Pharyngula

The Grand Canyon is how old?

At this point, it’s safe to say the National Park Service is stonewalling. There is a book called The Grand Canyon: A Different View, written from a young earth creationist perspective, which the NPS has approved for sale in its bookstores. It is a truly appalling piece of crap; I wrote about in in July of 2004, and you can read excerpts from it online. One might argue that the appearance of the book is simply due to a lack of discrimination by the Park Service, which just shovels the gimcracks and gewgaws into their stores to make money, but apparently they try to exercise some due consideration in product placement.

Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item — the creationist book.

The book is clearly in violation of the standards the Park Service sets for itself; this excellent letter from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility cites the explicit directive from the director of the agency that lays out the criteria.

Historical and Scientific Research. Superintendents, historians, scientists,
and interpretive staff are responsible for ensuring that park interpretive and
educational programs and media are accurate and reflect current
scholarship…Questions often arise round the presentation of geological,
biological, and evolutionary processes. The interpretive and educational treatment
used to explain the natural processes and history of the Earth must be based on
the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have
stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism.

This is a no-brainer. The book should not have been approved in the first place. It should be removed from their catalog immediately. The Park Service should approve and implement training for their staff (which should hardly be necessary; they shouldn’t hire idiots in the first place) to make sure that they are presenting accurate geological information to the public.

“No comment” is not good enough. This disgraceful controversy has been stewing long enough that the continued inaction of the Park Service administration constitutes an implied endorsement of anti-scientific nonsense.

Comments

  1. #1 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    This disgraceful controversy has been stewing long enough that the continued inaction of the Park Service administration constitutes an implied endorsement of anti-scientific nonsense.

    I imagine there’s an endorser behind that endorsement. Dig into the Park Service administrative tree and there’s a nut somewhere.

  2. #2 Paguroidea
    December 30, 2006

    Decrepitoldfool – I suspect you’re right.

    The link to the letter from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is excellent. Would it help if others wrote to the director of the National Park Service?

  3. #3 Ted
    December 30, 2006

    What amazes me most is the fact that the Bush administration managed to get their ideology propagated that thoroughly throughout federal agencies like even the Park Service.

    That’s just pervasive.

  4. #4 polychrome
    December 30, 2006

    Do you think there will ever be a push to get rid of the books that tell indigenous creation stories that conflict with everything science and research tell us?

    This isn’t meant to be snarky. It’s an important question with real implications for many of us who study prehistoric societies and environmental conditions.

  5. #5 George
    December 30, 2006

    Thought Processes of a Park Service Higher-Up:

    Oh, shit, what to do, what to do! Don’t want to upset the idiots! Better leave it in the store. Can’t. Face. The. Letters. I. Will. Get. If. I. Take. It. Out.

    Good, that’s settled. What’s for lunch!

  6. #6 Zbu
    December 30, 2006

    With standards so lax, I’m half-tempted to see if I can sell a Grand Canyon book to the NPS that has Noah on a surfboard going down the newly-forming Grand Canyon. We can call it ‘Cowabunga to Adventure’ or something equally as vapid and stupid. Should I throw Jesus on a Dinosaur on there as well?

  7. #7 Steve Greene
    December 30, 2006

    How Old Is The Grand Canyon? Park Service Won’t Say
    (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Press Release, 12/28/2006)
    http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=801

    Just more proof of the fact that for creationists, despite all their deceitful rhetoric to the contrary, this has nothing to do with science but is all about religion. The ID creationists, for example, will bend over backwards and break their spines before expressing criticism of young earth creationists for pushing blatantly unscientific nonsense. This case with certain government officials giving protection to a young earth creationist book about the Grand Canyon in federal park bookstores is another example of the bizarre mishmash of religious irrationality that’s displayed by the creationist mind.

    P.Z., you’re wrong, this isn’t a no-brainer, because the apparently creationist officials don’t have a brain yet are protecting the religious pseudoscience in the park bookstores anyway.

  8. #8 Dave Puskala
    December 30, 2006

    We should make sure that the Pastafarians get their book in also. I would think their theory would be better than the YEC approach.

  9. #9 ERV
    December 30, 2006

    The book should not have been approved in the first place. It should be removed from their catalog immediately. The Park Service should approve and implement training for their staff (which should hardly be necessary; they shouldn’t hire idiots in the first place) to make sure that they are presenting accurate geological information to the public.

    Im proud to say that volunteers at the National History Museums that have these exhibits are trained to deal with Creationists, and never pander or dumb down tours with them.

  10. #10 Brian
    December 30, 2006

    If anyone cares to write an e-mail to the NPS Director Mary Bomar about the issue, her address is Mary_Bomar@nps.gov

  11. #11 Paguroidea
    December 30, 2006

    Thanks for the e-mail address Brian. I’d be willing to send her an e-mail about this issue.

  12. #12 caution
    December 30, 2006

    Some overzealous and undercareful commentators here are spreading bad information. The “How Old is the Grand Canyon? Park Officials Won’t Say” links to an unknown news source, which claims that the Park Service does not have an official position on the age of the Grand Canyon. This is patently false, as a quick Google will verify. It would be nice if our legitimate outrage were properly focused, and not wasted on inaccuracies like this.

    …The exposed geologic strata – layer upon layer from the basement Vishnu schist to the capping Kaibab limestone – rise over a mile above the river, representing one of the most complete records of geological history that can be seen anywhere in the world. Geologic formations such as gneiss and schist found at the bottom of the Canyon date back 1,800 million years…
    http://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/naturalfeaturesandecosystems.htm

    Doesn’t exactly read like a creationist tract, does it?

    Let’s focus on their real crime: selling creationist literature.

  13. #13 Carlie
    December 30, 2006

    Do you think there will ever be a push to get rid of the books that tell indigenous creation stories that conflict with everything science and research tell us?

    Creation stories are just fine. Fabulous exemplars of our creative abilities, really. I can’t imagine that anyone wants to “get rid of” them. What is being objected to is the establishment of one of those creation stories as actual science. I’d love to see a book at the Park Service office titled “Creation stories about the Grand Canyon”, with loads of different examples. How do you think the people pushing this agenda would take it, though, when their version is two-thirds of the way through the book under the heading “Jewish desert tribal myth”, though? They’d be screaming religious oppression.
    I love creation stories. I despise hijacking the trappings of science to try and “prove” one myth has any more validity than any other.

  14. #14 Martin Brazeau
    December 30, 2006

    I was at the Park bookstore last year and saw the book. You won’t find it under the science section. It’s where it belongs: in a section labeled ‘inspirational’ along with all sorts of other airy-fairy new-age garbage. Make of that what you will.

  15. #15 polychrome
    December 30, 2006

    Carlie –

    I agree that Creation stories are an amazing portrait of the human creative ability. Further, there is often real historical information coded within them and a systematic study can make them quite useful texts. I also agree that they should be treated the same whether they are Christian, Pastafarian, Hopi, or Jayne.

    What I object to is the hypocritical ways they are dealt with (and I doubt this hypocrisy applies to you or most folks at this particular blog). The Indigenous stories as you point out are sold as “inspiration” or otherwise quaint oddities, but many of them are living religion for some people. The impulse to keep these stories around and give them voice because they are less threatening has two negative effects.

    1) It marginalizes indigenous religions as quaint myths unlike the Christian myths that are treated as realistic possibilities. If we want to treat all religions like absurd but cute oddities, I’m all for it and it sounds like you are too. Just can the double standard (meant as a general imperative, not directed at you personally).

    2) There are real political ramifications to the politically correct desire to give all views an equal footing. This is what happened to the American media over the past decade or so. If the president and VP say they never lied about WMDs, well that gets just as much serious air time as the fact that they did lie. For prehistorians, it means that scientific evidence only holds so much weight against oral traditions. If you say you sprang from the navel of the earth in Arizona a thousand years ago at a time when there were no other humans in North America, who am I to cite the evidence that people have been on this continent since the Pleistocene?

    Such double standards can make research very difficult. Giving weight to religious fundamentalists and creationists of any sort is dangerous.

  16. #16 the Dude
    December 30, 2006

    And folks wonder why I have finally come out of the closet as an atheist. This is just f@#king out of control. I am so sick of obviously stupid people.

    Dawkins is right: tolerating these idiots only encourages them. We should be pointing out the ridiculousness at every turn.

  17. #17 polychrome
    December 30, 2006

    caution –

    The Park geologists may understand the real geology involved here, but this story is far from bogus. In fact it’s been around for several years. I did minimal searching and found this KOS diary from way back in 2004
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/10/19/2276/5178

    The original link is dead, but there is a nice excerpt still alive at KOS.

    At the time, the NPS superintendent tried to block the sale of the book, but was overruled by the White House. An NPS spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying that they continue selling the book because it is “popular.” Somehow I doubt that the sale of a single book is providing enough revenue to make or break the Grand Canyon.

    As for the Park’s official position, the article from ’04 indicates that there was supposed to be a “high-level policy review, distributing talking points” but that it never happened. At least at the time of that article’s printing, the NPS was certainly taking a ‘no comment’ approach.

    I don’t think anyone here is criticizing the geologists at the Parks Service, just the political appointees trying to undercut their work.

  18. #18 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    Putting the book on a rack labelled “Inspirational” is a bit of relief, given the amount of correct information there. But it really shouldn’t be sold there at all. The biblical creation myth has nothing to do with that region and shouldn’t be given even inspirational status alongside Native American myths.

    It might be funny to sell the book in front of a large display debunking the creationist explanation of the canyon. Such as; how did the same event lay down the strata and also carve a canyon through it? And why don’t the strata bear the telltale characteristics of flood depositation? For that matter, how to explain the fact that the strata are demonstrably different ages?

    For maximum entertainment value, put a webcam with sound feed on the display area.

  19. #19 semidecrepityoungfool
    December 30, 2006

    I would have absolutely no problem with this book being sold save for the lack of two things. A) A trigger device in the bar code scanner, keyed to this book that activates B) the trap door in front of the cash register that unceremoniously dumps the purchaser into the aforementioned natural wonder. Survival of the fittest is everybody’s business. Thank you and good day.

  20. #20 Ranger Jay
    December 30, 2006

    We need a book from the NOAA that tells how rain is really God “pissing on the world.”

    And one available from the USGS telling us that earthquakes are the result of God “farting on the world.”

    I farted on a couple of cats on time, and laughed my head off. My wife, at that time, was a Speech/Language Pathologist, and she spoke of my antics to an old guy recovering from a stroke. When she demonstrated my method, physically, she said that he laughed until tears were rolling down his face. It was the first time he had laughed since he was admitted to the hospital.

    Perhaps I am a god? At the very least, I am an accomplished fartist!

    No cats were harmed in the production of this comment.

  21. #21 Stuart Weinstein
    December 30, 2006

    “I imagine there’s an endorser behind that endorsement. Dig into the Park Service administrative tree and there’s a nut somewhere.”

    Porbably some college dropout who lied about getting his degree and worked for the Bush campaign and then for NASA.

    Stuart

  22. #22 Evolving Squid
    December 30, 2006

    Wait, are you saying that the US public should not learn that the The Great Cthulhu carved the grand canyon with his all powerful tentacles 6000 years ago?

    Next you’ll be trying to say that people descended from some kind of ape-like mammal, like a politician.

  23. #23 Gerard Harbison
    December 30, 2006

    The “How Old is the Grand Canyon? Park Officials Won’t Say” links to an unknown news source, which claims that the Park Service does not have an official position on the age of the Grand Canyon.

    The ultimate source is a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy oragnization for NPS and other federal employees. It’s unknown only if you don’t bother to look.

    http://www.peer.org/

    And no one, AFAIK, is saying that the NPS doesn’t in some places on its web sites refer to an old earth. What PEER is claiming is that “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”

    By all means refute this, if you can.

  24. #24 Joe Meert
    December 30, 2006

    Hmm, I think the story is somewhat misrepresented. As someone else has noted, the FAQ’s at the Grand Canyon website discusses the age of the rocks/Canyon in no uncertain terms. Furthermore, we visit the park nearly every year and none of the rangers has said “We can’t say how old the canyon is”. The real issue here is the selling of a nonsensical book on the canyon (it’s not sold in the science section as I recall). If people want to spend money to forward their own ignorance, I say let them.

  25. #25 sparc
    December 31, 2006

    At the time, the NPS superintendent tried to block the sale of the book, but was overruled by the White House.

    Doesn’t your government have better things to do?

  26. #26 Dick Lessard
    December 31, 2006

    I don’t want to make too much of this, but I was disppointed to see that while the NPS web site has a whole sub-site devoted to Director’s Orders (see http://home.nps.gov/applications/npspolicy/DOrders.cfm), DO #6, the one referenced in the PEER letter, is a bad link. There are a few other bad links on the page, but not many.

  27. #27 k.e.
    December 31, 2006

    Well this should be considered an oportunity, insist a label be attached to the book.

    “The information in this book has no basis in scientific evidence and has been determined by the SCOTUS to be in fact unscienific and is in fact just one of many religious mythical creation stories commonly refered to as Creationism.” (As determined a Republican Judge appointed by GwOD)

    Why creationists would find this unacceptable, I have no idea.

  28. #28 Jake
    December 31, 2006

    PZ, you missed the actual story.

    The placing of the book in the store was so 2 years ago and really doesn’t matter all that much. The real story was:
    “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.”
    http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=801
    “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.'”

    THAT was the story and you missed it completely.
    Now, UD is making fun of you.

  29. #29 Ranger X
    January 3, 2007

    As a former national park ranger, I was skeptial of PEER’s claims. After researching the matter, I found most of the claims to be wildly unsubstantiated and blatantly false.

    Also consider that the bookstore in question is operated by the Grand Canyon Association, a PRIVATE, non-profit organization, not the government. They also sell American Indian books with creation myths. The book in question is in the “inspirational” section.

    Don’t believe everything you read:
    http://parkrangerx.blogspot.com/2007/01/dont-believe-everything-you-read.html

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