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I feel like the story of Noah's ark gets way more questions than it deserves. I mean, I believe heartily that it happened, and I feel like I've given really simple answers to most of the questions I've bothered answering - most of them directly answered in the text.

What gets me is the choice of the ark. the account goes into great detail about the size (it was big), the shape (it was seaworthy), the animals (they came to Noah), their food (Noah was told to gather), and even as recently asked, gave animals sufficent time to be frisky if they wanted! Its part of many, many culture's narratives. Let's face it, as far as miracle stories go, it's pretty tame.

I mean, I happen to know that God became a man, died on a cross, and raised himself from the dead!

If God can become man, die, and live again, I think he he can build a frickin' boat! So, why pick on this story? The ark has nothing to do with my salavation.

So why is everybody so fixated on it?

Jon Ericson is right - and I wish I had actually written this three days ago when I wanted to.

I'm done with my rant!

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    They don't realize that the account is prehistorical. – Peter Turner Mar 9 '12 at 14:32
  • We define the word "know" in very different ways. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Aug 21 '15 at 1:27
  • @Was Cheber You can subjectively 'know' something and it be objectively not the case. To you it is absolutely no different than the external truth which may or may not corroborate your knowledge objectively. – Sola Gratia Aug 17 '17 at 22:04
  • Low hanging fruit. It's a lot easier to scoff at the physically incredible story that is Noah and the Ark, than to delve into the theologies behind it and how they may or may not better humanity. – fгedsbend May 21 at 18:37
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Actually, it's not just unbelievers. How many times have you seen a nursery at church that wasn't decorated with an Ark motif? (The story is attractive because of all the cute animals. Oddly, you never see depictions of the horrors of destruction: the primary point of the story.) There's a truly bizarre theme park in Hong Kong built around a life-sized ark model, which I assume is designed to bring in Christians. The story appeals, in part, because it's a logistical problem that seems solvable.

But to respond to the implied question, I think we'll need to be very aggressive about closing duplicate questions. Hopefully we'll have a stable of good answers to link people to and we'll get fewer new questions popping up. Google will probably pull in new users that way over time.

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    I would love to see a nursery where a small bunch of hungry survivors struggle to eek an existence in a stinking quagmire surrounded by rotting corpses and the remnants of vegetation... Should I go into marketing? – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 21:41
  • @MarcGravell: marketing, yes. Pre-school carer, no... – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Mar 19 '12 at 11:21
  • @MarcGravell may want to consult with Tim Hawkins, too :) – Thomas Shields Apr 3 '12 at 16:56
  • @MarcGravell I've seen PG-13 movies when I was 8. I wouldn't bat an eyelid. – Phonics The Hedgehog May 3 '12 at 0:43
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I would guess it is because the ark story emphasizes less the suspension of the laws of nature--miracles--than other events in the Bible (such as the burning bush, walking on water, the resurrection) and, instead, mostly emphasizes Noah and crew's know-how and hard work. And, since the events of the ark story are of immense proportions, it is difficult to believe, sans miracles, that any small group, or even all of humanity, could pull of that feat. The more one knows about biology, ecology, agriculture, taxonomy, geography, and living with one's in-laws for 40 days on a boat, the more difficult it becomes. As it is still being thought of in the frame of a (mostly) non-miraculous event, it is perhaps more of a magnet for arguments.

Whereas "fully miraculous" stories are much less prone to provoke arguments; one either accepts that a man was raised from the dead or one doesn't.

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    I actually disagree hugely; IMO, and from discussing with many Christians, the flood story requires much much more suspension of laws of the universe than perhaps any other part of the Bible. In many ways it makes mere resurrection look tame. – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 18:32
  • @MarcGravell We may be misunderstanding each other. I'm proposing that the flood story emphasizes non-supernatural human actions as the means of accomplishing the incredible event--and so believers (often?) conceive of Noah's ark as a story about obedience, hard work, project management, and the resultant success, maybe due to God's Home Depot-like instructions ("You are to build an ark...just this big"). They do not frame it as a miracle. And yet, yes, science-minded types think it requires heavy use of miracles to have the project work--and that is the point they tend to argue. – Chelonian Mar 9 '12 at 18:51
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    then I don't think we misunderstand each other at all. Everything you say about the human involvement may be true, but it is not unreasonable that we should ask "what about the other things that would be needed", and frankly the human involvement doesn't even scrape the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the other supernatural things involved for it to work. It is this viewpoint - not an unreasonable one for an enquiring mind, that demands disproportionately large numbers of miracles to explain massive and significant gaps. – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 19:16
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    @MarcGravell But if we agree (and I fully agree with what you just wrote), then we had to have misunderstood each other if you wrote, "I actually disagree hugely". My claim was never: "the ark story could have happened without miracles". My claim was "the non-miraculous details of the ark story (e.g. "cubits") lead people to frame it as one that de-emphasizes miracles, and yet it surely seems to demand miracles, so this is why--answering the OP's question--"skeptics love to harp on the ark story". Does that make sense? – Chelonian Mar 9 '12 at 20:33
  • @MarcGravell I edited my answer to use the word "emphasizes" instead of "relies on" to try to make my point clearer. – Chelonian Mar 9 '12 at 20:35
  • K; I think I see what you mean; still not sure about the "(mostly) non-miraculous" (I read Noah the exact opposite: masses of miracle, more-so than any other part of the Bible, with some people as window dressing), but I suspect we are applying different interpretations. – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 21:44
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    @MarcGravell Yes, that's right: your reading of Noah is the exact opposite of (many) Christians, who are reading the story largely as a believable engineering feat due--this is my hypothesis--to the details provided in the story, such as size/shape of ark, sexual pairwise inclusion of animals, etc. And yes, it is hard for rationalists to understand how anyone could adopt that reading given the nature of biology. And yet they do...and thus arguments. – Chelonian Mar 9 '12 at 22:20
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It is the chapters about "things" (physical reality, rather than people) that contain enough information to feel like they such be provable or at least fit into our modern knowledge of how reality/physics/etc works that promote the most controversy. So: creation and Noah are always going to get more focus than most areas, because they stick out like a sore thumb compared to the bulk of the text which is mostly about people and cultures. It isn't a big step to accept "there was a person called X who said Y to Z" - and no real evidence/counter-evidence either way to contend with.

I agree there have been more questions about the flood than many other things, but my interpretation is that many of those have not been asked by "skeptics", but by believers who struggle with it. Embrace this! It illustrates a real problem that many Christians have - which is essentially the site's mantra. In fact, I suspect that it is precisely because it tries to be fairly detailed that makes it so hard to accept - in that when the details are placed under the modern eye (no matter whether by a believer or skeptic), it does have significant issues. Contrary to some Christians' view that this is a mostly non-miraculous event (about human endeavour), if you don't accept many many many miracles, it requires a massive "suspension of disbelief" to read it. The fact is that there are a lot of important problems, that interestingly wouldn't have been obvious to a writer without modern knowledge - but modern or not they would have needed solving at the time.

Hence the problem is that for many believers it has enough detail to cause alarm bells that doing things with a global flood simply wasn't a sensible approach to the problem, and that just "vanishing" the people you don't want would be simpler and require less supernatural intervention.

Additionally tied into this is the growing field of history: most historians agree that there is plenty of cultural evidence to support one or several significant floods, but not really as described in the Bible, and issues such as cultures of similar and older ages to the supposed chronology dates. Don't shoot the messenger, but: this then prompts the question:

Is there a simpler explanation? Is this just one culture's way of rationalising a flood event that was significant and frightening to them, which uprooted their society and was beyond their ability to comprehend?

Substitute "flood" for any physical event; the answer to questions such as these are... Well, each religion has an answer, and none of them agree.

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    I agree that Christians put at least (if not more) thought into the flood story compared to skeptics. Your analysis is thoroughly sound. I would say, however, that you can avoid "suspension of disbelief" if you read the stories in their proper context. What bores me about the questions is that they assume the wrong context from the start. (This might be an interesting blog series...) – Jon Ericson Mar 9 '12 at 20:33
  • @Jon there's a problem there, that I've heard many competing and incompatible "proper contexts" for most parts of the Bible. That said, I would be interested in what you consider the proper context/interpretation. If you do get around to blogging it, please do forward a link. – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 21:37
  • @MarcGravell As I mentioned in my comment to you, that is not my claim. My claim is that some (many?) Christians frame this story as one more about "engineering" than about miracles due to over-attending to parts such as: "So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high." Etc. – Chelonian Mar 9 '12 at 22:32
  • @Chelonian I quote: "As it is still being thought of in the frame of a (mostly) non-miraculous event", which is virtually word-for-word what I said you said...? – Marc Gravell Mar 9 '12 at 22:35
  • @MarcGravell No, there is a key difference, and I think I see the point of misunderstanding. The sentence you quoted was phrased in the passive voice ("being though of") and that leaves it up for grabs as to who the agent of that thinking is. That's me being unclear! OK, for the record now: some CHRISTIANS are thinking of it as a mostly non-miraculous event. SKEPTICS (that's you and me) are thinking of it as either obviously requiring major miracles (which skeptics doubt exist) or is just a false story. Does that help? ("Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.") – Chelonian Mar 10 '12 at 0:26
  • @Chelonian now I understand - sorry if I was being dense. I have clarified my answer accordingly. – Marc Gravell Mar 10 '12 at 8:07
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There are two major types of questions here.

  1. Questions, where the asker is curious to know the answer.
  2. Questions asked not to get an answer, but only to "prove a point", usually using the straw-man strategy. In this case the askers already have their answers they firmly believe in, and only ask so that others will answer and they can point out what they believe as inconsistencies in the answers.

It seems most questions about the Ark fall into the second type.

There is actually a rule on the site: you should not post rants disguised as questions, or questions that solicit a debate. However, these are easy to filter out when the topic is programming (the original StackExchange site), but difficult here.

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  • I'm guilty of #2 on the philosophy site. I'm trying to repent of that behavior... – Jon Ericson Mar 11 '12 at 1:20
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I suspect it's a combination of factors.

  1. The Ark story is a prime example of the authors of the Bible not knowing what they're talking about. After the Ark landed on Mount Arrarat, all the marsupials made their way directly to Australia without leaving any trace anywhere else? The narrative is, on its face, absurd.

  2. It's a well-told and gripping story. It's also a fairly simple narrative, easy to summarise and to understand.

  3. We can tell where the story came from, seeing how it developed from the Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient Near Eastern texts. We can trace how the myth developed and changed in the telling. That makes it quite interesting to textual critics and historians.

  4. It's a story Conservative Christians like to tell lies about. Fake "science" books, claiming to demonstrate geological evidence for the Flood, are common. (A while ago, there was an outcry at some such pseudoscientific drivel being for sale in the shop at the Grand Canyon. Obviously a science-based government body should not be supporting pseudoscience.)

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    I'm curious about the Grand Canyon controversy. Just so you know, NPS gift shops are operated by contractors. Which isn't to say they should be selling false information as the division isn't obvious to the public. (Even though I disagree with "Conservative Christians" on this issue, saying that they "like to tell lies about" the flood is insulting and needlessly combative.) – Jon Ericson Mar 9 '12 at 20:44
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    I make no apology for calling liars liars. The people who parrot this nonsense are just tragically misinformed, but the people who twist evidence, who quote out of context, and who simply make stuff up, are liars. All purveyors of pseudoscience are liars. – TRiG Mar 9 '12 at 22:27
  • Being a member of the Grand Canyon Association, I suppose I should have remembered that they have a separate bookshop at the park. I think their solution (move the book to the Inspirational Reading section) was ideal for all involved. I actually have a lot of respect for the Answers in Genesis folks, who take the Bible seriously. I think they wrong about many things, including what the 1st Amendment covers, but they seem to do their best to understand the evidence and not make it up. I see a lot of disagreements, but no real lies in the article you linked to. – Jon Ericson Mar 9 '12 at 23:08
  • May 12 - 22, this fat 40 year old is going to attempt to hike across said Grand Canyon from South Rim to North Rim and back. I'll check out the gift store when I'm there :). And, Jon Ericson, I may be emailing you questions :) – Affable Geek Mar 13 '12 at 22:26

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