The Noah's Ark Challenge
Question: Which home of Biblical creatures measures 100 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height?
The most common wrong answer to this question is Noah's Ark. It's wrong because Noah's Ark was 300 cubits long, not 100 cubits.
The correct answer is: The new home of the Biblical Museum of Natural History! Amazingly (and completely unplanned), the new museum is the exact width and height of Noah's Ark!
Meanwhile, since it's that time of year again, here is the slightly expanded version of my original post regarding scientific challenges to the Noah's Ark account (which is, ironically, a topic that we do not touch upon in the museum).
Over the years I've received numerous questions about reconciling the traditional view of Noah's Flood with modern science. There are two sets of problems. First are those concerning the scientific impossibility of such an event - how the animals survived without their normal environments, how they traveled from and back to their various locations, where the water for the Deluge came from, etc. These can all be answered by simply positing numerous miracles - the animals flew or teleported to and from the Ark, etc., - but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seek to minimize supernatural miracles.
The second set of problems is based not on the scientific impossibility of such an event, but instead upon the evidence that even a supernatural event of this nature did not happen - i.e. the evidence of uniform geology (the result of which enables geologists to make a living) and records of continuous human civilizations throughout the entire period. Of course, there are anti-scientific polemicists, such as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, who dismiss all the problems by claiming that supernatural processes took place in such a way as to conceal their occurrence (which includes undoing many of its devastating effects and sorting all the different kinds of fossils into neatly differentiated strata) - and Rabbi Meiselman condemns everyone who considers the Deluge to be a challenge as having "a mindset tainted by kefirah and skepticism." But those who understand the historical evidence realize that even this ridiculously far-fetched answer does not remotely deal with the evidence regarding human civilization.
There are a variety of different ways of approaching this topic. I tried discussing some of them online back in the summer of 2004, which may well have been one of the factors leading to the infamous ban on my books, and my comments were subsequently widely and wildly (and sometimes deliberately) misquoted. So instead of discussing it, I will just provide references to further reading material which shed light on various different approaches. Many people will condemn these approaches as unacceptable, but until they have a credible response to the scientific difficulties with the simple understanding, they would be wiser to remain silent.
First and foremost, I strongly recommend that people struggling with this difficulty read The Challenge Of Creation, preferably the third edition and onwards. I only explicitly deal with the flood in footnote 2 on page 302 (third edition), but there are many other parts of the book which are actually more relevant in terms of determining which options are available and acceptable - in particular, chapters 6-8, and 14-15.
Other relevant sources (remember, not all of these present the same approach), listed in no particular order, are:
Joel B. Wolowelsky, "Divine Literature and Human Language: Reading the Flood Story," in Bentsi Cohen, ed. As a Perennial Spring: A Festschrift Honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm (NY: Downhill Publishing, 2013), pp. 521-534. (This is a revised version of his earlier article “A Note on the Flood Story in the Language of Man,” Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009) pp. 41-48.)
Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rabbi Gedalyah, pp. 116-119.
Umberto (Moshe David) Cassuto, From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1961).
Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, commentary to Genesis, pp. 140-141.
Rabbi J. Hertz’s “Additional Notes to Genesis” at the back of The Pentateuch.
Nahum Sarna, "Understanding Genesis" (New York: Schocken Books 1966). (Note that this is not an Orthodox book, but it contains valuable insights.)
Rav Kook's letter on literalism, translated here.
Marc Shapiro's postings on this topic (I, II, and commentary by Rav Moshe Shamah here).
Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks' essay on the Deluge and the Tower of Babel (here)
Natan Slifkin, "Historical Records Vs. Dramatic Accounts"
Tremper Longman, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate
Lorence Collins, "Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth."
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