This is a copy of an e-mail I sent to Frances Mainella of the National Park Services on Jan 24, 2004 (Fran_Mainella@nps.gov). I never received a reply, but I think I made my point.

The original message had a couple of minor typographical errors that have been corrected here, otherwise this is the original message.

 

Ms. Frances Mainella
Director of the National Park Services
Washington DC

Ref: Grand Canyon: A Different View
Compiled by Tom Vail

Dear Ms. Mainella,

I recently learned of the sale of a book called "Grand Canyon: A Different View", compiled by Tom Vail, and on sale in a bookstore in the Grand Canyon National Park. I also recently heard that under pressure the book was moved from the science section to the inspirational section of the bookstore. I understand that there has now been some pressure to return the book to the science section.

Although the book has some beautiful pictures of the Grand Canyon, it does not represent science. Even though many of the authors of the various contributions in the book have legitimate Ph.Ds, although with a few exceptions, not in geology or other relevant fields, they all have to sign oaths to the ministries they work for. These oaths include, amongst other things, that they will uphold a particular literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, specifically a recent creation of the universe less than 10,000 years ago, and a recent global flood of Noah. No legitimate research establishment requires its employees to sign a statement of faith that they will know in advance the results of their research. Thus on this point alone they are disqualified from engaging in legitimate scientific research.

This book is not at all about science, but a particular narrow religious belief, namely that a global Noah's flood took place about 4300 years ago, which incidentally was at about the same time the Pyramids in Egypt were being built, and the after effects of this flood were responsible for the formation of the Grand Canyon. Any legitimate geologist will inform you that the ages of the rocks in the Grand Canyon, as well as the formation of the Grand Canyon itself, are totally at odds with this view.

A strong proponent of this book, the young earth creationist ministry "Answers in Genesis", claims the book offers an alternative explanation for the origin of the Grand Canyon, and by having the book removed from the science section of the bookstore, the NPS is practicing censorship. However, as the book is not about science, no censorship is being practiced. My understanding of the mission of the NPS is to provide the public with the best understood scientific explanations of the wonders of the natural world, and not to endorse any particular religious belief.

If this book were to be returned to the science section of the bookstore, what is to stop Native Americans from insisting that books on some of their traditions and beliefs of the Grand Canyon be put in the science section? In the interests of political correctness they would have to be included. Kitt Peak National Observatory is not far from here in Tucson, Arizona. What is to stop astrologers and ufologists from insisting that their books be sold in the science section of the bookstore of the observatory? The US Government is not in the business of endorsing any particular religious belief, nor favoring any belief that is true above the others.

Ironically, mostly Christian geologists about 200 years ago came to the conclusion that Noah's flood was not global, even though they started with the assumption that it was. Moreover, by early in the 20th century very few leaders in the evangelical Christian community accepted a recent creation or a global flood. It was only in the 1960s and 70s that the young earth creationist movement started its revival, due to its leaders being strongly influenced by the writings of a few members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church prior to World War II.

As it happens, I am both a Christian and a professional scientist, thus I have a strong view of putting forward the truth, as best as I understand it. Young earth creationism is a narrow religious belief that is not shared by most Christians, and completely contradicts biology, geology, astronomy and many other sciences. It not only seriously undermines the understanding and teaching of science, but also undermines Christianity in a postmodern world.

The United States is not Saudi Arabia, one is free in this country to express whatever beliefs one has; and publish them accordingly. Even though I do not agree with the views of "Answers in Genesis", and similar young earth creationist ministries, I agree that they have the right to publish whatever they want, and private bookstores are free to stock their books. However, a book that is not based on science but a particular religious belief, has no place in the science section of bookstore on Federal property, where the public are likely to be mislead.

I thus strongly urge you to ensure that if the book by Tom Vail is to remain in the bookstore, it should stay in the inspirational section.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher M. Sharp, Ph.D., M.Sc., F.R.A.S.

Research Astrophysicist
Department of Astronomy
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721.