Lessons from the Grand Canyon

By Wayne Jackson

The Colorado River is approximately 1,400 miles long. It begins in Wyoming and ultimately spills into the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of California (Mexico). As it meanders toward its goal, the river passes through one of the most spectacular places on earth, the Grand Canyon. This yawning chasm is 277 miles long, and it is anywhere from four to eighteen miles wide. It has a maximum depth of some 6,000 feet.

It is believed, by those who subscribe to evolutionary geology, that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon in the western wilderness over a vast span of history. The evolutionary view of geology is known as uniformitarianism, and the special phrase employed to explain it is this: “The present is the key to the past.” This theory assumes that presently operating geological processes, which work at relatively constant and incredibly slow rates, must have functioned similarly in the past. It discounts the possibility that violent catastrophes in the ancient world could have fashioned many of the earth’s features in a significantly shorter time period.

We must emphasize in this connection that all advocates of Darwinism concede that if evolution ever occurred at all, vast eons of time were required to accommodate the development. Dr. George Wald, an ardent evolutionist and one-time professor at Harvard, has called time “the hero of the plot” (1954, 45-53). The dramatic characteristics of the Grand Canyon are frequently appealed to as proof that the earth has been in existence for millions of years. Professor Ronald Ives of Northern Arizona University has written:

Formation of the Grand Canyon took place in two major steps: the deposition of the beds that were later eroded into a gorge—a process lasting considerably more than one billion years—and erosion of the canyon proper, which required not more than 10 million years (1988, 163-165).

It should be noted, however, that even evolutionists confess that uniformitarianism is not provable; rather, it is buttressed with assumptions. John N. Clayton, a religionist who argues his own hybrid brand of theistic evolution (complete with uniformitarian undergirding), in an article on the Grand Canyon, admitted,

All explanations of this kind are based upon the assumption that the only agents operational on the [Colorado] river were the ones we see operating today. This assumption, called uniformitarianism, is the basis of all geologic explanations made about the origin of the canyon (1988, 3).

He later acknowledged that uniformitarianism “is the basis for most of geology and some of the various theories of evolution” (4). We have discussed this matter in greater detail in our little book, The Mythology of Modern Geology.

The Grand Canyon and Catastrophism

What evolutionists refuse to consider, however, is that a catastrophe, such as a great flood—and perhaps other violent activity associated with such—could have constructed the features of the Grand Canyon in a relatively brief period, i.e., within a time-frame that is consistent with biblical chronology. Of course evolutionists, and those who sympathize with their time scheme, contend that absolutely no dates (e.g., multiplied billions of years) could be postulated which would conflict with the testimony of the Scriptures (Clayton, 5). To them, biblical chronology is wholly irrelevant. It must be subordinated to “scientific” speculation!

Could the Grand Canyon have formed much more quickly than is commonly supposed? Among the scientific evidences which support a relatively “young canyon” are the data being gathered since the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, a volcano in the state of Washington, exploded. There was a release of steam equivalent to twenty million tons of TNT. Within six minutes, a forest of one hundred fifty square miles was completely wiped out. Huge rock slides, water waves (at nearby Spirit Lake), steam output, etc., generated an energy release roughly equal to twenty thousand atomic bombs like those employed in Japan during World War II.

The effects of this local catastrophe have been carefully studied over the past several years and some surprising information has emerged.

First, in 1986 it was reported that new strata, over six hundred feet thick, have formed at Mount St. Helens since 1980 (Austin 1986, #157). That is an average of one hundred feet in less than one year! If one postulates that a similar (or greater) catastrophe was instrumental in forming (partially or completely) the Grand Canyon, and that a comparable rate of deposition was involved, at the rate of one hundred feet per year, the 5,700 feet of strata of the Grand Canyon could have been laid down in fifty-seven years.

Second, there have been numerous subsequent mudflows in the aftermath of the St. Helens’ eruption. For example, on March 19, 1982, a canyon, which has come to be known as the little Grand Canyon, was formed in one day—one hundred forty feet deep! The little Grand Canyon is a one-fortieth scale model of the big Grand Canyon. Thus, conceivably, the Arizona Grand Canyon could have been catastrophically fashioned in only forty days!

Evidence suggests, therefore, that it is not necessary to speculate that the Grand Canyon was carved out over ten million years of ancient history; it could have formed much quicker than that.

The Grand Canyon and the Geologic Time Table

The geologic time table is a common feature in textbooks dealing with geology. It is a paper graphic that attempts to show, in chart form, the alleged development of living organisms from the ancient past to the present. It outlines “evolutionary history” into four major eras, the upper three of which are divided into twelve periods. These are supposed to detail the various stages of evolving life-forms.

What most people do not realize is that the so-called geologic column, as represented in the textbooks, does not exist anywhere upon the earth! It has been mentally invented by geologists upon the basis of evolutionary assumptions.

According to the evolutionary theory, the life record in the various strata of the earth extends back almost two billion years. If these earth-layers were to be found anywhere on earth, they should extend to a depth of about one hundred thirty miles. This, of course, is impossible since the sedimentary (water-laid) strata (which contain the fossils) are never more than twelve to fifteen miles deep in any place. The earth’s crust is only twenty-five to thirty miles thick!

Though scientists concede that the geologic column does not exist anywhere in completed form, they nevertheless suggest that the Grand Canyon is one of the better examples of it. As it turns out, though, the Grand Canyon is an embarrassment to evolutionary theorists, for huge chunks of the “textbook” time table are completely missing from the canyon record. The following chart illustrates the periods of geologic history which should be represented in the strata of the Grand Canyon—if it had been formed according to the principles of uniformitarianism—but which are conspicuously missing from the record.

Missing Strata in the Grand Canyon
?
?
?
?
Permian
Pennsylvanian
Mississippian
?
?
?
Cambrian
Precambrian

Note please: some 350 million years of alleged evolutionary history are missing from the canyon record. More than one-third of what should be there is gone. Could it be it was never there?

The truth is, the testimony of the earth strata in the Grand Canyon is against evolutionary uniformitarianism—not in favor of it. Dr. Clifford Burdick, who did many studies in the canyon, declares: “This gorge bespeaks catastrophism rather than uniformity” (1968, 3).

The Grand Canyon and Dinosaurs

Several years ago, Dr. Samuel Hubbard, curator of archaeology in the Oakland (CA) Museum, discovered carvings of dinosaurs on the cliff walls of the Havai Supai region in the Grand Canyon. One carving in particular, which resembles a Tyrannosaurus, measured 11.2 inches in height and 7 inches at its greatest width. (For a picture of this carving, see my book, Mythology of Modern Geology.) Dr. Hubbard declared: “Taken all in all, the proportions are good.” He further suggested that the huge reptile is “depicted in the attitude in which a man would be most likely to see it—reared on its hind legs, balancing with the long tail, either feeding or in fighting position, possibly defending itself against a party of men” (Verrill 1954, 155f).

The Indians of this region know nothing about, and have no legends of, these carvings. This evidence, of course, is in direct opposition to the evolutionary contention that dinosaurs became extinct more than sixty-million years before man evolved! The art of the Grand Canyon testifies against evolutionary chronology.

The Grand Canyon and Out-of-Place Fossils

According to the evolutionary scheme, no advanced mammals were present in the “age of dinosaurs.” The only mammals contemporary with dinosaurs were “small, mostly about mouse-sized, and rare” (Simpson, Pittendrigh, and Tiffany 1957, 781). It is unthinkable, in terms of evolutionary theory, that dinosaurs, and, for example, elephants (advanced mammals) could have lived at the same time. Dr. Hubbard’s discoveries in the Havai Supai area, however, have thrown a monkey-wrench into the evolutionary system. We quote Verrill again:

Another highly important feature of Dr. Hubbard’s report is the discovery of fossil footprints of both the three-toed carnivorous dinosaurs and the imperial elephant in the same locality. If, as it appears, both of these creatures left their footprints in the river’s sand or mud at approximately the same period, then we must assume that the dinosaurs continued to survive for millions of years later than scientists would have us believe, or else that the imperial elephants appeared on earth before their supposed arrival. But it seems highly preposterous, and entirely contrary to all known laws of evolution, to assume that these highly developed pachyderms were inhabiting the earth long ages before more primitive types of mammals (162; emphasis added.)

A more reasonable explanation is that the long ages, supposedly separating dinosaurs and mammals, simply did not exist!

The Grand Canyon and Pollen

It is commonly believed, based upon fragmentary evidence, that the various strata of the canyon, from the lower to the upper, reveal a sequence of organisms of increasing complexity which conform to the evolutionary scenario. New studies, however, are seriously calling this theory into question. Palynology is a relatively new study tool which deals with spores and pollen from plant life that have been discovered imbedded in the rocks of antiquity. Since 1967 pollen studies have been done in the Grand Canyon. In these investigations, numerous spores from pine tree conifers and other forms of vegetation were discovered. The amazing thing was this: these spores were found at all levels of the canyon strata. Permian, Mississippian, Cambrian, and even Precambrian strata contained these conifer spores.

Dr. Burdick, who has labored much in this area, noted:

Our work through the University of Arizona has produced evidence of conifer spores in all formations [of the Canyon] from top to bottom, including the Cambrian where we found good specimens of pines, spruce, hemlock, and fir. Even in the pre-Cambrian Hakatai shale we found them (Burdick 1974, 65).

So shocking were these revelations that scientists immediately claimed that the samples had been “contaminated” (i.e. spores floated in from contemporary plants and were mixed in the rock), and thus did not reflect a true picture of ancient life.

Numerous additional samples were gathered, however, with great care being taken to avoid contamination, and the results yielded were the same! It hardly needs to be pointed out, of course, that no self-respecting evolutionist will concede the existence of pine trees, etc., in the lowest strata of the geologic column.

Again, the evidence here is clearly antagonistic to evolutionary ideology, with its uniformitarian presuppositions. It is, though, perfectly consistent with the idea that the various strata of the Grand Canyon were laid down relatively quickly—certainly not over a billion years of earth history.

Conclusion

In view of the facts chronicled above, it is abundantly clear that the testimony of the Grand Canyon does not support the evolutionary hypothesis. In truth, it is plainly against it. The person who believes in the reliability of the Holy Scriptures does not need to be intimidated by the baseless speculations of evolutionary propagandists. And those who have compromised biblical revelation in deference to pseudoscience need to reevaluate their untenable positions and return to an advocacy of truth.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Austin, Steven. 1986. Mount St. Helens And Catastrophism. ICR Impact, July.
  • Burdick, Clifford. 1968. Bible-Science Newsletter, April 15.
  • Burdick, Clifford. 1974. Canyon of Canyons. Caldwell, ID: Bible-Science Association.
  • Clayton, John N. 1988. Does God Exist? Nov-Dec.
  • Ives, Ronald. 1988. Encyclopedia Americana. Danbury, CT: Grolier, Inc. Vol. 13.
  • Simpson, G. G., C. S. Pittendrigh, and L. H. Tiffany. 1957. Life: An Introduction to Biology. New York, NY: Harcourt-Brace.
  • Verrill, A. Hyatt. 1954. Strange Prehistoric Animals and Their History. Boston, MA: L. C. Page & Co.
  • Wald, George. 1954. The Origin of Life. Scientific American, August.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.