More on the Grand Canyon

More on the Grand Canyon

More on the Grand Canyon

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 5 2007 2:23 PM

More on the Grand Canyon

I've been getting a bit of email about my blog entry about creationism being promulgated at the Grand Canyon.

First, a correction. Sorta.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Reading the original PEER press release, I thought that it said that National Park Service rangers were being forbidden to give the actual age and history of the canyon when asked, so as not to offend religious patrons. Why did I think that? Probably because the PEER press release says:

"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.'"

However, Jeff Hebert asked the PEER folks if this were actually true. They responded:

Jeff--

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This option is the closest--

"Are you simply saying that the NPS hasn't offered an official guideline to its employees as to how they are to answer that question, and not that the official position is to answer "no comment"?"

1. Reports from Grand Canyon NP interpretive staff, some of whom have been seeking clarification from their chain-of-command relative to questions about the validity of "young earth claims." The more than three-year hold-up in blocking official guidance on this question is part of this concern.

2. Statements by NPS HQ officials that the creationist view should be given equal time in park materials.

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3. The reply from the Grand Canyon superintendent's office to media inquiries on the official park view on the age of the Canyon.

We did not mean to imply that geological information has been deleted from park materials.

I have read over this many times, and no matter what I do, it sounds to me like PEER's press release was written specifically to make people think that rangers were told to give the answer "no comment". Now, PEER is saying they never said this. This is pure spin at the very, very least.

Here's the deal. The Grand Canyon visitor's center is selling a creationist book, which is highly unconstitutional, and there is pressure from White House appointees to not only sell it, but apparently also to bury any reviews of the situation. This Administration promised three years ago to investigate the book being sold, and nothing has been done.

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That, to me, is bad enough. There is no need to exaggerate the issue. Yet it looks to me like PEER did just that. They made it sound even worse, and stretched the truth to do so.

PEER needs to make another press release, and it needs to include an apology for their slimy behavior. They have made this situation worse, because now it emotionally weakens the argument for truth. Reality-based people -- like me -- now have to say we were wrong.

I am saying it now. I was wrong to say that rangers were being gagged. It is my fault for relying on a press release, pure and simple. I'm glad my friend Wes Elsberry was smarter than I was on this.

But PEER needs to admit they screwed up, too.

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This still leaves us with the issue of the book, and with that I am certainly not backing down.

You can read far more about this terrible book at the Free Inquiry website. Bob Carroll at the Skeptics Dictionary has something to say about it, as does, again, Wes Elsberry. Creek Running North has a wonderful geological timeline of the Grand Canyon, too, where you get the real picture of what formed the canyon.

Actually, let me say again to read that timeline. The canyon was formed through forces both subtle and gross, land-building events that took millions of years. Countering that are erosive forces that work over those same eons, and sometimes at much faster rates. Primitive life took hold in those rocks billions of years ago, and life both uni- and multicellular still exists there. All of this, and more, is written in the rocks, in fine detail with a rich, lush history.

Yet there are those who would prefer to think the canyon was swept into existence through divine interference, all at once, despite all (and I mean all) the evidence against that.

Think about the oversimplified fantasy of Noah's flood and then compare that with the complex and subtle nature of the reality of the canyon as Creek Running North described. Creationists love to say that scientists lack the appreciation of beauty and have no sense of awe, but you tell me: whose canyon story is more beautiful, whose is more interesting, whose is more awe-inspiring, and has more detail, evidence, and self-consistency?

Creationists deny all this because they have to. If they accepted it, they'd realize they're wrong, and they cannot accept that. They claim their rock-solid faith makes them strong, but in reality it makes them weak, brittle. They cannot learn, they can only deny, deny, deny.

And this is what we want to teach people when they visit the grandest canyon on Earth?