U.S. Park Service refuses to admit the age of the Grand Canyon

December 29, 2006 | By | 13 Replies More

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the U.S. National Park Service won’t admit the well-established age of the Grand Canyon. Why?  Because our National Park Service doesn’t want to offend young earth creationists

Here’s the well-established geological story:

The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin (of which the Grand Canyon is a part) has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old (with most of the downcutting occurring in the last two million years). The result of all this erosion is one of the most complete geologic columns on the planet.

The major geologic exposures in Grand Canyon range in age from the 2 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 230 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim.

Here is what young earth creationists believe:

The belief that the Earth was created by God within the last ten thousand years, literally as described in Genesis, within the approximate timeframe of biblical genealogies (detailed for example in the Ussher chronology). (They may or may not believe that the Universe is the same age.) It rejects not only radiometric and isochron dating of the age of the Earth, arguing that they are based on debatable assumptions, but also approaches such as ice core dating and dendrochronology. Instead, it interprets the geologic record largely as a result of a global flood.

In a sane world, the books sold by the National Park Service would represent the prevailing scientific view.  Not so, according to PEER: 

Grand Canyon National Park is 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, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

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. 

“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.’”

[Since we read this press release from PEER, it appears that the claim is inaccurate, perhaps deceptive.  See this follow-up article from Skeptic Magazine]

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Category: American Culture, Evolution, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Talk about old news! I remember fuming about this issue (the W edict to keep science out of the National Parks System media) back in 2001, when mainstream media gave it a brief mention, and magazines such as Scientific American and the journals of the Parks Service picked up Aaron McGruder's 2000 deprecation in Boondocks citing candidate W as "the dumbest man alive" concerning naturalistic understanding.

    The bigger issue:

    It's one thing to have the National Forests (essentially farms for trees and minerals) be at the economic mercy of a current administration, but the National Parks are supposed to be bastions of preservation and understanding! Prohibiting the distribution of scientific knowledge unless it is balanced by an equal weight of minority Christian dogma was (and still is) seen as unconscionable in any venue. But that's how the current "no comment" age of the rocks was managed.

    The science crowd figured that not-providing another venue for preaching Creationism was a better bet than insisting on explicitly forcing the issue, and collaterally distributing Young Earth pseudo-science.

    With luck, the next administration will remove the fetters from the scientists in the National Park Service, the EPA, the FDA, and other groups who have had their science censored.

  2. hogiemo says:

    Where's the damn ACLU when you need them?

  3. There are two issues involved here. The age of the rocks and the age of the canyon. You can have several billion year old rocks and several million year old canyon or you can have several billion year old rocks and a relatively young canyon. What geologic event could have formed the canyon in a short period of time {rapid erosion} and then left it unchanged for millions of years? It had to be something unique and recent or the canyon would not survive as it is today. The age of the rocks uncovered are a given either way.

  4. Scholar says:

    Larry, this link futher explains how the canyon was formed. You are partially right this time! It was carved by the Colorado River out of a much older bedrock…

    http://www.kaibab.org/geology/gc_geol.htm

    Sadly, I checked the US National Park website, and they do in fact seem to be trying to downplay the geology and true age of the Canyon (which is over 2 billion years, no matter how you slice it).

    For a much more amazing geologic event, see this link to the great glacial floods of lake missoula, probably the closest thing the world has experienced to flooding described in the bible…(maybe they actually had hydrologists in Bethlehem)

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/megaflood/lake.html

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    The problem with aging the Grand Canyon by looking at just that local canyon is that you miss the picture of the total evolution of the Colorado Plateau. If you look at a cross section of the area including Bryce and Zion canyons (<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Canyons Cross Section" href="http://www.zionpark.org/shopping/productDetails_366.html">available here), you see that there necessarily was a long, slow erosion to expose the top edge of the Grand Canyon as the whole plateau was thrust upwards over the last (geologically brief) few dozen mega-years.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    "[T]he closest thing to the … flooding described in the bible" is more likely when the moraine separating the Mediterranean from the Black Sea gave way and flooded the entire formerly-below-sea-level freshwater lake basin in barely-prehistoric times. I say this with confidence because the margins of the submerged former freshwater lake are currently being explored in hopes of finding the cities that were probably there.

    Survivors from and witnesses to this inexplicable-to-the-locals flooding probably are the root of the middle-eastern flood story that survived (with allegory attached) to make it into the Old Testament a few thousand years later.

    The Lake Missoula reservoir collapse that carved the scablands/badlands area shows how a short-lived water event scours the surface strata, but doesn't evince any rising-water features.

  7. PanTerra says:

    The NPS does not downplay the geologic ages.

    http://nationalparkstraveler.typepad.com/national

  8. Scholar says:

    Pan Terra, you could not be more wrong!! Look for yourself!!

    The national park service website for the grand canyon is a travesty!!

    I went to the website myself!!

    One has to search with a fine toothed comb to find the age of the canyon at the national park website!!

    They are downplaying the most important history of the canyon…it’s age!!

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    Scientists believe that the Scablands/Badlands region of Washington state was created by the sudden draining of a large lake (glacial Lake Missoula) — an event that involved the collapse of a glacial wall more than 2000 feet high. Obviously, the sudden release of a lake that was more than 2000 feet deep would have been a violent event.

    However, where was the lake that caused the Grand Canyon? Perhaps I am wrong, but Noah's flood did not appear to involve the draining of a lake; it involved the falling of rain. The Bible says God made it rain for 40 days and nights; it doesn't say anything about God dropping 2000+ feet of water all at once.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Since we originally passed along information from this press release by PEER, it appears that PEER's claim is inaccurate, perhaps deceptive.  See here.

  11. Scholar says:

    For some reason, the word "billion" is avoided like the plague on the NPS Grand Canyon website. Also, the science links are buried, as in, not on the main window, not in the secondary window, but only in a 3rd obscure area do they touch on the geologic ages. However the rest of the website is piled with lots of "agnostic" facts and figures about length, width, *recent* history, flora, fauna. It is clearly not an educational website, rather catering to the masses of America (young earth creationists) by avoiding the controversial *dates*. In fact, the headline on the front page is "Grand Canyon…carved over millennia" vague terminology, could mean as little as 2 thousand years thus accomodating, (and even supporting?) people who insist that the canyon is a result of Noah's flood "circa" 5 thousand years ago…

    http://www.nps.gov/grca/

  12. Dan Klarmann says:

    Of course, the Grand Canyon was carved in a geological blink-of-an-eye. As the Colorado plateau rose, the Colorado river maintained it's own level, crossing from the Rockies to the Gulf of California.

    But my point is that Creationists I've talked to generally believe that the rocks of the canyon were laid down by the same forces that carved them, with laws-of-physics-defying speed.

    Now, a geological eye-blink is still longer than our own tenure as a species, but if you hold the natural (innate) belief that anything older than grandpa is equivalently ancient, it's easy to confuse millions with billions, or even dozens of millenia. Most people never receive the training to view the world at scales other than those they experience in the cradle; as far (or wide, or small, or fast) as they can see, or remember, or touch.

    Is it really the job of a struggling park system to try to give this education?

    I'd like to think so! But it needs help from the crumbling infrastructure of public education.

  13. Scholar says:

    The carving of the canyon indeed occurred in a short amount of time. However, that can be extremely misleading. The (most) important geologic features are the *ancient* rock layers which have been exposed by the recent carving.

    "The roots of the ancient mountain range that now lies at the bottom of the Grand Canyon were formed about 1.7 billion years ago."

    "At 1.25 billion years ago the first sedimentary layer, the Bass Formation, was laid down. Ancient coastal dwelling colonies of algae known as Stromatolites are preserved within this layer and indicate that the area was coastal at that time."

    (http://www.kaibab.org/geology/gc_geol.htm)

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