The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth

Hill, Carol, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney, eds. The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. 468 pp. Pb; $39.   Link to Kregel

I will confess my knowledge of “Karst hydrology of Grand Canyon” is limited, but I have quite extensive experience with various forms of creationism over the years. I grew up reading Institute for Creation Research publications, such as Henry Morris and Duane Gish. I have good friends who have fed me a steady diet of Hugh Ross books over the years, and in college I read Howard Van Till’s The Fourth Day, a book which was quite scandalous at the time since it advocated for an ancient universe yet was written by a Christian.

grand-canyone-noahs-floodI have also been perplexed by the rise of Ken Ham as the chief spokesperson for Young Earth Creationism in recent years. He has become a kind of prophet for many conservative Christians, so much so that his word is not to be doubted if you want to maintain your standing among conservative Christians. Even to suggest the earth is slightly more than 6,000 years old is to invite anger from people with Creation Museum season passes. Other Young Earth creationists who accepted perhaps a creation some 20,000 years, or progressive creationists like Hugh Ross are heading down a slippery slope toward liberalism. See, for example, my review of Keathley and Rooker, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.

All this leads me to a new book from Kregel Academic on what the Grand Canyon teaches about the age of the earth. As the authors point out in their foreword, “to deny an old age for the Earth, while embracing other aspects of science, is essentially a statement that science only works when we agree with the outcome” (11). The same science that developed the medicine and technology we rely on today also understands the geological record of our planet as implying at least a 4.5 billion year history.

The intent of The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth is clear from the title, but the authors are clear they are not arguing against the fact God created the Earth (23), but they are equally clear the Young Earth explanation of the formation of the Grand Canyon is wrong and unscientific.

The contributors to this book are all scientists with earned doctorates in their fields from serious universities. Most are also Christians, some with undergraduate degrees from schools like Wheaton or Calvin College. Several are associated with BioLogos (Gregg Davidson and Ralph Stearley), an organization committed to “harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

There is a somewhat paranoid assumption by some conservative Christians that scientists are all atheists trying to cover up the truth in order to destroy the accuracy of the word of God. Some Young Earth Creationists consider an old earth to be a required step in supporting biological evolution, and if one accepts biological evolution in any form, there is no Adam and the Gospel collapses. In fact, secular media tends to run to the most extreme form of young earth creationist they can find in order to create the impression all Christians believe the same anti-science propaganda.

This assumption absolutely false, and this book gives evidence that Christians can do good science and be a faithful Christian. For example, Carol Hill co-published an article with Victor Polyakto on “Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water-Table Type Speteothems” in Science in 2008. The article argues a western part of the Grand Canyon preceded the Colorado River and dated to 17.6 million years ago.

View of the Grand Canyon from Moran Point. (Photo by Mike Koopsen)

View of the Grand Canyon from Moran Point. (Photo by Mike Koopsen)

The book consists of a series of short, richly illustrated essays by various experts in their fields. The introductory four chapters define flood geology and describe some of the problems with the view that Noah’s flood created the Grand Canyon in the recent past. The flood is typically dated some 4500 years ago or about 2304 B.C. This date requires a revision of world history, since Egyptian chronology is fairly certain back to about 3000 B.C. There is nothing polemic in the author’s presentations of Young Earth views, they simply list the main elements of Young Earth views widely available in their literature.

The rest of the book is a mini-textbook on geology as it relates to the Grand Canyon. The second part, “How Geology Works,” includes three chapters are devoted to the formation and dating of sedimentary rocks, three chapters on dating the geological column, and two chapters on plate tectonics. Throughout the section the authors deal with the alternative views of Young Earth creationists, such as their suspicion of radiometric dating and their reliance on Mount St. Helens as an analogy for the flood.

The third section consists of three chapters on fossils. The Grand Canyon is a sort of textbook on dating fossils, since the lower levels have no fossils and the fossils progress in complexity as they appear higher in the geological column. The same observations can be made for fossils of flora and fauna in the Grand Canyon.

Part four of the book covers the carving of the Grand Canyon in three chapters. Although this is usually presented as either a long slow process of a fast result of a global disaster (the Flood), but Helble and Hill show that it too both a long time and a great deal of water to carve the canyon. Analogies to Mount St. Helens are inadequate. In fact, not the canyons produced by rapid flooding are not really the same as the Grand Canyon because the layers which were carved there were already rock when the Canyon was formed. Mount St. Helens carved a canyon through loose debris below the mountain, not solid rock.

In the two conclusion chapters, the authors point out that flood geology advocates begin with a particular view of the Bible and force geology into that view. This results in a convoluted explanation of physical evidence which is both unscientific and unbiblical (208). According to Romans 1, the Creator’s divine nature is clear from what has been made; for the authors of this book, the standard geological view does in fact point to a Creator.

Conclusion. Undoubtedly Young Earth Creationists are not going to like the conclusions this book draws. This is a popular level introduction to the geology of the Grand Canyon and is exactly the sort of popular science book one might find in a gift shop near the Grand Canyon. There are, however, occasional paragraphs and sidebars engaging the claims of Young Earth creationists. Usually the authors point out the Young Earth advocates are only telling “part of the story.” For example, the sidebar on page 143 or the chapter on radiometric dating.

This book is beautiful, the photography is excellent and the charts provide clear explanations of extremely complicated topics. The Bible is honored and accepted as true, yet there is respect for real science in this book. The geology of the Grand Canyon is taken seriously, leading to the conclusion that the canyon was carved through millions of years of geological layers, the standard scientific view of the Grand Canyon.

One constructive criticism, however. Since one of the goals of the book is to show that Young Earth Creationism is not supported by a straightforward reading of Genesis, I would have appreciated a biblical scholar (or several) used to write sections on the Bible.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.