O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Noah’s Ark Found! Robert Cargill Debunks!

Back in 2007, I had the pleasure of spending a day out in the California desert shooting footage for a potential cable TV project that didn’t ever work out. Long story. But it was about archaeology, and the producers brought in a real-live archaeologist to play an archaeologist in the shoot.

His name was Robert Cargill, Ph.D. He’s a man of both faith and science and has some serious credentials. Dr. Cargill has a seminary degree, has taught Hebrew Bible and New Testament courses at Pepperdine, once worked for Nicole Kidman as her personal history and religion tutor (a crazy story, btw), earned his Ph.D. from UCLA with a focus on Second Temple period archaeology and biblical studies.

Oh, and his dissertation focused on Qumran remains, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. He’s been working as a dig-in-the-dirt archaeologist for the last decade, but he does more than that: Dr. Cargill also serves as Chief Architect and Designer of the Qumran Visualization Project, a real-time virtual reconstruction of the site of Qumran.

He is way smarter than me. And if you watch closely, he shows up on a lot of History Channel and Discovery Channel shows debunking aliens and talking about the Bible. Sometimes in the same documentary!

So when all the media outlets exploded this week with the announcement that an Evangelical group called Noah’s Ark Ministries International had discovered Noah’s Ark up on Mt. Ararat, I found myself wondering what Bob thought. So I asked him.

Here’s what he said:

JB: The ark hunters said they are 99.9% certain that the wood they found in Turkey is Noah’s Ark. That number surprises me. It seems a little too certain for a science like archaeology. What do you make of this claim?

Dr. Robert Cargill: Consider me to be part of the .1%. Not only is this a sensational claim with very little credible evidence, it now appears to be a hoax. As a rule of thumb, anytime you hear 99.9%, it’s not scientific. In this case, it’s sheer sensational falsehood.

So let’s discuss the now-public suggestion that it’s a hoax. That’s what Dr. Randall Price told the Christian Science Monitor. Price is an evangelical archaeologist and a former member of the team that found the “ark.” Would serious archaeologists really be fooled by planted evidence?

Sure. A good hoax or salted (planted) evidence can fool some scholars. And of course, every single legitimate find always has a few scholars claiming it’s a forgery, often times because it doesn’t fit with their earlier claims. But while some scholars can be fooled, this is not one of those cases. The fact that this is part of a marketing campaign and bypassed scholarship altogether raises the red flag of suspicion.

From your perspective, what’s the big deal about archaeologists trying to find Noah’s Ark? Why the fascination?

Three reasons: One, the flood is one of the biblical stories that just about everyone has heard, even the non-religious. Thus, if you can find Noah’s Ark, then there must have been a flood, and if there was a flood, then the Bible is historical and true, and if the Bible is historical and true, then why don’t you accept it?

Second, the creation stories and the flood stories are stories that have zero archaeological and scientific evidence to support them, and all kinds of evidence that contradict them. Thus, they are the least likely to be historical, and are therefore under the greatest ‘attack’, at least according to Evangelicals. Thus, many feel they must defend these stories vigorously.

Finally, because the story of Noah’s Ark is so well known, and because so many want to believe them despite the evidence to the contrary, it is easy to raise money for these expeditions. The pitch is simple: “You want people to believe the Bible, don’t you? Well, if we find the Ark, the world will have to believe.” So, in order to show their faith, people give to Ark expeditions in the hopes that they contribute to something big. All they end up doing is funding free trips to Turkey for the group of tourists that make up the ‘expedition.’ They get to be honorable citizens and stay in fine hotels and all the while believe they are demonstrating their faith. After enjoying a luxurious trip abroad, they use the rest of the money to fund their various ministries. And since they never find anything, they keep coming back for more donations with the plea, “But we’re soooo close.” In that sense, it’s a scam.

What about you personally? Do you have any interest in finding archaeological proof of biblical events? Is there anything to be gained by it?

There is plenty of archaeological evidence that corroborates claims made in the Bible. We begin seeing a few of these in the 10th century BCE, but really nothing before that: no Patriarchs, no Creation, no Exodus (so-called ‘evidence’ for various Exoduses are all hoaxes as well). Not until the settlement in Canaan do we begin to see evidence of biblical claims. (We also find evidence that contradicts some of the claims made in the Bible.)

We have evidence of construction on the Temple in Jerusalem, the build up of cities like Megiddo and Lachish and Dan, evidence of a preparation in defense of an Assyrian attack on Jerusalem (2 Kings 18), evidence for an exile to Babylon, etc. Likewise, there is evidence of New Testament claims.

It is important to remember, however, that real archaeologists don’t go ‘looking for something.’ We dig. We dig and we find what we find. Wherever the evidence leads us, we go. Whatever the evidence says, we report. We don’t go looking to ‘prove the Bible.’ This is flawed methodology, because you begin seeing what you want to see or hope to see, and not what’s really there.

Is there anything else the average Christian n
eeds to know about this story?

It’s a hoax. We’ll never find Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, etc., not only because they may not be historical, but because the ancients were far better recyclers than we are. My Prius and I are no match for ancient recyclers, who would have torn or melted down and reused anything of value, especially wood and gold. Don’t base your faith on relics.

And don’t base your faith on the historicity of pre-scientific attempts to explain why things are the way they are. These are not scientific stories, they were attempts to convey thoughts about God and his activity in this world. Believe the biblical stories or don’t, but remember that just as Jesus told parables that he often made up in order to communicate a moral point, so too did the early biblical authors. (I mean, had Jesus really seen a man get robbed on the road to Jericho, don’t you think he, Jesus, would have helped?)

It’s a story that conveys an ethical principle. So are the flood stories in Genesis 6-9 and the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. One should base one’s faith on how they are to treat others, and not on ancient attempts to explain the origin of rainbows.


Thanks for the insight and expertise, Dr. Cargill. For a more in-depth rant on the whole Noah’s Ark find and some helpful links, check out this Ark-debunking post on Robert Cargill’s personal blog. Then follow him on twitter if you’d like.

Comments read comments(15)
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posted April 30, 2010 at 10:11 am

This is very interesting. I seem to remember hearing about other "discoveries" of Noah's Ark as a kid. My mother always said they were hoaxes. As for the flood story in Genesis, I recall reading in a book by Joseph Campbell that there were other cultures that used the story of the flood — but I can't remember which ones they were.

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Jason Boyett

posted April 30, 2010 at 10:19 am

Yes, several cultures have flood narratives. One of the best-known is from the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian poem from as early as 2000 years BC.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 10:52 am

I wonder what kind of percentage of these public figures of biblical literalism really believe what they preach. My guess would be close to zero.Clearly, there's money to be made in the Creationism "Science" camp. Many of the vocal proponents are fairly intelligent and pretty well educated. They must realize that if there was any truth to what they aim for, it would have surfaced long ago – and in their quest, they must have come across far more compelling evidence to the contrary.I don't doubt that the masses who believe in young earth creationism are honest in their beliefs. There's enough made up fake science and published lies out there specifically created for them to surround themselves in an environment free of challenging questions, logic and reason.It's a market, there's a demand, so a supply has formed. Is it morally sound business? Of course not. But it's out there, and it serves a huge amount of people.As for the Anonymous above, many cultures, from North American Aboriginals to Finns, have flood stories. The Finnish story involves a heroic feat by Väinämöinen, god of chants and poetry, who injures his toe and the blood that flows from it covers the earth.Floods happen all over the world, so it's natural that the stories of them become part of local mythologies. And what would be more dramatic storytelling device than a flood that covers the whole world?The Biblical flood makes a useful allegory, but that's all there is to it.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 11:13 am

Also, while these myths generally can form independently, some earlier stories have probably influenced some later ones when different cultures came to contact with each other.The Biblical flood probably has its roots in the Epic of Gilgamesh, mentioned by Jason above. How much of it is loaned, how much is based on independently formed local stories and how much was made up on the spot at the time of writing is unknown.

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The White Man

posted April 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm

"It is important to remember, however, that real archaeologists don't go 'looking for something.' We dig. We dig and we find what we find. Wherever the evidence leads us, we go."I'm trying to make sense of this. Carter wasn't looking for anything when he found King Tut's Tomb? Schliemann wasn't looking for anything when he found ancient Troy? They just took fourteen paces north from the nearest hickory tree and started digging?

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posted April 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I think there's a crucial difference between the mindsets of proper scientists and creation scientists. Real scientists follow the evidence to wherever it leads them, creation scientists set out to prove something and report only the findings that support their theory, ignoring results that don't.If in his search Carter would have discovered compelling evidence that King Tut was not real, and most of what constituted as the contemporary knowledge of Egyptology was bollocks, he would have reported that.In that sense, while archaeologists don't exactly dig at random, they don't set out to find only evidence that supports a certain theory. Even if they subscribed to a certain theory, and the evidence they discovered disproved that, it would be a success for them, not a failure.

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Robert R. Cargill

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm

it is important to distinguish between early 'archaeology' and the modern science of archaeology. early archaeology was little more than treasure hunting, and people did, in fact, go out and look for specific things. they even called them quests. others stumbled upon items, and they proceeded to dig the place apart until they found the 'treasure.' they then looted the ‘treasure’ to other countries, and this explains why there are egyptian obelisks in france, the greek parthenon marbles in england, and italian statues in the usa.modern archaeology is much different. many excavations do, in fact, begin because a tractor was plowing in a field or a bulldozer was clearing the way for a highway or hotel. archaeologists then come in and establish a systematic excavation. whatever they find, they publish. however, these guys began a ministry (not an archaeological group, but a ministry) with the purpose of questing after noah’s ark. this is not good archaeology (even 100 years ago).

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Jason Boyett

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm

@theWhiteMan: Thanks for the question.@Bob Thanks for the clarifying answer.

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Tess Mallory

posted April 30, 2010 at 7:24 pm

VERY interesting blog! Thank you Dr. Cargill for the info, and Jason for hosting him!

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Andre V

posted May 1, 2010 at 12:43 am

I get that the history of ark finds is a hoax. But where science meets scripture to unveil history, I have some thoughts. Experimental science is a tool, which thus has limits, as do all tools. Explaining or debunking the supernatural is not within it’s limits, just the material world. According to Robert Oppenheimer and Alfred North Whitehead, modern science was born out of the Christian world view – rational God, non-absurd and therefore investigable universe, and so forth. Many atheist scientists have agreed to that thesis. Many of the fathers of modern science were professing believers, many founded entire fields since — Copernicus & Kepler (celestial mechanics), Francis Bacon (called “the major prophet of the scientific revolution”), Blaise Pascal (hydrostatics and the Shakespeare of French), Robert Boyle (chemistry), John Ray (natural history), George Culver (comparative anatomy), Lister (antiseptic surgery), Pasteur (bacteriology), and Mendel (genetics), and so on.Before archeology met modern science — and shortly thereafter its birth of biblical archeology – biblical nihilism was fairly popular, particularly with the advent 200 years or so ago of liberal biblical criticism in Germany. It held that the whole of the bible was morality tails with no real history to be found there. The credibility of that theory died with the first discoveries confirming Old Testament figures. Names and places like Sargon, Hittites, Belshazzar, David, Sodom & Gomorrah, etc., were considered confabulations until evidence of their reality became known. The assertion that current evidence contradicts parts of the Bible is no problem for me. Not so long ago, nihilism was hard to dismiss based on current evidence, as there was none; now, not so. With more time and more finds – plus learning where our interpretation of passages needed some help – I think the Bible will continue to prove itself as valid. It is, after all, the only major religious book off of which archeology has been done successfully. It just commits itself to too many times and places to ignore, much unlike other scriptures.Astrophysicist & pastor Dr. Hugh Ross notes that science now points back to a Creator. Astronomy identifies well over 30 separate characteristics of the universe and over 110 of our own galaxy and solar system each requiring “exquisite fine-tuning” to allow physical life to exist; things are tailor made for us. The hot big bang model & theory of general relativity (not moral relativism) declare space and time had a specific point of origin; the universe was created, thus requiring a Creator existing outside of time and space. Per Dr. Ross, the claim that a Creator made time ad space in a singular moment is a unique creation doctrine found only in the Bible. On that point very much is written by scientists of faith and those not as well. Thus, I’m perplexed that Dr. Cargill would say the creation stories have zero scientific evidence – the Bible reflected the big bang theory long before science arrived at it. has ample articles and books available on this and more.Perhaps Dr. Cargill can visit with Drs. Ross, Rana, Zweerink – all scientists of note – and Ken Samples (their theologian, philosopher, academic) at Reasons to Believe in Pasadena and compare notes. Thanks for your blog and allowing this post.Andre Van Mol, MD

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posted May 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

As most works of fiction, the bible references to real places and names. So does the Twilight series. Indisputable evidence for the existence of Forks, WA doesn't lend much credible support to a theory that glittery vampires exist (despite what millions of teenage girls would want).

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posted May 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

The supposition that the Ark(If it was real) was dismantled completely is not realistic. It took 8 people over 50 yrs to build it. It landed in a harsh non settlement area, why would anyone want to return for wood when likely God would have sped up the Earths recovery from the Deluge? Also it would take time for the population to grow and mature…by then the Ark would start becoming the stuff of myth. The most interesting thing about this particular claim is the diverse amount of samples they have(i.e. stone,wood,rope,pellets of some sort?) enough to allow for lots of testing…

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Nicodemus at Nite

posted May 7, 2010 at 7:11 am

My current pastor was talking about how 8 people could build the ark and he said, "I know exactly how they were able to do it." His eyes got wide and he said, "The dinosaurs! Noah used them to bring him materials."Maybe, but that sounds like the Flintstones to me. I mean, who really cares how they did

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posted May 13, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I think it would have been rather rude of Noah to use the dinosaurs as slave labour, and then lock up the ark before they could board."Nyah nyah nyah! Drown, you slimy basterds!"

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posted September 28, 2014 at 5:57 am

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it helped me out much. I hope to present something back and aid others such as you helped me.

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