Genesis 6:7-8 reads, “7 So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them. ’ 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (The Holy Bible). This scripture introduces the well-known story of Noah’s Ark. God sent forty days and forty nights of non-stop rain to wipe out the sin-ridden humans and purify the Earth. One male and one female from every animal species and the family of Noah would be spared in order to repopulate the Earth.
There has been much debate over the existence of such an event even though versions have been recorded in many cultures and languages. Some say that the bible’s Noah’s Ark is a “reworking of an earlier Babylonian myth recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic. The hero of the earlier version is one Utnapishtim, the favorite of Ea, the god of wisdom” (). No matter the language the epic is written in, points such as the extreme water levels draining after the storm, reduction in genetic diversity, and humans and animal species repopulating from only organisms can be examined and provide evidence reinforcing both sides of the argument.
It is common knowledge that the famous storm poured for forty days and forty nights. Precipitation of that magnitude would drown land masses, essentially combining into one large ocean. Accounting for tectonic plate movement, the Earth’s surface today is not identical to that in 2300 B. C. When tectonic plates shift and move, they collide with each other causing peaks and valleys. Depending on the location of such collisions, mountains and volcanos form or deep ocean valleys do. This causes a change in the Earth’s topography.
It can be said that the topography of the Earth was flatter in 2300 B. C. during the flooding, having shorter mountains and more shallow valleys in the oceans. This would allow the precipitation to cover more of the Earth’s surface. The next point to be made is where the water went. “13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 4
By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry,” reads Genesis 6:13-14 (The Holy Bible). Using Noah’s reported age from the beginning of the rain, six hundred years old, it can be deduced that aside from the period of rain, the Ark did not hit dry land for a little under a year. If it were true that Earth’s topography was flat, as discussed above, then where did the water go in a year that allowed the Ark to rest on dry land? Without deep land areas for the water to accumulate in, the water will stay put until it is evaporated off.
Evaporation would depend greatly on Noah’s birthday. According to Genesis, the Earth was completely dry by the twenty-seventh day of the second month of Noah’s six hundred and first year. If this time between the rains and landing on Mount Ararat occurred primarily during the fall and winter season, it is unlikely that evaporation rate of the flood waters was great enough to make that much of a dent in the water levels. According to God’s divine design, all of the Earth’s species would be saved through one female and one male of every kind.
This is an extreme population bottleneck. With the event of a mass extinction, leaving only two of a species, genetic diversity is greatly limited within a population. It is not an outlandish thought that God would have chosen two organisms from each species that represent that greatest amount of genetic diversity possible between the two. Mating two organisms that do not have any genetic overlap would allow their offspring to have a greater chance of being genetically different from each other. This would also help with the issue of repopulation.
When an extinction event leaves two organisms of a whole species, the genetic pool is extremely limited. Between those two organisms, it is improbable that they hold all genetic variations for the species’ genome. Within this limited pool, any overlap or similar genes shared between the one male and one female will also have an effect on the new population. Another effect of a population bottleneck is small sample sizes. In Hope for Animals and Their World, authors Jane Goodall, Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson present many species being brought back from the brink of extinction.
A few passages describe how some species were saved through captivity (Goodall, J. , Maynard, T. , and Hudson, G. , 65). An example is the crested ibis, Nipponia nippon. Relentlessly hunted and suffering from habitat loss, crested ibis populations were minimal. Scientists took measures to greatly improve a piece of the specie’s dismal habitat. They insured that this area was free from outside influence that could further deplete the small population of seven crested ibises. Through this captive yet wild habitat, population numbers rose slowly.
At first the crested ibises repopulated naturally, but soon breeding programs were orchestrated by scientists to produce greater numbers of offspring. After twenty years of preserving the species, captive crested ibis were slowly released into the wild. Today, the population is still watched, but there is significant hope that they will return with power (Goodall, J. , Maynard, T. , and Hudson, G. , 101-104). The crested ibis’ repopulation is similar to that which the species on the Ark would need in order to not become extinct.
Species would have to be closely watched to make sure that population sizes were progressing forward at reasonable rates, but it cannot be said that it is impossible for an endangered species to come back from the brink of extinction. Depictions of the Ark have been artists’ motif for centuries. With Genesis’ short description of the Ark’s parameters, drawings of the art are often embellished. One artist, Athanasius Kircher, devoted himself to accurately draw the Ark (Figure 1). He researched body size of the animals from the bible that God told Noah to include.
He created dimensions needed to house such animals, along with Noah’s family and provisions needed for the trip (Lovett). Looking at this vessel, it seems unlikely that as many species as originally thought could be saved. From these small population sizes, in limited space, with little genetic diversity, the probability of today’s world’s vast array of animal species would not exist if such an event occurred. Also to be taken into account would be respective species gestation periods and the number of offspring one gestation period can produce. Some species reproduce quicker than others.
With the limited resources available due to the flood, competition is evident. Those species that have longer gestation periods or not have a large amount of offspring produced could potentially be wiped out before they even have a chance to rebuild. Dr. Henry Morris, author of The Bible Has the Answer, discussed the plausibility of the current human population originating from the few people on the ark. He wrote, “The present rate of population increase in the world is more than two per cent per year, and the population is now over four billion.
However, the average rate would only have to be one half of one per cent per year to produce the present world population in 4,300 years. ” The issue with a small human population reproducing with each other is inbreeding. The bible says that Noah has three sons, each with wives (The Holy Bible). Even if each son and respective wife had three children each, those children would have to reproduce with their first cousins in order to produce another generation of humans.
The Sexy Cousin Hypothesis describes how two organisms of the same species that are blood related could be attracted to each other due to the genetic similarities between them. Research done at the University of Chicago saw that not all possible genes are available to an inbreeding population (). This issue presents itself when harmful genes are present in a population due to genetic inheritance. If two related individuals were to mate, their offspring would likely receive two copies of the harmful gene, causing major problems and even death.
In conclusion, some areas of Noah’s Ark are probably. The flooding event itself has been recorded in many documents by many different cultures and nationalities. The biblical version, though, has some points that cannot be supported. It is likely that the event occurred, with a man trying to save his family and as many living organisms as he could before his homeland was destroyed by the waters. It seems, though, that someone put a moral spin on the event in order to teach kindness, obedience and loyalty to a higher power, and overall faith.