Decision Scheme

Tim Lovett Aug 2005 | Home | Menu

Navigating through a Sea of Choices

How do we make a design decision when there are competing influences of the Biblical record, engineering preferences, various theories, flood legends and eyewitness accounts?

The goal is to define Noah's Ark as accurately as possible, hopefully a reasonable resemblance to the ancient vessel. Genesis provides the essential starting point, but fleshing out the rest of the details requires a mixture of engineering logic and forensic guesswork. The following list describes the order of priority for assessing an issue relating to the design of Noah's Ark.


1. Biblical Account. Is the meaning clear and consistent, or is it indeterminant?

2. Proven scientific / engineering principles. Can established principles of operational science predict, reproduce or assess the issue?

3. Attested archeological evidence or records. Is there a precedent in ancient records?

4. Historical traditions. Does a pattern emerge in the way this issue has been considered previously?

5. Personal testimonies. Is there a reliable consensus of personal opinion?

All aspects of the design assume the simplest solution as being the most likely (Occum's razor [1]), and that God's design was optimal for the task yet within the capabilities of Noah's era - approximately equivalent to ancient Egyptian or Greco-Roman technology.

The other general factor is economy of miracles. [2] 

To make the system work, we need a weighting scheme. The idea is to force a strong higher order priority (as opposed to a neutral priority) to over-ride anything below it. Hence weighting is halved with each successive priority. So the weighting scheme would look like this;

16 x (Bible) + 8 x (Science) + 4 x (Records) + 2 x (Traditions) + 1 x (Opinions)

A single outcome (decision) is formulated by setting the neutral score as zero and counting left and right in negative and positive factors of two.






An example makes it easy.

Example 1. Block shaped or ship shaped?  


Example: Rectangular vs ship-like hull form


Block <  > Ship

1. Biblical Account. The Bible gives the proportions, but the Hebrew word tebah (tbh) gives no real indication of shape. The slight possibility of a link between Noah's Ark and the Ark of the Covenant (via the Septuagint) are countered by the original Hebrew pairing of Noah's Ark and the basket of baby Moses. These two floating containers could hardly be more dissimilar. Tenuous links to foreign words are disputed. The only reasonable conclusion is that no particular shape can be inferred from the original word.

-32 -16 0 16 32

2. Proven scientific / engineering principles. Genesis 6:15 describes a vessel with proportions very similar to a modern seagoing cargo vessel. The Bible also says it moved about on the surface of the waters, that there was a period of significant wind (which implies waves), and it had to survive beaching. Considering the wooden construction, the challenging scale and the live cargo, the Ark would need to be built with close attention to strength, stability and seakeeping. Strength favors curvature, seakeeping favors pointed ends and passive directional control would help with both seakeeping and capsize risk. The only advantage of the cuboid form is carrying capacity, somewhat obviated by the intensified structural requirements. However, a near-block shape is not an engineering impossibility.

-16 -8 0 8 16

3. Attested archeological evidence or records. There is no record of seagoing vessels or barges that were almost a rectangular prism. In fact, depictions of ancient ships are characterized by substantial curvature, highly upswept stern and/or bow, and some surprising levels of refinement- such as mortise and tenon planking. Ancient ships are exactly the opposite to a block shaped, blunt-ended Ark.

-8 -4 0 4 8

4. Historical traditions.  Ancient flood accounts give no clear indication of a block-shaped Ark. More recent illustrations (the last 500 years or so) cover a wide range of hull shapes. While most show a boat-like form, Kircher illustrated a perfect block, which was revived by the modern creationist movement. Historical traditions are inconclusive regarding the shape of Noah's Ark, but the YEC consensus is the block form.

-4 -2 0 2 4

5. Personal testimonies. Several explorers have each claimed that they have discovered the remains of the Ark at some sites on Mt. Ararat. Based on their arguments and references, the form of the Ark’s hull would be closer to a rectangular block. However, some also claim that a ship-shaped Ark has been sighted. If consensus points to truth, then rectangularity might be preferable. Sorting out the veracity of the claimed eyewitness accounts will hardly influence the outcome however - personal testimonies are considered to have the lowest priority. If something was actually found, this evidence would be priority 2 - proven scientific evidence.

-2 -1 0 1 2

Weighted Sum. Engineering principles alone are enough to sway the decision to a ship-like hull form, since the weighting is halved with each successive priority.  A final secondary weighting increases with each step to the left of right of the neutral (center) column. The ship-like hull wins over the block, 16:5.

-4 -1 0 8 8

Example 2. Short cubit vs Long cubit  

Royal Egyptian Cubit rod. Photo J. Bodsworth . Used with permission.

The last decision matrix was a bit uneventful. Let's try another one - the cubit issue. Was Noah's Ark more likely to have been built according to the short cubit or the long cubit? The short or common cubit is assumed to measure approximately 18 inches (457mm), while the long or royal cubit is around 20.6 inches (524mm). 

Example 2: Short Cubit vs Long cubit


Short <  > Long

1. Biblical Account. The divinely specified temple in Ezekiel's vision is obviously a royal (long) cubit. Solomon's bronze sea makes the most sense in royal cubits, implicating the other divinely specified temple as a royal cubit construction. When Moses used terms like "the cubit of man", generally understood to mean the common cubit,  it appears reasonable to assume the rest of the time he was talking about the long cubit. If all the other divinely specified constructions used a long cubit, then Noah's Ark probably did too. Such an interpretation is not overwhelmingly conclusive, just favorable.

-32 -16 0 16 32

2. Proven scientific / engineering principles. Considering the scale of the wooden vessel, engineers would prefer the shorter cubit. However, this does not mean that the long cubit is impossible and completely out of contention. 

-16 -8 0 8 16

3. Attested archeological evidence or records. The royal cubit is clearly the best measure from the most ancient and significant constructions. 

-8 -4 0 4 8

4. Historical traditions.  Modern Creationists have been unanimous in selecting the common cubit for Noah's Ark. The artwork seen in most children's Bibles makes no attempt at taking Genesis 6:15 seriously, so this does not count in the discussion here.

-4 -2 0 2 4

5. Personal testimonies. The testimonies of "eyewitnesses" and people who claim to have found Noah's Ark are not able to shed much light on the cubit. The accounts that do make claims about dimensions generally point to a long cubit. 

-2 -1 0 1 2

Weighted Sum. The long cubit wins, 25 to 12.  A bit closer this time, and a higher scoring resolution might help when the choice is unclear. 

-4 -8 0 17 8



1. Occam's Razor (i.e., the Principle of Parsimony). The most parsimonious explanation for the sum total of the evidence is most likely to be the correct one. In other words, where there are several equally valid theories, the simplest explanation should be taken. Return to text

2. Economy of miracles. Economy of miracles is a 'principle' where God prefers to employ humans to do a job rather than use interventional miracles, or that He does not do miracles without good reason. While the whole of life and the sustaining of the universe is a continuous miracle, the intervening miracle is one which goes outside the norm of this experience. E.g. Against gravity (Elisha's axe head, Jesus on water). Miracles are not to be taken lightly ("Do not put the Lord your God to the test"), similarly we should try not to invoke miraculous intervention beyond what is clearly stated in the Biblical text. However, God is not against miracles, and Jesus performed many miracles while reiterating the importance of faith.  Return to text