from the Does God Exist? bulletin, March/April 1987

On December 30-31, 1986, a dream of over 20 years was fulfilled for me. Some 20 years ago, I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and wished that I could walk into that giant gash in the earth's crust and see the features I had read about and seen pictures of since I was a child. With two children under five years old at the time, it was impossible, but the dream lingered. The desire to see the canyon has increased over the years as various "creationist" groups have desperately tried to use the flood of Noah as a means of explaining how the canyon came into existence, in order to avoid having to admit to the great age of the structure. Most of these attempts have grown out of a belief that the Bible presents the earth's history in a series of 1,000 year periods, the last of which is claimed to be the physical reign of Christ on the earth. But many statements from all kinds of belief systems have been made about the canyon, and unless you have researched the canyon thoroughly, you are in a poor position to evaluate the claims.

Six of us made up the group taking the hike. All of us are followers of Jesus Christ and have an interest in the relationship between science and belief in God. Alan Doty, a geologist with over 200 separate trips in his experience, was the academic leader of the group. He was assisted by Miles Gilbert, an anthropologist with archaeological training and a preacher, Dave Strong, of Phoenix, was the trip coordinator, having done this type of thing many times. Cash Allee and Dan Woodroof rounded out the group. Cash works for Dave and Dan is an elder of the church in Phoenix and is a preacher with many years of experience throughout the United States.

At about 10:30 on a beautiful, sunny day, we walked out of the parking lot and started down the South Kaibab Trail to the bottom of the canyon, some seven miles and 5,000 feet below us. The very first rock formation, known as the Kaibab limestone, offered an immediate clue to the mechanisms that laid down the rock that makes up the Grand Canyon. A majority of the rocks in the canyon are sedimentary rocks. These rocks are deposited by water or wind under relatively quiet conditions. There are no lava flows or other indications of volcanic activity in the central part of the canyon, but one rather pictures water as a major agent. There are two kinds of sedimentary rocks that can be deposited by water. One of these types is called a clastic sedimentary rock. This rock is produced by moving water. The faster the water is moving, the coarser the grains of the rock. Shale is mud that is deposited by relatively slow moving water. If the water is moving faster, it can carry sand-sized particles and will produce a sandstone. Rapidly moving water will produce piles of gravel cemented into a rock, which is called a conglomerate. If the gravel that makes up the rock is not smooth and rounded, we use the term breccia to describe it.

One of the things I was especially interested in was whether or not there would be evidence in the canyon that a flood produced the rocks that make up the canyon walls. A flood would produce massive amounts of breccia. Genesis 6-8 describes a violent set of conditions on the earth. The "fountains of the deep" broke open, and water came from above as the "windows of heaven" opened up. When we walked over the lip of the canyon, into the top set of rocks that make up the canyon, what we saw was not a clastic type of sedimentary rock, but a chemically precipitated rock. Unlike clastic rocks, chemical precipitates are never produced in moving water. These rocks are produced by molecules dissolved in water that join together to make crystals that ultimately settle out of the water. Rock candy is an example of such a rock, where sugar crystals have precipitated out of a water solution to produce the substance we eat. Other examples include rock salt, gypsum, and calcium carbonate or limestone. The Kaibab limestone is clearly a chemically precipitated rock. Not only is the rock material crystalline in nature, but it is full of geodes--crystals of quartz precipitated in the water environment apart from the calcium carbonate. As we walked down the face of this massive section of rock, we saw evidence that the water must have gotten shallower.

Before long, we were definitely looking at sandstones--a clastic rock. Some of the sandstones looked like beach deposits, but we eventually came to a layer that had a totally different story to tell. If you were to come to Lake Michigan, near where I live, one of the most obvious features you would see would be the sand dunes. The lake brings sand up to the shore and deposits it along the shoreline. During storms, huge quantities of sand can be carried great distances inland by the waves. Wind blowing off the lake blows that sand inland, making a very characteristic structure. On the side of the dune facing the wind, the sand is sculptured to a very precise angle of about 37 degrees. Over the lip of the dune, on the down-wind side, the angle of the dune surface, measured from the horizontal, is steeper and usually runs around 54 degrees. Dunes are often covered with vegetation, preserving these angles and surfaces. In South Bend, located nearly 30 miles from the lake, there are whole dunes easily seen and measured to be identical to those lining the shore of the lake.

In the Grand Canyon, well under the Kaibab limestone, is a dune area. The dunes are beautifully preserved with the same angles and surfaces as along Lake Michigan. Ripple marks made by the wind as it swept up the face of the dune can be seen. The tracks of animals as they walked in the sand when it was wet, and left their journey recorded in the now solidified sand, can also be seen. This cross-bedded sandstone is not a small formation. The dunes were not small nor transitory in time. Below the dunes are shale deposits which are made of mud. Even these clastic deposits indicate that they are not caused by the flood, because within them are indications of changing conditions. Repeatedly, we saw mud cracks in the surface of the various layers of shale. Mud cracks are produced when water dries up and the silt left behind cracks in characteristic shapes as it dries out. The Bible indicates that the flood waters abated never to return. No evidence exists in the Bible that the waters rose and fell and rose and fell again. When the flood ended, the waters receded, and that was it.

Further down the canyon, we entered more layers of limestone. Some of these, like the redwall limestone, were different than the limestones of Indiana that I am so familiar with. Stained red by minerals from above, these limestones add the gorgeous reds which stand out in pictures of the Grand Canyon. If a piece was broken off, the limestone was white, and looked much more normal to me. As we approached the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon and saw the zoraster granite that makes up the ancient floor of the canyon, we could look up and see a record of change created by God and recorded in the rock record of His handiwork. This beautiful place was a testimony to God's patience and wisdom, not a reminder of man's disobedience and its consequences.

Another interesting misconception about the canyon that exposed itself to us during this trip was the evolutionary assumption of uniformitarianism. When I took geology classes in college, I was told that the Grand Canyon was caused by a general uplift of the land around it. The idea was that the area was originally a flat plain, with the Colorado River winding lazily through the area as the Mississippi River winds through Louisiana today. As the area was lifted up, the river eroded deeply into this flat plain, producing what is called an entrenched meander. The winding of the river and the flat top of the canyon certainly supported such an idea perfectly.

As we walked through the canyon and looked up side canyons, we saw an incredible number of faults. Stress in the earth had broken the earth in huge sections, with some blocks of rock shifting hundreds of feet up or down or sideways. I knew there were two or three faults in the canyon from maps I had seen, but we were looking at literally dozens of faults. Some water flows ran right down a fault, obviously following weaknesses in the earth's crust. The further down in the canyon we went, the more faults we saw, which indicated that movement had been a continuous activity. It was obvious to me that the explanations I had been given of how the canyon was formed were gross oversimplifications which ignored data that did not fit the conclusions the authors had before they started their explanation. I questioned Allen about this and found that data existed which raised even bigger questions than the ones obvious to me. Gravel from the Prescott, Arizona, granite had been found in the canyon, which did not fit traditional explanations. Various tilts and slopes showed a variety of active forces. I had to laugh as Allen enumerated the various opinions he knew of that scientists who worked in the canyon had as to how it was formed. The experts were using the same technique as some use in their religious beliefs--they decide what they believe, then search for something to support that belief, ignoring anything that proves them wrong.

The Grand Canyon was not formed by the flood of Noah. To use the canyon as a proof that catastrophic changes have never taken place on the earth is inconsistent and intellectually dishonest. This is not to say that there was not a flood; there was. It is also not to say that geology is wrong or useless; it is our preconceived notions that need reexamination. The canyon is a testimony of God's creative wisdom, patience, and power. I have learned much and have changed in my attitudes and understandings as a result of this trip. I have seen how ignorant I am and how insignificant man is in the face of God's creation. I strongly recommend the trip to those who are in good physical shape and willing to open themselves to new understandings. There is a place called Phantom Ranch at the bottom, with nice places to stay, good food, and water. Dave told me of summer trips where the temperature reached 124 degrees. I was glad it was December, and only in the 50s and 60s.

On the day of New Year's Eve, we started up out of the canyon. Near the bridge, we saw some deer and looked at trees still green and gold in autumn colors. As I inched up the relentless 4,800-foot climb, I found that the people around me had been changed. Complete strangers smiled, encouraged, offered food and water, and wanted to talk. Only a grouchy mule team driver reminded us of the pressure and hassle of the outside world. Those confronted for the first time with God's majestic creative power and beauty reacted with a positive warmth to their fellow men. If we could all somehow present God's Word with the beauty and power that it has when not being encumbered with man's inadequacies and distortions, the same positive warmth would radiate from those seeing God's Word for the very first time.
--John N. Clayton

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