Ark Fight!

An (English) CoracleSo you remember that “round ark” story from a few weeks ago, right? Brian Thomas has finally gotten around to poo-pooing it with an article called “Cuneiform Reed-Ark Story Doesn’t Float.” He begins:

News emerged in 2010 that Irving Finkel, a cuneiform expert at the British Museum, had translated an ancient tablet describing Noah’s Ark as round and built of reeds. Now, Finkel is publishing a book on the find, and news reports again assert the tired tale that the Bible’s authors borrowed a Babylonian flood tale like the one on this tablet and modified it into their “story” of Noah. Babylonian or biblical, round or rectangular—which Ark story stays afloat?


Thomas points out that this isn’t new, and that Finkel is just now publishing a book about it. But the aspect that I find most interesting is how the tablet – whose protagonist is a king named Atram-Hasis, not Noah – is being represented by everyone as being a different retelling of the Noah story, as if that was the definitive article to which all else must be compared. The biblical story really has pervaded our culture to such an extent that even when the claim being made is that Noah is the copy the framing persists. This plays into the hands of the young-Earth creationists, who maintain that theirs is the original and take it as axiomatic that any other version must be a flawed copy.

To defend his position – or persuade his insular creationist readers that their beliefs remain unshaken – Thomas wants to show that his ark is better.

The Finkel tablet specifies a two-story, disc-shaped vessel with a 220-foot diameter. This floating saucer was supposedly made of reeds tied with reams of ropes and covered with bitumen—perhaps a natural tar-like substance—for waterproofing. An earlier Creation Science Update noted that such a floppy tub would hardly have been as seaworthy as the wooden, barge-like vessel depicted in the Bible.

There are plenty more details about Atram-Hasis’ coracle (AHC from now on) in the tablet – indeed it’s defining feature seems to be having much more information than the story in Genesis – and one of them seems to be that it had some degree of reinforcement to avoid flopping. In fact, the 2010 article that Thomas is referring us to doesn’t even use this as a reason why the AHC wouldn’t have worked: his excuse at the time was that it might spin, and that would be Bad.

That article did however point to evidence explaining why the biblical ark would have been, pointing to some research with a scale model that I looked at in early 2012. Basically, they found that the relative proportions given were ideal (ish) for stability. However, this assumes that the only possibilities are that the ark was rectangular, and even if the proportions were the best possible this still doesn’t mean that they were good enough. There’s also the slight matter that this was, again, a scale model and so doesn’t test any of the unique problems of the giant size of the actual boat described.

At best then this means that the biblical ark is on equal footing with the AHC. This research may tell us that a small version of the ark could avoid getting flipped over by the waves, but we already know that (normal-sized) coracles float. The real test would be a full-sized version of each, and while no creationist has dared build a seaworthy ark to specifications there is apparently a BBC Channel 4 documentary in the works that intends to construct the AHC. I’m not entirely clear on whether or not this will be the correct size, but if so Ken Ham really needs to lift his game.

Having exhausted any scientific reason to believe his version over Finkel’s, Thomas has a few other points to make:

Then in 2012, British historian Bill Cooper published a 1909 translation by Dr. Hermann Hilprecht of a Babylonian flood tablet that pre-dates Finkel’s fortuitous find. The two tablets differ substantially in details, with implications for both Finkel’s book and the Bible’s veracity.

Cooper is, it should be pointed out, a creationist himself. An article from 2011 by John Morris gives the text of this amazing tablet:

The springs of the deep will I open. A flood will I send which will affect all of mankind at once. But seek thou deliverance before the flood breaks forth, for over all living beings, however many there are, will I bring annihilation, destruction, ruin. Take wood and pitch and build a large ship!….cubits be its complete height…. a houseboat shall it be, containing those who preserve their life….with a strong roofing cover it…. the ship which thou makest, take into it….the animals of the field, the birds of the air and the reptiles, two of each, instead of (their whole number)….and the family of the….

This is very incomplete and ambiguous, and doesn’t even conflict much with what Finkel has described of his own tablet. Thomas next tries to spin it that the similarities between the AHC and other “unrealistic” Babylonian stories is a point against it, even though the Genesis story shares them also. In addition, the fact that the Hilprecht tablet is older is also a problem in Thomas’ mind.

The link is clear. The oldest tablet retains the highest quality of information because it appears it was written when the actual Flood survivors were still living and could have quickly squelched inaccurate versions of the Flood events.

The notion that Bible authors borrowed from Babylonian myths—made explicit in Finkel’s book title The Ark Before Noah—fails for the same reason. Supposedly the Jews living as captives in Babylon revised their history to include the Babylonian flood account; but if that were so they would have been written off as fiction writers by their contemporaries, who could refute their historically revisionist peers. Plus, why would the Jewish exiles ever want to adopt the historical identity of their brutal pagan captors?

But why then would the Babylonians make a bad copy then? This argument does indeed work both ways, which is why it is flawed. Somebody was clearly unashamedly copying something, and probably both of them.

Thomas again asserts that the AHC is fanciful, which he might want to be more careful about. A slightly more recent news story than the one he is using states:

The “round ark” would have been like a massive bowl of rope piled up in a complex manner on a scaffolding of willow ribs. One of the ancient instructions was for the length of rope needed for the construction of this type of boat. “I got the mathematician to work out how much rope is needed to make a boat that size, and the difference between the actual length of 527 kilometers specified by the god and the difference was negligible,” [Finkel] said. The god’s instructions even included how long to cook the tar until it bubbled and become viscous, he added. That was correct also.

This is exactly the same kind of argument that creationists themselves like to make, which makes me wonder whether Finkel might be intentionally goading them.

Moving towards the conclusion, Thomas says:

News reports of the round-Ark tablet on display at the British Museum show that interest in Noah’s Ark remains strong, and this will undoubtedly help sell copies of Finkel’s book. And with the unreasonable disdain that secular scholarship has toward God’s Word, each copy sold will undoubtedly mislead its reader that the Genesis Flood account was borrowed from myth and is therefore a myth itself.

But wouldn’t this line of reasoning unravel all of Scripture? Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, and Jesus, for example, accepted Noah and his Ark of deliverance at face value.

Thomas’ example of how those people took the ark literally is Matthew 24:38, which makes for a nice example of Creationists Failing At Bible Stuff. In context this verse reads (in the NIV):

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Now, if in a great speech I said something like “…for even in the War of the Ring, that great battle for the survival of the race of men, there were still those deceived by patent evil, and who joined a cause that would prove fatal for their own ends…” it would not mean that I took Tolkien at “face value,” that I thought that The Lord of the Rings was in some way non-fiction. Similarly, using the story of Noah’s ark in this fashion doesn’t constitute believing it to be true.

But there’s worse: Thomas links to the ICR’s online version of Henry Morris’ New Defender’s Study Bible, which says on this verse:

24:38 giving in marriage. “Giving in marriage” could also be understood as “getting out of marriage.” In any case the unconcern of the world just before it was to be destroyed by the Flood will be characteristic of the world just before the coming of the Son of man. Many other characteristics of Noah’s day (immorality, demon possession, widespread corruption and violence, universal rebellion against God and His will) are being repeated in our day.

Morris interpreted the verse as saying that the “unconcern” was in some way a bad thing, which doesn’t seem to be the point at all.

Back to Thomas though, he concludes his article by saying:

The earlier date for the Hilprecht tablet combines with the unique feasibility of the Bible’s Ark description to firmly establish the Genesis rectangular Ark—not a round Ark—as the real one. Genesis offers the only Ark account that floats.

If that is so, then what’s so hard about proving it? We’re all waiting for a floating ark, whether physically or even fiscally. When is the ICR going to try?

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8 thoughts on “Ark Fight!

  1. The real problem YECs have is that even if they could show the ark described in Genesis was sea worthy,it would still leave mountains of evidence against a recent global flood. Besides all the contrary geologic evidence, a literal Noah and his boat would not only have hard to survive the violent Flood, but scores of horrible and even fatal diseases that require human hosts, including dozens of STD/s (otherwise those would not be still around), and with the vastly accelerated radioactive decay rates YECs propose, and/or a collapsed vapor canopy others proposed, enough heat to cook the earth and everything on it. On top of that, even if all the passengers survived, it would leave a only 8 humans, and 2 of each “kind” of animal, and thus not enough genetic alleles to explain all the variations seen today, unless there were far more rapid and dramatic evolution in the few thousand years than even conventional scientist allow.

  2. Glen is right. Remember the OJ Simpson (unwitnessed-murder) trial? Even if one dismissed the bloody glove evidence, tossed it totally out, what would be left is an overwhelming forensic case for guilt (that the jury disregarded that evidence and acquitted OJ notwithstanding).

    And so, even if we cave in and all agree that a physical Ark of Biblical size and capability was possible and accept without objection that such an ark could have been built 4,000 years ago, there is still an overwhelming ABSENCE of objective evident that there was ever a world-wide flood (period, let along during the reign of humanity) of Earth. But like the OJ Simpson murder trial jury, Young-Earth creationists just dismiss the “forensic” (past-applying) absence of evidence for (and the veritable mountain of present evidence against) a World-wide flood in the history of (colossally ancient) Earth.

  3. Remember the OJ Simpson (unwitnessed-murder) trial?

    I wasn’t yet a year old when that verdict came down, so no, but I see what you mean. The creationists like to concentrate on individual points of contention when the full picture is damning. Even if rectangles beat circles they have a lot more to prove.

  4. Glen:

    with the vastly accelerated radioactive decay rates YECs propose, and/or a collapsed vapor canopy others proposed, enough heat to cook the earth and everything on it.

    Don’t forget the continents sliding around at breakneck speed!

  5. Right! That;s another thing Nye largely get away with during the debate. On top of that there must have been thousands of major meteorites reigning down, since the ones we know about, and many we probably don’t (judging from the millions of craters on the moon, mars, etc), had to hit earth withing a few thousand years or less. A Jan 2014 YEC article in Answers Research Journal by Danny Faulkner spent over 20 pages discussing craters on various bodies in our solar system, but had no scientific explanation for how the earth escaped similarly massive impacts, or if it did not, how life survived. All Faulkner could do, just like the RATE project authors, is appeal to unknown “miracles.” This seems quite significant. In the case of two major problems (radioactive dating and the cratering problems)YECs are now on record admitting they have no scientific explanation whatsoeve, and must resort to evoke ad-hoc, extra-Biblical miracles. Even in the very articles in which they do this, have the stones to claim they still have the superior view or origins.

  6. I wish Nye had brought up the cratering problem during the debate. He could not only have put Ham on the hot seat in asking for a scientific explanation for how the earth escaped them or life did it did not, he also could have had some extra fun by asking Ham if he endorsed the idea of Henry Morris, the “father of modern creationism”, who proposed that lunar craters were the result of a cosmic war between demons and angels (I guess they had a number of skirmishes, to account for all the of craters in the rest of the solar system). Funny that the Bible never mentions it.

  7. Here’s another interesting crater-related question. In the YEC timeframe, the massive K-T impact that evidently caused (or greatly contributed to at least) the extinction of dinosaurs and many other groups must have occurred within historic times (the last several thousand years or lesst). Yet that cataclysmic event and dozens of other major ancient impacts we have compelling geologic evidence of, are never mentioned in the Bible or any historic records. How can that be? In the mainstream view it’s no problem of course, since the vast majority of impacts (including the biggest ones) occurred before humans were on earth. YECs have no where to go with it. They can’t even logically that maybe God miraculously protected the earth from getting hit with major impacts, since the geologic evidence shows otherwise. I doubt most want to suggest that God planted that geologic evidence, although that’s not so different from the common YEC suggestion that God created light from distant stars already en route to earth, even with things like supernova explosions in them, that never occurred. Does anyone know of any YEC that has been able to do any better with this problem than suggest vague, llogical “miracles.” .

  8. By the way, the earth’s atmosphere does not give YECs a way out of the cratering problem. Our atmosphere does a pretty good job of shielding us from (or vaporizing) many small bolides before they hit the earth (that’s why we see “shooting stars” every night, but not countless larger ones, many of which were capable of doing massive damage, judging from all the big impacts on the other bodies in our solar system. Again, there is geologic evidence of scores of them big enough to do significant damage, and several capable of causing or contributing to major extinction events. There were undoubtedly many more, since earth is a very geologically active and largely ovean-covered planet, causing many to be buried and eroded. Indeed, there is abundant evidence of especially massive bombardment in the early history of the solar system. about 4 billion years ago called the “late heavy bombardment” where all bodies of our solar system were subject to an onslaught of millions of significant impacts. Among the few attempts by YECs to deal with this (besides the vague “miracles” explanation) have been suggestions that they all during the creation week, or during the Flood –as if cramming them into an even smaller time frame would help. Good grief, how can anyone suggest with a straight face that God declared his creation “very good’ as millions of devastating meteorites and comets were crashing down on it?

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