A Creationist Wants Rocks to Study. The Grand Canyon Says No.
PHOENIX — Did Noah’s flood create the Grand Canyon? Not a chance, say mainstream scientists, who maintain that the canyon’s layers of rocks were carved and chiseled by a persistent flow of water beginning some five million years ago. But Andrew A. Snelling — a geologist by training, a creationist by conviction — has a minority view, and he hoped to prove himself right.
In November 2013, Dr. Snelling — he has a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney, in Australia, where he was born — asked administrators of Grand Canyon National Park for permission to remove some 60 half-pound rocks from certain areas along the edges of the Colorado River, which snakes through the canyon.
Last July, the administrators denied his request. This month, Dr. Snelling sued them, the National Park Service and the Interior Department, claiming the denial amounted to discrimination against his religious beliefs.
In an interview on Thursday, Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian legal defense group that is representing Dr. Snelling, said, “It’s one thing to debate the science, but to deny access to the data not based on the quality of a proposal or the nature of the inquiry, but on what you might do with it is an abuse of government power.”
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, referred questions about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. McCaleb said that Parks Service officials reached out to him recently and that both sides would meet soon.
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As a young-Earth creationist, Dr. Snelling embraces a literal interpretation of the Bible’s Book of Genesis: God created the universe, Earth and all life in it in six days, and the flood caused rapid geological transformations. By these measures, Earth is not billions of years old, but only several thousand.
His beliefs did not come up in his permit request, but he was no stranger to park officials, as he had guided many Biblical-themed rafting trips through the canyon and done research there. According to the lawsuit, the officials subjected him to cumbersome requirements, such as providing coordinates and photographs of each of the places from which he planned to collect rocks and submitting his proposal to peer reviews.
The park also commissioned reviews of its own. One of them, by Peter Huntoon, a professor emeritus at the University of Wyoming, said the problem was not so much Dr. Snelling’s perspective, but the park’s adherence to its “narrowly defined institutional mandate predicated in part on the fact that ours is a secular society as per our Constitution.”