Science in Christian Perspective




Thomas Key

1613 Forrest Lane
Bainbridge, GA 31717

From: JASA 37 (December 1985): 223-229.

Informed scientists who are Christians have largely ignored the Canopy Theory, apparently assuming incorrectly that it, like most other naive theories and notions, would soon die out. The Canopy Theory is the belief that there was a vapor covering (or canopy) around Earth's atmosphere between the time of Creation and the Flood. Although the Theory had been conceived earlier, it was popularized among fundamentalists during the first part of this century by such works as The Coming Kingdom and the Recanopied Earth by Vernon P. Kellogg. Kellogg and others believed that the Canopy would be replaced at the beginning of the Millennium. Because this Theory, far from dying out, actually appears to be growing in Christian schools and colleges and their curricula as well as in sermons, Sunday School lessons, commentaries, and in much fundamentalist thinking today, the weak foundations of this notion must be publicized.

The Theory purports to account for the longevity of the antediluvians, the supposed fact that no meat was eaten before the Flood, the supposed fact that there was no rain or snow before the Flood, the existence of dinosaurs, the first mention of rainbows (after the Flood), the supposed absence of fermentation before the Flood, and the "waters above the firmament" as the source of rain for forty days and nights at the beginning of the Flood. It is sometimes extended to account for the longevity of people during the Millennium (Isaiah 65:20).

One of the Theory's basic assumptions is that "harmful rays" of the sun were blocked by this water Canopy, and that it was these "harmful rays" that prohibited prehistoric life after the Flood and that today induce or stimulate fermentation, shorten human lifespans to 70 or so years, cause a craving for meat eating, and permit snow and rain.

In evaluating any theory of Biblical interpretation, it is well to remember the principle that "where the Bible is specific, we must be specific, and where the Bible is vague, we must be vague." Thus, the Bible does not mention a Canopy, neither prior to the Flood nor during the Millennium. Neither does it mention that there was no snow or rains and no fermentation before the Flood nor that there would be none during the Millennium. To illustrate the weakness of the argument that, because neither Genesis I through 5 nor other Scriptures mention meat-eating, snow, rain, or fermentation, there were none of these things prior to the Flood, we need only point out that neither does the Bible mention hair, lips, eyebrows, volcanoes, lakes, forests, jungles, dishes, flatware, deserts, rocks, comets, sand, waterfalls, prairies, diseases, decay of dead plants and animals, honey, milk, hammers, nails, saws, wind, North and South Poles, Equator, boats, and so on ad infinitum.

1. Let's take the argument that because drunkenness is first mentioned after the Flood (Genesis 9:21-24), that there was no fermentation before the Flood. Yeast action in grape juice is not dependent upon the presence of "harmful rays." As any student in an Introductory Microbiology lab soon learns, yeast and certain other microorganisms grow faster in the absence of ultraviolet and certain other rays of the sun. If no fermentation existed prior to the Flood, leaves, dead trees, animal wastes, and dead animals would not have decayed. The Earth would have been inundated with vast amounts of constantly fresh body wastes as well as with unspoiled dead plants and animals.

2. What about the assertion that there was no rain or snow prior to the Flood, and that the only way that plants were watered was by mist (Gen. 2:6) and rivers (Gen. 2: 10)? The references in Genesis do not limit the watering of plants only to a single mist or even to a series of mists and by a river or rivers. Genesis 2:10-14 describes four large rivers in existence before the numerous and complex events of the Sixth Day. These huge rivers obviously could not have come from a mere mist that occurred once or even many times. Rivers come from rains and melted snows. They also come from underground streams. However, underground streams also come from rains and melted snows. The four large rivers in Eden, which went over "The whole land of Ethiopa" (Gen. 2:13) to Assyria (Gen, 2:14) and included the Euphrates (Gen. 2:14) would have required rains, rains, and more rains over an extended period of time. No mere mist will ever do as an adequate explanation for these vast rivers, and certainly not a mere mist that occurred only a few hours or literal days before.

3. Then what shall we say about the changes in lifespans with the Flood? Could the sudden removal of the Canopy due to the forty days and nights of rain account for the differences in lifespans before and after the Flood? No, it could not because if it did affect lifespans, the change would have been immediate. Genesis 5 lists the lifespans of people before the Flood as ranging between 777 years and 969 years. Genesis I I gives the lifespans of people shortly after the Flood as tapering from 600 or so years down to 200 or so years. Several centuries after the Flood we find that Abraham is very old at 175 years of age (Gen. 25:7-8). Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that Moses was still physically strong when he died at 120. However, the Psalm of Moses, Psalm 90 (v. 10) indicates that by the time of Moses it had become unusual to reach beyond 70 or 80 years of age. This gradual tapering down of lifespans between the Flood and the time of Moses gives no support for the notion that the sudden removal of a Canopy at the Flood resulted in the shortening of lifespans after the Flood.

Some have suggested that before the Flood the word for year" probably meant "month." While it is true that this would reduce Methusaleh's 969 year lifespan to almost 81 years, this theory would force us to accept (Gen. 5) that Seth fathered Enos (Enosh) at about age five and one-half, that Enos fathered Cainan (Kenan) at seven and one-half, that Cainan fathered Jared at nearly five and one-half, and that Enoch fathered Methusaleh at nearly five and one-half. Besides, the original Hebrew does not allow the interpretation of years as months. This interpretation, too, is faced with the lack of an explanation for the long transition of lifespans shifting gradually from 900 or so years down to 70 or so years, and of a determination of the point in this gradual transition at which the meaning of the designation for "year" changed from the duration of a month to the duration of a year. While the sudden removal of a Canopy at the Flood would be expected to make a sudden change in life expectancy, the gradual reduction in lifespans is more consistent with the concept that the Creator brought about progressive changes in human genetic makeup over the generations between the Flood and the time of Moses.

4. Is it valid to assert that there was no meat eating prior to the Flood merely because the Bible does not mention this practice until afterwards, and since Genesis 2:9 mentions that certain plants were "good for food," but neglects to mention the same for animals? We have already mentioned a few of many things that did exist before the Flood even though they were not mentioned in Scripture. Meat and fish are never viewed by Scripture as inferior to fruits and vegetables. You will no doubt recall how Abraham in Genesis 18, verses 1, 7 and 8, had a calf prepared for the Lord to eat, how Jesus fed the loaves and fish to the multitudes, and how Jesus baked the fish on the shore for the disciples. Then of course, we should point out that both fossil and modern animals include meat eaters. The huge sharp teeth of Tyrannosaurus, for example, were specifically designed for meat eating. In fact, our own cuspid teeth are specifically desitud
for meat eating. And, it should be noted that all skeletal remains of humans have these carnivorous teeth regardless of their antiquity.

It has been suggested by some vegetarians that meat eating induces violence against people, and that the peaceful conditions of the Millennium will at least partly be due to the abstinence from meat. Here again is a baseless assumption. Bulls and rhinoceroses are vegetarians, and yet they can be vicious. Dogs and cats thrive on meat, but otherwise can be most gentle. Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian. The Masai of Africa and other heavy meat-eating humans are often calm and gentle. Many of the ancient Cossacks of Russia were historically largely vegetarians, yet they were commonly aggressive. Some Canopy Theorists assert that the "harmful rays" of the sun induce a craving for meat. Yet, vegetarians and near vegetarians are often found in parts of the tropics with much sun while Eskimos and Laplanders are noted for meat and fish eating.

5. There are two major Canopy Theories: The Visible Canopy Theory (e.g., Kellogg et al.) and the Invisible Canopy Theory (e.g. the curricula of Accelerated Christian Education, Bob Jones University, etc.). The Visible Canopy Theory is the older one, and it is the view that the Canopy was a blanket of cloud, thick enough to be the source of the heavy rains for forty days and nights (Gen. 7:12). But, such a thick cloud would block the view of the sun, moon, and stars. and would prohibit their assigned function for "signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years" (Gen. 1:14). Any such thick cloud cover would render the expression "evening and morning," in Genesis 1, meaningless. All would be dark on Earth. Photosynthesis would never begin, and therefore there would be no plant growth and no oxygen for respiration. Without plant growth there would be no fruits and vegetables for food, no lumber for houses and furniture, no flavorings, few tools, no fuel, and so on. Conditions would resemble those postulated for the "nuclear winter," The temperatures would drop much below those experienced in past centuries following dramatic volcanic eruptions. Thus, instead of life spans being lengthened, all human, plant, and animal life would have been impossible. In short, the Visible Canopy Theory does not "hold water."

Being determined to hang onto the Canopy Theory in order to find a physical rather than a supernatural explanation for the cause of life-span reduction, but realizing some of the above difficulties, some modern proponents have conceived of the Invisible Canopy Theory. This theory seeks to account for "the waters above the firmament" (Gen. 1:7), the great longevity of the antediluvians, the lack of reference to rain and snow before the Flood, the lack of mention of antediluvian fermentation, the lack of reference to eating meat before the Flood, etc., and yet seeks to avoid the serious difficulties of the Visible Canopy Theory.

While in some ways the Invisible Canopy Theory is more clever than the Visible Canopy Theory, yet it also faces serious flaws. If the Canopy were invisible, why should Genesis 1:7 call attention to the "waters which were above the firmament"? The reference is obviously to something visible, i.e., ordinary clouds. Otherwise, the reference would make no sense to the people reading Genesis. If the Canopy were invisible, it would obviously have too little mass to make it capable of supporting forty days and nights of rains (Gen. 7:12). An Invisible Canopy that was suddenly removed at the Flood could not account for the gradual reduction in lifespans of persons born after the Flood any more effectively than could the Visible Canopy Theory. It certainly offers no explanation for the mechanism for the supposed shift from universal vegetarianism to a diet including meat. It is incapable of explaining the existence of the huge river systems before the Flood as being supplied without snows and rains. It offers no help whatever in trying to account for the imagined fact that there was no fermentation before the Flood. If the Invisible Canopy had any mass whatever, it would interfere with the solar spectrum and could produce a greenhouse effect as well as otherwise reduce photosynthesis.

Indeed, the Earth does have an invisible canopy, a tiny ozone layer that filters out some ultraviolet radiation. If this true canopy were nonexistent or if it were considerably thicker, life on Earth would be impossible. The point here is that even if tiny and invisible, any canopy acts as a filter. It is impossible to conceive of an Invisible Canopy that could be massive enough to be the source of the forty days and nights of rains of the Deluge, that could allow the solar spectrum to penetrate enough to produce photosynthesis, and still not produce a life exterminating greenhouse effect or something resembling a "nuclear winter." Every single transparent substance (whether glass, quartz, water, alcohol, oils, gases, or whatever) blocks out some of the solar spectrum. In fact, our atmosphere is an invisible canopy, and yet it filters out some of the solar spectrum. For example, at sunrise and sunset the light must travel through more atmosphere to reach us, and more of the violet and blue parts of the spectrum are filtered out, giving a reddish hue to the sun and sky. Yet, the atmosphere is much less massive than would be required of the so-called Invisible Canopy of water vapor. In short, the Invisible Canopy Theory, like its older sister theory, does not "hold water" either.

This discussion leaves us with some unanswered questions, such as, if there were no Canopy to supply rain for forty days and nights, then where did that rain come from? One might as well ask "Where did the loaves and fish come from that Jesus used to feed the rive thousand?" Or, where did the water come from that came out of the rock in the wilderness? Or, where did the wine come from that Jesus made out of the water? Again, where the Bible is specific, we must be specific, and where the Bible is vague, we must be vague. Frankly, the Bible is not clear about what it means by "windows of heaven" (Gen. 7:11) as the source of the rains. By no stretch of the imagination, however, can "windows of heaven" be made to fit a Canopy, Visible or Invisible. Perhaps it refers to God's great creative resources. The Bible is not clear on this point. And, we must not be guilty of trying to help God out of an imaginary problem.

As scientists we are supposed to be strictly honest with our investigations, data, and conclusions. And as Christians the emphasis on honesty of thought is also vital. Strangely, however, when this author has patiently pointed out these and other difficulties (such as those pertaining to annuli of fossil trees, coral, reptiles, molluscs, etc.) to leaders of Christian schools, writers and directors of science curricula for Christian school use, instructors in Bible colleges, pastors, and students, he has generally gotten such evasive and less than honest reactions as "Maybe God assigned angels to pump water into the Edenic rivers," "The Edenic rivers came from mist and from vast underground caverns ... .. How do you know that the Creator did not change the laws of nature so that there could be a massive Invisible Canopy that would still allow passage of all of the helpful rays but simultaneously block the harmful rays?"I still do not understand why you say that would be the act of a capricious Creator," "Why do you have a spirit of doubt?", "But in spite of all of these things you say, I have never heard a fundamentalist leader mention them, and I still believe the Canopy Theory because all the great fundamentalist leaders believe it" (this is incorrect, of course), "While the Theory may not be correct as you say, I will still teach it because it has long been taught," etc.

I feel that it is urgent that we as scientifically trained Christians continue to strive for academic excellence while at the same time making real efforts to help our well meaning fellow Christians who are pastors, teachers, writers, students, youth leaders, evangelists, and laymen to be honest, accurate, and effective. We must help them in the very broad areas of Bible-science overlap so that they do not bring the cause of Christ into needless disrepute.