Short Answer — Mt St Helens and young-Earth creationism

Here is my standard short answer to the young-Earth creationist claim that the deposits formed by the 1980s eruptions of Mt St Helens demonstrate that Noah’s flood could be responsible for the sedimentary rock record.

The deposits of Mt St Helens (MSH) demonstrate that volcanoes can do a lot of geologic work in a short amount of time. This comes as a surprise to no one. Any good volcanologist or sedimentologist will be able to recognize volcaniclastic rocks in the rock record. In fact these types of deposits are quite common in the rock record, and are thousands of meters thick in places. For instance, there are the deeply-eroded remains of a large Cretaceous stratovolcano (named the Sliderock Volcano) not too far from where I live in south-central Montana. This is recognized as a stratovolcano by having the remains of a magma chamber in the center, and then volcaniclastic rocks dipping away from that central vent area in all directions. The mountain was probably the size of the larger Cascade Range volcanoes, such as Shasta or Rainier. The YEC claim that this entire complex volcano formed and eroded in a few weeks towards the end of the flood is mind-boggling.

Most of the sedimentary rocks of the geologic record are actually quite unlike the volcaniclastic rocks of MSH.

  • Most sandstones and conglomerates are nothing like the deposits of MSH.
  • No shales are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No limestones are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No evaporites are like the deposits of MSH.

Conclusion: most of the rock record was formed in settings that were not at all like MSH.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I recognize that the flood account in Genesis says nothing about stratovolcanoes in Washington (MSH, part of the research topic for my M.S. in geology) or Montana (the Sliderock Volcano I referred to), so I do not have to try to squeeze such events into Scripture. The truthfulness of the Bible does not depend on YEC flood geology being correct.

Grace and Peace.

13 thoughts on “Short Answer — Mt St Helens and young-Earth creationism

  1. Mike Riter

    If the Flood was so vast that it buried the old world under 25 miles worth of layers as YEC asserts, then how did a fig leaf grow seven days after the Flood receded from the Mesopotamian plains? How is it the Tigris and Euphrates are still flowing and the Pishon and Gihon are dry riverbeds not far beneath the surface and they all converge beneath the Persian Gulf? Of course, the answer is that all of those layers were laid long before the Six Days, just as most famous theologians have believed.


  2. Ken Jackson

    Why do you conflate the flood with a young earth?

    “Day” in Genesis could easily be a metaphor for “age”. Truth is conveyed with many, many similar metaphors in scripture. And there’s very little else in scripture about creation before Adam. I don’t think scripture excludes an old earth.

    However, the language about the flood is very specific, very unlike a metaphor. And the lineage of men is itemized with names and years in great detail, very unlike a metaphor. The flood happened.

    Your argument against the comparison of MSH and GC seems to be that MSH is volcanic and GC is not. But the comparison only says that a canyon formed quickly in soft sediment layers at MSH, therefore it could have formed quickly in different soft sediment layers at GC. I’m not a geologist. I’m just saying that I don’t think you sufficiently addressed the comparison.

    Alternately, if the canyon existed before the flood, what effect would the worldwide flood have on it? That’s a question I’ve never seen anyone address.


  3. geochristian


    Thanks for your comment. You seem to be advocating both an ancient Earth and a global flood. Am I correct? I do not know of any authors or organizations that promote this view.

    Young-Earth creationists use MSH as an analog for both rapid sedimentation and rapid canyon formation. It fails on both accounts. It fails in regards to sediments for the reasons I outlined in my short answer. Almost all rock layers in the stratigraphic record are distinctly unlike the volcanic sediments deposited by eruptions of MSH or any other volcano.

    There are volcanic rocks in the record, such as the Absaroka Volcanics in and around northern Yellowstone National Park. MSH is useful as a modern analog for these deposits. I don’t see how that helps the YEC cause, however. It is very difficult to see how the thousands of feet of tree-bearing lahars (vocanic debris flows) that make up the Absaroka volcanic could have been emplaced in just a few days time, which is what the YEC model requires. Too many events, too little time.

    In regards to canyon formation, MSH does demonstrate that canyons can form in a short amount of time. YECs claim that the Grand Canyon was formed by water flowing across soft sediments, and I think this is demonstrably false. There is folding and faulting in the GC that clearly predates the cutting of the canyon, and the nature of both faulting and folding indicates that this happened when the rocks were solid. In addition, cutting a canyon through a layer of saturated, unconsolidated sediments, as YECs propose, would have resulted in massive scale slumping and soft-sediment deformation, something we do not see at the GC.

    Your last question is an interesting one, and that is because it is rare to have someone advocate an ancient Earth and a global, recent flood. I would think that a global flood over an existing canyon would deepen the canyon. But I don’t believe a global flood is Biblically necessary, for reasons I have outlined in my GeoScriptures articles. If a global flood flowed over the existing landscape, I would expect much of the surface of the Earth to look like the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington, and that is precisely what we do not see.


  4. Ken Jackson

    “Almost all rock layers in the stratigraphic record are distinctly unlike the volcanic sediments …”

    It has been proposed that the mid-oceanic rift split and release huge volumes of water from the ringwoodite below with such force that it blasted rocks high into the atmosphere and even into space. Some of the earth’s atmosphere was blown off and oxygen was added from the ringwoodite’s OH- ions combining into water and oxygen.

    Regardless of whether this was the mechanism or not, the flood caused great trauma that stirred up plenty enough sediment, even without volcanoes.

    I’m convinced the universe is old. And until a few years ago I thought the earth must be old also to allow time for evolution. But having examined the details of life, I’m now convinced natural processes can only explain variation and disease. Miraculous creation of life is less surprising than the big bang and much less surprising than the fact that we exist at all.

    So is the earth old? With evolution broken, it doesn’t need to be old, but I don’t think scripture requires it to be young. Only the evidence matters and there seem to be convincing arguments for both. I don’t know.

    The POINT of the flood was to “wipe from the face of the earth” all humans and animals. That couldn’t be achieved with anything but a worldwide flood. Also, it “covered the mountains”. If it covered even the local mountains for a year, it had to have had global extent.

    I also consider the polygonal megalithic walls, especially in Peru, as proof of the flood. Some blocks weigh over a hundred tons. Some are in whimsical shapes that suggest they were easy to fashion. They appear to have been either poured in situ from molten andesite, or cut to sub-millimeter accuracy and hoisted to perfect position. Impossible. But they exist. The flood killed the people who built them and and destroyed their technology and records.


    “There was an abundant amount of salt without the slightest sign of any sea-related attributes.” So it wasn’t the biblical flood that caused these evaporites – but the unbiblical volcanism that accompanied it.
    Another thought occurs. Do volcanoes often/ever erupt sodium chloride or hot water/steam containing that salt? (They do erupt chlorine which might mix with freshwater or seawater I assume. Though sodium chloride and other salts might enter water via weathering or erosion too,)
    “It is interesting that the Flood sediments are overloaded with fossils in strong contrast with the salt which does not contain fossils. This contrast underlines that the salt and the sediments are derived from different sources.” I don’t think it shows such a thing. Many marine creatures probably could not survive in the more hypersaline waters from which I think some evaporites might have precipitated. As your 2013 post suggested would be the case.
    “Kevin states that in some salt deposits, anhydrite and gypsum dominate over halite
    Correct. If salt formations were formed out of seawater why do they all have different compositions?” With respect to gypsum at least Wikipedia states: “Gypsum is a common mineral, with thick and extensive evaporite beds in association with sedimentary rocks” and “Gypsum is deposited from lake and sea water, as well as in hot springs, from volcanic vapors, and sulfate solutions in veins. Hydrothermal anhydrite in veins is commonly hydrated to gypsum by groundwater in near-surface exposures”. The evaporites containing gypsum are associated with sedimentary not igneous rocks. (As you say, the original Heerema article apparently never even discussed gypsum)
    You also wrote: “Many evaporite deposits occur in areas with no volcanic rocks at all”. It is interesting that Heerema totally sidesteps that point (moving straight from the Dead Sea and Danakil depression to Ol Doinyo Lengay).


  6. geochristian


    I would like to point out a couple things:

    1. You said, “So is the earth old? With evolution broken, it doesn’t need to be old.” Geologists have never believed Earth is old because of biological evolution, but because there are many features of Earth’s crust that indicate the passage of long periods of time. Some things we see in the rock record that require long intervals of time to form include in-place reefs (which take time to grow), large igneous plutons, such as batholiths (which take time to crystallize and cool), and regional metamorphism (which occurs by solid-state recrystallization and ion migration, which take time). These a just a few of a large number of Earth processes that take time, and which cannot be compressed into a one-year flood.

    2. You also said, “The POINT of the flood was to ‘wipe from the face of the earth’ all humans and animals. That couldn’t be achieved with anything but a worldwide flood. Also, it ‘covered the mountains’.” The Hebrew vocabulary in the flood account of Genesis 6-9 is more ambiguous than what we see in our English translations. Your quotes from the passage can legitimately be translated as “wipe from the face of the land” and “covered the hills.” When read this way, the passage does not sound quite so global. To learn more, take a look at GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood.


  7. Ken Jackson

    First, Genesis 8:5 says, “… on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.” Actual local floods usually lasts a few days while it’s raining and a few days after. This one was above the mountains for ten months, a year in total.

    Second, Genesis 8:4 says, “… the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” The land around Mt. Ararat is about 6000 feet in elevation. It’s impossible to have flood waters cover land at 6000 feet on one side of the globe for months without covering land at the same altitude on the other side of the globe. According to Pascal’s principle, water seeks its own level.

    Third, a local flood would invalidate the need for an ark. Why go the bother of building an ark, or even talking about it, if the animals around the world would be preserved without it?

    Fourth, Genesis 6:7 says, “So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.'” There were people living all over the earth. The polygonal megalithic walls and temples of Peru strongly suggest that. As do cities around the world that are now underwater. How could the Lord achieve his stated purpose with a “local flood” in Turkey?

    I read the GeoScriptures page, but the “local flood” theory doesn’t work.


  8. geochristian


    The local flood interpretation is consistent with the story as told in Genesis 6-9.

    1. Local floods do not always last a few days. My workplace in St. Louis was destroyed by the Mississippi River flood of 1993. The Mississippi near St. Louis was above flood stage from April until, I believe, September; about six months. I believe the local flood of Genesis 6-9 was much larger than this, though I am not sure exactly where it was.

    2. The Ark rested somewhere in the mountains/hills of Ararat, not on the summit of Mt Ararat. This could have been at any elevation as the Ark bumped into the sides of either the Mesopotamian, Black Sea, or Caspian basins.

    3. Asking why God had Noah go into the Ark is like asking why God waited thousands of years to send the promised seed (Gen 3:15), rather than sending the messiah right away as Eve’s child. God had a plan, and it wasn’t a human plan. Peter says that the Ark symbolizes baptism and God’s act of salvation; walking would have symbolized self-salvation. No global flood is necessary.

    4. Some old-Earth Christians, such as Hugh Ross, believe that all humans were restricted to one geographic region and were killed by Noah’s flood. Others point to the limited geographic area represented by the table of nations in Genesis 10, and propose that “man whom I have created in Genesis 6:7 does not refer to the entire human race. I don’t know. To most young-Earth creationists, the ancient inhabitants of Peru are post-flood people, and are irrelevant to the extent of the flood. I think the ancient Peruvians are rather irrelevant to the discussion as well.


  9. Ken Jackson

    You’re going out of your way to warp the clear intent of scripture to fit your desire to not have a worldwide flood. God’s stated intent was to kill everyone on earth. A local flood couldn’t do that.

    Did anyone survive the Mississippi flood in ’93? I remember taking a train across the Mississippi in the ’60s as a boy. It seemed like there were miles and miles of abandoned homes in a few feet of standing water. Horrible, but I suspect almost everyone survived. It probably wasn’t deep enough to float the ark.

    What altitude do you think it was where the ark landed? Looking at a topo map, I’m guessing 6000 feet (that’s way below the summit). If the water was high enough to float the ark at that altitude, Denver had to be far underwater on the other side of the world. Water seeks its own level. It’s physics.

    We both accept that a “day” is an age because the short, poetic wording about creation lends itself to metaphor. But the details given of the flood are different. Either you accept that there was a worldwide flood or you reject scripture. (And reject all the cultures that have their own similar accounts.)


  10. geochristian


    Many old-Earth Christians, such as Hugh Ross, believe the flood killed all humans.

    Many survived the Mississippi River flood of 1993. My point was that local floods can last a long time. I did not say that Noah’s flood was like any Mississippi River flood.

    I don’t know at what elevation Noah’s ark ran aground. The Bible does not say. You said, “I’m guessing 6000 feet.” Guessing is not a strong hermeneutic tool.

    You said “either you accept that there was a worldwide flood or you reject scripture.” No, I just reject the global flood interpretation, and I have biblical reasons for doing so. The Bible is infallible, but the global flood interpretation is not infallible.


  11. Troy Isaac

    MSH is said to show another example of the issues with radioisotopic dating methods which dated 10 year old rock from MSH at ages ranging from 350k to 3myo. That, along with soft tissue, proven to have a life span of no more than approximately 100kyo under any conditions, showing up in multiple samples of dinosaur bones previously dated in the tens of millions of years old. Another example of issues with radioisotopic dating is rock from the top of the GC being dated as older than rock at the bottom. The problem appears to be with the assumptions we make about the unknowable original isotopic makeup of each sample rock that we then apply, for example ,potassium/argon dating to. My only point is that I’ve only heard MSH brought up to put in question radioisotopic dating methods. Astronomically off would be a good description if these suspicions about radioisotopic dating pan out. Could it bring into question again the possibility of a young earth? I’d be interested in knowing the other methods by which we date the earth if you have any input I’d be able to research. Thanks


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