How Could All Of Those Animals Fit On The Ark?

by Stephen Lawwell on July 21, 2014

One of the questions that I am frequently asked is, "How can I most effectively talk with the skeptic at my job or at my school?" For many, it may be a friendly relationship where conversations have recently turned to the subject of religion. For others, it may be a more confrontational setting, such as in a classroom, on the internet, or on the street. Regardless of the setting, it is always encouraging to hear this type of question because it reveals the person's desire to connect with the skeptic in a way that will allow the gospel to be shared.

Of the numerous criticisms aimed at the Genesis Flood account, the most popular one is centered on the supposed impossibility of the Ark being large enough to house all of the animals required by God's instructions to Noah.


Animals boarding Noah's Ark
1570 German Bible (Nuremberg)

Prior to the mid-18th century few criticized the ability of the Ark to house the necessary animals. One of the few exceptions was Apelles, a second century disciple of the heretic Marcion, who asserted that the Ark was barely large enough for four elephants. 1 The reason that few had developed this critical position was because the number and extent of variety in the animal kingdom had not yet been understood. As an increasing number of species became known, there came about a growing prejudice that the Ark could not possibly house them all. 2

To logically address this criticism, we must take a common sense look at the two subjects that lie at the heart of the question - the size of the Ark and the number of animals that the Ark would need to house.

The Size of the Ark

"Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it." (Genesis 6:14-16)


Although the basic dimensions of the Ark are provided (300 x 50 x 30 cubits) we can not be sure of its exact size, since there is no standard length for a cubit. In the most common terms, the cubit is the measurement from a person's elbow to the tip of their middle finger. It is quite inconceivable that those constructing the Ark would have used their lower arms as a measuring tool since each individual possessed a different arm length. It more likely that the length of the cubit was an established standard of measurement in use at that time.

While most ancient civilizations employed the cubit as a standard of measurement, they each had their own idea of what a cubit was. The Babylonians had a royal cubit of about 19.8 inches, the Egyptians had a longer and a shorter cubit of about 20.6 inches and 17.6 inches, respectively, while the Hebrews apparently had a long cubit of 20.4 inches (Ezekiel 40:5) and a common cubit of about 17.5 inches. 3

Assuming that Moses, the editor of Genesis, took the liberty to convert all measurements to the standard of measure he was used to (Egyptian cubit), we must conclude that the Ark was either 440 x 73.33 x 44 feet (based on the shorter cubit of 17.6 inches) or 515 x 85.83 x 51.5 feet (based on the longer cubit of 20.6 inches). If Moses chose to use one of the Hebrew cubits the dimensions would have only been slightly smaller than those calculated with the Egyptian cubits.

Taking a conservative approach to our analysis of the Ark's size and its ability to house the animals, we will assume that the smaller Egyptian cubit was used. Taking into account that the Ark contained three floors, the Ark's capacity would have been equivalent to 520 modern railroad stock cars.

The Number of Animals

"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. 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." (Genesis 6:19-20)

To gain a proper understanding of the number of animals that were on board the Ark, we must learn to differentiate between biological species and Biblical kinds. Modern biology, which seeks to classify all living things by the Linnaean classification system, has fueled the recognition of millions of species. In many cases, organisms are classified as two different species, not because there is any real biological difference, but a geographical one.

The Bible, on the other hand, groups living things as "kinds." "Kind" is a Biblical term of classification that is used to group organisms that have the ability to "bring forth" or those that had this ability in the original creation (Genesis 1:21). This reproductive limitation is programmed into each organism as part of the genetic makeup and is reiterated in I Corinthians 15:38-39.

"But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds."

Much variation has taken place over the past few thousand years so there is some question as to what animals constitute each particular kind. It is not as simple as saying "If they can bring forth, they must be the same kind." There may be some animals that have lost the ability to "bring forth" due to genetic mutations that were at one time actually members of the same "kind". For example, a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, definitely the same "kind" of animal, but it is usually born male and sterile. It is estimated that only about 4% of mules are capable of producing offspring. This means that genetically the horse and the donkey are at the point of nearly losing their ability to reproduce altogether. Mutations that cause changes in song and color might result in birds that no longer recognize a mate. The only way we can know if two organisms are of the same "kind" is if they can produce offspring and be able to produce offspring with a third creature. Even then, it is not 100% fool-proof formula for grouping the Biblical kinds.

Although we are unable to place all animals within a "kind", we are able to find some interesting combinations that belong to the same Biblical grouping. For example, dogs, wolfs, and coyotes all probably had a common ancestor. The Oklahoma Coyote (Canis frustor), Mountain Coyote (Canis lestes), Desert Coyote (Canis estor), wolf (Canis lupus), and dog (Canis familiaris) are interfertile and produce fertile offspring.

A "jacksy" is the offspring of a husky and a jackal. Breeders chose to breed these two animals together to combine the domestication of the husky with the jackal's sharp sense of smell, thus producing the ultimate drug-sniffing dog, but more importantly demonstrating the fact that dogs and jackals are part of the same Biblical kind.


Liger

Many other interesting combinations give us greater insight into the grouping of animals into Biblical kinds. Lions and tigers can be bred, forming what is known as a "liger" or "tigon". Horses, donkeys, and zebras probably had a common ancestor since they can successfully produce offspring, which are called "zonkies" or "zorses."

Although there are over 700 species of dinosaurs, they can probably be grouped into about 55 kinds. We must admit though that it is hard to know how many kinds of dinosaurs there were. All we have is fossil evidence and are unable to perform breeding experiments. Just think, if you saw the fossils of a Great Dane and a Chihuahua would you think they were the same kind of animal? If you saw a caterpillar and a butterfly in the fossil record would you think they were the same kind of animal?

It must be noted that the variation we see in today's biosystem is the result of God's wonderful forethought and design. Car manufacturers ship cars out equipped with both a heater and A/C, although they do not know if the car is going to be shipped to Alaska, where they do not need A/C, or southern Florida, where they do not need a heater. If a human with a three-pound brain is able to design with variation in mind, should we expect any less from the Creator of the universe?

It is because of the wide variation that God allowed in the genetic code that man has been able to selectively breed and produce the unusual varieties that they have. For example, man has been able to selectively breed several hundred varieties of dogs, from the Great Dane to the Chihuahua. But there are limits to what selective breeding can produce. You can selectively breed dogs for thousands of years and never get a cat. The reason is that dogs and cats are different kinds. Dogs do not contain the genetic information to make a cat.

Despite the wide varieties that have been produced by man through selective breeding, it is interesting to note that all organisms, when left to breed naturally, will revert more closely to their original kind. Unfortunately, it is impossible to regain some characteristics that were once present in an organism's kind due to the genetic information that was lost during the generations of selective breeding.

Through a proper understanding of the Biblical kinds, we can easily see how the number of animals God required to be brought on the Ark can be greatly reduced from the millions that a Linnaean-based assumption requires. We can reduce the number of animals even further by taking into account God's instruction that only land-dwelling animals (fowl, cattle, and creeping things) were to be taken. This excluded all marine creatures, such as fishes, echinoderms, mollusks, protozoans, and other sea life. They would be able to sufficiently survive in the floodwaters outside of the Ark. This also possibly excluded all kinds of amphibians, who could have survived in the floodwater as well.

A further reduction of the number of animal kinds brought on board could be indicated by Genesis 7:22, which says "All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died." This would limit the kinds to only those that dwelled on land and breathed through nostrils. This would exclude all insect kinds, which breathe through spiracles in their skin and are able to survive with few problems in water.

So how many animals were on the Ark? Although an inexact science, many creationists have taken these findings into account and attempted to calculate the number of animals that were cared for on the Ark. Those that feel the Biblical kind is closer to the taxonomic classification of family have calculated that as few as 2,000 animals would have entered the Ark. This estimate is probably illogical since very few creatures are interfertile across family boundaries. By adopting the genus as the taxonomic rank of the created kind, there would have been nearly 16,000 animals on the Ark.4


Could the Animals Fit on the Ark?

Through our analysis of the Ark's size and the estimated number of animals, we have been able to provide a foundation upon which we can build a logical defense of the Genesis account. All that is left are some common sense calculations.

Of the 16,000 animals believed to have survived on the Ark, scientists have calculated that only about 11% of the animals were substantially larger than sheep. 5 As we have already seen, the Ark's capacity was equivalent to 520 modern railroad stock cars. It is known that each stock car is able to carry about 240 sheep. 240 x 520 gives the Ark the ability to carry 124,800 sheep-size animals, many more than the 16,000 estimated. More detailed calculations have shown that, at most, only half of the cumulative area of the Ark's three decks would need to have been occupied by the animals and their enclosures. This also assumes that no tiering of the animal housing took place, which would have greatly reduced the area needed.6

The size of the animals and the space required would be drastically reduced when juvenile sizes are assumed. Although Scripture does not reveal whether Noah brought along juveniles or adults, there are several logical reasons for him to have brought juveniles.

  • They are smaller and take up less room.
  • They weigh less.
  • They eat less.
  • They sleep more.
  • They are generally tougher.
  • They will live longer after the Flood, which is the reason they are being brought along in the first place.
  • As you can see, the Ark constructed by Noah possessed ample space for the temporary storage and protection of the animals on board. All we need to do is allow Scripture to speak for itself and apply some common sense analysis to a valid question that is a stumblingblock to many that are seeking to test the trustworthiness of Scripture.


    Footnotes

    1. John Woodmorappe, Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study (Institute for Creation Research, 1996), p. xi.

    2. Ibid., p. xii.

    3. Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (Baker Books, 1976), p. 10.

    4. John Woodmorappe, Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study (Institute for Creation Research, 1996), p. 7.

    5. Ibid., p. 13.

    6. Ibid., p. 16.