January 8, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

“Accepted Science” or Censorship by National Park Service?

What’s a national park bookstore vendor to do?  A beautiful new book of photographs and quotations on Grand Canyon, entitled Grand Canyon: A Different View by veteran river rafting captain Tom Vail, went on sale in the national park bookstore.  One would think it would not stand out too much along with hundreds of other items on varying subjects and viewpoints.  Yet this one book has come under fire, because it presents a Biblical creationist view of the canyon, reports CNN.
    If the national park removes the book, it might be accused of censorship, but if it keeps it, the scientific establishment is offended by its interpretation that the canyon is only thousands, not millions, of years old.  CNN quotes a spokesman for “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility” who claims the park is approving a religious book.  He claims, “The overall concern is that the top managers of the park service are implementing a conservative agenda that is at odds with their duties as custodians of the nation’s heritage,” he says, which is odd, since the book makes no conservative political statements, but only scientific claims.  But can such a book be dismissed on religious grounds?
    Still smarting from the recent flap over Bible verse plaques at the canyon (07/14/2003), the National Park Service has found a way to censor the book without getting into the quagmire of religious discrimination.  It will recommend the Grand Canyon bookstore not restock the book, says CNN, because “the book makes claims that fall outside accepted science — which maintains the canyon is millions of years old.”  National Park Service spokesman David Barna thinks this provides a way to remove the offending book without a political or religious fight: “To me, this is a decision you can make that has nothing to do with religion.”
Update 01/14/2004:  World Net Daily has an article on this story, and so does Nature Jan 15, 2004.1  WND says that the National Park Service has been swamped by emails about it.  Apparently the book had been unanimously approved by a panel.  Nature, as expected, quotes the American Geological Society calling it a “narrow religious view,” even though numerous PhDs contributed to the book, including several with doctorates in geology.  Apparently the flap originated with Wilfred Elders (U of Calif., Riverside), and unnamed others, who got seven geological organizations to complain to the NPS (click here for the statement by the American Geological Society).
    As a partial compromise, the book has been moved from the science section to the inspirational section of the store.  But the author and his allies complain that it discusses scientific evidence, by scientists.  Now it’s a neck and neck battle over the email campaigns: NCSE encouraging its members to complain, vs AIG, calling on readers to stop the book ban.  Tom Vail, for his part, probably never expected such notoriety.  On the bright side, he’s getting a lot of publicity: radio interviews, the CNN story and major newspapers, and lots of hits on his website Canyon Ministries.  The Alliance Defense Fund may take up his defense.  The Nature editorial is cautious, knowing that censorship can backfire.  Rex Dalton writes,

Vail says that an alternative to evolutionary science should be offered to members of the public visiting the canyon.  “Who is to say whose material should be or shouldn’t be in the bookstore?” he asks.  That’s the tricky question that the NPS review will seek to answer, as it weighs issues such as the display of sound science, the right to free speech and the avoidance of censorship charges.

Update 01/30/2004:  The author has verified a rumor that sales of his book at the canyon stores are really cookin’.  So many have asked for the book that the park concessioner is planning to order more. 

1Rex Dalton, “National park’s sale of creationist book draws geologists’ ire,” Nature 427, 186 (15 January 2004); doi:10.1038/427186b.

This would be a good time to reread Michael Crichton’s tirade against “consensus science” (see 12/27/2003 entry).  The upshot of this decision is: only atheists, particularly members of the Darwin Party, are allowed to speak for science.  “Millions of years” is now the new standard of “accepted science,” even though secular geologists have been coming around lately that the creationist claims of a young canyon are correct, at least in part (07/22/2002).
    Tom Vail is a creationist and Bible-believing Christian, yes, but he quotes other creationists who have PhDs in geology who present scientific evidence that the Grand Canyon is not as old as claimed.  Having led numerous raft trips down the Colorado River, Vail knows the canyon like the back of his hand.  He can personally vouch for all the scientific claims made.  Anyone with an open mind who looks at the evidence would surely realize that there are major, serious problems with the “accepted science” view, and the youthful canyon view deserves a fair hearing, whether or not one ties it to a Biblical flood (12/24/2002).
    One shouldn’t have to subscribe to politically-correct ideology or swear allegiance to “accepted science” to be able to present scientific evidence to support a viewpoint.  One should only make the case that it’s correct.  Ironically, it is the creationists who argue for letting both sides of the controversy be heard.  The evolutionists want to censor any opposition, then grin for the cameras and say, “Controversy?  What controversy?  I don’t know of any controversy, do you Dr. Joe?  There’s no controversy here; why, we all agree.  The consensus of scientists is unanimous.”  Why not let the public see all the evidence and decide?  Nobody at Grand Canyon is shoving the books into visitors’ backpacks.  They can pick it up, look it through, and decide whether it is good or bad, without big brother deciding what kind of politically correct science is best for them.
    The National Park Service is so hypocritical.  On the one hand, they fill our parks with exhibits that promote the “consensus science” approach, with its millions of years of slow and gradual evolution.  But on the other hand, they have become evangelists for the most anti-intellectual, anti-scientific religion of all: Indian animism (10/10/2000).  Hey Mr. Barna: if you are going to allow Native American superstition to have a prominent pulpit in the national parks, why not also allow Bible believers, who respect scientific evidence and logic, to make their case?  Either do that or toss out all the Indian myths, and for that matter, any mythology that makes claims about unobservable prehistoric events.  The myths that cloak themselves in the term “accepted science” are the most pernicious of all.
    Visit Grand Canyon before the book is banned.  Just the photographs in Vail’s book are worth the price, and who knows, your mind might be opened up a little, if you were raised under Darwin Party teachers.
    Don’t you just love the PAC titles: “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.”  Being translated, this probably means, the Government Payroll Lobby Group United Against Bush, Conservatives, the Religious Right, the Iraq War and Free Speech, Who Believe Establishment Science and the United Nations Are the Pathways to All Knowledge and World Peace.

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