Claim 2 - The 'Vapour Canopy'
This theory was proposed by several proponents of Creation in order to
explain simultaneously the Biblical flood, and the enormous ages of humans
recorded before the flood. For example, the book of Genesis states that
Adam, the first man, lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5). Many of his
descendants lived over 900 years (Genesis 5:6 et. seq.). According
to the book of Genesis, God then decided that man was living for too long,
so decided to reduce his age to 120 years (Genesis 6). This happened
during the life of Noah, and was achieved around the time of the great flood
concerning which, according to the book of Genesis, God stated "I will wipe
mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth - men and animals,
and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air - for I am
grieved that I have made them." (Genesis 6:7)
According to the Genesis account, the flood then killed almost all life on
Earth, except those animals who dwelled in the water, and those few who were
saved along with Noah in the Ark.
Some creationists put forward the idea of a 'vapour canopy', created at the
time the Earth was formed, which hung several miles above the Earth and
shielded the Earth from the Sun's harmful Ultraviolet rays. They claim
that this protective layer would produce a warm, tropical climate on Earth,
and would also allow the humans who lived there to live for vastly longer
periods of time, perhaps a factor of twenty over what they could have
expected to be a reasonable life span of 45-50 years without modern
First of all I plan to investigate the plausibility of a 'vapour canopy', in
the sense described by Creationists. Then I will investigate the claims
that such a canopy could have both caused the flood (by its falling to
Earth) and allowed the elongated lives of those who lived under its
Note that throughout this article, I'm really considering a "mist" canpoy. I
assume that this is what the creationists really mean. Clearly a
vapour canopy is a ridiculous idea - the energy required to keep a
substantial amount of water in gaseous form up in the atmosphere would be
ridiculous. Adam and Eve would have been cooked very quickly
indeed! It would have been like living in a steam cooker!
How much water would be required?
A first investigation is the determination of the required water content of
such a canopy. The book of Genesis states that the flood waters rose so
high that they covered the peaks of the highest mountains to a depth of
twenty feet (Genesis 7:20). Mount Everest is the highest mountain on
Earth, and its height is 8850 metres. If we ignore the extra 20 feet, and
then calculate the amount of water required to cover the earth to this depth
we obtain a value of 4.5 billion cubic kilometres. (asuming the Earth's
radius to be a constant at 6360 kilometres.) Actually this is a slight
underestimate, but I'll take the lower value.
tells us that the total volume of water on the Earth including all the
oceans and the icecaps is approximately 326 million cubic miles, or
approximately 820 million cubic kilometres. This is a factor of 5 lower
than the volume of water required to cause the biblical flood.
How much rain would this cause
Let us investigate the rainfall rate that this amount of water would
require. Assuming that it fell uniformly (which will give us the minimum
possible value for the maximum rainfall rate) we can take the Biblical
account and work out what the rainfall rate, in metres per hour, must have
been to cause such a flood. The Bible states (Genesis 7:12) that the
rains lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, or 960 hours. Now we know that the
depth of water must have been 8850 metres, so this equates to a rainfall
rate of 9.2 metres per hour, or 15 centimetres per minute. For comparison,
the highest rainfall rate ever measured on planet Earth was 187cm in one
day for Cilaos, Le Reunion in March 1952. (See
The flood rainfall is a factor of 118 times higher than this!
Of course, this is not a disproof, by any means. Genesis also talks of
water coming from underground; "all the springs of the great deep burst
forth," (Genesis 7:11). We could investigate if any substantial
amount of water could be stored underground, as this tends to suggest.
Could this water be stored underground?
The Genesis myth tells of water springing forth from the deep. Some
creationists have argued that this might be able to explain the volume of
water required. In addition, they argue that this might also explain where
all the water went after the flood - a problem which we have yet to address.
So how much water could be stored in the Earth's crust?
This site tells us that the deepest borehole ever drilled into the
Earth's crust was 12km. The temperature of the bottom of the well was 190
degrees celsius, significantly above the boiling point of water. If water
existed at this depth then it would simply evaporate and work its way up
through fissures in the rock, bubbling out at the surface or condensing
below the surface. Either way, water could not exist at 12km. Another
borehole in Germany was 10km deep, with a base temperature of 118 degrees
celsius. This is still too hot, but not by such a staggering amount. We
could estimate that the temperature would drop sufficiently far below
boiling point at around 9 kilometres depth.
Now remember that the amount of water required was a depth of 8.85
kilometres. If we were to store this in the Earth's crust then we would
require 98.3% of the Earth's crust to be made of water. That simply isn't
the case. Therefore we are forced to abandon this theory. (Furthermore,
the average crust thickness under the oceans, which occupy over 70 percent
of this planet's surface area, is only 5 kilometres, further reducing the
possible quantity of water that existed under the Earth.)
Note - I should really take into account the pressure here, which would
increase the boiling point of water beneath the Earth's surface. I have no
accurate idea what level of effect this would have, but it certainly
wouldn't be enough to make this theory plausible.
Could such a large amount of water have existed in the
We are forced to conclude that, presuming the Biblical account is being
argued, the waters must have almost all been stored in the atmosphere. Were
it not for this then we simply could not store that volume of water in the
Earth's crust, or even anywhere near that volume. We would simply have
found it by now.
So how could such a canopy exist? Could it simply form part of our
atmosphere? Well to work this out we can consult science. We know that the
atmosphere has a density distribution which follows an exponential law. That
is to say that the density of the atmosphere drops off by a certain factor
for a constant increase in height. The scale length for this drop off is a
few kilometres. If the layer existed in liquid water form then its density
would be much higher than that of the surrounding air at any height, and
therefore it would immediately fall back down. However, could it exist as
The density of steam is approximately 1/1000th that of liquid water, so even
compressing the vapour as much as possible this layer must have stretched
almost 10,000 kilometres into space. Now at a height of 10,000 kilometres
the Earth's gravitational field is almost seven times weaker than it is at
the surface, so it is not at all obvious that the Earth could hold on to
this layer of vapour. I'll do the calculations some time.
However, we can still reasonably easily calculate the pressure that such a
layer of water must have exerted, assuming that the majority of it is going
to be lying at a height where its density is considerably higher than that
of the atmosphere surrounding it (which is a perfectly valid assumption in
this case - water vapour is about half as dense as air at sea level, but is
ten times more dense at a height of 40 kilometres, because of the
exponentially dropping atmospheric density. Remember our vapour layer is
10,000km thick, so the majority of it is therefore in this regime.
The scale depth for pressure increases in the ocean is approximately ten
metres. This means that for every ten metres of depth the pressure
increases by one atmosphere (100,000 pascals). Therefore, under ten
kilometres of water, the pressure would reach around 1,000 atmospheres or
100 million pascals. This is the same as the pressure at the bottom of the
deepest ocean trenches where so far humans have been unable to travel. In
fact, we have been unable to manufacture machines out of thick reinforced
steel able to withstand such pressures. All living creatures under a water
canopy consisting of ten kilometres of water (except for the simplest of
micro-organisms) would be crushed to death immediately.
Would a 'vapour canopy' truly protect us from ageing?
So what would the world have been like under such a canopy, with the
exception of the immediate prospect of being crushed to death? If one
considers the equivalent height of water contained in the atmosphere above
our heads right now, it is only a few centimetres, dropping to a few
millimetres in dry, high altitude sites. With almost ten kilometres of
water above our heads we could expect quite a change.
Well Creationists claim that this large layer of water vapour would protect
us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. They are absolutely
correct. In fact, as I show below, it would protect us from practically
all of the Sun's radiation, but that's another argument. However, the
concept of advanced ages is an interesting one, and must be addressed
Is there any evidence that human beings were designed to live for longer
than about 50-60 years? Well human females have approximately enough eggs
to last into their fifties. They never generate any new ones. After this
age, humans have essentially fulfilled their usefulness in a biological
sense , and the concept of humans having children well into their hundreds
of years is clearly quite absurd. One should also consider the development
of teeth. Before the advent of good dental care, most people would have
lost their teeth in early age, just as animals do. However, the concept of
someone living to the age of 900 even with today's dental care doesn't bear
thinking about. Without dental care they would probably have been chewing
on gums for 95 percent of their lives!
And what of the protection from UV radiation? Well that's all well and
good, but it doesn't help humans fight disease, nor does it help us protect
ourselves from wild animals and accidents. In fact, it won't help protect
us from cancer much because many elements in the Earth are radioactive on
their own, and can cause cancer without the Sun's rays. Interestingly,
after the flood, and presumably without the protective vapour canopy, Noah
lived for a further 350 years (Genesis 9:28). His sons lived into
the 400s, too. If the UV layer had gone then how did this happen?
Furthermore, if they had been living behind a UV protection layer of such
vastness then their skins would not have developed any protection from the
sun's rays - they would have been whiter than white. When that layer was
removed they would all have caught skin cancer alarmingly quickly.
What would the Earth really be like
Astronomers hate water vapour - it stops them from observing the stars.
Those of us who have looked through a fish tank know that water distorts
light - what we see is blurred. And that's only a small amount of water.
With ten kilometres of the stuff hanging over our heads we would not be able
to see the stars at all. In fact we can investigate what we would be able
gives us the attenuation coefficient for a clear lake as 0.2 m^-1. Let's
assume that this water from the formation of the Earth is super-pure and
therefore we can take a coefficient of 0.1 m^-1. How much light from the
sun would reach Earth through this blanket?
The calculation is actually remarkably simple. Light attenuation is another
exponential decay problem, the mathematics of which is simple high-school
stuff. We can see straightforwardly that the fraction of light reaching the
surface of the Earth after travelling through ten kilometres of water would
be exp(-0.1 * height) is approximately one part in 10 ^ 260. Effectively
this means that the Earth would have been perpetually dark. You know what
happens when a dark storm cloud consisting of water vapour just a few
hundred metres in height goes overhead? The skies are dark. Well here
we're trying to see what would happen if a cloud of vapour 10,000 kilometres
in height went overhead. The entire Earth would be plunged into
The theory of a vapour canopy is so utterly wrong that it fails at nearly
every possible hurdle. Just the simplistic scientific tests to which I have
subjected it show that it fails catastrophically on even the most simple
points of reason. The concept is undeniably false, and should be
disregarded in its entirety.
If anyone is interested in the details of the calculations on this web page
then please write to me and I will do my best to explain them.
Is this a fair representation? If not then drop me an email. Address below.
This page maintained by Colin Frayn.
Last Update : 2nd December, 2005