Is the Earth billions of years old, as many people believe, or is it just a few thousand years old, as some creationists claim?
We received a good clue to this question 39 years ago, when on May 18, 1980, a relatively small volcano, Mount St. Helens in Washington state, erupted – causing more damage than any volcano in U.S. history, before or since.
Because of the Mount St. Helens eruption, scientists know that sedimentary rock layers can form in only hours, rather than requiring millions of years.
Rapid outflow from the volcano caused massive amounts of sediment to fill in the entire valley adjacent to the mountain. And a 1982 dam breach of the snow-melt lake that had formed in the mountain’s crater caused a catastrophic flood that gashed those fresh deposits from two years earlier. To this day, the resulting steep-sided canyon walls can be seen, showing that horizontal sediment layers hundreds of feet thick were formed within hours during the eruption.
The eruption also showed that radiometric dating is not necessarily accurate and that God gave animals and plants the ability to rapidly re-colonize barren land, according to the Institute for Creation Research. A new rock cap atop the mountain that formed after the 1980 eruption should have shown it to be on the order of tens of years. But standard analysis gave the totally incorrect date of 350,000 years.
25-foot layers formed in hours
Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis – and the visionary behind the Creation Museum and nearby Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati – offered this commentary on Mount St. Helens in May 2000 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the eruption:
… The events associated with the volcano’s explosion accomplished in seconds, hours or just a few days geologic work that normally would be interpreted as having taken hundreds or even millions of years. One particular canyon was formed, which has since been named the “Little Grand Canyon.” About 100 feet deep and somewhat wider, it is about 1/40th the scale of the mighty Grand Canyon. This canyon was formed in one day from a mudflow. A newly formed river then flowed through the Canyon formed by the mudflow.
I remember being taught in school that when you saw a canyon with a river running through it, you assumed that the river took a long time to erode the canyon. My teachers — not having known what happened at Mount St. Helens — would have concluded the same thing about the small river cutting through the Little Grand.
The erosion of this canyon enables scientists to see some of the layers that were laid down. What astonished them were features such as the 25-feet-thick deposit that consisted of thousands of thin layers. In school, I was taught that you assume layers like this were laid down at the rate of perhaps one or two a year. Then you could estimate how long it took for such a deposit to form, perhaps even millions of years.
However, this 25-feet-thick series of layers was formed in less than one day — perhaps even just three hours.
People around the world are indoctrinated by evolutionists who believe that layers like those we see at the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be laid down. That belief of “billions of years” is foundational to evolutionary thinking. What happened at Mount St. Helens is a powerful challenge to this belief.
The evidence here shows that one can logically accept that the Flood of Noah’s day — and its after-effects — could have accomplished extraordinary geologic work, carving out canyons and the laying down of sediments in massive quantities all across the globe — just as we see today.
Increasingly, most geologists — evolutionist or creationist — who have been to the Grand Canyon will now acknowledge that the Canyon was carved by a lot of water over a little period of time, not over millions of years.
The canyon caused the creek
Ham isn’t the only one to reach those conclusions. Tas Walker of Creation Ministries International offers this commentary from July 2017:
The eruption demonstrated that geologic catastrophe can produce in hours and days geologic features previously believed to have taken millions of years. When we see what the volcano did in such a short time, we can better appreciate how the catastrophe of Noah’s Flood formed the much larger geological features on planet Earth.
For many years, geologist Steven Austin researched the geological effects of the Mount St. Helens’ eruption and its aftermath. He published extensively on how that catastrophe sheds light on the global catastrophe of Noah’s Flood, which is a key to confirming the Bible’s truth.
One of the many surprising results was a 25-foot-thick sedimentary deposit exposed in a cliff alongside the North Fork Toutle River. It is composed of finely-layered sediment. From eyewitness reports, photographs and monitoring equipment, it is known that this whole deposit formed in just three hours, from 9 p.m. to midnight on June 12, 1980.
It was deposited from black clouds of fine, hot ash mixed with gas, blasting at high speed from the volcano. Ash-laden and heavier than air, the flow surged down the side of the volcano and along the river valley at more than 100 mph, hugging the ground and depositing ash.
The big surprise was that the sediment deposited in fine layers called laminae. You would expect a catastrophic, high-speed ash flow to churn the fine particles and form a uniform, well-mixed deposit. Thus, it had been conventionally thought that fine layers had to accumulate very slowly one upon the other over hundreds of years. But Mount St Helens showed that the coarse and fine material automatically separated into thin, distinct bands, demonstrating that such deposits can form very quickly from fast-flowing fluids (liquids and gases).
Since then, laboratory experiments have shown that fine laminae also form quickly from flowing water. This shows how finely-layered sandstone deposits in other situations, such as some of the lower layers in the Grand Canyon, likely formed rapidly, which could have happened within the time-scale of Noah’s Flood.
The Mount St Helens eruption also demonstrated how canyons can be formed much faster and in a different manner than conventionally thought. Ongoing eruptions eroded the thick sediment dumped at the base of the volcano, producing multiple channels and canyons. One such channel was dubbed ‘Little Grand Canyon’, being about 1/40th the size of Grand Canyon … Someone coming across that canyon could easily conclude that it was eroded slowly and gradually by the small creek now running through it, over many hundreds or thousands of years.
However, this canyon was carved by a mudflow caused after a small eruption of Mount St. Helens melted snow within the crater on March 19, 1982. The mud built up behind debris, burst through it, and cut the canyon in a single day.
So, the creek did not cause the canyon. The canyon caused the creek.
Yet, by volcanic standards, even in historic times, the Mount St. Helens blast was relatively small, ejecting some 0.2 cubic miles of ash. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD was three times larger, Krakatoa in 1883 was 18 times bigger, and Tambora in 1815 was 80 times larger. The volume of lava in the Deccan Traps in India is some 5 million times more. These indicate that volcanic eruptions during Noah’s Flood were millions of times larger.
When we consider the true immensity of the biblical cataclysm, and how it impacted the whole Earth, Mount St. Helens helps us envisage how Noah’s Flood explains the geology of the world, and how it happened so quickly.
Lifescience.com, a science news website (and not a creationist organization), corroborates details about the eruption:
Mount St. Helens was once a beautiful, symmetrical example of a stratovolcano in the Cascades mountain range in southwestern Washington, rising to 9,600 feet above sea level. Then, on May 18, 1980, the once-quiet volcano erupted and blasted off the upper 1,000 feet of the summit. A horseshoe-shaped crater and a barren wasteland were all that remained.
Since then, the land has healed and recovered much of its natural beauty, but it’s likely Mount St. Helens won’t stay quiet forever …
On the morning of May 18, Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were making an aerial survey of the volcano when they noticed a landslide on the lip of the summit’s crater. Within seconds, the whole north face of the mountain was on the move. Just as they passed around to the east side of the mountain, the north face collapsed, releasing superheated gases and trapped magma in a massive lateral explosion. Keith put the plane into a steep dive to gain the speed to outrun the cloud of incandescent gas; Dorothy continued to photograph the eruption through the rear windows of the plane as they made their escape.
The abrupt release of pressure over the magma chamber created a “nuée ardente,” a glowing cloud of superheated gas and rock debris blown out of the mountain face moving at nearly supersonic speeds. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out almost instantly, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The shockwave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees; all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this “tree down zone” the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless. The area devastated by the direct blast force covered an area of nearly 230 square miles.
Shortly after the lateral blast, a second, vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. Over the next few days, an estimated 540 million tons of ash drifted up to 2,200 square miles, settling over seven states.
The heat of the initial eruption melted and eroded glacial ice and snow around the remaining part of the volcano. The water mixed with dirt and debris to create lahars, or volcanic mudflows. According to U.S.G.S., the lahars reached speeds of 90 mph and demolished everything in their path.
The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption was the most destructive in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people died and thousands of animals were killed, according to U.S.G.S. More than 200 homes were destroyed, and more than 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways were damaged. Ash clogged sewage systems, damaged cars and buildings, and temporarily shut down air traffic over the Northwest. The International Trade Commission estimated damages to timber, civil works and agriculture to be $1.1 billion.
A new view of history
The eruption of Mount St. Helens provides a unique look into the history of Earth. We saw rock formations develop before our eyes – formations that scientists previously thought took thousands or millions of years to grow.
The same science applies to the Grand Canyon, which proves that Noah’s Flood covered the Earth – and quickly.
Is Earth only a few thousand years old? I can’t say, of course. I wasn’t around when Earth was created. But the evidence suggests that it’s not as old as many people think it is.
We have the eruption of Mount St. Helens to thank for a lot of that.