Quote# 127291

A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination
The national park wouldn’t let him collect rocks for research.

“How did the Grand Canyon form?” is a question so commonly pondered that YouTube is rife with explanations. Go down into the long tail of Grand Canyon videos, and you’ll eventually find a two-part, 35-minute lecture by Andrew Snelling. The first sign this isn’t a typical geology lecture comes about a minute in, when Snelling proclaims, “The Grand Canyon does provide a testament to the biblical account of Earth’s history.”

Snelling is a prominent young-Earth creationist. For years, he has given lectures, guided biblical-themed Grand Canyon rafting tours, and worked for the nonprofit Answers in Genesis. (The CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is also behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park.) Young-Earth creationism, in contrast to other forms of creationism, specifically holds that the Earth is only thousands of years old. Snelling believes that the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood—and he now claims the U.S. government is blocking his research in the canyon because of his religious views.

Last week, Snelling sued park administrators and the Department of Interior, which administers the national parks program, because they would not grant him a permit to collect 50 to 60 fist-sized rocks. All research in the national park is restricted, especially if it requires removing material. But the Grand Canyon does host 80 research projects a year, ranging from archaeology digs to trout tracking.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Snelling, alleged discrimination by the park. “National Park Service: Research in Grand Canyon okay for geologists … but not Christian ones,” read the headline on their press release. (Interior department and NPS spokespeople declined to comment because of the pending litigation.)

If the permit application hit a nerve, it’s because young-Earth creationists have a bit of an obsession with the Grand Canyon. Where geologists see billions of years of rock layers carved out by a persistent flow of water, young-Earth creationists see sediments laid down in Noah’s flood. As the flood receded, they believe, water became trapped behind natural dams, until it finally broke through in a “catastrophic erosion” that carved the Grand Canyon.

This is the story told on religious rafting trips organized by companies like Canyon Ministries, for which Snelling also works as a guide. In 2004, a book by the Canyon Ministry founder Tom Vail caused a stir when it was sold at the national park’s bookstores.

It’s all part of an uneasy relationship between the park and young-Earth creationists. The park does permit the rafting trips, and it has allowed creationists, including Snelling according to the lawsuit, to work in the park before. Another prominent young-Earth creationist, Steve Austin, took photos of nautiloid fossils in the park and used them to argue that the creatures died during the flood. “I think the NPS has felt a bit stung by past creationist research in the Grand Canyon,” says Steven Newton, who teaches geology at College of Marin and serves as the programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that opposes teaching creationism in public schools.

Exactly why the park did not grant Snelling’s application is, of course, now the subject of a lawsuit. His project did involve collecting a sizable number of rocks, which can invite more scrutiny. In an email to Snelling filed as part of the lawsuit, a park officer said the project was not granted because the type of rock he wanted to study can also be found outside of the Grand Canyon. The park solicited peer reviews from three mainstream geologists. One mentioned the rocks could be found elsewhere; all three overwhelmingly denounced the work as not scientifically valid, a criterion the park also uses to evaluate proposals. Snelling, who holds a Ph.D. in geology, did not disclose his Answers in Genesis affiliation, nor did he explicitly say he wanted to prove the Grand Canyon is young in his initial permit application, but the reviewers became aware of his reputation.

Geology as a profession has struggled with what to do with young-Earth creationists, whose beliefs are contradicted by literal mountains of scientific evidence. Shut them down, and you get cries of censorship—like this lawsuit. “This just so plays into their hands,” Newton says about the national park’s treatment of Snelling’s application. Newton favors letting creationists do their research and then arguing on the merits of their science. But allowing them to present at scientific conferences, others say, is lending creationists legitimacy.

“That’s really a tough question because in science we want to be the type of community where people can bring about ideas that are controversial,” says Stephen Moshier, a geologist at Wheaton, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, and a former president of the Affiliation of Christian Geologists. The problem, according to Moshier, who is not a young-Earth creationist, is that they want mainstream geologists to be open to new ideas, but it’s the young-Earth creationists themselves who have proved inflexible in the face of new evidence contradicting their ideas. “Often I read things by young-Earth creationists where I think they really ought to know better. Many of them have excellent training in the geosciences,” he says. (Snelling declined to comment because of the lawsuit. Four other young-Earth creationists who study the Grand Canyon did not respond to requests for comment.)

That the Grand Canyon is the stage where this conflict now plays out is no coincidence. The canyon is such a potent example of the power of small changes over time—of what’s possible on geological time scales. “Look through any introductory geology textbook, any sedimentology textbook, and the Grand Canyon is going to be there in either full color or on the whole page,” says Moshier.

Last year, he and other Christian geologists published a book titled The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, directly refuting young-Earth creationists who cite the canyon as evidence of Noah’s flood. “It wouldn’t be of any use writing about the Appalachian Mountains—even though I think we can make a stronger case for an ancient Earth there because the geology is so complex,” says Moshier. “Because they make a big deal out of the Grand Canyon and use it as a lab for young-Earth creationism and flood geology, that’s naturally where we had to focus the book.”

When young-Earth creationists invoke God, they are tapping into a real sense of wonder about the Grand Canyon. It’s easy—in fact all too human—to wonder how so small a river could have carved so vast a chasm. One partial answer is that the Glen Canyon dam has quelled the spring floods that originally bored through rock; the lazily winding Colorado River that you see today is not the river that formed the Grand Canyon. But also, humans are bad at intuiting the consequences of deep time. Once you add enough zeros to number of years they all start to sound the same.

It’s hard to imagine how much can happen in geological time. About 1.7 billion years ago, a series of volcanoes crashed into what would become the continent of North America and created mountains taller than the Himalayas today. Those mountains eroded back down to hills to form the rock that now rests at the base of the canyon. Over countless millions of years, a shallow sea expanded and contracted over the area, laying down the sediment that would become the sandstone, shale, and limestone layers. Plate tectonics then pushed those rock layers up and up to became the Colorado Plateau. And finally, flowing water carved its way down 1.7 billion years of rock.

It’s hard to imagine, but there is wonder and grandeur in this imagination, too.

Andrew Snelling, The Atlantic 25 Comments [5/18/2017 11:08:41 PM]
Fundie Index: 10
Submitted By: Pharaoh Bastethotep

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shy

This is just ridiculous on both sides. If some fuckwitted Young Earth Creationists want to "research" their fuckwitted pseudoscience with some rocks that they're fuckwitted and petty enough to sue the federal government for, then just let them have the damn rocks as long as they don't take more than other researchers can have. What they're doing technically is research, even though it's hilariously poor research from which they'll draw fractally wrong conclusions.

(Full disclosure: I sort of have a vested interest in letting these fools have the rocks: the ludicrous "findings" of their "research" would eventually find its way onto FSTDT for you guys to gawk and laugh at.)

5/19/2017 12:36:50 AM

Passerby

Unless said creationist "scientist" was loudly announcing they planned to credit the tourism board as a collaborator in their research or there's a hard limit on how many permits they can hand out for more honest research suing him for picking up rocks seems downright petty.

5/19/2017 12:43:34 AM

Pharaoh Bastethotep

An interesting essay about Snelling.

Summary:
Snelling is a liar and sellout, a former legitimate scientist who definitively knows better.

5/19/2017 1:15:18 AM

Swede

I read this yesterday, and wondered if it would end up here.

Can't they just give him a couple of stones, on the condition that he publishes his findings for peer-review in a certain scientific journal? The Lancet, for example.

It wasn't this exact article, I see. The one I read was much snarkier towards the YECs. It didn't explicitly say "How the f**k can you be a geologist and still think Earth is just a mere couple of thousands of years?", but it wasn't far from it.

5/19/2017 1:15:39 AM

Prager

If a creationist wants to engage in research that will ultimately prove that the creationist position is incorrect, then he should be allowed to do just that.

5/19/2017 2:28:01 AM

Canadiest

Basically he doesn't need rocks from the canyon, he can just pretend he's got them, it's all pretend with these guys

5/19/2017 3:52:12 AM

Glandu

Excellent article with a lot of insights. Thanks for sharing. Even of some people involved are not training in accepting their own mistakes, unfortunately.

5/19/2017 5:57:26 AM

Mister Spak

Let's send him to the moon to collect rocks for research, then tell him to biblehump his way back without using any atheistic science.

@Swede

I read this yesterday, and wondered if it would end up here.

"Can't they just give him a couple of stones, on the condition that he publishes his findings for peer-review in a certain scientific journal? The Lancet, for example. "

How would you do that? Would you send the police to take the rocks back if they didn't publish?

I think we should do what another commenter said and give him imaginary rocks to do his imaginary research.

5/19/2017 6:06:14 AM

Azereaux

So, let me get this straight. This guy has a PhD in geology, and can't tell that the rocks they want are available elsewhere? Does that fact even enter into his mind? What ramifications does that have for their hypothesis?

It's sad when scientists are so consumed by woo that they stop doing proper science. The lawsuit, however, pushes this from sad and kinda stupid to amazingly stupid. On the plus side, at least he's not collecting the rocks from elsewhere and claiming they're from the Grand Canyon to support his point.

Wow... when that's the best one can say...

5/19/2017 6:11:31 AM

Anon-e-moose

Good luck with your Bar Exam, Andy Smelling. Meanwhile, Dr. Maud Pie explores those national parks easily.



But then, she does have a Rocktorate. /)^3^(\


5/19/2017 7:38:45 AM

Philbert McAdamia

the nonprofit Answers in Genesis.

Here's the funny part.

5/19/2017 7:49:14 AM

Kanna

The lack of "science" to be found in his "scientific" study is indicated by the fact that he already has his conclusion.

5/19/2017 8:32:47 AM

pyro

They don't want to give him the rocks because he's not the only one that wants rocks from the Grand Canyon. A lot of people want GC rocks, and there are only so many to go around (yes, it sounds dumb, but manmade erosion has already been shown to be a measurable problem at popular national parks like this).

5/19/2017 8:43:37 AM

Mister Spak

@Kanna

They accuse scientists of doing the same thing, they decide in advance that rocks are millions or billions of years old, then make up shit to support it.

@pyro

We could tell then they need to leave a deposit of pure gold equal to the weight of the rocks they take, they get the gold back after they return the rocks.

5/19/2017 9:07:35 AM



To those who say why not....

Headlines,
"Andrew Snelling, working with the National Park Service, confirms Young Earth"

5/19/2017 10:25:10 AM

Doubting Thomas

You creationists just need to go play quietly in the corner while the real scientists do science.

Another prominent young-Earth creationist, Steve Austin,


No way that's his real name. Unless he's stone cold.

took photos of nautiloid fossils in the park and used them to argue that the creatures died during the flood.


So I don't get how living creatures couldn't possibly have died and gotten fossilized over thousands or millions of years, but they could have all done it less than 6,000 years ago.

5/19/2017 10:28:10 AM

Doubting Thomas

@Prager

If a creationist wants to engage in research that will ultimately prove that the creationist position is incorrect, then he should be allowed to do just that.


But unfortunately the creationists will never, ever come to that logical conclusion and just claim that any real scientists who don't take their ideas seriously are just part of the old-earth evolutionist conspiracy.

@#2054015

To those who say why not....

Headlines,
"Andrew Snelling, working with the National Park Service, confirms Young Earth"


Exactly, and then YEC's will be running roughshod all over the internet claiming "The National Park Service admitted that the Grand Canyon is only thousands of years old!"

5/19/2017 10:32:33 AM

KingOfRhye

“How did the Grand Canyon form?” is a question so commonly pondered that YouTube is rife with explanations.


What the hell is there to ponder? Answer: Erosion. Next!

5/19/2017 10:48:17 AM

Jamaican Castle

I have to say, from the headline, I briefly expected the creationists to be suing the Grand Canyon itself, presumably for not telling them what they want to hear. Suing the national park is not nearly as exciting.

5/19/2017 10:54:19 AM

dxdydz

National Park Service: Research in Grand Canyon okay for geologists … but not Christian ones


Religious scientists are fine as long as they don't let their beliefs interfere with the application of the scientific method; as an aside, if they have integrity then they should stop believing in something if it's disproven, if it's untestable, or there is no empirical evidence for it. The problem is that Snelling isn't a geologist, he's a creationist. Ph.D. or not, the minute someone abandons the scientific method in favor of what they wish to be true when trying to answer a scientific question they are no longer a scientist.

Shut them down, and you get cries of censorship—like this lawsuit. “This just so plays into their hands,” Newton says about the national park’s treatment of Snelling’s application. Newton favors letting creationists do their research and then arguing on the merits of their science. But allowing them to present at scientific conferences, others say, is lending creationists legitimacy.


Creationists can waste as much money as they want on 'research' but I don't think they should be allowed to plunder National Parks or UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as I think that would lead to my response to shy. And I don't think they should be presenting at scientific conferences or having their books in national park gift shops, science and education should be left to scientists and educators, not pseudoscientists.

That’s really a tough question because in science we want to be the type of community where people can bring about ideas that are controversial


In science is the key phrase here. Creationism is about shoehorning cherry-picked data to fit a pre-made conclusion, it's about as far from science as one can get.

The problem, according to Moshier, who is not a young-Earth creationist, is that they want mainstream geologists to be open to new ideas, but it’s the young-Earth creationists themselves who have proved inflexible in the face of new evidence contradicting their ideas.


+1 point to Moshier.

Often I read things by young-Earth creationists where I think they really ought to know better. Many of them have excellent training in the geosciences


Yep.


@shy

Part of the reason why they might have denied him access is that they don't want to give validation to every 2-bit numpty with a 'theory' that wants to collect materials from a National Park.

5/19/2017 11:26:04 AM



Just let them have the rocks but this just shows both sides in negative light. And won't help creationist side

5/19/2017 4:20:42 PM

DarkPhoenix

Part of the reason why they might have denied him access is that they don't want to give validation to every 2-bit numpty with a 'theory' that wants to collect materials from a National Park.


Yeah, that was my first thought. He's already got his conclusions drawn, he just wants "evidence" to make it look kind of like an actual scientific study, and they don't want to lend credibility to this sort of stupidity...

Now, if he were to run an ACTUAL study... but consider the source. Has AiG EVER run a legit study?

5/19/2017 6:44:13 PM



@Jamaican Castle

Snelling: "God is great!"
Echo: "Nope!"

5/19/2017 8:02:50 PM

dxdydz

@DarkPhoenix

Now, if he were to run an ACTUAL study... but consider the source. Has AiG EVER run a legit study?


To my knowledge, no. AiG has never conducted a legitimate scientific study or passed something through peer review that wasn't just a charade for a psuedojournal; the publications made by AiG 'researchers' commonly end up in a psuedojournal run by AiG, so the conflict of interest and lack of proper peer review is pretty obvious. And I don't think they ever will conduct a legitimate study that ends up in a real journal given their motivations.

The ultimate irony here is that the geologic studies for young Earth creationism have already been conducted a long time ago, and since then geology has always moved away from creationism. People seem to forget that what eventually became modern geoscience had its origins in Europe (in the late 1600s) as way to confirm Christian beliefs that the Earth was roughly 6000 years old and to find physical evidence of a global biblical flood. It took a while, but European geologists eventually realized (starting in the mid 1700s) that the evidence for these religiously inspired beliefs was lacking.

As they continued to collect more data and test new ideas their (and our) understanding of geological processes and the history of the world became much more accurate. Geology, like all sciences, is constantly becoming more refined. It was only recently that some of the biggest pieces of the puzzle (pun intended) have come into focus, namely the jigsaw puzzle that is the Earth's plates and the theory of continental drift (first proposed by Wegener in the early 1900s) / plate tectonics (the theory explaining continental drift, accepted in 1965). And the proper age of the earth, which was originally estimated by Patterson to be roughly 4 billion years old in the late 1950s, then later refined to be about 4.5 billion years old in the 1990s or 1980s (I can't really remember which right now). And the giant impactor hypothesis for the formation of the moon didn't become popular until the 1990s.

The general trend is very clear, geology has always been moving away from religious belief. If you have a further interest in this topic, a good kicking-off point is here. As a side note, I'm living more towards the middle of the USA this summer and I really hate how looking up almost anything about geoscience gives me creationist hooey on page one of my search results. It wasn't like this in New England!

5/19/2017 8:27:50 PM

Mister Spak

@dxdydz


"To my knowledge, no. AiG has never conducted a legitimate scientific study or passed something through peer review "

They should have Steve review their articles.

5/22/2017 4:56:29 AM

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