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Share this story“Alternative facts” aren’t new. Young-Earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis believe the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old despite actual mountains of evidence to the contrary, and they've been playing the “alternative facts” card for years. In lieu of conceding incontrovertible geological evidence, they sidestep it by saying, “Well, we just look at those facts differently.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than the Grand Canyon, which young-Earth creationist groups have long been enamored with. A long geologic record (spanning almost 2 billion years, in total) is on display in the layers of the Grand Canyon thanks to the work of the Colorado River. But many creationists instead assert that the canyon’s rocks—in addition to the spectacular erosion that reveals them—are actually the product of the Biblical “great flood” several thousand years ago.
Andrew Snelling, who got a PhD in geology before joining Answers in Genesis, continues working to interpret the canyon in a way that is consistent with his views. In 2013, he requested permission from the National Park Service to collect some rock samples in the canyon for a new project to that end. The Park Service can grant permits for collecting material, which is otherwise illegal.
Snelling wanted to collect rocks from structures in sedimentary formations known as “soft-sediment deformation”—basically, squiggly disturbances of the layering that occur long before the sediment solidifies into rock. While solid rock layers can fold (bend) on a larger scale under the right pressures, young-Earth creationists assert that all folds are soft sediment structures, since forming them doesn’t require long periods of time.
The National Park Service sent Snelling’s proposal out for review, having three academic geologists who study the canyon look at it. Those reviews were not kind. None felt the project provided any value to justify the collection. One reviewer, the University of New Mexico’s Karl Karlstrom, pointed out that examples of soft-sediment deformation can be found all over the place, so Snelling didn’t need to collect rock from a national park. In the end, Snelling didn’t get his permit.
In May, Snelling filed a lawsuit alleging that his rights had been violated, as he believed his application had been denied by a federal agency because of his religious views. The complaint cites, among other things, President Trump’s executive order on religious freedom.
That lawsuit was withdrawn by Snelling on June 28. According to a story in The Australian, Snelling withdrew his suit because the National Park Service has relented and granted him his permit. He will be able to collect about 40 fist-sized hand samples, provided that he makes the data from any analyses freely available.
Not that anything he collects will matter. “Even if I don’t find the evidence I think I will find, it wouldn’t assault my core beliefs,” Snelling told The Australian. “We already have evidence that is consistent with a great flood that swept the world.”
Again, in actuality, that hypothesis is in conflict with the entirety of Earth’s surface geology.
Snelling says he will publish his results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. That likely means Answers in Genesis’ own Answers Research Journal, of which he is editor-in-chief.