The Genesis Flood and Noah’s Ark
Fact or fiction?
Published: 27 August 2015 (GMT+10)
1. Was the Ark big enough?
Many people imagine the Ark like an overgrown floating bathtub, with giraffes, elephants and Noah standing on the deck waving to whales splashing in the water. However, the Bible describes an enormous vessel.
The length of the Ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. (Genesis 6:15)
That is 140 m long, 23 m wide and 14 m high.1 It was longer than a football field and higher than a four-storey building. It had three decks and a volume of about 44,400 m³ (1.52 million cu ft).
This is the equivalent volume of over 340 US ‘semi-trailers’ (a semi-trailer is 40 ft long and 8.5 ft wide, and about 13 ft high [4,420 cu. ft]. Note that the Ark would be wider than a six-lane US Interstate highway (standard lane width 12 ft). A semi-trailer can haul 37 1,200-pound slaughter steers, 90 500-pound feeder calves, 180 250-pound hogs, or 300 125-pound sheep.2
Could Noah have built an Ark that big?
In Genesis 4 we see that Adam’s descendants were cultivating crops, farming animals, playing musical instruments, building cities, and forging bronze and iron. The engineering techniques, tools and machines of ancient man were much more ingenious than is often realized.
Not long after the Flood, the Egyptians, for example, were writing, cutting granite and precision-building great pyramids.
The first man that God created was perfect. In the 6,000 years since then, our intellect has most likely deteriorated due to the effects of the curse. Fortunately, we have more than counteracted for any such loss of ability by storing and passing on information and discoveries.
We are not told that Noah and his sons did all the work on their own, even though that would have been possible for them. It is likely that they paid other people to harvest and transport the timber, cut the planks and handle the huge beams used to frame the vessel.
Classical literature records huge wooden ships of a comparable size to the Ark.3 The catamaran galley of Tessarakonteres, built for Ptolemy IV in 210 BC, was 128 m long—almost as big as the Ark. It was powered with three banks of oarsmen and carried up to four thousand soldiers. The Leontifera from Heraclea, maybe 120–150 m (400–500 ft) long, which performed admirably in an Aegean Sea battle in 280 BC. Much later, Chinese admiral Zheng He (or Cheng Ho, 1371–1433) made long ocean voyages with a fleet that included gigantic nine-masted treasure ships about 130 m long and 50 m wide.4 If wooden ships of comparable size were built and functioned well, then obviously functioning wooden ships that size could be built.
And Noah’s Ark was far simpler than the racing hull of a Greek warship. Think of the Ark as an ocean-going barge, with a strong hull to handle the waves.
How could all the animals fit?
To start, God did not tell Noah to take every kind of animal on board. It was only the air-breathing, land-dwelling animals that would have perished in the Flood.5
Whales, fish and other aquatic creatures like clams and shrimps would survive in the water outside the Ark. So would most amphibians and insects. This greatly reduced the number of animals needed on board.
Also, the biblical kind was much broader than today’s species. Related species that populated the earth today would have descended quite rapidly from just one parent ‘kind’ on board the Ark. This was understood by pre-Darwinian creationists. The Bible says:
And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the Ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. (Genesis 6:19)
For example, today we have more than 200 types of ‘dogs’ including coyotes, foxes, jackals and wolves. These, together with our domestic dogs (from the Great Dane to the Toy Poodle) are all likely descended from one original ‘dog kind’.
It is the same with the other animals, like the cat kind, horse kind and cow kind. The amazing variety in all the animals we have today has been bred from just a few ‘mongrels’ of each sort of animal that was on board Noah’s Ark.
John Woodmorappe, in his book Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, estimates that 16,000 animals, at the very most, needed to be housed on the Ark. This was treating the kind as equivalent to the modern man-made category of ‘genus’. If the kind were as broad as a family, then only about 2,000 animals would have been needed.
How could Noah collect all the animals?
Noah didn’t have to travel to far-away places and collect all the animals to bring them on board. The Bible tells us that God sent the animals to Noah without being rounded up:
Of birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.(Genesis 6:20)
This would have been a supernatural gathering, but we see amazing animal behaviours in the world today (worldwide migrations [Monarch butterflies, albatross, salmon, whales etc.] and other activities such as hibernation and awareness of earthquakes).
Plus the arrangement of the continents and the climate was different before the Flood. Noah likely lived in a region that was able to support all the biblical kinds without them needing to travel very far. More variation within the kinds would have developed in the animal kinds after the Flood, due to greater variation in environments and ecological niches. Also, the best conditions for rapid variation and speciation occur with small, geographically isolated populations—just like those dispersing from the mountains of Ararat!
Were dinosaurs on board?
Yes. Dinosaurs were just another air-breathing land-dwelling animal that God made along with the others. This is clear from the fact that dinosaur fossils were clearly buried in the Flood, showing that dinosaurs were alive with Noah. Thus they would logically have been included in the land animals taken as passengers. But how would they fit?
Some dinosaurs were smaller than chickens (with no relation to birds; God created dinosaurs a day after He created birds). The average adult size of all kinds of dinosaurs was about the size of a buffalo.
Dinosaurs hatch out of eggs, and the largest egg is only about football size. Indeed, they could not be much larger, otherwise the shell thickness needed to support the weight would block oxygen flow to the embryo. Also, analysing growth rings on dinosaur bones show that they went through a juvenile growth spurt. It would make sense for God to choose pre-growth-spurt dinos. So, even the biggest dinosaurs, like Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus, would easily fit on the Ark when young. Elephants and rhinos could have been handled the same way. Flying reptiles, such as the pterodactyl, were on the Ark too, but not marine reptiles such as the plesiosaur.
Like other creatures, the number of dinosaur kinds would have been much less than the number of genera assigned to them. Also, paleontologists have recently recognized that baby and subadult specimens have been given different names to the adult specimens of the same type of dinosaur.
Weren’t dinosaurs extinct long before the Flood?
No. The belief that dinosaurs died out long before man is an evolutionary idea. In Genesis we see that God made all the land-dwelling creatures on Day Six of creation week about 6,000 years ago. That included dinosaurs, since they were land animals. He made Adam and Eve on the same day.
There is strong scientific evidence that the dinosaurs were not millions of years old. Scientists have found soft tissue, proteins, and DNA in dino bones, but this should have all disintegrated in a fraction of the time.
In Job chapter 40 (after the Flood) the description of behemoth with a tail like a cedar, the biggest tree of the middle east only matches an animal like a sauropod dinosaur. So behemoth’s ancestors must have been on board the Ark, therefore dinosaurs were alive after the Flood.
2. Was the Flood really global?
Many say Noah’s Flood (if a real event) was only a local flood. Why? Because they believe our world is millions of years old. In that view, the fossils in the rock layers represent the appearance of new forms of life over eons of time.
But scientists did not always see the fossils that way. Geological pioneers, like Nicholas Steno, connected the fossils, buried in water deposits of mud and sand, with Noah’s Flood.
Ideas (like families) are related. The idea of evolution means the ‘fossil record’ accumulated gradually over millions of years, and that means there is no geological evidence for Noah’s Flood. So, Christians who believe in evolution and/or millions of ‘geological years’ must insist on a local flood.
Evolution (or even just ‘millions of years’) also means that the fossils, which represent pain, death, bloodshed, disease and suffering, formed before Adam and Eve sinned. So, what did God mean when He described His finished creation as ‘very good’? Evolution means that death and suffering are not the result of sin. That destroys the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Bible describes a global Flood
If the Flood was just a local affair why was the Ark so huge? They could have walked out of the area and been safe! Why put birds on board? They could have flown away. Jesus believed that, apart from Noah and his family, the Flood killed everyone (Matthew 24:37–39). If the Flood were local, people who lived outside the area would not have been affected. They would have escaped God’s judgment on sin.
Also, Christ compared the coming world judgment to the judgment of ‘all’ men in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37–39). So did Peter (2 Peter 3). A local Flood in Noah’s day would mean the judgment to come would not affect everyone.
How could the waters rise above the mountains (Genesis 7:20) and the Flood be just local? Water seeks its own level.
God used the rainbow in the sky as a sign that He would never destroy the earth with water again. But there have been many terrible ‘local’ floods (the Lake Missoula flood or more recently in New Orleans, for example)—but never a global Flood that destroyed all land creatures. If the Flood were local, God has broken His solemn promise over and over. The biblical Flood covered the whole world.
Where did the water come from?
[O]n that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11–12)
The Bible describes two sources for the water—rain from the sky and water surging from the breaking up of ‘all the fountains’ of the ‘great deep’. These fountains, being mentioned first, may have been the most important source of the water for the Flood. It may refer to huge underground sources of water. The ‘breaking up’ implies large-scale volcanic and earthquake activity.
Geologists have discovered that the rocks in the mantle deep inside the earth still contain abundant (enough to fill the oceans twenty times over) water. They believe that, in the past, some of the water in the mantle came out on the earth. The mountains and land masses were different before the Flood. Some creationist scientists believe the break-up of a single continent was part of the mechanism that caused the Flood.
How could the Ark survive the Flood?
A study by naval architects found that the Ark specified in the Bible is one of the most stable shapes to handle large waves in a rough ocean. It would remain upright under the most adverse conditions.
Unlike the sailing ships of the Middle Ages, the Ark did not need to travel anywhere. It just needed to float. Slightly rounded ends may have improved the handling of the Ark in large waves, making it less likely to turn sideways into the waves. But the Bible is not clear, and it is possible that the Ark was a simple box, which would provide maximum storage and be structurally strong.
Critics have said a vessel this size made from wood could not be strong enough, but this is not true. However, they were making the false assumption that the Ark was just a scaled-up 19th-century sailing ship. However, the worst danger is the mast and sails, because they increase the moment arm of the wind force, enabling large torques that would capsize the boat. They also had serious weaknesses with portholes, and the plank-on-frame construction is not robust.
However, there are well-known alternative methods, such as a monocoque, where the outer shell also provides the main strength, or mortise-and-tenon joints, or cross-planking, like scaled-up plywood. Thus would be quite feasible to build a structure of biblical dimensions to handle the stress.
How could Noah look after all those animals?
And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them. (Genesis 6:21)
Noah needed to keep the animals warm and clean, and stow enough food and water for 370 days. According to Woodmorappe, food for 16,000 animals would have taken only about 15% of the Ark’s total volume, and drinking water about 10%.6 This could be reduced by storing dried and compressed foodstuffs, and by collecting rainwater.
Woodmorappe estimates that eight people could care for 16,000 animals without any special devices. Deep bedding of sawdust, wood shavings or peat moss can last unchanged for many months, and would absorb moisture and odour. Some cages may have had sloped or slatted floors, so the manure could fall and be flushed away. Even in modern times, Dutch farmers keep animals over the winter months with low-maintenance stables called potstals and grupstals.
Noah may have had systems to automatically supply water and food to the animals and clear away their waste. Today, a small group of farmers can raise thousands of cattle and other animals in a small space. We would probably be surprised at the imaginative devices on board the Ark to feed and care for the animals.
How would Noah have powered these devices? Perhaps by wind or gravity or the rocking of the Ark. There are many possibilities.
In a natural disaster most animals react in ways that allow them to survive. Many may even have hibernated while they were on the Ark.
Did the Flood destroy everything alive?
No one today has seen a hurricane, earthquake or rainstorm as destructive as Noah’s Flood. The worst natural disasters experienced in historical times are tiny compared with the global cataclysm that destroyed the earth in Noah’s day.
The Bible speaks of the ‘fountains of the great deep’ being broken open. That means earthquakes and volcanoes as well as molten lava and super heated steam and water blasted from inside the earth in a furious, frenzied upheaval. It was only after 150 days into the Flood that these fountains were stopped.
And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. (Genesis 7:21–22)
In other words, every person and land vertebrate animal outside the Ark perished as the flood waters rose and rose relentlessly until there was nowhere to flee for safety. Of course, that did not include fish and other marine animals, although many of these perished in the cataclysm, too.
In December 2004, an earthquake near Indonesia triggered a tsunami that devastated many countries around the Indian Ocean. Just one tsunami obliterated whole towns within a few minutes. After the water returned to the sea, the world was shocked at the destruction. Some 200,000 people perished. Imagine what would happen if the tsunamis just kept coming, one after the other, day after day for five months, until the highest mountains were covered.
Where did the water go?
Our earth is called the blue planet because it is mostly covered (70% of the earth’s surface) with water.
If the world’s mountains were smoothed off and the ocean basins pushed up, making the surface even, then water would cover the earth to a depth of about three kilometres.
Noah’s Flood caused big mountain-sized earth movements. We see lots of examples where mountain ranges were warped and folded while the sediment was still soft. Toward the end of the Flood, they were pushed up as the earth’s crust moved. The water is still here, we just live on the parts that were pushed up out of the water at the end of the Flood. Some reliable Bible scholars suggest Psalm 104:7–8 describes this when speaking of the mountains rising, the valleys sinking, and the waters flowing off the earth.
3. Is there historical evidence of the Flood?
Cultures all over the world retain a memory of the Flood in their local history. Several Native American tribes have global flood stories. One from the Choctaw tribe tells how, long ago, men became so corrupt that the Great Spirit destroyed them in a flood and only one man survived.
In Hawaii, there is the legend of Nu-u who made a great canoe with a house on it and filled it with animals. The waters came up all over the earth and killed all the people and animals that weren’t on the canoe.
Ancient Chinese writings refer to a violent catastrophe that occurred on earth and a flood that covered the highest mountains.
The Toltec Indians of ancient Mexico have a story of a few men who escaped the destruction of a great flood that covered the highest mountains. In the story told by an aboriginal group in north-west Australia, a man with his wives and a dog battle their way to safety in a canoe, as a bird flies in front of them with a leaf in its mouth.
One famous flood story was discovered in 1853, on tablets unearthed in ancient Nineveh. In this epic of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Noah is called Utnapishtim. The epic has many similarities with the story of Noah’s Flood, which is why many scholars think the Genesis account was derived from it. But the Gilgamesh epic is typical of mythology, with magical beings, multiple deities, embellishment and an implausible cubical ark, whereas the Genesis account reads like real history. Both stories are probably referring to the same real event. Genesis preserves the original record, while the Gilgamesh Epic is a distorted version.
These stories and hundreds more have many striking similarities. This evidence supports the Bible’s account that all people are descended from the eight people who survived the global Flood. The Bible preserves a written eyewitness account of a real event in world history.
What about geological evidence?
When we look at the world from a biblical perspective we can see the geological evidence for the Flood everywhere. Someone said once, ‘If I hadn’t believed it I wouldn’t have seen it.’
After a worldwide Flood, like the Bible describes, we would expect to find billions of dead things, buried in rock layers laid down by water, all over the earth. And that’s exactly what geologists find (billions of fossils in sedimentary rock layers worldwide).
Altogether about 75% of the continental surface is sedimentary rock. Thick layers of gravel, sand and silt were laid down by water and have cemented into hard stone. Billions of plant and animal fossils are entombed inside.
Fossils point to catastrophe and rapid burial. They could not have been buried slowly over thousands of years or they would have been eaten by scavengers or rotted away. There are lots of spectacular examples, like an ichthyosaur that was buried while giving birth. The baby ichthyosaur was fossilized too, snap frozen in time. And there are fish that were buried so quickly they did not have time to finish their meal.
All around the world, from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, we find evidence of Noah’s Flood. As you travel around the globe, you see how the landscapes of the earth preserve the effects of Noah’s Flood from plateaus and canyons to coal seams and cliffs. The evidence is all over the earth for everyone to see!
How could fossils millions of years old form in the Flood?
Many people don’t connect fossils with Noah’s Flood because the fossils are supposed to be millions of years old. But those ages are just people’s opinions; they are not measured directly. There is much evidence to indicate the world is only thousands of years old.
For example, a piece of wood was found enclosed in sandstone from a Sydney quarry. The sandstone is said to be over 200 million years old, yet when the wood was analysed for carbon-14, it indicated it was only thousands of years old. Scientists decide which date to accept depending on how it agrees with their prior beliefs about the past.
People used to think that fine laminations in sedimentary rocks meant they accumulated slowly over thousands of years. However, when the Mount St Helens volcano exploded in June 1980, eight metres of finely layered sediment were deposited in just one hour. Geologists now realize that multiple fine layers can form quickly.
Canyons don’t need millions of years to form, either. Although Burlingame Canyon (north west USA) looks like it eroded slowly over many thousands of years, it was cut quickly during torrential rainfall and flooding in a few days.
Many people think rocks take millions of years to harden, but that is not correct. At a flour mill in the USA a sack of flour was petrified (turned to stone) in a few weeks when the mill was flooded by mineralized water.
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (1650) there were only 500 million people on earth. Population growth has been staggering. Our present world population of 7 billion people is hundreds of thousands of times too small if people have been on the earth for millions of years. Today’s population is consistent with the length of time since the Flood 4,500 years ago, not with evolution over millions of years.
How could animals migrate from Mount Ararat all over the earth?
Many people imagine a pair of animals leaving the Ark and heading off on an incredibly long trip. But many centuries have passed and animals would migrate over many generations.
During the Ice Age, immediately after the Flood, sea levels were much lower, providing land bridges for animals to cross. Animals could have also travelled across the ocean on floating rafts of vegetation, something that has often been observed in recent times. Also, people could have transported many animals to different parts of the world, as they are still doing today.
A real example can help. When cane toads were introduced, by humans, into Australia, it took only ten years for their population to spread a distance of 2,000 km. Their current rate of spread is from 5 to 50 km per year. And toads are not as mobile as other animals such as cattle, cats and many reptiles.
After the Flood, there would have been no problem for successive population waves of animals moving into ‘empty’ ecological niches in all directions.
Has Noah’s Ark been found?
And the Ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 8:4)
However, we can’t be sure that Mount Ararat in Turkey is the mountain that the Bible is talking about (the Bible says ‘mountains’ of Ararat not ‘mountain’). Today’s Mount Ararat has a pointed peak that would make it difficult for the Ark to land safely. Some creationists suggest the Ark rested on a mountain range in another area in the Middle East, and have proposed some regions to explore. Some suggest that modern Mount Ararat was only given that name in the past few thousand years.
Perhaps the remains will never be found. After all, it was about 4,500 years ago that it landed, and it may have disintegrated or been demolished (perhaps for building materials or firewood). On the other hand, some Bible scholars and scientists believe the Ark could still be preserved. If it were discovered one day it would remind the world of God’s judgment in the past, and the judgment that is yet to come.
Why did God destroy the earth?
One of the most important lessons of Noah’s Flood is the reason why it came on the earth. The Bible says:
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
The Flood is a warning to all people that the Creator God cares about His creation. He cares how we behave and He will judge the earth. He will also save those who trust Him.
Everyone on the earth, except Noah, his sons and their wives, continued with their violence (Hebrew hamas, Genesis 6:11) and corruption. So God judged them. Even though the punishment was severe, no one was without excuse.
We also see that God used the Flood as His way of purifying the earth—separating those who trusted Him from those who didn’t. All through history, as we see recorded in the Bible, God has used this pattern of judgment and purification in dealing with people.
So we need to obey God’s instructions and remember His dealings in history. Otherwise our lot will be to repeat the same mistakes and experience the same consequences, unless we heed the true history and understanding of the world as recorded in the Bible.
4. Does Noah’s Ark have a message for us?
The Ark reminds us that, even in judgment, the Creator God provides a way of escape for those who believe and obey Him. And that is the message of the Bible and the good news of Jesus Christ, the way each one of us can be saved from the judgment to come.
For the Son of man has come to save that which was lost. (Matthew 18:11)
So, in seeking and saving the lost, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is like an Ark of safety for us. The Ark saved Noah and his family from the flood waters. The Bible refers to a coming destruction of the earth by fire. When we trust and obey Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, He will save us from all of God’s judgment to come. In order to be saved, Noah and his family had to enter the Ark through a doorway. We too need to respond to Jesus Christ, like entering a ‘doorway’. Jesus said,
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved … (John 10:9)
Here’s the good news
Creation Ministries International seeks to give glory and honour to God as Creator, and to affirm the truth of the biblical record of the real origin and history of the world and mankind.
Part of this real history is the bad news about the rebellion of the first man, Adam, against God’s command. His disobedience brought death, suffering and separation from God into this world. We see the results all around us.
All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) and have themselves entered into this rebellion (sin). They therefore cannot live with a holy God, but are condemned to separation from Him. The Bible says that ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23) and that all are therefore subject to ‘everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
But the good news is that God has done something about it.
For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Though totally sinless, Jesus Christ the Creator suffered—on behalf of mankind—death and separation from God, which is the penalty of our sin. In this way He satisfied the righteous demands of the holiness and justice of God, His Father. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice; He died on a cross, but on the third day, He rose again, conquering death, so that all who truly submit to Him, repent of their sin and trust in Him (rather than their own merit), are able to come back to God and live forever with their Creator.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
What a wonderful Saviour—and what a wonderful salvation in Christ our Creator!
If you want to know more of what the Bible says about how you can receive eternal life, please email, write or call the Creation Ministries International office nearest you—for contact details see creation.com/contact-us.
References and notes
- Using the generally accepted measure for a cubit of 18 inches (45.7 cm). See also Lovett, T., Which cubit for Noah’s Ark?, J. Creation 20(3):71–77, 2006. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Genesis Account, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2015. Return to text.
- Pierce, L., The large ships of antiquity, Creation 22(3):46–48, June–August 2000; creation.com/huge-ships. Return to text.
- Nunn, W., Giant sea-going wooden vessels challenge Ark skeptics, Creation 37(1):12–13, 2015. Return to text.
- And only those which breathed through nostrils— i.e. animals with backbones (Genesis 7:22). Return to text.
- Woodmorappe, J., Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, Calif. Return to text.