Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 2, 2014

Because Volcanoes Can Form Quickly Means … Jesus and Young Earth?


I have a vast number of young-Earth creationism articles to write about, but this one, just put out by creation.com, will be quick.


I remember learning about the Volcán de Parícutin in grade school: In 1943, a Mexican farmer was in his field and suddenly a fissure opened and a volcano literally rose to over 100 meters high over the next few days, destroying the field and neighboring villages (the villages of Parícutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro).

It was a story that I believed unquestioningly (as many children do), but then wondered if it was real later on, and then looked up the details.

In the first year, the volcano grew to 336 meters (1102 ft), and by 1952, it reached a final height of 424 meters (1391 ft) and has been dormant since. It likely was formed from a small branch of a much larger volcanic feature and magma chamber, and that branch has likely collapsed and the volcán will never erupt again.

Therefore Recent Creation

The entire thrust of Jonathan O’Brien’s article is that because this volcano formed in the space of a few years, it means that everything on Earth can form in just a few years and you don’t need “millions of years” (there’s an entire section of the article called “Millions of years not needed”) to form geologic features:

They assert that most geological features took many thousands or millions of years to form. Yet we know from actual eyewitness testimony that Mount Parícutin took only 9 years to form, from beginning to extinction, with most of its growth having occurred in the first year. With much larger forces at work in the earth’s crust, as occurred during the terrible year of the global Flood, even the largest geographical features we see in the world today would have formed in months, weeks or even days.

Straw Man and Technique Misuse

This is a straw man. Geologists don’t claim that “most geological features took many thousands or millions of years to form,” at least not the way that Mr. O’Brien is implying. Non-volcanic mountains? Yes. Some volcanoes? Yes. The Hawai’ian island chain? Yes.

But geologists have various ways of estimating how long different processes take. One way for volcanoes is to look at the layers of material and the kinds of plants and/or animals trapped within them. Another way is radiometric dating, such as Rb/Sr dating. With a half-life on the order of 50 billion years for rubidium-87, that means the technique is only usable on features that are 10s to 100s of thousands of years old, at a minimum, with current laboratory techniques.

I mention this because of the feedback to the article … of the five comments, four of them are mocking radiometric dating, along the lines of “Nic G.” from Australia: “Has any radiometric dating been carried out at the site? That’d make for some confronting results.”

This is a common tactic of creationists who try to show that radiometric dating methods are flawed: Misusing a technique with known constraints, and going outside those constraints. The most famous example (probably) is that of Mt. St. Helens, where a creationist got a sample of rock from the 1986 eruption and sent it to a lab and got ages of 340,000 to 2,800,000 years.

Final Thoughts

What’s somewhat reassuring is that I’ve addressed all this kind of stuff before on this blog. This is reassuring because it shows that there really are very, very few “new” arguments for young-Earth creationism, that they stick to a set script of explanations that have been debunked an innumerable amount of times in more ways than you can think of. Perhaps that’s the price for placing your belief system on text from 1500-5000 years ago that refuses to be updated.


  1. nitpick: the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens was 18th May1980.

    Comment by Expat — February 2, 2014 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • The one I linked to said that their sample probably came from 1986.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 2, 2014 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  2. I didn’t really understand the comments about doing radiometric dating on samples from Paricutin. After all, it erupted in historical times, and can even be seen in some of the background shots of a movie made near it at the time the volcano was still active. Odd how Mr. O’Brien uses a volcano that grew to full size in about 9 years, to justify a creation of the universe that happened in 6 days. Doesn’t he get the irony of his own claim? Short time that the volcano took, it’s still many times longer than his creation myth needed for much, much more to happen.

    Dr. Robbins mentions above that creationists deliberately tested a sample from Mount St. Helens. Obviously, when using a testing technique that is accurate only if the sample is tens to hundreds of thousands of years old in its current form, they’re going to get erroneous results. I would guess the rock from MSH was collected in 1986 by someone who had little to no experience doing such — that could explain the incorrect year. They didn’t really care about that anyway, since the inaccurate result they wanted would be far larger.

    I agree: no matter which argument is being made by creationists, it’s always a variation of one of the many they’ve used before, with slightly different wording to make them sound “new”. They’ve deliberately restricted their own thinking to conform with a collection of scrolls written a long time ago, with almost no updates since. No room for possibilities outside those parameters. It’s sad how some of their most ardent apologists will accuse scientists of being the unimaginative ones.

    Oh, by the way, I just finished watching the Super Bowl (boring!), but there were a couple of commercials advertising the upcoming retelling of Cosmos. The promos looked interesting; let’s hope the show will be, too.

    Comment by RIck K. — February 2, 2014 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

    • I think their comments were meant 100% to make fun of radiometric dating, à la the Mt. St. Helens stuff.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 2, 2014 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  3. So… volcano created using processes well understood by Science => God? That’s just stupid.

    Comment by johanges — February 2, 2014 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  4. Oh bloody hell, even I know the difference between volcanic mountains, and tectonic uplift. These people will grasp at any straws, now matter how feeble to point at and proclaim they are right. What they are is hopelessly ignorant.

    +1 on the new Cosmos, I am looking forward to that.

    Comment by shelldigger — February 4, 2014 @ 10:09 am | Reply

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