Thursday, September 01, 2005

According to all that God commanded him (Gen 6:11-22)

The SAB notes the supposed absurdity of destroying all living things to make the earth less violent. I'm not sure "absurdity" would be the right category, as it should be fairly obvious that without life, there is no violence and suffering. (Note that God's not the only one to come up with the idea of removing the source of the problem.) I think I do get the gist of what is being pointed out here, though, which is that the flood itself seems like a violent act. I don't know that anyone can deny that fact, and the best that anyone can do is suggest that the good of wiping out that violent and corrupt culture outweighed the violence of the act of wiping it out.

I was reading a philosophy book on the "problem of evil" the other day, and I realized that the theodicy that I tend to operate under is that since we (Jews and Christians) assume that God is omnipotent and good, and evil and suffering exist in the world, the only explanation must be that God has a moral justification for allowing evil to exist. One writer in the book who was talking about this concept claimed that it was a position that is neither provable or unprovable, which means nothing conclusive about the nature of God, but allows theologists in general a loophole to believe in a good and omnipotent God while still accepting that evil exists. Sometimes, I find it quite easy to see the justification behind what God does, but honestly not always. That doesn't mean that the justification is not there, though.

So now come some of the first of the scientific obstacles involved in this story. The SAB points out that a wooden vessel 450 feet long would be larger than any modernly-known wooden vessels, and most vessels of that size are very leaky and require support structures to hold them together. One thing that should be said in response to this (and it may make no difference scientifically, but it should actually be said in general) is that contrary to popular images of the "ark", there's no real reason to assume that this is a ship at all. A lot of Biblical scholars have taken the stance that this is something more akin to a barge, just a big wooden box sealed up with tar. Really, this passage must be a hard one for translators to deal with, as the Hebrew word for "ark" only appears elsewhere in Exodus 2, and the word for "gopher wood" is found nowhere else at all. (I thought it was rather funny to find that it's not even really a translation; the Hebrew word is actually 'atsei-gopher!) So we only really know the size, not the shape or the materials it was made out of. In the end, though, I'll honestly have to say that a lot of this has to be left up to God's hand on the whole matter, as I suggested way back a month ago. (If you didn't like that post, you're not going to like the rest of this one either.)

I'll actually be quite honest about all of this flood stuff, at least as far as I know the details, and I'm sure others who know more things will be more than glad to put them in the comments. The SAB notes the absurdity of an eighteen-inch square window in the ark being the only source of ventilation, but doesn't explain why. Have you ever been in a crowded room even with good ventilation? It gets stuffy. Now imagine an entire building that measures about 100,000 square feet stuffed to the gills with animals of every sort with only a tiny square window in the whole thing to give fresh air. It's not pretty.

Now, also contrary to popular view of the story, Noah is actually commanded to bring seven of some types of animals onto the ark in the next chapter. This is suggested to be a contradiction, and while it is confusing, I and many others tend to view the later instruction of "seven" to be a further specification, and something necessitated to allow for Noah's sacrifice in chapter eight.

There are a few interesting oddities to be noted about this, one of them being the concept of "clean" beasts before the creation of the kosher laws. Apparently the term refers to animals acceptable for sacrifice rather than acceptable for food, and Noah apparently knew which was which. The other oddity is one to give some fodder for the skeptics. Many textual critics of the Bible talk about the possibility that the Bible is actually edited together from multiple oral histories, and indeed, I believe it may be so. This particular story has a number of other much more subtle inconsistencies in the vocabulary that I wonder if a person would notice without having it spelled out for them? In any case, I'm admitting they're there, but I'll not go into details, leaving it up to the reader to figure out on their own or research elsewhere on the Internet.

The last hard part to swallow for this chapter is the final instruction to bring food on board for Noah's family and the animals. We find when we look ahead that Noah and all these creatures were in the ark for about a year. Let's take one animal: the elephant. An elephant apparently eats 150-200 pounds of food a day. Taken over a year, that's about 27 tons of food at minimum. Now we have two elephants (yes, I know there is more than one species of elephant, but there were at least two, and my point is that even using minimal estimates, it staggers the imagination) so double that and add drinking water, and then consider that 60 tons of food should eventually become 60 tons of elephant dung, and you see that just these two animals create a logistical nightmare. So I admit right now, without even going into further details that I could go into that this whole ark thing is physically impossible.

That said, let's get full Biblical context. I'll quote a couple verses.
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. -Deuteronomy 29:5

For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah. -1Kings 17:14-16
The thing is, even without these verses, it should be fairly clear that if it's God's will that somebody would be able to get by for a long time on a little provision, then He will see to it that they manage to get by. Building the ark was a huge project, and it no doubt took Noah a long time to put it all together, but it was nothing compared to what God had to do to make it all work out. Why it was done that way, I do not know, but like many moments in the Bible, we see God asking a small step of faith from someone, and then He supplies the rest in a miraculous way.


Anonymous said...

This is a good quick overview for beginning bloggers. I've only been around for about a month now, and I struggle between what to talk about/voice my opinion on and what a reader would want to see.

homeschool books

Brucker said...

Thanks. I'm feeling that for me, I can't care too much about what other people think, as it can be stifling to creativity. Obviously from my next post, however, I'm not closed to criticism and feedback. The main thing here is that I'm doing something *I* thought would be interesting, even if nobody showed up to read it.

marauder34 said...

It doesn't make things considerably easier to swallow, but you'll note that a lot of times, we imagine the animals on Noah's Ark as adults. I believe your estimates on the food required also are for adults. Maybe it's trying to make an absurd story sound believable, but *nonadults* take up a lot less space, and have smaller food requirements.

Additionally, the hydrogeologists who wrote "The Genesis Flood" and who first postulated the idea of a vapor canopy that collapsed did some sort of calculations to show how the temperatures would have dropped drastically after such a collapse, triggering the hibernation reflex found in many animals today.

As I said, it really sounds like an effort to make a fanciful story sound more plausible, but I figure what the heck. It's that kind of blog, innit?

Brucker said...

Of course; a baby elephant would require much less food than that, but it still would be fairly formidable. I certainly have heard theories about Noah bringing baby animals on the ark, which seems like it would go a long way toward solving the space issue.

The concept of a drop in temperature is a very interesting one, and I could see why that might be the case. Still, hibernating for a whole year? A hibernation theory has a lot going for it, (trying to imagine the ark filled with sleeping baby animals rather than awake and unruly adult ones seems so much simpler) but I think you still have to appeal to the supernatural to an extent.

I still have a few other difficulties that I will note about the flood in upcoming posts.

Anonymous said...

"The thing is, even without these verses, it should be fairly clear that if it's God's will that somebody would be able to get by for a long time on a little provision, then He will see to it that they manage to get by."

How convenient...