A New Resource for Creationism: “The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth”

A helpful book has just been published. I ordered The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? from Amazon, and it arrived a few days ago. The book delves into the geological features of the Grand Canyon, and compares how these features are explained by conventional geology and by the Flood geology of young earth creationism. The title of the book positions it as a response to the earlier Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe by young earth creationist Stephen Austin.

The authors and editors are professionals in geology or related sciences, so they know their facts. They are also evangelical Christians. They understand the good intentions of young earth creationists, but they correctly point out that young earth creationism is based on a particular literalistic interpretation of the Bible. The book gives a brief history of conservative Protestant views of geology over the past several hundred years, noting that nearly all Christians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a number of authors of “The Fundamentals” (~1910-1915) which defined fundamentalist beliefs at the time, were comfortable with an old earth.

Here are the bios of the four editors, as shown on Amazon:

Carol Hill is the author of scientific articles on the Grand Canyon published in Science, Journal of Hydrology, Geosphere, and other journals, as well as Christian apologetics articles for Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith. She has been featured both on NOVA and National Geographic’s Naked Science.

Gregg Davidson is the Chair of Geology & Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi. He has written a number of articles and the book When Faith and Science Collide. Davidson is an active national speaker on the subject of faith and science with Solid Rock Lectures.

Wayne Ranney is a former park ranger, geologic speaker and tour guide, and author of several books, including Carving Grand Canyon.

Tim Helble worked as a hydrologist in the National Weather Service (NWS) for twenty-seven years. Before his NWS career, he held a half-year seasonal position at Grand Canyon National Park, helping to develop a water resources plan for the Park.

These four, plus seven additional authors, wrote the twenty chapters of the book. The chapters are grouped in five parts. The first part provides an overview of modern geology and of Flood geology. The book then provides an accessible explanation of how rocks and rock layers have formed over time. Roughly half the volume is devoted to this tutorial which is understandable by practically anyone who can read. This is one of the best introductions to geology I have ever seen. This section alone would make this book a worthwhile purchase, even if one had little interest in creationism. Topics here include:

– Sedimentary rock types (sandstone, shale, limestone) and how they form

– Inferring the original depositional environment of sedimentary rocks. For instance, the presence of raindrop prints in a sandstone rock layer shows that the surface of the moist sand at that spot was above the water level when the raindrops fell.

– Inferring the relative dates of various rock layers. For instance, in most cases if rock layer B overlies layer A over a wide area, it is likely that layer A was deposited first, and then B was deposited on top of A. If a thin vertical slab of granite or other igneous rock is found protruding through both layers, it is likely that this resulted from a later intrusion of magma. Slippage of rock layers along faults can complicate the analysis, but can also furnish additional clues as to the geological history of a region

– Radioactive dating of rocks; plate tectonics; fracturing and bending of rocks

– Various fossils found in the Grand Canyon, including pollen and spores and preserved footprints of animals

Finally, this book compares how conventional geology and how the Flood geology of young earth creationists explain the specific features found in the Grand Canyon. Some of these features include the sequences of different fossils, erosional surfaces between some rock layers, the formation of caves within rock layers, the overall topography of the Canyon, and evidence that one major rock layer was deposited as desert sand dunes. It is concluded that the approach of mainstream science, involving known physical processes operating over many millions of years, provides a better explanation than a single, year-long global Flood.

A Visual Feast

Besides superb textual content, the book is a visual feast. Lush pictures appear on nearly every page — panoramas of the canyon, tighter shots of individual formations, and zoomed-in photos of details of rocks and of fossils. I found it downright fun to just leaf through it. Besides nice photos, there are many professional-quality diagrams and tables to illustrate geological principles.

I cannot adequately convey the visual quality of the book here, but to give the flavor I snapped a photo of part of the front cover, and then opened at random to a page and took another picture. Here they are:

Part of cover of "The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth"

Part of cover of “The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth”

(Top half of front cover above; a random page below. Click on pictures for a more detailed view.)

Part of page 71 of "Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth"

Part of page 71 of “Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth”

In trying to reach hearts and minds, this visual appeal is important. Often the young earth creationist publications have large, compelling photos of interesting animals or rock formations, which unfortunately seem to give authority to the accompanying text.

Concluding Thoughts

The Grand Canyon is an engaging spectacle, which also displays the effects of geological processes over millions of years. One of the first articles I wrote for my blog here,  Grand Canyon Creation , dealt with this subject. I found that the diversity of large, visible geological features gave useful handles for discussing the representations of young earth creationists.

The authors of The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth cover the most essential issues with an economy of words. They address the specific claims made by young earth creationists regarding various features of the Canyon, in enough detail to clearly demonstrate the inadequacies of Flood geology. By first laying a strong foundation of basic geology, the book enables the reader to assess the more controversial questions.

My experience, and the experience of others, indicates that no amount of physical evidence will change the mind of a dedicated young earth creationist. His position is based on a religious commitment, which is the lens through which he views everything. This is not particularly unusual or pathological – we can see the same psychology of bias confirmation at work in hard-core political liberals or conservatives, and in some fans of a failing sports team, where a person will emphasize the facts which support their views, and deny or spin away the rest of reality.  (An article by Paul Braterman gives some helpful discussion in this regard).

Thus, it is not realistic to hope that the facts presented in this book will have an effect on someone who has already bought into Flood geology. However, there are many evangelical Christians who have not firmly made up their minds, and who genuinely want to be on the side of truth. This book might well be appreciated by them. Also,  this book could be influential with high school and college students, even from conservative backgrounds .

Although the notion of a changing set of organisms over time in the fossil record (faunal succession) is clearly presented, there is little or no mention of evolution in the book. That word does not even appear in the index. There seems to a deliberate policy of sticking to the most incontrovertible evidence for an ancient earth, without bringing up the more controversial topic of biological evolution. I think that is wise. To accept full evolution, including the development of humans from some primate common ancestor, may be just too much for many folks to take in one step. If someone sees the truth of an old earth and the faunal succession in the rock layers, however, that creates an opening for them to perhaps accept evolution somewhere down the road. That was the way it worked for me.

The bottom line: This is an ideal book to make available to someone who is trying to evaluate the validity of young earth creationism or to home schooling parents. It might also get students excited about geology, even if they have no particular interest in the creationism controversy.

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About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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4 Responses to A New Resource for Creationism: “The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth”

  1. Pingback: Why are some Christians Young Earth Creationists? | Letters to Creationists

  2. Pingback: Listing of Articles on Science, Faith and Other | Letters to Creationists

  3. Darrell says:

    It will be a massive leap for ancient earth creationist like myself to accept a macro-evolutionist view. It would require more proof of transitions than is now present in the record. Irreducible complexes for me make macro-evolution a non-starter!

  4. Hi Darrell,
    I understand it would be a massive change in mindset to move from YE creationism to evolutionary creationism. It took me about ten years to make that transition. I think that if you really try to understand fairly what each side is saying, that you will arrive at the truth. (The problem is that, most often, people mainly latch onto whatever bits of evidence support what they want to believe and downplay the other side).

    I don’t propose to debate all these issues in details here, but if you are interested I will offer some resources.

    Transitional Fossils:
    With evolution, there is an analogous array of diverse evidence. If mutational changes have indeed been going on and on and on for billions of years, with accompanying evolution of today’s biota from much simpler ancestors, there should be some sort of progression visible in the fossil record, and there should be signs of common ancestry in today’s genomes.

    If there has been no large-scale evolution, and thus modern plants and animals have always existed, we would expect to find modern plants and animals at all levels of the fossil record, possibly commingled with other, now-extinct creatures. But that is not what we find. What we actually find is a clear progression of initial appearances of various life-forms from the lowest (oldest) rock layers to the younger layers and on to the present, which cannot be explained away as the result of the hydraulics of Noah’s Flood.
    In the lowest rock layers we find single-celled bacteria; after many hundreds of million years, simple multi-celled organisms like sponges and jellyfish appear. Millions of years later, in yet higher rock layers, we start to find fossils of soft-bodied animals known as Ediacaran fauna. Then in the rock layers from the Cambrian period (542 to 485 million years before the present), there is a rapid progression from mainly worms and slugs to an array of fauna which represent many of phyla which have persisted to the present.

    The actual specimens within these phyla present in the Cambrian fossils, however, are typically quite unlike any modern species – – no modern fish or reptiles or mammals or flowering plants appear in the Cambrian. Trilobites (early arthropods which are distant cousins to today’s insects and crustaceans) always appear in sedimentary layers below any rocks containing dinosaurs, never above. Fossils of modern mammals are always found in layers above those of dinosaurs. Moreover, fossils of modern marine animals like clams can be found in rock layers above fossils of large, active land animals like dinosaurs, so these sequences cannot be attributed to a world-wide Flood first burying marine creatures whilst land dwellers were climbing to higher ground.
    In the vertebrate lineage, worm-like swimmers with a primitive notochord (no spine, no jaws yet) first appear in the Cambrian, followed in higher (younger) rock layers by jawed fish (fossils first seen 400-450 million years ago) , then tetrapod amphibians, then the first reptiles around 300 Mya, dinosaurs in yet higher rock layers, and finally modern mammals make their appearance. (The earlier types of animals often persist in the presence of the newer arrivals – – sponges, jellyfish, fish, amphibians, and reptiles persist in the fossil record and into the present, but the specific species of fossilized fish, amphibians and reptiles change over geological time.)

    It is known that the fossil record is not complete, and the basic arithmetic of population genetics shows that transitional species will mainly occur in small, isolated populations which are unlikely to leave a fossil trace. Nevertheless, a steady stream of discoveries since Darwin’s time has filled in many of the major transitions in the animal family. For instance, a number of fossils with part fish/part amphibian characteristics, and with part reptile/part mammal characteristics, are found at about the times expected for these transitions.

    Here is an article which explains what sort of evidence we ought to find, if macroevolution is true, and shows some of the evidence for the transitions from tiny early horse ancestors to modern horses, for the fish-to-amphibian transition, and for the reptile-to-mammal transition:
    https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/realistic-expectations-for-transitional-fossils/

    This article by paleontologist Donald Prothero gives details on ten different fossil transitions: http://www.donaldprothero.com/files/92313517.pdf
    He notes, “…… By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882 there were numerous fossils and fossil sequences showing evolutionary change, especially among invertebrates. Evidence of evolution in the fossil record has vastly increased since then. Yet the idea still persists that the fossil record is too patchy to provide good evidence of evolution. One reason for this is the influence of creationism. Foremost among their tactics is to distort or ignore the evidence for evolution; a favourite lie is “there are no transitional fossils”. This is manifestly untrue. We now have abundant evidence for how all the major groups of animals are related, much of it in the form of excellent transitional fossils. “

    Irreducible complexity:

    Three of Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe’s biggest examples of irreducible complexity are the (human) blood clotting system, evolution of the (human) eye, and bacterial flagella. However, other scientists have found that these are not irreducible, in that simpler, yet still functional forms of blood clotting, of eyes, and of flagella can be observed in other species. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreducible_complexity
    ( Michael Behe, while he argues that undirected evolutionary mechanisms are not sufficient to explain the transitions, agrees that the earth is billions of years old and that humans and chimps descended from a common primate ancestor).

    Age of the Earth

    Perhaps an easier question for you to resolve at this stage is the geological evidence for the age of the earth, rather than sifting through the biological evidence for evolution. If the earth is only 6000 years old, then you can pretty well dismiss the evidence for macroevolution. If it is billions of years old, evolution may or may not have been how humans came about . There are many “Old Earth” creationists, who accept an old universe but question macroevolution. Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe (http://www.reasons.org/ ) is perhaps the most well-known, but most Intelligent Design advocates (e.g. Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski) fall in this camp. Billy Graham did not find it necessary to reject evolution or an old earth (https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/billy-graham-on-evolution/ )

    This brings us back to the subject of this blog post, which is the book The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? . If you are serious about making a fair-minded examination of the evidence for an old earth, I suggest you get this book. I have written an article on this subject, https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/grand-canyon-creation/ , but naturally could not provide as much discussion of all the pros and cons.

    Some other straightforward evidence for an old earth are here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/some-simple-evidences-for-an-old-earth/ and an assessment of the evidence put forth for a young earth is here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/evidences-for-a-young-earth/

    Best wishes to you.

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