Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Clueless Conservatives and Geology

When you go to one of our nation's breathtaking National Parks with your family, you get a chance to see nature in action. No, I'm not talking about the raccoons attacking the dumpster at the public campground, or the squirrels begging for your chips. I'm talking about those amazing vistas that make you stop and think about the wonder and mystery of their creation, or the little things, like that endangered flower or mossy stream, that you could stare at for hours and never be able to comprehend the incredible complexity of it. Such awesome sights could make even me start to believe in some greater power at the root of it all (if I were slightly delirious from fever – being an atheist).

Take, for instance, our majestic Grand Canyon. We're all familiar with its fantastic, multicolored rock formations and nearly unfathomable depth. Geologists have studied this natural wonder since the late 1860's and tell us that it was formed by erosive action of the Colorado River over the past 5 to 6 million years, and that the rock formations are between 2 and 2.5 billion years old. Given that Earth has been calculated to be about 4.5 billion years old, that makes portions of this natural phenomenon half as old as our world. Since most of these geologists have studied their field and the Canyon most of their adult lives, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Now, if you were to go into the Grand Canyon's interpretive center and try to buy a book on the Canyon's geologic formation, wouldn't you expect that book to be scientifically accurate according to the expert opinions of geologists? And if you had geological questions about the age of the Canyon, wouldn't you want the rangers to give you a straight answer? Unfortunately, neither of these assumptions are true.

Three years ago, the National Park Service approved the sale of a Creationist book entitled "Grand Canyon: A Different View" in the Canyon's book stores and museums. This book, sold alongside legitimate science texts (such as this one), argues a literalist interpretation of the Bible, that the world is less than 10,000 years old, and that the Canyon was formed by Noah's flood. Park officials, scientists, and academics were appalled and called for the government to remove the book. After all, an interpretive center is a place of scientific learning, not a library or common book store. They must be held to a higher level of accuracy. Yet three years later the book is still on the shelves.

Story:
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2006_12/010493.php


also here:
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=801

Now the Bush administration has stepped its extremist fundamentalism up a notch, requiring that, when asked about the geologic age of the Canyon, park interpreters must say "no comment."

No comment?! About the primary scientific aspect of the Grand Canyon?! Pardon me while I bash my head into a wall until all common reason and scientific learning leaves me and I become a vegetable. Then, and only then, will this seem to make sense to me.

As I've commented before (here and here), it is appalling to me as a scientist how the neoconservatives who run this country have waged a war against science and reason. There is no room for Faith in Science, for therein lies ignorance and bias. Legitimate scientific study is a slow, meticulous, peer-reviewed process that leaves little room for error. Nothing is taken on faith, and no amount of silly pseudoscientific drivel or Biblical accounting can make up for shoddy reason and ignorance. The book in question did not go through that process.

The Bible has some wonderful allegories and wisdoms for how we should live (and a large share of violence and horror that people tend to gloss over). But the priests, monks and apostles who wrote it between 1900 and 3800 years ago could not have known the incredibly rich tapestry of knowledge Science has accumulated since then, not counting the ignorance of the Dark Ages (when, by the way, the Catholic Church controlled Europe and science was considered evil). In terms of understanding the physical world around us, today's college freshman science major is far wiser than these supposed wise men were.

I call for the National Park Service to remove that book from their shelves immediately and put it where it belongs: Sunday School.

6 comments:

Sanjay said...

Am here from Meno's. Nice blog. I was under the impression that the book about the creationists version of the GC was no longer being sold at the Park Stores? Maybe it is the plaque that has been removed? Yes they used to have a plaque with this stupid "alternative" view.

that the world is less than 10,000 years old, and that the Canyon was formed by Noah's flood
Heh. Maybe next time we get confronted with this we should ask, if the great flood happened here, why in the heck is all the oil in the Mideast? I mean if he has showered this land with so much good why did he leave the oil out?
But they will come up with something strange to explain that too.

meno said...

I am here from my blog too. :)

My mouth is hanging open about the "no comment" directive. Separation of church and state? I don't think so. Grrrr.

Maggie said...

Ah, Angry Lab Rat, those are empassioned words I love to hear! I think perhaps one of the quietest and greatest tragedies of this administration has been the slow murder of true science in our country.

class factotum said...

Don't blame this one on the Catholic Church! The Vatican issued something a year or two ago saying the "why" belongs to God, the "how" belongs to science and that there was no contradiction between evolution and faith as far as they could tell.

Anonymous said...

2 class factotum: Did Catholic church really did so? AFAIK the last official statement of Pope on the issue (encyclical "Humani Generis" by Pius XII) amounted to "no comments" itself.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html

Of course I'm not following church matters very closely, so I well may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

“As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan,”