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Monday, September 19, 2016

Ark Encounter: The Boat Don’t Float

To say that it would have been a rough voyage is an understatement. The weather on our planet owes all of its fluctuating patterns, its calms and its storms, to the variations in barometric pressure which its land masses produce. So what would happen to the Earth’s weather if we were to submerge these great continents, these many islands large and small, and cover the planet with water?

The reality of weather conditions during the Flood. My painting of the Ark Encounter’s ark bravely riding the monster waves is a fantasy. In reality, engineering principles for such an enormous wooden hull dictate that the vessel would inevitably have broken its back before even the first wave struck.
We do not need to speculate, because we can see the results by studying the other planets in our own solar system. Dry Venus and Mars have no surface water, and while both are certainly subject to [1]storms, to find a closer model to weather on our hypothetical water-covered Earth we need to look at such planets as Jupiter and Neptune. With lower cloud levels compressed by atmospheric pressure to a fluid-like [2]turbulence, massive storm systems rage unrelentingly around these planets. Why? Simply because there are no continental land masses to stop them. Once a wind picks up it is free to tear its way around every line of longitude a planet possesses – and with a planet’s rotation as its power source, it does.

Belts of storms rage around Jupiter. Removing Earth’s land masses from the equation to create a flooded world would generate such proportionally powerful and long-lived storms as these, and would have been the dismaying weather forecast for the ark’s seven-month voyage. 
This frightening weather scenario is the factor which seems to be most often overlooked – perhaps at times conveniently – when considering the feasibility of the story of Noah’s Ark. I was drawn back to this topic after learning that the Creation Museum in Kentucky has now opened its Ark Encounter theme park with its full-sized ark to the public. When I first discussed the feasibility of Noah’s Ark in my [3]previous post, plans by the [4]‘Museum’ to build a full-sized ark as a theme park attraction had just been made public. Now the ark is there, as large as life – or at least, as large as the dimensions provided by scripture.

The organizers of the Ark Encounter attraction claim their ark to be the most accurate ‘reconstruction’ ever. So let’s see what sort of description the Book of Genesis provides as a working blueprint. It is, in fact, so brief that I can quote it here in full. In Genesis 6 God instructs Noah as follows: “14: Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. 15: 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. 16: 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."

This version of the Ark Encounter’s ark at sea from the creationist website Answers in Genesis promises calm seas and a prosperous voyage. Apart from the fact that the vessel is sitting far too high in the water for the combined weight of its live cargo and the vessel itself, the difference between their version and mine is clearly in the weather conditions. But let’s face it: creationists never were that big on the science.
That’s all there is. Unless I have missed something, there is nothing whatever in this description about the [5]ark being like a boat, or even like a sea-going vessel of any kind. And although precise dimensions are given, the fact is that we simply do not know exactly how long a ‘cubit’ was. It is usually thought of as being the length of the human forearm, but it turns out that different [6]cultures all had their own ‘cubits’, with each one differing from another.

The interior of the Ark Encounter’s ark. Imagine this scene, not well-lit and filled with curious visitors, but rolling and pitching in semi-darkness at sea in storm conditions. The lateral stress on all those massive beams, the combined  cacophony of noise produced by the groaning timbers and the cries of hundreds of frightened animals fouling their cages with fear, and Shem, Ham and Japheth frantically trying to stuff rags into ever-more-serious leaks presents a rather less cosy picture than is suggested here.
And what is ‘gopher wood’? The term is virtually unique to this single verse of scripture – and unknown anywhere else. We are left to speculate. It might have been cedar wood, or cypress, or even reeds. Or it might simply refer to wood which has been treated in some way: either planed smooth or treated with pitch. We simply do not know. So if we cannot exactly calculate its dimensions, and if we do not know the type of wood from which it was constructed, and if we are not even told what form or shape it took… on what basis can we assert that any given reconstruction of the ark is ‘the most accurate’?

This drone view of the ark under construction shows a row of thirty skylight windows per side. That’s fifty-nine more than are specified in scripture. Even for creationists the answers, apparently, are not all in Genesis.
The Genesis description specifies that the ark had one door and one window. But look at the Ark Encounter ark in the scale diagram below. It certainly has one door – but that door has been placed below the waterline. Draw your conclusions. And it certainly does not have ‘one window’. In fact, it has a whole row of skylight windows running almost full length on either side of the roof (or deck, if you’re of a seafaring nature). I have counted thirty windows on each side, making sixty in all. They’re certainly not mentioned in scripture, so where did they all come from?

The two largest historically documented wooden vessels ever built were the U.S.S. Dunderberg, renamed the Rochambeau, and the schooner Wyoming. The Rochambeau saw only brief service before being decommissioned due to constant serious leakage. The Wyoming sank in sheltered waters with the loss of all hands, also due to serious leakage. The Ark Encounter ark shown here is half again as large as these two ill-fated vessels – and the door is below the waterline!
Now consider the Ark Encounter hull shape. The forward-raking bow is clearly modelled, not upon any [7]vessel of the time, but upon the hull of a contemporary cargo ship. Why? And those wooden planks are clearly laid upon some sort of synthetic (insulation?) cladding. Rather than being structural to the vessel, they literally are a mere veneer. You might argue that the ark, which additionally rests upon concrete piles, was never actually intended as a serious Bronze Age reconstruction of a possible vessel. You might indeed, but then you should not make any claims for its ‘accuracy’. Still, creationist claims have time and again proven, both in their [8]‘Museum’ and with the Ark Encounter exhibit, that showmanship is prized above intellectual honesty. For all its size, this particular ark is a mere theme park attraction, and any pretence at Biblical ‘accuracy’ is exactly that: a pretence, and a dishonest one at that.

The Ark Encounter ark under construction. The hull planking is laid over a synthetic cladding. Bronze Age construction methods these are not. And where is the coating of pitch so specifically mentioned in scripture? A black ark, apparently, was deemed to be not such an aesthetic crowd-puller, and even this brief passage in Genesis was cherry-picked in the name of showmanship. 
My previous post on this subject covers in detail exactly why a wooden hull with the proportions of a contemporary steel cargo vessel (that is: the ark’s dimensions as specified in Genesis) would lead to inevitable disaster. To sum things up in a single sentence: the inescapable engineering rule states that the larger a wooden vessel is, the weaker its structural integrity becomes. With its keel of necessity being made from several individual trunks of timber the vessel would break its back under its own weight and the combined weight of its biomass cargo (all those dinosaurs sure won’t help) as soon as it became waterborne. Why are these points important? Because of the other claim about the Ark Encounter ark: as stated on its [9]website, it is claimed to be ‘amazingly seaworthy’.

Dinosaurs in their enclosures on board the Ark Encounter ark. There is much that I could say about this, but I think I’ll just sit on my hands and refer you to my extended ‘caption’ about it here.
There is one relevant factor which I did not mention in my previous post, and that is the dangerous phenomenon known as ‘freewater’. It was [10]freewater which caused the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy in 1987. It was freewater which caused the sudden sinking of Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose in 1545, and which sealed the fate of the newly-launched magnificent Swedish warship Vasa in 1628. Freewater is a shallow layer of water (it need not be deeper than a few inches at most) which can enter through any opening and fatally compromise a vessel’s equilibrium. Wave action will cause an ever more severe side-to-side rocking motion until the vessel inevitably rolls over. The frightening thing about the phenomenon is just how little water in a vessel it takes to cause disaster.

Creationists seem to labour under the delusion that saying something loud enough somehow makes it more true. The irony which seems to escape them is that this billboard’s statement actually is true: you cannot sink a ship which has never been launched in the first place. And apparently they encourage their own siege mentality by branding all who disagree with them as ‘intolerant liberals’. Basically, that means anyone who uses their common-sense, whether they believe that faculty is God-given or not.
I trust the point has been made: it is the very size of the Ark Encounter’s ark (and we’ll assume that it is at least within a reasonable margin of Biblical accuracy) which so counts against it as a credible seaworthy vessel. We tend to equate large size with security and a greater degree of safety, but with a [11]wooden hull the opposite is true. Maybe half the size and the ark just might have been a going concern. But half the size is not Biblical size, and in Biblical literalism scripture has to be adhered to, even if that means that all credibility is jettisoned. Great size, then, does not equal greater safety and stability. In fact, it fatally compromises both if the vessel is made, not of steel, but of wood.

And what of those huge storm systems that would have swept around the planet during the Biblical Flood? They would have created an unrelenting series of perfect storms through which the Ark would have had to struggle, and my painting of the Ark Encounter ark battling monster waves which heads this post is anything but overdramatised. And with the weight of immutable engineering principles to back me up, and with professional experience in the field of marine archaeology, I figure I’d be just as likely to survive in a rusty bathtub.

[1] In the case of these waterless planets, it is principally the variations in land contours which provide the weather. Any planet with an atmosphere will generate weather of some description.

[2] That is: the compressed lower atmospheric levels of these gas planets become analogous to a water-covered planet.

[3] Please see my post: The Lost Ark of Noah.

[4] As I always relish pointing out: in an apparent attempt to imbue their institution with an aura of respectability, the very Christian creationists have named their building after a pagan temple. The original Museum was actually the temple of the Muse in Ancient Greece.

[5] The translated word ‘ark’ in the original Hebrew text is ‘tebah’, which implies any sort of protective container whose contents are precious. Thus: the Ark of the Covenant. The basket in which the baby Moses was found is also referred to as a ‘tebah’.

[6] The Biblical cubit is generally thought to have been almost 46 centimetres or around 18 inches, but clearly the greater the distance measured, the wider the margin of error becomes – and over the length of the Ark that is clearly considerable.

[7] The only vessels of the time which had such a water-cleaving prow were modestly-sized Bronze Age Greek ships. Such a hull design did not reappear on ships until comparatively late in the modern era.

A side-by-side comparison between these three hulls clearly shows the influence upon the Ark Encounter’s ark of modern supertanker design. There is no mention whatever in scripture of such a forward-raking prow for the ark, or even that the vessel was boat-shaped as such, so where did these ideas come from?
[8] Please see my post: How do Creationists know what Dinosaurs looked like? for a particularly dubious  example of creationist hypocrisy.

[9] Ark Encounter. Bring a life vest.

[10] In the tragic case of the Herald, the loading ramp of the car ferry apparently had not been fully closed before the ferry cast off, and the vessel sank in calm weather within sight of the harbour which it had just left. With the Mary Rose and the Vasa, water appears to have entered through the open lower gun ports, although the Vasa already was a flawed top-heavy design. In all cases, witnesses report the shocking speed at which such a freewater-endangered vessel will roll over and sink – literally within minutes.

[11] What makes the ark so vulnerable? To clarify this point for any reader who is still wondering (or who might doubt what I say here!): steel can be welded to itself. Once a weld is made, two sheets of steel effectively become one large sheet, and so on over a whole hull. Wood is wood, and the size of the continuity of construction is limited by the plank or beam from the original tree. You cannot weld wood to itself. You can only join it using carpenter's joinery methods.

Rolling and pitching: So the larger the wooden hull, the more such joints it will contain. Every single joint represents a potential stress point which at sea is subject to wave action, and this action comes from multiple directions: both from the roll (side-to-side rocking) movement of lateral wave action, and from the pitch (up-and-down) bow to stern movement when the vessel is directly facing a wave. In rough weather these forces come from various directions at once, placing each and every joint under greater stress.

Why more joints equals greater risk: In heavy or even moderate seas most of the joints in the whole vessel will be subject to the added stress of water pressure from the sea itself, and every joint, no matter how perfectly-fitted it might be to its adjoining beam or plank, will move, and leakage is inevitable. The larger the hull size the more this factor is multiplied. For the ark, the factor is not so much how large it is overall, but how many joints its many timbers contain. So the engineering formula is:

The larger the wooden hull, the more joints there are, and the more joints there are the weaker and more vulnerable the overall structure becomes in waterborne conditions.

What is broaching? The ark has no steering means whatever. It would be completely at the mercy of the prevailing wind direction, and an unsteerable vessel is subject to a phenomenon known as 'broaching'. That is: it will tend to turn beam-on (side-on) to the weather. This means that the waves will be hitting it from the side - and with the hull proportions of the ark, that really matters. The longer a hull is, and the more narrow in the beam (width), the more vulnerable it becomes to a rollover in a broaching situation. Far from being the ideal proportions for seaworthiness claimed for it by the Ark Encounter exhibit, the ark's supertanker proportions combined with its wooden construction would have sealed its fate in even moderate seas.

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