Blue whales on Noah’s Ark?

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  • On reason and religion

Are reason and religion two non-overlapping domains? Many Muslims would argue that that’s not the case. The Quran repeatedly invites its reader to use his intellect. Unfortunately, not all Muslims heed this advice. A common complaint of atheists is that Muslims are guilty of suspending their reasoning faculty in all matters religious. To be fair, there are Muslims who answer to this description. Out of those, many do it unconsciously, and therefore they wouldn’t admit to any such thing. There are some, however, who proudly declare that their religious beliefs are beyond reason, which is unfortunate to say the least.

What about the atheists though? Surely, one would expect them to fare better on the rationality front, considering how they pride themselves on using their intellect. Unfortunately, many of them are guilty of precisely the same thing that they accuse the Muslims of; no matter how reasonable and intelligent they may be in worldly matters, as soon as the conversation turns to religious matters, their much vaunted rationality is nowhere to be seen. And this is true not just of the atheist by birth – yes, we now have this variety as well. Whether this is innocent or by design is another question, to which I shall return shortly.

It’s hardly surprising that suspension of the intellect, whether conscious or unconscious, whether by an atheist or by a theist, and whether innocently or by design, yields some very unfortunate results

Anybody who has had discussions with atheists over any length of time knows that it’s the same old ‘arguments’ leading to the same conclusions, over and over. But it’s not as much the conclusions, but the quality of the arguments that leaves a lot to be desired, and which I want to talk about. ‘How could Noah possibly build an ark that could have accommodated millions of species?’ is one such familiar line of ‘reasoning’. Recently, this was presented – for probably the millionth time since the start of this millennium alone- in a discussion on social media, supposedly as a conclusive argument that disproved, once for all, Noah’s Flood. Just consider the list of things this argument obviously takes for granted: that the Flood was global; that pairs of each species on the planet needed to be carried; that all theists agree on these details; and that the straw man won’t be detected.

As a rule, these debates are tedious on account of proceeding along worn-out lines; but if one is lucky there is sometimes an unexpected twist that makes the whole thing quite entertaining. The recent debate was one such occasion. ‘Why did blue whales, for example, need to be on the ark in the first place? Being sea-creatures, couldn’t they have easily coped with the Flood?’ I had objected. To which I was informed (in earnest) that whales can only survive in sea water and not in fresh water. Very ingenious, except it would have made Noah’s task a tad harder by necessitating huge compartments full of sea water on board his ark. Not to mention the small matter of convincing a pair of blue whales to somehow transport themselves into them. I don’t know what is worse: to believe something this silly or to expect others to believe something this silly.

It’s obvious that the pairs of animals in question were never anything more than domesticated animals in everyday use of those who were going to board the ark with Noah. That’s because though it was a local flood, sooner or later water was going to subside, necessitating a fresh start on ground. It’s never explained why the survivors would have needed giraffes, elephants, kangaroos, lemurs, whales, sharks and insects of all sorts to start their new life. Some atheists point out the phrase ‘two mates of every kind’ [11:40, 23:27] and conclude that the Quran tells Noah to include all species of the world. Again, this confusion is there only because it’s a religious matter under discussion. Had similar language been used in a more worldly context, there would have been no confusion whatsoever, for the average person is more likely to use his head in that case. For example, if a professor instructs his TA to inform ‘all students’ that that week’s class has been postponed till a later date, it’s a safe bet that the TA (howsoever hardened an atheist he may be) would simply inform the students taking the course in question, instead of worrying about compiling contact info of all students on the face of the planet. It’s hardly surprising that suspension of the intellect, whether conscious or unconscious, whether by an atheist or by a theist, and whether innocently or by design, yields some very unfortunate results.

By no means am I accusing all atheists of being manipulative. Such cases exist; I have no doubt. But most often it’s unconscious on the part of the atheist, who while thinking little of religion, presents a particularly foolish version of a belief to the Muslim and asks how the latter could be so naïve as to believe it. The Muslim, on his part, feels so obliged to defend ‘his’ belief that he doesn’t even pause to think whether he believes that in the first place, allowing himself to be led by his nose. My gripe is with this type of Muslim.