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Blame CMI? And what about the “Canopy” theory?

Dinosaur in mist

This week Dr Carl Wieland responds to two very different enquiries. An email from Australian correspondent Tim R. was similar in tone to many other such letters we’ve been receiving of late from around the English-speaking world (especially the United States), except in Tim’s case the misrepresentation of CMI was more severe. The second correspondent asked for clarification of CMI’s view re the “Canopy” theory.

Here’s the letter from Tim R., exactly as submitted to us:

Your organisation proposes to subvert the fundamental theory of biology, so one would assume your representatives would have at least a working understanding of biology. I’m pretty bored of meeting creationists in the street and finding that they are not just scientifically unschooled, but scientifically illiterate. Here are some things your zealots have never known-not even once:

  • The difference between phenotype and genotype
  • Enzymes are proteinsv“Human” is not kingdom of life. In fact, it’s not even a taxon at all.
  • What a taxon is.
  • What any of the kingdoms of life are.
  • Whether DNA is a polymer.
  • What DNA stands for.
  • What pH range DNA might be in.
  • What an acid actually is.
  • What a polymer actually is.
  • What a chemical reaction actually is.
  • What the law of gravity actually is.
  • Entropy is not the same as enthalpy (in fact, none have even heard of enthalpy so far-shameful)
  • The difference between “homozygous” and “Homo Sapiens”. I’ve asked this a few times as a joke and have been thrilled to find none of them even realise how ridiculous the question is. I’ve even asked about the mysterious species “heteropithicus” to try to ascertain whether they were completely ignorant of evolutionary theory, and found that not one of them has ever (correctly) picked me up on it.
  • I’ve even replaced “centromere” with “centrifuge” and not one creationist preacher has corrected me.
Anyway, I’d like to ask why I’ve been able to have such fun at your expense, and why your organisation allows people to promote it who know so little about the field they are addressing. Please respond, Tim.

The Managing Director of CMI–Australia, Dr Carl Wieland, replies:

Dear Sir

I am intrigued as to why you would derive any satisfaction from picking someone on the street who happens to believe in creation and choosing to regard them as representatives of our organisation?

I imagine that if I asked the average person on the street in Australia some questions about basic science, the vast majority would fail the test convincingly. Since the majority of those would also believe in evolution, it would be a strange thing indeed if I were to say, for example, to the evolution-promoting organisations (in the US, for instance, this would be the NCSE) that they should not let these people ‘represent them’.

Another example of this sort of thing would be if I were to go to a meeting of folk who believe that they were abducted by aliens, of whom once more the overwhelming majority would believe in evolution, many enthusiastically so (since belief in evolution underpins the idea that ‘other civilizations’ may also have evolved)—and then I were to seek to lumber those who teach evolution with the fact that ‘their zealots’ believe such things.

It also appears that you are not likely to be familiar with the actual arguments on our site, or you would be aware of the evidence that biology in practice (and practical science at all levels) does not at all depend on the truth or otherwise of what you call its ‘fundamental theory’. If you are ever able to look past certain prejudicial notions, I would commend the book that refutes Richard Dawkins on evolution by Dr Jonathan Sarfati (who I would suggest can almost certainly run rings around you on much more than the sorts of questions you raise) refuting the latest book by Dawkins point by point—precisely on evolution and long ages. The cover blurb carries a recommendation by a Cornell University Prof (genetics). But then, that spoils the convenient caricature your ‘technique’ produces within your own head.


Carl W.

Managing Director
Creation Ministries International Ltd (Australia)

United States correspondent Todd N. submitted this enquiry:

I listened to your show [referring to an episode of Creation Magazine Live—Ed.] which rebuffed the "Canopy" theory; the articles I found at your website didn’t offer alternative to Dillow’s points: (a) higher atmospheric pressure (two and a half times present atmosphere), including partial pressures of O2 allowing dinosaurs and giant humans to thrive (not to mention long life through rapid tissue regeneration)and (b) a decent explanation for less carbon-14 creation during the pre-Flood era (which could also explain the increase of free-radical production which promotes aging).

I don’t have the book in front of me, but I believe Dillow also conveyed the possibility for a much larger canopy (in the region of the ionosphere), which was 100 miles thick. I recall the calculations for temperature difference were not as drastic as what one of your articles reported and what was stated on your television broadcast.

[When we sought further details as to which broadcast, Todd clarified as follows.]

The program was on NRB network cable television station (Direct TV). All I remember was a comment about dismissing the "canopy model" theory based on the idea that such a state would cause the oceans to literally boil and evaporate. My point is that it didn’t appear that the host was referring to the canopy model in Dillow’s book "The Waters Above". Dillow’s canopy accounted for a much larger amount of water. I have used this model to introduce creation science topics to high school students (some who are currently viewing Dr. Stephen C. Meyers video series) and to university students at Idaho State University. I find it an excellent segue leading from topics of physics, chemistry, biology, health science, astronomy and geology. I will be at a total loss if they come back to me saying that scientists who are Christians disagree with me. That is the reason I am writing. Thanks, in advance, for your helpful response.

Todd N.

Dr Wieland responds:

Hi, Todd. Having lectured using the ‘canopy’ idea many years ago, I can certainly understand its appeal. Emotionally, it was hard to ‘let go’. However, the evidence is really stacked up against it for many reasons, which is why it’s on the list of our ‘better not to use’ arguments at Arguments we think creationists should NOT use. I don’t know of any of the major creation ministries that still hold it in a substantial way. Dr Henry Morris was a fan, which may be why Larry Vardiman tried hard while Dr Henry was alive to make it work [i.e. via modeling]. Dr Vardiman was certainly aware of Dillow’s 1981 book.

A summary can be found, which is not a diatribe against it by any means, in chapter 12 from our Creation Answers Book.

Please read that whole chapter carefully first, including footnotes. Then check the following points against the other things you raise and some I know of from experience. Each of the ‘pillars’ of canopy theory crumbles on scrutiny. Here are a few that are not mentioned in that chapter:

  • Higher oxygen levels in amber air bubbles: amber is not an airtight seal, gas has been shown to be able to diffuse across it. There is [thus] no reliable indicator of what the pre-Flood atmosphere was like. And if amber were such a sampling, why do the 02 levels in the bubbles vary across amber deposits?
  • Higher air pressure needed to have pterosaurs fly: views on this have changed since aeronautical knowhow has improved. And analysis of some of the heaviest pterosaurs shows that their bones were much like styrofoam, very light. Furthermore, recent research shows that a tiny bone called the pteroid supported a skin flap that would have greatly increased lift—see Pterosaurs flew like modern aeroplanes. They would definitely be able to fly in today’s atmosphere (which makes sense of the various Indian legends that suggests they may have only died out relatively recently).
  • Giant insects prove higher oxygen levels: the theory was that the O2 could not have diffused into a large insect rapidly enough by passive processes. But recent findings have shown that insects do actively breathe with a mechanism that funnels air into their spiracles. So giant insects, if alive today, could comfortably survive in today’s atmosphere.
  • Aging: there is no evidence that cosmic radiation has any influence on aging. And there is evidence that aging is mostly influenced by genetic (internal) factors. In fact, the least likely explanation for the post-Flood decline in ages is that the whole environment changed, because that would have also cut Noah’s subsequent post-Flood life short. However, he lived for another 300 years, seemingly fulfilling the age (900) he would likely have reached preFlood. For more discussion on lifespans, see Living for 900 years. Dr John Sanford, in his book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of our Declining Genome, shows that mutational load in such a ‘bottleneck’ situation could easily have generated that drop in ages by itself.
  • C14 ratios: it is not even necessary to get into the question of whether anything other than an unrealistically massive canopy could have stopped enough cosmic rays to make a difference to C14 production, because the mere fact that huge amounts of C12 were buried is by itself enough to totally change the C14/C12 ratio and to explain the fact that things like coal and oil give C14 ages (when they should not, they should not have any C14 left) and that these are generally around 35,000-55,000 ‘radiocarbon years’ (and the correction for an estimate of how much C12 would have been buried puts them in the right ballpark for an actual age of around 4,000 or so).
  • Giant humans: Goliath lived after the Flood, but was also described as a giant. Some humans reach those proportions today (such as Robert Wadlow, 272 cm (8ft 11 in); see picture in Whether tall or small—people, all!). The biblical word ‘giants’ does not at all have to imply a ‘freak show’. People who were persistently the size of the Harlem Globetrotters would be properly described as giants by other groups who were on average much shorter. There is no evidence that suggests that for say 8 foot or 9 foot tall humans, one needs higher oxygen levels.
  • Health benefits: Some of the way out claims one hears for higher oxygen cannot be sustained, such as miracle cures, etc. Also, if the oxygen level is too high, prematurely born babies go blind. And the planet would suffer major wildfire problems. Further, as we have pointed out before, sometimes hypoxia (lower oxygen partial pressure is beneficial, e.g. in treating conditions like asthma, heart disease and chemotherapy toxicity (see Running out of puff: Low oxygen may have medical benefits—implications for the ‘Vapor Canopy’ model). As for hyperbaric (high pressure) treatments, they definitely have their limits, speaking as a former medico. Sometimes the opposite—hypobaric treatments—are useful; there is such a thing as Negative Pressure Wound Therapy (NPWT).
  • Large dinosaurs needed high 02 levels. First, there is no evidence for this. The largest animal on the planet, also an airbreather, is the blue whale. Second, an astute skeptic would realize that this argument shoots creationists in the foot, because we point to lifelike drawings and carvings of dinosaurs from only a few centuries ago (see e.g. Bishop Bell’s Brass Behemoths and Angkor saw a stegosaur?) so how can they still be around if there is not enough O2 to sustain them?

I am hesitant, though, even as I write this, because I know how easy it is to feel protective/defensive of a pet model, having ‘been there, done that’, so I take the risk that the above list will be seen as some sort of impassioned attack—believe me, it’s not. I/we have no particular axe to grind, the only passion is for ensuring that all believers use the best possible up-to-date arguments and models, and don’t get stuck in last century’s ideas if they don’t fit the facts the way we might have thought.

May I be bold enough to suggest that rather than waiting till someone comes back at you, you consider exiting gracefully by explaining how models work, they can be pedagogically useful, but one needs to hold them lightly. It is easy to come to see them as direct inferences from Scripture, when that is far from the case for this one. We actually promoted the canopy theory in an earlier Answers Book many years ago, but have had to face up to the combined weight of arguments from the Bible and science that the best one can say is that there could have been a mild canopy but all those ‘secondary’ things (high pressure, no rainfall, etc. etc.) that are attributed to it, when examined one by one, seem to be largely unsustainable. Unless one mounts a desperate rearguard effort, which would be purely for the sake of salvaging a model; which is not likely to be in the best interests of truth, to which we are both committed, I’m sure.

Kind regards,

Carl W.

Published: 17 April 2010