©2002  by Gerard Wakefield
(This article may be copied for educational purposes only.)

"Biblical and Scientific Facts about Our Atmosphere"

Harvard University's Stephen Jay Gould is the world's leading proponent of the theory of evolution and a staunch anti-Creationist. In the July/August 2000 issue of Natural History, he wrote a column dismissing Genesis One as a "creation myth." In order to explain why Gen. 1:7 mentions waters above the firmament (that is, in the atmosphere), Prof. Gould posited the following theory:

Our ancestors did not understand that ocean surfaces evaporate to form clouds that return water as rain. Thus for them, the location of life-giving water in two maximally separated realms - at their feet in rivers and seas, and from the upper reaches of the sky as rain - must have generated a major puzzle demanding resolution at the fundamental level of creation itself (Gould 28).

Because our primitive ancestors could not figure out that bodies of water evaporate back into the atmosphere, Gould is claiming, they had to invent a creation "myth" that mentioned a large body of water in the atmosphere as the source of rain.

The fatal flaw in this theory is that, while "our ancestors" may not have known about the unobservable fact of evaporation, and about the connection between atmospheric water and the water found on the surface of the planet, the divinely inspired authors of the Bible were well acquainted with these facts. An outstanding example of this is Job, who was aware of the true nature of clouds:  "[God] maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly" (Job 36:27-28). In the original Hebrew, the term "maketh small" is gara', which is also translated, in the very same chapter, as "withdraw" - Job 36:7 states that God "withdraweth [gara'] not his eyes from the righteous." In Ecc. 3:14, the same Hebrew word is used in the sense of "taking away." In other words, Job is saying that clouds consist of evaporated water which has been "withdrawn" or "taken away" from the surface of the planet - taken back to the clouds in distilled form, and then dropped again as rain on the face of the earth. (In fact, a modern translation such as the New International Version translates the opening phrase of Job 36:27 as "He [God] draws up the drops of water...").

Additional insight into the scientifically correct nature of our atmosphere and its water can be found in Ec. 1:6-7, where Solomon wrote: "The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again." This ocean-centered, earth-wide system of interconnected wind and water is known to modern science as the hydrologic cycle. Frank Press of the National Academy of Sciences and Raymond Siever of Harvard write:

Not only is our planet very watery, but gravity ensures that it will stay that way. Although much water is moved around from one place to another, the total is conserved. The hydrologic cycle is a simplified description of the ways in which waters move from one place to another and of the amounts transported.

The external heat engine of Earth, powered by the sun, drives the hydrologic cycle at the surface. It does so mainly by evaporating water from the surface of the warm oceans of the tropics and transporting it by winds, themselves driven by the temperature differences between the hot and cold parts of the globe. The water in the atmosphere condenses to clouds and eventually falls as rain or snow [Job 36:27-28]. Much of the rain soaks into the ground by infiltration to form groundwater [Is. 55:10a]. What does not soak in collects as runoff, which finds its way into streams and rivers and runs back into the oceans [Ec. 1:7]. Some of the water in the ground may return directly to the atmosphere by evaporating through the soil surface. (Press & Siever 130-131). [emphases original]

Yes, there is indeed a gargantuan amount of water in our atmosphere, as Gen. 1:7 states. And yes, the ancients did not know where it came from, because they could not detect evaporation with the unaided eye. Job and Solomon, however, benefiting from the gift of divine inspiration, were well aware of the hydrologic cycle and of the fact that atmospheric water derives from the invisible evaporation of water from the earth's surface. Given these facts, there is no need to postulate elaborate theories claiming that the Creation account found in the Book of Genesis is unscientific, and that this account includes a mention of atmospheric water only because "our ancestors" couldn't think of any better explanation for the fact that rain comes from the sky.


Gould, S. J. (2000). "The Narthex of San Marco and the Pangenetic Paradigm." Natural History 109:6.

Press, F., and R. Siever. (1982). Earth, 3rd ed. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman & Co.

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