Federal government is agnostic
on the age of the Grand Canyon
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
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
TheNPS has recently departed from this policy and is now
giving creationism equal billing.
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
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
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
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.
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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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
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.
The Wikipedia report continues with the information that Alston's decision
"... overruled by the National Park Service (NPS), a
government agency staffed by political appointees of the Bush
"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
"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
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."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"How old is the Grand Canyon? Park Service won't say," Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, 2006-DEC-28, at: