Those rocks belong to everyone

If you’ve ever been to a national park (or to most state parks), there are strict restrictions on what you are allowed to do as a visitor: you can’t back a pickup truck in and load it up with petrified wood, or an assortment of cactuses, or harvest a crop of squirrels. There are all kinds of rules to protect the status of the park from predatory hordes of visitors — if you go rafting through the Grand Canyon, for instance, get used to pooping into a can because you have to haul out everything you bring in.

This is true for everyone. You don’t get to say “Back off, man, I’m a scientist” to excuse going at the Grand Canyon walls with a rock hammer. You have to get a scientific collecting permit, and it’s no rubber stamp process — your application actually gets reviewed by qualified peers.

You know what’s even less effective? Saying Back off, man, I’m a creation scientist.

Creationists regularly run tours through the Grand Canyon, pointing at the rocks and misinterpreting them and using the lens of the Bible to lie about the science, and that’s OK. They’re hurting themselves with ignorance, but as long as they don’t wreck the experience for others, that should be their right. But Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis geology wackaloon who thinks the canyon is only about 4,000 years old, wants to chip away at the rocks and haul away samples, which he will abuse to support his pet thesis. The National Park Service turned him down.

The NPS is awesome.

One of the many things that bug me about creationists is their dishonesty. Snelling had applied for a collecting permit, but avoided saying anything about what he intended to do and minimized his affiliations, pretty much the opposite of what real scientists do.

After conducting three other research projects in the Grand Canyon and guiding 30 river tours of the canyon, he filed a research proposal in Nov. 2013 seeking to collect 60 half-pound rock samples, the suit states. The 24-page proposal only once mentioned his role at Answers in Genesis and contained no other references to religious motivation or creationism.

Snelling claims park officials asked Snelling for two peer reviews evaluating his research proposal, something that hadn’t been asked for in his previous projects. He provided three, which court documents show were written by other academics who have participated in creationist research.

He was turned down. The reviews of his proposal are amusing.

Karl Karlstrom, Ph.D. with the University of New Mexico said Snelling proposal, in part, was not “well written, up-to-date or well referenced” and “I suspect his research application… is motivated by his faith that the Cambrian strata were deposited during Noah’s flood, which is the creationist (and certainly not the scientific) explanation for Grand Canyon strata.”

Peter Huntoon, a former professor at the University of Wyoming, said the park should adhere to “your narrowly defined institution mandate…that ours is a secular society as per our constitution” and argued creationists have already decided the answers to their proposed questions.

“Your internal screening processes should include an examination of the credentials of the submitters so that those who represent inappropriate interests should be screened out,” Hutton wrote and suggested a history of creationist research pre-dating Answers in Genesis.

The third peer-review from Ron Blakley of Northern Arizona University simply said, “it is difficult to review such an outlandish proposal.”

Huntoon’s remark is particularly apropos. Snelling has determined what the “answer” will be (it’s in Genesis!), and there is literally no purpose at all to collecting physical evidence that will be ignored in favor of a collection of ancient myths. That isn’t science.

So of course Answers in Genesis is suing the NPS, and is invoking the Holy Name of Donald Trump to do so.

The suit cites President Donald Trump’s executive order signed May 4 which states all executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent of permitted law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.

In a press release, Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis said this will be a test case of Trump’s order.

Since when is breaking up bits of a park “free speech“?

Hey. I’ve got a rock hammer. I’m also going to visit the Answers in Genesis Ark Park next month. Donald Trump says I get to collect a few bits and pieces in the name of my inviolable religious rights. Do you think that will fly?


  1. lpetrich says

    Will the Real Dr Snelling Please Stand Up? –

    Describing how there seem to be two Andrew Snellings.

    One of them is a young-earth creationist who believes that the Universe is only around 6000 years old and that the Earth’s surface was reshaped by a massive flood a little over 4000 years ago.

    The other one is a mainstream geologist who writes for mainstream-geology publications and who believes that many of the Earth’s rocks are over a billion years old.

    The two Andrew Snellings seldom if ever cite each others’ work. Even worse, the young-earth Andrew Snelling seems unwilling to endorse Philip Gosse’s hypothesis of created appearance and to consider the old-earth Andrew Snelling’s work a description of that appearance. Philip Gosse, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, proposed that the Universe runs in cycles and that God had to create it in the middle of its cycles. Thus its appearance of great age.

  2. rietpluim says

    Since when is breaking up bits of a park “free speech“?

    Not only is it free speech, it is religious and political speech.
    Finally they’ve come to admit it.

  3. blf says

    I’ve got a rock hammer. I’m also going to visit the Answers in Genesis Ark Park next month. Donald Trump says I get to collect a few bits and pieces in the name of my inviolable religious rights. Do you think that will fly?

    If you do manage to get “free speach” samples, you’ll be able to test the mysterious gopher wood it’s made from! And then— Nobels! Big Bio $$$!! And and and more and moar… !!! Maybe even a Templeton prize!?

    A caveat: Rock hammers do not fly (in normal circumstances), except by accident, frustration, or earthquake, albeit precisely what they do in the presence of gopher wood is unknown. It is known that in the presence of cretinist’s skulls they like to play Wack-an-Eejit, but this can be controlled — and should be, as it’s a bugger to clean up afterwards and certainly less fun.

  4. whheydt says

    It was noted in a comment on the Panda’s Thumb that the formations he wants to sample exist outside of the park and he would be free to get samples in those places without the NPS constraints. The whole thing smacks of a put up job.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    The NPS is awesome.

    Even more so since, per our esteemed host’s Cincinnati Enquirer link,

    U.S. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona also reached out to park on Snelling’s behalf, and according to the suit, was also ignored.

    That, for federal employees, takes guts.

    Nowhere does that linked story explain just why Snelling claims to need physical samples. It does, however, indirectly cast serious shade on his competence as a geologist:

    … park officials did not mention creationism, but said, “it has been determined that equivalent examples of soft-sediment folds can be found outside of Grand Canyon National Park.”

    Snelling claims he was not directed to where these alternate sites might be and states the samples he needs are unique to the Grand Canyon.


  6. Doc Bill says

    Snelling doesn’t have to do his research in the Grand Canyon. Since they claim that Noah’s Flood is responsible for ALL geology in the world, he could collect samples from any canyon in the world or at any outcrop where real geologists work.

    However, Snelling doesn’t want to do any research. All he wants to do is cause trouble.

  7. says

    There’s a somewhat amusing typo in the second blockquote that changes Huntoon’s name to Hutton. It’s only amusing if you know of James Hutton, the father of modern geology.

    So it’s not actually amusing. But I smiled. Because it’s about geology.

  8. Ogvorbis: A bear of very little brains. says

    The NPS is awesome.

    I agree.

    whheydt @4:

    It was noted in a comment on the Panda’s Thumb that the formations he wants to sample exist outside of the park and he would be free to get samples in those places without the NPS constraints.

    All federal lands have rules about use of the resource. Each agency is different, but there are limits.

    Additionally, there are some formations that are unique to the Canyon. The tilted remains of sedimentary and igneous formations lying on top of the Precambrian inner gorge, called The Grand Canyon Group, just below the Great Unconformity, seem to be pretty much confined to the inner Grand Canyon.


    When I was young, I actually collected rock samples at Grand Canyon National Park. Yes, we had a collection permit. Yes, those permits were visible at all times. Yes, even though most at the park new my dad (he was also a Park Ranger) two back country rangers checked out what we were doing.

  9. jrkrideau says

    OOPS! Time to ditch that piece of petrified wood.

    My mother’s boss gave her a lovely piece of petrified wood. Mind this was back in the 1940’s but we can see why some protection was needed.

  10. lpetrich says

    So Andrew Snelling didn’t even say “This is the mainstream-geologist Andrew Snelling, not the young-earth-creationist Andrew Snelling”?