January 31, 2007
I’ve really got to get out of the house. There are quantum changes afoot and I’m missing out. There’s this book out there that one can pick up at any Grand Canyon National Park bookstore that sets the record straight about how and when the canyon came to be and, for me, this is pretty much new information.
First of all, geology gets my rocks off. Science of most disciplines rubs me the right way. Not that I actually know anything, but it’s not all that difficult to convince myself that I do. If you’ve ever seen me move, you would know that my watch is set to geological time. Not that I’m slow, but I’ve had tectonic plates pass me on the right.
And the fact that I was here "before dirt" also gives me a certain cachet among the geo-science crowd. You think landfill is a problem now — you should have seen it before stones, sand, clays and humus got into the mix.
Well, anyway, it turns out, according to this book, "Grand Canyon: A Different View" by Tom Vail, the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary timescale. Back in 2003, an embarrassed park superintendent tried to stop its sale at bookstores within the park but was overruled by NPS Headquarters.
A brouhaha of sorts ensued, of course, between the interpretive ranger community, who’s job it’s been to answer questions concerning the geologic age of the canyon, and the Bush appointees back in Washington, who, it seems, would like the "creationist" view of the matter represented — for "balance," of course.
To calm the waters, the NPS indicated there would be a "high-level policy review of the issue." However, according to information recently received under the Freedom of Information Act by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), "no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed."
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Claiming that park bookstores are like libraries and should represent the broadest possible range of views, the NPS doesn’t appear to be budging on the issue. Myself, I find this rather dumbfounding reinterpretation of existing law and park policy to be awash in possibility.
Imagine, if you will, sauntering into the bookshop on the North Rim in search of insightful and invigorating scientific truths and coming upon "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller. Now there’s a broad view that’s been underrepresented. Ol’ Henry would have that bunch in Washington looking for an interpretive ranger in no time.
Or, how about, Ptolemy’s "Almagesti," with its geocentric theory of the Earth as center of the universe? That would fit in with the "flat earth" types currently running the show. Or, if they really want to serve park visitors, they could make available the "Pocket Kama Sutra" for the backpacking set. I bet that would raise at least one eyebrow.
I doubt if GCNP rangers would go for any of this however. Theirs is a labor of love and they take it quite seriously. Explaining to a budding young scientist that the jury is still out on how the canyon was formed and that it quite possibly could have happened due to Noah’s flood as recently as 5,000 years ago would probably send them scurrying to the Rough Rider Saloon after their shift.
They see the bookstores as being more like schoolrooms than libraries — places where only high-quality science is reflected and the approval process for additional theories is very selective. And, for the most part, that seemed to be the procedure back in 2003 when 22 books were rejected. The creationist book, however, following intervention from above, was approved.
PEER would like to see new NPS Director Mary Bomar "quit stalling," as they put it, and remove the offending literature from the park. They are also asking Bomar, "to approve a pamphlet, suppressed since 2002 by Bush appointees, providing guidance for rangers and other interpretive staff in making distinctions between science and religion when speaking to park visitors about geologic issues."
As PEER sees it, this would allow park rangers to "honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon." The situation wrought by the creationist view’s entrance into interpretive geology has been a "revelation," as it were, to those of us who can’t get enough of George and his flock.
You can’t make this stuff up. The official position of our National Park Service as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is "no comment." Rather than offend the religious right, Grand Canyon National Park has been put on notice by the current faith-based bunch in Washington to, in so many words, suspend its belief in geology.
Whoda thunkit? They’re out of the closet. When it comes to the Grand Canyon, these religious fundamentalists, the ones in "office" anyway, are nothing more than a bunch of "agnostics." It’s not news, of course, that catering to creationists has become a full-medal sport these past half-dozen years or so, but the current flap down at the "big ditch" borders on the hilarious.
I mean, even Noah, who according to biblical accounts was 600 years old at the time of the great flood, would get a kick out of this. The peculiar part of the current rumpus is that fully two-years after the fuss erupted, the NPS approved a new directive on "Interpretation and Education."
Known as "Director’s Order No. 6," the edict states that available 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."
Ya got me! It’s as if a metaphorical vent in the earth’s crust ceased expelling lava, steam and ash, and began spewing creation mythology — which, by the way, I have no problem with as a belief system in its own context. Our George and his NPS cronies could learn much from the traditional cultures who call the Grand Canyon and its environs home.