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Some Creationists have asserted that in the pre-flood world that there may have been some sort of water vapor canopy that perhaps doubled the air pressure and caused things to be much healthier than they are today (post-flood).

What is the biblical basis for this and what is the scientific evidence the proponents use to support this theory?

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I've made a slight edit so that this older question fits a bit better into site guidelines. References: Christianity.SE 's experts are Christians, not scientists and Are questions on a Creationist explanation for scientific observation on topic here?. There's also others if you search science on meta. – fredsbend Aug 1 '15 at 5:09
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I read a whole book on this theory and the scientific aspects of it. It was called "The Waters Above." Read the readers' comments here: amazon.com/Waters-Above-Earths-Pre-Flood-Canopy/dp/0802491987/… – Steve Aug 12 '15 at 11:45
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See the diagram in this answer. – user13992 Jan 10 at 8:14

In Genesis 7:11, we read:

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

The implication here is that water came from two directions - springs from the deep (i.e. underground water) and from above (the floodgates of heaven). Extending the metaphor ever so slightly, a floodgate is holding something back - according to the Institute for Creation Research, that is the canopy.

The Institute for Creation Research has published this paper to explain the physics behind it:

This study, however explains some of the problems. Amongst these problems:

  • A water canopy of more than about 40 feet would, by the pressure, boil itself away
  • A water canopy of more than a few inches would also block all the sunlight.

In the link, however, the paper argues that these problems are not insurmountable depending on the assumptions made about the canopy, but I'll admit, it gets a little stretched for my tastes.

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I hadn't heard this canopy theory. Is it related to the firmament? (I had thought of the flood passage as referring to holes in the solid firmament.) – James T May 1 '13 at 22:30
    
@JamesT I recall Kent Hovind being a big supporter of it. – fredsbend Aug 1 '15 at 5:10

The idea of a canopy of water comes from Genesis 1:6-7 (KJV), which says,

"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."

Read literally, it means that there is liquid water on the other side of the firmament (solid surface of some sort), which would--according to models that incorporate this theory--be emptied back onto the earth in the flood.

As mentioned, there are pretty significant scientific problems with this model, and I think most modern creationist models would tend to favor a "soft" firmament, which would mean that they consider the "firmament," which God calls heaven, the entire sky and outer space beyond. In this model, water and the celestial bodies aren't placed on a surface of the firmament, but are spread throughout the firmament.

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Introduction: Scentific Evidence

Other answers have already discussed the Biblical Basis for this question, so I will address the second part of you question:

what is the scientific evidence the proponents use to support this theory?

Simply put, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory. In fact, the scientific evidence rebuts this theory - an assessment that even creationists agree with. To summarize the science:

  • There is not enough water on the planet for a whole-earth flood
  • No geological evidence for a global flood
  • Atmosphereic pressure would double rendering the planet un-livable
  • Water canopy would block out all light
  • Superheating of the earth would occur



Not enough water

For this answer, I will begin by moving from the most general evidence (that there was not and could not have been a flood) to more specific (that there could not have been a water canopy).

As noted on a sister Earth Science Q&A site, there simply isn't enough water to flood the whole earth. In order for a literal, whole earth flood to be viable, an inundation of water had from an unknown or supernatural source had to occur and then that water had to have supernaturally or naturally have disappeared from our ecosystem via some as yet unknown or undiscovered mechanism (without leaving any evidence of this occurrence as will be discussed later).

Even if the ice caps and all other ice (like glaciers) on the earth melted, there would only be enough water to raise the sea level by about 223 feet, or 68 meters. There simply isn't enough water in the ecosystem to meet the qualification of the waters "rising more than 20 feet above the high mountains" From Genesis 7:19-20:

The waters completely inundated the earth so that even all the high mountains under the entire sky were covered. The waters rose more than twenty feet above the mountains.

Evidence indicates that due to changes in continents and polar ice cap melt, the highest level water was ever reached was 500 meters.


No evidence of a flood

Should a global catastrophic flood have occurred, there is no evidence of such a flood. While we do find evidence of water in some strange places, these fossils are not found on all mountains and dating of these locations as being underwater never match up to the same time-frames. Simply put, none of the geological evidence supports a whole-earth flood. In order for a global flood to have occurred, all scientific evidence of it would have to have been somehow (presumably supernaturally) erased.


Too much pressure

In order to support a water canopy, the atmosphere would at least double in pressure. This would cause nitrogen and oxygen to become toxic killing most life on the planet.


No light

A mere 40 foot thick water canopy would block out all light. This 40 foot number is rather modest considering that 5 and a half miles of water (thickness) would be needed to cover Mt. Everest. This would prevent life from continuing on earth as all plants would die out and severely disrupt the food chain.


Superheating of the earth

All current models for a water canopy indicate that a greenhouse effect would occur which would superheat the earth to temperatures that would render earth uninhabitable.

One scientist even suggested that the "water canopy" could be stored as planetary rings of crystallized water (similar to the rings of Saturn or Uranus) but computer modeling still found this would cause superheating of the earth.





Conclusion

While creationists certainly might attempt to dispute the first two claims in some manner or another, even creationists have abandoned the water canopy theory with creationist figureheads like Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research and several others largely rejecting the theory.

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Where did you hear that double pressure would be toxic? I don't think that's accurate. Hyperbaric therapy treats illness, not creates it, and at pressures nearly double atmosphere. – fredsbend Jan 12 at 3:27
    
Hyperbaric therapy utilizes 100% oxygen. Our atmosphere is 78% Nitrogen, 20% oxygen and .04% C02. Furthermore, while this is therapeutic on adults, pure oxygen causes Retinopathy of Prematurity in infants and unborn babies if the mother receives a constant feed of 100% oxygen. In normal adults, Nitrogen narcosis is an issue in diving, but typically not at a double atmosphere which equates to a 10 meter underwater depth. – James Shewey Jan 12 at 16:03
    
The claim comes from here, but the real killer is the CO2 which begins to be toxic at concentrations as low as .1% during 2.5 hour long exposures. Long term exposure can lead to Cushings and Hyperaldosteronism. – James Shewey Jan 12 at 16:16
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I've responded in chat. – fredsbend Jan 12 at 19:07
    
Related question posted to Heath Q&A – James Shewey Jan 12 at 20:10

Water suspended in zero gravity would be frozen as ice crystals and would not be boiling, the freezing cold temperatures of space would help keep the water from doing such. Also, one thing we all know about water is that it is translucent! This canopy could have diffused the light somewhat making the natural light at ground level less intense, which would actually be beneficial. It would also stop heat from escaping through the atmosphere thereby keeping the earth's temperature a consistent moderate-warm.

Clearly in Genesis 2:5, it did not rain at all at one stage of the Earth's creation - but rather it was watered from underground reservoirs of water which 'came up out of the ground'. Genesis 2:5 - "And every plant of the field before it was in the earth and every herb of the field before it grew - for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. (6) Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land."

Many claim that this is not evidence of it still not raining in Noah's time and that is very true, but the verse in Genesis 9:13 attests that it still did not rain right up until the time of the flood. Genesis 9:13 - "I have set my rainbow in the clouds and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (14) Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, (15) I will remember my covenant that is between me and you." Obviously for a rainbow to appear, there needs to be clouds of water in the sky which means that during Noah's time - there were no clouds in the sky! No rainbows occurred because all the water above the earth was suspended well above the sky/atmosphere itself.

Also we are told in Hebrews 11:7 - "But by faith, when Noah was warned about things that had never been seen, he built an Ark to save his family." Clearly things like rain and storms and such had not been seen whatsoever in Noah's time. The Bible clearly tells us about 'floodwaters in the heavens' (Genesis 7:11) that were there in Noah's time and that they 'opened' and the water came down causing the flood to happen. NO amount of clouds could drop enough water to flood the whole earth nor come anywhere close. Peter also mentions: (2 Peter3:5) "God made the heavens by the word of his command and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water.

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Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and read how this site is a little different than other sites such as discussion boards. Your answer would be greatly improved if you added some references to support your position. – ThaddeusB Aug 1 '15 at 4:07
    
Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Here are some meta posts about this site to help you learn how we do it here: What Christianity.StackExchange is (and more importantly, what it isn't) and How we are different than other sites Please also take the tour and see the help center. I hope to see you post again soon. [This is a generic welcome comment]. – fredsbend Aug 1 '15 at 4:09

Let's see how a master exegete, St. Augustine, approaches this problem.

In his day, a prevailing scientific theory was that heavy elements (water and earth) seek their "natural place" toward the center of the earth, and lighter elements (air and fire) seek their "natural place" toward the heavens. So, how can there be “waters above the firmament” (Genesis 1:6-9)? The waters being "above" is not their natural place; how can they stay there?

St. Augustine in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, lib. 2 cap. 4 n. 7 writes:

Taking these theories into account, a certain commentator [St. Basil] has made a praiseworthy attempt to demonstrate that the waters are above the heavens, so as to support the word of Scripture with the visible and tangible phenomena of nature… Hence, from the existence of the air between the vapors that form the clouds above and the seas that stretch out below, our commentator proposed to show that there is a heaven between water and water. This painstaking enquiry is, in my opinion, quite praiseworthy.

ibid. n. 9:

Certain writers, even among those of our faith, attempt to refute those who say that the relative weights of the elements make it impossible for water to exist above the starry heaven. They base their arguments on the properties and motions of the stars. They say that the star called Saturn is the coldest star, and that it takes thirty years to complete its orbit in the heavens because it is higher up and therefore travels over a wider course.

It is true, indeed, that by its own motion, moving over a vast space, it takes thirty years to complete its orbit; yet by the motion of the heavens it is rotated rapidly in the opposite direction…and therefore, it ought to generate greater heat by reason of its greater velocity. The conclusion is, then, that it is cooled by the waters that are near it above the heavens, although the existence of these waters is denied by those who propose the explanation of the motion of the heavens and the stars that I have briefly outlined.

With this reasoning some of our scholars attack the position of those who refuse to believe that there are waters above the heavens while maintaining that the star whose path is in the height of the heavens is cold. Thus they would compel the disbeliever to admit that water is there not in a vaporous state but in the form of ice. But whatever the nature of that water and whatever the manner of its being there, we must not doubt that it does exist in that place. The authority of Scripture in this matter is greater than all human ingenuity.

So, St. Augustine denies a leading scientific theory of his day in favor of the "authority of Scripture," which "in this matter is greater than all human ingenuity." (source).

We have it even better today because modern astronomy has been able to detect, with radio telescope spectroscopy, the chemical signature of water in interstellar gas clouds.

cf. also Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right (vol. 3) by Robert Sungenis, which is devoted to history and Scriptural exegesis; e.g., pp. 560 ff., where he quotes St. Augustine's Literal Interpretation of Genesis to prove that Scripture has more authority than science

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