Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Genesis 6:9-22

9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.
10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

14 So make yourself an ark of cypress* wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. 16 Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top.** Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.

17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 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. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them."

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

* Sometimes translated as gopher wood. Whatever.
** Sometimes translated as something to the effect of make an 18 inch window in the top.

Okay, now I'm sure I don't have to ridicule this for you. It's about as plausible as Santa Claus and considerably less plausible than the Easter Bunny. (Hey! There could be a giant rabbit that hops around from house to house and leaves baskets of colored eggs. But Santa has to come down the chimney and most people don't have chimneys these days.)

Bizarrely, however, as you know, something like 30% of Americans believe that this story is literally true. And they have just opened a $35 million museum in Kentucky which includes charming scenes from this tale. Creationist theme parks - and there are quite a few - typically feature Noah's ark petting zoos for the kiddies.

I find the creationists' new approach to the dinosaurs particularly interesting. They used to say that dinosaur fossils were just a fraud, or that God had put them there to test our faith, or something. But now they have retreated. The new line is that yeah, dinosaurs existed. That means they must have existed in Eden, and since God doesn't exempt any classes of creatures from the ark cargo, Noah must have taken them onto the ark. So how did he deal with 60 foot, 290 ton brachiosaurs and 25 foot tall carnivorous Tyrannosaurs? No problem, he took babies. Why they are now extinct we aren't actually told.

Whew. Here you will find an estimate of the numbers of known currently existing terrestrial species of animals. The vast majority of the more than 1.4 million species are arthropods -- most of them insects -- but there are more than 8,000 kinds of reptiles and more than 5,000 kinds of mammals. There are quite a few more odd creatures that Noah had to be careful to collect, like slugs and snails, land crabs, and slime molds. The ark didn't just include all of these -- most of them found nowhere near what we today call the Middle East -- but all the species that have ever existed, including those dinosaurs, and other extinct species like woolly mammoths, saber toothed tigers, giant sloths, Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, and moderate Republicans. How God got the South American, Australian, and Pacific Island fauna to southwest Asia and back we don't know, but anyway, it must have been awfully crowded.

Oh yeah, it was big. In fact, the ark was 50% larger than the second largest wooden ship ever built. Yup, it was bigger than the ships of the Spanish armada or the cargo ships of 18th century mercantalism, and it was built by a single individual -- perhaps with assistance from his sons, granted -- none of whom had any ship building experience. Okay, maybe God gave them the plans and a set of tools, I dunno. Nevertheless, it would not have had room for even 1% of terrestrial animals, let alone dinosaurs.

I know, the creationists don't care. They'll just smirk and say, with God all things are possible. But what are we to make of this as an allegory?

God is disappointed because the world is full of violence, so what does he do? He commits the most extreme act of mass murder in all of history. So I guess I know what to do the next time I'm upset about something, if I want to follow God.