Posts Tagged ‘ Noah ’

It’s hardly a surprise…

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

The notorious Noah’s Ark Ministries ‘discovery’ of the well-preserved remains of the Ark have been outed as a hoax, not that it should come as a surprise. A letter to Dr Randall Price from two Kurdish brothers has been published on the web. In it, they say that they helped to construct the remains, which they had been told were to be used for a film set.

As others have pointed out, the story had a strange feeling to it from the outset. On wonders how much money Noah’s Ark Ministries International Ltd. has made from this scam. It may be no coincidence that the group’s website has not been updated since the initial announcement in 2010.

Hat tip to PaleoBabble for the link!

Pursuing a myth can be dangerous: a tragic news story

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

Missionary is missing after searching for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat

Donald Mackenzie

Donald Mackenzie, missing on Mount Ararat

A Scottish missionary and member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Donald Mackenzie, was reported missing by a friend on 14 October 2010 after one of his many trips to Mount Ararat (Turkey) to look for remains of Noah’s Ark. He is a regular visitor to the mountain but was enthused by a story earlier in the year that a team from Hong Kong had discovered its remains on the mountain. The story is now known to be fraudulent, which makes Mr Mackenzie’s disappearance all the more tragic.

Although his mother was quoted by the BBC as saying that he got within fifty metres of the site, we have to ask how anyone could know this. The Chinese team perpetrated a hoax, so there was no “sdiscovery site” to be approached. In November 2010, his family expressed unhappiness with the Turkish government’s lack of response. However, a rescue expedition was mounted, although it was called off in December 2010 after it failed to locate him.

There seems to have been no further reporting on this story since 11 December 2010. Although the story has been repeated in various places since then, nothing new has been added and it appears that there is no further information.

This is a terrible story. Through following religious convictions that have no basis in reality, a man has probably lost his life on a mountain in a foreign land. His family must be devastated by the loss and all who think that going in search of Noah’s Ark is a noble cause should reflect on this story.

Postscript, March 2011

The story is still being kept in the news, with an article from World Net Daily, in which the missing man’s brother raises the spectre of “muslim fanatics” whom he suggests murdered him. There is no evidence for this beyond the failure to find Donald Mackenzie’s body. Mount Ararat is huge; much more so than Mount Everest, where it has proved difficult to locate missing explorers’ bodies, so locating one missing man is a task with little hope of a happy outcome. Over five months afterhis disappearance, it is now horribly clear that, even if the body is located, Donald Mackenzie has died a lonely death in pursuit of a mirage.

Another Ark flash-in-the-pan discovery

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

It’s the nature of such things, I suppose, that discoveries meant to be of earth-shattering importance are announced in a blaze of publicity (front page news, no less, on a number of newspapers) only to fall into obscurity as time passes. An announcement that not only has Noah’s Ark been found (again!) on Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı), but also that complete wooden chambers are preserved is a story that, if true, would change the way in which most people view the world. It would overturn our understanding of history, geology, biology… almost everything we think we know about how the world works. And yet, within days of the initial announcement, at least one of those involved with the project were doing some rapid back-pedalling; the Ministry involved in the ‘discovery’, Noah’s Ark Ministries International (挪亞方舟國際事工), then issued a statement dismissing the author’s involvement. What is going on?

The photograph of a wooden chamber reproduced by many newpapers

Let’s start by looking at what was announced. The press release states that “a Chinese-Turkish exploration team successfully excavated and ventured inside a large wooden structure at an elevation of more than 4,000m above sea level” containing seven ‘spaces’. One of the spaces was frozen but said to contain wood with tenons; the second was L-shaped and also featured wooden tenon construction, although it was said to be “heavily decomposed”; a third was more than five metres high, with wooden walls and a door on one side; another was box-shaped and formed a cube of more than two metres with wooden nails on one side of the wall; a small passage was found linking two other spaces; wooden staircases were found inside the structure; a final space was found, estimated to be 5 by 12 metres. These are remarkable claims, backed up with some photographs of apparently old wooden structural elements. We are also told that “[w]ood specimens were dated as 4,800 years old”, although we are not told how or by which laboratories (although the Christian Science Monitor says that it was radiocarbon dated by a laboratory in Iran). The Ministry quotes Dr Otkay Belli, a respected archaeologist and an expert on the archaeology of Urartu, as describing it as “the greatest discovery in history”.

A diagram of the alleged seven chambers located beneath the glacier

If true, this is remarkable indeed. Not only do we have physical evidence for one of the cornerstones of biblical literalism, we also have confirmation of a story that will undermine much of what currently passes for knowledge of human and geological history. As it is such a powerful claim, the evidence used to back it up must be equally powerful. So how well does the evidence stand up to scrutiny?

A beam with pegs attached to it

A beam with pegs attached to it

Firstly, there is the dating. Noah’s Ark Ministries International has not released any details of the radiocarbon dating. We do not know what was dated or what the actual results were. To say that the “specimens were dated as 4,800 years old” is not to report a radiocarbon date: it is to interpret that date. Presumably, the date would have been 4740 Cal BP or 2790 Cal BC with a margin of error; this has been calibrated from an original radiocarbon determination of something like 4220 bp with its own margin of error. These errors are largely a result of the technique, which counts very tiny amounts of radioactive carbon in a sample by measuring the rate of its decay as it emits radioactive particles, making the initial measurements imprecise. To oversimplify, the larger the sample and the longer the period over which readings can be taken, the smaller the margin of error. But because of these errors, we have to bear in mind that the ‘date’ is not a ‘date’ in the sense that we understand it but a statistical approximation to the age of the sample.

As such, it is very unlikely indeed that the single ‘date’ is the true age of the sample; by allowing one margin of error before and after the ‘date’, we have a roughly 66% chance that the true radiocarbon age falls within this date range; allow two either side, and there is a roughly 97% chance. The date then needs to be calibrated, because the amount of radioactive carbon in the environment has fluctuated through time, which further increases the size of the margin of error. So be told that a sample of wood is “4,800 years old” is meaningless unless hedged with these uncertainties; to accept a press release as a source rather than a laboratory certified date is foolish.

Ice and rubble

Ice and rubble in one of the chambers

Secondly, there is the location of the ‘discovery’. The team from Noah’s Ark Ministries International has refused to divulge where on the mountain they found the remains. They have said that it is at “an altitude of 4,200m” and that “the wooden structure was permanently covered by ice and volcanic rocks”, embedded in a glacier. Mount Ararat is 5,165 m high, which means that the site must lie inside the top kilometre or so of the mountain. There are several problems here. The first question we must ask is why the secrecy? While it may be important to protect an important discovery from looters, it is also vital to have potentially controversial discoveries validated by one’s peers. To keep them away seems suspicious. Secondly, if the remains are embedded in glacial ice, they are part of a moving body of water, albeit one moving at a very slow speed. Speeds of up to 20-30 m per day have been recorded, but the overall speed is dependent on friction, slope and position within the glacier. The speed is slowest at the edges and fastest in the centre. Nevertheless, we ought to envisage a flow of some sort; to be exceedingly generous, let’s call it slightly under one centimetre per day, giving us 3.5 m per year. Now, a quick look at Google Earth shows the summit covered in clouds that effectively mask the permanently glaciated top of the mountain, which gives a radius of around 5 km for the ice; even at the most generously slow rate of flow, any Ark landing on the very summit of Mount Ararat would have been carried the length of a glacier in just over 1400 years. We must explain why something claimed to be 4800 years old has not been carried down by the glacial flow.

Worse still, Dr Robert Cargill has done some investigation into Noah’s Ark Ministries International and has discovered that it is an arm of Media Evangelism Ltd of Hong Kong, a “charitable Christian organization committed to building a Christian media presence by using every modern means of communication to promote the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In other words, it’s an evangelical organisation of a type more familiar in a USA overwhelmed by religiosity than in communist China. This means that we should examine their claims with even more rigour than might otherwise be the case. Even believers in Noah’s flood as an historic event are distancing themselves from the claims of Noah’s Ark Ministries International.

Apparently fresh straw in a 4,800 year od chamber?

Apparently fresh straw in a 4,800 year old chamber?

Most damning, despite Noah’s Ark Ministries International’s attempts to spin a bad situation, Dr Randall Price has given his version of the 2008 expedition. According to an email written to a student, the photographs of the interior of the structures were taken inside genuine structures in another part of Turkey, close to the Black Sea. He believes that the wooden beams filmed by the team in a cave on Mount Ararat in 2009 were taken from the site of the real structures onto Mount Ararat by Kurdish workers for the Chinese team; at least, that’s what he says he was told by one of those workers. Randall Price points out that some of the photographs alleged to have been taken inside the frozen Ark have cobwebs, an impossibility in sub-zero temperatures. Several of the photographs also show hay or straw inside the wooden chambers, which must also raise suspicions. Randall Price is a respected archaeologist who has excavated at Qumran and committed evangelical Christian who believes that the remains of Noah’s Ark may some day be found on the mountain, so we must take his accusations of fraud very seriously indeed: he has an interest in the discovery of a genuine Noah’s Ark.

So what is the moral of this story (as if it needs one like some episode of Doctor Who)? It’s not a moral about Noah’s Ark or the gullibility of religious believers. It’s not even a moral about money-grabbing evangelists who are economical with the truth in their efforts to spread the message. It’s a moral about the way the world’s press is prepared to hype sensational ‘discoveries’, repeating the claims of press releases without even doing the most basic checking. This is a practice I’ve already criticised on this blog, known as ‘churnalism’. But the really worrying part of this is that those readers of The Daily Mail, The Daily Express or any other of the so-called ‘newspapers’ that published this ludicrous story will have come away with the impression that Noah’s Ark really has been found. Even if it doesn’t make a vast difference to their lives, it’s there, in the backs of their minds, reinforcing the Religious Education (myths) they were taught as children. Even if, as a nation, we English aren’t especially religious in terms of formal church going, I suspect that there are a lot of people who believe that “there has to be something more”, that the Bible “can’t just be all stories”. That’s the danger: the reinforcement of a superstition-based mindset that underpins western culture.

Bad reporting of a flood myth

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

A rather interesting discovery – a Babylonian account of the design of the ship used by Atraḫasīs to rescue animals from the universal deluge – was reported in The Guardian for 1 January 2010. It details the translation of a tablet collected in the Middle East by an amateur, Leonard Simmons, some time between 1945 and 1948. When his son Daniel took it to the British Museum, it was recognised as part of the Babylonian flood story by Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper in the Department of the Middle East there. It’s a good story by Maev Kennedy, interesting in shedding light on the Babylonian flood myth.

Replica of Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark was not circular: Atraḫasīs’s was!

So why on earth did the headline writer have to spoil the whole thing by giving her piece the title Relic reveals Noah’s ark was circular? It does no such thing. It tells us about the Babylonian version of the Mesopotamian myth of a universal flood sent by the gods to destroy humanity, which the exiled Jews learned during their time in Babylon. Later, it became incorporated into their own mythology as the familiar tale of Genesis VI to VIII. In Genesis, Yahweh specifically instructs Noah to build a vessel “300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high” (Genesis VI.15). So, Noah’s Ark was not circular. Atraḫasīs’s Ark was. The writers of Genesis changed the details to make it sound more like a bigger version of the type of sea-going vessel they were familiar with, rather than a reed raft such as would have been suitable for the River Tigris.

Does the headline writer really have such little regard for the abilities of the newspaper’s readership to understand what the article is actually saying? Has The Guardian descended into tabloid style attention-grabbing headlines that bear no relationship to the story? Or is it that the discovery might be used to prop up the increasingly untenable view that Genesis contains worthwhile historical reportage?

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