Water and Vapor and Noah's Flood

How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?
A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims
by Dave E. Matson
Copyright © 1994-2002

A2. Water and Vapor and Noah's Flood

Attempting to supply the water for Noah's flood is a much greater problem than you might think. True, one can simply say that God did it and leave it at that. The skeptic will reply, "How do you know what God did 4400 years ago? Were you there? Are you one of those deluded fools who thinks he is privy to God's personal thoughts?" Perhaps, you are simply declaring your faith in some biblical passage, according to your understanding. But declaring is not proving, and many a fool has claimed to speak for God. How easy it is to invoke the infallible name of God to vouchsafe our own ignorance! Biblical infallibility was cited in defense of a flat earth as late as 1935 in Zion, Illinois, by Christian radio evangelist Wilbur Glenn Voliva. He advocated the biblical view of the world's flatness over "modern astronomy." Some evangelical Christians continue to defend the belief that the sun moves around the earth, which they base on the "plain words of Scripture." Indeed, they have formed The Tychonian Society in order to defend their view "scientifically." Science confers a number of benefits, not the least of which is that scientific subjects may be taught in the classroom. Thus the quest to find the source of water for Noah's flood, to do it scientifically.

Since our atmosphere only holds enough moisture to account for less than an inch of water worldwide, creationists have found it necessary to seek out other sources. A massive vapor canopy is the favorite choice of many creationists. The concept, unfortunately, is a mass of scientific and biblical contradictions.

A vapor (or water) canopy, if of any significant thickness, would block out the sun and stars with a massively overcast sky! Didn't the Bible say something about the stars and moon being created to give man a clock for the seasons? Some clock, if humanity couldn't see it!

The increased atmospheric pressure, which would be greatly increased by a massive vapor canopy supported by the atmosphere, would also cause nitrogen narcosis. Adam and Eve, and the antediluvian generations, would be in a perpetual narcotic stupor!

Here is what a renown physicist, a Bible-believing Christian, had to say about the vapor canopy. He is referring to the model which was made popular by Whitcomb and Morris in their classic, The Genesis Flood.

They assert that the canopy's sudden collapse would have increased the volume of the ocean by 30 per cent (p.326). This would mean that 30/100 of the original ocean volume, or something like 30/130 of the present ocean volume, came from the canopy. That amounts to about 75 million cubic miles. That quantity of water in the form of a vapour canopy would raise the pressure of our atmosphere from its usual 15 pounds per square inch to a crushing 970 pounds per square inch, which would create all sorts of problems for living things.

Worst of all, the pressure in the base of the canopy would be so high that it would need to have a temperature of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. (Any cooler, and it would collapse into rain.)

(Hayward, 1985, p.151)

Therefore, since antediluvian life was not pressure-cooked, any substantial vapor canopy in contact with our atmosphere is a scientific impossibility. Even a token vapor canopy depositing 40 feet of rain, as suggested by at least one creationist, does not get around all the problems. Dr. Hayward pointed out, on page 152, that winds in the upper atmosphere would soon dissipate such a structure, causing it to mix with the atmosphere and mostly rain out. Dr. Alan Hayward's final conclusion is this:

The supposed vapour canopy has been much talked about in recent-creationist circles, but very seldom thought about. A little thought soon shows there could never have been such a canopy, unless it was sustained by one long, continuing miracle. And that, of course, would be contrary to the teaching of 'Flood geologists', since they invented the canopy in the first place to explain how the Flood could have occurred by 'purely natural processes'.

(Hayward, 1985, p.152)

Obviously, you can't get more than a tiny fraction of the flood waters from the atmosphere without running into a host of difficulties, and that includes the latent heat of vaporization, yet another fatal heat problem. It takes a fair amount of heat to boil a quart of water into vapor. Even if that quart of water slowly dries up of its own accord, it still takes the same amount of heat to turn it into vapor. In that case, the heat is gradually drawn from the surrounding environment. Step in front of a fan after getting out of the shower and you will soon appreciate just how much heat water takes with it when it turns into vapor! Well, the reverse must also be true. When vapor condenses into water, it releases the same amount of heat which originally turned it into a vapor. If that were not true we would be losing (or gaining) energy in the cycle, and the first law of thermodynamics prohibits that.

In order to condense that vapor canopy into rain, it would have to release enough heat to raise the temperature of our atmosphere to 6000 degrees! That's a straightforward calculation of the latent heat of vaporization. There is no way to convert the vapor canopy into rain in time for Noah's flood without burning up the Earth! That is to say, the sheer heat would quickly turn that rain back into vapor! You would not be able to get more than a fraction of that water from the vapor canopy until the heat slowly, in stages, dissipated into space. The key word is "slowly," given that the thick vapor canopy would act as a blanket to keep thermal radiation from escaping.

Superficially, the two heat problems discussed above seem to be in contradiction. In one instance you must have a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit just to keep all that water vapor from collapsing into rain. On the other hand, you cannot get it down without burning the earth up! However, this contradiction is but an illusion.

The scenario would likely be thus: If the temperature at the surface were normal and if the vapor canopy were in contact with the atmosphere, a small portion of the canopy would immediately collapse to produce rain. Soon, however, the latent heat of vaporization released would heat up the atmosphere to such an extent as to stop the rain and maintain the rest of the vapor in its canopy. After a time (centuries? millennia?) enough heat would escape through the thick vapor canopy to cool the atmosphere down. More of the vapor canopy would then condense and heat the atmosphere back up, once again checking any further decay of the canopy. In other words, the collapse would be exceedingly slow, perhaps taking many thousands of years or more. Meanwhile, Noah would be bubbling in 500 degree heat, which would slowly diminish over the years as the canopy slowly collapsed. What we have here is a nice, slow pressure cooker! Some of us still remember those large, pressure cookers our parents used. The meat was really tender when it came out.

Any attempt to disconnect the vapor canopy from the atmosphere would mean putting it in orbit. We would be dealing with ice crystals, each orbiting the earth like a tiny satellite. Each ice crystal would be traveling at around 18,000 miles per hour to maintain a close orbit! In order to convert that ice crystal to a raindrop landing on the earth, you must, in effect, neutralize its speed and have it fall to earth. Even if that could be done, it would create another heat problem. Putting the brakes on all that orbiting mass and dropping it down to earth would create a huge amount of heat! It would make a giant meteorite impact look like small potatoes!

How do we get those ice crystals down to earth? Blasting a little dust up into outer space just isn't going to neutralize all that water vapor orbiting at 18,000 miles per hour. It would take something really catastrophic, and the result would be messy and drawn out. That is to say, ice crystals in orbit are useless as a source for Noah's flood.

Thus, we can forget about the vapor canopy as a significant source of flood water.

Nor can more than a tiny fraction of the flood water be derived from pressurized reservoirs deep within the earth. Aside from stability problems involved in packing vast quantities of free water under miles of rock, an arrangement that would have caved in from the start, there is a problem in getting the water out. After a small quantity had been released, the pressure would have dropped to zero! At that point you have to cave in the caverns to displace the remaining water with rock.

However, that wouldn't drive the water much higher than the original sea level as the rock and water would simply change places. The Bible makes it clear that the flood waters came and lifted the ark up, that the high mountains were covered. Nothing is said about the ground caving in below ark and mountain!

That leaves Dr. Hovind's bizarre iceberg-from-space conjecture to make up almost all the water. Odd, that the Bible never hints at such a mechanism! The claim that huge blocks of ice, or pieces thereof, would be deflected to the North and South magnetic poles because of a super-strong magnetic field on earth is absurd. Most likely it is based on Barnes' totally discredited ideas about the earth's magnetic field (Godfrey, 1983, pp.73-77; Dalrymple, 1992, pp.16-17). It also makes assumptions about ice which are highly questionable.

Thus, with our earth sporting an ordinary magnetic field, this iceberg from space is not going to be rerouted to the North and South polar areas. It's going to crash into the earth like any other asteroid or comet. As it impacts at tens of thousands of miles per hour the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy is going to vaporize it. And, that takes us right back to the latent heat of vaporization problem. Also, in order to supply any large quantity of water, to flood high mountains for example, and reliable translations of the Bible do mention high mountains, this asteroid would have to be huge -- huge enough to exterminate almost every living thing on the earth and in the sea. Tell me now, does the Bible say that the flood started off with a big bang, a great fireball from heaven? Or, does it say that a lot of rain started coming down and that the deep springs started bubbling up?

The more sophisticated creationists, realizing the horrible problems involved in flooding the highest mountains, assert that the earth was originally flat and, therefore, required very little water to flood. That's the position Dr. Hovind has taken. The excess water was afterwards collected into deepening basins which became our present day oceans. At the same time that the ocean basins were magically deepening the mountains were rising.

The first problem encountered is the Bible, itself. Good translations speak of the flood rising high above the earth, of covering all the high mountains (The New Oxford Annotated Bible and others). The Bible knows only of a simple flood which floods the land by special rain and by waters upwelling from the unchecked depths below the earth. (Ancient cosmology imagined a flat earth which rested on top of a primeval ocean, a world covered with a dome [the firmament] which kept vast quantities of water above the firmament from crashing down. To flood the ancient earth the deity only had to open the windows of the firmament and release the checks on the water below the earth [Babinski, 1986].) Where in this flood account do you hear of mountains rising and the surface of the earth being totally dissolved into sediment? There is not one iota of clear, unequivocal Scriptural evidence for such wild speculation! In their desperation, creationists have simply rewritten the Bible!

A second problem involves the thickness of sedimentary rock on the ocean floor as well as missing flood layers. Let us start with Dr. Hovind's assumption that the earth was relatively flat during the flood and that the excess water was drawn off into deepening ocean basins, even as the continental regions rose up. Former ocean areas and former land areas would have received approximately the same amount of sediment during a violent, worldwide flood which reworked the earth's original outer crust to a great depth.

Such would be the condition after the sediment first settled out. The excess water, now rushing off the rising continental areas, would wash vast amounts of sediment into the new ocean basins. Thus, today's ocean basins should have a much thicker and more complete layer of sedimentary rock than the continental areas. In addition, the first flood strata laid down on the new ocean floors should match the first flood strata laid down on today's continental areas, especially in areas adjoining the border between the two zones.

Why are the sedimentary rocks generally thinner on the ocean floor than in continental regions? Why are the sedimentary rocks of the Pacific and Atlantic sea floors no older than the late Jurassic? What happened to the Cambrian, the Ordovician, the Silurian, the Devonian, the Carboniferous, and the Permian strata? Funny, that Noah's flood should deposit all those strata in many, many places while systematically missing vast areas that were to become today's ocean floors!

A third problem lies in the fact that there is a sharp difference in the sedimentary strata as you move from a continental area (including the shelf) to an ocean area. According to the flood model this boundary area was originally flat and should have collected similar sediments before one section sank and the other rose. The sedimentary strata, without changing its composition, should simply dip (or drop along a fault) as it goes from continent to ocean. That is not what is observed!

A fourth problem lies in finding a believable mechanism to make the ocean basins sink in a few weeks(!) so as to make space for the retreating flood waters. The crust may be thin, thinner in proportion than the skin on an apple, as Dr. Hovind put it, but the material under it is heavier. Light stuff (like a cork) does not sink in heavier stuff (like water). The reason the ocean basins are lower is because they are made of denser material. The reason the continents are higher is because they are made of lighter material. Where does one get the force for depressing the basins and moving trillions and trillions of tons of heavy, semi-molten rock out of the way? How are those trillions and trillions of tons of heavy, semi-molten rock to be lifted up in the first place to support a rising ocean basin? (By raising the ocean floor slightly with respect to the land, creationists obtain the water they need to flood the earth.) Worse, how do creationists propose to move this hot rock in a few weeks (at the end of the flood) since it can only move a few inches a year? At that rate it can act like a fluid; try to speed it up and you have material acting like solid rock. As far as I can tell, nobody has the foggiest clue as to how this can be done scientifically.

A fifth problem lies in the instant rising of mountains. Just what mechanism do creationists have in mind which can propel a mountain 20,000 feet up in a couple of thousand years and, then, stop on a dime? Today, after great earthquakes, mountains are observed to rise a few feet at most. That is how most non-volcanic mountains actually rise. Are we to believe that the ancient world endured one magnitude 8 earthquake after another, day and night, for centuries, so that the mountains might be lifted up in record time? Of course not. Nobody could have built cities of brick under those conditions. It never happened.

A sixth problem lies in the absence of great gorges and canyons perpendicular to the coast. Rivers have cut deep gorges in places, but nothing like what we would expect for the vast quantities of water rapidly draining off continents of soft sediment. Where are these deep scars which Noah's flood would have left? We should have numerous "Grand Canyons" along all the coasts of the world by creationist reckoning. Ironically, the Grand Canyon doesn't count because it contains meandering patterns which could not have been formed by vast quantities of water quickly draining off the continent. Nor would soft sediments support the high, vertical walls and pillars found in the Grand Canyon. They would have slumped like a water-soaked sand castle!

A good geologist could probably cite many more problems, but I think I've offered enough. Six strikes and you're out! There is no escaping the need for miracles!

Miracles are the great equalizer. Any and every legend, from those of the Amazon to the views of the ancient Greeks, are equally good as long as they can use miracles. Thus, in the final analysis, the biblical flood story is no better than the tales of Zeus and of the gods of Olympus. We can't teach that in our science classes.

  1. The antediluvian ocean is shallow; the land is low. Large amounts of water are not needed to flood the land. Great reservoirs of water are buried.
  2. The flood dissolves the surface of the earth.
  3. The various strata are deposited; the former land area gets about as much sediment as does the former ocean area.
  4. Sinking basins get the water even as mountains rise up. Extra sediment is washed into the new ocean basins.

Morris model of the Noahian Deluge

In the Henry Morris model of Noah's flood (as I understand it) the land was originally very low. The antediluvian ocean floors then rose relative to the land, causing the displaced water to flood the earth. Large reservoirs of water soon erupted as well, and the catastrophic violence dissolved the surface of the earth. As the violence subsided, the suspended sediment formed much of the geologic column. Sinking basins soon gathered the water into today's oceans even as other areas rose up to form today's mountains. There are a number of fatal problems with this scenario. In panel #4, for example, we see that the bottom-most layers of a continental area should be present in the ocean floor as well. (They aren't.) In that panel we also see that the ocean floors should have a more complete and thicker strata sequence than the continental areas. (They don't.) After all, they collected the same sediments as the future continental areas -- and more (as represented by the black stratum) since material was washed off the rising continental areas and into the sinking ocean basins. These problems and others are discussed on the previous two pages.

Make a shorter URL to this article. Highlight link and "Copy To Clipboard"