#CreationDebate: All Species on Noah’s Ark?

The recent #CreationDebate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham has many people across the world thinking about the topic of origins. One of our readers emailed us with a question he had after watching the event on YouTube. Here is his question with our response below:

K.P.: I just watched the YouTube debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Bill Nye made the claim that if all animals that have ever been were alive at one point before the Flood then we would still be discovering new species every day. I was wondering if somebody could provide me with a rebuttal to this position. Thanks and God bless.

YOM: Bill Nye's comment is a classic case of a straw man—an argument based on ignorance of the text of Scripture. (By Nye's own admission, he is not a theologian; so perhaps we should have seen this coming...) Let's do the math again, this time with the text of Scripture in mind:

  • God commanded Noah to take two of every kind of land, air-breathing creature on board the Ark, not two of every species that ever existed.
    • This excludes everything in the sea—fish to scallops to whales
    • This probably excludes plants, bacteria/prokaryotes, protists, and fungi--they probably survived outside the Ark (despite Nye's faulty claims to the contrary)
    • This likely excludes most Arthropods, including insects
  • So, how many species does that leave for us to explain?
    • Start with Nye's claim of 50,000,000 species alive today
    • Most of those are estimated (based on math models, not actually discovered), not documented. About 1-10 million have been recorded (depending on who you talk to).
    • Subtract away plants, fungi, prokaryotes, and protists; this leaves 1-2 million animal species
    • Over 1,000,000 are just insects. Now we're down to less than 1 million.
    • Vertebrates are likely the only types of animals Noah brought on the Ark, yet half of all vertebrate species are fish
    • Hence, Noah likely brought only land Mammals (no whales; maybe no seals and sea lions), Birds (perhaps excluding penguins), most Reptiles (possibly no crocodiles and alligators), and perhaps the amphibians.
    • Land mammal species number less than 5500, bird species number 10000, reptiles have about 4000 species, and amphibian species number 6400. That's a total of 25900 species.
  • How many species formed post-Flood?
    • The total number of 'kinds' is approximately the number of families. Mammals have about 150 families; birds, about 150; reptiles, about 80; and amphibians, about 72.  Total = 452 families.
    • Hence, 25900 - 452 = 25448 new species formed.
  • How many new species need to form per year?
    • 24848/4000 = ~6.4 species per year or 1 new species every ~60 days—a far cry from Bill Nye's number.
  • Is this rate reasonable?
    • If you have to form 6 new elephant species every year, it may not seem likely. However, 40% of mammal species are rodents—small, rapidly reproducing creatures; 95% of all reptile species are lizards and snakes (also small); and amphibians are small to begin with.
    • Also, consider how quickly human breeding schemes have produced all the varieties of dog breeds, cat breeds, cow breeds, horse breeds, sheep breeds, etc. that we see today—and these are large animals. Hence, producing the species we see today from the 'kinds' on board the Ark is no problem, especially given the fact that at least 50% of modern species are small.
    • Furthermore, genetic "clocks" indicate that modern species originated recently, not over millions of years. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v6/n1/mitochondrial-genes

Bottom line:  Bill Nye hasn't read the Bible carefully, nor has he carefully considered all the scientific facts. Modern species can easily be produced from those on the Ark.

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Bill Stanley says:

Why all of this speculation about how many species in the world could have been saved by being on an boat built by Noah and his family? Why all of the back and forth speculation about how many other species might have survived a world wide flood without being on such a boat?

This entire fuss reminds me of Aquinas's Summa Theologica, written in 1270, where he asked "can several angels be in the same place?" It seems this question led others to attempt to seriously consider the capability of angels, until eventually it was being argued (and "evidence" was being offered) for the proposition that a million angels might be able to fit upon a needle's point.

Perhaps before we try to determine the capabilities of angels or boats, we should consider the foundational question of whether angels or Noah do exist, or have ever existed.

This argument also reminds me of Mark Twain's comments regarding witches:

"During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch - the priest, the parson?  No, these never discover anything. . ."

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floodnut says:

If we are talking about "NOAH'S" Flood there is a different set of answers than "NYE'S" Flood. There are so many pre-suppostions that are just incorrect and not in accord with reality in NYE's Flood, or any skeptics flood.
If we accept the Flood as it is described in the Bible, then we must be satisfied with the answers of the Bible.
NO WHERE is it ever suggested in the Bible that "every species" was represented on the Ark. The Bible declares that TWO (or perhaps 7 in some cases) of each KIND (Heb: MIN) were admitted on the ark. Kind is a larger or wider category than the taxonomic "species" - closer to family or genus. And then not all kinds were required to be on board - it was only air-breathing land animals in whose nostrils is the breath of life.
A figure of 32,000 animals of the average size of a sheep has for more than fifty years been recognized as what the biblical expectation is seen to be.
We really don't need to make the skeptics happy with the answer, since we are under no obligation to float their boat.

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Bill Stanley says:

Can we all first agree on two things:

1. Ken Ham believes an ark was built by Noah (and others) and that some significant number of animals were placed on the boat and saved from a flood that covered the earth.

2. Ken Ham believes the story to be true because it is described in the Bible.

If we agree on the above, then the argument about whether the story of Noah and the flood is true depends on how you would answer the following question:

Everything in the Bible is true because it was written/inspired by God, or it is not true because it was not written/inspired by God?

As I see it, there are four possible answers:

If you believe God exists, you believe the Bible was written/inspired by God and that either (1) everything in it is true, or (2) only some of it is true and you get to pick the parts you accept.

If you don't believe God exists, then you don't believe the Bible was written/inspired by God and that either (1) everything in it is not true, or (2) some of it may be true, but you get to pick the parts you accept.

Let's see how everyone lines up.

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Robert Byers says:

Agree with some things here and not others.
first all marine mammals were on the ark. I say they only adapted to the seas after the flood. it had been emptied out.
Dry land creatures with breath only were on the ark.
What kinds are is surely not settled and probably few. noah sacrificed a pair of clean kinds so it couldn't be that many.
A pair of snakes. Bears, wolves, seals i think are one kind.
Anyways it works fine. it wasn't tens of thousands.
YEC needs to reduce kinds.
Ham did a great answer to nye however.

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Mark says:

So, in other words, magical thinking did it all? Where is your science? Where does it say in the bible that Noah did not take insects? You make suppositions only, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Desi says:

From http://www.answersingenesis.org : “The Bible says that God brought to Noah all air-breathing land animals (Genesis 6:17, 7:15). Some insects, like butterflies, don’t really “breathe” air out of a mouth or nose. Air enters their bodies through tiny air holes in their bodies. So insects may not have been on the Ark. But how would they have survived the global Flood if they weren’t on the Ark? Some insects were probably stowaways, “sneaking” on board the Ark with the other animals, supplies, and food. Insects could have survived outside the Ark on the floating trees and plants that must have covered the ocean during the Flood.”

YOM says:

Bill Nye (paraphrased): “My calculations show that Noah’s Ark is impossible. There’s no way that all the species on this planet could have arisen in just 4,000 years.”

Mark: “So, in other words, magical thinking [explains] it all? Where is your science? Where does it say in the bible that Noah [took] insects? You make suppositions only, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Thank you, Mark. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Outrageous claims demand outrageous support. Bill Nye supplied zero. He inflated his species numbers with wild guesses rather than sticking to the published data. He never cited a verse that said that Noah took insects and fishes and crustaceans and mollusks on board the Ark. He never let the science constrain his speculation. How unscholarly! How ridiculous!

The burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused, and the next time Bill tries to attack the Flood account in Genesis, we’ve given him a head start with the facts above.

- Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson

Annoyed Man says:

Nye is still correct. Stowaways can make sense. Fish-like creatures staying in water makes sense. But remember the number he gave was a drastic reduction to the actual number of living creatures. 16M down from the apx 50+M of organisms quoted. Plus flying creatures, that long without readily available food/land? Dead. All dead.

The Ark is a ridiculous theory. It is more reminiscent of a child's fairy tale than an historical event.

There is no proof that 100% disproves it, just makes it heavily unlikely, but JUST BECAUSE IT CAN'T BE DISPROVEN DOESN'T MEAN THAT's PROOF OF IT EXISTING.

Likewise there is no scientific way to disprove an omnipotent being. As far as I'm concerned science has proven itself with laws and theories back to the big bang. I'm waiting to know what happened before that. Perhaps when we can get further than that we will discover that the big bang was God clapping his hands, but that's even more silly sounding to me.

We struggle at the thought that there is no known beginning, so we assume we were created. But you have to think, if there was a God, what was HIS first day? WHAT CREATED GOD? Spirits, and alternate planes of existence of Heaven and Hell. Blah, it's all timey-wimey stuff. EXCEPT THAT TIME WOULDN'T EXIST BEFORE THE BIG BANG EITHER! AH!

PhiLL.F says:

YOM>The burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused
AND HAM IS ACCUSING THE MAINSTREAM SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY OF BEING WRONG

But he has no evidence and not even a real theory. Just mythology

YOM says:

To Annoyed Man:

Annoyed Man: “Nye is still correct. Stowaways can make sense. Fish-like creatures staying in water makes sense. But remember the number he gave was a drastic reduction to the actual number of living creatures. 16M down from the apx 50+M of organisms quoted. Plus flying creatures, that long without readily available food/land? Dead. All dead. The Ark is a ridiculous theory. It is more reminiscent of a child's fairy tale than an historical event.”

Mark: “So, in other words, magical thinking [refutes] it all? Where [are] your [scientific data and references]? You make suppositions only, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Annoyed Man: “There is no proof that 100% disproves it, just makes it heavily unlikely, but JUST BECAUSE IT CAN'T BE DISPROVEN DOESN'T MEAN THAT's PROOF OF IT EXISTING.”

Mark: “So, in other words, magical thinking [refutes] it all? Where is your science? You make suppositions only, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Annoyed Man: “Likewise there is no scientific way to disprove an omnipotent being. As far as I'm concerned science has proven itself with laws and theories back to the big bang. I'm waiting to know what happened before that. Perhaps when we can get further than that we will discover that the big bang was God clapping his hands, but that's even more silly sounding to me. We struggle at the thought that there is no known beginning, so we assume we were created. But you have to think, if there was a God, what was HIS first day? WHAT CREATED GOD? Spirits, and alternate planes of existence of Heaven and Hell. Blah, it's all timey-wimey stuff. EXCEPT THAT TIME WOULDN'T EXIST BEFORE THE BIG BANG EITHER! AH!”

Mark: “So, in other words, magical thinking [refutes] it all? Where [are] your [scientific data]? You make suppositions only, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Thank you, Mark. I should put you in touch with Annoyed Man. You might be able to help one another out on these questions.

YOM says:

To PhiLL.F:

PhilLL.F: “AND HAM IS ACCUSING THE MAINSTREAM SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY OF BEING WRONG. But he has no evidence and not even a real theory. Just mythology”

Since you changed the subject without actually supplying a factual, referenced answer to this post, can I assume that you acknowledge the error in Nye’s reasoning?

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Keith says:

Great response to a question that many have posed to discredit the Biblical account.

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Nora says:

I have a question for you people at YOM.
Would it also not be possible that since many species of animals died off after the flood, and thus certain information in their DNA be lost, be a reason why we do not see all the species that were alive before the flood, or why we do not see as many new species? And could there not have been an increase in the rate of mutations that would again result in loss of information in DNA after the flood? After all we do see a drastic reduction in human lifespan after the flood as well. The world that was before the flood perished forever, and the world after the flood was totally different.

YOM says:

Hi Nora,
If I understand your post correctly, I think you’re asking two questions:
1) Could the fact of past extinctions have an effect on the rate at which new species appear today?
2) Could mutation rates influence the rate at which new species appear today?
Theoretically, the answer to both questions is yes. Practically, it depends on the mechanism by which species have formed/do form post-Flood. Since the mechanism is still a very open question (The Impetus for Biological Change), it’s hard to say one way or the other. Speciation may have happened by fractionation of the genetic content that was already present in the individuals of each ‘kind’ on board the Ark, and if this is true, then both extinction and mutation may very well have eliminated/corrupted the potential for different types of species to form. If speciation happened by a different mechanism, then it is unclear how extinction and mutation may have affected the process. Many unknowns remain to be worked out, but--with a hat tip to Mr. Nye--the “joy of discovery” drives current research efforts at ICR. :-)

- Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson

Aloverofsouls says:

It takes more faith to believe there in no God then to believe one exists. We see life coming from life all around us. What we don't see is life coming into being spontaneously anywhere. The chances of anything coming from nothing to something is just plain ridiculous. Our canning system is dependent on the fact that life does not just happen spontaneously. Look at the DNA of anything it is obvious we were designed. I think it is obvious this God that put us here took great measures to meet our every need. He gave what we would need, water, air, food. He made this earth to be able to sustain life. How could anyone call this chance. I'm dumbfounded. Thank you, Ken keep up the good work.

Clyde says:

To Aloverofsouls... It is encouraging to see others exist who get the obvious that complex life with all its obvious properties of design could have only come from the mind and actions of a creator. I am completely amazed how so many people willfuly let themselves be fooled by this fantasy belief that with enough time nature can have creative powers. Only a mind can create meaningful information and life is full of information to replicate and operate itself. You corrupt just a small amount of this coded DNA information and all life dies. Life is fragile and not some trivial thing that can spawn from even long odds. The odds needed for life to begin on its own are not available to even a universe with Trillions of years let alone only billions of years. Those evolutionist made a mistake agreeing to an earth only 4.5 billion years ago. They need to go back to their dating schemes and invent some new ages to have any chance of keeping this evolutionary/abiogenesis theories alive. I could go into how to calculate the odds if someone requests me to put real math behind what I am saying. I can just take a small aspect of life like the odds of the correct protein just by itself and get odds that give you a better chance of finding a single atom in all the universe than the correct functional protein coming into being. This is a long topic but if you can't believe the obvious I can spell the math out for you to give biggest fools another chance to see the light. Problem is the majority will not want to believe in God at all costs. God means judgement and people rather be free of that by inventing a fantasy reality where God is not needed to explain away the off the chart complexities found in the most simplest life. You can try to hide from God in your foolish beliefs but will not make God go away as hard as you try.

CDog says:

No fair taking away one of the evolutionists' "gotchas" with answers! Evolutionists need to be honest that is their worldview bias against the Bible that prevents them from accepting its historical accounts, not science or evidence. They need to admit that they don't know everything (or even 1% of everything) and that some new knowledge could be found tomorrow amongst the body of information they don't know about currently that could contradict everything they think they know today. Creationists don't know everything, but they know someone who does and has revealed some absolute knowledge to us.

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