Scripture says tantalizingly little about climate conditions before the Flood. Based on a few indirect verses, early creationists speculated that a vapor canopy covered the earth until the first rain fell during the Flood. In time, this view became dogma for some Christians. Later, when mathematical modeling failed to support the canopy theory, many creationists abandoned the idea of a canopy and no-rain-before-the-Flood. In time, the belief that it rained before the Flood became a new dogma. In such cases, how should a Bible believer respond?
Scripture Versus Interpretation
The first step is always to examine Scripture carefully to differentiate the actual words from interpretations. After God finished making all the plants and animals during Creation Week, the Bible says, “The Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground (Genesis 2:5–6).”
Examine Scripture carefully to differentiate the actual words from interpretations.Later, God told Noah during the 600th year of his life that He would “cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:4) and would bring “floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Genesis 6:17). Noah may have faced new weather conditions during and following the Flood that he had never experienced before, but just what was the nature of these changes? It seems clear that he saw a rainbow for the first time. And he was assaulted by severe weather of a magnitude never seen on earth before or since.
However, the conclusion that there was no rain before the Flood over the entire earth is based on two primary assumptions that are not necessarily true: (1) the mist that “watered the whole face of the ground” occurred over the entire globe and (2) since Scripture makes no mention of rain in its description of events between Creation and the Flood, then rain must not have fallen during that period.
The context of the “mist” means it may have occurred near the Garden of Eden where God was about to create Adam, and it may be stretching the verse to say the mist extended over the whole earth. And to say that there was no rain before the Flood is an argument from silence, which is always a weak argument.
Nevertheless, when building models of the earth’s early climate, it is wise to consider all the possibilities that are consistent with Scripture. We must recognize that such models are speculative, especially if they are based primarily on what is not stated, rather than what is.
Vapor Canopy Theory
If the “mist” condition of Genesis 2:5–6 covered the entire earth from Creation to the Flood—and that is a big “if”—then the earth’s climate and weather would have been considerably different from today. Noah would not have known about rain, thunderstorms, lightning, hail, or strong winds. In fact, under rain-free conditions before the Flood, the atmosphere would have been very stable, winds would have been light, and global temperatures would likely have been more uniform. And with no rain to refract sunlight, rainbows would not have formed.
A watery canopy surrounding the earth would support these conditions by providing a more massive atmosphere and higher surface pressure. In addition, creationists have noted that these special conditions may help explain such biblical mysteries as the longevity of pre-Flood people (up to 969 years) and Noah’s susceptibility to drunkenness after the Flood, although many other biological factors were likely in play.
Several canopy models of pre-Flood atmospheric conditions have been constructed, such as ones by Dillow,1 Morris,2 Vail,3 and myself.4,5 Canopy models envision the earth enveloped by a layer of water in liquid, ice, or vapor form, as described in Genesis 1:7, “Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.” Many canopy modelers believe the firmament to be the earth’s atmosphere, although this interpretation is disputed by other scholars, who point out that the sun, moon, and stars were placed in the firmament (Genesis 1:14–17). If such a canopy existed prior to the Flood, it certainly doesn’t exist today.
However, major computational problems continue to plague the canopy models. No known physical force has been shown to be capable of suspending such large amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere without major complications, such as a massive greenhouse effect.
Catastrophic Plate Movements
One of the more favored alternative sources of heavy rain during the Flood is recycled water and steam launched into the atmosphere and space from explosive heating of the oceans during catastrophic breakup and movement of the earth’s plates.6 This could explain most or all of the heavy rain of the Flood. As hot magma was ejected from cracks in the earth’s crust, it heated the ocean water, which then blasted into the atmosphere during the early weeks of the Flood. This plate tectonics model has sufficient power to explain not only the source of the Flood’s rain but also the geologic changes to the earth’s crust and the Ice Age that followed.
I was one of the scientists who helped develop this newer theory. But Genesis’s reference to “mist” still leads me to believe that some type of canopy probably did exist prior to the Flood, and I continue to search for a viable canopy model. One model does not exclude the other.
Was there rain before the Genesis Flood? I don’t believe there was, at least near the Garden of Eden. But only time will tell if modeling efforts are successful in supporting a canopy prior to the Flood. If the modeling is not successful, then rain probably fell before the Flood, at least far from the Garden of Eden. Whatever explanation is true, the Bible’s accuracy is not in question. Any combination of these models would be consistent with the biblical account, or perhaps an alternative set of conditions, which we have not yet discovered, drove the pre-Flood climate.