Where Did Earth’s Water Come From? Talmud & Science

The Question: Earth’s Water Came From Where?

MinuteEarth / MinutePhysics are great YouTube channels discussing various topics about earth / physics in short videos.  I highly recommend them.  The writer, a theoretical physicist, even has a video on the origins of modern scientific views on the the world having a beginning, giving a nod to theologians.

One of his recent videos on the origins of Earth’s water got my thinking.  Here’s the video:

The short version, if you want to save a few minutes, is that water molecules contain hydrogen and oxygen.  Hydrogen is usually made up of one proton and one electron, however, a very tiny fraction of hydrogen molecules also have a neutron.  This is called deuterium.  Here’s the problem: according to scientific theory, when the Earth was forming and there was no atmosphere, any water would have boiled off and the planet should be as barren as everything else this side of the Kepler belt.  Further, the water found on Earth matches the deuterium ratio of the outer solar system.

Far-fetched Theory or Fact: Comets

The prevalent scientific theory has been that water on Earth comes from comets with water hitting the Earth after the atmosphere was formed.   This even even reported as fact by science museums, so it must be true, right?  Below is a picture of a sign from the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY:

comets-oceans[Begin Gripe] Click on the image to see it bigger and clearer.  I love science museums, but it a huge pet peeve of mine when they teach theory as fact (see a similar post about the Harvard Museum) … especially when it’s a theory with so many problems.  The theories are rapidly changing, bit I suspect the next sign in the museum will state the next theory just as unequivocally.  It’s the inverse equivalent of the “G_d of the gaps” fallacy – when you don’t have a good answer, instead of saying “mystery of G_d” you say to an 8 year old, “here’s the least absurd thing we can think of right now that we’re going to pass off as unequivocal truth so you don’t look further.” We laugh at plenty of things in science books of twenty years ago, and apparently, twenty years from now we’ll still be doing that while meanwhile a bunch of non-thinking people will continue to put their unquestioned faith in the high priests of science who claim superior knowledge. [End Gripe]

Questioning the Comet Theory

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth and “happen” not to cover just some puddles (as would by my guess given the amount of space and relative sizes of the planet and comets) or the entire thing (if we’re talking about 4 billion years of consistent bombardment).  Why, if comets are hitting the Earth and providing water would the size of our land masses, even if moving, just conveniently stay about the same for the past hundred of millions of years?

Then further, that’s a whole lot of outer solar system comets that managed to hit Earth and miss … everything else in the “vicinity.”  Why did all these ice comets “happen” to nearly completely miss Mars and our moon?  Is Earth such a bigger target?  (See more about water on Mars from an article that just came out a day before this post – it’s a quickly changing topic.)

Contemporaneous with this article, the European Space Agency has landed a probe on an outer solar system comet and the deuterium doesn’t match.  The scientific theory is already shifting . . . no, no… not comets… how about asteroids.  That seems to have the same problem to me, but now you have to say further, “the comets [with the wrong levels of deuterium] missed Earth but the asteroids [with presumably the right levels of deuterium which has yet to be determined] hit Earth.”  I don’t buy it.

The Less Crazy Theory: Rocks Turned Into Water

This theory has been gaining momentum just this past year.  It would take 1/3 of 1% (by current estimates) of the rocks in the mantle of the Earth to be composed of water trapped in ringwoodite rocks to equal the water in the oceans.  Ringwoodite is some pretty neat stuff, only discovered in 1969.  The numerous biblical references to water from rocks don’t seem to mysterious and it appears, once again, like the beginning of the universe, science and Torah are converging.  Further, the theory makes a whole lot more sense.  The reason Earth’s water didn’t all boil off pre-atmosphere is because, in this theory, it was under the surface and came out over time, the pre-Earth mass with ice being formed from the same stuff as the outer solar system, so as to match the deuterium levels in our own water.

The Talmud on Water Creation

First, there is at least one source, in Sanhedrin, for boiling water in the oceans.  Then, as for the creation of water itself, the second perek [chapter] of Chagigah is quite intriguing.  The whole thing is here, with phrase by phrase translation.  I am only pulling out bits and pieces here, for brevity.  First, the mishnah tells us that even if we understand, we cannot teach to another “THE WORK OF CREATION IN THE PRESENCE OF TWO, NOR THE CHARIOT IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE, UNLESS HE IS A SAGE AND UNDERSTANDS OF HIS OWN KNOWLEDGE.”  So creation itself is just under the hiddenness of creation as seeing heavenly creatures.   Rav Meiselman says that once something is revealed, it is like it has taught itself, so we can discuss such things which have “revealed themselves” publicly today.

The very second verse of the Torah, describing creation, states:

ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. 2 Now the earth was unformed [tohu] and void [vohu], and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.

The Gemora [Tamud] tells us, “It is taught: Tohu is a green line that encompasses the whole world out of which darkness proceeds . . . vohu, this means the slimy stones that are sunk in the deep, out of which the waters proceed”

I think it is reasonable to understand this in line with water created from deeply sunk rocks!  That’s where some sort of “water” comes from!  The waters extended up from the depth until G_d said, “Enough!”  tells us other sources.  Other midrashim tell us how Dovid HaMelech [King David] dug down to these waters which threatened to flood the Earth again.  The Earth’s water coming from rocks under the surface certainly has it’s sources in Torah.

Now, this comes with the standard disclaimers … it’s nice when you find theories in science and Torah that match, but some of science is in flux, and so is some of our understanding of Torah so with moving targets, it’s just another point of confirmation that may or may not stand the test of time, but I still like it as of this writing because the theory of our water from underground rocks makes the most sense, based on what I understand, from both a scientific and Torah perspective.  In doing so, i reject the theory that ocean water comes (in any significant quantity) from comets or asteroids, as the current scientific theory states.

What Else Does the Talmud Have to Say Over Here

Jump down to page 5 over here to read, in English, more of the account of how things were created according to the Torah.  Some of it matches our modern understanding, some does not.  For example, I find this interesting and perplexing:  “Rav Yehudah said that Rav said: The first man [extended] from one end of the world to the other … as soon as he sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, placed His hand upon him and diminished him.”  Does this mean that “man” as we know us was not the 6 foot tall flesh and blood creature?  I picture The Little Prince on his own world or a baby in a womb, the womb being the entire universe at the time, and then the entire nature of the world became concertized into something closer the form we know it today once man was expelled from the garden.  It’s all just conjecture, but fits in with Rav Meiselman‘s point about not being able to understand previous time epics through extrapolation using present physics, rendering such theories meaningless.  Or, it might also fit with those who take the Torah’s account of creation to not be literal in any case, such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at the complete other end of the spectrum.  Perhaps there is really no difference between the two “opposite” opinions.  It is something I grapple with all the time, for which the only thing I know is that I will never know.



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