The animals came in 2x2x2x2...

c: | f: /

In the face of true devotion, it’s difficult to separate fact and myth when it comes to the bible. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’m going to try.

Someone once asked me if I believe in God. I couldn’t answer. Not because I necessarily do or don’t believe in the existence of an all-powerful deity who invented everything within a week in his back garden, but because I’m agnostic.

I have great spiritual beliefs that are deeply rooted in the power of self-improvement and self-awareness. That means believing I can control what I do and can make my own decisions in what I deem the best interests of me, my family and the planet around me. I often get it wrong, but learning’s part of the process.

Some defer that process to divine intervention or give up any semblance of life control: it doesn’t make their beliefs any less valid than mine. Whatever works for an individual to motivate them to enjoy life is fine by me.

But what I do have a problem with is the bible. Specifically, people who swear by it and will go to great lengths to try and convince me it’s gospel and that if I don’t believe it, then I’m somehow a creature of lesser importance than the believee.

At best — as far as I can make out — the bible is loose documentation of some bygone era, laced with myth, embellished and published by a group of people who thought it would be fun to divide the world. Old Testament, New Testament, it doesn’t matter: they’re both great (as in large, not good) works of fiction.

To counter this argument, some defend the bible by saying it’s not a de facto account, but the ideas are symbolic of leading a good life. I can see how that might work, picking and choosing the bits that feel relevant to you and ignoring the remaining plot holes. Symbolism, for example, explains why we celebrate Christ’s alleged birthday on the same date every year, but the arguably more important date of his death varies according to the Paschal Full Moon.

It might also explain why — as my five-year-old asked in a wonderful example of Occam’s razor — “if heaven is where souls go, why did Jesus’ body disappear too, while everyone else stays on Earth when they die?” I love the childlike view of the world here: if you put someone in a cave guarded by a ruddy great boulder and come back three days later to find him gone, the conclusion should not immediately be to assume the body has been magically whisked into heaven, but that maybe — just maybe — this celebrity of the day escaped or had outside assistance from the many people he had touched with his miracles.

Sometimes the simplest solution really is the truth: if my guitar playing is more rubbish than usual one day, my immediate reaction is that I’m having a bad day, not that I’ve travelled back in time and my right hand is disappearing because I’ve accidentally interrupted my parents’ first meeting.

God will save me

Life is all about recognising signals and acting on them. Listening to your body when it’s telling you it’s out of balance, and listening to others before deciding to take their advice or not. I’m guilty of ignoring the signs, being too stubborn to see the obvious, but I’m getting better at it. The point is, one’s beliefs — whatever they are and wherever they come from — can obstruct progress if you get too hung up on them.

It reminds me of a joke:

It had been raining for days and days and a local river crested, flooding many houses. The waters rose so high that one man climbed onto the roof of his house to escape. As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a boat rowed up and told him to get in.

“No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in God; He will save me.”

So the man in the boat went away while the man on the rooftop prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher and a speedboat appeared.

“Climb in!” shouted a man from the boat.

“No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in God; He will save me.”

So the man in the speedboat went away and the man on the roof prayed for his Lord to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof.

“No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in God; He will save me.”

So the helicopter went away while the man on the roof prayed harder for God to save him. The waters rose higher and higher, eventually so high that the man was washed away and drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God:

“Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?”

God gave him a puzzled look and replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want?”

Anyway, I won’t go into too many theological specifics for fear of boring you, but the above joke leads me onto one account for which nobody has yet given me a satisfactory answer: The Great Flood.

Wood for the trees

Every major religion has some form of flood myth / rebirth story involving a natural disaster. The Hebrew bible towards which Christianity wiggles its saggy breasts has a hero Noah, chosen to lead the survivors, including two of every animal, and repopulate the planet with believers.

To anyone who follows every word in the Christian version of the book, please bear with me while I do some ready reckoning. The numbers may be off by a little, but the sentiment holds water.

Today, scientists estimate there are about eight million species of life on this planet. Millions of those are insects, plants, funghi, amoeba and the like, in which Noah was not interested. We can also strike off fish, reptiles and amphibians because they can swim and would, by inference, largely survive. Birds could also potentially be ignored up to a point, as long as they could find a swimming food source. That leaves us with just saving mammals from extinction in order to rebuild the planet.

There are about 5,500 known species of mammal. Not all of those would have lived at the time of the alleged flood a few thousand years B.C. so let’s be conservative and third it. The jury’s still out on whether dinosaurs were long gone or co-existed with man, but let’s assume they weren’t on the must-have list for size reasons alone. We do, however, need to add one for the dodo. So, let’s call it 1800 species to make the maths easy.

In there, we have everything from elephants and rhinos to rodents so unfortunately we’ll need to do some averages. One elephant takes up about twelve square metres of space, presuming it doesn’t move too far. Dormice take up about 25 square centimetres, providing they’re not trodden on by the elephants. Those are the extremes, and the bell curve probably follows normal distribution so let’s assume it’s six square metres per animal on average to allow for a bit of wiggle room and so Noah didn’t get nobbled by Health & Safety. Times two, because the animals were in pairs (some accounts say he was instructed to board seven pairs of each, but since that violates the song, we’ll ignore them: hurrah hurrah).

Floor space alone means the ark would need over 21000 square metres of space. For a one-deck affair, that’s about 150 metres each side (assuming a square boat, which is unlikely) but he could get away with at least a couple of decks, maybe three or four. The QE2 has thirteen, after all.

The official data sheet specified 137×22m per deck, over three decks, which is a shade over 9000 square metres not including the entrance, so we’re already adrift.

He’d also need a shitload of wood. Gopher wood, allegedly. Then he has to worry about food. A pair of elephants chomp through about 300Kg of vegetation per day, which is about 12 tonnes he would need on-board over the 40 days and nights of the flood. By the time the averages have been worked out, that’s probably another deck or two for food alone, and he’d have to keep it fresh somehow.

The feeding plan alone for that many creatures would need a Gantt chart the likes of which would put skyscraper construction teams to shame. Then there’s animal output or, as Eddie Izzard calls it, “the poo deck”. Plus Noah would need to make sure the lions don’t eat the gazelles, for example, especially as there’s no backup once the pair are dead.

As you can appreciate, it’s a massive engineering project. He did have the benefit of considerable experience, given that the bible claims he lived for around 950 years. But collecting the raw materials, food and then rounding up all the animals would probably have taken many, many years.

Afterwards of course, when everyone on the planet was dead — their bodies peppering the land — there would be more problems, not least of which is that most of the vegetation upon which the saved mammals relied would also be dead. Anyone who’s over-watered a plant knows how susceptible they are.

Finally, there’s the trifling issue that only Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives were on the ark. Thus the entire population of Earth to this day stems from four families. Tall odds given the many different races in existence, but at least that’s more plausible than the original pre-flood population explosion, which happened after Adam and Eve produced just two sons. I’ll let you fill in the biological blanks there, but whichever way you slice it, it’s pretty sick and might explain the age mutations that the bible claims and why God needed to start over with a slightly larger sample size.

So, in the face of the empirical back-of-a-napkin data just presented, I’m going to have to go out on an olive branch and say that the ark story is bollocks. Even if it’s symbolic of something (ummm, mechanisms for ethnic cleansing maybe?) it’s a dubious message. And if that one story is even partway fabricated, then what of the rest of the fables in The Good Book to which millions of people adhere?

Gimme your thoughts

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