minded types of various religious backgrounds will extend a challenge to fundamentalist creationists
(usually, although not necessarily Christian
, and by no means representative of Christianity
as a whole), asking that they put their money where their mouth is with respect to the biblical Noah's Ark
story. The fundamentalist position, naturally, is that the account of Noah's Ark is literal truth, and so that whatever is described therein as having happened must be considered scientifically plausible. And beyond that, even, creationists have written reams of argumentation on this point, explaining at length and in depth why their faith
supports the possibility of such an occurrence.
The challenge from those who doubt the veracity
of the tale is generally couched in simple and straightforward terms: build an ark of the dimensions described in the Bible, using such materials and methods as were set forth therein; populate it as described in the Bible -- that is, with eight people, exactly two of every kind of 'unclean' animal, and seven of every 'clean' kind; close it up and have it go unassisted on the water for the period of time provided in the Bible (which is spelled out very precisely therein, and is well over a year's time). If, at the end of that time, all of the occupants are still alive (or, at the least, enough to repopulate all the species which went in), then the story is proved plausible. But if such survival is not evident, the story is reasonably disproved (and so, the literal truth of the work from which it is drawn).
An example of such a challenge can be found here
, along with some commentary which nicely encapsulated the range of responses creationists have tended to make to such a challenge. The chief objections are:
- Cost. Whatever the economic conditions prevailing in Noah's day, the cost of erecting and fortifying an Ark of the characteristics recited biblically is modernly claimed to be prohibitive. But there is some oddity in this being raised, while theological venture capitalists erect creationist theme parks including supposed (nonseaworthy) replicas of this very ark. I would posit that an ark which in fact served as the vessel by which such a challenge prevailed would become so priceless a tourist attraction that it would repay its cost of investment many times over.
- Resource management. In much the same vein, it is complained that even if the cost was not great, the resources which could be put to testing the Noah's Ark story could better be put towards other proselytization efforts and the like.
- Feasibility studies. Some Creationists contend that the feasibility of the Ark existing as claimed can be sufficiently demonstrated on paper by various scribblings and guesses, such that no live test is required to prove the concept.
- Legality. Noah didn't have to put up with all sorts of construction permit requirements, health and safety laws regulating vessel characteristics, and perhaps most importantly, animal welfare laws dictating the conditions in which some animals can be kept and altogether prohibiting the keeping of other animals.
- Goddidit. The last, and most impenetrable creationist defense of the literalism afforded this myth is that their God was insanely arbitrary enough to require the circumstances laid out in the story to occur just so, and provided sufficient extrabiblical miraculous assistance for science to be set aside. Perhaps their God -- which, after all, would have had the power to eliminate all mankind from the face of the Earth on a whim, without harming a single animal if it wished -- teleported those especially distant kinds of animals to live on the Ark, shrunk them so all would fit, and maintain them in suspended animation for the duration of the voyage.
Despite these objections, there have been a few meagre attempts to build a seaworthy replica of Noah's Ark and maintain animals aboard it. Notably, all of these attempts have failed, and not only have they failed, but they have done so rather quickly and drastically.
A few other minor issues are worthy of note, one being the lack of a candidate for the "gopher wood" of which the biblical vessel was supposed to have been built. Another is the longstanding dispute even amongst creationist scholars over how many "kinds" there were and how robustly they have evolved by natural selection since an event claimed to have occurred only a few thousand years ago
. This leads to a sort of absurd tension between the desire to have fewer kinds, so everybody fits on the Ark, and to have enough kinds to allow evolution to be a minimal factor in the diversity of life. After all, suppose every kind of chimpanzee
evolved from a single pair of generic monkeys brought aboard the Ark. Given the genetic distance covered between any of these species which would have to be achieved in so short a time, there is no reason that Man, too, being more genetically similar to the bonobo than the bonobo is to the gorilla and the orangutan, could not have likewise earlier evolved from a common ancestor with the monkeys.
I will add to the chorus of challengers for a field test of the feasibility of the Noah's Ark story my own formulation of such a challenge. I will deem a success any effort wherein:
Firstly, a seaworthy vessel of any configuration meeting the appropriate dimensions is built of any kind of wood
(heck, I wouldn't care if the thing was coated with epoxy
and reinforced with titanium
structural supports, so long as the superstructure was some kind of wood). Since there has been some dispute over the length of a cubit
(with historical sources indicating anything within a range of fifteen to twenty-one inches), go ahead and use anything within that range, so long as it is used consistently. Naturally, the vessel itself must operate without the benefit of more advanced technological concepts such as electricity
, radio communication (other than an emergency radio to be used when bailing out and confessing the experiment to be a failure).
Secondly, an appropriate number of animals must be stocked on the vessel. And what is an appropriate number? Well, whatever number of animals is necessary to permit the evolution by natural selection of all now-existing species therefrom in the space of a few thousand years. If it can be shown that the horse
are genetically similar enough that both could have evolved from a common horse-zebra predecessor over ten millennia, then it is fine to bring just one of the two. If the Indian and Asian elephant
can be demonstrated to have diverged in that length of time, then only one representative of the 'kind' need be brought. The same goes for the lion
, and every kind of bear
, or deer
. Indeed, if it could be proved that every kind of life on Earth evolved from one Universal common ancestor
over the course of a few millennia -- well, then actually we wouldn't need any scripture to explain anything at all.
And thirdly, the vessel and all of its occupants must survive, unaided, floating on the water and out of the sight of dry land, for a period of one year. Thereafter, it may return to land, to be opened and its contents examined to see if, indeed, every sort of animal brought on board has survived. And finally, as to those who would invoke the intercession of their deity as necessary to an Ark's survival -- well perhaps this deity is dead. Perhaps it no longer exists, or it never did at all. For if such intercession is required for this project to succeed, then attempting to float a new ark tests not only whether such a thing could have happened, but whether such a deity exists at all.
A fellow noder correctly makes the point that the failure of such an experiment cannot by itself prove the event impossible. But there are different degrees of disproof. If it is geometrically impossible to even fit all the kinds of animals in the space described, then the disproof is mathematical, and absolute. If the kinds can fit, but only assuming an extreme outlier rate of evolution, and survivability itself fails in practice, then it is disproven in the same way that a uniform track cord of test subjects dying after drinking a pint of arsenic topped up with cyanide disproves a story of somebody drinking a pint of arsenic and cyanide and living.