Tuesday, June 28, 2005


A Journey Through Time

Descending through rock strata, and time, on the Grand Canyon's Hermit Trail.

Not long ago, Red State Rabble ran a post titled "The Power of Self-Delusion" that included the following excerpt from a commentary in the Cincinnati Enquirer by John Turney:
"... all evolutionists, must make assumptions. For example, they assume the Grand Canyon's rock always had its current concrete-like consistency. Why the assumption? They were not present during the Grand Canyon's formation. Therefore they turn their assumptions into "fact." What they conveniently fail to mention is that geologically younger rocks are near the bottom of the Grand Canyon, while geologically older rocks are near the top. This is the reverse of what should be found if evolutionary theory were true."

Red State Rabble saw the post as a typical – and amusing – example of the power of religion and ideology to blind its followers to reality. We were surprised at the number of readers who were, to put it mildly, outraged by the willful ignorance Turney put on display.

Were it just Mr. Turney's contention that the Grand Canyon is evidence for a young earth, we would have ignored his ravings entirely but, as it happens, he is not alone.

Two years ago, a book titled "The Grand Canyon: A Different View" by Colorado River guide Tom Vail went on sale in National Park bookstores. The book asserts that the same Old Testament flood that carried Noah's Ark to Mt. Ararat formed the canyon.

According to this view, the canyon is less than 10,000 years old.

In August 2003, Joe Alston, the Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, ordered the book removed from the bookshelves there. But, superiors at National Park Service headquarters quickly overruled him. NPS promised a review of the book, but this was never carried out. Despite protests, by the presidents of seven scientific societies, the book remains on sale.

It happens that Red State Rabble, though ignorant of many things has a little first-hand knowledge about the canyon. In 2000, we backpacked and studied the geology of the inner canyon for six days with a group from the Grand Canyon Field Institute. Beginning on the South Rim, we descended the Hermit Trail to the Colorado River. We camped along Hermit Creek, Monument Creek, and Indian Gardens before ascending to the rim on the Bright Angel Trail.

Ken Walters, a former exploration geologist, who has logged over 9,000 miles and summited 141 buttes in the canyon, led our merry little band. Along with exercises in map and compass reading, Walters insisted that each of us learn the little mnemonic: "Know The Canyon's History, Study Rocks Made By Time" as an aid to orienting ourselves in the canyon's backcountry.

Know -- Kaibab Limestone (250 Million Years Old)
The -- Toroweap Formation (255 Million Years Old)
Canyon's -- Coconino Sandstone (260 Million Years Old)
History -- Hermit Shale (265 Million Years Old)
Study -- Supai Formation (285 Million Years Old)
Rocks -- Redwall Limestone (335 Million Years Old)
Made -- Muav Limestone (515 Million Years Old)
By -- Bright Angel Shale (530 Million Years Old)
Time -- Tapeats Sandstone (545 Million Years Old)

So, what have scientists learned about the formation of these rock strata and their age, and how can culturally literate non-scientists decide for themselve if what they say is true? That is the subject of a series of posts that will appear here, on Red State Rabble, over the next week. We'll approach the subject in a non-technical, but scientifically accurate way that we hope will be of interest to anyone who is not blinded by religious fervor or political ideology.

We’ll start – in tomorrow’s post -- by examining Turney's first assertion that "evolutionists assume the Grand Canyon's rock always had its current concrete-like consistency."

Links to the Journey Through Time series:

Part 2: Dynamic Forces
Part 3: Rock of Ages
Part 4: Human Habitation of the Canyon


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