Grand Canyon Mystery Tour by Phillip E. Johnson

Grand Canyon Mystery Tour

During the final four months of 2003, privately managed bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park sold about 300 copies of a slim book of scenic photographs with accompanying text, compiled by a veteran canyon tour guide named Tom Vail and titled Grand Canyon: A Different View. These book sales sparked a minor media firestorm after a retired geology professor named Elders came across the book in the park and saw, to his horror, that it argued for the creationist “flood geology” position: that the canyon was carved out very rapidly only a few thousand years ago by the waters of the worldwide flood that Noah’s Ark survived, as recounted in the book of Genesis.

After receiving protests from Elders and other geologists, the presidents of seven major geological organizations signed a letter to the park superintendent that characterized the creationist book as religion disguised as science, and urged that it be removed from the stores or at least be clearly separated from books that present an acceptable scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology. Seeing an opportunity for compromise, the bookstore managers moved the book to a separate section for inspirational reading, but continued to sell it.

That may not seem like much of a conflict, but prominent stories about the book and the protest appeared in elite newspapers across the nation, as well as in Britain. (British journalists are fascinated by American creationism, and tend to assume it has become government policy under the despised Bush administration.) In short, the indignant geological establishment handed the creationists a publicity bonanza, confirming the adage that there is nothing so likely to backfire as an unsuccessful attempt to ban a book. I am sure I am not the only person who was so intrigued by the publicity that I obtained a copy of the book from Amazon for $17.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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