[Originally published on the Creation Today website]
What I am about to suggest to you in this article may be argumentative to some while others will whole-heartily agree with my research. Regardless of which position our personal opinions take, we must be careful to make a respectful difference between Scriptural truth and scientific models. The entire discussion of the canopy theory is merely a scientific model. Neither opinion on it should be elevated to the status of biblical inerrancy. Therefore, at the forefront of this discussion, let’s remember that God’s Word is unchangeable and never up for review; while scientific models will continually be thoughtfully examined and altered by inquisitive minds.
As peer-reviews are written and studied opinions continue to differ on this scientific model, it is my contention that the biblical phrase “waters above” does not refer to a vapor canopy at the edge of the atmosphere and in this writing I discuss why I do not believe that a water canopy above the atmosphere is scientifically tenable.
The Canopy Theory in a Nutshell
The Canopy Theory is an honorable attempt to interpret Scripture correctly, and also to account for the waters of the Flood. The theory starts with Day Two of the creation week.
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters, which were under the firmament from the waters, which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)
This passage is clearly talking about the creation of a firmament and the division of waters into waters above and below the firmament. The basis of the Canopy Theory is that the firmament represents the Earth’s atmosphere and the waters above are in the form of a canopy, which surrounded the Earth before the Flood. It is thought that this canopy could have been the source, or at least a source, for the waters of the Flood. The Flood would have been initiated, therefore, by the collapse of this canopy. It is thought that the pre-Flood canopy would have caused conditions of environment and weather before the Flood to be very different from those of today. The actual nature of the canopy differs in competing interpretations, with some assuming it to be a canopy of water vapor, and others suggesting a crystalline canopy. It must be emphasized that many creationists, myself included, have held to and taught the Canopy Theory in the past. In quoting a number of great creationist writers, who supported the Canopy Theory, it must not be thought that I am intending to be disrespectful of their position. My rejection of their support for the Canopy Theory is merely an indication that our understanding moves on, and should not be taken to imply anything other than the immense respect that I have for such thinkers.
Primary among these has to be the late Dr. Henry Morris, the father of modern creationism. In his wonderful book, The Genesis Record, he writes:
The “waters above the firmament” thus probably constituted a vast blanket of water vapor above the troposphere and possibly above the stratosphere as well, in the high-temperature region now known as the ionosphere, and extending far into space.
Dr. Morris went on to list some of the ways in which a vapor canopy might have made pre-Flood conditions different from today. These include:
- Uniform world temperatures
- Uniform warmth
- Prevention of cosmic radiation, leading to longer pre-Flood lifespans
- Uniform worldwide moisture, with no deserts or ice caps
In 1976, Morris was satisfied that such a vapor canopy would provide the water required for the Flood.
A worldwide rain lasting forty days would be quite impossible under present atmospheric conditions; so this phenomenon required an utterly different source of atmospheric waters than now obtains. This we have already seen to be the “waters above the firmament”, the vast thermal blanket of invisible water vapor that maintained the greenhouse effect in the antediluvian world. These waters somehow were to condense and fall on the earth.
The Vapor Canopy Model was the most common canopy model among creationists, and was the one that I taught in my own presentations for many years. Some creationists, however, have suggested a canopy of ice. Carl Baugh, for example, suggests a “crystalline canopy.” In this theory, the ice would be made either of ice crystals, or of a solid, metallic hydrogen lattice, suspended above the atmosphere by magnetic levitation. This specific crystalline canopy has particular problems. Magnetic levitation would not work on molecules like water or hydrogen, where paramagnetic properties dominate over diamagnetic properties. Also, a solid lattice of ice would make it difficult or impossible to see stars. Finally, hydrogen can only exhibit metallic properties under extreme conditions of high pressure and temperatures near absolute zero.
Problems with the Canopy Theory
A number of significant scientific problems have come to light, which cast doubt on the canopy theory.
Canopy theorists have used the canopy concept to explain a number of pre-Flood effects. For example, they have suggested that the canopy would have increased atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface. They claim that this would affect pre-Flood life. Genesis 6 refers to “giants,” and it is suggested that humans would not have been able to grow to giant height without increased pressure. However, giant height of seven or eight feet is completely feasible with normal atmospheric pressure. Canopy theorists have also claimed that the giant insects seen in the fossil record would not have been able to breathe without increased oxygen partial pressure. Again, this can be shown not to be the case. Indeed, increased oxygen partial pressure can actually be shown to have a deleterious effect on longevity of humans.
On the subject of longevity, it has been suggested that the longevity of humans before the Flood was due to greater atmospheric pressure. However, a better explanation of this longevity is the comparative absence of mutations among the human gene pool. The level of mutations would have greatly increased after the Flood, so this could explain the rapid decrease in longevity.
Scientist Dr. Larry Vardiman has taken a close interest in the canopy theory, having calculated many different models for how it could have worked. To the best of my knowledge, he still holds to a version of the canopy theory. Nevertheless, his research has pointed out a number of problems with the theory.
It must be remembered that water vapor is probably the most significant of the so-called “greenhouse gases.” So any vapor canopy would trap more heat from the sun, leading to increased temperatures at the Earth’s surface. Vardiman’s computer models showed that “any canopy containing more than about 20 inches (51 cm) of water produced such a strong greenhouse effect that surface temperatures became unsuitable for life.” Vardiman proposed that cirrus clouds near the top of the canopy could have helped against this effect, but other researchers, such as Snelling, have suggested that these would mitigate insufficiently the problems caused by the canopy.
Clearly, 20 inches of water is insufficient to explain the water of the Flood. However, even if further factors are introduced to allow the canopy to increase in size, it is still only possible to produce a canopy that would deposit one meter of water on the Earth. Some creationists have suggested that the canopy would not therefore be the only source of water. This indeed makes sense. A better model for how the Flood began is the Catastrophic Plate Tectonics model, which shows that the major source of water would probably have been the mantle. But, if no canopy can be proposed that would represent a significant percentage of the water required for the Flood, one wonders why one needs a canopy theory at all, especially as we now move on to some Scriptural objections to the canopy theory. These arguments are significant. If a few scientific results looked problematic, but we could show that Scripture clearly taught a canopy, then we would know that the scientific results were currently incomplete, and we would trust Scripture. However, I will now show that the canopy is not required by Scripture, and is even probably incorrect, according to Scripture.
Dr. Russell Humphreys has suggested a cosmology, based on the stretching of space. In this cosmology, Humphreys has suggested that the firmament, which divides the waters above from the waters below, in Genesis 1:6-8, represents the stretching of the universe. The Hebrew word translated firmament is râqîya (רקיע). This word has a similar root to the concept of “stretching” metal, by hammering it. Some versions translate the word as expanse. Humphreys, therefore, uses this concept to explain the various red shift measurements observed in space. However, a side effect of his theory is that the “waters above” would therefore be beyond the stars, rather than at the edge of the atmosphere. This makes sense for a number of reasons.
First, we read in Genesis 1 that the Sun, Moon and stars were made in the firmament (Genesis 1:15). If there were a canopy at the edge of the atmosphere, this would mean that the stars were above the canopy, which is not what Scripture says.
Second, some have pointed to birds flying in the canopy, as pointing to the canopy being at the edge of the atmosphere. However, if the canopy were at the edge of the universe, this would not contradict this verse (Genesis 1:20). Moreover, the Hebrew version actually talks about the “face of the firmament.” Some versions, such as the NKJV, refer to this: “… let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So the birds are not actually in the firmament, but flying across the face of it.
Third, Psalm 148:4 shows that the “waters above” are still actually in place, because this psalm was written after the Flood. That would also suggest that the “waters above” had nothing to do with the Flood, and lends support to Humphreys’ idea that the “waters above” are beyond the last galaxies, not at the edge of the atmosphere.
It has been hard for many modern creationists to let go of the vapor canopy theory. Dr. Carl Wieland expressed this emotional difficulty, in answering a critic on the Creation Ministries International website. While showing why the canopy theory does not make sense, Dr. Wieland admitted, “Having lectured using the ‘canopy’ idea many years ago, I can certainly understand its appeal. Emotionally, it was hard to ‘let go.’” I had similar emotions. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that the canopy theory was not Scripture, but rather a scientific model to aid our understanding. Scriptural analysis and modern scientific understandings both show that the canopy model is not necessary. It seems today that the effects, for which the canopy theory was developed to explain, are actually better explained by other means.