As a kid, I learned of the Canopy Theory on visits to Glenrose, Texas. I think I enjoyed learning about the theory so much because it was the first time that I saw science paired up with the Bible to create a real harmony. It was exiting! I especially like the thought at the end that when God creates a new earth, I could live in such an environment. In an oxygen-rich environment, the worry about asthma would be gone. (Never mind that I would have a new body free from the ravishes of sin and sickness.)
So, I was very disappointed to learn that Answers in Genesis didn’t include the canopy theory anywhere in their museum. I’ve always wondered why. Thanks to this new article, I now understand.
You must read the full article because there are many great points in it. But, to summarize, I found two main things that convinced me. One was from a Biblical point of view, and the other was from a scientific point of view.
What is the Canopy Theory?
As a quick overview of the canopy theory, it simply says that the “firmament” that the Bible speaks of at creation was a layer of clouds. This layer of clouds would have created a special environment for us to live in.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.(Genesis 1:6-7)
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.
This cloud layer would have shielded humans from the solar radiation we have now. It could explain why people lived longer before the flood. It would also provide a significant source of water for the flood (although not necessary since the Bible also states water came from beneath as well as from rain).
Update 12/24: Ben pointed out to me that studies show that a denser atmosphere would have been needed to allow pterodactyls to fly. I found this PDF that explains that.
The biggest issue I had never thought of was the stars. The Bible says that the stars were placed for us to use as indicators for seasons and time.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:(Genesis 1:14-15)
And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
How are we to use the stars if we can’t see them? You can’t go star-watching on a rainy, cloudy night. The canopy model requires an overcast view of the sky indefinitely.
The coolest part of the canopy theory was the way it explained the longevity before the Bible. If you chart the life span of the people in the Bible, you’ll notice that the people before the flood live hundreds of years. After the flood, the life span gradually decreases. The canopy theory says that is because the canopy created a high amount of oxygen at our level making something like a hyperbaric chamber.
The issue is that it seems that our bodies cannot handle that level of oxygen on a permanent basis. We build up free radicals in our bodies which can cause major health problems. I guess we can have too much of a good thing! Apparently, too much oxygen can lead to a form of oxygen poisoning.
The American Nurse Today points out an interesting example of the free radical issue in fruit:
Oxidative stress also occurs in nature. For example, when an apple is peeled, it quickly starts to turn brown; lemon juice can be added to slow down oxidation. In this situation, lemon juice, which contains vitamin C, acts an antioxidant.Free radicals: What are they and why should nurses care about them?
I had trouble finding information specifically linking this “Oxidative stress” to hyperbaric chambers. I did find one article, which I admit, I was too cheap to buy to read. It was probably over my head anyway. The best I found was a note on the complications of hyperbaric oxygen treatment from John Hopkins medicine:
To prevent oxygen poisoning, you may need to take short breaks during the therapy and breathe normal air. This can prevent tissues in the body from taking in too much oxygen.John Hopkins Medicine: Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
I really appreciated this article from Answers in Genesis. I had gotten the impression that they did not agree with the canopy theory, but I never understood why. Apparently, I’m not smart enough to put together myself that with clouds you wouldn’t be able to see the stars.
I admit that I still hold out some hope for the canopy theory. That’s just wishing thinking, not very scientific of me. I am hopeful that someone will find some new evidences that will reconcile the problems and make it all make sense.
Maybe the stars were a map by feeling or sound in a way we wouldn’t understand today. It’s been a long time, but I vaguely remember one creation museum suggesting that possibly the stars would have sent some sort of waves that might have inspired song in us. Maybe it was this verse:
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;(Job 38:6-7)
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Maybe before the flood we would have taken in enough vitamin C or other antioxidants that the oxygen poisoning wouldn’t have been an issue. Our bodies dietary requirements had to be different somehow if meat were not introduced until after the flood.
Most importantly, I wholeheartedly agree with Answers in Genesis: the canopy theory is not necessary for the Bible to be true.
The canopy model was a scientific interpretation developed in an effort to help explain certain aspects of the text to those who were skeptical of the Bible’s accounts of earth history, but when it comes down to it, it is not necessary and even has some serious biblical issues associated with it.Answers in Genesis/Bodie Hodge
I also look forward to continued research.
The canopy model may have a glimmer of hope still remaining, and that will be left to the proponents to more carefully explain, but both the biblical and scientific difficulties need to be addressed thoroughly and convincingly for the model to be embraced. So we do look forward to future research.
In all of this, we must remember that scientific models are not Scripture, and it is the Scripture that we should defend as the authority. While we must surely affirm that the waters above were divided from the waters below, the canopy model should be held loosely lest we misinterpret Scripture with limited scientific understanding.Answers in Genesis/Bodie Hodge
- Answers in Genesis: What Is the State of the Water Vapor Canopy Model?
- Mayo Clinic: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Colorado State VIVO Pathophysiology: Free Radicals and Reactive Oxygen
- American Nurse Today: Free radicals: What are they and why should nurses care about them?
- Free Radical Research Communications: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Increases Free Radical Levels in the Blood of Humans (I only ready the abstract)
- John Hopkins Medicine: Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
- Octave Levenspiel: Atmospheric Pressure at the Time of Dinosaurs (PDF)