It’s funny how subjects can crop up in completely different contexts.

In a Geometry lecture, the lecturer spoke of the advances made by Isaac Newton in geometry and many other fields. One of his most famous discoveries was to split white light into its constituent colours by shining white light into a triangular prism*:

Dispersive Prism

This is the scientific explanation of why we get rainbows. Water droplets in the air act as the prism, causing the light to disperse into its familiar form:


But as I said, the topic of rainbows came up in a completely different context the other day – what we might call the Biblical, rather than scientific, explanation for rainbows. It comes from Noah and the flood – a story I’m sure you know about.

God had sent a great flood to kill everything in the world, which had grown very sinful. He saved Noah and his family, and two of each and every animal, who stayed in a big Ark to prevent them from drowning. When all was over and done, and the flood had subsided, leaving Noah, family and animals to repopulate the world, God put a rainbow up in the sky as a symbol of his promise that never again would he try to destroy the whole world, no matter how sinful it was.**

So there you go, a scientific and Biblical explanation of rainbows. Do they conflict, or does one simply explain the how and the other the why?

Of course, this ignores the third explanation, which seems most convincing to me: How else would leprechauns know where they had left their pot of gold?


*Different wavelengths of light are refracted by different amounts when they pass between different media, so the light disperses.


**My Curate gave an interesting interpretation of why God chose a rainbow. The name rainbow is given because its shape resembles a bow – as in a bow and arrow. If God wanted to punish the world for its sins, he could aim a bow and arrow down at us. Instead he aims the bow up at Heaven (the rainbow faces upwards), and takes the punishment we deserve upon His Son whom He sacrifices on the cross.

Rainbow and Bow


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