The Water Vapor Canopy Theory
Why the Bible (And Science) Says It is False
by Rich Deem


Vapor canopy?

Where did all that water come from to produce a global flood? According to many young earth creationists, there was once a thick vapor canopy that surrounded the earth. Is this idea supported by the Bible?

Rich Deem

One of the most common theories among young earth creationists is that the original earth possessed a water canopy consisting of vapor (most common interpretation) or ice that surrounded the earth above the troposphere and potentially up through the stratosphere. The canopy is used to explain the long lifespans of pre-flood humanity, along with the source of all the water required to explain a global flood. This paper will examine what the Bible says about the possible existence of such a canopy, along with some simple scientific rebuttals to the theory.

Isaac Vail (1840 1912) first proposed the canopy theory in 1874.1 He believed a canopy formed millions of years ago as the earth evolved from a molten state. Vail supported his case primarily by ancient Babylonian mythology.

Although the idea of a canopy is not directly stated in the Bible, the proponents of such theories must claim to derive their ideas from the Bible, since they insist that their source of information about creation is solely biblical. The biblical source for the existence of a canopy is said to derive from Genesis 1 (the main biblical creation account) and Genesis 7 (the flood account). If one were to examine only these two accounts, one could make a case for the canopy theory. Here is what the Bible says:

Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the 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. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (Genesis 1:6-8: NASB)2
The claim is made that this "expanse" or "firmament" (KJV) is a description of the canopy. The theory seems to hold up in the description of the Genesis flood:
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. (Genesis 7:11: NASB)

The biblical expanse and floodgates

Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding CreationCould the "waters which were above the expanse" and the "floodgates of the sky" be referring to a water canopy? Let's look at the original Hebrew text to determine what these English translations are referring to. The Hebrew word translated "expanse" is raqia (Strong's # H7549), which occurs 18 times in 15 verses of the Old Testament. The vast majority of these occurrences are found in Genesis 1. Genesis 1:8 actually defines the term raqia as being the equivalent to the Hebrew word shamayim (Strong's #H8064), which can be translated as "heaven" or "sky." Some examples of the use of raqia in Genesis 1 include the following:

As can be seen by the uses of raqia, the term is very broad, encompassing both outer space and the atmosphere of earth. Obviously, raqia could not be specifically referring to a water canopy. Other verses state that raqia is declaring (present tense) the work of God's hands. This cannot be referring to a water canopy, since one does not exist at this present time.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse [raqia] is declaring the work of His hands. (Psalm 19:1)

Let's look at the other phrase, "floodgates of the sky," and see how this is used in the Old Testament. Here is the verse from the flood account and the corresponding [Hebrew] words.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky [arubbah:H699 shamayim:H8064] were opened. (Genesis 7:11)

If this term is never again used in the Old Testament, one could make a case for the idea that the "floodgates of the sky" might refer to a water canopy. However, it can be seen from the verses below (which occur well after the flood) that this term applies to rain in general:

The Bible declares there was no canopy

The above verses from the Bible demonstrate that there is no biblical basis or biblical reference to the idea of a water canopy above the earth. Ultimately, the Bible actually states that there was no canopy above the earth from the fourth creation day onward. Any kind of substantial water canopy above the earth would prevent the stars from being seen, which is directly contradicted by Genesis 1:14-18:

Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)

Another biblical problem with the water canopy theory is what the Bible said happened to the waters of the flood. According to Genesis, the water receded (which is impossible if it came from a vapor canopy) and was dried by the wind. Neither method would not significantly affect a global flood, further suggesting that the Genesis flood was local in extent.

Scientific rebuttal of vapor canopy

Air can hold, at most, 55 grams of water vapor per cubic meter. In contrast, liquid water is at a density of 1,000,000 grams per cubic meter. The ratio of the two numbers is 1:18,000. Therefore, a flood of 1 mile thickness (which would cover only 1/5 of Mount Everest), would require 18,000 miles of canopy. Besides the problem of gravity (which would bring the whole thing down), such a thick layer of water vapor would completely block any light from the Sun from reaching the earth.

Even a canopy of the equivalent of only 40 feet of liquid water would double the earth's atmospheric pressure, which would kill many animals, including humans. This pressure would also increase the temperature on the earth to a scorching 220F. Most animals and plants do not survive long at this temperature.

Another problem is getting the water out of the atmosphere and onto the ground without cooking everything on the earth. Each gram of water vapor that condenses to a liquid releases 539 calories of heat. For a vapor canopy to produce a global water layer of only 40 feet deep, 6.22 x 1021 grams of water would release 3.35 x 1024 calories, raising the temperature of the earth to 810F. Such a scenario would definitely kill all life on earth, but would produce a tremendous air conditioning problem for Noah. And a 40 feet deep flood would certainly not be global.

Conclusion Top of page

Neither the Bible nor science support the idea that a water canopy ever existed above the earth. The Bible teaches that the "expanse" of Genesis 1:6-8 cannot be a canopy, since it encompasses both the atmosphere and interstellar space. The Bible also indicates that the "floodgates of heaven" are nothing more than a reference to clouds and rain (as found in passages after the Genesis flood). Scientifically, any kind of water canopy produces so much heat that it would cook everything on the planet.

Young earth critiques of the canopy theories:

Other Resources Top of page

A Matter of Days by Hugh RossA Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

Dr. Ross looks the creation date controversy from a biblical, historical, and scientific perspective. Most of the book deals with what the Bible has to say about the days of creation. Ross concludes that biblical models of creation should be tested through the whole of scripture and the revelations of nature.

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth by Mark S. Whorton, Ph.D.

This book, written for Christians, examines creation paradigms on the basis of what scripture says. Many Christians assume that the young earth "perfect paradise" paradigm is based upon what the Bible says. In reality, the "perfect paradise" paradigm fails in its lack of biblical support and also in its underlying assumptions that it forces upon a "Christian" worldview. Under the "perfect paradise" paradigm, God is relegated to the position of a poor designer, whose plans for the perfect creation are ruined by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God is forced to come up with "plan B," in which He vindictively creates weeds, disease, carnivorous animals, and death to get back at humanity for their sin. Young earth creationists inadvertently buy into the atheistic worldview that suffering could not have been the original intent of God, stating that the earth was created "for our pleasure." However, the Bible says that God created carnivores, and that the death of animals and plants was part of God's original design for the earth.

A New Look at an Old EarthA New Look at an Old Earth by Don Stoner

Don Stoner looks at the age of the earth from a scientific and biblical perspective. He presents much more evidence that is not presented in Creation and Time.

The older version of A New Look at an Old Earth is available online

References Top of page

  1. Isaac Newton Vail published many pamphlets on his canopy theory, starting with Waters Above the Firmament in 1874. Other titles included: The Misread Record (also published under the title The Deluge and Its Cause), Edens Flaming Sword, Ring of Truth, The Heavens and Earth of Prehistoric Man, Canopy Skies of Ancient Man, A Glance at Comparative Mythology, and Annular World Evolution.
  2. And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8: NIV)
    And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And 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. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8: KJV)
Last Modified October 11, 2007


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