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by Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D.

[image] Figure at right: A modified model of Tycho Brahe's system in which the sun is at the geometric center of the universe and the earth is at the dynamic center of the universe. This model "saves all the appearances" of the heliocentric model but does so in a geocentric framework.


For many years people have puzzled over why the excellent scholars who translated the King James Bible chose to translate the Hebrew word raqiya as "firmament" in Genesis chapter one. This bewilderment is compounded by the fact that whereas the word firmament suggests something solid, it is clearly stated in verse 8 that the firmament is synonymous with heaven; and that the sun, moon, and stars are actually located inside the firmament (verse 17), as if embedded therein. Verse 20 also states that there is an open firmament and from the context it is obvious that that is the atmosphere. This means that the firmament need not appear solid, as the word might at first sight suggest. Since the root word of the Hebrew suggests something at least as firm as metal, it is no wonder that there has been so much bewilderment.

The resulting confusion has led many to speculate that the firmament is nothing more than a solid shell about the heaven. But this ignores the very equating of the word with heaven itself. Since motion is clearly allowed on the part of the planets (which are also referred to as stars in the Bible) and comets, as well as sun moon and stars, the solid-shell model runs immediately contrary to Scripture. Likewise, the comparatively recent equating of the word firmament with canopy does not agree with the clear statement of Scripture that the celestial bodies are set "in the firmament of the heaven" (Genesis 1:17). The Bible insists that the firmament, as heaven, includes the astronomical objects. We, as Bible believers, are obligated to accept this; but is the idea scientifically feasible? It turns out that it is.

Scientific View of the Firmament

Twentieth century science has afforded us a new perspective on the firmament. The view that develops is one of a very solid material, so solid that it is indistinguishable from an infinitely dense medium insofar as the material in the universe is concerned. The firmament is actually a created medium with a density of about 4 x 1093 (a 4 followed by 93 zeros) grams per cubic centimeter (gm/cm3). This density is known to physics as the Planck Density. It is so high that the very highest material densities in the universe (nuclear densities of 1014 gm/cm3) are as next to nothing when compared to it; just as the density of a cloud (about 10-6 gm/cm3) is negligible when compared to the density of air (about 0.001 gm/cm3).

A medium of such a high density has some interesting properties. One would think, for example, that it would be impossible to move in such a medium, just as one could not move if encased in iron -- even if one were made of iron! Normally this is true; but it was demonstrated earlier in this century that if the medium were eternal and uncreated, that motion can happen in it as long as objects moved in cyclical paths, e.g. waves. In this way the medium would fill in the space left in the wake of the moving object. Now it turns out that such a medium, called a plenum, can be simulated by a non-infinitely dense, created medium if the material inside it merely perceives itself to be in a true plenum.

In order to hide its finite properties from the material in the universe, the firmament, as this created medium is called, could not be allowed to reveal its true age, density, nor allow the determination of absolute positions within it. In this way, time and position would be kept indeterminate, where the word indeterminate is a mathematical synonym for infinite. The indeterminacy of position and time (also energy and momentum which are essentially changes in position and time) is popularly called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The truth of this principle has been demonstrated by numerous experiments. In short, this means that the firmament is an underlying medium. The atoms and galaxies of our universe are merely tiny, insignificant disturbances in the firmament. Because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle they are totally unaware of the firmament's existence. If it were not for Scripture, we would be equally unaware of it. Only on extremely small scales, distances of the order of a Planck length (about 10-33 cm and time scale of about 10-44 second) does the firmament show through the warp and woof of space. The Planck length is a much smaller than a man as man is to 100,000,000 universes laid side-by-side!

Properties of the Firmament

The above model of the firmament makes some interesting predictions. First of all, the reaction time of the firmament to any change within it is about 10-78 second, faster by far than any chemical, atomic, or nuclear reaction. One wonders if this is how long it would take the Lord to melt all the elements with a fervent heat.

Second of the predictions is the fact that on scales where Planck's Constant is important (nuclear sizes and universal sizes), the masses of objects in that realm vary inversely with area. In other words, the bigger the object, the less its mass. On scales in between these two extremely small and extremely large ones, the equations show that the mass must vary directly with volume. That is, in the realm of the "every-day world" of people, stars, planets and galaxies, the bigger the object, the bigger its mass.

Although this may seem contradictory, it is well known in nuclear physics. For example, an electron "surrounds" a proton in an atom because it has a smaller mass and so is "bigger" than the proton. That the universe becomes less massive on its scale is a new perspective due to the firmament theory, although it is implicit in evolutionary speculations on the origin of the universe, such as the big-bang, as well as in theories which deal with the universe as a whole.


From the perspective of modern science, the firmament as put forth in Genesis chapter one is a very viable scientific option. It is a super-dense, created medium which mimics a plenum. It does so by both keeping absolute position and time indeterminate within it (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), as well as allowing only wave motions and thus disallowing absolutely straight-line motion. It reacts instantly to any changes within it (in about 10-78 sec). Material objects can only become vaguely aware of its existence on extremely large scales (of the order of the size of the universe) and on extremely small scales (of the order of sub-nuclear particles). All such phenomena have been noted before in the scientific literature.

For more information contact:

The Biblical Astronomer

4527 Wetzel Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44109

Last modified on 26 July, 2000 / GDB