Understanding Noah's Flood

Just about every kid in the United States has heard the story of Noah by the age of five. It's a pretty simple story. And kids love animals, so this story is especially interesting. If you ask a kid to recite the story to you, it goes something like this:

    Once upon a time there was a man named Noah. God tells Noah to build a big boat. The animals get on the boat two by two. There's a big flood. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Lots of kids have a toy, a puzzle, a poster or a little storybook that illustrates the whole thing.

Of course these posters and puzzles, and the story in most kids' heads, leave out one little detail. They gloss over the total extermination on all other life on earth. Billions of animals and millions of humans are senselessly murdered in the flood. Anything and everything that is alive on earth perishes unless it is on the boat. That is a whole lot of death and destruction, and most kids don't need to hear about that. Far too gruesome, especially if we were to illustrate all those floating, bloated bodies. But since it is God doing the murdering, and since we leave out all the death, then somehow it is OK.

The next time you see a child playing with a Noah's Ark Play Set or puzzle, say to the parent, "Ah yes, the uplifting story where God massacres every living thing on the planet, including millions of men and women and every single living child. How charming." See what the parent's response is. In many cases the response will be silence, because the parent has never thought about it.

The Story

Noah's flood is described in the Bible's book of Genesis, chapters 6 through 9. Here are two quotes from these chapters that touch on the high points:

    So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark-you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them."

    Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

    On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

    For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished-birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

    The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

Does this story make sense? Did this really happen? Did an omniscient God write this story, or did primitive goat herders make it up out of thin air? Let's think it through using common sense.

The first question to ask is, "When did this happen?" The Bible provides the answer. The Bible contains a genealogy for Jesus that stretches all the way from Jesus to Adam. The Bible lists ages for all the people involved, and when they were born. Therefore, since we know when Jesus was born, it is easy to track back to the date of Noah's flood. The great deluge happened in 2348 BCE. That's a very recent event in human history -- only 4,350 or so years ago.

What this means is that the planet was wiped clean just 4,350 years ago, and then the ark came to rest on dry ground. Out of the ark came eight people (Noah, his wife, his three sons and their respective wives) along with pairs of animals representing every species that we see on earth today.

The Questions

Have you ever thought about that? Just 4,350 years ago, there were only eight people alive on planet earth. For any intelligent person, this raises quite a few questions, with this one being the most important:

    Where did all of the different races and cultures that we see today come from? From those eight people came the Chinese, the Africans, the Europeans, the Indians, the American Indians, the Aztecs, the Aborigines, the Vikings, the Eskimos, the Greeks, the Romans and so on. Apparently they all came from these eight people.
Starting from scratch in 2348 BCE, how could all of those races and cultures arise? It is, of course, impossible for a variety of reasons, but let's gloss over it for now.

As you continue thinking about it, the questions keep coming. For example, how did Noah build the boat? How could four men and four women find, harvest, season, transport, cut, shape, assemble and seal all of the trees needed for a ship 450 feet long and 75 feet wide? That is a huge ship. For comparison, the Mayflower (which brought the Pilgrims from England to America) was only about 95 feet long, 25 feet wide and displaced 180 tons. [ref] The Mayflower was a big boat able to hold over 100 people, but it was a pipsqueak compared to the ark.

Using the simplest multiplication, the ark would encompass about 14 Mayflowers, and would therefore weigh at least 5 million pounds. However, because the ark is so much larger, it would have to be far stronger than the Mayflower, making it far heavier. The very largest ships built at the height of the wooden shipbuilding era (the late 1800s) had a maximum keel length of about 250 feet, and the ark is nearly twice that big. This was an amazing vessel. And it was all built by four men and four women.

It is impossible to imagine that eight people could build a boat that big. It is also impossible to imagine a 450 foot long wooden vessel. But let's gloss over that.

Perhaps God helped? But if God were going to help, he would simply manifest a boat from thin air. There is no need for Noah to build it as described in the Bible.

What about the animals, and all of their food? There are about 1.75 million known species of plants and animals (mammals, birds, insects, etc.) crawling around on the planet today, so they must have all been on the ark. There may be more than 10 million species total -- scientists do not really know because we have come nowhere close to cataloging all of the species found on earth. [ref] We don't think about this because we are not biologists, but there are a lot more species on the planet today than most people realize. There are, for example, 20 differences species of vultures. Just vultures. There are 23 species of crocodilians. There are 40,000 species of spiders. And so on. And they all have highly specialized diets. Imagine 40,000 little spider cages, and imagine feeding all 40,000 pairs of spiders. Along with all 160,000 species of moths. And all 17,500 species of butterflies. [ref] And all 350,000 species of beetles. Etc.

Is the boat big enough to hold millions of species? No. And it is definitely not big enough to hold all of the food they need for hundreds of days. For example, one panda bear needs about 30 pounds of fresh bamboo every day -- not something readily available on a boat unless you have a large bamboo grove handy. Similarly, koala bears need fresh eucalyptus leaves. Walruses eat fish and lots of them. Lions eat antelope. Vultures eat carrion. One elephant eats something like 100 pounds of food per day. And so on.

All of that food also means a whole lot of manure and urine. Imagine mucking out a barn that holds millions of animals. Could eight people do it? Certainly not.

Then there is the commute. How did all of the animals found on the far corners of the planet today commute to the Middle East to board the ark? For example, how did pairs of kangaroos, koala bears, etc. commute thousands of miles (not to mention the treacherous ocean crossing) from Australia to the ark? How did walruses and polar bears and penguins make it? What about all of the specialized species in the South American rain forests? In South America, there are 130 species of legionary ants (forget all the other kinds of ants) that we know of. How did they get to Noah? Then they also had to commute back. And they all had to eat their highly specialized foods along the way.

Then there is the DNA. There is no evidence in the DNA record that every animal species on the planet came from a single breeding pair that started reproducing 4,350 years ago. The amount of inbreeding in every species (along with the human species) would be tremendous.

And what about the plants? All of them would be killed too by many months underwater. It would take awhile for things like eucalyptus trees and bamboo groves to grow back, assuming their seeds survived the floods.

The problem with the water

Let's assume that all of these problems can be glossed over. The big problem that remains is the water. The Bible states quite plainly that:

    "[The waters] rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet."
No ambiguity here. And there is no reason for God to lie about it. Mt. Everest was 20 feet underwater.

The peak of Mount Everest rises about 29,000 feet above sea level -- nearly five and a half miles high. That means that the earth was covered, in its entirety, with water 5.5 miles deep. This creates several important problems:

  • Where did all this water (approximately 10 times more water than there is on earth today) come from, and where did it all go?
  • If you assume that God magically imported the water from somewhere and then took it away again, you still have a problem with the fish. If God imported 5.5 miles of fresh water, the fresh water would have killed all of the salt water fish species.
  • Then there is the immense water pressure. Five miles of water creates more than 12,000 PSI of water pressure at sea level.
  • Finally there's the problem with Egypt and other ancient cultures. The Great Pyramid, for example, was built between 2600 BCE and 2500 BCE. Noah's flood occurred 200 years after that. It is obvious that the Great Pyramid never was flooded underneath five miles of water.
  • And so on...
To handle the fish, the ark would need immense fish tanks. If you have ever been to a big public aquarium, or Sea World, or even a pet store, you know that: a) there are a lot of different kinds of fish, and b) fish tanks need a lot of sophisticated filtration equipment. How, exactly, did Noah build all the tanks, and power all the filters? Not to mention how the fish got there -- did they walk onto the ark two by two? Or did they swim through the air?

Let's say you are willing to suspend all your disbelief around all these myriad problems with the story. Let's assume that the flood actually did happen. If you are willing to go that far into the realm of the imaginary, then you end up asking a different set of questions:

  • Why would God be displeased with the way humans turned out, to the extent that he would need to exterminate every living plant and animal on the planet? If God is all-knowing, then he knew exactly what he was doing when he created Adam and Eve (see Understanding Original Sin). If God is perfect, he would have no choice but to create humans right the first time.

  • Let's say that our perfect, all-knowing God made a mistake and was displeased with people for whatever reason, and he needed to exterminate them. That's impossible, but let's say it happened. Why not simply kill the people, and leave the rest of the plants and animals alone? God shows in the book of Exodus that it is incredibly easy for him to selectively kill humans instantly and in massive numbers. For example, God kills only the first born children of only the Egyptians in Exodus chapter 11. Why not kill off all the evil humans in exactly the same way, rather than wiping the entire planet clean?

  • Let's say God decided that he wanted to wipe the planet clean, and that he wanted to use a worldwide flood for whatever reason. Then why did Noah need to build the boat? Why wouldn't God create a boat out of carbon nanotubes or transparent aluminum, with all the specialized compartments and tanks that the boat would need for all of the animals, fish and food? The nice side effect of these advanced materials is that Noah's Ark would still be here today for all to see with our own eyes.

Explaining the flood

A religious person, hearing about all of these myriad problems with the story of Noah in the Bible, might try to engage you in a conversation like this:

    Chris: There is no problem with the story of the flood in the Bible. The Bible was translated incorrectly. For example, in the Hebrew the word for world, 'erets', could also be translated as 'land' rather than 'world.' So you see, the Bible is actually correct. The flood only covered 'the land,' not the whole world.

    Norm: Why didn't an all-knowing God choose a word that is unambiguous?

    Chris: Well, in Hebrew there is not an unambiguous word to use.

    Normal person: Didn't God create all the languages of the earth at the Tower of Babel? Why didn't a perfect God create languages that are unambiguous and solve the problem of word choice in that way?

    Chris: It was not his will to do so.

    Norm: Then why didn't God inspire the translator and make sure that he got the translation right?

    Chris: That would violate the translator's free will.

    Norm: Then didn't God rather drastically violate the free will of the men who wrote the Bible?

    Chris: No. You see, the men who wrote the Bible were different because...

    Norm: Forget it. Let's just assume that you are right. When God chose the word "erets" in the Hebrew he meant the "whole land" rather than the "whole earth." That's fine. Mount Ararat, where the ark is said in the Bible to have come to rest, is over 16,000 feet tall -- nearly three miles. It, according to the Bible, was 20 feet under water. We all know that water spreads out -- it seeks its own level. So if you dump enough water on one country to cover Mount Ararat, then that means the whole world is covered with three miles of water, and we are right back where we started.

    Chris: No, that's not right. You see, God is all-powerful, and he is able to constrain the water to a single land. So only one small part of the earth was covered three miles deep.

    Norm: What, you are saying that God erected a gigantic wall around the Middle East -- he created the world's biggest above-ground swimming pool three miles deep?

    Chris: No, he did not actually have to build a wall...

    Norm: Why is there no evidence for a 3-mile deep flood in the middle east 4,350 years ago?

    Chris: You are wrong...

Admit it. You have heard conversations like this and they are utterly ridiculous. The Christian is making things up out of thin air. The Bible, allegedly, was written by the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe. Why in the world can't such a being get a story straight in the Bible?

If an all-knowing and all-powerful God wrote the Bible, then why are we having to create so many excuses for what he wrote, and come up with so many incredibly convoluted explanations to cover the myriad problems in his stories? Why didn't God simply write the truth to begin with? Any conversation about Noah's ark quickly becomes ridiculous like this because the whole story is ridiculous from beginning to end. Noah's flood, quite simple, never happened.

The meaning of the story

Any intelligent person also sees something far more sinister in the Noah story. If you accept that God wrote the Bible, and if you accept that he put the story of Noah in the Bible for a reason, then let's focus on the central message in the story -- that God exterminated every living human being on the planet except for eight chosen people, and God exterminated all other living things except for the animal pairs on the boat. God's central message in the Noah story is total annihilation. Millions of men, women and children were massacred, along with billions of plants and animals.

Compare this behavior to Hitler. At the time of Hitler's reign, there were approximately 18 million Jewish people on the planet. Hitler killed six million of them -- roughly a third. What words do we use to describe Hitler? We use nouns like monster, demon and fiend, and we use adjectives like abominable, disgusting, repugnant, nauseating, detestable, horrible and revolting.

So why don't we apply those same nouns and adjectives to God? What God did is far worse than what Hitler did. Normal people therefore ask, "Why in the world would anyone worship a being far more horrible and monstrous than Hitler?" It makes absolutely no sense.

The real story

So let's admit it -- the story of Noah and the flood is not true. Choose whatever combination of impossibilities you like, from the food storage space on the ark, to the manure removal problem, to the commute that all the animals had to make, to the fish tank filters. An all-knowing, all-loving, prayer-answering God did not cover the earth in water 5.5 miles (or 3 miles) deep and exterminate everything. There was no ark. There was no death of every living plant and animal, followed by a resurgence from single breeding pairs of every species. 130 species of legionary ants did not swim over from South America and then swim back, nor did the kangaroos, nor did the polar bears. And so on. It did not happen. If you want to believe it that's fine, but we can safely write you off as a nut case.

What does this mean? It means that what we have here is a fanciful legend that is clearly untrue. When you look at Noah's flood, as it is described by the Bible, it is obvious that it did not happen. This is not a case where we need to bring in scientists and experts to disprove it based on little tiny details. This story is clearly and provably untrue to any intelligent person because it is absurd on the broadest, most obvious levels.

Continuing to use your common sense, what does this tell you about the Bible as a whole? Was the Bible written by a perfect and all-knowing being, or was it written by primitive goat herders? Given that the story of Noah is a fictional legend and nothing more, what it means is that the Bible -- the entire Bible -- is a collection of stories written by primitive men. God had nothing to do with it. Either God wrote the entire Bible, or he wrote none of it, because we have no way to know which parts God did and did not write.

More importantly, whether true of not, you realize that the Bible's central message about God is that God is a reprehensible monster far worse than Hitler. God ruthlessly murdered millions of men, women and children for no reason.

Christians willingly worship this monster.

What do you make of all of this? Here are two points of view for you to consider:

  1. The Bible is the word of the Lord. Despite all of the evidence (genetic, geological, geographical, paleontological, forensic, archeological and historic) that Noah's flood and the ark never occurred, you still believe steadfastly that it did. You believe that God intentionally exterminated nearly every living thing on the planet. You openly worship this reprehensible monster.

  2. The story of Noah is a fanciful legend. The Bible was written by men, not by God.
Which point of view makes more sense to you?

For more details about the Bible and further proof that the Bible was written by men and not God, please go to Section 2.

by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

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