Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How much wood would Noah need if Noah needed any wood?

It seems that Ark stories come along much like the seasons – there isn’t year that someone doesn’t find the remains of the Ark hiding somewhere. So, I wasn’t too surprised when I read the latest twist on Bible literalism:

Dutchman Johan Huibers is building a working replica of Noah's Ark as a testament to his Christian faith.

The BBC News report says that the replica is only going to be a fifth of the original but, unfortunately, does not inform us of what that means precisely. However, knowing something about the number of the species that exist around the world, we can afford to make a very rough estimate. Thus far something like one and a half million species have been identified. Very conservative estimates claim that there must be at least two million species around with it being thought possible that there may be one hundred million species or more. However, given that we are dealing with Bible literalism here, we ought to be conservative. So, let’s say that the are only two million species. Also, it is important to realise that by far the majority of the known species are beetles and other invertebrates, with mammals only adding about five and a half thousand species to the total number. So, for the same of the calculation, we can assume all of the species are tiny little insects, none larger than, lets say a cube with 2 cm sides. Of course, the Ark remained afloat and ‘functional’ for nearly a year according to the Bible so the animals needed space to move around and go about their animal business. In fact, the insects would have most gone through a number of generations with the pair coming off the Ark being the great-great-great-something of the original pair – the bug begat the bug who begat the bug who begat...

All in all, it seems a very conservative estimate to claim that every pair of animals would have on average required a cube with 10cm sides – what would make for a very small terrarium indeed. Now, the calculation for the total volume of the Ark become easy – it would have to be big enough to hold two million of these terraria. But how big is that? Is that as big as one of the ships that Columbus crossed the Atlantic in? Is that as big as a modern cruise ship? How big is that? Well, to get two million terraria you need to line up a fifty of them in one direction then to put three hundred and ninety nine of such lines next to the first one and then stack ninety nine more of the rectangles you’ve just made on top of the original one. This will give you an Ark which is 100 metres high by 50 metres wide by 400 metres long. In comparison, the RMS Queen Mary 2 which, “at the time of her construction in 2003 was in every dimension the largest passenger ship ever built” is a mere 344 metres long, 45 metres wide and 75 metres high. And, of course, the Queen Mary isn’t shaped like a row of cubes but has keels, bows and many other elements that would have added more size to the Ark. To add to the comparison consider the following:

Approximately 3000 craftsmen spent some 8 million working hours on the ship, and a total of 20,000 people were directly or indirectly involved in the design, construction, and fitting out of the QM2.

On the other hand, Noah built the Ark with the help of his three sons. Miraculous, indeed. In fact, by the time you realise how miraculous it would be that a civilization that would be incapable of constructing any ocean-going vessel for millennia should suddenly produce a ship bigger than the biggest modern cruise ship, you make the job easier by just saying that God did it all while Noah looked on and planned the on-board entertainment.

Even after the ship was finished, however, the Ark wouldn’t be ready to go. After all, it would be necessary to get the animals all aboard. Of course, if we assumed that Noah and his family had to actually put the animals in their cages, the whole process would have taken years: in fact about 16 years if we assume that seven people worked non-stop 12 hours a day and it only took them on average 15 minutes to identify a pair of animals, take them to their cage (somewhere on the 400 metre long Ark), put them in there and then return to get the next pair. So, we have to assume that the animals just knew where to go by themselves (Wonder of Wonders!) Now, if we assume that a pair of animals boarded the ship an average of one second apart (not unreasonable if you consider most were insects) the whole boarding time would be cut down to a rapid 23 days. More time to sit around for Noah and his family.


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