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Animals on the Ark

A troubling conundrum for compromise views

by 

Published: 23 February 2021 (GMT+10)
ark-boarding-2

Promoters of compromise views such as old earth creationism, progressive creationism (i.e., the viewpoint of Hugh Ross), as well as theistic evolutionists (a.k.a. “evolutionary creationists”) all have one thing in common: their adherence to secular views of history and geology forces them to discount the possibility that Noah’s Flood was a global event. They all postulate that Noah’s Flood was a local/regional event that could somehow be harmonized with secular gradualistic views of geology, even if they have wildly differing ideas on how exactly that harmonization is supposedly achieved.

There are many avenues one could take in rebutting this, and of course the most direct way is to simply point out that the text of the Bible is not unclear on this matter! The Flood was universal/global in scope. That’s what the Bible clearly says, so we need not go any further.

Another way, however, is to point out the strange and absurd results that flow from their interpretation (reductio ad absurdum). One such absurdity I have found is a bit under-reported in my experience thus far: the absurdity of bringing animals onto the Ark. Why did God instruct Noah to take animals on the Ark if God knew the Flood would not cover the whole earth?

In a local or even a regional flood, with 120 years’ advance notice, both Noah and all the animals could have simply walked to safety. This has of course been pointed out many times by biblical creationists, and as a result the various compromise camps have had to come up with explanations for why God would have chosen to instruct the building of an Ark with animals on it.

Why animals—why an ark?

The question of “Why animals?” is closely tied to another, more common, question: “Why an ark?” Creationist writers have been pointing out the futility of building a massive ark just to escape a local flood for decades, so old earthers have had plenty of time to come up with answers to this challenge.

Just symbolism?

The most theologically-sound (but incomplete) answer I’ve heard from an old earther is simply, “To act as a foreshadowing, or prefiguring, of the salvation of Jesus Christ.” Of course, we do know that baptism and Christ’s Second Coming are directly compared to the events of the Flood in multiple places in the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 3:19-21, 2 Peter 3:5-7, Matthew 24:37-39). But did God instruct Noah to build an ark exclusively for symbolic reasons? Nothing in the text suggests it was symbolic only, especially since the text indicates the Flood was universal, and thus the ark was practical in saving Noah and his family from the deluge. But worse, if the Ark were merely symbolic, why would God have instructed Noah to place animals aboard, when animals are not in need of a spiritual savior? Would such an action not result in misleading symbolism? Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer, and mankind is not kin to animals.

A huge preaching pulpit for Noah?

Another perspective on the supposed purpose for the ark in a local Flood scenario is that of Hugh Ross, as he writes in The Genesis Question:

“First, when God pours out judgment, He gives ample warning ahead of time. He sends a spokesperson, a prophet, and gives that prophet a kind of platform from which to be heard. For the antediluvians, Noah was that prophet and the scaffolding around the ark was his platform. The efforts … to build an enormous vessel in the middle of a desert plain that receives scant rainfall certainly would have commanded attention.”1

As Dr Jonathan Sarfati has pointed out, however, this creative solution is bizarre considering that no other prophet in all of biblical history was deemed to require such a ‘platform’ from which to preach.2 Nor did any of the other prophets seem to need to call special attention to themselves by way of huge, unnecessary building projects. Ross’ explanation here is ultimately a sidestep, since it wasn’t the ark itself that allegedly served as a preaching platform, but the scaffolding around it. The question of, “Why build an ark?” remains completely untouched by Ross, this subtle misdirection notwithstanding.

Let us, for a moment, grant that Noah did need a preaching platform. Why not simply build a large pulpit? Then, at just the right moment before the beginning of the Flood, Noah and his family could make their escape to high ground. No ark needed, and Noah could still have performed his assigned duty as a prophet to the antediluvian people. Ross’ response is very obviously insufficient.

Worse still, Ross’ explanation for the ark as a giant attention-getting device makes God into an implicit deceiver, since the implication would be that such an ark would be necessary. Nobody undertakes a giant ship-building project many decades in advance just to avoid a coming local flood. The very idea of it is absurd.

Pertaining to the question of why God had Noah build an ark large enough for animals, and actually load them aboard it, Ross continues:

“The reason for sheltering these animals probably had more to do with economics than with ecology. Few of the creatures on board would have had a habitat range as limited as the humans. Therefore, few of them faced imminent extinction from the Flood. We see that God commanded Noah to take on board seven pairs of those bird and mammal species domesticated for agricultural and economic purposes, creatures also used as sacrificial worship.

God could have made life simpler for Noah in the short run by making him wait for birds and mammals to return to Mesopotamia. Instead, he helped Noah take a stock of birds and mammals, more of some than of others, that would allow him and his family to restore rapidly their economy, culture, and worship.”3

It’s ironic that Ross would talk about God making life simpler for Noah here. What could have been simpler than simply relocating outside the area affected by the Flood? Ross must stretch credibility beyond the breaking point in attempting to make apologies for the absurd nature of this story, when lifted outside its correct, global, interpretation. Ross’ explanation that the animals were on board for the convenience of Noah and his family certainly doesn’t fit the bill. As Ross himself notes, God instructed Noah to bring more of the ceremonially clean animals, compared to the unclean ones. This likely was indeed for Noah’s benefit, as these animals would have been immediately needed to restore civilization afterwards. But why the others? Ross again sidesteps this question, giving the misleading impression that it has been addressed. If the Flood were local, there would have been no need whatsoever to bring aboard animals that would not have been immediately necessary following the Flood. By instructing Noah to bring aboard two of “every living thing of all flesh” (Gen 6:19), God clearly indicated the global scale of the impending Flood. Ross has yet another maneuver in his playbook, however, claiming, “Nothing in the Genesis text compels us to conclude that Noah’s passengers included anything other than birds and mammals.”4 This claim is manifestly untrue. Genesis 6:19 uses the word “chay”, which is a generic term for something alive (in the biblical sense).There is absolutely no biblical justification for saying that Noah took only mammals aboard—Ross is engaging in fanciful eisegesis.5

(Un)Inspiring Philosophy

Ross gives us the ‘progressive creationist’ viewpoint; but what do theistic evolutionists say about these things? Michael Jones is a theistic evolutionist Christian apologist who runs the YouTube channel Inspiring Philosophy. He promotes liberal scholarship and compromise views on Genesis from an evolutionary perspective, especially those of John Walton. Like Ross, Jones denies that Noah’s Flood was global. His explanation for why Noah had to build an ark is that it would have been too dangerous for him to try to leave the region (since the Bible says the earth was filled with violence). He also repeats Ross’ claim that Noah could not leave because he was supposed to act as a prophet and a preacher of repentance.6 I will note that none of these considerations prevented God from working through Moses in the time of the Exodus, wherein Moses was able to both act as a prophet and escape dangerous regional circumstances by means of God’s supernatural help, all without needing to build an ark (or needing a giant pulpit).

Concerning the question of why Noah brought animals on this ark, Jones has a very different idea than Ross. Jones concludes that the animals on the ark symbolically represented “chaotic wilderness”. Allegedly, these pre-Flood people looked down on nature, and therefore God was sending a message to these sinful people that they were worth less than the animals.7 In other words, they were there for no practical purpose at all, but partially as a derogatory gesture toward the people of Noah’s time. Now, even if this theory is plausible, it doesn’t rule out a global flood interpretation. It’s perfectly consistent with a global flood interpretation. Still, I wonder: could Jones point to any exegetes throughout the long history of the church who saw this alleged symbolic message there? Jones’ logic here is highly speculative and is not found anywhere in the text itself, which means it’s extremely suspect—especially given the apparent newness of this interpretive idea. The text never hints at the idea that the animals were brought aboard for any reason other than practical necessity. Why take two of every kind? Why not only two of the most revolting or symbolically meaningful ones? It is for these reasons that even liberal exegetes like Walton admit this story is depicting a universal flood (they simply deny it was intended to teach literal history).

Jones mentions another kind of symbolism: Noah is being cast as a “new Adam” and the post-Flood world as a sort of second Eden, or new creation. There is certainly an element of truth to the comparison, since God was in essence starting over with a new Earth and a new history following the Flood. But this comparison creates a problem for Jones, who wishes to see the Flood as local only. Was God’s original creation “local”? Certainly not. If this comparison is valid, we have yet another piece of evidence that the Flood was global! The symbolism Jones appeals to in the Flood runs exactly counter to his local-only view of the Flood: the original creation was global, and therefore so was the Flood.

The opposite of “straightforward”

There is no end to the amount of speculation and alleged symbolism that one could potentially find in Scripture. If one has a desire to find something, and if they are creative enough, they are bound to find it. That’s why the concept of perspicuity in the Bible is so important. It means what it says. When the Bible says that all flesh would be wiped out by the Flood, that’s what it means. When it says all the highest mountains under the whole heaven would be covered, that’s what it means. Jones, Ross, and the myriad of other ‘exegetes’ like them would prefer we trust their speculations to override the plain meaning of what God actually said. In the final analysis, we find little agreement among the various attempts to ‘harmonize’ the interpretation of the Flood with a local event. The only interpretive option that is not on the table for people like Jones and Ross is the simplest and most elegant one: that the Bible really means what it says and both the symbolic and historical meaning are in harmony with one another. They are like the horse from C.S. Lewis’ fictional tale, ‘The Horse and His Boy’. They are ultimately surprised to find that Aslan really is a lion.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Shaun Doyle for his insights in preparing this article.

References and notes

  1. Ross, H., The Genesis Question, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, 1998, p. 160. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise (2ndEd), Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2011, p. 254. Return to text.
  3. Ref. 1, p. 164. Return to text.
  4. Ref 1, p. 163. Return to text.
  5. Sarfati, J., Exposé of The Genesis Question, Journal of Creation 13(2):22–30, August 1999. Return to text.
  6. www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BzkoFpnAVk, 8:48-9:45. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 6, 12:05-14:15. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Rodney A.
I hope all of us only ever believe what God has said, and not how we interpret or think God said.
Richard L.
Prior to reading "The Genesis Flood" in 74, I had been captured, for years, by a wrong conviction of conscience: that deposition rate was fixed & low-magnitude. Still believing in a worldwide Flood, I had to compartmentalize my mind, not letting myself notice that Lyell's assumption--past geological processes & their rates have only ever been as they are today--inculcated into my subconscious--made impossible a historical Noah's Flood... since such is not happening today. In that Col.2:8-captivity, I couldn't see the contradiction. I instead produced a defective theological approach.

In the present article, we see more of this, in counsel-of-desperation theological approaches, where the "captured" proponents cannot allow themselves to see the internal illogic incoherency of them. If any such are reading this, please follow through with these diagnostics, towards liberation:

#1 In what topic areas are you willing to do loving, corrective-truth confrontation, and to whom? If the answers are not "every" and "everyone", you are so captured, and you don't have "ears to hear" scripture. You now have to block intake of bible-text input which would otherwise impose that obligation on you. Are you so captured?
#2 Are you sufficiently humble, in the fear of the Lord? While: (1) all objective truth is God's truth, (2) scientists can discover objective truth, (3) we have to completely submit to such... have you wrongly ascribed infallibility to scientists? If so, you fail the 1 Thess.5:21-"test everything". You then fail in fearing God more than wrongly-informed conscience.
#3 Can you acknowledge that NT-era "philosophy" contained "science", Col.2:8's "hollow deceit" being done by scientists? If not, its "not according to Christ" factor yields your flawed approaches.
Robert D.
We should also remember one of the simplest proofs of all that the Flood was indeed global. Genesis 9:12-17 declares the covenant that God made with every living creature after the Flood. He promised all future generations that the rainbow would be a sign that never again would he send a flood to destroy all flesh. There have been countless local floods since God made that covenant and many creatures have died in those floods. Therefore, the covenant has nothing to do with local floods.
Christopher H.
In response to Robert R,

The world probably was one large supercontinent before the flood. I'm not talking about the pangea model. It was a completely different surface on the Earth, with much more land than water. Mountains and seas were smaller. The animals would have been more evenly dispersed across the Earth, not isolated as much as today. So getting them to the ark would not be a problem.

Paul's answer is another probable possibility, but Noah probably didn't build the ark near Ararat. He may have built it in the middle of the Pacific, which may have been land at the time.
Dustin B.
Yes! Thank you so much for this. It also helps is with the “age” that some skeptics struggle with. Some Christians doubt the biblical age of the earth and believe what they are taught in class. A global flood changes all “scientific” data.
Allen H.
Thank you for this article - I really had a good laugh! The skeptics call on such nonsense to support their view that it is astounding! And to top it all, they have the cheek to say that the Flood is stretching the imagination... When just look at the garbage they need to evoke. As usual, the simple and obviously intended meaning of God's Word is the one that makes the most sense, and agrees with all observations and theology. Isn't that excactly what is expected from the character of our Creator and Saviour? Of course it is.
Harold B.
A.M. Rehwinkel in his book, The Flood, cites flood traditions found among virtually all people’s and nations on the earth. They all have a common thread: 1. An ark or boat is provided as a means of escape. 2 The seed of mankind is preserved to perpetuate the human race. 3 All other humans and living things are destroyed by water.
Not all but many also give the reason for the flood as being the wickedness of man.
This is surely another indication that the flood was universal and cannot easily be gainsaid by Ross et al.
Mark P.
Comparing Noah to Moses is also relevant to probe whether people who talk about a local flood have any confidence in that interpretation, because some people also suggest naturalistic explanations for an even smaller watery catastrophe of judgment and deliverance during the Exodus from Egypt.
Michael R.
I think the reason that liberal academics are happy to write what they do, is because they know that most people reading it will just accept what they say without bothering to question it, or even think carefully about it. Presumably most of their audience will have been raised with liberal ideas when it comes to the Bible, and will find it much easier to simply swallow whatever liberals throw at them, rather than apply critical thought to it. Sadly, education in the West today is much more concerned with telling young people what to think, rather than teaching them how to think.
Steve W.
I really struggle to see any problem at all. The scriptures clearly teach that Noah's Flood was global (even atheists admit this). Then when you go out into the real world, what do you find? Overwhelming evidence that a catastrophic Flood occurred of stupendous proportions throughout the whole earth. That should be the end of all debate.
Robert R.
every animal you see about you lived in the region near the building of the ark. it must have been wild to live in those times. people naturally lived long lives, but they were violently killing each other.
Paul Price
Did all the animals just happen to live in the same area, or did God supernaturally bring all the animals to Noah at the right time?
Dean R.
I was in a discussion the other week about Noah/Flood. Somehow it is just so profound to know, even though it seemed as if Jesus confirmed it along with Peter & Hebrews in a historical context with family lineage in tow. I put the ‘why all the animals then?’ regarding a local flood (along with alluding to scientific observations), but to no avail it seemed.

It reminds me of Dawkins hypothetically charging God with making things difficult for humans as if God were hiding. Yet Dawkins acknowledges design but argues against it.

Things can be profoundly simple and straight forward. But that's not going to stop people from making it as complicated as they can.
King T.
The ark withstands and indeed repels the flood of manmade hubris thrown at it....! Thanks for the in-depth look at what appears on the surface to be a rather mundane issue in the ongoing saga between truth and falsehood.

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