Gary Trudeau sticks it to the creationists in today's Doonesbury. The topic of the day is the sad fact that the U.S. National Parks Service sells in its Grand Canyon gift shop a book that offers a Biblical chronology for the world's creation, a fact that makes it very hard to explain how the canyon formed in a mere 6,000 years. Good old Bob Park at the University of Maryland has been following this sad case for three years now, but it's nice to see Trudeau bring it to a wider audience.
There's also this feature from The New York Times that follows a creationist rafting trip down the canyon from this past fall, and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility have been on the NPS's case for years. Here's a 2003 press release:
Washington, DC -- 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. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In August 2003, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a book claiming the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue.
Gotta love that one. A "high-level policy review" of a book that insists the Grand Canyon took less than 6,000 years to erode. Imagine the time-lapse films you could make in just one day!
Three years later and we're still waiting. As Bob wrote in last week's "What's New" email newsletter:
A promised review of whether the book should be sold in the Park stalled "over issues of church and state." Whoa! Geology is not church or state, it's science.
Bob is calling on Mary Bomar, director of the National Park Service since October, "to keep this silly religious tract out of National Park bookstores."
PEER uses more diplomatic language, but only just, calling on Bomar "to end the stalling tactics, remove the book from sale at the park and allow park interpretive rangers to honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon" which, apparently, they aren't allowed to do.
And just to ensure your irony meter is still in working order, here's another snippet from PEER's most recent public statement on the topic, about six weeks ago:
... in 2005, two years after the Grand Canyon creationist controversy erupted, NPS approved a new directive on "Interpretation and Education (Director's Order #6) which reinforces the posture that materials on the "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 [and] Interpretive and educational programs must refrain from appearing to endorse religious beliefs explaining natural processes."
It's a great story, but it appears to be false:
The book is on sale, as far as I can say. Which is the story I am sticking to. Whether or not the rangers can answer questions honestly about the age of the Earth is another matter.
I was at the canyon in August. I didn't see the book on
sale, but I couldn't remember the title and wasn't about
to ask for it.
I went on a walk with a ranger who pointed out fossils
that could be found in the area of Bright Angel Lodge.
He had no problem talking about the age of the rocks
to a group of about 15 or so people from all over.
No one challenged him or questioned the scientific
facts. Everyone was genuinely interested in what he
had to say. He made a point of encouraging two little
girls about 4 or 5, who responded to him like he was
their favorite uncle. I think if the NPS told him
to hedge on the geology, he would have told them to
PEER seems to be using the "staff can't talk about the age of the canyon" rhetoric to elicit publicity for the authentic "creationist book" issue. There are still references to the age of the canyon on the official website, if this is actually policy, it is a "stealth" policy.
I have explored the National Park Service website extensively. The age of the Grand Canyon is clevery hidden out of sight. In order to get to age of the canyon, one needs to navigate through 3 links. Thus, the casual user would not encounter the "scientific" data. Even then, the numbers are *stealthily* presented in the form as "4 thousand million years old". The excuse I heard is that NPS doesn't want to confuse average people by using terms like *billion*.
I'm not trying to limit use of the park by creationists. However, selling the *Christianist* literature is un-lawful.
The freedom of speech argument is not valid here unless, to make things more fair, they would also sell "Dianetics" by L.Ron Hubbard king of Scientology?
And what about the church of the flying spaghetti monster...I bet they have an explanation for the canyon too and would like to have some (Venganza.org) literature for sale at the grand canyon information booth.
Re: the PEER press release, Skeptic Magazine did an article reporting it, that was excellent and blood stirring. When they started to hear from NPS employees that it was false, they actually contacted PEER to discuss it, and reported on that, here: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-01-17.html