The First Does God Exist? Grand Canyon Float Trip
from the Does God Exist? bulletin, November/December 1988

On July 28, 1988, we conducted our first Grand Canyon float trip.  The purpose of the trip was to provide a summer seminar learning experience in a setting where people could actually see firsthand what was being described.  One hundred eight people made the trip with no injuries, illnesses, or mishaps to mar our time together.  With good weather and an expert and professional boat crew provided by Hatch Expeditions, the trip was a phenomenal success.

Our primary objective in the trip was to provide participants with a logical, scientific explanation of how the Grand Canyon was formed and show that the best scientific evidence is compatible with the biblical record.  Our scientific expert on the geology of the canyon was Alan Doty, who has made over 250 trips into the canyon and is a member of the Church in Sedona, AZ.  The night before our walk to the bottom of the canyon, Alan took a group of us to a point on the east end of the rim where we could see the overall shape of the structure of the rocks which make up the canyon.  The Grand Canyon is a monocline or singly-folded structure, as shown to the left.  The primary erosion has taken place in the center of the monocline and the fold has left rocks higher on the north side than corresponding rocks on the south side.

The Colorado River itself is a meandering stream.  It is believed that it was located on a flat surface in the past and wandered in wide swinging loops similar to the Mississippi today.  When the folding and cracking of rocks occurred, it weakened the rocks so that erosion could occur at an accelerated rate.  As the whole area was lifted, the river cut deeper and deeper, producing the current gorge.  As we looked at the evidence for this explanation, we also discussed the assumptions involved in it.  All explanations of this kind are based upon the assumption that the only agents operational on the river were the ones we see operating today.  This assumption, called uniformitarianism, is the basis of all geologic explanations made about the origin of the canyon.

On Thursday morning, July 28th, at 5:00 AM, we all met at the head of the Bright Angel Trail for the nine-mile hike to the bottom of the canyon.  One of our purposes on the way down was to consider the possibility of the Flood of Noah having caused the canyon.  Almost immediately, the difficulties of such an explanation became obvious.  The very top rock of the canyon which, makes up the rim, is a limestone called the Kaibab Limestone.  Not only is this a rock produced by quiet still waters, it is also full of crystalline concretions.  These crystals have grown to considerable size and could not have been produced in the turbulence of a flood. The Kaibab formation is also full of fossils of marine creatures.  It was easy to recognize corals, crinoids, clams, brachiopods, and other marine organisms.

A short time later, we came to a formation known as the Coconino Sandstone.  This sandstone consists of layers of sand arranged in crossing layers.  The angle of repose shown in the drawing to the right is exactly the same as the sand dunes we have along Lake Michigan, near our home here in South Bend.  In fact, if you were to dig a hole in an Indiana sand dune, the structure would look exactly the same as what we saw in the canyon.  Lizard tracks also appear in some of the layers, indicating that something walked on the dunes as they lay high and dry.  No possible flood explanation could deal with all the data seen in this layer.

As we walked deeper and deeper into the canyon, we saw more limestone layers and some shale layers filled with fossils.  The fossils in these layers were radically different than what we had seen in the Kaibab Limestone at the top and different from each other.  A flood would not sort animals by species.  It might sort things by weight, but all sizes, shapes, and weights were seen in each layer.  Five miles into the hike, we arrived at rocks that were not layered horizontally.  These beautifully colored and dramatically tilted and twisted rocks are witnesses to great heat and pressure.  The rocks wear the names of metamorphic or changed rocks--schist, gneiss, and the like.

The first of our hikers arrived at the bottom some four hours after leaving the rim.  The last of our hikers, who had some leg problems, arrived at 3:00.  We had all ages of people in the group from young teenagers to senior citizens, but all eventually tumbled into the rafts to begin some four days of floating nearly 140 miles.  Almost immediately, we were to plunge into huge rapids.  The 33-foot rafts would flex and bend as they plowed into huge waves that would throw walls of water over everyone on the raft.  With the water from Lake Powell being 48° and the air temperature being over 100°, we had wild fluctuations of shivering to simmering.  Quickly, we gained confidence in our boatmen as they steered the rafts flawlessly through one rapid after another.  That night, after a steak dinner and a devotional, we tumbled onto sleeping bags under clear skies and slept on the sand--too tired to care about the occasional lizard that ran over our leg or the heat radiating from the red rocks around us.

Day two dawned clear, with muscles expressing rebellion to any kind of further use.  After a hearty breakfast, we boarded the rafts for more rapids and had a noon meeting in which we discussed the canyon we were seeing and its relationship to the biblical record.  The dating of rock layers in the canyon is based upon two assumptions.  The first assumption is called superposition, in which it is assumed that the oldest rocks in the canyon are on the bottom and the youngest rocks were deposited on the top.  Looking at ripple marks, mud cracks, and footprints in the canyon, all of which can only occur on upward facing rocks, we were able to see that the rocks had not been invened.

The second assumption used to date the rock layers is the assumption that the formations we observe in the Grand Canyon were produced in the same way such formations are produced today.  This assumption is called uniformitarianism and is the basis for most of geology and some of the various theories of evolution.  If the Redwall Limestone in the canyon (which is a stained limestone 450 feet thick) was formed in the same way limestone is produced today, it would take some 2250 years to make each foot of limestone.  The time to do this would be 450 times 2250 or just over a million years.  Is there a fast way to make limestone?  Possibly, but if there is, it is unknown to modern science.  We saw marine salts seeping out of various shales and were able to see their relationship to normal salt water, further suggesting a marine environment, not fresh water flooding, producing the layers.

More to the point is whether any dates of any kind pose a contradiction to the biblical record.  When you are a mile deep in the bowels of the earth, your perspective of the power and beauty in God's creation is greatly expanded.  There are things that God has miraculously created and there are things that have come into existence by natural processes that God initiated.  This is indicated by the choices of the words bara and asah in the Hebrew language of Genesis, as we have discussed in this journal many times in the past.  How did God bring the canyon into existence?  Did He zap it into existence or create it to appear it had been here over eons of time?  Did He set processes in motion that culminated in the production of the canyon over long periods of time?  The Bible does not answer this question.  Genesis 1:1 simply tells us God created the heaven and the earth.  The Hebrew word used for earth in this verse literally means earth!  It does not mean blob of gook.  If you could have visited the Grand Canyon at the end of Genesis 1:1, I am convinced you would have seen a canyon similar to today.  Many readers of Genesis 1:1 assume it is a summary and that the first verse is explained and expanded on in verses 3-31.  This is a serious error!  Genesis 1:1 is a historical verse describing historical events.  As we looked at the beauty and the complexity of the canyon, we had to be reminded of how beautifully the earth shows His handiwork.

The days passed quickly with discussions of these concepts, numerous questions, and contributions from everyone involved.  The boatmen had been warned not to discuss any logical scientific material with us, because we were "another group of dishonest religious freaks."  By the end of the second day, that barrier had been broken down and open discussions were possible.  Two extensive biblical discussions with these capable professionals resulted in promises to read the Bible and think about its message.

On the third day, the nature of the region suddenly changed.  Lava flows began to appear along the river and evidence of an old lake shoreline began to appear.  We went through a huge rapid called Lava Falls and saw a lava dam that had blocked the river in the past, filling the canyon with water.  This dam was eventually eroded away, but for the rest of the trip, we saw lava flows, old volcano necks, and many other volcanic features.  Trips on foot up side canyons revealed beautiful clear pools, waterfalls, and numerous fossils.  On the morning of the last day, we all gathered on a sand bar for a worship service.  As Truit Adair, of the Tatum Church in Phoenix, led us in the communion service beside a rapid, he spoke of how the first century Church probably met more often as we were that day than as we do in most buildings today.  Most of us left that sand bar feeling very close to each other and to our God.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip still lay ahead.  We beached our boats at Diamond Creek and boarded a school bus driven by a Hualapai Indian who drove with such abandon that we began rating the bumps from one (for a noise) to ten (for a bump that lifted everyone off their seats).  We parted at Bright Angel Lodge--a group of people who will probably never be exactly the same again.  We are beginning to plan now for our second DOES GOD EXIST? float trip.  Hope you can join us.
--John N. Clayton
Color picture by Charles Marcussen

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