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An ‘Impossible’ Task?

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by John D. Morris, Ph.D.

By any estimation, the building of Noah’s Ark was a monumental task. Assuming an 18″ cubit, the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Could Noah and his sons have accomplished it? By making reasonable assumptions, we can perhaps determine whether the task was too great.

First, the prophecy of coming judgment was given 120 years in advance of the Flood (Genesis 6:3). Let’s assume that Noah had the full 120 years warning. Next, consider that in the immediate post-Flood time, man probably had remarkable intelligence, because early civilizations built monumental structures like the pyramids. Tantalizing clues suggest humans explored and even mapped the entire globe back then, indicating they may have had shipbuilding skills from even earlier years. Perhaps Noah was a shipbuilder by trade.

Consider the workforce. Noah’s three sons began to be born 100 years before the Flood (cf. Genesis 5:32 with 7:6) and were able to help. There may have been other helpers, for Noah’s father, Lamech, and grandfather, Methuselah, were alive during almost the entire project. It may also have been that Noah hired construction workers, but again we have no knowledge of these details. All we know is that only eight people—Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives—constituted the faithful still living when the Flood finally came (Genesis 7:131 Peter 3:20).

Let’s assume the worst-case scenario, that only Noah and his three sons were available to build the ship. In Scripture, we are only told the gross dimensions and that the vessel was to have three decks and an 18-inch “window” on top (Genesis 6:15-16). Thus, the overall volume of the Ark was:

450′ x 75′ x 45′ = 1.52 x 106 ft.3 total volume

But any structure consists mostly of open space. Most houses are over 95 percent open, less so for large ships. But recognizing that this ship had to be structurally strong, let’s assume that 20 percent of the Ark’s volume was worked lumber, and that the four men had to gather that lumber, transport it to the construction site, and do the necessary shaping and installing.

1.52 x 106 x .2 = .304 x 106 ft.3 volume of worked lumber

Remember, the Ark didn’t have to win any beauty contests or speed races, it just had to be strong and float. It probably more resembled a rough barn in workmanship. The generations so soon after the “very good” (Genesis 1:31) creation, living in an ideal environment with long lifespans and less chance for harmful genetic mutations, were no doubt intelligent and capable….

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  • http://rationalresponses.blogspot.com/ Jeff Dixon

    The physics of Noah’s Ark are impossible. The flexibility of the wood being used opens gaps wide enough to dump hundreds of gallons of water a minute into the “ship.”

    As a ship that large floats, there are tremendous strains and stresses over its length, and wood is flexible enough to make it impossible to keep the hull together. Wood is fairly flexible when subjected to large strains – trees caught in torrential floods bend and don’t break. It’s why wooden ships only reached certain sizes during real-life world history, bigger ships had to be made out of steel.

    Even many of the largest wood ships (still much smaller than the ark! According to the Biblical description, it was a barge roughly the size that would fit inside of one of our football stadiums!) built by master shipwrights at the peak of the shipbuilding art required numerous pumps and countermeasures to avoid sinking.

    Here’s one reason large wooden ships have a limit: Hogging.
    From that site:

    “Until the 1920′s a large percentage of the world’s shipping consisted of large wooden ships and their plague, after plain old rot, was “hog”. A ship floating quietly in still water is subjected to external forces. These are the weight of the vessel on its cargo (downwards) and the buoyancy force (upwards). Archimedes showed us that for a floating vessel, these two forces must be equal in magnitude. For a floating rectangular piece of wood, they are also equal in distribution. For most normally shaped ships, the distribution is not equal. For example, when an empty ship has more weight (relatively heavy structure, engines and equipment) in the ends, and more buoyancy in the middle. This “excess” of buoyancy in the middle cause the middle to rise up and the ends to bend down — a hog in profile. The opposite condition is sagging. For old wooden ships, this resulted in a long term, plastic deformation. The total curvature could be a meter or more in larger vessels. Some vessels like the Wapama hogged so much that they nearly broke in two. Hogging is no longer the problem it was in the 1920′s when it threatened the nation’s merchant fleet — because those ships have sunk!

    “Wooden ships, even wooden warships like USS Constitution, are actually quite weak even when new. Although solid shot may have ricocheted from their sides, they are generally unable, over time, to resist the fairly small forces they are subjected to moored in still water. There is a false idea that amazingly still has some following, that wooden ships were strong because they would flex. In fact, relative movement between structural members allows fresh water to enter the hull structure, carrying rot fungus spores deep inside.

    “Engineers have often attempted to analyze the structures of wooden ships as if they were homogeneous box girders. This is a common misapplication of beam theory. Actually, a wooden ship, especially as it ages, more closely resembles a rather weakly bound bundle of reeds. These reeds are free to slide past each other. If traditionally built wooden ships were box girders, then one would expect to see many tensile failures amidships in the upper deck of a severely hogged vessel; however, this is not the case. Failures in longitudinal structure are infrequent and tend to be scattered almost uniformly throughout the vessel. The idea of “strength decks” or “extreme fiber” is largely irrelevant to the meaningful analysis of old wooden ships. Microscopic investigation reveal a generally low level of stress in “hogged” structural members. There often is evidence of plastic behavior, creep, around fastenings. Large overall deflections in the hull can be achieved with a very small amount of creep around the fastenings.

    “The bundle of reeds metaphor implies that the ship is comparatively poor at resisting longitudinal loads due to a weakness in shear. Wooden ships are generally stiffer in lateral loading since the transverse frames are like individual beams. As a vessel ages and softens, even these relatively stiff beams can suffer large creep deflections. USS Constellation is an extreme example of an old, soft wooden ship and probably has large lateral deflections as well as hog — behaving more like a wet wicker basket than a bundle of reeds. Pushing up on the bottom of the basket causes the sides to bulge out and the bilges to drop. This is evidently the case since the keel has deflected over two feet and there is much less curvature in the upper decks. The vessel is also soft transversely. That is apparent from the curvature of the gun deck which is hogged in several distinct undulations. The upward force on the bottom comes from an unequal distribution of the weight and buoyancy forces on the vessel. In a newer, stiffer vessel it is possible to minimize this net force by the judicious placement of ballast both longitudinally and transversely in the bottom of the vessel.