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Originally published in Creation 15, no 3 (June 1993): 14-19.
Ken Ham shares about his tour of the site of Mt. St. Helens after its eruption in 1980.
As I stood staring at the gaping hole left after 10 per cent of the mountain had been removed as the result of an earthquake, a gigantic rockslide and debris avalanche, together with a colossal steam explosion, I was reminded afresh of how small and vulnerable man is, but how awesome must be the power of the God who created the earth and its mountains. As Habakkuk says, ‘the mountains saw thee, and they trembled’ (Habakkuk 3:10).
It was hard to believe that on May 18, 1980, right where I stood, 900°C swirling gases and debris from the explosion had devastated the landscape as the energy equivalent to 400 million tonnes of TNT (approximately 33,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs) was unleashed on this once beautiful landscape of lush conifer forest—now looking as barren as the surface of the moon.
What a phenomenal opportunity to visit the site of an event that not only received world headlines, but has since challenged the very foundation of evolutionary theory. I had joined the annual Institute for Creation Research ‘Mount St Helens tour’, led by geologist Dr Steven Austin.
I had heard Steve Austin speak many times at our Back to Genesis seminars about the events at Mount St Helens. The information he communicates on this subject is ‘mind blowing’. People in the audience get so excited. I have seen non-Christians challenged by this evidence in ways I never thought possible. So, I decided to see some of the evidence myself. And what better way than to join Dr Steve Austin and others who had come from all over America and other parts of the world to hike around Mount St Helens and observe the geologic and biologic features produced by this catastrophe.
The first thing I learned was that the eruption of Mount St Helens was a rather small and localized event. Even though this explosion toppled 150 square miles (about 390 square kilometres) of forest in six minutes, compared to many other recorded eruptions it was rather small. I soon realized that if a small explosion like this could cause such catastrophic results, what could happen if there were larger explosions all over the earth?
I was thinking this way because the Bible states in Genesis 7:11, concerning the beginning of the great Flood of Noah’s day, that ‘all the fountains of the great deep [were] broken up’. I believe this is a reference to great volcanic activity across the earth. The devastation must have been cataclysmic.
In fact, all over the earth, there is evidence that in the past there has been much volcanic activity. On the floor of the Pacific Ocean alone, there are an estimated 20,000 volcanoes. Observing the destruction at Mount St Helens gave me a glimpse of the sort of events that must have occurred at the time of the Genesis Flood.
The second thing I learned was that the erosive force of water was far greater than I had imagined. Just north of the mountain is Spirit Lake. As a result of the explosion, its water surface is now 247 feet (75 metres) higher than its pre-eruption level, and now covers an area of four square miles (10 square kilometres)—almost twice the area before the eruption.
As we stood on the edge of Spirit Lake, Dr Austin explained that on May 18, 1980, a Richter magnitude 5.1 earthquake occurred directly under the mountain. As a result of the ensuing landslide, one-eighth of a cubic mile of avalanche debris (one-quarter of the avalanche), landed in the basin of Spirit Lake depositing an average of 300 feet (91 metres) of material on the lake floor. As a result, a giant water wave (or waves) up to 860 feet (262 metres) high scoured the north slopes of the lake and dumped one million logs into Spirit Lake forming a floating log mat.
We stood in silence on the edge of a now peaceful lake as we looked at another ‘moonscape’, and again contemplated the destructive force of water.
But Dr Austin went on to explain something even more astounding. Many of the logs showed a strong tendency to float upright. Over the first 10 years after the eruption, about half of the original logs which floated in the lake sank to the floor of the lake. When Dr Austin and other scientists used sonar and scuba to examine the bottom of the lake, they found that about 10 per cent of the deposited logs were in upright position—looking like an underwater forest!
The sonar indicated tens of thousands of upright logs. Many of these logs still had roots attached to them.
Some of the logs were solidly buried with three feet of sediment around their bases. Others had no sediment around theirs. Thus, the upright trees were at different levels, because they were deposited at different times.
If Spirit Lake could be drained, it would look like forests of trees which had grown at different levels and at different times—perhaps over thousands of years. Dr Austin went on to explain that this has helped scientists reinterpret the ‘fossil forests’ of Yellowstone National Park.
At a place called Specimen Ridge at Yellowstone, there are petrified upright trees, at many different levels. These have been interpreted as representing many different forests, growing successively on the same place over long periods of time. This is supposedly one of the best evidences evolutionists use to ‘prove’ long time periods for the earth’s history. However, it is now possible to explain this same evidence in terms of a similar event to that at Mount St Helens—a catastrophic event that enables scientists to reinterpret the evidence at Yellowstone as having formed within a short time.
Exciting stuff! But there was more to come. The third thing I learned was that events associated with the explosion had 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.
On the third day of the tour, we set off on a nine-mile hike in the blast zone to Loowit Canyon. Before we reached the Canyon, Dr Austin had us view another area across the valley that had been covered with landslide debris. We used binoculars to see an area with several canyons that were formed as a result of mud flows.
One particular canyon was of great interest, because it had been named the ‘Little Grand Canyon’. Around 100 feet (30 metres) deep and somewhat wider, it is about a one-fortieth scale model of the mighty Grand Canyon. It also has many characteristics that Dr Austin said reminded him of features he had observed at the Grand Canyon. This ‘Little Grand Canyon’ was formed in one day from a mud-flow that eroded material that had blocked the North Fork of the Toutle River. As a result, the new river then flowed through the canyon formed by the mud flow.
Now 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 would have said the same thing about the Toutle River and the Little Grand Canyon, if we had not seen the events that produced the canyon rapidly.
This reminded me of how easy it is to come to wrong conclusions if you were not present to see an event, and if you don’t have access to all information. I wonder how many of the world’s canyons which we did not see form, actually formed quickly. From a creationist perspective, they have formed during the Flood or within the thousands of years since.
Dr Austin went on to explain something else about the ‘Little Grand Canyon’ that really excited him. As a result of the events of the eruption and landslide, up to 600 feet (183 metres) of new strata were formed in places. The erosion of ‘Little Grand Canyon’ enabled 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—layer upon layer of material.
Like Dr Austin, I was taught at school that you assume layers like this were laid down at the rate of one or two per year. Thus you can estimate how long it took for such a deposit to form—thousands, hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of years.
However, this 25 feet (8 metres) thick series of layers was formed in less than one day—in fact it probably took only about three hours! It was formed by flowing ‘rivers’ of volcanic ash (not lava) moving at speeds up to 100 miles per hour (160 kilometres an hour). Most scientists had never entertained the idea that such flows could deposit multiple layers of materials like those we observe at Mount St Helens.
People throughout the world are indoctrinated by evolutionists to believe that layers like those we see at the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be laid down. The idea that the earth is billions of years old is foundational to evolution. What happened at Mount St Helens is a powerful challenge to this foundation.
In fact, it makes one realize that a world flood with lots of volcanic action and other forces operating could explain features like the Grand Canyon’s forming within a short time. This really does show that one can logically accept that the Flood of Noah’s day could have accomplished extraordinary geologic work such as the laying down of sediments in massive quantities all across the globe—just like we see.
I had never realized geology could be so exciting. But there was more to come.
At Loowit Canyon, we peered 100 feet down to see where hard rock had been eroded by mud flows in short periods of time. I had not perceived before that mud could cut through hard rock in such a short time. But then, I have heard of a tool which engineers use to cut steel and which basically uses water under pressure.
What I came to understand was that water, mud, and steam, etc., under the right conditions, can produce results in a very short time that evolutionists are telling the world have to be interpreted as having taken millions of years.
Dr Austin told us so many other things that we were all staggered at the overwhelming evidence we can use to help understand that the Bible can be trusted when it tells us there was a global flood just thousands of years ago. He has put all this information into a video presentation, which I strongly urge you to obtain.
As we trudged back to our buses, we talked about the destruction we had seen, and the people who had died in the explosion. Those people had been warned about the impending eruption—but they did not heed the warning, and so they ended their lives on earth to face their Creator.
In Matthew 24, Jesus used the past event of Noah’s Flood as a warning that God had judged the earth with water, and is going to judge again—next time with fire. Of course, if the Flood of Noah’s day did not really happen, as evolutionists insist, then they do not have to heed the Bible’s warning of another judgment in the future.
But, just as surely as God sent the Flood—and the evidence is all over the earth staring at everyone who cares to look—so He will also keep His Word about coming judgment by fire.
Peter writes, ‘But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men’ (2 Peter 3:7). The judgment to come is going to be an enormous explosion—much bigger than Mount St Helens. ‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up’ (2 Peter 3:10).
There were those who did not listen to the warning of the approaching explosion of Mount St Helens. When it occurred, it was swift and destructive. There are those today who will not listen to the warning of the approaching destruction of this earth by fire. When it occurs, it will be also be swift. But, for those who have accepted God’s Word and who trust in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, there will be a heavenly home in the new heavens and earth which the Creator God will make for those whose names are ‘written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Revelation 21:27).
Scripture also states that those whose names are ‘not found written in the book of life’ will be ‘cast into the lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:15), which is described as ‘everlasting punishment’—‘And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal’ (Matthew 25:46).
Sadly today, many Christians don’t like to talk about the judgment reserved for those who do not put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the truth is that the fiery event of Mount St Helens took only about six minutes—the fiery judgment for those who reject the God of creation is eternal.
What a witnessing tool Mount St Helens is! I encourage you to obtain the new video (with many additions of onsite footage) of Dr Austin’s presentation of Mount St Helens, and use it to show people that evolution has no foundation, but that the true history of the world is recorded in the only infallible, inerrant book in the world—God’s Word, the Holy Bible.