Being a geologist and a creationist has to be a nightmare — on one side you operate within a field of science based on logical premises, discuss about evolution and processes which span over millions and even billion of years, and on the other hand you think that the Earth is six thousand years old and humans magically appeared. Well, an Australian called Andrew Snelling lives in both those worlds, and he now wants to sue the Grand Canyon. Here’s why.

The Grand Canyon. Image credits: PradeepBisht.

Snelling is, by pretty much all accounts, a real geologist. He has a PhD in geology from the University of Sydney and also has several published peer-reviewed papers, mostly focusing on geochemistry. He’s also an ardent creationist, and in 2007, he joined Answers in Genesis, a Creationist apologetics organization led by Australian-born Christian fundamentalist and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham. Snelling’s last paper was published in 1990, about the Koongarra uranium deposits in Australia. In fact, almost all his published work is focused on uranium deposits in Australia.

Well, Snelling wants to take samples (around 60 fist-sized rocks) from the Grand Canyon to show that a global flood around 4,300 years ago is responsible for all the fossils we see today — yes, it’s the mythical Noahs Flood. So he set out to take samples from the Grand Canyon. Given the extremely valuable nature of the geological feature, you need a special permit to take samples, and this is where things get dicey.

For starters, the National Park Service, which is responsible for the Canyon’s administration, told Snelling that he can find the same rocks outside the park; but you see, creationists have a bit of a thing with the canyon. Another prominent young-Earth creationist, Steve Austin, took photos of nautiloid fossils and claimed that they are a result of the Noah flood, though he spectacularly failed to provide any valid scientific evidence. So Snelling insisted of taking rocks from the canyon.

The park solicited peer reviews from three geologists, all of which overwhelmingly rejected the claim. It’s not even that his career is basically non-scientific by now, though this was also considered.

“His description of how to distinguish soft sediment from hard rock structures it not well written, up-to-date, or well referenced,” Karl Karlstrom, a geologist at the University of New Mexico who co-authored a 2014 paper on the age of the Grand Canyon, wrote in his review of the proposal for NPS. “My overall conclusion is that Dr. Snelling has no scientific track record and no scientific affiliation since 1982.”

For starters, Snelling failed to disclose his affiliation with Answers in Genesis. He also didn’t mention why he wanted to take samples, though this was later revealed. So the first attempt for a permit was denied.

Snelling submitted a second attempt, but this time, he didn’t say where he wants to take the samples from (you need GPS coordinates and photos for this type of permit, to be sure you’re not destroying something of particular value and to have some sort of accountability). Snelling refused to give the coordinates and so the second application was also denied. Now he’s suing the Park, citing religious discrimination as the main reason.

For starters, this is silly. There is a standard procedure for a research permit in the Grand Canyon, which Snelling simply failed to follow. All you need to do is say exactly why you need the samples from that particular place, submit GPS, photos, and ensure that you’re not destroying anything in the process.

The problem with this type of situation is that it’s basically a lose-lose for the Park. If they grant an unqualified application a permit, there’s a very good chance bad science will come of it. It’s easy for someone familiar with geological jargon to create a seemingly-correct paper claiming that the age of the Grand Canyon is 4,000 years old — and of course, un-educating people is not what the NPS wants. If you deny the application, people will scream ‘censorship,’ even if there’s a perfectly good reason to deny it.

In fact, this is exactly the spin creationist organizations are putting on this situation.

“This case perfectly illustrates why President Trump had to order executive agencies to affirm religious freedom, because park officials specifically targeted Dr. Snelling’s religious faith as the reason to stop his research,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit advocacy and legal group that is representing Snelling in the suit.





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