thereby conclude, was plenty big enough to transport its passengers through the flood, especially if Noah brought along young animals.

References:

  1. Camilo Mora, Derek P. Tittensor, Sina Adl, Alastair G. B. Simpson, Boris Worm, “How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?,” PLoS Biology, 2011; 9 (8): e1001127 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127
  2. The World Conservation Union. 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014.3. Summary Statistics for Globally Threatened Species. Table 1: Numbers of threatened species by major groups of organisms (1996–2014)
  3. Could Noah’s Ark really hold all the animals that were supposed to be preserved from Flood?,” Stanley E. Taylor and Paul S. Taylor, adapted from from their motion picture The World That Perished, produced and distributed by Films for Christ.

 

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