Welcome back! If you’ll remember from part 1 of these articles, we have been looking at how the days of creation correlate with our current understanding of how the Earth was formed. Today we’ll be continuing that discussion and trying to find out how our Earth got it’s water. Hopefully we will be able to see how a little understanding of science can go a long way to uncovering some of the mysteries of the Biblical creation story.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
The second day of the creation story is the most confusing and hard to understand of the whole creation. Many Biblical readers have scratched their head over this passage because it is not exactly clear what is being discussed. There is waters, firmaments, dividing and so on. Unfortunately I don’t know the Hebrew for this passage, so I can’t help there. However, I know a little about science and a little bit of knowledge can help us understand what happened during the second day.
When we last left the Earth, it was a hostile environment with an atmosphere composed of water and other substances. As much as it was nice to have an atmosphere of this composition, the Earth itself was still far to hot to support liquid water on its surface. As far as we can tell, liquid water is a prerequisite to life, so the lack of the substance is a real problem for us. Fortunately as the Earth gets older it also starts cooling down to the point that it will support liquid water on its surface. The time has come to make it rain.
This is where science runs into a bit of a problem. We don’t know exactly how Earth’s surface water came to be. A few theories have been brought forward which are worth investigating. Most likely, a combination of different events deposited the water on the Earth, and these theories each describe a part of it. The first theory describes the idea that outgasing was responsible for the oceans of the Earth. Water itself is not incredibly uncommon in space. Sure, there isn’t a lot of it, but it does exist. As the Earth was being formed along the planetary disk of our new sun, it is likely that it was able to capture some of the interplanetary water left over from the stellar nebula that formed the sun. During the time that it was forming, this water could have been released into the air in the form of steam. Some of it would have evaporated off into space but some of it would have been trapped in the newly formed Earth atmosphere.
As strange as this sounds, the European Space Agency has recently made a discovery that would lend some validity to this theory. The have found that the dwarf planet Ceres is actually leaking water at a rate of 6 kilograms per second. This water vapor seems to have been trapped under the surface of Ceres during it’s formation. Ceres is far to small to support a sizable atmosphere but what little it has is mostly formed from water. Interestingly enough, Ceres isn’t the only place in our universe where this happens. Water plumes have also been found being ejected from the surface of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn (see image above). These discoveries help us understand the possible source of Earth water and show us that water may be more abundant than we thought in the solar system.
A more exotic theory may also account for the water on the surface of the planet. In the 20th century scientists began to study comets intensely and were able to discover some important characteristics of these wanderers. It was proposed as early as 1950 that comets were mostly composed of ice with some rock mixed in. These theories were supported by various probes that studied Halley’s comet and most recently by the dramatic Deep Impact mission. With the knowledge that comets are mostly water, scientists have proposed that comet impacts may have deposited large amounts of water on our surface. Nowadays, comets are mostly found beyond Neptune in the Oort could, but they may have been very common in the early solar system. Impacts from comets may have deposited much of our water that formed both our atmosphere and our oceans.
Another culprit may have been asteroids, like the ones that we find in the asteroid belt. Scientists have discovered that the chemical makeup of asteroids is close to that of Earth. Seeing as asteroids are more common than comets, they have played a bigger role in the formation of water on the Earth. Ceres (the dwarf planet mentioned above) resides in the asteroid belt, so the recent ESA discover helps solidify this theory. Whatever the case, it seems evident that near the end of this period of Earth history large quantities of atmospheric water from comets, asteroids, and outgasing where deposited on Earth in essentially a giant rain storm.
So what about the passage in the Bible? What does it mean? Well it seems as though at the beginning of this period the Earth had only one body of water; the atmosphere. When theBiblical account describes the separation of these waters into two waters, it seems to be describing the formation of the oceans and the possible rain that came down from the atmosphere. Essentially, God divided the waters into the atmosphere and the oceans. The firmament that is called the heavens seems to describe the sky. Ancient cultures had little understanding of atmospheres (namely that it all the air from the surface of the planet to the exosphere more or less has the same composition) so it seems possible that they viewed the sky (or the heavens) as some sort of barrier between the surface of the Earth and the clouds above. Since water falls from clouds, it is logical that they would view the clouds as the water above and the ocean as the water below. Thus the description of the second day makes a little more sense.
Be sure to keep reading in Pt.3 where we discuss geology and the first forms of life!