The Bible and Mount St. Helens

Just 35 years ago this month, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake shook Mount St. Helens and triggered a colossal eruption which devastated over 230 square miles within a few minutes. Lessons abound challenging time-elements of Darwinian evolution and supporting the Genesis Flood. 

mountst.helensMost adults today should recall the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May, 1980. This 9,600 foot cone-shaped volcanic mountain, located in the state of Washington, exploded with power that shocked the world and made global headline news.

Within moments of the natural eruption, the whole northern side of the mountain (2/3 of a cubic mile of rock) slid away – the largest observed landslide on record. Fifty-seven people died, 7,000 big game animals and millions of salmon, birds and small mammals died, over $1 billion worth of property was destroyed and over 230 square miles of forests were immediately flattened.

The initial blast of steam was equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT. The total energy output during the subsequent 9-hour eruption was equivalent to 440 million tons of TNT, approximately 33,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The ash-cloud stem was 10 miles wide, the mushroom top was 40 miles wide and 15 miles high. Winds dispersed the ash eastward at 60 mph blanking 11 states and several Canadian provinces with dust. Some towns were engulfed in complete darkness at midday.

Geologists Astounded
The 1980 eruption provided a rare opportunity for scientists to study natural catastrophic processes at work. Within a few months it produced changes that scientists assumed required many thousands of years. And the environments returned to full health in just a few years, not decades or centuries.

Indeed, the eruption and its aftermath challenged, and still challenge, the slow-and-gradual (thousands or even millions of years), interpretation of the accumulation of sediments, carbon-dating of the erosion of landscapes, and the recovery of environments.

Geologists, who are accustomed to thinking about slow uniformitarian evolutionary processes shaping our world, were astounded by the scale of initial destruction and the speed at which new geologic features formed.

Connection to Biblical Flood
Lessons are still being learned about the powerful forces that the Creator used to shape the earth. These findings confront the underlying assumptions of modern geologic thinking and give us invaluable clues about the catastrophic potential of the global Biblical Flood.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. – Genesis 7:11-12

The Flood was associated with the release of large volumes of water, possibly through large fissures in the ground or in the sea floor (see Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Flood). The waters that had been held back burst forth with catastrophic consequences.

There are many volcanic rocks interspersed between the fossil layers in the global rock record—layers that were deposited during Noah’s flood. So it is quite plausible that these fountains of the great deep involved a series of volcanic eruptions with prodigious amounts of water bursting up through the ground. Similarly, at Mount St. Helens, most of the destructive carving of the surrounding land forming deep canyons was the result of water displacement (Spirit Lake) and ice melting with lava and mudflows.

Key Scientific Findings about the Eruption of Mount St. Helens *
Here are 4 key findings:

  1. Ash Cloud and Rapid Cooling – Mount St. Helens blasted enough ash into the atmosphere to blanket multiple states and cool the earth a fraction of degree. The earth’s rock layers show abundant evidence of a huge number of massive volcanic eruptions throughout the closing stage of the Flood and the years immediately following the Flood. These eruptions dwarfed Mount St. Helens. (An eruption at Yellowstone was 1000 times as a big!) So if the comparatively small Mount St. Helens eruption could cool the earth, it is easy to see how multiple volcanic eruptions contributed to the rapid onset of the Ice Age.
  2. New Lava Rock with Old Radiometric Dates – post-eruption rock studies revealed the fallibility of scientific radiometric dating methods. A 10-year old rock sample from Mount St. Helens’ last lava flow was dated at 350,000 years old using the potassium-argon method. Minerals inside were dated up to 2.4 million years old. These reports are consistent with many reports about faulty radiometric dating samples around the world. Radiometric dating methods have been unquestioned by an unknowing public but are fraught with difficulties due to faulty assumptions.
  3. Rapid Coal and Petrified Forests – the eruption destroyed the surrounding forests and produced a mat of logs floating on nearby Spirit Lake. Douglas firs as tall a 200 feet were instantly stripped of their branches and snapped like toothpicks. The logs jostled together and lost their bark, producing a pile of peat (like peat in coal). Many logs floated upright and then sank in layers (like a petrified forest). Geologists have typically assumed that upright buried logs represent multiple forests that grew at different periods over many thousands or even millions of years (it’s how scientists interpret this at Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park). Similarly, secular scientists believe that coal beds form very slowly accumulating organic material in swamp lands where plants grew in place (1000 years to form one inch of coal). Spirit Lake at Mount St. Helens show that coal beds can and do form rapidly due to catastrophic destruction of forests, not slow plant growth in swamps. The Flood would have destroyed the earth’s forests in a matter of weeks, and the floating logs would produce bark that then sank to form most of the earth’s coal layers.
  4. Rapid Sedimentary Layers – The eruptions at Mount St. Helens triggered several different earth-shaping forces. The original blast was followed by landslides, steam water mudflows, and falling ash. Even the water in nearby Spirit Lake was temporarily pushed out of its basin and came crashing back into place. These catastrophes produced complex sediment layers up to 600 feet thick. Several slurries of volcanic ash produced many different fine layers in just minutes. Mount St. Helens teaches us that sedentary layering does form very rapidly by catastrophic flow processes, such as those which occurred during the Genesis Flood.

In summary, be aware that the opinions of conventional geologists are debatable and at times even dubious. The Bible can in fact hold up well under scrutiny. And in our own lifetime we’re witnessing the powerful forces of nature that support what the Bible has told us all along.

* Lasting Lessons from Mount St. Helens, by Andrew A. Snelling, Joe Francis, and Tom Henningan,, April-June 2015, p. 58.

Is the Bible consistent with natural scientific phenomena? Absolutely.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! – Job 38:4-5

Categories: Archaeology, Creation, Evidence, Evolution, Faith, The Flood

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