Ark of descent

By Phil Plait | February 20, 2010 8:00 am

Recently the UK paper The Guardian posted an article stating — without a shred of skepticism — that Noah’s Ark may have been round.

Sigh. OK, fine. But it gets better.

The Institute for Creation Research — given just their name, you might guess they haven’t found a scientific fact they couldn’t spin, fold, or mutilate… and you’d be right — claims the article is wrong.

Why?

Because a round ark makes no sense.

And…

BANG!

There goes my irony gland again. Luckily it grows back quickly, because in this line of work I seem to need it a lot.

[Update: Without any comment, I’ll just add this link here. The connection should be obvious enough.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Religion
MORE ABOUT: ICR, Noah's ark

Comments (60)

  1. You must be part timelord, that is the only way it can regenerate that fast.

  2. I think you do a bit of a disservice to the the Guardian article by somewhat implying it was anything more than a story about a piece of Babylonian tablet and the light that it throws on the origins on the Noah story.

    It’s not so much a ‘The ark is real and guess what guys: IT WAS ROUND!’ but more a ‘This piece of ancient tablet adds something new to the origins of a story.’

    Maybe I’m reading too much into your first few lines, but that’s the way it came across to me.

  3. GeorgeV

    Everyone knows the Ark wasn’t round … dinosaurs and neanderthals wouldn’t tolerate that kind of thing. Wait, is that why dinosaurs are extinct?

  4. I love the fact that you can’t respond in any way to the article on the ICR site. I also love them calling the guy “Science Writer” on a creationist site. He used creationist writings to “prove” his point.

    I misread his 5th citing to say “Albright, W. F. 1968. Yahweh and the Gods of Conan: An Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths”. I suppose the Elephant God and Red Sonya are major contributors to that book.

    At least they correctly used the article “an” in front of “historical” in the title.

    I would hope that, supposing there is/was an omnipotent being, it would instinctively and intellectually understand that a round boat with several hundred animals in it would be hell to deal with and impossible to navigate with. Maybe physics was different in this universe then.

    Why not?

    Joe P. @ 2 – I think Phil was just saying that there should have been some skeptical writing in the Guardian article. Too many people read stuff like that and want to believe, so why not add a dose of thoughtfulness to it?

  5. Billingham

    Yeah, I don’t think that Guardian article was credulous at all. It was commenting on a story being told wrong; analogous to finding an early script of Star Wars where the Death Star is a cube.

  6. Noe Qwert

    Ditto JoeP. The Guardian article did not seem terrible, but the ICR response was downright comical in its absurdity.

    The ICR article claimed that “reeds were an inadequate construction material”. The footnote for that claim, however, merely stated that the “biblical” ark would have been large enough. Such a claim is tantamount to saying that iron is weaker than steel because a paper box is larger.

    The only other claim the article makes is that if a round boat spun, it would be unpleasant.

    As an aside, I’ve always believed that the “ark” story probably started when some river or lake broke through some natural dam in heavy rain, and some guy hopped on his raft with a goat or two.

  7. sophia8

    Phil, you obviously didn’t read the Guardian article. Once you get past the misleading headline, it’s perfectly clear that it’s about a newly-discovered version of the Mesopotamian myth that the Biblical story was derived from.
    As to the origin of the Ark myth, I think it’s generally agreed that it grew out of folk-memories of a devastating flood – the type of flooding that river delta areas would have experienced quite frequently.

  8. Dr.Necropolis

    Personally I think the 2nd footnote is the best, with regard to the animal passengers on the Ark “including juvenile dinosaurs”.

  9. Not that he needs my help (wistful sigh…), but I’ll have to jump to the good doctor’s defense on this one.

    The Guardian’s article is poorly written, from the headline on down. The lead jumps right into the story of Noah’s ark as told in the tale from Genesis. The first paragraphs use language that implies that tale is factual.

    Subsequent paragraphs that describe the clay tablet continue to use language appropriate to the Genesis tale, even though the tablet itself describes the Babylonian myth. Not until the very end is the connection made from one to the other, and that is almost tossed away in the final paragraphs of the first section.

    Finally, as Doctor BA hints above, the article concludes with a description of past searches for a real Noah’s ark, and ends with a quote from the creationist nutjob, as if he were a valid scientific authority on the subject. His quote is all about the reality of the ark, with no reference at all to the Babylonian origin of the myth.

    The Guardian is usually a pretty good newspaper. They blew this one.

  10. Oh, and I love the summary of the creationist nutjob’s response:

    The realistic parameters for the Ark provided in Genesis are evidence that the biblical account is a trustworthy account of real history, unlike this newly translated clay tablet and other fanciful ancient writings.

    Italics added for maximum irony.

  11. Ld Elon

    I wouldnt say round, i would more say spherical constrait.

  12. I think the part that attracted Phil’s eye (or is it “I”) in the creationist article is the word “plaited”.

    Hey! Is Phil….? Nah. He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.

  13. Hannu Siivonen

    So the annual finding of Noah’s arch was early this year. Maybe we’ll get two

  14. André

    Here in Brazil, an important TV braodcasting showed a documentary about Noah’s ark. It was so funny, they interviewed “scientists” about it, icluding one who showed satellite images of the ark. It’s not only real, but that guy knows where it is!!!! I just didn’t understand why he doesn’t go there to get the most important archeology discovery ever. Actually, I think I know why…

  15. Michael

    I must be missing something here. Did the ICR response say that the genesis story is based on “eyewitness accounts” of the ark/flood?
    If so, it begs the question that if the flood wiped out all life on earth (except Noah and the ark inhabitants), who would be around to relate the story?

    I’m just wondering.

  16. Katharine

    And these people make up more than half of America?

    We need a more actively anti-crazy campaign against these creobot freaks.

  17. Mike C.

    “The now battered tablet, aged about 3,700 years, was found somewhere in the Middle East…”

    Don’t ya just love hard science?

  18. Thomas Siefert

    Why does it not make sense with a round ark?
    UFOs and nacho hats are round too.

  19. Mike C.

    From the CBS News link: “‘It’s an interesting image to think of these things snorkeling around Kansas, sucking water,’ said Larry Martin, KU’s curator of vertebrate paleontology. ”

    Ho hum. You can see creatures like that at any school board meeting in present-day Kansas.

  20. Keith (the first one)

    The Guardian article doesn’t say anything this being evidence for the ark. It just points out that there was never any part of the story that described the shape until now. While they comment on searches for the ark, they point out that it is the creationists who are obsessed with it.

  21. Ron

    Maybe the dinosaurs onboard did not make it because they were told the food was in the corner and they went nuts looking for a corner on round ark.

  22. Mike C.

    He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness.

    — Job (26:10)

    It all makes sense now.

  23. Rift

    Mike C-

    You do realize that the Kansas BOE is now pro-science and has been for about five years…

    I wish people would read the headlines that we voted the nut jobs out of office the very next year twice now. Sigh.

    And unlike Dover it didn’t cost the taxpayer a single cent. Leave Kansas alone, or better yet praise Kansas for voting pro-science people into the School Board. Kansas should be held as a shining example of voters voting FOR science.

    Apparently there’s nothing we can do to live the bushwacking the disco tute gave us down.

  24. Andrew Barton

    No British reader would take that Guardian headline as a factual statement. The first line of the story makes it quite clear that they’re talking about a new version of the -story- of the ark.

    ‘Two by two’ is a quote from a nursery rhyme, not Genesis.

  25. I’d argue there is indeed a shred of skepticism. Quoted from the Guardian piece:

    “…The Mesopotamian flood myth was incorporated into the great poetic epic Gilgamesh, and Finkel, curator of the recent British Museum exhibition on ancient Babylon, believes that it was during the Babylonian captivity that the exiled Jews learned the story, brought it home with them, and incorporated it into the Old Testament…”

    That hardly sounds like the Fox-Special-Televised-Ghosts-and-Angels-Rock!-Event saying “not a shred of skepticism” suggests. On the other hand, the Institute for Creation Research just broke my stupid bone when I tried to read its analysis so I guess the balance of your post still keeps the appropriate perspective.

    Yours in clay,
    CBB

  26. Mike C.

    Rift — Thanks for the tip. Three of my best friends are conservative Catholics Kansans, so from personal experience I’m not quite prepared yet to accept that Kansas has entered the age of enlightenment.

  27. Rift

    3 out of 3 million? sigh

    Maybe you should look at the current Standards that Kansas is teaching instead. It is against the law to teach creationism or ID in a Kansas science class.

    Besides, the Catholics hold evolution as truth. I should know, i went to a Catholic college (albiet very liberal one run by the Sisters of Charity who believe in women priests, marriage priests and even gay rights 20 years ago)

  28. 5. Billingham Says:

    “…analogous to finding an early script of Star Wars where the Death Star is a cube.”

    ————————

    Lord Vader, this one knows too much. What are your orders?

  29. Mike C.

    Rift, I tried to edit that to “accept that all Kansans” but the “load comment” isn’t working for me. I grew up in a liberal Catholic family (Irish) and know that the church is a lot more liberal, if not downright leftist, than many non-Catholics would imagine it to be. After all, it was a Jesuit priest who first postulated the idea of “the big bang.”

  30. Phil, you could have warned us about damage to our own irony glands from following the ICR link. The banner at the top says “Biblical. Accurate. Certain”. I only survived by mentally adding “pick one.”

  31. rsm

    Not to pile on too much, but as others have noted, the Guardian story is all about the story of the ark, and from the comparison of the Discovery Institute and others who obsess about the ark with a guy running naked in the museum I think we can credit them with a fair bit of skepticism and wit. Although to be entirely honest, there isn’t much skepticism needed to discuss the literary history of the flood story.

    And fortunately my stupid detector gland is a ver. 2.5 firmware upgrade and puts itself in sleep mode at the mention of the DI, saves times cleaning up the blood when it bursts.

  32. Laval

    ditto JoeP – article was actually pretty reasonable, i was prepared for much worse

  33. Michael Swanson

    @ Rift

    I think it’s the nature of the news. When the whackjobs were in charge, it was all over the headlines. Now that sensible people are running your BOE, it’s not as newsworthy. And it’s too easy not to follow up on the news. For instance, everyone knows about the Indonesian tsunami a few years back, but how many, including news organizations, follow up on their progress?

    Belated kudos to Kansas voters!

  34. Well, we should trust the Institute for Creation Research.

    After all, they’re so scientific and objective, they even wanted to offer a Master of Science Degree to their disciples. So certainly, if a round Ark makes no sense to them, they must know what they’re talking about. It’s not like they just make this stuff up after reading ancient parables from Hebrew scrolls which were based on Sumerian literature like the Epic of Gilgamesh, and extrapolated ancient creation tales.

    Oh, wait…

  35. MadScientist

    Perhaps we should write silly articles for these silly papers and have a good laugh at them afterwards? Nothing obviously kooky like “the ark was really a UFO” (unless you’re submitting to a UFO magazine), but anything a favorite with creationists.

    Oh, and I don’t get the title for the post. What’s “descent” have to do with any of this? (Or was that meant to be ‘dissent’?)

  36. @ Rift:

    “disco tute” — ha!

    Disco toot? — ha ha!

  37. Woof

    Consider a spherical horse…

  38. John Paradox

    36. kuhnigget Says:

    @ Rift:

    “disco tute” — ha!

    Disco toot? — ha ha!

    Okay, enough about cocaine…..

    J/P=?

  39. Menyambal

    The Disco Tute guy is obviously not a sailor man. There are a lot of things wrong with his article.

    “If a circular vessel started to spin on the water…” And just what would make it start to spin? Wind from one side? Turbulent water would not spin a round craft much, but swirling currents would take a long craft for a wild ride.

    The most common shape for liferafts, these days, is round, for very many good reasons. A pointy “boat-shaped” boat needs to be kept pointed into the wind and waves, which would have been impossible for Noah to do, especially in the Flood, whereas a round vessel can be left to drift. A flat-sided boat, such as a barge, cross-wise to the waves, is gonna get smacked very hard, broken and rolled over. A round, flexy boat, made of reeds would be a much safer and easier craft to make, and better to be in/on.

    A BIG, flat reed mat would ride over the waves, and in flexing, dissipate the force of the waves. That would be the best thing for comfort, hull strength, and stability.

    There’s more, but I don’t care to list it all. Look at life rafts. And ask yourself just how Noah was going to keep a damned large, barge-like watercraft pointed into huge frickin’ waves rolling in from all directions during a violently turbulent flood event. He’d need a motor, a sail, oars or a sea-anchor, just to keep oriented into a storm that was coming in from only one direction. In a chaotic world-wide flood, he’d catch a wave wrong, get stove in, rolled or just plain swamped.

    And who’s bailing the barge? A reed raft doen’t need bailing out, but a big barge is gonna leak like crazy, pitched or not, especially since he never let the timbers soak and swell before loading and launching.

  40. Noah’s Ark may have been round.

    Yeah, but that’s not enough. I’m not paying this story any attention unless they can show it cleared its neighbourhood.

  41. Chanelle

    [quote]13. Hannu Siivonen Says:
    So the annual finding of Noah’s arch was early this year. Maybe we’ll get two
    [/quote]

    Would that make it blue? So if it is blue and round….I know, the ark was the world’s first racquetball.

  42. mln84

    5. Billingham Says:

    “…analogous to finding an early script of Star Wars where the Death Star is a cube.”

    That’s no (game) cube; that’s a playstation!

  43. “…analogous to finding an early script of Star Wars where the Death Star is a cube.”

    I’d assume the Borg had arrived in the Star Wars Universe.

  44. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 40. Vagueofgodalming Says:

    Noah’s Ark may have been round.

    Yeah, but that’s not enough. I’m not paying this story any attention unless they can show it cleared its neighbourhood.

    LOL! Great Pluto reference! :-)

    @ 43. Grendel Says:

    “…analogous to finding an early script of Star Wars where the Death Star is a cube.” I’d assume the Borg had arrived in the Star Wars Universe.

    Durn, you beat me to it. Star Wars / Trek crossover with the Borg versus the Rebel Alliance &/or Empire anybody?

    Meanwhile, the USS Enterprise / Defiant / Voyager (take your pick! ;-) ) encounters a strange spherical artificial moon-like station and a black caped asthmatic Sith Lord … ;-)

    PS. Am I the only person who ever wondered what Darth Vader would sound like when he sneezed? ;-)

    PPS. Off topic but thought y’all may like to read that the Shuttle Endeavour has now undocked from the now 98% completed International Space Station and is heading home on Sunday night – see :

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/19/tech/main6225049.shtml?tag=latest

  45. Pi-needles

    The tablet goes on to command the use of plaited palm fibre…

    Crikey, they must have had hairy palms back then! ;-)

    Almost monkey like in fact .. ;-)

    (Looks at hands, thinks of something that’s probably too rude to be said here.)

    Interesting to note how the Creationist put it too :

    *If* the flood of Noah indeed wiped out the entire human race and its civilization, as the Bible teaches, then the ark constitutes the one remaining major link to the pre-flood world,” says John D Morris of the Institute for Creation “Research.”

    (Emphasis – & air quotes – mine.)

    If? I’m surprised Mr Morris can allow himself to say ‘if’ with the implied possibility of .. well *other* possibilities rather than absolute certainty here.

    Maybe he’s starting to lose his faith? We can but hope. ;-)

    I didn’t think the article was “without skepticism” personally – indeed it seemed to be taking a definite standpoint that the ark / reed raft was mythical. The tone seemed light and humorous-ish rather than overly serious to me.

    The thought occurs that the tablet could well be fake as I think a lot of the Arab market sellers at the time were in the habit of “creating” rather than “discovering” many of their purported “ancient artefacts”* but then I guess the museum did authenticate it.

    One final minor nit – I thought the Babylonian “noah” was named ‘Utnaptishim’ or something like that not Atram-Hasis, no?

    —-

    * There’s a good scene on this in the Aussie movie Gallipoli that springs to mind where a bunch of Aussie soldiers training in Egypt (I think) take revenge on one such “antiquities” seller after one of them is conned into buying a stack of such faked curios at inflated prices. Based on a true story? Don’t know but wouldn’t be at all surprised.

  46. DLC

    The Ark could not have been round for good sound scientific reasons :
    The bible clearly states it was 450ft* long 75 ft* wide and 45ft* high.
    with such a clear, concise authority, how could it possibly have been round ?
    See how simple it all is ?

    *as the foot did not exist as a unit of measurement when Genesis was cribbed from the legend of Gilgamesh, the ark would have been measured out in Cubits, which are arbitrarily (by contemporay standards) about 1.5 ft in length. However, it has also been suggested that in biblical times a cubit was closer to 30 inches in length, which would have made the ark larger.
    Yes, sports fans, Biblical inerrency at it’s finest!
    Oh, and besides, they couldn’t have measured a circle properly, because according to the bible the ratio of the circumference of a circle to it’s diameter is 3.00.

  47. TheBlackCat

    The most common shape for liferafts, these days, is round, for very many good reasons. A pointy “boat-shaped” boat needs to be kept pointed into the wind and waves, which would have been impossible for Noah to do, especially in the Flood, whereas a round vessel can be left to drift. A flat-sided boat, such as a barge, cross-wise to the waves, is gonna get smacked very hard, broken and rolled over. A round, flexy boat, made of reeds would be a much safer and easier craft to make, and better to be in/on.

    When you are dealing with 6 inches per minute of rain, it doesn’t really matter what the boat is made out of or what shape it is, you are going to be in a lot of trouble.

  48. 23. Rift Says: “Leave Kansas alone, or better yet praise Kansas for voting pro-science people into the School Board. Kansas should be held as a shining example of voters voting FOR science.”

    Kansas has the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. That moves it to the top of the list in my book.

    BTW, loved the Brittany Spears reference, even if inadvertent.

    – Jack

  49. Surreptitious Evil

    The “original”, at least in regards of the first translated “Flood Tablet” is the British Museum one, which can be seen here. This is the George Smith / 1872 tablet mentioned at the bottom of the Guardian article. It doesn’t say that the Ark should be round but it does say;

    “The boat you will build, her dimensions all shall be equal: her length and breadth shall be the same.”

    Other tablets, either directly of the myth of Atra-Hasis or the version of that incorporated into the Gilgamesh story, put the length at 120 cubits, whatever a cubit happened to be at that time.

  50. Andy

    I didn’t see anything in the Bible that contradicts my theory that Noah’s Ark was shaped like a Mayan pyramid.

  51. Bjoern

    @Pi-needles: “One final minor nit – I thought the Babylonian “noah” was named ‘Utnaptishim’ or something like that not Atram-Hasis, no?”

    The name varies, depending on the source and the language. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziusudra.

  52. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Or a triangle / pyramid?

    Or a pentagon?

    Or an octagon?

    Or a dodecahedron?

    Hey, why not? ;-)

  53. Messier Tidy Upper

    Off topic but something else that should cheese off the flat earther creationist fundamentalists :

    Via wikipedia main page – “in the news” sidebar :

    IUPAC officially names the element with atomic number of 112 as copernicium in honour of Nicolaus Copernicus.

    Because Copernicus too contradicted the Bible. After all, apparently it was Written that the Sun not our Earth had to stand still at that biblical battle of Joshua’s :roll: & poor ole Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno were rather badly treated (to say the least!) for insisting on what we now know is true. Plus Copernicus himself probably only escaped because his opus on the heliocentric theory was published as he died. Even then they insisted on a forward saying it was “just a theory.” Sound familiar?

    See more :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernicium

    PS. I’d email this news to the BA to blog on here but I’m not sure whether he’d get it as I don’t know if my emails are going through or not. Can you hear me BA? Over? Anyone who wants to let him know & knows they can get through to him please be my guest .. so t’speak! ;-)

  54. TheBlackCat

    Or a triangle / pyramid?

    Or a pentagon?

    Or an octagon?

    Or a dodecahedron?

    Hey, why not? ;-)

    Don’t be stupid, it obviously has to be a ditrigonal dodecicosidodecahedron

  55. Robert A

    I keep wanting to think this is a joke…

    http://www.icr.edu/

    Really? Graduate school?

  56. M B

    Regardless if you agree with the ICR article, at least you could summarize their arguments properly. This is shoddy work for anyone associated with Discover.

  57. Regardless if you agree with the ICR article, at least you could summarize their arguments properly.

    Goddidit. The Bible sez so.

    There. Took care of that for you.

  58. MadScientist

    Shouldn’t the ark be shaped like the banana? Wouldn’t that be the perfect designed shape that fits best in a global flood? No, not the banana *boat*, the banana *ark*!

  59. James

    Why would you build a boat in the same shape as a sex toy?

  60. GQ

    Snark aside, it is an interesting piece on an early myth and puts the boot (further) in to the “this literally happened!” people.

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