[Paleopsych] NYT: Creationism and Science Clash at Grand Canyon Bookstores

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Tue Oct 26 19:54:53 UTC 2004

Creationism and Science Clash at Grand Canyon Bookstores
NYT October 26, 2004

[Google <"behe's empty box"> for more.]

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park
Service, is hardly a practitioner of secular humanism.

Meals at his house begin with grace, and in a recent talk
on environmental politics he chided his audience for not
paying enough attention to the way the wonders of nature
inspire wonder at their creator.

But when it comes to selling, in stores at a national park,
a book propounding the idea that God created Grand Canyon
in Noah's flood, he pauses. "If there were a person, which
I doubt, qualified in geological science, who said it is
perfectly plausible, that would be one thing," said Mr.
Kennedy, who led the park service from 1993 to 1996. But,
he said, such a book would have to have "a respectable
scholarly basis."

Mr. Kennedy has not seen "Grand Canyon: A Different View,"
but others who have, including geologists on the Park
Service staff, say it does not meet that test. A
compilation of photographs, biblical quotations and essays
published last year by Master Books, the book says God
created the heavens and the earth in six days, 6,000 years
ago, and that the canyon formed in a flood God caused in
order to wipe out "the wickedness of man." The geology of
the canyon proves it, the books' contributors say.

Actually, the universe formed billions of years ago, Earth
formed billions of years later and the Grand Canyon was
shaped by millions and millions of years of hydrology,
chiefly the action of the Colorado River. Other ideas,
however dearly held, are myths. Or, as the Geologic
Resources Division of the Park Service put it in a memo,
"The book purports to be science when it is not. The book
repudiates science."

Nevertheless, it is for sale at the six bookstores at Grand
Canyon National Park.

Brad Wallis, executive director of the Grand Canyon
Association, the nonprofit group that runs the stores, said
the association did not market the book as science. The
association decided to stock it, he said, because it is a
professionally produced presentation of "a divergent
viewpoint." In the main store, the only one large enough to
have separate sections for different kinds of books, "the
book was placed in the inspiration section, and we never
moved," Mr. Wallis said. "It was never in the science

Last December, a few months after the book appeared in
Grand Canyon shops, the presidents of seven geological and
paleontological organizations wrote to Joseph Alston,
superintendent of the canyon, to urge that the book be
removed from stores there, lest visitors get the impression
that the park endorsed its contents.

Now the issue rests with the solicitor's office of the
Interior Department, which has been reviewing the issue for
almost a year, said Elaine Sevy, a spokeswoman for the Park

Asked what the review consists of and why it is taking so
long, she said, "It's resting with the solicitor's office."

Until its ruling, the book remains on sale.

"Grand Canyon: A Different View" was put together by Tom
Vail, who in his own contribution says he was working as a
rafting guide in the canyon in 1994, "telling folks that
the exquisite and varied rock layers came about through
completely natural processes," when a woman on one of his
trips introduced him to the Bible. Within a few months, he
relates, "I had made a conscious decision to believe in the
Gospel." Soon, he and his passenger were married and now he
and his wife, Paula Vail, operate Canyon Ministries,
leading river tours with a creationist bent.

Some have argued that because the store offers books about
the culture and legends of the Navajo and Hopi tribes it is
appropriate for it to sell books on the legends of
creationists as well.

Rob Arnberger, who was superintendent of the park from 1996
to 2000, will have none of that.

"At Grand Canyon it is appropriate to present the culture
of the Navajo and the Hopi, tribes that live in and around
the canyon," he said. "But there are no books that present
the culture of the Plains Indians, for example, because
their culture was not associated with the Grand Canyon. To
present one view does not obligate us to present another,
especially when the science is so wrong."

And the fact that the book is selling well also cuts no ice
with him. The store could probably make money selling
Superman cartoons, he said, but that is not a reason to
stock them.

Mr. Wallis said the book was not a particularly big seller,
though it had been doing better lately. "People are curious
about it now," he said.

Mr. Kennedy says collisions between ideology and
scholarship are nothing new at the Park Service. "There are
still recurring editorials in Civil War buff journals
decrying any discussion of causes of the war, particularly

And he differentiates between what people learn from
materials sold in Park Service bookstores and what they
learn from the service's professional staff, "around the
campfire," he said. Still, he worries that the Park Service
may be relying too much on outsiders to research and
explain its wonders - "outsourcing professional services,"
as he put it.

And of course, he says, many people will assume any book
sold in a Grand Canyon bookstore has the imprimatur of the
Park Service.

"That's the problem," Mr. Kennedy said. It is an important
issue, he said, "and we need to pay attention to it."


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