Isaac Vail first proposed the "canopy theory" in 1874 and revised it as late as 1921. He believed a canopy formed many millions of years ago as the earth evolved. Vail supported his case primarily by ancient mythology and secondarily by Genesis 1:6-8a that states:
Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate waters from waters." And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse heaven.
Notice that these verses do not explicitly say a canopy surrounded the earth.
Vail's canopy was a vapor cylinder surrounding the earth. Many people, recognizing problems with Vail's canopy, proposed other variations. These usually involved a thin shell composed of water—either as a liquid, gas (a vapor), or solid (ice particles or an ice shell). As we will see, each variation has serious biblical and scientific problems. In fact, canopy theories "do not hold water." But first, what are the arguments for a canopy?
Traditional Arguments for a Canopy—and Some Responses
The Source of the Flood Water. The Genesis flood raises two common questions: Where did the flood water come from, and where did it go? A canopy may answer the first question.
Response: It does not answer the second. If flood water fell from a canopy high above the atmosphere, where did that water go after the flood? Somehow transporting this water back into outer space or suddenly forming deep ocean basins after the flood is hard to imagine or explain. However, the phrase "the fountains of the great deep" implies that the flood water came from subterranean sources.
Many have probably rejected the flood account because they could not imagine where the flood water, which covered all the mountains, went. Canopy theories have contributed to this difficulty.
Drop in Longevity. A canopy that could shield the earth from harmful radiation might explain the long human life-spans before the flood. Perhaps after the canopy collapsed during the flood, radiation struck humans, lowering their longevity from about 900 years to 70 years.
Response: If this happened, we would expect an immediate drop in life spans after the flood. But notice on that for twelve generations after the flood, human longevity remained higher than it is today. Even Noah lived 349 years after the flood. Maybe radiation damage accumulated genetically over many generations. Few, if any, have proposed specifically what type of harmful radiation it was, how it reduced longevity so much without causing massive deformities and genetic diseases, why longevities leveled off at about 70 years rather than continuing to deteriorate, or how to test the proposed mechanism. Tests, which might have shown that cosmic or solar radiation severely reduce longevity, have failed. For example, mice were raised in deep caves, where they were shielded from both types of radiation. Neither they nor their offspring lived any longer than other mice. If any radiation from outer space increased the aging process, then living at a lower elevation, where one is protected by a thicker blanket of atmosphere, should increase longevity. No record of such an effect is known.
Joseph Dillow's book, The Waters Above , is probably the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date defense of any canopy theory. After explaining other problems with the "longevity claim," Dillow concludes, "So it appears that canopy theorists have been in error when they appealed to the shielding effect of the canopy as a direct explanation for antediluvian longevity."
A Uniformly Warm Climate. A canopy may have given the earth a uniformly warm climate. This would explain why fossils of temperate animals and plants (such as dinosaurs and large trees) are found in Antarctica and on islands inside the Arctic Circle.
Response: It seems more likely that some plants and animals floated to polar latitudes during a global flood and were later fossilized. But even if a canopy produced a warm polar climate, it would not satisfy the second requirement for lush vegetation—sunlight. At the poles, nights are six-months long, and when the sun does shine, it is always low in the sky. How could large trees, dinosaurs, and their enormous food chain survive, let alone thrive, with so little light, even if a canopy transmitted 100% of the sunlight and produced moderate temperatures?
Despite much speculation, no one knows what temperatures would exist under a canopy. Even experts disagree on how much the production of carbon dioxide warms the earth. Think how much more difficult it is to determine the warming caused thousands of years ago by a canopy of unknown thickness, reflectivity, content, and height above the earth.
Venus. We see canopies on other planets, such as Venus.
Response: Most planets have atmospheres, but none has a canopy. A water canopy, remember, is a distinct shell of water above the planet's atmosphere. Venus is shrouded by a thick, opaque atmosphere, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. It does not have a layer of water, or any other relatively heavy substance, above its atmosphere.
Genesis 7:11-12.Some people believe that Genesis 1:6-8a obviously speaks of a water canopy that contributed to the flood. After all, Genesis 7:11-12 states that " . . . the floodgates of the sky were opened. And the rain fell . . ." A lot of rain had to fall from some place.
Response: If this is true, similar biblical interpretations should predate Vail's in 1874. Quite often it is hard to see alternatives once we have learned "the accepted explanation."
Genesis 7:11-12 actually says that " all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and [then] the floodgates of the sky were opened. And the rain fell . . ." Later, Genesis 8:2 states " the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained." These events were probably sequential, perhaps in cause-and-effect order. The fountains of the great deep caused extreme, torrential rain. Once the fountains were closed, this violent rain ceased. Then milder, more normal, rain fell. In other words, " the rain from the sky was restrained ."
The transliteration of the Hebrew word that is usually used for normal rain is matar . Extreme rain is geshem , and it is sometimes accompanied by high winds and huge hailstones that can destroy mortared walls. Ezekiel 13:11-13. The hydroplate theory explains this sequence in more detailed, physical terms. Most people have not appreciated the explosiveness, magnitude, and power of " the fountains of the great deep ."
Scientific Arguments Opposing a Canopy
The Heat Problem. All canopy theories have a major heat problem. The larger the canopy, the greater the heat problem.
A Vapor Canopy. Each gram of water vapor (steam) that condenses to a liquid, releases about 539 calories of heat. If grams of water fell from a vapor canopy, enough to form a layer of water only 40-feet thick around the world, the temperature of the water and atmosphere would, as a first approximation, rise 450 C = 810 F. Where grams is the mass of the atmosphere, and 0.242 and 1.0 are the calories needed to raise one gram of air and one gram of liquid water (respectively) one degree centigrade. This unbearable temperature remains even after we expand this analysis to include every scientifically conceivable way to remove this heat.
Note: 40-feet of rain would not produce a global flood. "bookgifs/ A Liquid or Ice Canopy. For liquid or ice particles to remain above the earth's surface, they must be in orbit. For anything to orbit the earth, its velocity must exceed 17,000 miles per hour (760,000 cm/sec). As stated earlier, a layer of water only 40-feet thick contain grams of water. Just as a spacecraft generates great heat as it reenters the atmosphere, so also orbiting liquid or ice particles release vast amounts of heat as they fall from orbit. That heat energy equals the kinetic energy of the particles in orbit, which is where converts the units to calories. This heat would raise the atmosphere's temperature 5,700 C = 10,000F
Even if we assume that the canopy begins with the coldest ice possible (absolute zero) or that some of this heat is transferred elsewhere, insufferable heat would still result.
If this ice were part of a spinning shell of finite strength surrounding the earth, the problem remains. A rapidly spinning shell, providing enough centrifugal force to balance (as well as possible) the gravitational force, would still have too much kinetic energy. Once the shell collapsed, that energy would become heat and would "roast" all living things.
The Light Problem. A canopy having only 40 feet of water—in any form—would reflect, refract, absorb, or scatter most light trying to pass through it.
Starlight. Any visible stars would tend to be directly overhead because their light would have the shortest path through the canopy. Before the flood, people could apparently see stars, because stars were created for a purpose: "...for signs, and for seasons, for days and years " Genesis 1:14. Stars would only achieve their purpose if enough stars could be seen to identify seasonal variations. Therefore, one needs to see large star patterns, such as constellations—not just a few stars directly overhead. It is questionable whether one could have seen, recalled, and distinguished seasonally shifting star patterns through the filter of only a "40-foot thick" canopy, even on a moonless night.
Sunlight. A canopy would also reflect and absorb considerable sunlight. How then could many tropical plants, which require much sunlight today, have survived under a preflood canopy?
The Nucleation Problem. To form raindrops, tiny particles, called "nuclei" or nucleation sites, must be present to initiate condensation. However, falling rain sweeps up these nuclei and cleanses the atmosphere. This reduces further condensation. Rain from a vapor canopy would actually choke off rain production for a time.
Some have claimed that volcanic eruptions, beginning suddenly at the time of the flood, continuously ejected nuclei into the upper atmosphere. This does not explain why volcanic eruptions suddenly began globally, then quickly and continuously distributed nuclei throughout the atmosphere for several weeks. Volcanic eruptions, rather than contributing to the flood, require special conditions that seem to be a consequence of the flood.
Both the nuclei problem and the heat problem show that condensation did not produce most of the flood's rain. It seems more likely that " geshem rain" was produced by the powerful jetting of the "fountains of the great deep" which caused torrential rain for "..40 days and 40 nights."
The Pressure Problem. A vapor canopy holding more than 40 feet of water would significantly increase the atmospheric pressure at the earth's surface—making oxygen and nitrogen toxic to many animals, including humans. This is why most vapor canopy theories limit the amount of water in their canopy to only 40 feet.
For a vapor canopy holding this amount of water, the high pressure at its base would require that its temperature exceed a scorching 220ºF. Otherwise, the vapor would tend to condense into a liquid. Those who believe a canopy would produce a globally mild climate have overlooked this detail. Maintaining a 220ºF temperature at night, or, worse yet, at the poles during the coolest season, adds a further difficulty. Yes, there were seasons before the flood. (See Genesis 1:14.)
The Support Problem. What supported the canopy?
A Vapor or Liquid Canopy. A vapor canopy would rapidly diffuse through the atmosphere. Once the vapor contacted the earth's surface, it would condense. A liquid canopy would quickly evaporate and then diffuse through the atmosphere. Neither type of canopy could have survived for the many centuries before the flood.
An Ice Canopy. An ice canopy would vaporize into the vacuum of space, just as dry ice vaporizes at atmospheric temperature and pressure. Furthermore, ice is structurally weak. An ice shell could not withstand tidal stresses or meteoritic or asteroidal impacts. A spinning ice shell would not be able to withstand the powerful centrifugal forces at its equator and the crushing gravitational forces along its spin axis.
More dramatic yet, a solid ice shell, spinning or stationary, would crash into the earth. Imagine an arbitrary object anywhere inside a hollow, spherical shell. Every particle in the shell acts gravitationally on the object. Sir Isaac Newton showed that the sum of all these gravitational tugs balances perfectly so that the object "feels" no net gravitational force from the shell. Therefore, the earth, inside a solid ice shell, would "float" relative to the shell. The slightest imperfection in the shell, the first meteorite to strike the outside of the shell, any electrical forces acting between the earth and shell, or the gravitational attraction of any other body in the solar system would cause the earth and ice shell to drift toward each other and crash.
The Ultraviolet Problem. Ozone in the upper atmosphere blocks the sun's destructive ultraviolet light. A canopy surrounding the atmosphere would not be protected from ultraviolet light. Therefore, water in the canopy would disassociate into hydrogen and oxygen—effectively destroying the canopy.
A Final Thought. One could dismiss each of these scientific problems by saying that God performed a miracle. That may be true. Certainly He can; He has; and He sometimes does. However, miracles should not be proposed to "prop up" a scientific theory. (Some evolutionists mistakenly believe this is how creation science works.) As one sees more and more "miracles" required by canopy theories, their credibility decreases, and the need for an alternate explanation increases.
Let us now consider another interpretation of Genesis 1:6-8a and related verses.
The phrase "expanse of the heavens," used four times in Genesis 1:14-20, means sky, atmosphere, or heaven—whichever is implied by the context. In Genesis 1:6-8a, the term "expanse" (without "of the heavens" added) was the earth's crust. Surface waters (oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers) were above this crust, and subterranean water was below. The subterranean water burst forth during the flood as the fountains of the great deep.
Other verses support the statement in bold above. If this picture of the newly created earth is correct, then it seems worthy of inclusion in the brief creation chapter of Genesis. However, if "the waters above" refers to a canopy containing less than one-half of 1% of the earth's water, then why was one creation day and almost 10% of the creation chapter devoted to it?
Mythology and Canopies
Vail's case for a canopy rested largely on the mythology of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and other ancient cultures. He argued that a real canopy produced these myths. Vail wrote,
I have been told again and again that the canopy idea is weak because it is founded on mythology. I can only protest that it is not founded on mythology, on the contrary mythology is largely founded on the canopy, fossilized in human thot [thought]. The canopy as a watery heaven close to the earth existed for untold millions of years before a myth ever germinated . .
We can all agree with Vail that ancient mythology and today's canopy theories are linked. You must decide which came first. If canopies are unstable, or if a canopy by itself could not produce a global flood, then a canopy did not produce or precede the ancient myths.
The arguments for the various canopy theories do not stand up when examined closely. These theories also contain many biblical and scientific problems, such as those associated with heat, light, pressure, support, nuclei, and ultraviolet light. Even the best-known canopy advocates privately acknowledge these problems. Canopy theories have led many in the creationist movement down a "dead-end street," delaying our understanding of the flood. The flood water came from below, not above. Failure to understand this has caused many to doubt the historical accuracy of the flood account, and, therefore, the Bible itself. Without the flood to explain the fossils buried in the earth's sedimentary layers, the theory of organic evolution fills the vacuum—an explanation that also removes or minimizes the Creator.