The Layers of the Atmosphere

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"The Layers of the Atmosphere" is a document by Harun Yahya that purports to show that the Qur'an contains scientific foreknowledge when it "predicted" the "seven" layers of the atmosphere.

The following is a side-by-side rebuttal.


"The Layers of the Atmosphere", Harun Yahya[1] RationalWiki:

"One fact about the universe revealed in the verses of the Qur'an is that the sky is made up of seven layers: [Verses 2:29 and 41:11-12 omitted; see here and here.] The word 'heavens,' which appears in many verses in the Qur'an, is used to refer to the sky above the Earth, as well as the entire universe. Given this meaning of the word, it is seen that the Earth's sky, or the atmosphere, is made up of seven layers. Apparently, from the Qur'an, Harun Yahya has decided that the atmosphere has seven layers, and then uses this to prove that the Qur'an is correct. Fascinating.

Today, it is known that the world's atmosphere consists of different layers that lie on top of each other. The atmosphere does have different layers. However, the borders between each are fuzzy and often overlap.

Based on the chemical contents or air temperature, the definitions made have determined the atmosphere of the earth as seven layers. Indeed, this is part of how the layers of the atmosphere have been determined.[2] However, not all determinations arrive at seven layers, as shown here and here.

According to the 'Limited Fine Mesh Model (LFMMII),' a model of atmosphere used to estimate weather conditions for 48 hours, the atmosphere is also 7 layers. First, Harun Yahya misrepresents what a "layer" is in weather prediction. As the Aerographer's Mate, Module 03 states:
"The Limited Fine Mesh Model II (LFMII) is still used for many 48-hour forecasts. (These are called short-range forecasts. ) Basically, it forecasts seven layers of the atmosphere: a planetary-boundary layer 50 millibars (about 1,500 feet) above the surface; three evenly spaced layers in the troposphere, including a layer at the tropopause level; and three evenly spaced layers in the stratosphere, with the top layer at 50-millibars."[3]

Notice how all seven of the "layers" were in the lower two formal "layers" of the atmosphere? That's because these "layers" are merely measurements at different sensing heights, not different types of atmosphere, unlike what Harun Yahya would have you believe.

Second, this is a prime example of cherry picking evidence. There are literally dozens of other weather prediction models, many of which have a non-seven number of atmospheric layers. Consider the 16-layer Nested Grid Model, the 12-layer Spectral model, or the 3-layer Global Model, all of which are regularly used by the National Weather Service.[3] Even if "layers" are atmospheric layers, we're stuck with the fact that this model was picked merely because it sounded like it fit.

According to the modern geological definitions the seven layers of atmosphere are as follows:
  1. Troposphere
  2. Stratosphere
  3. Mesosphere
  4. Thermosphere
  5. Exosphere
  6. Ionosphere
  7. Magnetosphere
First, most sources put the number of layers at around 5, not 7. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere, but excludes the (a) ionosphere and (b) magnetosphere.[2] Why? Because (a) the ionosphere is a portion of both the thermosphere and the exosphere, and isn't vertically separate enough to merit its own layer, and (b) the magnetosphere, as covered below, isn't an atmospheric layer.

Second, the ionosphere is relatively close to Earth, from about 85 km to 600 km above the surface of the Earth,[4] whereas the exosphere extends from about 600 km into interplanetary space.[5] So shouldn't "ionosphere" come before "exosphere"?

Third, the magnetosphere doesn't involve air particles at all, because it's not a layer of the atmosphere. The magnetosphere is the field emitted by the Earth's geomagnetic dynamo,[6] and so is totally unrelated to the "heavens", except in the mind of Harun Yahya.

The Qur'an says, '[He] revealed, in every heaven, its own mandate' in [Qur'an 42:]12. In other words, Allah is stating that He assigned each heaven its own duty. Truly, as will be seen in following chapters, each one of these layers has a particular function, ranging from forming rain to preventing harmful rays, from reflecting radio waves to averting the harmful effects of meteors. First, if this is true, then no atmospheric layer can share any "functions" with another. However, all layers contribute to the destruction of asteroids, the absorption of radiation, the greenhouse effect. Second, while the different atmospheric layers are different, it's not clear from the Qur'an what these differences are, which makes this statement scientifically useless.

[Verses 67:3-4 and 71:15-16 omitted; see here and here.] The Arabic word 'tibaqan' in these verses, translated into English as 'layer' means 'layer, the appropriate cover or covering for something,' and thus stresses how the top layer is well suited to the lower. Harun Yahya correctly translates this word. However, this doesn't change the less-than scientific nature of the rest of the article. Moreover, it's hard to see why any given layer is a suitable cover for the one immediately below it.

The sky, described in the verse as being in layers, is without doubt the most perfect expression of the atmosphere. It's just so beautiful, maaan.

It is a great miracle that these facts, which could not possibly be discovered without the technology of the 20th century, were explicitly stated by the Qur'an 1,400 years ago." If by "explicitly", you mean "vaguely alluded to, in a way that adds nothing of scientific value, if we twist the meaning of 'heaven' and cherry-pick the 'data'," and "miracle" as "the incredible improbability of us figuring out what this actually means," then you're "correct".

Relevant verses: Relevant commentary:

"He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens. And He is knower of all things., (Qur'an 2:29). This verse adds nothing specific to the "seven heavens" concept.

"The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving," (Qur'an 17:44). This verse adds nothing specific to the "seven heavens" concept.

"And We have created above you seven paths, and We are never unmindful of creation," (Qur'an 23:17). Interestingly, most translations of this verse and 67:3-4 mention that the "layers" are "one over the other", implying that they don't physically mingle in any significant fashion. However, the "layers" Harun Yahya provides include the magnetosphere, which overlaps all other mentioned layers,[6] and the ionosphere, which overlaps both the thermosphere and the exosphere.[4]

"Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? They will say: Unto Allah (all that belongeth). Say: Will ye not then keep duty (unto Him)?'" (Qur'an 23:86-87). This verse adds nothing specific to the "seven heavens" concept.

"Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth. They said: We come, obedient. Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower," (Qur'an 41:11-12). If both this verse and Harun Yahya are correct, then that makes the lowest ("nether") heaven, or the troposphere, both the location of the stars ("lamps"; also see 71:15-16 and 78:12-13) and "inviolable". For reference, the troposphere contains nearly all clouds[7] and has been "violated" by all air traffic (not to mention space missions or satellites) to date.

"Allah it is who hath created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof. The commandment cometh down among them slowly, that ye may know that Allah is Able to do all things, and that Allah surroundeth all things in knowledge," (Qur'an 65:12). This verse adds nothing specific to the "seven heavens" concept.

"Who hath created seven heavens in harmony. Thou (Muhammad) canst see no fault in the Beneficent One's creation; then look again: Canst thou see any rifts? Then look again and yet again, thy sight will return unto thee weakened and made dim," (Qur'an 67:3-4). Both this verse and 23:17 mention that the "layers" are "one above another" and would therefore not seriously intermingle; however, we know this to be false.

"See ye not how Allah hath created seven heavens in harmony, And hath made the moon a light therein, and made the sun a lamp?" (Qur'an 71:15-16). First, the moon is not "a light therein". The Moon does not produce its own light; instead, it reflects that of the Sun.[8] Second, this verse (and 41:11-12 and 78:12-13) confirm that, because the sun is a "lamp", stars are "lamps".

"And We have built above you seven strong (heavens), And have made (therein) a shinning lamp (sun)," (Qur'an 78:12-13). This verse (and 41:11-12 and 71:15-16) confirm that, because the sun is a "lamp", stars are "lamps".


Summary of claim: The Qur'an accurately states that the atmosphere is made of seven layers, which would have been unknowable to contemporary science.
Does this statement meet all criteria necessary for Qur'anic scientific foreknowledge?

  1. Is it correct? No. The "seven heavens" are not substantially different on Earth, and instead are the result of certain human categorizations of parts of the atmosphere for weather prediction purposes.
  2. Is it in the Qur'an? Yes. The Qur'an frequently references the "seven heavens".
  3. Is it unambiguous? No. Only the lowest heaven is ever defined; the other six are not defined whatsoever.
  4. Was it outside of contemporary knowledge? Yes. Contemporary knowledge could not have known that seven heavens exist, if seven heavens existed.
  5. Was it outside of contemporary technology? Yes. Contemporary technology could not have determined that seven heavens exist, if seven heavens existed.

Thus, this statement is not an example of Qur'anic scientific foreknowledge.

See also[edit]