Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Bibliolatry in the Grand Canyon

After his heroic pioneering voyage in 1869 down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, John Wesley Powell wrote
[T]he thought grew in to my mind that the canyons of this region would be a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved bible of geology. The thought fructified and I determined to read the book.
Powell recognized that there are few places on the planet with such awe-inspiring beauty and with such dramatic and continuous vertical exposures, as can be seen in the colorful walls of the Grand Canyon through which the Colorado River flows for 450 km from Lee's Ferry to Lake Mead. The Canyon is more than 1600 m deep, and ranges from 6 to 30 km wide. Each year more than four million visitors visit Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. There is perhaps no better place in all the world to appreciate the grandeur of geologic time (Calvin 1986; Redfern 1980).

However, bibliolatry has come to the Grand Canyon. The creationist textbook, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (MTC), has challenged the accepted interpretations of geologic time and the geology of the Grand Canyon (Austin 1994). Heaton (1995) warns, "Many readers may find this book especially threatening because of its mix of scholarship and creationist dogma, targeted to a natural monument of great popularity." My aims in writing this article are to review creationist ideas on the geology of the Grand Canyon and to encourage members of the National Center for Science Education to review the field evidence for themselves by participating in the first NCSE "Creation/Evolution Grand Canyon Raft Trip", a float trip through the spectacular scenery and whitewater rapids of the Grand Canyon of Arizona, to be held in August 1999.

Stratigraphy of the Grand Canyon

Today the Grand Canyon is one of the best-known and most spectacular paradigms of stratigraphy. The canyon walls reveal exposures representing a slice of earth-history, spanning 1700 million years (Ma). Figure 1 shows the "classic" geologic section within the Grand Canyon as a block diagram, viewed toward the north-west. The sequence of strata exposed consists broadly of three major packets of rocks, respectively of Early Proterozoic, Late Proterozoic and Paleozoic age (Elston, Billingsley and Young 1989; Beus and Morales 1990). The oldest rocks are an Early Proterozoic (1700 Ma) crystalline basement (Vishnu Schists, intruded by Zoroaster Granites). Above these are Middle- to Late Proterozoic sedimentary and volcanic rocks, known as the Grand Canyon Supergroup, which were tilted and eroded before the deposition of the overlying Tapeats Sandstone of Cambrian age ( 540 Ma).A major angular unconformity, which Powell (1875) termed the "Great Unconformity", separates these two formations.

The Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group is the oldest of the many sub-horizontal Paleozoic sedimentary formations which occur above the Precambrian rocks. Not so easily seen in Figure 1 is another major unconformity occurring between the Upper Cambrian Muav Limestone and the overlying Temple Butte Formation of Devonian age, so that Ordovician and Silurian strata, between 515 Ma and 385 Ma in age, are missing. The youngest rocks shown in Figure 1 are basalts which erupted from volcanoes on the Uinkaret region of the Colorado Plateau and poured down the steep cliffs of the north rim after the Grand Canyon was eroded. During the last 0.7 Ma more than 150 lava flows have cascaded down to form a series of lava dams in the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon which temporarily blocked the flow of the river (Dalrymple and Hamblin 1998).

The broad stratigraphic sequence of Grand Canyon rocks is well-established by numerous field observations in Powell's "bible of geology" (Spamer 1989). Powell was, of course, writing figuratively. His "bible" was the rock outcrops themselves. However, Figure 1 is taken from MTC (Austin 1994). Its contributors regard the King James version of the Bible as the true "bible of geology". At first sight, MTC resembles a well-illustrated, geological textbook, replete with maps, technical diagrams, and references to scientific literature. However its aim is to demonstrate unequivocally that the geology of the Grand Canyon is the product of creation week and Noah's flood, as determined by specific "literal" interpretations of the Book of Genesis.

Monument to Noah's Flood

The numerous modern scientific arguments against Noah's flood have recently been discussed by Isaak (1998) and Wise (1998) among many others. Austin (1994) has taken on the daunting task of using the spectacular geology of the Grand Canyon as an exemplar of a creationist world-view, despite numerous compelling arguments to the contrary. The result is a detailed and comprehensive text, covering a wide range of phenomena, which demonstrates familiarity with (if not acceptance of) much of the geological literature. The authors of MTC were asked to write a creationist field guidebook to the geology, biology, and human history of "the world's greatest natural wonder" at the undergraduate college level. However, the sections on geology and radiometric dating, written by Austin himself, are at a much more advanced, technical level. On the other hand, the chapter dealing with the atmosphere is very elementary. For example, the explanation of the physics of Noah's flood is so brief and qualitative as to be almost unintelligible to me. Some clue to the anticipated readership of MIC comes from the fact that Austin (1994) provides a lengthy glossary of technical (mostly geological) terms ranging from "abrasion" to "zonation". However explanations of other kinds of specialist "terms of art", with which MTC is replete, such as "sin" and "the fall of Adam", are singularly lacking. Evidently the authors of MTC anticipated that readers would be better trained in the ICR brand of religion than in their brand of geology.

The Genesis Story

To understand the creationist arguments propounded in MTC, it was necessary for me to refer frequently to the first eight chapters of Genesis. I found that the so-called "literal" interpretations at the ICR involve enormous embellishments of the basic story told in that book, involving mountain building, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and so on. According to Genesis 1:1-27, a creator-God is said to have formed by fiat the cosmos, the earth, and its biota, in 6 working days. Marine animals and birds appeared on Day 5 (Gen 1:20-1) and land animals, including one male and one female human, on Day 6 (Gen 1:24-7). This initial breeding pair of Homo sapiens and its progeny had life spans of several hundreds of years.

After a lapse of 1656 years (Austin, 1994:65) the creator-God re-appeared as a destroyer-God and caused a world-wide flood that extirpated all living things, except for a remnant which took refuge on a boat called "the Ark", built expressly for that purpose (Gen 6:11-6). The remnant consisted of a 600-year-old human (named Noah) and 7 family members, plus "two of every (other) sort of living thing.., male and female", and 7 breeding pairs of "clean beasts" and "fowls of the air" (Gen 6:18-20; 7:1-3). The flood lasted less than a year before the survivors left the ship for dry ground and migrated throughout the world (Gen 8:14-9).

Creationist Stratigraphy

The essence of MTC is contained in Chapter 4 which divides the strata of the Colorado Plateau into five major groups, according to the ICR reading of the Genesis story (Austin 1994:57-82). These are

Fifth division:
The youngest group of strata includes river gravels, lake sediments, and lava flows, formed after the erosion of the Grand Canyon, which in turn formed as Noah's flood ended.
Fourth division:
The Mesozoic strata represent erosion and deposition as floodwaters retreated.
Third division:
The Paleozoic strata comprising the Canyon's characteristic, horizontal strata formed in the early part of the flood.
Second division:
The Late Proterozoic Grand Canyon Supergroup, the older tilted stratified rocks below the 'Great Unconformity'. They formed during and after Day Three of creation week. The Great Unconformity formed by erosion during the onset of Noah's flood.
First division:
The Zoroaster Granite and the Vishnu Group, which formed during the first part of creation week.

Bringing Yellowstone to Grand Canyon

To evaluate and rebut the numerous specific creationist claims Austin presents, would require a book many times longer than MTC. Because Austin (1994:136) repeats the tired, erroneous argument that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, my book would begin with thermodynamics — a word frequently used by creationists to impress untrained people. MTC fails to mention that the creationist time scale violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics (Wise 1998). Austin (1994:69) indicates that on Day 3 of creation week, molten Zoroaster Granite was intruded into Vishnu Schist.

Ilg and others (1996:1160) estimate that the peak temperatures, associated with the emplacement of granites into the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite reached 650-725° C. Applying the laws of heat transfer to the cooling of igneous intrusions indicates that these features cool at rates varying between 30° and 250° C per million years, depending on the size and depth of the intrusion. This means it would take at least 2 million years for these igneous rocks to cool to the boiling point of water.

Even if these intrusions were too deep to present thermal problems during creation week, they are widely exposed in the inner gorge of Grand Canyon, only a "few thousand" ICR years later. Austin (1994) provides no clue to what thermal insulation, if any, organisms were using on Day 6 of creation which allowed them to survive the heat. Will our NCSE Creation/Evolution Grand Canyon Raft Trip encounter geysers or similar intense, explosive hydrothermal activity where the river enters the Upper Granite Gorge? Has bibliolatry brought Yellowstone National Park to Grand Canyon?

Attacking Uniformitarianism

A recurrent tactic in MTC is to state opposing arguments in such a way that they are more easily defeated. According to MTC, evolution depends on "the extreme generalization that only known, modern processes, operating at modern rates, formed strata (uniformitarianism) (Austin 1994:24, emphasis in the original). However, few geologists today would accept that only those geological processes observed happening today have operated in the past, and that they only did so at the rates currently observed. I believe that uniformitarianism, certainly in the extreme version formulated in MTC, is just like creationism; they are both concepts of respectable ancestry which have been superseded.

Perhaps the most blatant example of a straw man in MTC occurs in a discussion of the fate of the sediment removed from the Colorado Plateau when the Grand Canyon was eroded. Austin (1994:84) makes the valid points that the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon flows through the uplifted Colorado Plateau, rather than around it. Initiation of this uplift began in the eastern (Kaibab) part of the plateau due to flexing during the Laramide Orogeny (mountain-building episode) which geologists infer to have happened between 80 and 64 Ma ago. Austin (1994:87) cites data that the Colorado River carried approximately 153 million tons of sediment per year between 1926 and 1950. He then calculates that, at this rate, since the initiation of uplift in the last 70 Ma, the river should have transported a volume 1500 times greater than the volume of the Grand Canyon. Why, he asks, have geologists failed to locate anywhere near this amount of sediment downstream on the delta of the Colorado River?

To the uninitiated this argument might seem plausible, but a closer look reveals its flaws. First, even the most ardent uniformitarian should have qualms about extrapolating data from 25 years to 70 Ma. During this 70 Ma, there have been major realignments of the interactions between the North American and the Pacific tectonic plates, and dramatic changes in topography, climate and sea level. Second, this calculation is an inappropriate act because neither the Colorado River Delta nor the Grand Canyon, has been in existence for 70 Ma; both are no older than 4.5 Ma.

The Colorado River Delta partially fills the depression known as the Salton Trough, an extension of the tectonic regime of the Gulf of California (Elders and others 1972). It was formerly filled by the waters of the gulf, as shown by the widespread occurrence of the marine sediments of the Imperial Formation (Lonsdale 1989). Drilling for geothermal resources confirms that, along the axis of the trough, these marine rocks are covered by younger deltaic sediments more than 4 km thick. This scenario is consistent with the dating of the onset of erosion by the Colorado River in the western part of the Grand Canyon. Luchitta (1990) shows that this occurred in Pliocene times, 5 to 3.8 Ma ago. Prior to that time the lower Colorado River system, as we know it today, did not exist. Both the ages and the volumes of the canyon and the delta are quite consistent. The Delta contains roughly 270 000 cubic kilometers of Pliocene to Recent sediments, equivalent to a canyon measuring 450 X 37.S X 1.6 km deep — a volume somewhat larger than the Grand Canyon proper.

Ignoring the Geologic Time Scale

A major omission in MTC is any discussion of the great synthesis of worldwide geologic observations known as the Geologic Time Scale. Wise (1998) pointed out that the creationist time scale ignores the countless worldwide geological studies which show that, on all continents, the same general sequence of sedimentary rocks occurs, and that the major and minor divisions in this sequence are characterized by the specific assemblages of fossils they contain. This overall scheme was essentially completed before 18S9 when Darwin published his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. No assumptions of organic evolution were made in deriving the geologic column or in using fossils for correlation of strata from continent to continent. However, the eras and periods of the geologic time scale, with which we divide geologic time, reflect the dramatic changes which have occurred in the history of life on earth recorded in the rocks (Gould 1994). Because of these changes, the fossil assemblages found in each geologic system are distinct, permitting us to make worldwide stratigraphic correlations. Today such correlations are also made using non-paleontological criteria, such as radiometric dating, and sequences of magnetic reversals and of light stable isotope ratios, particularly carbon isotopes (Bowring and Erwin 1998).

Sequences of strata occur everywhere in the same order, with minor exceptions due to tectonic disturbances. However, in many places (the Grand Canyon is an example), parts of the sequence are missing, due either to non-deposition, or to erosion subsequent to deposition. However, in more than a dozen deep sedimentary basins throughout the world, the whole sequence of sedimentary rocks bearing fossils is essentially complete. During the last twenty years, stratigraphic correlation of these sedimentary rocks has been buttressed by the use of "sequence-stratigraphy", developed largely by major oil companies. The presence of major "unconformities" or ancient erosional surfaces can be used to correlate rock units over wide areas. Many of these erosional surfaces are of global extent because they were formed during periods of worldwide lowering of sea level due to extensive glaciations. The remarkable concordance obtained between these independent methods gives powerful support to the thesis that the Geologic Time Scale records 3.8 billion years of earth history (the age of the oldest dated crustal rocks) and that the sequence of fossils these rocks contain is the record of organic evolution.

Discussion of these issues is omitted in MTC. For example Chapter 7, entitled "Fossils of Grand Canyon", presents some of the weakest arguments for the creationist position. The authors make the astounding claim that "[i]t is not clear whether the order of appearance of organisms in Grand Canyon, or anywhere on Earth, for that matter, is necessarily any different than a random order which a flood might produce" (Austin 1994:147). Before creationists recommend that oil companies shut down their Departments of Stratigraphic Paleontology, they should decide whether they prefer to walk or to drive.

The Problem of Space for Fossils

Another problem in MTC is where to put all the organisms living in the world before the flood. Geologists infer that the organisms in the fossil record accumulated during a period longer than 500 Ma, but according to MTC, all these organisms were alive during the 1656 years between the creation and the Noachian flood. If we take the total biomass represented by fossils when alive, and divide by the number of years during which that biomass is believed to have accumulated, the amount of living matter would have to be over 30,000 times greater in the creationist's pre-flood world than in the geologist's evolutionary world. Not only would the flora and fauna have to be incredibly more abundant in the pre-flood world but it also would have to be incredibly more diverse than at present; all extinct organisms would have to have been present at roughly the same time. Were there no limits to the carrying capacity of the ecological niches available to these organisms in the pre-flood world?

To have accumulated in that time from the original breeding pairs would require an enormous reproductive success and survival rate by the founding stock. If the human population before the flood world grew at the same rate, there would have to have been 1.8 X 1015 people in Noah's time — about 300,000 times the world population of 5.9 billion humans alive today. After 1656 years of the inevitable environmental degradation which would accompany such a prodigious human population explosion, I wonder that there was enough wood left for Noah to build an ark!

Another point not explained in MTC is the paucity of fossils in the Proterozoic sedimentary rocks. Austin (1994:57) claims that the uppermost strata of the Proterozoic Grand Canyon Supergroup "represent normal sedimentation in the post-Creation, but pre-flood ocean". Considering the hyper-productivity of the pre-flood biosphere required by the creationists' model, one would expect that these rocks would be the most highly fossiliferous on the planet and that the Proterozoic flora and fauna would be rich and diverse, including representatives of both extinct and extant taxa. Instead we see a very low abundance of fossils consisting only of unicellular organisms, cyanobacteria and stromatolites (algal mats). There are no remains of coral reefs, trilobites, ichthyosaurs, whales, nor shipwrecks in Proterozoic marine sedimentary rocks.

Original Creationist Research

The scientific data and observations presented in MTC are almost entirely re-interpretation and attempted rebuttal of published main-stream science. But what of original creationist research? The appendix of MTC lists 18 "Questions for Discussion and Study". The last of these reads, "What are four research projects creationists have conducted on Grand Canyon?" A careful reading of MTC reveals that the author of this question expects students to be diligent. In fact, I was able to find only four examples of creationist research which could be cited, plus one which the authors of MTC admit is dubious.

Precambrian Pollen

This latter example is instructive because it shows that even when "creation science" is refuted there is an urge to cling to "evidence" favorable to the cause (Austin 1994:137). Burdick (1966) claimed to have isolated pollens of pine, juniper and Mormon tea in samples of the Proterozoic Hakatai Shales in the Grand Canyon, rocks much older than the first appearance of vascular plants in the geologic record. When later, more comprehensive and careful studies failed to reproduce these results, it was concluded that Burdick's work was simply a case of contamination by modern pollens (Chadwick 1981). MTC still leaves the door open by concluding, "The possibility of pollen in Precambrian rocks, no doubt, will remain controversial among creationists."


Original research by a creationist in Grand Canyon first appears in MTC on page 26 where Austin (1994) reports actual new data. In some places in the Mississippian Redwall Limestone, fossils of orthocone, chambered nautiloids (marine mollusks differing from modern nautilus by having straight, rather than coiled, shells) are abundant. Austin measured the orientation of 12 examples of these nautiloids in a single outcrop and showed that 10 of them are aligned with their long axes within an arc spanning 90°. He concludes that this preferred orientation indicates that the nautiloids received their alignments when dead, as lime mud was moved by water currents. He concludes that this is consistent with the flood hypothesis rather than "the uniformitarian notion that fine-grained limestone beds of Grand Canyon usually accumulated... in a calm and placid sea" (Austin 1994:28).

Modern Squirrels

A second example in MTC of original data by a creationist concerns modern populations of tassel-eared squirrels (Sciurus aberti; Austin 1994:174). Earlier work had suggested that two distinct races of these squirrels have evolved on the plateaus north and south of the Grand Canyon due to geographic isolation. However, after examining 94 museum specimens, Meyer (1988) concluded that the two groups contain individuals showing close enough resemblance so that, for all practical purposes they form one continuous population. Thus, in Meyer's opinion, although the two groups are geographically isolated, divergent evolution is not demonstrated by Sciurus aberti.

Desert Dunes and Fossil Footprints

The argument for a flood origin for Grand Canyon rocks is particularly weak in the case of the Permian Coconino Sandstone Formation which consists of very pure sandstones with prominent sets of cross-stratification dipping at high angles. This formation is regarded as being the product of extensive, Sahara-like sand dunes (McKee 1979). The sandstone consists of fine-grained, well-sorted, well-rounded, frosted and pitted grains, composed almost entirely of quartz — features that are characteristic of the effects of grain-to-grain impacts and of winnowing during wind-borne sediment transport. Other evidence which indicates that the Coconino Sandstone was not formed in a catastrophic flood is the presence of raindrop impressions and of abundant, well-preserved animal tracks (McKee 1979). Of course, MTC does not accept the view that the Coconino is an extensive desert dune deposit and claims that the dunes are actually submarine sand waves (Austin 1994:33).

The animal tracks in the Coconino Sandstone are consistently preserved on steep, upwind, slopes of the fossil dunes rather than on the lee sides, where they would be destroyed by avalanching of dry sand. They are interpreted as being produced by invertebrates (similar to modern isopods, scorpions, millipedes, or spiders) and by diverse four- or five-toed vertebrates (Middleton and others 1990). The nature of the animals responsible can only be inferred from the trackways, as body fossils have not been recognized in the Coconino Sandstone. This leads us to the third example of original creationist research, a study which re-interprets these track-ways from the creationist viewpoint.

This study by Brand and Tang (1991) included experiments on the track-making abilities of western newts walking on sand under 4 cm of flowing water in an aquarium tank. They report that some unusual tracks in the Coconino start and end abruptly and have individual prints oriented obliquely to the general trend of the trackway. By analogy with their tank experiments, they infer that such tracks were formed by amphibians buoyantly supported in flowing water. They conclude that these features, "point to the subaqueous deposition for at least part of the Coconino Sandstone" (Brand and Tang 1991: 1204).

On the other hand, as part of an extensive review of animal trackways, Lockley and Hunt (1995) decided that the vertebrate trackways in the Coconino Sandstone were made by mammal-like reptiles (called caseids) rather than by amphibians. Furthermore they record trackways made by animals moving with loping, trotting, or galloping gaits, most often up slope, but occasionally horizontally or obliquely to the slope. They also point to the prob1cm of the many invertebrate traces. It is difficult to imagine millipedes, scorpions and spiders making prolific underwater tracks. Besides, the geological evidence for the eolian origin of the Coconino Sandstone is compelling.

Radioisotope Dating

Radiometric dating of rocks and minerals works by modeling the time elapsed since the formation of a sample by measuring the ratio of the abundance of a parent isotope to the abundance of its daughter isotope produced by radioactive decay. The rate at which a radioactive parent isotope decays to its daughter isotope is well known. To correct for the ratio of this isotope pair present at the time of formation of the sample, we use the so-called "isochron" method (Dalrymple 1991). This requires that we analyze a number of samples that geologic criteria indicate were cogenic (that is, they formed at the same time) and from a medium which had a common, uniform ratio of the two isotopes. A typical example would be a sample of rocks and minerals extracted from a single volcanic extrusion with a common initial isotope ratio acquired from that lava. For samples which are cogenetic, the isotope ratios of parent to daughter, normalized to a non-radiogenic isotope of the daughter element, plot on a straight line, termed an isochron. This is because, in each sample, the parent isotope decreases and the daughter isotope increases due to radioactive decay. Having obtained an isochron we can determine the initial parent to daughter isotope ratio and correct for it in calculating the time elapsed since the formation of the rock.
The fourth example of original creationist research is important enough to have been awarded a chapter to itself in MTC (Austin 1994, Chapter 6). It takes head-on one of the most difficult issues for young-earth creationists — the problem of radiometric age measurements. The chapter begins with an explanation of how radioactive isotope ratios are used in dating and of the assumptions inherent in the technique. This makes it all the more puzzling when Austin perversely proceeds to misapply the method by violating these assumptions. To help understand the nature of this perversity, a short review of radioactive isotope dating methods might be helpful for some readers (see sidebar right).

In Chapter 6 of MTC, Austin describes what he claims was a systematic research project to test isochron radiometric dating using rubidium and strontium isotopes. The rubidium isotope 87Rb decays to its daughter strontium 87Sr, whereas 86Sr is the common non-radiogenic isotope of strontium. Austin reports Rb/Sr data from whole-rock samples of the Pleistocene volcanoes on the Uinkaret Plateau, collected from five different basalt flows.

The 5 data points fall on a reasonably straight line which he claims defines an isochron giving a common age of 1300 Ma years (Austin 1994:124). For Proterozoic rocks, he plotted an isochron giving a common age of 1070 Ma (Austin 1994:122). He triumphantly points out that it is impossible for these rocks, which are clearly older than the formation of the Grand Canyon, to be 270 Ma years younger than the Pleistocene basalts, which certainly formed after the canyon was eroded. This leads him to challenge the basic assumptions of the radioactive dating by asking, "Has any Grand Canyon rock been successfully dated?" (Austin 1994:129).

In other locations there are tens of thousands of radiometric dates which are consistent with the relative stratigraphic positions of the rocks dated (Dalrymple 1991). Why should Grand Canyon be different? In answer to Austin's rhetorical question we can point to two recent studies. In their work on the oldest rocks of the Grand Canyon, Ilg and others (1996) used 238U/206Pb ratios in individual crystals of zircon and monazite to derive a detailed chronology for the Early Proterozoic metamorphic and igneous crystalline rocks. Two different units of the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite gave ages of 1750 and 1742 Ma. Two different members of the Zoroaster Plutonic Complex, which intrude the Metamorphic Suite, gave ages of 1740-1710 Ma and 1700-1660 Ma. These ages are completely consistent with the stratigraphic positions and crosscutting relations of these rocks. The Late Proterozoic Rb/Sr isochron age of 1070 Ma for the Cardenas Basalt reported in Austin is also consistent with its stratigraphic position.

The 1300 Ma age for the Pleistocene basalts determined by Austin from his data is clearly inconsistent with more recent work of Dalrymple and Hamblin (1998). These workers measured 40K/40Ar isotopic ratios in 65 whole rock samples from the lavas which flowed into the canyon and temporarily dammed the Colorado River at least 13 different times. The ages obtained lie in the range 0.684 Ma to 0.443 Ma. With few exceptions, the relative ages of the 65 samples analyzed are in the same order as that in which the lavas erupted, determined by superposition. These exceptions appear to have been caused either by the presence of carbonate, which interferes with the clean-up process during Ar extraction, or by the presence of "dunite xenoliths" which contribute unknown and varying amounts of inherited 40Ar (Dalrymple and Hamblin 1998). Dunite xenoliths are remnants of unmelted older parent material from which the basalt magma (melt) was originally formed and so are much older than the lava flows.

Austin's "test" of Rb/Sr isochron dating of these same Pleistocene basalts has been examined and thoroughly refuted by Stassen (1997). In an earlier publication Austin (1988) used data selectively from Leeman (1975) to plot a seemingly reliable Rb/Sr isochron which gave an apparent age of 1500 Ma for these Pleistocene lavas. In a section of his paper headed "Fictitious Isochron Ages", Austin (1988) noted that such "false Rb/Sr isochrons" have been well documented in the scientific literature. Citing this literature, Austin (1988) explained that false isochrons are caused by isotopes such as 87Sr being "inherited from the molten material's source at great depth in the earth". Stassen (1997b) points Out that this statement indicates that Austin knew he would get a false isochron long before collecting his own samples from the Western Grand Canyon for Rb/Sr analysis. The study of Pleistocene basalts described by Austin in MTC, rather than being a true test of Rb/Sr isochron dating, was an exercise in reproducing a previously-determined false isochron.


My copy of Webster's dictionary defines bibliolatry as, "absolute dependence on a group of sacred writings as infallible". Where others have read the "rock-leaved bible of geology", the authors of GTC bring a different bibliolatry to the Grand Canyon. The book presents a more detailed argument than any previous creationist publication on geology. The crux of the book is a lengthy and detailed, but ultimately failed, attempt to rebut published accounts of the geology, paleontology, and dating of the strata of Grand Canyon and to present re-interpretations consistent with the Genesis story. Such reinterpretations are buttressed by some original creationist research. However, a case of contamination of pollen samples, 12 oriented nautiloids, the tale of 94 squirrel skins, some experiments with tracks made by newts in an aquarium, and wilful misinterpretation of radiometric dates based on five Rb/Sr isotopic ratios scarcely constitute a deluge of new compelling evidence for the flood of Noah.

In yet another sense I found it difficult to understand for whom the book is intended. Creationists relying on unquestioning faith do not need physical evidence; the rest of us, particularly those more technically trained, are likely to find that the close examination of the evidence presented in MTC leads us even further away from bibliolatry. In presenting their strict, religiously-based, interpretation of such a well-studied and spectacular region as the Grand Canyon — an interpretation which is in stark contrast to that of main-stream geologists — the authors apparently willingly accept the risk of bringing their fundamentalist religion into disrepute. Presumably their expectations were otherwise. Decide for yourself by joining us in the Grand Canyon on the first NCSE Creation/Evolution Grand Canyon Raft Trip! (See p.25 for details!)

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Appendix 1

The Laws of Thermodynamics

The laws of thermodynamics describe the internal energy in a system and how that energy may be exchanged between the system and its surroundings. The variables that describe the internal state of a system concern the total energy of molecules making up that system in terms of temperature, gas pressure, and volume. The first law of thermodynamics describes how work and heat change the internal state of the system. The internal energy of a system can be lowered by converting heat to work, just as the internal energy can be raised by converting work to heat. The "conservation" of energy refers to the fact that internal energy can and does change, and we can use the relationship between heat and work to estimate the speed and intensity of the change.

The second law of thermodynamics describes a preferred direction in the transfer of energy — from a state of higher to lower internal energy. This means that, if the energy of the surroundings is lower than that within a system, then that system will gradually exchange energy with its surroundings until the energy states match. The second law also tells us that the conversion of heat to work is not absolute; there is always some heat that dissipates in the process, and this causes the total energy available to the system to decrease. The second law also tells us that the conversion of heat to work is not absolute; there is always some heat that dissipates in the process, and this causes the total energy available to the system to decrease. The second law also tells us that the "tendency to entropy" (or disorder) that seems to be inevitable can be reversed simply by adding energy to the system from another source; volcanic eruptions of solar radiation are two of the more common sources of this added energy on earth.

[From BW Tillery. Physical Science, 4th edition. New York: WCB/McGraw-Hill. 1999; compiled by AJ Petto]


Getting to Know Rocks and Minerals

Mineral. A mineral is generally a solid, inorganic compound. The atomic structures, chemical compositions, and physical properties vary somewhat, but, for example, all quartz crystals have the same properties whether in sandstone or in granite or in lava.

Rock. A rock is a collection or aggregation of a number of different minerals fused together in certain combinations. Rock is classified into 1 of 3 groups depending on how it is formed.

igneous. Igneous rock is formed as magma cools. This type of rock may be produced as lava flows cool on the surface (or the ocean floor) or as the molten rock forces itself between other rock in the earth's crust.

sedimentary. Sedimentary rock is formed as mineral particles are deposited in layers in lakes, river deltas, dunes, or seabeds. The particles can be transported by glaciers, wind, or water.

metamorphic. Metamorphic rock is formed as igneous or sedimentary rocks are subjected to intense pressure and/or heat. This causes the structure and the properties of the rock to be changed. If enough heat and pressure are applied, the rock melts to become magma again.

The Rock cycle. The rock cycle describes the various stages in the building and remodeling of the rocks which make up the earth. For convenience the cycle starts with molten magma below the earth's crust. The magma slowly rises to the surface on currents like those we can see in boiling water. When it invades the solid crust or reaches the surface, the magma cools and forms solid rock. Movements in the earth's crust and erosion by ice, wind, and water cause minerals to be worn out of the rock and cause deeper rock to be exposed to the surface. These minerals are transported and deposited in layered sediments which solidify into rock. The intense pressure and/or temperature applied to sedimentary and igneous rock by geological processes transforms it into metamorphic rock. Higher pressure and temperature can transform any solid rock back into molten magma to complete the cycle.

Basalt. A fine-grained igneous rock — the most abundant type of lava.

Dikes. Small intrusions by molten rock.

Gabbro. A course-grained rock common in plutonic intrusions poor in quartz and silica.

Gneiss. A banded metamorphic rock rich in quartz and feldspar and formed under high temperature and pressure.

Intrusions. Cooled molten rock which has forced itself between other cooled rocks in the earth's crust.

Plutons. Intrusions by molten rock which form large masses.

Schists. A metamorphic rock rich in feldspar, quartz, and mica formed under moderate pressure and low to moderate temperature.

Shale. A fine-grained sedimentary rock rich in clay minerals and often containing fossils.

[From C Pellant. Rocks and Minerals. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 1992; compiled by AJ Petto.]
By Wilfred A Elders
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.