Alyssa Wright shares her perspective as a deconverted Christian, now an atheist, on the story of Noah and the flood in the Bible.
When I was a Christian I set out to read the whole Bible. I have never actually done it. Now that I’m an atheist, I want to know what the Bible says. Not what people claim it says, but what it really, truly says.
I want to first make a disclaimer. I am not a theologian. I am a layperson. I went to church for 16 1/2 of my 18 years. I went to a Christian school for all but two years of my schooling. That included daily Bible study classes, and my two years of dual-enrollment included theology and evangelism classes. I was surrounded by the Bible, a biblical perspective, and Christian teachings my whole life. So I am approaching the text not so much as a scholar but as a normal, everyday sort of person. Please comment if my post contains any misinformation, with sources supporting your claim.
This post is based on my personal reading and informed by my experience in Christian circles as described above.
I’ve also written about Genesis 1-4.
Chapters 5 & 10: Genealogy
The genealogy in chapter 5 goes from Adam to Noah. All of the men listed are impossible ages. In 5:23, Enoch is said to have been taken by God. There could only have been so many people on earth at the time, given that he was only 6 generations after the first two humans. Even with the unnatural lifespans, it seems based on the story of Abraham that childbearing possibilities were about the same for women. In that story, Sarah was around 60 or 70 I think and “passed childbearing age.” If a girl was considered a woman around 15 and started menopause at 55, she could at most have 50 kids. That assumes 1 year and 3 months to be fertile. The time to conceive again could vary a lot. And she could also die during childbirth. For both of those, let’s assume that takes the average actual possible births to be 25/woman in a lifetime if she has as many kids as she can. Half of those children will likely be female too.
I am not done with this post. I’m doing the math to figure out what the likely population would be. I think it’s possible that Enoch could have wandered away and not come back, so people decided God took him. It’s impossible to know for sure, I’m just postulating.
As for the other genealogy, there’s no ages listed. It seems like Ham’s sons’ wives had a lot of children, though.
Chapter 6-8: Noah’s Flood
Okay, put on your seatbelts, strap yourselves in, and let’s get into this.
6:2 and 4 seem very odd and mythlike, as though angels are having children with humans. “[T]he sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose…. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days… They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
6:6 God regrets making humans. This seems to contradict the Christian teaching of his omniscience — all-knowing-ness. He would/should have known that men would sin or rebel or disobey him. Then, because of his regret, he decides to destroy all of them. This does not sound like the actions of a loving God to me: Knows creation will disobey, creates it anyway, decides to destroy creation when it disobeys.
6:19-22 gives the dimensions and specifications for Noah to build the arc. God tells Noah to bring two of every kind of land animal and bird and his entire family. I’ve seen a lot of trying to define “kinds” as groups of animals with similar enough DNA that they could have descended from the same two (or seven, in the case of “clean” animals) original animals. Like I mentioned in my previous Bible study post, if that was the case, it could cause problems with inbreeding. Noah and his family being the only humans could also have problems with inbreeding. They could have had a bit more variety from the sons’ wives, but even so, they all had one set of grandparents in common. Inbreeding issues aside, the Bible never defines “kinds,” or how large or small a group that is. That could mean all domestic cats and dogs were one kind, but wolves, coyotes, and dingos were separate kinds. Horses and zebras don’t have the same number of chromosomes, so could they be separate kinds? We can’t know. So the number of animals in question in completely unknowable but it has to be huge. For all bugs, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and land mammals to fit, plus all the food they need, including more animals because a lot of those animals are carnivores, you need more space than the arc allows. I will concede that the rectangular shape of the arc and it’s tar coating would allow it to float for the sake of argument. That would likely be the case if this did occur. But even so, they were supposedly on the arc for 150 days. They would need a ridiculous amount of food for them and the animals. They would need to clean up after all the animals all the time and remove the waste from the arc. They would need light sources. They would need to keep the animals from stepping on/crushing/eating/infecting each other. Also, what about plants, bacteria, and fungi? How did fish and aquatic mammals survive something so tumultuous? Especially when the water receded and the whole world had been their ocean? I find it too crazy, honestly, to think that all of that somehow worked out.
7:19-20 states that the water covered the whole earth, even the mountains, by around 23 feet. Where did the water come from and where did it go?
8:6-7 states, “After 40 days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.” But 8:3 says the water didn’t go down until 150 days had gone by. The raven would have died long before then.
8:20-21, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done” (emphasis added). I do not believe that humans are evil from childhood. We are highly social creatures, have empathy, relate to each other, feel each other’s pain. Children can understand that just like they don’t want someone to snatch their toy, they shouldn’t snatch another kid’s toy. They don’t like when people make fun of them, so they shouldn’t make fun of someone else. People can become evil and do bad things in the world, but that doesn’t mean they were always evil. People can also be and stay good and do good in the world. And yet here God is saying everyone is evil and always desires evil.
Chapter 9: God’s Promise to Noah
In this chapter, God establishes a covenant, or promise, with Noah to never destroy the earth by water. That while it will still rain, it won’t flood the whole earth.
In 9:5, God says he will “demand an accounting from every animal” for killing humans. It seems odd that other animals would be punished by God for killing humans. People, of course, mourn people who are killed by animals, and sometimes have taken revenge. Sometimes people are stupid, other times they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I grouped these chapters together because they all relate to Noah. Next time I’ll discuss either 11-15 or 11-16.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out my post about Genesis 1-4.