Monday, July 9, 2007

My Two cents on the Answers in Genesis Creation “Museum” and why YEC gets Mount St Helens wrong!

In the Flood Geology room of the recently opened Answers in Genesis Creation “Museum,” is a relatively recent photograph of Mount St Helens. Above the photograph is the header, “The Key: God’s Word, the present is not the key to the past.” Below the photograph is this explanation, “Noah’s flood and times following involved more violent catastrophism than anything known in the present. At best, only modern catastrophes provide only clues about those times.”

What a curious thing to say, because the Mount St Helens eruption was a geologic success.

The recently opened Answers in Genesis Creation “Museum” have all the outward appearances of your standard natural history museum. Inside you can find displays on dinosaurs, fossils and I even understand the place has a halfway decent planetarium. But, I also understand you do not need to tread very far to discover the true purpose of the $27 million, 60,000 square foot complex. The message of the “museum” isn’t to advice science, but rather dispensationalist theology.

You perhaps noticed I did not say “Christian” just now. Yes, AiG like to present themselves off as the true Church and defenders of the faith, but to use the term “Christian” to exclusively define the purpose and mission of the AiG “Museum” would be insulting to other Christians, including this one. Frankly, I am tired of the far religious right hijacking Christianity and the true gospel message of Jesus Christ. So I prefer to describe AiG and other YEC organizations by the theology they advocate, dispensationalism.

Young-earth creationists’ fixation on Mount St Helens began, almost as soon as the dust had settled after the 1980 eruption. During the early 1980’s, Steve Austin with the Institute for Creation Research and Harold G. Coffin with the Seventh Day Adventist Geosciences Research Institute obtained permits to study the debris field at Mount St Helens. While Coffin remained fairly focused on the trees that had washed into nearby Spirit Lake (in 1979, Coffin wrote a paper proposing that petrified trees at Yellowstone National Park had floated to their location), Austin took a more generalist approach (Austin would later claim that the Spirit Lake study was his idea, even though there is not a single paper with his name on it, except from Coffin expressing his appreciation to Austin for his assistance).

Coffin’s study of the Spirit Lake trees did find its way into two peer reviewed (Geology and Palios) geologic journals (only because Coffin was careful to not associate his work at Spirit Lake to his YEC beliefs), which stirred some controversy. Austin’s paper, Rapid Erosion at Mount St Helens though, read more like a tourist field trip guide, than a paper that had any real study quality to it. The problem with the YEC movement since Austin’s paper, they really have not attempted to expand on the “findings” Austin made and just about everything published since then (Austin, Morris and Sarafarti) had been merely a regurgitation of Austin’s 1984 paper. So I was not surprised, when reviewing photographs taken at the Creation “Museum” to find another regurgitation of Austin’s 1984 St Helens “study,” plastered along the walls and displays in a room dedicated to flood “geology.”

The Flood “Geology” room seeks to convinced the visitor that the planet was completely inundated by a global flood and it is the by products of this flood and not a prolonged time span of an ever changing Earth that we see in the geologic record today. The use of Mount St Helens is not so much as to establish positive evidence that favors a flood “geology” theory, but rather a series of negative arguments against modern geologic sciences.

The room begins with a display titled, “The Key to Understanding God’s Word.” In this case the flood.

Mount St Helens becomes “a clue,” to establish evidence that there was a flood. In two panels, AiG lists 10 “observations” from Mount St Helens, based somewhat on a 1991 video Mount St Helens: Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe, where Austin declared the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens as the defining moment that placed a death nail to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Gradualism Geology in a single stroke. The 10 so-called observations, except for one, appeared in other YEC publications (including a book written by Austin and ICR President John Morris Footprints in the Ash, the Explosive Story of Mount St Helens).

Typically, AiG does not place the “observations” drawn from Mount St Helens into context with other volcanic eruptions that take place around the world. The accumulation of sediment from the massive landslide and pyroclastic surges, the subsequent erosion of the volcanic deposits to form canyons, the deposition of trees into Spirit Lake and even the discovery of wood bark at the bottom of Spirit Lake are each presented as a “surprise” to mainstream geologists and beyond the mental capacity of those trained in gradualism geology. In turn, we are expected to accept that each “observation” represents a “miniature” example of how Noah’s Flood caused rapid accumulation of sedimentary rocks on a global scale, the rapid formation of canyons, like the Grand Canyon in Arizona and how peat and coal could rapidly develop in a post-flood world.

There is really no effort made to demonstrate how the “observations” drawn from St Helens can become expanded to explain a global flood.

AiG’s treatment of Mount St Helens at the Creation “Museum” is really disingenuous, misleading, if not downright false. Considering the importance AiG and other YEC organizations emphasis on the St Helens eruption, one needs to wonder why they have not established their own version of a volcano observatory or created an institute dedicated to catastrophic geologic research. And even assuming they did establish a volcano observatory, similar to the Cascade Volcano Observatory the United States Geological Survey established, one would wonder AiG’s capability to keep people safe.

Most volcanic eruptions are relatively minor and their impact is limited to a localized area. Thankfully, the type of eruptions on the scale that Mount St Helens demonstrated occurs on average of about 1 per decade. But, large or small, studying volcanoes is an important function for geologists because of the potential for the lost of life and property damage will always be present. This is one reason why we study volcanoes.

However, volcanoes also represent a fascinating geologic process. Since Pliny the Younger, who gave us the first eyewitness account of a volcanic eruption when he provided very vivid detail of the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, through the 1883 eruption that destroyed Krakatoa and killed over 36,000 people, to Mount St Helens today, volcanism continues to amaze us and challenge us to learn more.

Mount St Helens was a geologic success story. It was through the experiences of volcanologists and geologists for the past 150 years that allowed us to anticipate the dangers Mount St Helens might pose in 1980 and prepare for the eventuality of a major explosive eruption in time.

And after 1980, the study of Mount St Helens did not stop. Mount St Helens is just one of 13 potentially active Cascade Volcanoes between British Columbia and California. Recognizing the ongoing danger, the United States Geological Survey established the Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington in 1981 to monitor all of the Cascade monsters. And through the CVO, experienced geological teams had assisted with the monitoring of other potentially dangerous volcanoes around the world.

None of this would have been possible if, as AiG and other YEC organizations insisted that geologists were somehow befuddled by the eruption. Worst, by failing to properly educate people about volcanoes, their wonders and their dangers, they place lives at risk.

In the end, the Creation “Museum” is really wrong!