Creationists accept a straight forward reading of the Genesis account of creation, but many Christians worry that this is no longer intellectually credible. However, the evidence from Mt St Helens shows that any such worries are not founded in science.
The earth may appear to be very old, but the articles in this supplement show that many basic geological features can be explained by catastrophic processes occurring over short periods of time.
It is reasonable, biblical and scientific, therefore, to believe in a young earth. We can trust the Bible’s account of creation.
The deposits (Question box 1)
Do rock strata take long periods of time to form? Yes — if you assume that particles suspended in water take many thousands of years to deposit in layers on a sea floor.
However, Mt St Helens shows that stratified rock can be deposited in a matter of hours. One such deposit was put down following the third explosive eruption between 9.00pm and midnight on 12 June 1980.
Successive pyroclastic flows, projected from the crater down the northern slope, each covered the valley below with a fresh layer. Within three hours, 25 feet of stratified deposits were formed.
The canyons (Question box 2)
Do canyons and valleys take thousands of years to form? Yes — if they are carved out by tiny rivers gradually eroding the underlying rock.
But many canyons were created around Mt St Helens in the months following the first eruption. Two canyons of particular significance were eroded by mud and pyroclastic flows cutting through solid igneous rock.
Step Canyon (700 feet deep in places) and Loowit Canyon (up to 100 feet deep) were formed within five months. The North Fork Toutle River Canyon was formed by a mudflow in a single day!
The dome (Question box 3)
Does the earth appear (or look) very old? Yes — if you trust the so-called ‘absolute’ techniques used to date igneous rocks. The media quote these radiometric techniques unquestioningly, even though their reliability and assumptions have been frequently challenged.
Mt St Helens provided a critical test of one such technique. The widely used Potassium-Argon dating method was applied to the 1986 dacate lava flow by geologist Dr Steve Austin. The results?
An age of 340,000 years was calculated for the feldspar glass and up to 2,800,000 years for the pyroxene minerals in this 12-year-old lava. Such ‘ages’ are obviously nonsensical.
Yet it is on just such measurements that geologists base their claims for the vastness of geological time (time ‘needed’ to underwrite neo-Darwinian evolution).
Contrary to received wisdom, Mt St Helens demonstrates that we do not need long time scales to produce the features we observe on earth.
It is all a question of the power available. If these geological features were created by low power erosion or deposition processes then, yes, we need a vast amount of time to generate landscapes.
But a completely different picture emerges if we allow that
high powererosion and deposition processes occur — as they clearly did at Mt St Helens. Then the features we observe elsewhere on our planet can be generated very quickly indeed.
I see no necessity to believe in an ancient earth. Indeed, until about 200 years ago most geologists explained earth’s features in terms of catastrophic processes rather than gradual ones. A geological age for the earth measured in thousands rather than billions of years is consistent with scientific knowledge — and with a straightforward reading of Genesis.
For further general reading, see:
For further technical reading, see:
Jonathan Swingler BSc (Hons), PhD, CSci, CPhys, MInstP, is a physicist who became a Christian as a teenager. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Southampton, UK.