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News Notes
Science and Society
Review of creationist book shelved

Since January, Grand Canyon National Park has sold more than 2,100 copies of a book that purports a biblical story of the formation of the Grand Canyon. The sale of the book has sparked media headlines (including Geotimes, March 2004) and caused a stir in the scientific community, with many scientists calling for the book’s removal from the park’s bookstores. While the National Park Service (NPS) promised a high-level policy review about classification and choosing of books for sale in park bookstores, very little has actually happened, says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in Washington, D.C.

The Department of the Interior has yet to reach a decision on the sale in Grand Canyon National Park of a book that tells a biblical story of the creation of the Grand Canyon. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

According to materials obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by PEER, the book, Grand Canyon: A Different View, and the policy that allowed its continued sale were never reviewed. The only positive action, says Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, Calif., is that the book was moved from the science and nature section, where it was originally shelved, to the inspirational and spiritual section of the stores, near books covering topics such as Native American beliefs about the formation of the canyon.

Scott says that she is not surprised that the review has not gotten off the ground as the book’s sale is a political issue. “The book is controversial, with strong support and strong opposition, so bureaucrats are going to duck the issue until forced to act,” she says.

Experts within the park service have advised against the sale of this book, Ruch says. And, he adds, the sale of the book is but one example of the Bush administration “using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists.” (Another such case, Ruch says, involves the removal and then redisplay of plaques that bear biblical psalms in Grand Canyon National Park.)

NPS spokesman David Barna says, however, that the situation has nothing to do with politics. “This is a policy issue, not a political issue. We don’t want this to be a political decision,” he says, because the policy should not change from one administration to the next.

Barna says that the book and the NPS policy regarding its sale have been under review for the past year — sitting in the solicitor’s office in the Department of the Interior. The reason for the lengthy process, he says, is that they have to decide on the legality of a policy that will apply to the sale of all merchandise, not just books, in all of the national parks. Policy decisions always take a long time, Barna says, and especially with this case, there are many issues to consider. Until that decision is made, he says, the book will continue to be sold in Grand Canyon National Park.

By moving the book out of the science section of its bookstores, NPS has satisfied the request of seven scientific organizations, including the American Geological Institute (which publishes Geotimes), that was stated in a letter to NPS in January. But other organizations, including NCSE and PEER, suggest that the book and others like it should never have been sold in the national park at all.

The fight is not about the religious aspects of the book, Scott says: “We don’t care what the book says about spirituality. The problem is that it is claiming to present science.” Grand Canyon National Park, she says, can sell books about Hopi beliefs about how the canyon formed, but as a government-sponsored park, it should not sell a book saying that these beliefs are empirically true.

Barna says that resolution could come tomorrow, or in a year. But Ruch says that resolution will only occur with an administration change, which is now four years away. “This will likely come to litigation,” he says.

Megan Sever


"Creationism in a national park," Geotimes, March 2004

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