Noah’s Ark: A Historical/Scientific Test


Excerpt from Unreliable:The Science and Logic of Bill Nye by Heath Henning. This book can be downloaded for free.

Bill Nye’s ad hominem attack towards Ken Ham was evident throughout his book Undeniable, particularly in the earliest pages where he discussed the debate. He wrote:

Mr. Ham holds to a fascinating pair of doublespeak phrases: “observational science” and “historical science.” He says that there’s a difference between things that happen while your alive and watching and things that happened before you were born…. Using the word science in these Orwellian ways is unsettling.1)Bill Nye, (ed. Corey Powell), Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, St. Martin’s Press (New York), 2014, p. 11

Bill Nye revealed his deceptive techniques immediately in the debate with Ken Ham in his opening statement when he said, “we can compare Mr. Ham’s story to the story from the outside, what I call mainstream science. The question here tonight is, does Ken Ham’s creation model hold up? Is it viable? So let me ask you, what would you be doing if you weren’t here tonight? You’d be home watching CSI – – (Crime Scene Investigation) TV show… And on CSI, there is no distinction made between historical science and observational science. These are constructs unique to Mr. Ham. We don’t normally have these anywhere in the world except here.”2) Bill Nye’s opening statement during the Bill Nye Ken Ham debate, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origin In Today’s Modern Scientific Era?” Feb. 4, 2014; transcript at
Is there a legitimate distinction between observational and historical science? The answer is presented in Nye’s analogy of CSI. The whole premise of the show is to reconstruct the probable scenario of a crime scene based on the forensic evidence discovered. The idea is to reconstruct a historical event (the crime) because no one was there to witness it (observational). This is clearly a false analogy for Bill Nye to identify his argument as it actually proves Ken Ham’s point that there is a difference. In the court of law eye witnesses carry stronger testimony than the forensic evidence that may be presented because the forensic evidence (being historical science) has a probability of being misinterpreted.
So there are logical fallacies from Bill Nye embedded in this argument –false analogy, ad hominem, etc. – but we question whether he is absolutely ignorant of science or is he acting deceptively. During the debate, Nye expressed an opportunity to perform a “scientific test,” however; this test would fall into the realm of historical science which he denies.

And we can then run a test. Scientific tests. People in the early 1900s built an extraordinarily large wooden ship, the Wyoming. It was a six-masted schooner, the largest one ever built, and it had a motor on it, for winching and cables and stuff. But this boat had a great difficulty. It was not as big as the Titanic, but it was a very long ship. It would twist in the sea. It would twist this way [acting out the first torsional mode], this way [first vertical bending mode], and this way [first horizontal bending mode]. With all that twisting, it leaked, and it leaked like crazy. The crew could not keep the ship dry. And indeed, it eventually foundered and sank, and the loss of all 14 hands. So there were 14 crewmen aboard a ship built by very skilled shipwrights in New England. These guys were the best in the world at wooden shipbuilding, and they could not build a boat as big as the Ark is claimed to be to have been. Is that reasonable?3)Bill Nye Presentation (30 minutes) during the Bill Nye Ken Ham debate, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origin In Today’s Modern Scientific Era?” Feb. 4, 2014; transcript at

If Nye denies historical science, how can this be a scientific test when either the Wyoming or Noah’s ark cannot be observed today to experiment with as a test?
This argument falls apart when we identify a number of assumptions made and when history is evaluated. At the debate, Nye asserted: “That the best shipbuilders in the world could not do what eight unskilled people, men and their wives, were able to do?” with the assumption stated as: “these people were unskilled; as far as everybody knows they had never built a wooden ship before.”4)Bill Nye Presentation (30 minutes) during the Bill Nye Ken Ham debate, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origin In Today’s Modern Scientific Era?” Feb. 4, 2014; transcript at Why does he assume only eight unskilled people built Noah’s ark? Nowhere does the Bible say only eight people built it. Nor does the Bible say Noah was unskilled in building ships. We are only told that eight people boarded the ark (Genesis 7:7; 8:18; 2 Peter 2:5) and that Noah eventually “began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard” (Gen. 9:20), implying he was not a husbandman before. There is no reason to not consider Noah having hired skilled labors to build this ship. Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in September of 1740, entitled The Manner in which the Salvation of the Soul is to be Sought, wherein he implied Noah hired help to build the ark.

Not only was Noah himself continually employed, but it required a great number of workmen to be constantly employed, during all that time, in procuring, and collecting, and fitting the materials, and in putting them together in due form. How great a thing was it for Noah to undertake such a work! For beside the continual care and labor, it was a work of vast expense. It is not probable that any of that wicked generation would put to a finger to help forward such a work, which doubtless they believed was merely the fruit of Noah’s folly, without full wages. Noah must needs have been very rich, to be able to bear the expense of such a work, and to pay so many workmen for so long a time. It would have been a very great expense for a prince; and doubtless Noah was very rich, as Abraham and Job were afterwards. But it is probable that Noah spent all his worldly substance in this work, thus manifesting his faith in the word of God, by selling all he had, as believing there would surely come a flood, which would destroy all; so that if he should keep what he had, it would be of no service to him.5) Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachuettes) Fourth Printing 2004, Vol 2, p. 52

Because of Bill Nye’s evolutionary ideology, he simply assumes ancient man was primitive and lacked technology. If modern men is so highly evolved and intellectually advanced, why don’t we know how the great pyramid was built or duplicate it?
Contrary to Bill Nye’s claim, the Wyoming is not a scientific test to consider valid for many reasons. First, the Wyoming was a single level carvel construction with sails. The ark is described as having three levels – “with lower, second and third stories” (Genesis 6:16) – that would have enforced its structure so that it would not bend the way Bill Nye described the Wyoming. Second, the Wyoming lasted 15 years on sea before it sank (1909-1924), the ark only needed to float for 1 year. An actual scientific test would have to accurately reproduce the specifications to attempt to duplicate it as an experiment. His test fails the criteria for observational science in this case.
If we look for historical science, we would be forced to search historical records to discover whether or not ancient man has been capable of building large ships comparable to Noah’s Ark. Larry Peirce has done just that in an article originally published in Creation magazine of June 2000, and posted on Answer In Genesis website which Bill Nye could have accessed prior to the debate. Pierce cites the following from Ussher’s description of a naval battle in the Aegean Sea in B.C. 280:

When Antigonus, surnamed Gonatas, the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes, heard how Seleucus was murdered, he made an expedition into Macedonia. He planned to get there before Ceraunus could, with his army and naval forces. However, Ceraunus had all Lysimachus’ fleet in readiness, and set out and met him in a good battle formation at sea. In his navy, ships were sent from Heraclea in Pontus, some of six, some of five tiers of oars. These kinds of ships were called “Aphracta”. The largest ship of all had eight tiers of oars and was called the Leontifera. She was admired by all for her large size and exquisite construction. In her were a hundred oars per tier, so that on each side there were eight hundred rowers which made 1600 in all. On the upper deck or hatches there were 1200 fighting men who were under two special commanders. When the battle began, Ceraunus won and Antigonus was forced to flee with all his navy. In this fight, the ships from Heraclea performed the best and among them the Leontifera did the best of all.6) Larry Pierce, “The Large Ships of Antiquity,”; citing Ussher, J., Annales Veteris Testamenti, Flesher and Sadler, London, pp. 475–476, 1654. –he includes this comment in his footnote – “This work is in Latin. I am preparing a new English translation which is scheduled to be published in January, 2001. The paragraph number for this footnote in that revised work is 2750.”

Following this description, Pierce explains “We are not given the dimensions of this ship. However, the oarsmen on each tier would have to be at least three feet apart, the approximate distance between airline seats. (Has anyone ever complained of having too much space between airline seats?!) For 100 rowers per tier, allowing for a bow and a stern, this ship could easily have been 120–150 metres (400–500 feet) long.”7) Larry Pierce, “The Large Ships of Antiquity,” The article follows with other ships of antiquity
Pierce also refers to “the grand-daddy of ancient warships” (his words) as described by Athenaeus.

But since we have mentioned the subject of the building of ships, let us speak (for it is worth hearing of) of the ships which were built also by Ptolemaeus Philopator, which are mentioned by the same Callixeinus in the first book of his Account of Alexandria, where he speaks as follows:- “Philopator built a ship with forty ranks of rowers, being two hundred and eighty cubits long and thirty-eight cubits from one side to the other; and in height up to the gunwale it was forty-eight cubits; and from the highest part of the stern to the water-line was fifty-three cubits; and it had four rudders, each thirty cubits long; and oars for the thranitae, the largest thirty-eight cubits in length, which, from having lead in their handles, and because they were very heavy in the part inside the ship, being accurately balanced, were, in spite of their bulk, very handy to use. And the ship had two heads and two sterns, and seven beaks, one of which was longer than all the rest, and the others were of smaller size; and some of them were fixed to the ears of the ship; and it had twelve undergirths to support the keel, and each was six hundred cubits in length. And it was well proportioned to a most extraordinary degree; and all the appointments of the vessel were admirable, for it had figures of animals on it not less than twelve cubits in size, both at the head and at the stern, and every part of it was inlaid and ornamented with figures in wax; and the space between the oars down to the very keel had a running pattern of ivy-leaves and thyrsi; and there was great store of every kind of equipment to supply all parts of the ship that might require any. And when it put to sea it held more than four thousand rowers, and four hundred supernumeraries; and on the deck were three thousand marines, or at least two thousand eight hundred and fifty. And besides all these there was another large body of men under the decks, and a vast quantity of provisions and supplies.8) Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, Book 5, Section 203f–204b (2:421–425, Loeb Classical Library No. 208, Harvard University Press, 1987); Translated by C.D.Yonge (1854) accessible at

Pierce did not cite the passage but only expressed the significance of measurements in modern vernacular as follows:

Athenaeus gives us a detailed description of a very large warship, built by Ptolemy Philopator (c. 244–205 bc). It was 130m (420 feet) long, 18m (57 feet) wide, and 22m (72 feet) high to the top of her gunwale. From the top of its sternpost to the water line was 24 metres (79.5 feet). It had four steering oars 14m (45 feet) long. It had 40 tiers of oars. The oars on the uppermost tier were 18m (57 feet) long. The oars were counter-balanced with lead to make them easier to handle. It had a double bow and a double stern and carried seven rams, of which one was the leader and the others were of gradually reducing size. It had 12 under-girders 275m (900 feet) long. The ship was manned by 400 sailors to handle the rigging and the sails, 4,000 rowers and 2,850 men in arms for a total of 7,250 men.9)Larry Pierce, “The Large Ships of Antiquity,”

Athenaeus’ description of this ship is not the only mention of antiquity. Pliny the Elder, who died in 79 A.D., wrote The Natural History, also comments with agreement that this ship of “Ptolemy Philopater, who was surnamed Tryphon, with forty [banks of oars].”10)Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, book 7, chapter 57. (56.), The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.; accessible at Plutarch also recorded:

 At a later time, it is true, Ptolemy Philopator built one of forty banks of oars, which had a length of two hundred and eighty cubits, and a height, to the top of her stern, of forty-eight; she was manned by four hundred sailors, who did no rowing, and by four thousand rowers, and besides these she had room, on her gang-ways and decks, for nearly three thousand men-at-arms. [5] But this ship was merely for show; and since she differed little from a stationary edifice on land, being meant for exhibition and not for use, she was moved only with difficulty and danger. However, in the ships of Demetrius their beauty did not mar their fighting qualities, nor did the magnificence of their equipment rob them of their usefulness, but they had a speed and effectiveness which was more remarkable than their great size.11)Plutarch, Demetrius, chapter 43, section 4-5; Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1920.; accessible at

Ptolemy Philopater reigned from 221-204 B.C. and is testified to have built this large ship by three separate ancient authors. James Smith (1782-1867) was an accomplished yachtsman who devoted his life to studying ancient ships and nautical matters, stated in his classic The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul concerning the size of this ship, “I see no impossibility in the size…. There is certainly nothing improbable in the supposition that a despotic prince could construct such a vessel.”12)James Smith, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI: Reprint 1978 from fourth edition originally issued in 1880), p. 234 If a scholarly and experienced shipman could believe these historical records in 1848 when his first edition was published, prior to the Wyoming’s faulty construction and the modern technology that Bill Nye thinks is so much more superior, it certainly sets validity to Noah’s Ark.

Tim Lovett acknowledged, “The largest wooden ships in recent history (1800s and early 1900s) tended to flex in rough seas, making them prone to leakage. These ships were carvel-built, a plank-on-frame construction method that lacks inherent resistance to racking. The stiffness of the hull depended almost entirely on the rightness of caulking between the planks.”13)Tim Lovett, “Could Noah’s Ark Have Been Made of Wood?” in The Answers Book 4, (ed. Ken Ham), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2013), p. 227 He later identified, “A spectacular (almost unbelievable) solution to sheering between planks includes mortise and tenon attachments. Characteristic of Greek and Roman ships, this method was in use well before the 14th century before Christ, then faded away around A.D. 500 to be forgotten until recently rediscovered through underwater archaeology. This lends credence to the records of ark sized wooden ships or antiquity.”14)Tim Lovett, “Could Noah’s Ark Have Been Made of Wood?” in The Answers Book 4, (ed. Ken Ham), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2013), p. 231

It should be clear that had Bill Nye brought his case against Noah’s ark before a court of law, his forensics evidence of a supposed scientific test (the Wyoming) would be deemed unsatisfactory, and in light of eyewitness accounts of historians, Bill Nye’s case would be found unreliable.