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Earth’s First Climate and Genesis Clues

Foggy morning with the sunrise behind a tree

[Originally published as No Rain?]

Does the Bible Tell Us There was No Rain Before the Flood?

We have been exploring common misconceptions regarding origins. Several such misconceptions pertain to the time between creation and the global flood. Here we explore the claim that the Bible teaches or at least implies that there was no rain before the flood. This claim is based on Genesis 2:5 which states,

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the Earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

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Context

The context of the passage is the detailed account of the events of the sixth day of creation. Recall, Genesis 1 through Genesis 2:4 is the overview description of the events of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest. Beginning in Genesis 2:5 and extending through the end of the chapter we read a more detailed account of the events of Day 6. We know this because Genesis 2 gives the details of the creation of the first humans, something that Genesis 1:26-31 states happened on the sixth day of creation.

Some critics have erroneously taught that Genesis 2:5-25 is a different account of the creation of the universe, one that is contrary to the account given in Genesis 1. But this is easy to refute by simply reading the text. Genesis 2:5-25 does not describe the creation of the universe, the earth, the land, the sea, the sun, moon, and stars—because these things had been created before Day 6. Rather, Genesis 2 focuses on the events of Day 6—the creation of Adam and Eve. It gives details of the events of the sixth day that are not recorded in the overview of the entire creation week recorded in Genesis 1.

It is in this context that we encounter Genesis 2:5.  On the sixth day of the creation week, God had not yet sent rain upon the ground. From this information, the only thing we can logically deduce is that by the sixth day of the creation week, it had not yet rained. Notice that this verse says absolutely nothing about whether or not it rained on day 7, 8, 9, 10, or any day thereafter. It only indicates that there had not yet been any rain by the sixth day—and only the first part of the sixth day before Adam had been created.

Does Genesis 2:5 suggest that the conditions of Day 6 persisted until the flood year? Not at all. In fact, the same verse also states, “there was no man to cultivate the ground.” Clearly, this latter condition did not persist beyond the start of Day 6; Adam and Eve were made on the sixth day and there were many people by the time of the flood. Rather, the verse merely reports the conditions that existed at the beginning of the sixth day of creation. There is no textual or logical reason to assume that such conditions continued thereafter.

A Canopy?

Why then do some Christians think that there was no rain between the time of creation and the global flood? The answer most likely has to do with a theory that was popular several decades ago. The “canopy theory” was proposed by some creation scientists to explain certain things in Scripture, such as: the long lives of the pre-flood people, where the water for the flood came from, and what the “waters above” were in Genesis 1:7. It also attempted to explain certain scientific data, such as the evidence that the world originally had a more temperate climate in places that today are frozen, such as Antarctica, as well as evidence of giant insects which, we are taught, could not exist in our modern atmosphere.

The canopy theory was the suggestion that the original pre-flood earth was enveloped by a sphere of water vapor located on top of the atmosphere. The theory suggested that this canopy created a greenhouse effect, creating a subtropical climate from pole to pole. Since temperature differences create weather (like hurricanes), the thought was that such a canopy would prevent strong weather and perhaps even prevent rainfall.

But how could plants exist without rain? One suggestion was that a different type of water cycle existed before the flood, with the earth being watered by mist (perhaps suggested in Genesis 2:6) and underground water sources. (But again, Genesis 2:6 only addresses the conditions that existed in the early part of the sixth day.)

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The weight of the vapor canopy may have increased atmospheric pressure, allowing insects to grow much larger since they could take in more oxygen. Some suggested that the canopy would have offered increased protection from harmful cosmic radiation—such radiation can cause mutations. And with such protection, perhaps people would have lived much longer. The theory postulated that the canopy collapsed at the time of the flood, and was responsible for much of the water of the flood.

It was a really neat idea, but it is almost certainly wrong.

To be clear, the Bible does discuss waters above or upon the expanse (the sky). And some creationists, in the past, argued that these “waters above” were a vapor canopy. But that doesn’t necessarily follow. Water and vapor have the same chemical composition, but the Hebrew language normally uses a different word for vapor (הֶ֥בֶל hebel) than it does for water (מָּֽיִם mayim). Yet, Genesis 1:7 uses the word for water (not vapor) to describe the waters above the expanse. Nor do we have any reason to think that the waters above entirely surround the globe. They might exist in some places, and not in others, just like the waters below (seas) exist in some places and not others.

In fact, most Bible scholars have argued that the waters above the expanse described in Genesis 1:7 are clouds. In Job 38:9 God indicates that clouds covered the Earth during the creation week. Furthermore, clouds are liquid water droplets in suspension that are above the expanse from our perspective. Job 26:8 specifically tells us that clouds are made of water.

So it is very doubtful that Genesis 1:7 could be referring to a vapor canopy.

Furthermore, Psalm 148:4 refers to the waters above the expanse as still existing. Yet, Psalm 148:4 was written long after the global flood. So it cannot be referencing a canopy that collapsed during the flood. Whatever the “waters above the expanse” are, they still exist, or at least they did at the time the Psalms were written—long after the global flood.

It was a neat idea because it explained so much. But we must note that the Bible doesn’t actually say that there was such a canopy, nor that it did any of the things it was supposed to do. Some people have elevated the canopy theory in their minds almost to the level of Scripture, but it really isn’t. The canopy was a scientific hypothesis that explained much of the data of the Bible, but was never directly taught in the Bible. And, as a scientific hypothesis, the canopy model has not withstood scientific scrutiny.

Several scientific studies done by creationists have shown that any substantial canopy would make Earth’s surface temperature intolerably hot.¹  Furthermore, we now have much better explanations for all the things that the canopy theory was supposed to explain.

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  • The longevity of the patriarchs is better explained by the genetic bottleneck that occurred on Noah’s Ark
  • The evidence of a more temperate global climate makes sense in light of the different distribution of the continents before the flood
  • Water from underground makes sense as the primary source of water for the flood
  • And we now know that insects have active (not merely passive) respiration, in which case they could have been larger in the past without any substantial differences in the atmosphere.

Even if there had been a vapor canopy, it would be nearly impossible for such a structure to completely prevent rain.

Rain occurs when the air temperature drops below the dewpoint in a sufficiently large volume. In any atmosphere in which there is moisture and changes in temperature, this condition will inevitably occur from time to time. It would even occur indoors if buildings had sufficient continuous volume. NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is large enough that rain clouds have formed below the ceiling. Around 10,000 tons of air conditioning equipment are needed to prevent precipitation inside the building.

So, there was almost certainly rain before the flood.

Footnote:

  1. Snelling, A.A., Earth’s Catastrophic Past, 2009, p.667

Written by Dr. Jason Lisle

Dr. Jason Lisle is a Christian astrophysicist who researches issues pertaining to science and the Christian Faith. You can find his ministry at Biblical Science Institute.com.
Dr. Lisle double-majored in physics and astronomy with a minor in mathematics at Ohio Wesleyan University. He then went on to obtain a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There, he used the SOHO spacecraft to analyze the surface of the sun, and made a number of interesting discoveries, including the detection of giant cell boundaries.
Since then, Lisle has worked in full-time apologetics ministry. He wrote a number of planetarium shows for the Creation Museum, including the popular “Created Cosmos.” Dr. Lisle has authored a number of best-selling books on the topic of creation, including: Taking Back Astronomy, Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky, the Ultimate Proof of Creation, Discerning Truth, and Understanding Genesis.

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