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ATMOSPHERIC EVOLUTION—Has our atmosphere Evolved over time?

Satellite Weather PhotoIn the creationist view, the atmosphere was fully functioning by the third day, when plants appeared; on the fifth day, birds flew and fish swam the seas (Genesis 1:11, 20). Thus there is no biblical evidence for a slowly evolving atmosphere.

In the naturalistic view, however, the earth's atmosphere is required to have changed drastically over time. Air on the early earth is assumed to have come from volcanic gases and from meteorite bombardment.

Some scientists believe the primitive earth had gases somewhat similar to present-day Venus and Mars: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), water vapor (H2O), hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), and ammonia (NH3).

Scientists have no general agreement on which of these gases might have dominated the early atmosphere, and, in fact, engage in considerable debate over the early existence of methane and ammonia.

This supposed early atmosphere is called reducing; it would have supplied electrons to substances and chemically reduced them to other forms. This reducing process often separates molecules into smaller components. Thus, the early atmosphere would actually have broken down any building blocks of life that were present.

Other speculations on the forming of today's atmosphere are also highly questionable, such as these:

  1. Anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria came to life in the sea.

  2. Blue-green algae evolved and began making oxygen by photosynthesis. A half-billion years ago the oxygen level finally reached its present value.

Clearly this speculation is closely connected with the assumed evolution of life. However, geochemical evidence for the assumed early atmosphere theory has added unnecessary complications to our understanding of the earth's atmosphere.

Some “old earth” creationists have attempted to find divine direction in the evolution of the earth's atmosphere. They emphasize that blue-green algae came along at just the opportune time, making oxygen in preparation for higher forms of life. They also suggest that early, heavy carbon dioxide concentrations dwindled just in time to avoid runaway greenhouse warming on earth. Thus God directed a slowly changing atmosphere for our eventual benefit. This reasoning is certainly interesting, but these cautions are advised:

  1. If the young-age view is correct, then this compromise with the evolutionary time scale is misleading.

  2. No general agreement or evidence exists that the atmosphere was once abundant with carbon dioxide, or depleted in oxygen.

  3. Secular scientists usually are not impressed by “theistic evolution” arguments. The atmosphere did somehow evolve in step with life, they say, regardless of probabilities against it.

  4. In Genesis 1:11, land plants and trees are described as the first life on earth. The compromise view begins with algae in water, and then with land vegetation appearing long afterward, about one billion years later.

Weather and the Bible
Content adapted from
Weather and the Bible

The idea of a slow, providential alteration of earth's air in preparation for life might sound appealing to some, at first. However, accomodation to long-age, evolutionary views eventually leads to deeper problems theological and scientific.

The refreshing alternative is that the earth's atmosphere was created with maturity, complete with the oxygen that our first parents, Adam and Eve, needed.

Author: Dr. Donald DeYoung, Ph.D. (Physics) as excerpted from Weather and the Bible, pgs. 128-130, published by Baker Book House

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