Another Visit to the Grand Canyon


I have just had a truly amazing adventure. From July 29 - August 6, I accompanied Alan Gishlick and Eugenie Scott (and members) on NCSE’s “Creationism and Evolution” raft trip down Grand Canyon. Here are “Gish” and Genie, my hosts.

The trip began at the Las Vegas airport, where we flew in small planes to Marble Canyon, AZ. We drove to Las Vegas the night before. Because I had to learn a lot about probability theory to be an intelligent design critic, I could teach Genie a lot about the foolishness of playing the slot machines during the several hours I spent in the casino.

The next morning we had breakfast in Las Vegas. I was concerned that we’d be stuck with some greasy buffet, but it turns out that the buffets have a very good selection!

We met the other rafters at the airport. I was very pleased to see NCSE member Malcolm Levin wearing a Project Steve shirt.

This trip was a nice vacation for me, as most of the discussion considered the traditional, young earth creationists. I of course am an expert on them as well as ID creationists, so I was able to add to the discussions and clarify matters when questions arose during the evening seminars.

(I’m in that middle chair, but I must be slouching because you can’t see me at all!)

Here’s a picture of the 2005 trip participants. I’m in the back, between Genie’s daughter Carrie and Dr. Ann Magennis of Colorado State University.

We evaluated a number of creationist arguments on the trip. For example, in his book, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, Steve Austin claims that the long axes of nautiloid fossils are disproportionally oriented in the same direction, and in papers he has presented at geology conferences, he says that this is evidence for their having been the result of a catastrophic, mass kill. But when we looked at nautiloids on Seven Cave Shelf and in Nautiloid Canyon, Gish pointed out that even if there was a tendency for the fossils to be oriented the way Austin says they are, they could be that way just because the current carried them there; there is no necessity for catastrophic burial nor evidence for a mass kill. Gish pointed out that, in fact, these fossils looked like they had died “normally” rather than catastrophically. Their body chambers and distal ends had dropped off, leaving the central, body portion intact – which is what happens when a nautiloid dies, floats, and disintegrates over time. Had they been buried catastrophically by the Flood, they would have been smashed into bits. I think they are pretty fossils:

One of the marvels of Grand Canyon is the Great Unconformity: a place in the geological column there where almost 2 billion years of deposition has been eroded above the Precambrian. Creationists say that the Flood scraped away these deposits, before redepositing the other sedimentary lawyers. Sheesh. Here I am pointing out the Great Unconformity:

We camped every day and had wonderful food. Here I am at the lunch table on one of our stops. Although they didn’t have any bamboo, I developed a taste for tortillas and cheese.

When we went over rapids, everyone got quite wet - particularly sitting in the front of the boat. It was fun though. Still, I thought it was undignified that Genie hung me out to dry on a tree.

On the last day, we were transported from our final camp site to the take-out point by jetboat. Here I am in the jetboat with Susan Epperson. She and her husband Jon were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Susan had been the plaintiff in the case Epperson vs Arkansas that struck down Scopes-type antievolution laws. One night she told us how she had been selected as a plaintiff of what she had been told would be a simple state-level case. She had no idea it would end up as an important Supreme Court case!

Now I’m ready for my next adventure. I wonder where I will go next?


Does anyone notice a distinct resemblance between Prof. Steve Steve and the as-yet-unnamed baby Panda at the National Zoo?

Methinks Prof. Steve Steve may have a paternity suit on his hands shortly, and bamboo for a growing cub can get pretty expensive. He should get a lawyer.

Seriously, though, who thinks that “Steve Steve” would be a better name for the cub than the uninspiring candidate names that the Zoo has come up with?

I am trying to work out what it says on the T-shirt Dr Scott is wearing. Broken down by age and sex I presume? Prof Steve Steve, any chance of enlightenment?


Where can i get one of those project Steve shirts that Malcolm Levin is wearing?

I’m sure you can forgive Prof. Steve Steve for not answering you himself, but you must know that with all the publicity lately about IDC, he has been much in demand by the press to explain creatioinformatics and other related topics. So I’ll just help him out by reporting that the shirt caption is indeed, “Broken down by age and sex”, accompanied by a bar chart. It was put out God knows when (>25 years, estimate) by a group of anthropologists who study gerontology (I almost said “gerontological anthropologists” but that would be misleading). I’m not much of a t-shirt wearer, so t-shirts last me a long time. It’s light weight, so I take it to the Canyon. It’s the sort of shirt one does not casually wear strolling down the street – unless the street has a lot of reasonably well-educated people who can appreciate the humor.

In Steve Steve’s picture of the seminar, if you look carefully you can see Jodi Wilgoren, the author of last Sunday’s New York Times article about the Discovery Institute. In talking with her weeks ago when she was doing research for the ID article, I mentioned NCSE’s Grand Canyon trip in August. After a flurry of calls to her boss, she got permission to accompany us and write a story. As luck would have it, Tom Vail (author of “Grand Canyon, a Different View”) was starting his “Canyon Ministries” raft trip a day earlier than NCSE’s. Jodi rode with Vail’s group the first half of the week, and then joined our group midway at Phantom Ranch. She truly got a “creationism/evolution” tour of Grand Canyon!

She mentioned that she thinks the story will run this weekend, so PT readers may want to keep an eye out. I don’t know the story she will write, but the one I hope she writes will include notice of the homogeneity of the Vail party (doubtless all of them conservative Christians) and the diversity of the NCSE group (which included Christians and ex-Christians, Jews, and nonbelievers of two kinds: some hostile to religion and others who weren’t). I’m sure she noticed that Vail’s group, as young earth creationsts (YECs) was trying to cram their “scientific” observations of the geology of the canyon (the nautiloids, for example) into a biblical framework, and ignoring the information that didn’t fit. Since geology was such a big part of our trip, and probably Vail’s as well, it isn’t going to be an easy story to write at a public-understanding level.

I think it will be very educational for people to realize that even with all the flurry of news about the newfangled ID movement, there remains a strong YEC movement that continues to reach a very large minority of Americans with the same basic message that antievolutionists have promoted for decades now: you have to choose between evolution and faith, and you will lose big time if you make the wrong choice. Jodi spent a lot of time talking to people like Susan and Jon Epperson and Alan Gishlick, practicing Christians, so hopefully some of their perspectives that science and evolution are not only compatible with their theologies, but that science deepens their religious commitment (and vice versa) will somehow be expressed, and give the public “A Different View”, so to speak.

Jodi, btw, was a good sport on the trip, and even braved the jump at the waterfall in Elves Chasm (we have photographs to prove it!) which is more than I can say for moi, who chickened out the first year of our Grand Canyon trips – and yes, we have photographs to prove it :>( – and hasn’t ventured up there, since.

But Prof Steve Steve had a blast, and so did the rest of us. The Canyon is a fabulous place.

I’d love to come. Perhaps next time.

Or maybe I should try and organise a London HowlerFest over at the Natural History Museum.

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This page contains a single entry by Prof. Steve Steve published on August 24, 2005 10:48 PM.

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