The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Noah’s Ark Found… Again?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

Recently a story getting a lot of press is yet another claim by yet another Christian-oriented organization that they’ve discovered the mythical Noah’s Ark. For many Christians of the more fundamentalist stripe, the myth of Noah’s Ark is kind of like the Holy Grail – many of them believe that if it can be found that it somehow proves the validity of their particular interpretation of the Bible.

noahs ark mt ararat

However, some deeper investigation past the headline shows that this story is likely just another exaggerated claim, because – as skeptic Ben Radford points out – we’ve been here before… numerous times.  Yes, apparently, the mythical Noah’s Ark has been discovered (and re-discovered) a number of times “with definitive proof” that it is authentic.

Noah’s Ark Re-Rediscovered

A Chinese Christian filmmaker claims to have found the final resting place of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung says he and a team from Noah’s Ark Ministries found the remains of the Ark at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). They filmed inside the structure and took wood samples that were later analyzed in Iran. He claims the wood was carbon-dated to around the reputed time of Noah’s flood, which would be remarkable since organic material should have long since disintegrated in the last 5,000 years.

Yeung said that he is “99 percent certain that it is Noah’s Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating.”

While news of the find is making headlines around the world, there’s one part of the story that Yeung is conspicuously silent about: He is only the latest in a long line of people who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen others – all of them funded by Christian organizations – who have claimed final, definitive proof of Noah’s Ark. So far none of the claims have proven true.

Noah’s Ark is routinely re-discovered, because there are many who fervently want it to be found. Biblical literalists – those who believe that proof of the Bible’s events remains to be found – have spent their lives and fortunes trying to scientifically validate their religious beliefs.

There are several reasons why the new claims should be treated with skepticism. For example, Yeung refuses to disclose the location of the find and is instead keeping it a secret. This of course is inherently unscientific; for the claims to be proven, the evidence must be presented to other scientists for peer-review. Nor has the alleged 5,000-year-old wood been made available for independent testing.

… There is a long and rich history of Ark finds. Nearly 40 years ago, Violet M. Cummings, author of “Noah’s Ark: Fable or Fact?” (Creation-Science Research Center, 1973) claimed – without evidence – that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” (Scholastic Book Services) “there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah’s Ark really does exist…. Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark’s exact location on Mt. Ararat.” Yet again, no real evidence was offered.

In another ironic twist, it’s worth noting that one of the dating methods employed by Yeung is radiocarbon dating, which is a widely accepted and well-proven dating method in the scientific community but which is viewed with distrust by fundamentalist Christians because of the pseudoscientific & dogmatic Young-Earth Creationist view that the Earth is only 6000 years old.  This National Geographic article has a good take down on this point…

Skepticism of the new Noah’s ark claim extends to at least one scholar who interprets the Bible literally.

Biologist Todd Wood is director of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College in Tennessee, which pursues biology in a creationist framework.

As a creationist, Wood believes God created Earth and its various life-forms out of nothing roughly 6,000 years ago.

“If you accept a young chronology for the Earth … then radiocarbon dating has to be reinterpreted,” because the method often yields dates much older than 6,000 years, Wood said.

Radiocarbon dating estimates the ages of organic objects by measuring the radioisotope carbon 14, which is known to decay at a set rate over time. The method is generally thought to reach its limit with objects about 60,000 years old. Earth is generally thought to be about four and a half billion years old.

Across the board, radiocarbon dates need to be recalibrated, Wood believes, to reflect shorter time frames.

Given this perceived overestimation in radiocarbon dating, the wood the Noah’s Ark Ministries International team found should have a “traditional” radiocarbon date of several tens of thousands of years if the wood is truly 4,800 years old, Wood said.

“I’m really, really skeptical that this could possibly be Noah’s Ark,” he added. The wood date is “way, way, way too young.”

Not only that, but there are many other problems with these most recent claims that Yeung and his colleagues have discovered the “real” Noah’s Ark…

Another reason scholars are skeptical of the latest Noah’s ark discovery claim is that Genesis—the first book of the Bible—never specifies which peak the vessel supposedly landed on in Turkey.

“The whole notion is odd, because the Bible tells you the ark landed somewhere in Urartu,”—an ancient kingdom in eastern Turkey—”but it’s only later that people identified Mount Ararat with Urartu,” said Jack Sasson, a professor of Jewish and biblical studies at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Stony Brook’s Zimansky agreed. “Nobody associated that mountain with the ark” until the tenth century B.C., he said, adding that there’s no geologic evidence for a mass flood in Turkey around 4,000 years ago. (See “‘Noah’s Flood’ Not Rooted in Reality, After All?”)

The Noah’s Ark Ministries International explorers are “playing in a very different ballpark than the rest of us,” Zimansky said. “They’re playing without any concern for” the archaeological, historical, and geological records.

So what are we to make of all this Ark fuss?  Given the supposed “evidence” (actually, the lack thereof) I have two words which sum it up nicely: wishful thinking.

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2 Responses to “Noah’s Ark Found… Again?”

  1. Thanks for the well written recap on this.

  2. Tsykalyuk said

    I enjoyed the post, it’s really good, very useful :D Thank you.

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