When last we left Noah and the gang, they were shut in the ark as the rains began to fall for forty days and nights, and the ark found itself floating on the waters.
So here is the situation. A 600 year old man, his wife, his three sons and three daughters in-law are stuck in a huge wooden vessel with “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.”
Now for those who hew to a literal reading of the book of Genesis, it is important to grasp the implications of the above paragraph. Here is a partial list of animals alone, in no particular order: sheep, goats, camels, bears, cows, pigs, buffalo, horses, llamas, alpacas, lions, tigers, gazelles, dogs, moose, giraffes, leopards, pumas, gorillas, chimpanzees, lemurs, bonobos, monkeys, orangutans, tarsiers, bear cats, cats, wolves, foxes, elephants, squirrels, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wildebeests, Tasmanian devils, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, swans, rhinos, hippos, pandas, lemurs, baboons, hyenas, hartebeests, impalas, warthogs, waterbucks, zebras, walruses, seals, sea lions, otters, yaks, rabbits, hedgehogs, armadillos, ocelots, deer, chipmunks, skunks, gibbons, possums, raccoons, ibex, platypus, sloths, rats, hamsters, gerbils, weasels, mongooses, porcupines, chinchillas, guinea pigs, shrews, moles, bandicoots, coyotes, jaguars, turtles, penguins, alligators, crocodiles, monitors, komodo dragons, chameleons, pythons, anacondas, cobras, salamanders, toads, frogs, bats, emus, ostriches, peacocks, ducks, owls, vultures, seagulls, hawks, eagles, canaries, parrots, geese, flamingoes, beavers, macaws, toucans, condors, tapirs, caribou, lynx, voles, rams, antelope, anteaters, boa constrictors, cougars, caimans, panthers, javelinas, kinkajous, peccaries, pronghorns, woodpeckers, cheetahs, lemmings, falcons, wolverines, musk ox, aye-ayes, bongos, ferrets, gnus, groundhogs, okapi, oryxes, pangolins, numbats, quolls, sugar gliders, Tasmanian tigers, dinornis, cassowaries, moas, kiwis, tuataras, and so on and so on. I have not even touched on insects yet.
But just from this list alone, the skeptic draws the conclusion that it would have been impossible for a mere eight people to have fed all of these animals. We are talking about a logistical nightmare here. Even if Noah and his family did not eat or sleep during the entire time they spent in the ark, there were still not enough of them to attend to the animals. But even if they did by some miracle have the means to do so, they would have been utterly ignorant as to the special dietary needs of many of these animals. Some were carnivorous, such as the lions and the tigers. Others were herbivores and ate only certain kinds of leaves. For instance, as mentioned in Part 1, koalas only eat leaves from the eucalyptus tree which is native to Australia. And some animals eat only insects. Since the majority of these animals were surely unfamiliar to Noah, how would he have known what kind of food each animal ate?
Those who insist on adhering to a literal belief in the book of Genesis will try to find ways to get around such inconvenient facts. For instance, some argue that God caused the animals to go into a state of hibernation so that they did not need to eat during the time they were cooped up in the ark. But after God tells Noah in Genesis 6: 18-20 the people and animals he is to take with him on the ark, God commands him in Genesis 6:21 to “take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and them.” This strongly implies that the food to be stored on the ark is not only for the people, but for the animals as well. Furthermore, if God caused the animals to sleep during the flood, it is likely that it would have been mentioned in Genesis. For example, in Chapter 2 of Genesis, when God creates Eve, it clearly reads “God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep.” If the animals of the ark were in a state of hibernation, we can be pretty sure there would have been a line somewhere in the Noah’s Ark tale along the lines of “And God caused the animals and birds on the ark to fall into a sleep so that they would not go hungry.” Therefore, we must conclude that the animals were not in a state of hibernation during their time on the ark and that they would have required enormous amounts of food and fresh water to sustain them.
The second problem that skeptics of the tale will bring up naturally follows from the first. The sheer amount of excrement and urine on the ark would have been enormous. Noah and his family, in addition to struggling to feed all of the animals of the ark, would have been overwhelmed by the task of disposing of their bodily wastes, assuming they did not pass out from the stench. In addition to the smell, the ark would have been a breeding ground for disease and sickness that would have caused an epidemic of death and illness on the vessel. To get a sample of what it is like to be on an oceangoing vessel for an extended period of time, below is a description of what travel conditions were like for European immigrants making a Trans-Atlantic journey to the Americas.
“The cheapest passage was in steerage, below the deck of the ship. This area was particularly filthy due to the lack of water, toilets, and cleaning facilities. The stench was nearly impossible to tolerate. Reports of rodents and lice were commonplace.
Regardless of the accommodations one chose, it was impossible to live comfortably. Cleanliness was a major problem. Ships had toilet facilities, but they were few and far between, and all were inconveniently placed. There was no space or equipment for washing. The amount of fresh water onboard was based only upon drinking and cooking needs.
Once the ship was on its way, seasickness was seldom far behind. The close quarters and unsanitary conditions facilitated the rapid spread of infectious diseases. These factors, plus the already physically compromised condition of many of the passengers, resulted in severe health problems that included typhoid, tuberculosis, influenza, and all manner of infections–all of which were potentially life threatening.
When storms came, the ship would pitch and creak. With the hatches down, and without proper ventilation, the stench increased and there was no chance of getting meals even for those who had stomach enough to eat them.”
Genesis literalist will try to argue their way around this unpleasant fact as well. One of my blog readers posited that “a hole with walls might have been built into the center [of the ark] through the bottom. Water could rise and fall like a piston, bring fresh air into the ark. This also would be a good way for them to get water for the animals. Maybe they even had two of these piston well holes and dumped all the poop down the other.” But Genesis does not tell us that such pistons were built. In Genesis 6:14-16, God describes to Noah how the ark should be built. He tells Noah what kind of wood to use, how long, high and wide the ark should be, that it should be covered with pitch, how many decks there should be, and where to put the door. Surely, if so revolutionary device as a piston were to be built, Genesis would tell us something along the lines of “and build a piston in the center of the ark so that that which issueth from man and animal can be pass out of the ark” or something along those lines.
In reading Genesis, a reasonable person can only conclude that the story of Noah and Ark was written by someone completely ignorant of oceanic vessels, not to mention the true extent of the Earth and the incredible diversity of life on the planet that makes a literal reading of the story ridiculous. The leaps of logic that literal believers in the story make to justify their belief only serves to reinforce the absurdity of a Supreme Being resolving to destroy all life by flooding the surface of the planet for months, killing all life save that which was packed aboard the ark.
Interestingly, before the rains began to fall, God tells Noah (Genesis 7:4) when the flooding will begin so that Noah knows when to have all of his family and the animals safely aboard the ark, but when the rain stops, Noah has to release birds to find out if the rainwater had receded. Why doesn’t God just say “Fourteen days from now, the ground will be dry enough for you and all on the ark with you to step out onto the dry land”? Instead, God waits until after Noah has already discovered that the land is dry before commanding him to leave.
The flood story ends with Noah sacrificing some clean animals to God (Genesis 8:20-21) and God being pleased by the aroma of the burnt offerings. For a being that is supposed to have created an infinite universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, comets, nebulae and other celestial bodies, it seems awfully provincial for such a Supreme Being to get a rush out of the odor arising from the burning of sacrificed animals. And thus, God’s Rube Goldberg punishment of humanity had come to an end.