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Geologists in an uproar

Grand Canyon: A Different View

Grand Canyon:
A Different View

Demand book’s removal from Grand Canyon National Park

by Michael Matthews

6 January 2004

What provoked the presidents of seven geological societies—representing around 100,000 geologists and paleontologists—to write a letter of protest to the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park?

A picture book offering a ‘different view’ on the origin of Grand Canyon.

The new creationist coffee-table book Grand Canyon: A Different View is currently being sold at the Park Service bookstore at the rim of the canyon. More than just a coffee-table book, it presents scientific evidence from some of the best-known creationist scientists and theologians of our time.

In a letter of protest, the presidents of the American Geological Institute and six other geological societies lashed out at the National Park Service (NPS) for supposedly undermining ‘the scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology’ by promoting ‘the anti-science movement known as young Earth creationism.’1

Harsh words and big demands for a little book.

Don’t let anyone see that book!

The apparent instigator of the incident was Dr Wilfred A. Elders, a professor at the University of California–Riverside, who ran across the book while visiting the Canyon. Incensed, he published a scathing review of the book’s ‘absurdities’ in the 23 September 2003 issue of the geophysics journal Eos.

Dr Elders noted that the book’s editor, Tom Vail, is ‘a Colorado River guide who is well acquainted with the Grand Canyon at river level.’ (In fact, Mr Vail has led more than 150 Canyon tours over the past 25 years. […]) Elders noted that the book’s contributors ‘comprise a veritable “Who’s Who” in creationism,’ including Dr Henry Morris, Dr John Whitcomb and Ken Ham.

Elder’s review closes with these words: ‘I believe that the continued sale of this book within the National Park would undermine the work of the National Park Service interpreters who work so hard to educate the public.’2

Three months later, the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park received a letter of protest (see below), signed by seven high-powered presidents of various scientific societies.

Possible legal action

It gets worse. A left-leaning group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) saw the story and issued a press release decrying the ‘Christian fundamentalist’ takeover of the National Park Service. ‘The Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups,’ laments Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER. ‘The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of Faith-Based Parks.’3

The PEER press release also attacks the deputy director of the National Park Service, Donald Murphy, for restoring three religious plaques at the Grand Canyon, which the park’s superintendent had removed earlier (see Remove God from the Grand Canyon?).

The press release includes an unsubstantiated claim that ‘Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis.’ This claim has caught the eye of the Government Affairs Program (AGI)—the legal arm of the American Geological Institute. AGI says it is ‘looking into’ the report.4

Apparently a few brave souls in the Park Service and the Bush Administration, who believe in freedom of speech, want to give the public an opportunity to learn alternatives to the prevailing evolutionary view of earth history.

And what do these people get for their efforts?

The seven presidents demand ‘fairness to the millions of park visitors’!

It’s not science

The presidents’ letter opens with the old line that the biblical view of earth history is ‘a particular religious interpretation ... under the guise of being a scientific explanation.’

The letter closes with the same claim: ‘Grand Canyon: A Different View is not about science and we strongly urge that, if it remains available in Grand Canyon bookstores, it be clearly separated from books and materials that do discuss our scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology. ... we must clearly distinguish religious tenets from scientific knowledge.’

In contrast to the biblical understanding of the Canyon’s geology, the letter claims that these geologists’ long-age view of the Canyon is based on ‘well-documented scientific understanding’ and ‘broadly accepted interpretations.’

Even after all that creationists have published, these evolutionary geologists remain unwilling to acknowledge the most basic truth: both views of earth history are based on the same facts, but scientists use different frameworks for interpreting these facts. See ‘It’s not science’

It’s simply untrue and deceptive to claim that those who believe in a young earth are ‘anti-science’ and that the book Grand Canyon: A Different View ‘aggressively attacks modern science.’ In fact, three creationist scientists made poster presentations of their radiometric dating research at a conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in December5—and all three of these men (Dr John Baumgardner, Dr Russell Humphreys and Dr Larry Vardiman) are contributors to Vail’s Grand Canyon book.

Moreover, another contributor to Vail’s book, Dr Steven Austin, has presented a paper at a Geological Society of America conference on his discovery of massive numbers of nautiloid fossils (a squid-like creature) catastrophically deposited in a rock formation of Grand Canyon over hundreds of kilometers and including billions of nautiloids. The National Park Service even asked Dr Austin to write a monograph for them, explaining his findings.6

Dr Austin made his discovery, in part, because he believed the Genesis framework for interpreting the geology and history of the world. Evolutionists missed the story because they were not looking for evidence of catastrophe on such a massive scale.

Not surprised

Vail commented: ’I’m not surprised at the letter. The book presents a different view, one that goes against the grain of everything they [evolutionary geologists] believe. Without an earth that is millions of years old, the entire evolutionary house of cards falls apart, and think about what that would mean to those that have been trying to “prove” this theory their whole careers. Not only does their theory crumble, but their worldview crumbles with it.

‘Plus, it is just what the Bible warns us about. Colossians 2:8 says See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. This was the core scripture in compiling this book, and that is what this letter attacking the book is all about.

Why such an incredible attack on free speech?

It is difficult to understand why a coffee-table book could spark such a massive response.

Perhaps it helps to remember how fearful it is for man to acknowledge the existence of a Creator who has revealed Himself in Scripture. The God of the Bible has given us an eyewitness report of His works, and He warns us that we are accountable for our deeds—as He proved by inundating the whole world with a Flood in Noah’s day.

The Lord is watching us all, including the men involved in this incident at the Grand Canyon National Park.

Hurrah for the Davids (including those in government), who are willing to stand up against the giants who mock the God of the Bible and who seek to suppress His truth! 

Copy of letter below also available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/grandcanyon.pdf.

December 16, 2003

Mr. Joseph Alston, Superintendent
Grand Canyon National Park
P.O. Box 129
Grand Canyon, Arizona 86023

Dear Mr. Alston:

It has come to our attention that a book espousing a particular religious interpretation of the Grand Canyon is being sold in bookstores within the Grand Canyon National Park under the guise of a being a scientific explanation for the origin of the canyon. The book, The Grand Canyon: A Different View (compiled by Vail, 2003), makes claims about the age of the rocks and the formation of the canyon that are at odds with the well-documented scientific understanding of Earth history. The book is not about geology but rather, advances a narrow religious view about the Earth. We urge you to remove the book from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about Earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service.

The National Park Service should be extremely careful about giving the impression that it approves of the anti-science movement known as young Earth creationism or endorses the advancement of religious tenets as science. The book aggressively attacks modern science and broadly accepted interpretations of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. As such, any implied approval or endorsement by the NPS for the book and others like it undermines efforts to educate the public about the scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology.

The Grand Canyon: A Different View is not about science and we strongly urge that, if it remains available in Grand Canyon bookstores, it be clearly separated from books and materials that do discuss our scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology. As you know, the Grand Canyon provides a remarkable and unique opportunity to educate the public about Earth science. In fairness to the millions of park visitors, we must clearly distinguish religious tenets from scientific knowledge.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

William I. Ausich, President
Paleontological Society

Robert E. Dickinson, President
American Geophysical Union

Cathryn A. Manduca, President
National Association of Geoscience Teachers

John C. Steinmetz, President
Association of American State Geologists

Hans-Dieter Sues, President
Society for Vertebrate Paleontology

Barbara J. Tewksbury, President
American Geological Institute

Robert van der Voo, President
Geological Society of America

CC: The Honorable Fran Mainella, Director, National Park Service
Dr. Michael Soukup, NPS Associate Director, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science
Mr. Loran Fraser, Chief, NPS Office of Policy

References and notes

  1. The American Geological Institute has made the entire letter available at <www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/grandcanyon.pdf>. Return to text.
  2. Elders, W.A., Different views of the Grand Canyon, <http://www.agu.org/journals/eo/eo0338/2003EO380005.pdf>, Eos 84(38), 385, 2003. Return to text.
  3. PEER press release, <www.ems.org/rls/2003/12/22/religion_on_disp.html>, 22 December 2003. Return to text.
  4. American Geological Institute, Political challenges to the teaching of evolution (12-23-03), <www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/evolution.html#recent>. Return to text.
  5. ICR website, RATE posters well received at AGU conference. Return to text.
  6. Blievernicht, E., Report on the 5th International Conference on Creationism, August 3-9, 2003, <www.rae.org/ICC2003.html> 20 August 2003. Return to text.

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