The Return of the Fellowship of the Two Models

I’ve just returned from NCSE’s annual rafting trip down Grand Canyon, where Josh Rosenau, Genie Scott, and I regaled our fellow rafters with our unique “two model” approach.


There are all kinds of Grand Canyon rafting charters that specialize in everything you can think of: yoga, en plein air painting, bluegrass music, nudism—and, I imagine, trips combining all of these.

NCSE’s trip is unique in that it contrasts the normal scientific model of the geology and natural history of Grand Canyon with the creationist model put forth by organizations such as Answers in Genesis and Canyon Ministries. In other words, at various interesting locations on the river, our rafters hear the evidence for a Grand Canyon containing rocks nearly two billions years ago and the supposed “evidences” for Grand Canyon being carved a few thousand years ago by the retreating waters of Noah’s Flood. We report; the rafters decide for themselves.

Most rafters are surprised to learn that while we do just one trip a year, creationist groups are doing a booming business using the majestic setting of Grand Canyon as the stage for their ministry. For example, in 2014 Canyon Ministries offered no fewer than 13 different rafting trips.

canyon ministries


That’s not all. As Ken Ham recently promoted, Canyon Ministries is now offering one-day, air-conditioned van trips around the South Rim (in summer, they really emphasize the air conditioning!). These vans proudly declare they are “providing a creationist perspective,” as shown below:

rim tours

I checked their schedule and found that they’re offering trips every day of the week (except Sundays, naturally).

Set among sizzling stones, such excursions promise “much more than a beautiful place to visit.” As Ken Ham noted, “rather than go to the rim and hear the anti-God, evolutionary explanation of the Canyon’s formation,” one can instead hear the alternate creationist interpretation. These trips “take you to key overlooks and help you understand the canyon in relationship to the Genesis accounts of Creation and the Flood.” Like tender Tony Soprano proclaiming “I get it!” and crying as he watched the sun rise over vermillion Nevada cliffs, witnessing the beauty of nature is meant here to be inspirational, spiritual, emotional.

I get it, sopranos

And that’s fine. Grand Canyon is vast enough to accommodate many uses for many people, all of whom have the right to visit the park in the way they want. The problem arises when creationist groups take this into the realm of the scientific, sowing confusion and misinformation even as they promise to “spend time explaining the geology and natural history of the canyon.” This is disrespectful not only to the centuries of work building what we know about the natural world, but to the Canyon itself.

Imagine if public zoos were inundated by private tours, the guides of which loudly proclaimed that the zebras were elephants, elephants were tigers, and tigers were vegetarians. That’s how surreal it feels for geologists to hear the rocks of Grand Canyon described as thousands of years old.

Although NCSE’s rafting trips give a serious airing of what creationists actually say about Grand Canyon, sometimes it’s hard to maintain the act. As rafters listen to our account of creationist writings, they often come up with the best questions:

Short Bio

Steve Newton is a former Programs and Policy Director at NCSE.

We can't afford to lose any time when it comes to the future of science education.

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