According to the Bible in Genesis Chapter 6, there was a worldwide flood of epic proportions about 4,000 years ago. Sometime back, I began thinking about the story a little bit more and inconsistencies began to emerge that suggested it should not perhaps be taken too literally or as factually accurate. Could it be that the flood story is just a metaphor for some deeper truth, a prophetic parable about salvation? Here are some of the problems I unearthed.
1. THE ARK CONSTRUCTION PROBLEM
Imagine the sheer logistical nightmare of building the ark. What kind of labour force was needed that had to be pre-trained for many years in order to perfect ship building? If just one of the workers made a small mistake during construction leading to a leakage at sea, it would be “hasta la vista” to the precious cargo.
How many tons of wood were needed and how was it all acquired by cutting down zillions of trees, transporting them to the site, sawing into smaller sections and assembling using iron nails that had to be produced elsewhere and brought on site? Was there enough wood of ship building quality in the Middle East, without importing from elsewhere at great cost and time? Some estimates say that the required wood in today’s money would cost close to $20 million.
Did the illiterate people of Noah’s era know Geometry, Calculus, Trigonometry, Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics and all the advanced Mathematics of today that is necessary to design such a massive ark? Did they design the steam engine before James Watt did, to power the ark and avoid being smashed on rocks as the waters rose and winds tossed the ark about?
Imagine the task of drawing the blueprints on papyrus using feathers and ink without modern precision printers, binding or lamination. How long would that take since the plans would have had possibly hundreds of pages that needed to be copied (without any mistakes) several times for different teams?
How rich would Noah have had to be for him to hire a massive army of ship builders and get them trained in something that had never been done before in the history of mankind at that point in time? And there would also have had to be another large army of people to cook and bring food and water to the site for the workers using firewood which needed to be collected from nearby forests that would quickly deplete due to the scale of the project.
What was the source of the tar (pitch) used to prevent water leaking into the ark? How was it transported (tons and tons of it) to the work site? Naturally occurring tar pits are not just found anywhere. The tar on site would have to be heated to be malleable to use. People on site would have to be kept warm during cold nights. Imagine the massive energy requirements for the project that would mean transportation of wood and/or coal to the site by yet another army of people.
Do some research online on ship building or talk to a Structural Engineer and it quickly becomes clear that it is not physically possible to build a big ark out of wood according to the dimensions in Genesis 6:15-16 which were 135m long x 23m wide x 14m high (43,470 cubic meters) with 3 levels. A forty-foot container is about 68 cubic meters so the ark was equivalent to about 640 containers with a floor space bigger than half a football pitch.
A vessel that size would need to have long sections of wood and lots of joined pieces. Having done courses in Materials Science, Solid Mechanics, Numerical Stress Analysis and Failure Analysis during my Engineering degree, I can authoritatively tell you that wood with too many joints introduces numerous points of potential failure. Long sections of wood are worse because they bend and crack under stress.
Applying “Beam Theory” and the “Square-Cube Law”, the more wood you put into a massive boat, the heavier it gets until its own weight exceeds its strength and makes it incredibly fragile such that even a gentle breeze at sea causes it to break apart due to its own massive weight (The ark has been estimated to have been about 3,700 tons empty weight).
A large wooden vessel out in the open sea carrying a massive load would not withstand the powerful storms at sea. It would be snapped into pieces like breaking toothpicks in your hands. The fact that the entire earth was covered completely with water meant there were no large objects like continents, mountains or trees to break up the fierce winds over the oceans which would therefore have been more intense. Forget a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 300km/hour. It would have been unimaginable wind power.
Ship building history shows that wooden ships approaching the size of the ark were never successfully used. All ships longer than about 100m would either end up with water leaking into them as the wooden beams buckled and sheared, or they simply broke into pieces at sea. That is why in the 19th Century, ship builders turned to iron to make bigger vessels.
Why wasn’t anyone from all the people and kingdoms around watching this project tempted to disrupt it or cause problems? It could even be passing soldiers that were hungry and found food and water in one place. They could have taken the food by force and kidnapped some of the workers as slaves and disrupted the building. Noah would have needed his own army for protection which had to be paid and fed everyday.
All the thousands of people involved in the project (ship builders, carpenters, iron-smiths, soldiers, cooks, gatherers, transporters, sex workers, etc.) would all need accommodation to sleep at night. They had to build an entire workers’ city before doing anything on the ark!
How long did it take to build all the housing, complete with an army barracks and water and food sources (animals, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, etc.)? Noah had to be the richest, most powerful man on earth at the time to pull off the project. He literally had to be an emperor.
And the most interesting conundrum is that after all that hard work for many years, not a single person among all the thousands who worked on the project believed in the flood. All of them simply went back to their homes as if nothing had happened. They had no interest in getting into the ark (including all their friends and family, no matter how gullible) until the door was shut. I wonder how a riot to get in was prevented when it began to rain heavily. Angels with swords outside the ark maybe?
2. THE ANIMALS PROBLEM
Latest estimates say there are 7.8 million species of animals on earth. 91% are on land. Only about 1.7 million (22%) have been discovered and described. Of the 1.7 million discovered, 1.3 million are invertebrates (insects, spiders, scorpions, worms, etc). Excluding fishes, there are 34,000 discovered species of vertebrates (birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians). Since this is approximately 20% of the total, the final figure is around 170,000 vertebrates and 6.5 million invertebrates.
I seriously doubt that all these animals could all be fitted into one boat. And there is a limit to how large a ship can be, according to the laws of Physics. How did all these animals move from wherever they were to the Middle East? Koala bears for example are only found in Australia and the Black Lechwe only in Zambia. How did they cross the oceans and jungles?
How did all the creatures of the earth move thousands of kilometers to get to the Middle East without dying of hunger, thirst or accidents and without being hunted down along the way? Many animals only eat specific foods which are not found in the Middle East.
How did animals suited to cold climates like Polar Bears and Penguins survive in the harsh Middle East heat? How did the humble snails, worms or millipedes get there in time, considering how slow they move? Where did all the creatures get water and food along the way?
3. THE ARK ENTRY PROBLEM
Let us assume God magically dropped off all the creatures outside the ark waiting to get in and he made sure the lions and leopards were not tempted to begin hunting the antelopes. How long would it take to get all the animals inside through one door and into the rooms they needed to be in?
We already earlier worked out that there are about 170,000 species of vertebrates. Let’s assume it took 5 minutes to “process” each pair of vertebrates on average, taking into account different animal movements, sizes, speeds, several people doing processing, etc.
“Processing” consists of animals walking from outside through the door, moving around the ark and its decks to get to where they need to be, getting inside a room or section and sometimes being tied down by a human to prevent injury due to the ark being moved around by storms. You cannot have animals just rush in anyhow or there would be a stampede and death so humans had to control the movements.
So time taken is 170,000 X 5 minutes = 850,000 minutes = 14,167 hours = 590 days = 20 months or one year 8 months! Even if the processing time was reduced to one minute per animal, it is still about 120 days (4 months).
Now let’s consider the remaining 6.5 million invertebrate species of which about 5 million are insects which can enter faster. Even these would have to go to the right rooms. If they were entering the ark at an average of 100 insect species per second, that’s 35 days to enter the ark.
The rest like spiders, snails, worms or millipedes are not exactly fast moving and are around 1.5 million species. Assuming they were simultaneously entering the ark from day one alongside the vertebrates and insects at the average rate of 10 per second is 104 days. Genesis 7:2-3 says all clean animals and birds were taken in sevens, so the time for entry was greater than 2 years.
Considering unexpected eventualities, even 3 years of entering the ark would be generous, and we assume the smaller animals like insects or snails were not accidentally squashed as they entered alongside the bigger animals. We would have animals walking into the ark day and night for years with Noah and his crew working in shifts and in teams. The animals cannot eat or drink in all these years.
Were dinosaurs part of this arrangement? In which case, things get terribly complicated. And when you consider that many creatures (such as insects) live for just a few weeks or months, they would die and thus become extinct before the ark was even 10% full.
But the biggest absurdity in this Noah Flood story is Genesis 7:10 which says that it took only SEVEN DAYS for all these creatures to get on board. Seven days for 7.8 million species of creatures (not counting extinct species since then) to enter through one door and get settled into the correct room. That is 1.1 million per day or 46,000 per hour 774 per second!!!
4. THE MAINTENANCE PROBLEM
How do you feed all those creatures in a cramped small space? The ark was on water for over a year according to the Bible (Genesis 7:11,24; 8:4,5,14). Imagine how much the resident elephants ate in that time. The food taken aboard (Genesis 6:21) was greater in volume and weight than all the animals. How did it stay fresh for one year, never mind fit into the ark with 7.8 million species of animals? What did Noah and family eat for a whole year which never rotted and which gave them a full balanced diet?
And what about all the animal waste? The animal gases produced in an enclosed ship would have poisoned the air inside and killed off lots of animals. How do you remove all the heat and humidity in an enclosed space? Did Noah invent the air-conditioner and ventilation shafts?
Maybe God put the animals to sleep for many years and suspended their farting functions and dropped their body temperatures. But not all animals can hibernate, let alone sleep for years. Many of them would waste and die because their sleeping bodies are not getting any food. Food is needed for energy to fuel the body functions. Some small rodents have such a high metabolic rate that they die if they don’t eat for 6 hours.
5. THE WATER PROBLEM
What was the source of the water to rain on earth for 40 days non-stop and cover the whole earth? Some misguided Bible apologists have made the totally stupid argument that there was a huge canopy of water above the earth (Genesis 1:7) just before the flood which was the source of the rain. Their ignorance is inexcusable because the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.
The earth’s atmosphere is 480 kilometers thick and divided into 5 layers. The first one on the ground (Troposphere) is about 6 to 20km thick. It has 50% of the air on earth and houses all rain clouds. Its temperature ranges from a global average at sea level of 15 degrees Celcius to MINUS 50 degrees Celcius at the top of the Troposphere.
We have all seen ice on top of mountains haven’t we? So if there was a canopy of water up in the air, it would be frozen solid and no sunlight would reach us. But in any case, how can a large liquid or solid body stay hanging in the air and defy the laws of gravity?
Is 40 days even enough to churn out enough rain to flood the whole earth? Some people have calculated that for all the land to be covered up to 7 meters above Mount Everest (Genesis 7:20), the volume of water needed would have to be 3 times what exists today in total (oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, swamps, water vapour, etc). This means two thirds of the water after the flood just vanished into thin air.
God introducing all that water into the earth would have meant the angular momentum of the earth would have reduced because of increased mass, leading to a slower rate of spin and thus longer days. That would have had a disruptive effect on seasons, ocean currents, weather, climate, etc. The earth would have been more massive for about a year and would have had a bigger gravitational pull on the moon. Would the moon have stayed in orbit or come closer to the earth and mess up other delicately balanced systems?
Rain comes from water vapour in the air turning into water drops after evaporating from sources like oceans. For a global flood to occur, the air would have had to hold so much water vapour that it would probably not be breathable and most land creatures would drown by breathing the excessively water-saturated air. Moreover, there is a limit to how much water the air can hold and I am not sure it can hold enough water-vapour to flood completely up to Mount Everest.
Fresh water in rivers and lakes would have mixed together with ocean water and almost all freshwater fish and other inland water organisms would have died because of all the salt from the oceans which would have disturbed the pH rating of the inland waters.
Water covering the whole earth for a year would have killed off all plants and most other life on earth with it, leaving no food for humans and the animals after the flood. Life would have become extinct and you wouldn’t be reading this article today.
A flooded earth would have had powerful ocean currents moving over submerged land and they would have destroyed everything and knocked over human made structures like the pyramids, the great Zimbabwe, the Egyptian obelisks, Roman Coliseums, etc. You would not find those structures standing today. Only rubble.
The ocean currents would have also deposited silt on everything on land and it would be visible today everywhere including mountains. Yet extensive archaeological studies have never confirmed finding silt deposits everywhere on earth.
6. THE POST-FLOOD PROBLEM
The ark landed on Mount Ararat after one year of floating at sea. It would take years for all the animals to get off in twos or sevens as explained earlier. Even if fresh exits were created by breaking the outer walls, it would still take many months for the ark to be emptied due to the sheer huge number of creatures.
The ones that came off first found no food and very little drinkable water because it had been contaminated by the salts from the sea. Plants could not grow quickly enough due to all the silt deposits on land and the ocean salts contamination. It would need many rainy seasons to clean out all the ocean salts from the soil and inland water sources.
The lions come out and need to eat. They see the remaining two impalas and they hunt them down. Oops! Impalas are now extinct. Or maybe the antelopes run off and all the carnivorous cats like leopards and tigers become extinct since it takes years to create a good population of antelopes from two parents. Either way, the ending is not good for mother nature.
All the millions of creatures had to move from Mount Ararat in Turkey across the oceans back to where they came from. Australia, New Zealand, South America, Japan, India, Africa, Madagascar, Antarctica, etc. How did that happen?
Maybe God magically takes the animals back where he picked them up from, but it is a desolate wasteland with nothing to eat or drink and with the balance of nature completely upset by the flood waters. There are no bees and other insects to pollinate flowers and cause plants and trees to grow back properly. There is little fungus to break down dead wood and fertilize the soil and there isn’t enough bacteria to break down all the dead corpses and dead plants from the flood.
After a year under water, the dead trees, shrubs, bushes and grasses cannot provide cover for animals and insects or hold the soil together. Anything that was left has been shredded by the ocean currents and there is silt on top of everything.
The ice in the North and South Pole has melted and changed the ocean currents perhaps for the worst. Any rain that falls erodes the top soil, making things worse. It will take maybe a thousand years for things to be normal again. What a mess!
7. THE SUMERIAN MYTHOLOGY PROBLEM
It is very curious that the Sumerians (5000 BC to 1750 BC) wrote down a flood story that is remarkably similar to Noah’s Flood (which was written much later). The flood story is preserved on one of 12 clay tablets (found in the British Museum) in a mythical set of stories called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. Gilgamesh was one of the Sumerian Kings.
The 12 tablets were originally part of the extensive library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (669-627BC) and were written in an ancient script called “cuneiform”. Ashurbanipal, also known as Asnappar or Osnappar (Ezra 4:10) was the grandson of the Biblical King Sennacherib (2Kings 18:13, 2Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36 and 37).
The 12 tablets were copied down the centuries from earlier sources and discovered in modern day Iraq in 1853. The flood story is also captured with a few more details in the “Epic of Atra-Hasis”, written by the Akkadians (who came after the Sumerians). The Akkadian Empire is what gave birth to Assyria and Babylonia. Although Gilgamesh is older, it appears to have copied the flood story from Atra-Hasis.
Also of interest is that Genesis 11:31 and 15:7 mention Abraham coming out from “Ur of the Chaldeans”. Ur was one of the earliest Sumerian city-states dating back to 3,800 BC and is in modern day Iraq. Ur had Chaldeans settling there around 850 BC and ruling it by 550 BC. Sumer is also known as Shinar in the Bible (See Genesis 10:8-10 which mentions other Sumerian place names).
The Sumerians invented many things: the wheel, cities, irrigation, codified law, the monarchy, writing, schools, proverbs, organized religion, Astrology, time measurements using 24 hours / 60 minutes / 60 seconds, mathematics, philosophy, holidays and the first empire.
See a brief history of the Sumerians: https://www.ancient.eu/sumer/
I suppose the only way to get out of all the absurdities listed above (among many others) is to just say it was all a miracle. God did all the magic of taking the animals to the ark, hibernating them as they got inside, feeding directly into their bodies as they slept, stopping ocean currents smashing the ark to pieces, removing the silt deposits on land, keeping all human structures intact, making it flood by rain, getting rid of all that excess water, making all plants and trees grow back instantly, bringing back all insects, fungi, bacteria, taking back all the animals to source and instantly multiplying them, etc.
In which case I think it was more efficient for God to just snap his fingers and kill off all the bad people on earth and leave just Noah and his family alive, without going to all the trouble of building an ark and messing with nature. God did not need to break so many laws of nature just to make a global flood possible for the sake of killing off a few humans whose population was nothing compared to the other organisms on earth.
APPENDIX: FLOOD STORY FROM THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH (TABLET 11)
You know the city Shurrupak, it stands on the banks of Euphrates? That city grew old and the gods that were in it were old. There was Anu, lord of the firmament, their father, and warrior Enlil their counsellor, Ninurta the helper, and Ennugi watcher over canals; and with them also was Ea. In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council.
“The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.”
So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind. Enlil did this, but Ea because of his oath warned me in a dream. He whispered their words to my house of reeds.
“Reed-house, reed-house! Wall, O wall, hearken reed-house, wall reflect; O man of Shurrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu; tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive. Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat. These are the measurements of the barque as you shall build her: let hex beam equal her length, let her deck be roofed like the vault that covers the abyss; then take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures.”
When I had understood I said to my lord, “Behold, what you have commanded I will honour and perform, but how shall I answer the people, the city, the elders?”
Then Ea opened his mouth and said to me, his servant, “Tell them this: I have learnt that Enlil is wrathful against me, I dare no longer walk in his land nor live in his city; I will go down to the Gulf to dwell with Ea my lord. But on you he will rain down abundance, rare fish and shy wild-fowl, a rich harvest-tide. In the evening the rider of the storm will bring you wheat in torrents.”
In the first light of dawn all my household gathered round me, the children brought pitch and the men whatever was necessary. On the fifth day I laid the keel and the ribs, then I made fast the planking. The ground-space was one acre, each side of the deck measured one hundred and twenty cubits, making a square. I built six decks below, seven in all, I divided them into nine sections with bulkheads between.
I drove in wedges where needed, I saw to the punt poles, and laid in supplies. The carriers brought oil in baskets, I poured pitch into the furnace and asphalt and oil; more oil was consumed in caulking, and more again the master of the boat took
into his stores. I slaughtered bullocks for the people and every day I killed sheep. I gave the shipwrights wine to drink as though it were river water, raw wine and red wine and oil and white wine. There was feasting then as there is at the time of the New Year’s festival; I myself anointed my head.
On the seventh day the boat was complete. Then was the launching full of difficulty; there was shifting of ballast above and below till two thirds was submerged. I loaded into her all that I had of gold and of living things, my family, my kin, the beast of the field both wild and tame, and all the craftsmen. I sent them on board, for the time that Shamash had ordained was already fulfilled when he said, “in the evening, when the rider of the storm sends down the destroying rain, enter the boat and batten her down.”
The time was fulfilled, the evening came, the rider of the storm sent down the rain. I looked out at the weather and it was terrible, so I too boarded the boat and battened her down. All was now complete, the battening and the caulking; so I handed the tiller to Puzur-Amurri the steersman, with the navigation and the care of the whole boat.
With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding. In front over hill and plain Shullat and Hanish, heralds of the storm, led on. Then the gods of the abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the war-lord threw down the dykes, and the seven judges of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their livid flame.
A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup. One whole day the tempest raged, gathering fury as it went, it poured over the people like the tides of battle; a imam
could not see his brother nor the people be seen from heaven. Even the gods were terrified at the flood, they fled to the highest heaven, the firmament of Ann; they crouched against the walls, cowering like curs. Then Ishtar the sweet-voiced Queen of Heaven cried out like a woman in travail:
“Alas the days of old are turned to dust because I commanded evil; why did I command thus evil in the council of all the gods? I commanded wars to destroy the people, but are they not my people, for I brought them forth? Now like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean.”
The great gods of heaven and of hell wept, they covered their mouths. For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the, flood was stilled; I looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay. The surface of the sea stretched as flat as a roof-top; I opened a hatch and the light fell on my face.
Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every side was the waste of water. I looked for land in vain, but fourteen leagues distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge. One day she held, and -a second day on the mountain of Nisir she held fast and did not budge. A third day, and a fourth day she held fast on the mountain and did not budge; a fifth day and a sixth day she held fast on the mountain.
When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting-place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting-place she returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back. Then I threw everything open to the four winds, I made a sacrifice and poured out a libation on the mountain top.
Seven and again seven cauldrons I set up on their stands, I heaped up wood and cane and cedar and myrtle. When the gods smelled the sweet savour, they gathered like flies over the sacrifice. Then, at last, Ishtar also came, she lifted her necklace with the jewels of heaven that once Anu had made to please her.
“O you gods here present, by the lapis lazuli round my neck I shall remember these days as I remember the jewels of my throat; these last days I shall not forget. Let all the gods gather round the sacrifice, except Enlil. He shall not approach this offering, for without reflection he brought the flood; he consigned my people to
When Enlil had come, when he saw the boat, he was wrath and swelled with anger at the gods, the host of heaven,
“Has any of these mortals escaped? Not one was to have survived the destruction.”
Then the god of the wells and canals Ninurta opened his mouth and said to the warrior Enlil,
“Who is there of the gods that can devise without Ea? It is Ea alone who knows all things.”
Then Ea opened his mouth and spoke to warrior Enlil,
“Wisest of gods, hero Enlil, how could you so senselessly bring down the flood?
Lay upon the sinner his sin,
Lay upon the transgressor his transgression,
Punish him a little when he breaks loose,
Do not drive him too hard or he perishes,
Would that a lion had ravaged mankind rather than the flood,
Would that a wolf had ravaged mankind rather than the flood,
Would that famine had wasted the world rather than the flood,
Would that pestilence had wasted mankind rather than the flood.
It was not I that revealed the secret of the gods; the wise man learned it in a dream. Now take your counsel what shall be done with him.”
Then Enlil went up into the boat, he took me by the hand and my wife and made us enter the boat and kneel down on either side, he standing between us. He touched our foreheads to bless us saying,
“In time past Utnapishtim was a mortal man; henceforth he and his wife shall live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers.”
Thus it was that the gods took me and placed me here to live in the distance, at the mouth of the rivers.