Golly, What a Gully!

by Greg Walcher on May 26, 2017

I remember my grandparents laughing at a famous old magazine cartoon. It depicted a bow-legged old cowboy with a gray beard seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. His wide-eyed exclamation was, “Golly, what a gully!”

Flickr photo by Joe Jiang

Flickr photo by Joe Jiang

The Grand Canyon has been a source of awe and wonder for centuries. That old cowboy fully appreciated the mystery of one of nature’s most astonishing creations, and he never even met the National Park Service, which manages the Grand Canyon. You see, the government has strong opinions about exactly what you may wonder, how you may study, and what you must learn there.

Legally, people may study the geology of the Canyon, but only with a permit. It is the richest geological library on the planet, and scientists use the area for extensive research on the processes of Earth’s creation – but only if they agree to reach politically-correct conclusions.

That’s why the Park Service was sued last week in federal court by a geologist who was denied the right to collect some rock samples there for research – because of his religious beliefs. Dr. Andrew Snelling earned a doctorate from the University of Sydney in 1982, and published peer-reviewed research in mainstream publications for years. He is a genuine scientist. But he also holds religious beliefs that the Park Service says disqualifies him from access to public lands to try and prove his theories.

You may wonder, what religious beliefs so offend the government that he would be denied access that many of his peers are routinely granted? Put simply, he believes God created the Earth in six days, that the Bible’s timeline is literally accurate, and that the great flood destroyed all life on Earth except that on Noah’s Ark. Dr. Snelling does not believe the universe originated from absolute nothingness in a big bang, nor that the Earth is billions of years old, nor that people evolved from fish or monkeys, nor even that rocks are millions of years old.

Never mind for a moment that polls show at least 40 percent of all Americans share those views. They are not consistent with the views of the National Park Service. Nevertheless, Dr. Snelling sought a permit (4 years ago) to gather some rocks to run lab tests to determine their age. The results, he wrote, would be openly reported for all scientists to draw their own conclusions. The government’s application process requires having scientific peers review the proposal to ensure that it is “relevant research” with a sound approach. The Snelling proposal included “three peer reviews of this project, each of which rated the project highly and commended it for approval.” All three were researchers and professors, but apparently all three also believe in creationism.

The National Park Service smelled a rat, so officials sent it to some of their own favorite scientists for comment. Their reviews were scathing, saying Snelling’s research proposal was so outrageous that he shouldn’t be granted a permit.

One reviewer, a New Mexico professor, had himself been granted a permit to collect rocks in the Grand Canyon for similar research. In fact, he concluded that the Canyon is millions of years younger than many scientists thought. But he had no sympathy for this interloper, writing that the gang of creation scientists, “put forward semi-reputable scientists who try to cast doubt on science… Some of them have credentials of a sorts, but they use the ‘results’ to bolster their avowed creationist agenda.” He wrote that Dr. Snelling clearly didn’t understand the topic.

A University of Wyoming reviewer was “annoyed that the National Park Service would send yet another of these proposals for me to wade through.” He scolded that “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.” A third reviewer wrote simply, “It is difficult to review such an outlandish proposal.” So, the Park Service rejected the permit, and thus the lawsuit. One reporter compared the Snelling proposal to “a fifth grader writing a college admissions essay; when it’s so obviously juvenile, rejecting it is the only sensible thing to do.”

I have no idea about Dr. Snelling’s credibility. But must the National Park Service really determine the outcome of research before allowing it? If scientists are stopped from conducting research just because the government doesn’t agree with their opinions, then we have a gigantic canyon of misunderstanding about the very nature and purpose of science – and of national parks.

A version of this column first appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel May 19, 2017.

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