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14th February, 2011

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Two of every kind

A little thought will readily convince the open-minded that no ship could house two of every kind of animal and bird to be found on earth. Without a huge on-board electrical generator it would be impossible to provide the right environment for tropical, temperate, and arctic animals. Meeting the special dietary needs of every kind of animal and bird lies utterly beyond the ken of human beings, while shoveling the food in and the dung out would quickly exhaust eight mortals, no matter how stout of limb and strong of heart. In short, the biblical account of the Flood is preposterous. If, that is, the whole affair was a human-devised project executed by mere mortals. But don't you suspect that God might have had a hand in it? For a being who could create our universe, flooding our tiny speck of dust we call Earth would amount to a Sunday stroll in the park.

Yes, a consideration of the logistics involved in capturing and keeping two (or seven, in the case of clean animals) of every species of animal and bird on a ship shows the impossibility of the idea. And don't the scoffers just love to rub believers' noses in that one? Defenders of the biblical account of the universal Flood need not squirm, however. Once they have acknowledged the folly of seeking physical evidence of the Flood's ravages (the earth's surface was obviously spared from violence) and dropped all attempts to convince skeptics on the basis of the dimensions of the ark, they can relax. (They have their work cut out for them figuring out how to reconcile the Flood with the history of civilizations.) We believers have two perfectly "logical" options to choose from when it comes to dealing with the impossible logistics:

•  God miraculously brought all the animals to the ark, miraculously squeezed them all on board, and miraculously fed them (with Noah's and his family's "help"). Not a challenge for God (Jer. 32:27)!
•  The Noah family did not capture and keep two of literally every species of animal that exists. Yes, they worked very hard to capture, house, and feed the creatures from their own biological zone for the purpose of their survival, but the biblical account remains silent on how species from all the other biological regions around the world survived.

This author acknowledges the distinct possibility that the first method was, in fact, the method used. However, here we will demonstrate the plausibility of the second explanation.

At first blush the biblical account seems unequivocally weighted towards the notion that every kind of animal and bird found on the face of the earth had to sail the seven seas or perish:

You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.

they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort (Gen. 7:2-3, 14).

Yes, these words give the impression that Moses was thinking in terms of "every single kind". But once we recognize that the Bible is written neither as a children's story nor as a scientific journal, neither chapbook nor encyclopedia, but rather as a highly-compressed factual storybook detailing God's purpose for, and dealings with, man, we can begin to read it in a mature way. As with the creation of the universe, a detailed account of the Flood would fill libraries. But what we have is a postage-stamp-sized synopsis that recounts but the sparsest of details1 - just enough to let us know that God sent a flood to destroy all life (and why) and that He used Noah as His trusted assistant. Much, much more is left out than is included.

Some readers will feel that the words "all" and "every" used in the account leave no wriggle room for - as they may view it - compromise (a dirty word). "The Bible says every creature was taken on board, and that's good enough for me", they may say. Well, it's good enough for me, too. That's why I accept the first explanation as possibly the correct one. But words are merely symbols for the purpose of conveying ideas. Hardly a single word exists (if any) that has one absolutely rigid meaning in every context in which it is used. Even the words "male" and "female" do not refer in all instances to the sex of living things. (Check your dictionary.) The Hebrew word translated "all" (kol) is a highly nuanced word, conveying a range of meanings from "absolutely every single one" to "a large number". "Kol", then, is not an exact equivalent to our word "all". Also, Hebrew does not have a separate word to express what we mean by the word "every". The words "all" and "every" in the above passage are rendered from the same Hebrew word, kol!

Let us demonstrate from Scripture that the above passage from Genesis does not have to be understood as saying that literally every species of animal was taken on the ark:

Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you (Dan. 6:26).

Almost identical language is used here as in Genesis, the difference being that one speaks of animals and the other of peoples. Did Darius write to the Chinese and the Siberians, to the Mayan Indians and the Polynesians of Fiji? Of course not. Yet it says he wrote to "all peoples" that dwell "in all the earth". Nobody in Darius's time would have begun to think that the account referred to literally every single nation under the sun. They knew what it meant. Should we not read Genesis in the same fashion? One is not wresting Scripture to suggest that Noah preserved all the animals from his part of the world while God took care of the rest.

1 As in the line drawing of the horse at top, only the barest outline is visible. Most detail is omitted.

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