The Science Says Noah’s Ark Could Have Floated

“You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.” —Genesis 6:19–20

In A Nutshell

Physics students from the University of Leicester determined that Noah’s ark would have been able to float if built from instructions found in the Bible in Genesis 6:13–22. If all marine life stayed in the sea, then the students believe that the ark could have accommodated all the species that existed at that time.

The Whole Bushel

There are a lot of cultures whose ancient history includes a flood story: the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Irish, and Native Americans. But the most famous one is of Noah and the ark as told in the Bible. Geologists from Columbia University believe that the stories have a common basis in fact. As glaciers melted at the end of the ice age, the excess water gushed into the Mediterranean Sea, eventually spilling into the Black Sea and inundating nearby farms.

That explains the water. But what about the ark? We haven’t found it yet, but is it even scientifically possible to build a vessel to hold a pair of each animal from biblical times? Four physics students from the University of Leicester think they have the answer.

In 2014, these students tested whether Noah’s ark would be able to float if built from instructions found in the Bible in Genesis 6:13–22. Noah had been told to build an ark with a length of 300 cubits, a width of 50 cubits, and a height of 30 cubits. First, the students had to figure out how big the ark would be in conventional measurements.

They determined that the size of a cubit was about 48 centimeters (19 in), roughly the length from someone’s elbow to the end of his middle finger. As a result, their ark would measure about 145 meters (476 ft) long, 24 meters (79 ft) wide, and 14 meters (46 ft) high, similar to a tiny cargo ship.

In the Bible translation used by the students, the ark was to be built of gopher wood, which might be cedar, cypress, or pine. They chose cypress wood, although the other types of wood were similar in density. From there, they figured out that an empty ark would weight about 1.2 million kilograms (2.6 million lb).

To float, the vessel had to exert a force on the ocean equal to the weight of the water displaced by it. Called the “buoyancy force,” it’s the most weight the ark can carry without sinking. If the density of the ark is more than the water, the vessel will sink.

Assuming the ark was box-shaped, it should have been able to carry 51 million kilograms (117 million lb), or the equivalent of a little over two million sheep, without sinking. Each sheep was assumed to weigh approximately 23 kilograms (51 lb). If all marine life stayed in the sea, then the students believe that the ark could have accommodated all the species that existed at that time.

To figure out how many land animals would need to fit into the ark, biblical scholars suggest that two factors would reduce the number. First, the “created kinds” of animals cited in Genesis are fewer than the number of “species” that may have existed back then. That means only 2,000 or fewer animals may have been loaded on the ark. Second, the larger animals, such as dinosaurs and elephants, could have fulfilled the requirement with smaller, young animals.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Edward Hicks
National Geographic: The Search for Noah’s Flood
AlphaGalileo: Hurrah! The animals could have floated two by two according to physicists
Smithsonian: Could Noah’s Ark Float? In Theory, Yes
CBN: How Many Animals Were on the Ark?

  • OldBoris

    Here’s one in the Netherlands.
    http://imagene.youropi.com/ark-van-noach-activiteit-dordrecht-1(p:activity,16549)(c:0).jpg

    As for the floods, there actually were major floods in and around Iraq, damaging or wiping out entire cities (according to archaeologists, the city of Ur flooded several times). The story of these floods, that took place in what the Jews would have known as the site of an earlier civilization, could have been embellished to create the Biblical flood myth.

  • oouchan

    Yup. Could have floated.
    Now could have existed is entirely a different box of cookies.

    mmmm….

    • Clyde Barrow

      The Titanic floated, but luckily, it wasn’t carrying every species of animals known (or unknown) to man.

      • oouchan

        Based on the article, they say it could carry all the animals, and they would fit. Too bad they didn’t think of this…food for 40 days. That alone would take up 45% of the boat. 🙂

        • Brian

          It was just the rain that lasted for 40 days. They floated for about a year. Since they were higher than the highest mountain (Everest), I’m not quite sure how they breathed. Maybe they had a pressurized Ark and oxygen masks.

  • lorentjd

    Here is an essay regarding a critical aspect of the story of Noah’s ark (the gathering of the animals to the ark): https://thackerlorenc.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/using-science-to-establish-the-plausibility-of-the-biblical-account-of-noahs-ark/ (I would be very interested to hear feedback and reactions).

    • I’ve read the article quickly. The gist seems right. Although creationists make a lot of noise about being scientific and having proof that it is possible, at some point in their story they inevitably need a miracle. All the animals turned up “prompted by divine instinct” or all those animals conveniently didn’t need exercise for more than a full year at a time.

      I confess to not having read the article seriously. I support the notion “this is not science”. It is not. Finding stuff in nature that fits your story is not science. It’s a bit like the Flood itself. If the Flood really happened then we’d expect to find lots of dead animals and plants on top of eachother and we do find that. Yay, the creationists say, it fits. Our theory is scientific. Poor fools. We also find all those fossils in distinct layers in a very precise order. We’d expect a jumble if there really had been a Flood with perhaps the birds on top or something the like.

      I don’t hate Christians and I certainly don’t hate the Bible. However, it irks me something fierce when believers just don’t come right out and say “our God can do everything, it was a miracle.” Fine, have your miracle. Just don’t then claim that it is also science.

      • lorentjd

        I agree with all of your sentiments. Creationists over-reach when they claim that *science* helps them *prove* that the story of Noah’s ark actually occurred. If a miracle(s) is essential to a claim, then the claim cannot be established using science. My short essay looked at just one element of the story (the gathering of the animals to the ark) and that one element, creationists will admit, requires a miracle to have occurred. If a miracle is an essential element to the entire story (and the gathering of the animals is essential to the story), then science cannot prove the truth of the entire story.

        • Fun challenge: describe what science is in one sentence. It’s surprisingly hard to do. I do not mean to say that we were wrong above on calling creationist proof-digging ‘not science’. However, trying to describe what it is turns out to be surprisingly hard to do concisely.

  • I really wonder if the Ark would have floated. The largest wooden ship ever built was the Wyoming at about 140 meters in length and that had steel ribs added for rigidity and still leaked like crazy. She sank with the loss of all hands. She was still smaller than the Ark is supposed to be. (If we are to trust all these people who seem to know exactly how large a cubit is.)

    Sure, if you thought up an ideal ship of those dimensions it would float but that is like the archetypical physicist in the joke saying: first, propose a spherical cow. You wouldn’t take into account the way wood actually functions as part of a ship’s hull. The best that the USA had to offer just recently at the very pinnacle of wooden shipbuilding still wasn’t enough.

    This article is worrying. The claim that animals were the size of a sheep on average seems to stem from notorious creationist author John Woodmorappe, who did a whole lot of frankly useless math that amounted to plea-bargaining with a calculator in hand. Woodmorappe also thought up a lot of other fun innovations (that aren’t in the Bible) like the taking on of juveniles – who would then have no role-models to learn from – and only taking along representatives of the biblical ‘kinds’. You also don’t build a boat fit for the average animal. Even if that claim about average size is true, you still have to take the elephants and the giraffes. On top of that the really small critters would need some suitable cages as well.

    There is even an entire faux-scientifical field for this called baraminology, from the Hebrew word baramin that is usually translated as kind. But what is a kind? Humans are for purely ideological reasons in a kind of their own. So are all apes. There is a dog kind that seems to include jackals as well. There is a cat kind. There is, and now it becomes worrying, presumably a fly kind. The Schizophora, according to Wikipedia, are only a part of all flies and have 85 families and more than 50,000 species among them.

    A creationist will claim that those are all flies so no evolution but consider that all those are still distinct species. Noah’s Ark floated around 4000 years or so. That would mean that the one ‘fly kind’ would have to somehow generate 12-13 new species every single year just to make up Schizophora. That is a level of speciation that no biologist would even think up in his wildest dreams.

    The ‘elephant kind’ presumably included Numidotherium, Moeritherium and Barytherium as well. Just that those animals are now extinct doesn’t mean they didn’t have to “micro-evolve” from the elephant kind and consequently die out. There are seven living elephant species right now (just barely). The mammoths are in there somewhere. Is Elephantidae a kind or would the entire order of Proboscidea (of which Elephantidae is a part) be a kind? Who knows?

    There are many more problems with the Ark story but I’ll leave it at this.