I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

Feel free to comment, to offer your perspective, or to give suggestions for subjects.
Please take a minute to "Like" us on Facebook.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fire and Brimstone

"DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY" was the opening line of Reverend Ford's sermon, played by Karl Malden, in the movie "Pollyanna". He went on to harangue the congregation with visions of hell fire and the wrath of God for their sins and damning behaviors. This was a classic example of "fire and brimstone" preaching. The reverend pours out his wrath on the people for not following God's commandments. God did pour forth fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah for their evil deeds. Gen 19:24 "Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. (NKJV)" This was not His wrath but His judgment on a people whom He had given many an opportunity to change their ways.

Could it be that the real fire and brimstone showered on Sodom were none other than the next two elements in the Periodic Table, Phosphorus and Sulfur?

Brimstone is actually another name for Sulfur used by the Alchemists of old, before it was known to be an element. It was so named as it was found around the "brim" of volcanoes. It had its own symbol, a triangle which was the symbol of fire and a cross, and was considered the omnipresent spirit of life.

Sulfur, a solid, is in the same group as Oxygen. It reacts similar to Oxygen as well but due to its larger mass, can inhibit bonding when linked with hydrogen. One example is Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) which is a gas whereas water (H2O) is a liquid due to the stronger hydrogen bonds between the water molecules.

Sulfur is flammable and when burned produces Sulfur Dioxide which has a strong suffocating smell. It can be found as a pure element naturally, with 30 known allotropes (pure forms of the same element that differ in physical structure), existing as sulfur molecules with several sulfur atoms connected in a ring. The most common form contains 8 atoms of sulfur, with other rings containing 6 or 7 atoms. Rings up to 18 atoms have been synthesized.

Sulfur is essential for life and is found in many important biological compounds. It is present in all proteins being found in the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Many Sulfur containing compounds are odoriferous. One of the most widely known is Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) which has a very characteristic "rotten egg" smell. It is a very toxic, flammable gas.

Another unusual Sulfur compound is Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). It is a very strong solvent, able to dissolve both polar and non-polar compounds. It also is readily absorbed through the skin and transfers the taste of the dissolved substance to the tongue. By itself DSMO imparts a garlic like taste when applied to the skin.

So it is very likely that the real brimstone of the Bible was actually sulfur raining down from heaven, possibly from volcanic activity or a meteor shower. What about the "fire"?

There is evidence that the "fire and brimstone" of Sodom and Gomorrah could have come from an asteroid. Some scientists have found evidence from an ancient cuneiform tablet with writings describing an asteroid that may have struck the Earth in 3123 BC, passing close to the location of Sodom and finally coming to rest in what is now present day Austria. Such an impact could have produced the smoke, flames and "brimstone". Phosphorus compounds can exist on an asteroid and potentially burn as the asteroid enters the atmosphere.

So it is not clear that Phosphorus was the "fire" but it is very flammable nonetheless. It forms a tetrahedron molecule with four atoms (white Phosphorus) that then links to other tetrahedron molecules by breaking one internal bond and joining to the next molecule. This chain like structure is called red phosphorus. White Phosphorus is the most reactive and least stable form of Phosphorus. White Phosphorus burns very hot and produces a brilliant white light.
Phosphorus is in the same group as Nitrogen. It is a solid, however, and more reactive than Nitrogen in general. It also glows in the dark due to a chemical reaction with Oxygen on the surface of pure phosphorus that produces intermediary chemicals that emit light.

Phosphorus is relatively rare on Earth and there is speculation that some of the Phosphorus found has come from meteors impacting the Earth. Phosphorus is very essential to life. It is found in DNA, RNA, ATP and the phospholipids that form cell membranes. It is used as a fertilizer, an additive to detergents and is found in bones and teeth.


  1. Actually I do not believe it came from meteors because they follow the laws of physics and would have come upon the people even if they followed God's laws. Neither did a volcano erupt because that too follows laws of larger forces that would have erupted evn if the people were being good. I believe God works through people. Remember the two angels that warned Lot of the coming disaster. Perhaps God's people gathered the fire and brimstone from the edges of active volcanos and started a war with Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as in today's warfares. The American citizens are given due warning weeks before an impending invasion to get out of that country then they strike.
    Terrance Coulombe

  2. In response to the anonymous comment dated 9/6/2011:

    The fact that meteors follow physical laws doesn't preclude them from being used by God in this kind of disaster. God knows the end from the beginning and could have launched a meteor at Sodom on the third day of creation knowing exactly when it would have it's impact. Besides, I fail to see how his collecting fire (which behaves according to physical laws) and brimstone (which behaves according to physical laws) from the edges of active volcanoes makes any more sense than him gathering up a comet and dropping it.