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A Pictorial Explanation of How Some Creationists View the Pre-Flood World

chick the flood
Chick Tract

Creationists believe the earth is 6,024 years old. Based on a literal interpretation of God’s divine science textbook — the Bible — creationists believe God, 4,000 or so years ago, sent a worldwide flood that killed all life on earth except Noah and his family and the animals on the Ark. Many creationists believe that the world after the flood was fundamentally different from the one before. Those of us who came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches of the 1960s and 1970s likely remember preachers and conference speakers waxing eloquently about the “science” found in the book of Genesis. Forced to stick to a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, these promoters of the creationist myth said that prior to Noah’s flood the earth was protected by a water canopy that kept the earth in an Edenic state. This perfectly controlled environment kept plants living without rain and allowed some people to have lifespans exceeding 900 years. (See Genesis 1:6-8, Genesis 2:6, Genesis 7:11)

Several years ago, my friend Dr. James McGrath posted a graphic that perfectly illustrates the vapor/water canopy theory.

earth before the flood

Enlightened creationists — an oxymoron — will scream foul, reminding me that most creationists no longer embrace the canopy theory. Fine, but I suspect that many older creationists still embrace the theory.  This theory is hardly “ancient” history. I heard preaching on it in the late 1980s. Every Evangelical preacher I knew owned copies of  Henry Morris’ and John Whitcomb’s 1960 book, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implication, and Morris’ 1976 book, The Genesis Record, A scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings. These two books, along with a King James Bible, were all Evangelical preachers needed to explain the universe.  What have creation “scientists” discovered that would cause creationists to now abandon the canopy theory? Or is the real issue that believing it makes them look like illiterate hillbillies? Craving acceptance by the larger religious community or desiring validation from the science community, creationists have abandoned a theory that was central to interpreting Genesis for much of the twentieth century. Creationists are front and center in attacks on LGBTQ Christians who reinterpret the Bible to support their belief that God/Bible does not condemn homosexuality. How is abandoning the canopy theory any different? Did the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God change? How dare creationists abandon their interpretation of the Bible just because it makes them look illiterate!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    August Rode

    The diagram is one of several that will appear if one googles “ancient Hebrew cosmology” and looks at the images returned by that search. It is *not*, as far as I understand it, something that illustrates the “water canopy theory,” the main difference being that under ancient Hebrew cosmology, the world is flat whereas creationists tend to accept that the world is a sphere.

      • Avatar
        August Rode

        That isn’t the only difference, it’s the main difference. If you look at the diagram, you’ll see the sun, moon and stars *inside* the “canopy.” Creationists will tend, of course, to reverse that. Although they want the canopy to be around the earth, they also accept that the sun, moon and stars should be outside the canopy. What they’re trying to do is to twist the features of the ancient Hebrew cosmology to fit our modern cosmological understanding. What they end up with are absurdities.

  2. Avatar

    Well well, it’s never too late to learn something new! I’ve never heard of this canopy nonsense before. It’s very much like a drawing from a book of fairytales, that children by the age of 8 or 9 dismiss as so obviously silly.

    Fundamdamentalists and creationists seem to want it all ways. They re-write the bible to suit themselves in respect of keeping slaves, stoning women to death, or eating shellfish, but cry foul when gays try and do the same thing. Their confusion over science is, in some ways, worse. They enjoy the benefits that science confers, such as cars, computers, medicines, but don’t realise that the same, much more able, minds that produced these benefits have also shown the whole of the bible to be largely false, in so far as the events it relates are concerned.

    • Avatar
      August Rode

      “It’s very much like a drawing from a book of fairytales, that children by the age of 8 or 9 dismiss as so obviously silly.”

      Indeed. So much so that even organizations like Answers in Genesis have articles on their web site explaining (a bit too briefly, in my opinion) why the canopy “theory” doesn’t… erm… hold water. CreationWiki, too, mentions that the “theory” is “discredited.”

      The “canopy theory” was *never* a theory in any way that science would recognize. A theory has to explain an observed phenomenon in a way that is consistent with all of the available facts and observations. “Canopy theory” explained a never-was-observed phenomenon and did so by ignoring broad swaths of physics and other sciences. It was only ever an exercise in circular reasoning.

      • Avatar
        grammar gramma

        ” A theory has to explain an observed phenomenon in a way that is consistent with all of the available facts and observations.”
        I strongly suggest that this does not hold true with religions.

  3. Avatar

    When your world is only the size that you can see from horizon to horizon a world wide flood is possible, even probable when you find sea shell fossils at the top of mountains.

    • Avatar
      August Rode

      And the problem with that is that we don’t find sea shell fossils *at* the top of mountains. We find them *in* the tops of mountains.

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    I grew up hearing about this canopy. Like it was mentioned above, canopy was under the sun, moon and stars. This idea was still being preached in my circles as recently as 4 years ago, when I stopped going to church. These were Sovereign Grace/Calvinistic churches that were very insular, so that may have been why.

    I’ve never looked into this belief, even as a Christian. To me, it simply didn’t matter. As a non-Christian, it still doesn’t matter. It has absolutely no affect on my life today.

  5. Avatar
    Benny S

    I remember hearing about this stupid canopy at a “Bible College” in the late 1980s. Also taught in the same course: (1) The dinosaurs were recently newborn, so they were small and didn’t take up much room on the ark. (2) Most of the animals were fed milk, because reasons.

  6. Avatar

    The fundamentalist Christian school I attended had Bob Jones University textbooks for its biology class and for the Bible classes. (Interestingly, the advanced biology textbook was a secular book, but we skipped sections on mammalian reproduction and evolution – they may have actually been physically removed but I don’t remember. I do remember sections of the Diary of Anne Frank that were blacked out with ink, where she was discussing her physical changes due to puberty.) The BJU textbooks described the canopy theory, though I don’t remember the specifics of the graph. They weren’t flat Esther’s at that time. I took this course in 1985 or 1986, but I don’t know when the text was published. Some of our textbooks dated back to the 60s and 70s. I know in history courses we never got past WWII, and other than learning about ancient Greece and Egypt and Rome, history was quite Eurocentric.

    I still consider it abuse that they taught us this way. I don’t care that they meant well.

    • Avatar

      “ I still consider it abuse that they taught us this way. I don’t care that they meant well.”

      I think you are being charitable. If people should know better then it’s on them that they are telling you lies when they are in positions of influence.

  7. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    Back in the 1960s, when I was a child, I learned some similarly truthful cosmology from the T.V. commercials interspersed with cartoon shows on Saturday mornings. Here are two of those main cosmological principles that stuck with me across the past 62 years:

    (1) “The sun, the moon, and all the stars are great big Tootsie-Roll Pops.”

    (2) “The best candies on Earth come from Mars.”

    I wonder if the manna that regularly fell from the sky during the 40-year desert sojourn of the children of Israel was various candies from Mars: Milky Way bars, Twix bars, Three Musketeers bars, Snickers bars. If you are not diabetic, that is some mighty good eatin’ boys and girls. When I was a kid in the poor neighborhood where I grew up, I saw other kids eating a Milky Way bar and an “R o C Coca-Cola” for lunch because it was what the kid liked and about all his mom could afford to give him for lunch—-real light on the Social Security check for young kids with dead fathers.

    Would anyone like to discuss how those ancient candies from Mars made it through the earth’s atmosphere to the children of Israel without burning up on atmospheric entry:

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Bruce Gerencser