googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Could All of the Animals Fit on the Ark?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Could All of the Animals Fit on the Ark?

One very common criticism of the Biblical account of the Flood (Genesis 6:7) is, “How could Noah fit all those animals on the Ark?” At first, this might seem like a valid question but watch out for straw men. For example, some people will say something to the effect, “There are millions of species so there’s no way Noah could fit millions of animals in the boat no matter how large.”

My first response to people who raise this objection is to ask them on what grounds they make this claim. How many animals do they feel Noah had on the Ark? How big was the Ark? How many animals could it hold? It’s been my experience that most people can’t answer these basic questions. So, if they don’t know how many animals were on the Ark, and if they don’t know how big it was, how can they say there wasn’t enough room? It’s funny (in a sad sort of way) that people often make this claim without any idea how many animals there were or how much room was available. This is known as an argument from ignorance: I don’t know how it could be done so therefore it can’t be done.

According to Wikipedia, there are currently about 1.6 million known species. Of course, there could be many more species still unidentified. Some estimates of the total number of all species are as high as 30 million. And this still doesn’t take account for all the extinct species that have lived. But here’s the straw man in that number: of these estimates, insects, bacteria, plants, and marine animals make up the overwhelming majority of all species. No special accommodations needed to be made for any of these groups on the Ark. Noah, for example, did not need to build aquariums to save marine animals – a few survived outside of the Ark.

Now, we know Noah did take some plants onto the Ark for food (Genesis 6:21) so some plants survived on the Ark. Likewise, many insects, bacteria, and viruses were probably also on the Ark carried by the plants and animals. But a large number of these groups could have easily survived outside of the Ark. The Bible is very clear that absolute destruction of the Flood was limited to air-breathing, terrestrial animals (Genesis 7:21-23).

There are less than 60,000 identified species of vertebrate animals. When you subtract fish (29K species) and amphibians (6K species), that leaves only around 25,000 terrestrial vertebrate animals that Noah had to concern himself with.

Furthermore, keep in mind that this is the number of “species” whereas Noah only took representative “kinds” onto the Ark. There are 25 species of chipmunks, for example; but Noah did not have to take 50 chipmunks on the Ark. He only needed 2. From these two chipmunks, all varieties of chipmunks have descended. Considering all the varieties of dogs, cats, bears, deer, etc, Noah likely had far fewer than 25,000 animals on the Ark. But since we don’t know exactly how many extinct and undiscovered species let’s use 25,000 as the number of animals on the Ark.

Even assuming there were as many as 25,000 animals, how much room did they have on the Ark? The Bible gives the rough dimensions of the Ark as 300 x 50 x 30 cubits. There are some varying estimates as to the length of a cubit but on average it is about 18 inches. This would make the Ark 450’ long, 75’ wide, and 45’ tall with a volume of over 1.5 million cubic feet. A standard railroad car can hold 240 sheep. The Ark had the equivalent volume of 522 railroad cars! If the average animal on the Ark were the size of a sheep, 25,000 animals would only occupy 19% of the available space. Of course, the thickness of the hull and the interior structure would have reduced the total amount of interior room. But even a generous reduction of 16% means there’s still plenty of room for all the animals, food, water, and Noah and his family.

There are a lot of other questions people have about Noah and the Ark: could a boat that big be made seaworthy? How did Noah care so many animals? What did the carnivores eat? Etc. We will certainly be exploring these and other questions in future posts. But the question, “could all the animals fit on the ark?” is a no-brainer. Yes, they could!!

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