Here’s a footnote to my prior article on Cosmos and God:
If ever there was a Bible story that makes absolutely no sense, it is the story of Noah. It’s so easy to find logical fallacies in the telling that it hardly seems worth the trouble to do so. However, Noah has recently received more than his usual amount of attention, thanks to the Darren Aronofsky movie starring Russell Crowe. An assortment of articles (such as this one) debate the story’s “accuracy.” Several Christian groups are alarmed at the movie’s supposed misrepresentations.
Although there’s not much I can add that has not already been said, I’ll offer a few personal thoughts anyway:
• In Genesis 6-9, God expresses his regret at creating “man” because all men have become evil and wicked. Really? Isn’t God perfect? If so, how could he create something he later regrets?
As an aside: Can you imagine what would happen if someone alive today claimed to be having conversations with God similar to what Noah had? They would almost certainly be declared insane.
• Can it really be true that everyone on earth was evil at the time of Noah, as God asserts in Genesis? What about newborn children? What about most children really? What about the people in distant parts of the world that were unaware of what was going on in the Middle East?
Did everyone really have to die to appease God here? Why couldn’t God have selectively destroyed just the truly evil people, similar to what he did when the Egyptian first-born were slain — as told in Exodus and recalled by Jews every Passover? For some reason, this was apparently not a possibility.
Instead, if the story is true, God executed the biggest act of genocide in history (as others have pointed out).
• Moving on to the specifics of the flood (and again as has been pointed out by others), it would be impossible for the ark to contain a pair of every living creature. There were just too many. It would certainly be impossible for them all to survive for the duration that the ark was afloat. For starters, the varying ecological requirements for each species would prevent this.
Digging a bit deeper, what about the polar bears in the Arctic, the penguins in Antarctica, or all the animals unique to Australia? What about species that live exclusively in caves? Or in the jungles of South America? Did they somehow make it to the ark? If so, how? And if not, how do we explain their existence today?
On a smaller scale, consider insects. There are “more than 925,000 species of insects that scientists have identified. Still, this represents only 20 percent of all species believed to exist” today. Were all of these species on the ark? What about all the microscopic organisms that existed at the time? Were these “paired up” and put on the ark? Not likely.
Yes, one could argue that God intervened, in some miraculous way, to allow all these animals to board the ark, co-exist and survive until the flood waters receded. But resorting to miracles is a slippery slope. If God could use a miracle to accomplish something like this, why require an ark at all? Why couldn’t God have instead used his miraculous powers to keep the necessary animals alive without an ark? Wouldn’t that have been much simpler?
I am sure that the people who take the Noah story literally have invented answers to respond to all of these questions. But that’s the point. They are “invented” answers. They are suppositions. They have no basis in fact.
My view here extends beyond the story of Noah to the Bible as a whole. Rather than viewing the Bible as literal historical truth, it makes more sense to view it as a collection of stories created by humans in an attempt to comprehend the world back when humans had very little knowledge about how the world really worked.
Consider this: From the time the New Testament Bible was written, it would take about 1,500 more years before we came to accept that the earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse. It is only in the last two centuries that we’ve come to understand that stars are actually distant suns light-years away from earth. At the other end of the spectrum, it took us the same 1,500 years to discover that microscopic organisms exist and the critical role they play in our lives. It’s been less than 100 years since we broke the genetic code and began to truly comprehend how reproduction and inheritance work. In that context, it’s not surprising that people might take the story of Noah seriously thousands of years ago. But not anymore.
Presumably, an omniscient God, present at the time of Christ, knew that someday we would “discover” bacteria, DNA, computers, space travel, black holes and all the rest that makes up modern science — including many things we have yet to discover. And yet the Bible makes no mention of any of this. Rather, as you would expect from a document written by humans, it is restricted to the (very limited and often incorrect) knowledge humans had at the time.
That’s why for me, rather than come up with torturous explanations for the contradictions and impossibilities contained in the Noah story, it makes far more sense to accept the obvious: The story amounts to a folk tale, a fable, a legend, a morality lesson. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t call it true.