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During the great flood Noah was ordered by God to fetch two animals of each species and put them into his ark.

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

20 Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.

21 As for you, take for yourself some of all afood which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.

Genesis 6:19-21

There are more than 1 million different species of animals in existence (that we know of), many of them are quite large or dangerous. How can all of those animals even fit into the ark, together with the vast amounts of food that would be needed?

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Keep in mind that the dimensions of the Ark are specified in the Bible as well, so you can't easily say "well, he just built it big enough!" :) –  Ben Richards Aug 31 '11 at 6:34
Great question. –  Caleb Aug 31 '11 at 6:39
@Mark We have some questions on this site about Noah's flood, with users of this site assuming that the flood happened as it was written in the bible. So there are obviously christians that believe that the ark was built and all the animals were saved on it. –  Mad Scientist Aug 31 '11 at 6:57
@Mark Trapp: I think the question stands on its own, aside from his possible straw-man preamble. "The Bible appears to say X. How is X true?" is his real question. Jumping to the conclusion "The Bible appears to say X, and some people claim it really does say X" isn't enough of a jump to get upset over, IMHO. –  Flimzy Aug 31 '11 at 7:04
Would that Noah had batted those two mosquitoes while he had the chance! –  Caleb Aug 31 '11 at 15:40

7 Answers 7

I suppose there is one other possible answer:

It was a miracle.

That would put it in the "how did Jesus walk on water?" and "how did Jesus feed thousands of people with a few fish sandwiches?" category.

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+1 for acknowledging a miracle. –  Jim McKeeth Aug 31 '11 at 8:28
Like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton say about heaven, it's bigger on the inside! –  Peter Turner Sep 12 '11 at 14:55
Did I just hear someone suggest this should be the story of Noah's Tardis? –  Yuletide Geek Jul 6 '12 at 0:35
I was think more of a "The Great Divorce" reference. Really interesting book. –  Reluctant_Linux_User Oct 10 at 23:40
I don't think that's an answer at all. If every interesting or difficult question can be dismissed with "I don't know, ergo miracle", the whole Stack Exchange network could be shut down and simply redirect to that single "answer". i.e., the death of inquisitive thought. –  Lyle Dec 4 at 18:57

There are several factors that allows this. One of this, is the sheer size of the ark. According to the dimensions that the Bible gives, the Ark will have

Thus, the ark could have been up to 550 feet long, 91.7 feet wide and 55 feet high. These are not unreasonable dimensions. But how much storage space does this amount to? Well, 550 x 91.7 x 55 = 2,773,925 cubic feet.

That's the amount of space available. That's approximately, 522 railroad cars, each carrying 240 sheep.

But what about all those large animals, the elephants, mammoths, dinosaurs?

The answer is, Noah could easily have taken the infants of these large animals. Even if he didn't, a proffessor estimated that:

John Woodmorappe, author of the definitive Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study, estimated that only about 15% of the animals on the ark would have been larger than a sheep. This figure does not take into account the possibility that God may have brought Noah “infant” animals, which can be significantly smaller than adult animals.

Even with all those large animals, there would still have been ample space:

...it has been calculated that a little more than half (54.75%) of the 2,773,925 cubic feet could store 125,000 sheep-sized animals, leaving over 1.5 million cubic feet of free space (see - http://www.icr.org/bible/bhta42.html).

Now concerning the sheer number of species, there is quite a simple explanation. Purmou has already taken that into consideration, and I would like to use an example:

In today's world, there are about 400 different types of dogs. But, they all have one common ancestor, the wolf. The way these dogs have been bred, is through the elucidation of certain DNA, so that only desired characteristics remained, and the DNA that isn't needed is not in these dogs. Basically, a loss of DNA.

Links : http://www.gotquestions.org/Noahs-ark-animals.html

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"These are not unreasonable dimensions." - if you are building in steel, sure. Keep in mind the titanic measured 880 feet long by 92 feet - I mention titanic not due to the sinking, but simply as "a really big boat". The largest known wooden ships are typically in the 300 foot by 50 foot region, using much more advanced techniques / technology. They typically all suffered major structural issues. The materials and manufacturing effort of even these much smaller ships are also vast. –  Marc Gravell Aug 31 '11 at 9:04
The link assumes less than 25,000 animals. That's a huge difference to the >1,000,000 species the asker cited! The loss of dna theory is provably false, since many animals have more dna (and more features/abilities) than their ancestors. –  CiscoIPPhone Aug 31 '11 at 9:08
@warren I disagree; that article provides very little to qualify the viability of such a vessel, and generally is not a convincing read to me. If you choose to find it so, fine. But please note that most of the points proposed there have plenty of counters within secular science. –  Marc Gravell Aug 31 '11 at 11:43
@Marc Gravell - I am aware of the disputes: the fact remains that other wooden vessels have credibly been built in the same size order of magnitude –  warren Aug 31 '11 at 13:34
@Cryst my comparison was to the known and documented boats of anything like similar size, in wood, in later (i.e. documented) times. They don't build tankers out of wood. Just because it is the same shape does not mean that you can simply make a wooden structure of the same scale. –  Marc Gravell Aug 31 '11 at 21:40

Yes, biologists have identified about 1.4 million species. There are surely other species not yet identified and cataloged, but estimates vary widely on how many. I've seen estimates for total number of species ranging from less than 2 million to over 100 million.

But the majority of species are microscopic. By definition, microscopic creatures would not take up any measurable amount of space on the ark. They would have just been carried along in or on the larger creatures.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature -- no indication they're a Christian or creationist group, they're environmentalists -- estimates there are 1.3 million non-microscopic creatures in the world. You can get similar numbers in many places. Anyway, 1.3 million, still a lot. But 1,000,000 of those are insects and another 102,000 are arachnids, which don't take much space. 31,000 are fish. The salt-water fish, at least, would not have had to be carried on the ark: Noah didn't need to build fish tanks. Another 85,000 are mollusks, most of which are sea creatures. The only creatures Noah would have had to worry about are what's left: 5,490 species of mammals, 9,998 birds, 9,084 reptiles, and 6,433 amphibians. That makes 31,005 species. (See International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, Gland, Switzerland, 2010, Table 1.) (And by the way, I'm just using them as a convenient source. You can find similar numbers from other sources.)

As others have noted, Genesis says Noah brought 2 of each "kind", not 2 of each "species". A baramin (kind) is usually broader than a species. So 31,000 is pretty much the upper limit.

So Noah would have had to bring 31,005 x 2 = 62,010 animals. (Okay, a little more for the creatures that he brought 7 pairs.) There are and were certainly some large animals in the world --hippos and elephants and allosauruses and so forth -- but most species are much smaller than this. The average animal weighs about 100 grams, about the size of a large rat.

John Woodmorape wrote a book called "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study" in which he devotes considerable space to calculations on how much space would be required. He comes up with a total of 15,754 animals. (i.e. he's counting baramin and not species.) He then estimates space requirements by using the amount of space given to animals in laboratories and factory farms. He makes the argument -- a valid one, I think -- that this is a good "middle number". Using the space given when transporting animals in trucks, train, or plains would be too small: such trips tend to be short, so the animals don't need a lot of room. But using space given in zoos would be too large: Zoos are meant to be comforable, and the environments are as much to entertain the visitors as to be pleasant for the animals. The Ark voyage was not a pleasure cruise. So anyway, using figures for space in labs and factory farms, he came up with a total space requirement of 4,300 square meters. That is less than half the floor space on the ark if built to the dimensions in Genesis. That's a high number, because it assumes all cages sit on the floor, but surely Noah could have stacked the cages of the smaller animals.

Woodmorape goes on to calculate that food for the voyage would have taken another 6 to 12% of the available space. If they had to bring along enough water for the entire voyage, that's another 9%. (In real life they could likely have captured rain water to meet at least some of their needs.)

So, as I say in my book, all the animals plus the food and water would have taken up about 2 of the ark's 3 decks. That leaves the other deck for quarters for Noah and his family, room for extinct animals unknown to us today, the dance floor, casino, and karaoke bar.

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RE: "as I say in my book, ..." What book is that? Are you John Woodmorape? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '12 at 1:32
No, no one so authoritative. Sorry, I edited that answer along the way to cite Woodmorape rather than myself. My relevant book is, "No Errors in My Bible, Sorry About Yours". –  Jay Jul 5 '12 at 4:13
I know it's an old answer but your feasibility study is missing one big point: you are assuming that he had to take adult animals. Eggs and babies take up much less space then adults. If you mentioned that I would consider this a perfect answer. –  fredsbend the Grinch Feb 25 '13 at 5:58
@fredsbend Quite true. The ideal would be to take young adult -- the equivalent of human teenagers -- so you'd have young, vigorous, fertilse specimens to release after the flood, and so they'd take less room. This would save a lot of space for the very large animals like elephants, and especially for the giant reptiles like sauropods, who continue to grow throughout their lives. –  Jay Nov 17 at 17:58

The group "Answers in Genesis" will point out that the scripture is not bound by our understanding of species, but rather states the he should bring every "kind" or "sort" of animal. That is, rather than bring a cheetah, jaguar, lion, tiger, panther, leopard, puma, etc., he could have brought some sort of cat, and further speciation would have taken place after the fact. This understanding would vastly cut down on the number of animals required from millions to thousands.

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I never got the difference between a cheetah, jaguar, panther, leopard, and puma... :( –  Mehrdad Sep 1 '11 at 4:50
You and Noah are in the same boat, so to speak –  Ray Sep 1 '11 at 11:35
How does one propose to produce the various species/sub-species simply from "some sort of cat", after the fact? –  Marc Gravell Sep 22 '11 at 20:59
Marc Gravell, feel free to ask the question.. –  Ray Sep 22 '11 at 22:08

The other possible answer, one that most Christians would likely not accept is that the flood was not as global as assumed. The events of the flood predate the Tower of Babel, which is when humanity is said to have been scattered across the globe. So one could assume that the human population was very localized.

God would not need to flood the entire planet to wipe out humanity. It would be more logical to just flood the region where humans resided and not have to worry about getting every species onto a wooden ship.

So then Noah could focus on getting local wildlife that shared the region with humans onto the ship.

Someone in another answer mentioned the stability of a wooden vessel of this size. I don't see that as being a tremendous problem as:

  1. it was a one-time use vessel
  2. God probably wouldn't let it sink.
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There are assumptions that everybody makes when hearing about this story, so let's take another look at this specific verse in order to drop those assumptions.

Genesis 6 NKJV

19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

This passage says take two of every SORT, the NIV says take two of every KIND. It's clear that there were not 4 dogs on the ark, but only two dogs. We assume today that all dogs evolved from wolves. It's possible that only wolves had been taken onto the ark.

Also keep in mind that a logical person is not going to take two full size elephants onto the ark. Instead, they'll take babies. Babies are healthier, they will live longer and more of an opportunity to breed more of their kind.

There are only 2000 different TYPES of animal species on this planet. Let's be safe and double that number because some (dinosaurs) could have gone extinct. So 4000 species, and then double that number again because we're taking two of each. So we're at 8,0000 different kinds of animals on the ark.

According to the sizes given the ark would have been over 100,000 square feet. Enough room to house 16,000 animals plus food and water supplies for twelve months.

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ie: two canine, two feline, two bovine, two equine, two swine, two vermine, two ursine, etc –  Joel Coehoorn Sep 12 '11 at 19:30
"There are only 2000 different TYPES of animal species on this planet." Where do you get this from? –  Wikis Sep 14 '11 at 10:17
The majority of animal species are actually relatively small. Good point about full size animals, the young would be on the ark not the old. –  Matt Jun 11 '13 at 0:08
@Wikis - In many Creationist discussions "TYPE" or "KIND" are equivalent to the biological "FAMILY". If you run a report on the animal taxonomy database by "FAMILY" here itis.gov/hierarchy.html, you will get around 5200 different "kinds" of animals. If you were to further filter that down to only land animals you will reduce the list further. I'm just suggesting this as a possible source for the number of land animal types. –  Bob Black Feb 10 at 17:28

There are a few points that can help this issue make a little more sense.

  • The Scripture says that Noah was to gather animals "after their kind". This implies that the animals brought may have been in the scientific classification of the family or even the order, rather than to the specific species or even sub-species. Take dogs for example. There are many kinds. It is entirely possible that one kind of dog was enough to save dogs from the flood. Also, the ancient peoples likely had a far less specific definition of species. In my opinion, this logic can be taken a step further to say that the evolution and differentiations of all the species out there is a Biblically sound concept.

    19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
    20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.
    21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

  • The maturity of the animals taken was not specified. Noah could have taken babies, eggs, or the otherwise smaller, infant versions. The benefits are obvious. Noah would certainly prefer the baby 200 pound elephants over the mature 7 ton adults.

  • The quality of the food brought was not specified, nor was the amount (ration) eaten each day. Most animals can eat sparingly for a few months and still survive. Considering the animals would be stuck on the ark and unable to exercise they would likely use less calories, therefore require less food to survive. The point is that the ark was for survival. It was not a luxury cruise.

  • Water was certainly not an issue. It was a flood; there was plenty to go around.

As for your other questions: Yes, God intervenes and did then too. The flood came because God made it so. The Ark survived because God made it so.

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