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Federal government is agnostic
on the age of the Grand Canyon

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The original Park Service's policy about geology:

During 2005, the director of the issued Order #6 confirmed the long established role of the National Park Service (NPS) to educate the public about the latest findings in geology and other branches of science. It said, in part:

8.4.2 Historical and Scientific Research. Superintendents, historians, scientists, and interpretive staff are responsible for ensuring that park interpretive and educational programs and media are accurate and reflect current scholarship … Questions often arise round the presentation of geological, biological, and evolutionary processes. The interpretive and educational treatment used to explain the natural processes and -history of the Earth must be based on the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism. The facts, theories, and interpretations to be used will reflect the thinking of the scientific community in such fields as biology, geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and paleontology. Interpretive and educational programs must refrain from appearing to endorse religious beliefs explaining natural processes. Programs, however, may acknowledge or explain other explanations of natural processes and events. 1

The NPS has recently departed from this policy and is now giving creationism equal billing.

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Beliefs about the formation of the Grand Canyon:

The Grand Canyon "... attains a depth of more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), and ranges from 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) to 18 miles (29 kilometers) in width." 2 There is no consensus on either the forces involved or the time duration of the processes that carved out the canyon:

bullet Essentially all scientists believe that the canyon began to form 5.3 million years ago and contains rock formations that are 2 billion years old. It was gradually eroded into its present shape by the Colorado river -- a process that continues to this day. 3
bullet Young Earth creationists believe "... that the canyon is no more than a few thousand years old and was formed due to the Global Flood or Noachian flood" as described in the biblical book of Genesis, chapters 6 to 8. 3 According to the beliefs of many fundamentalist Christians, the flood occurred in 2349 BCE as stated in the Scofield Bible and lasted only a matter of months.
bullet Comparing the scientists' and creationists' estimate of the age of the Grand Canyon is like comparing the thickness of a single sheet of paper to three reams of paper containing 1,500  sheets.

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Tom Vail's book:

Tom Vail is a Colorado River guide. After his conversion to conservative Protestantism, he wrote a book about the Grand Canyon from a Creationist perspective. 4 This book, "Grand Canyon: A different view," is available at interpretative centers of the NPS, online at the Grand Canyon Association's web site 5 -- an official partner of the Grand Canyon National Park -- and from most large book stores. It contains many beautiful photographs of the canyon and 20 essays by leading creationists. The customers' reviews on gave the book a rating of 2.5 stars out of 5. Most of the ratings are either 1 star -- probably all by supporters of evolution who gave the lowest possible rating, and 5 stars, probably all by supporters of creation science. Thus, the book rating is mainly a measure of the ratio of the number of supporters of evolution and creationism among the reviewers, and is unrelated to the book's quality. The customer reviews on are well worth reading, even if only for their amusement value. They demonstrate the intense feelings that people have over origins.

The NPS approved the book for sale in the Grand Canyon National Park bookstores in 2003. In August of that year, Professor Emeritus of Geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, published a negative review of the book. According to Wikipedia:

"That same month, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of GCDV. On 2003-DEC-16, Alston received a supporting letter signed by the presidents of seven scientific societies protesting the sale of the book as a scientific reference. 3

The letter was signed by the presidents of the Paleontological Society, American Geophysical Union, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Association of American State Geologists, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America. 6

The Wikipedia report continues with the information that Alston's decision was:

"... overruled by the National Park Service (NPS), a government agency staffed by political appointees of the Bush administration."

"On 2004-JAN-25, David Shaver, Chief of the Geologic Resources Division of the NPS, sent a memorandum to Chuck Fagan at the Office of Policy stating, in part, that the book '... makes claims that are counter to widely accepted geologic evidence and scientific understanding about the formation and age of the Grand Canyon. In fact, it assaults modern science and well-documented geologic evidence of the canyon's history.' Later in 2004, the Grand Canyon National Park bookstore moved the book from the natural science section to the inspirational section as requested by the scientific organizations 3

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"PEER" News release:

"Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility" (PEER) issued a news release on 2006-DEC-28 about the creation/evolution conflict. It seems that park rangers at the Grand Canyon National Park are:

"... not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park. ..."

" 'In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,' stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. 'It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is "no comment".' "

"In a letter released today, PEER urged the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Mary Bomar, to end the stalling tactics, remove the book from sale at the park and allow park interpretive rangers to honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon. PEER is also asking Director Bomar to approve a pamphlet, suppressed since 2002 by Bush appointees, providing guidance for rangers and other interpretive staff in making distinctions between science and religion when speaking to park visitors about geologic issues."

"In August 2003, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a book claiming the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue."

"According to a recent NPS response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PEER, no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed."

"Park officials have defended the decision to approve the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, claiming that park bookstores are like libraries, where the broadest range of views are displayed. In fact, however, both law and park policies make it clear that the park bookstores are more like schoolrooms rather than libraries. As such, materials are only to reflect the highest quality science and are supposed to closely support approved interpretive themes. Moreover, unlike a library the approval process is very selective. Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item — the creationist book."

"Ironically, in 2005, two years after the Grand Canyon creationist controversy erupted, NPS approved a new directive on 'Interpretation and Education' (Director’s Order #6) which reinforces the posture that materials on the 'history of the Earth must be based on the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism [and] Interpretive and educational programs must refrain from appearing to endorse religious beliefs explaining natural processes'."

" 'As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan,' Ruch added, pointing to the fact that previous NPS leadership ignored strong protests from both its own scientists and leading geological societies against the agency approval of the creationist book. 'We sincerely hope that the new Director of the Park Service now has the autonomy to do her job'." 1

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The controversy spreads:

The PEER news release has been covered on thousands of web sites. The controversy actually made it into the Doonesbury comic strip for JAN-13. Mark Slackmeyer, talk show host, commented:

"Okay, here's another item, so typical of this administration's war on reality! Get this...The Grand Canyon Park Service is not allowed to tell visitors the geologic age of the canyon for fear of offending creationists! Moreover the park actually sells a book promoting the view that the canyon was formed by Noah's Flood."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "How old is the Grand Canyon? Park Service won't say," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 2006-DEC-28, at:
  2. Andrew A. Snelling & Steven A. Austin, "Startling evidence for Noah’s Flood," 1992-DEC, at:
  3. "Grand Canyon: A different view," Wikipedia, 2007-JAN-07, at:
  4. Tom Vail, "Grand Canyon: A different view," Master Books, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. Ibid, Grand Canyon Association, at:

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Site navigation:

Home page > Evolution v. creation science  > here

Home pageScience and religion  > here

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Originally posted: 2007-JAN-14
Latest update: 2007-JAN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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