Glenn Branch's picture

The Mysterious Mr. Moore, Part 1

One of the most popular resources on NCSE’s website is Robert A. Moore’s “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark,” which originally appeared in Creation/Evolution 4(1):1–47 in 1983—which, indeed, was the whole of that issue. In the space of just a shade under twenty thousand words, Moore’s article carefully and systematically argues that “the story of the great flood and the voyage of the ark, as expounded by modern creationists, contains so many incredible ‘violations of the laws of nature’ [he is quoting David Hume] that it cannot possibly be accepted by any thinking person.” The author bio describes Moore as “a writer on religious subjects, [who] has testified at hearings on church-state issues and is an experienced mountain climber (with no intention of joining any ark expedition).” But it wasn’t until a researcher asked us for biographical information about Moore that I realized how little we knew about him.

In 1983, Creation/Evolution was run by the American Humanist Association and edited by Fred Edwords. It was acquired by NCSE in 1991, and John R. Cole succeeded Edwords as its editor; it was merged with NCSE’s newsletter NCSE Reports in 1997, producing Reports of the NCSE. When NCSE acquired Creation/Evolution, it also acquired the editorial files of the journal, which contain Edwords’s correspondence with Moore. The story starts on February 15, 1981, when Moore wrote to Edwords to propose that he submit “an article on the subject of the alleged discovery of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat,” in which he would “show how the preservation of the ark has come to be a major creationist argument, and through this demonstrate their defective reasoning historically as well as scientifically.” Moore noted that he was “not a biologist, geologist[,] or paleontologist,” but said that he had studied religious fundamentalism extensively.

Edwords was encouraging in reply, and Moore submitted a manuscript within the month. On March 20, 1981, Edwords wrote, “You are to be congratulated on an excellent piece of writing,” adding, “I can’t see how anyone needs to read another ark book, except maybe to look up the material you cite for effective debunking.” Moore’s “Arkeology: A New Science in Support of Creation?” was published in Creation/Evolution 2(4):6–15 in 1981. Moore there concluded, “It can be stated with assurance that there is not now, nor has there ever been a huge ship equipped with cages and stalls for animals and piloted by a man named Noah on the summit of Mt. Ararat or Jabal Judi or any other peak, and the creationist use of this as a definitive refutation of evolution and historical geology merely shows the weakness of their overall case.” But Edwords wasn’t done with Moore—and Moore wasn’t done with the ark—yet.

Earlier, in February 1981, Edwords had mentioned to Moore that he hoped, with Chris Weber, to write a refutation of Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb Jr.’s claims about the viability of Noah’s Ark, originally published in The Genesis Flood (1961). But Weber was apparently sending Edwords mixed signals about his availability, and by July 1981, Edwords decided that Moore would be up to the task, and proposed that he write the article. “I would be willing to give it a try,” Moore replied. “My only hesitation would be if the article required a lot of expertise in biology or geology...I can handle some technical matters at the university library, since creationism is really just a perverse literary criticism that hunts for errors and exploits them.” In September 1981, as “Arkeology” was in press, Edwords sent Moore the outline he had devised for the refutation. Weber subsequently bowed out and Moore was already hard at work.

Moore told Edwords in a December 1, 1981, letter that his research was mostly completed, “but there are a few loose ends that are difficult...creationists, like my small children, ask questions and pose issues that legitimate scientists never consider, so one can read through the best zoology text and get no help. What botanist, for example, seriously ponders the fate of seeds buried under mountains of waters for a year?” A reply from Edwords suggested, in effect, that Moore turn the tables on the creationists here: “if the animals all hibernated...what are the effects of a ship’s rocking motions, faced with 100 ft. high waves, on h[i]bernating animals? Have any experiments been performed?” “Speculation and rationalization just won’t do,” he added. “And if they call in miracles (as they do), then their theory disappears, since there is no theory, no matter how absurd and ancient, that can’t be patched up by the judicious use of a few well-placed miracles.”

In their following correspondence, Moore and Edwords were obviously having a wonderful time in pursuing the claims of “arkeology” to their ridiculous conclusions. Moore wrote, “I’m contemplating a scene with poor Japheth carrying a jar of ants and a handful of eucalyptus leaves through the pitch black, stinking, mucky, fly-infested corridors, constantly being thrown by the rocky boat into the muddy floor, trying to save the koala and the anteater from extinction.” In reply, Edwords suggested that “your jar of ants to feed the anteater might not be ‘kosher.’ You see, there [were] only to be two ants on the Ark, so how do ANY carnivor[o]us animals live?” Appealing to hibernation, and a resultant ability to survive without sustenance, would be of no avail, he added, since anteaters don’t hibernate. It was evidently unnecessary for Edwords to add that invoking a miracle here would only prove his point from his earlier letter.

On May 14, 1982 (misdated 1981), Moore sent his manuscript—unbound, since his stapler was incapable of binding anything so thick—which “tried to do a tour de force on poor old Noah and sink his ship for once and for all.” Edwords was “astounded and impressed,” making only a few suggestions for improving it. Moore too often assumed too much prior knowledge of creationism, and didn’t always identify whether people quoted in his article were creationists or not. But overall, Edwords was thrilled, writing, “I knew there was a compelling story here in just trying to make sense out of the ark story, and you provided it.” And he commended Moore for providing “a very humorous gathering of facts” while at the same time avoiding “sarcasm and slaps” for the most part, letting the absurdities of the ark story speak for themselves. The problem now facing Edwords was how to get such a long article into print, addressed in part 2.