January 30, 2004 -- After experiencing the visual splendor of the Grand Canyon, campers, hikers and tourists will now encounter intellectual squalor in, of all places, the souvenir shops at the Canyon rim. Those stores now carry a Biblical creationist book entitled “Grand Canyon: A Different View,” which maintains that this great natural wonder was gouged out by Noah’s flood a few thousand years ago, contrary to all scientific evidence that shows it was formed millions of years ago by the erosive force of the Colorado River.
The National Park Service now must decide whether to keep the book in those stores. No doubt the debate will focus on whether such a book in a government-supervised bookstore violates the separation of church and state. Perhaps the Park Service will argue that if the book is treated like tracts about local Indian legends rather than as a science text then it could stay. But the creationists maintain that they are offering real science, not myth. Whether the book stays or goes, it is important to reflect on the deeper implications of this controversy.
One might be tempted to simply ignore creationists. After all, they really don’t present some honest but mistaken view about natural history. They practice distortion and evasion on a Grand Canyon size scale. They engage in so many mental gymnastics and prevarications that they are the embodiment of what George Orwell in 1984 called “double-think.”
Further, a unique feature of creationism, compared to other erroneous beliefs, is that it is so clearly and demonstrably false. Creationists must ignore the laws of nature discovered by geology, biology, paleontology, physics, astronomy, and many other sciences. They must ignore literally millions of facts by which we know those laws.
47 percent of Americans believe that God created man pretty much in his present form some 10,000 years ago.
On the other hand, career creationists who make it their business to propagate such poppycock reflect a deep and disturbing fact about our culture. According to a 1991 Gallup poll, in America, the most technologically advanced country in the world, 47 percent of Americans believe that God created man pretty much in his present form some 10,000 years ago, while 40 percent believe that man evolved over millions of years but with God guiding the process. At least this latter belief does not require one to simply ignore or rationalize away mountains of data accumulated over centuries. Only 9 percent believe man evolved with no assistance from a God; fortunately the vast majority of American scientists hold this latter view.
We might also take comfort in the fact that few of the 47 percent of Adam-and-Eve literalists are career creationists and that most are probably casual believers who don’t give the matter much serious thought. They’re busy doing their jobs, raising their families and the like.
Still, we must also understand that our advanced, modern country in the 21st century more and more will require a population and culture that values the search for and adherence to truth; that recognizes the capacity of all individuals to understand the world around them; that appreciates the achievements that result from this pursuit and knowledge; and that sees these as a source of humanity’s glory and dignity. The pre-scientific credulity on which creationism rests simply demeans us and damns us to ignorance.
It is an aesthetic and awe-inspiring experience to view the natural beauty of Grand Canyon. And healthy individuals, rather than feeling small and insignificant beside it, will feel proud of their own capacity to respond to its beauty. Even more, they will understand how great we humans are because we can understand the forces of nature that formed the Canyon and the world.
If, as the poet John Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” then those who reject reason, our source of truth, truly worship at the of alter of spiritual ugliness.