The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth
This is a magnificent book about a magnificent site. First, because the book is itself a work of art: it is filled with stunning color photographs of the Grand Canyon, as well as many close-up shots of specific geological sites and fossils. It also contains a large number of maps and charts, all beautifully arranged so as to guide the reader into a multi-sided investigation of this unique and amazing site. Second, because it includes a brief history of the study of the Canyon. Third, because it ends by guiding the reader through a seven-mile hike on the Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail so as to provide a visual inspection of much of the evidence that has been adduced in favor of its central claim.
That central claim is the authors’ answer to the question of whether the Canyon is ancient, the product of at least six million years of erosion, or was produced quickly only a few thousand years ago by Noah’s flood. In this respect also it does a magnificent job, presenting clearly and compellingly the overwhelming evidence in favor of the Canyon’s formation being the product of gradual processes over millions of years. The contrary view, advocated by Young Earth Creationists, is called Flood Geology. Its account of the Canyon is based on the assumption that the Canyon was carved by Noah’s flood and its aftermath, about 5,000 years ago.
Since the book’s central concern is to show the Canyon is millions of years old, a good bit of space is naturally devoted to the reliability of the dating methods used to establish that. I found the authors’ defense of radiometric dating to be compelling, as was their rebuttal of the Flood Geologists’ criticisms. So let me give a few snapshots of how their compelling case goes.
One objection raised by Flood Geologists to dating rocks by the rate of radioactive decay is that the rate of that decay may have been much higher in the past and thus yield misleadingly old ages for tested rocks. The authors point out, however, that for this to occur, the decay rate would have to have been greater by a factor of at least a million in order to yield dates of a billion years for a rock that is less than 6,000 years old. But in that case the heat from such a rapid decay rate would render the entire planet molten! Add to that the cross-confirmation attained when different radiometric tests are performed on the same rocks and yield the same dates, and the evidence becomes hard to resist. (Besides, radiometric dating has been done on rocks from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, and has yielded a date within a few years of the event.)
But the icing on the cake in this dispute is the correspondence between radiometric dating and the rate of drift of the continental tectonic plates. The continents of North America and Africa, for example, have been receding from one another following a time when they were joined in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Flood Geologists claim that they began moving away from one another at a rapid rate at the onset of Noah’s flood and have since slowed their movement to the rate we observe today. But this claim requires an astoundingly unlikely coincidence. On the one hand, radiometric dating yields an age of 180 million years old for the rocks along the coastlines of the two continents. On the other hand, satellite stations on the two continents allow for a precise measurement of the distance and movement between them down to the scale of an inch or less. Since the distance between the continents is 3,480 miles, that distance divided by 180 million yields a movement of 1.2 inches per year. The satellite measurements also confirm this, showing that the continents are moving apart at a rate of 1.1 to 1.7 inches a year. But this means that for the Flood Geologists’ claim to be true, the rate of radioactive decay and the rate of tectonic drift must have slowed down at exactly the same rate so as to give the same result despite there being no causal connection between them.
Despite all this, some Flood Geologists still claim that radiometric dating cannot be trusted, and point to a sample of magma from Mount St. Helens tested by the potassium-argon method that showed it to be 300,000 years old. But this example leaves out two vital pieces of information. One is that older rocks are often lifted by a recent lava flow and can thus throw off the dating of the lava. The other is that the potassium-argon method is well known to do poorly on recent lava flows. For these, the argon-argon method does yield reliable ages, as in the case of Mount Vesuvius.
But if the wildly unlikely coincidence of radioactive decay and continental drift needed by Flood Geology is not enough to discredit it, try this one. On the Flood Geology view, the events recorded in Genesis concerning the Garden of Eden would have had to take place before Noah’s flood. But the location of Eden, as given in Genesis, places it in where four rivers converge at or near the Persian Gulf as we presently know it. The trouble with this is that the location of these rivers now sits above six miles of sedimentary rock that Flood Geology says were laid down by Noah’s flood! What Flood Geology requires, then, is that
Eden was flooded, buried under six miles of sediment, the [earth’s] crust was heaved violently upward and back downward, and somehow mineral and oil deposits appeared and rivers re-formed to mimic the old landscape, whereupon re-settlers gave rivers and places the same names – all to accommodate a scenario the Bible never claims. (28)
There is also powerful evidence against Flood Geology from the Canyon’s fossils, such as trace fossils as delicate as spider footprints: how could such fossils have survived a world-wide flood? And why would the fossils be found in layers that correspond to the sequence of the appearance of those life forms as they occur everywhere else in the world if they were deposited by raging floodwaters? Why would they not be completely jumbled up? And why are there no fossils of dinosaurs, flowering plants, mammals, or birds found in the Canyon layers at all? Why would they not, too, be jumbled together by a worldwide flood if all those life forms had existed from the first week of planet Earth?
There is a lot of information packed into this relatively short work, so as a non-geologist I had to take things slowly, assimilate the terminology, and check back often to be sure I was following the evidence trail being laid out for me. That effort was well rewarded, however, so I can heartily commend this book to other non-geologists: you will learn a good bit about geology and quite a lot about the Canyon. But most importantly, the latter information will include the excellent reasons for believing the Grand Canyon to be, indeed, a monument to a very ancient earth.