Going to Church in the Grand Canyon
by Jack Hoehn
by Jack Hoehn, May 8, 2014
There is an outdoor natural church in the Grand Canyon. Perhaps a throwback to a time when freedom of religion was more important a national virtue than freedom from religion, there is still a sign along the South Rim after the few miles of National Park Hotels, Visitor Centers, and Gift Shops, just beyond the start of the Bright Angel trail starting down through 540 million layers of geology to the Colorado River a mile straight down, that says: “Interdenominational Worship 300 yards.”
Also a small plaque on one of the historic buildings now a gift shop, still quotes at the edge of the 10-mile wide and 277-mile long natural wonder of the world, Psalm 68:4–
Although in this secular world these are relics from a bygone age of public freedom of religious expression, perhaps these permitted religious sentiments remain in keeping with the fact that even today, when the 5,000,000 visitors a year to the Grand Canyon from every nation of the world spill out of their tour busses or walk from their rental cars to the edge of this massive wonder, the first words out of the lips of at least half of them as they stand at the canyon edge are the very same expression: "Oh, my God!"
As a Young Visitor
I had visited the Grand Canyon as a child, both on the higher and colder North Rim and the open year round South Rim. As an 18 year-old employee of the Southern California Conference Camp Cedar Falls, I had driven a bus full of junior campers to the edge of the Grand Canyon and twice had led groups down the Havasu Canyon which is a tributary to the Grand Canyon, with beautiful turquoise water and travertine pools and water falls. But at that time I still thought it possible, as I had been taught by Ellen White and her church, that the world and life on it were only about 6,000 years old, and that all the wonders on it including the Grand Canyon were simply testimony to a single Noah’s flood.
In April I drove with my wife, my sister and brother-in-law south from Walla Walla, Washington, through the Blue Mountains of Northeast Oregon, across Idaho into Utah. We spent a night at Temple Square and listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir before driving down past Bryce Canyon and Zion, along the Vermillion Cliffs, nearing the North Rim of the Grand Canyon that was still closed in April, around to the Glen Canyon Dam and then back to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, open year-round. We spent two nights and parts of two days there just walking along the edge of the Canyon, thinking about the Lord “who rides upon the clouds,” and exulting before him.
|Figure 1 – Grand Canyon 10 miles across and 1 mile deep from the South Rim.|
“Oh, my God!” is still the right phrase to use for this experience. And reading about it in an article, or seeing photographs of the canyon is not comparable to the experience of actually standing on the edge of this wonderful place or hiking or riding down into its giant maw. The book of nature and evidence of the history of life on earth are opened to us by the Grand Canyon. I invite you to hike along the South Rim in person, or else vicariously with me, the short distance to the Interdenominational Worship Center with your binoculars and sense of awe and reverence intact, and read a few pages from that giant natural book.
Progressive Step by Step Creation Supported
Standing on the edge of this giant canyon we see layer upon layer of evidence compatible with the Bible’s teaching that God indeed is the Creator who created not instantly, but progressively, first this, then that, then the other thing in subsequent Creation Days. Looking way down to the Colorado River below, it is quite obvious that the one mile of earth from the vertical granites where the river now runs in the bottom of the canyon, to the top on which we stand is made of flat sedimentary horizontal layers. Like layers of a layered cake made of chocolate cake, white cake, red cake, with layers of frosting or whipped cream or jam in between, the walls of the Grand Canyon are clearly flat, giant layers.
These layers are of sediments laid down in waters of oceans, or seas. Is this not compatible with a Genesis record that life began as God moved upon the face of earth’s deep waters?
Above the foundation basement rocks of igneous granites, the first layers of pre-Cambrian sea sediments show no complex creatures, only the sudden appearance (i.e. created, intelligently designed) of billions of quite cleverly-designed photosynthesizing plants called algae. Some were single cells of microscopic complexity; others were “complex multicellular plants” found in those deepest layers and seen as the fossilized Stromatolites. The algae plant bodies by the billions in the ancient seas lived as they live today, photosynthesizing (yes, just as the Bible teaches, light above the waters was first necessary on Day One) the oxygen that gave the earth our atmosphere (Firmament of Creation Day Two). Their billions of tiny bodies settled to the bottom of Earth’s seas to make the limestone of so many of the Grand Canyon’s layers. But there are no fossils of seed-bearing plants, no fish or crustaceans, no shells, no insects in these deepest layers of Creation days 1 and 2, just as Genesis suggests.
Genesis says that on Creation Day 3 land masses appear above the surface of the waters for the first time. Is there any evidence of land appearing in the layers of the Grand Canyon? The very bottom layers of the Grand Canyon are all limestone, dead bodies of algae and bacteria, diatoms and desmids, settled to the bottom of the ancient seas, after they had finished their job of creating oxygen by photosynthesis to make the atmosphere required by the Creator. The next-to-the-bottom layers, however, show evidence of land masses appearing, because the first limestone layers are then covered by mud running down from Earth’s first continents, and deposited into the waters as shales or slates.
Geologists speculate that the appearance of land masses began in the late Precambrian, just as Genesis suggests. Mud running down from newly exposed land masses spread out into the waters of the seas covering what is now the uplifted Columbian Plateau, but back then was the bottom of an ocean surrounded by the new land masses. (Creation Day 4 happened out in space, so the Grand Canyon holds little direct evidence of the appearance of the sun and moon and stars, perhaps from atmospheric changes of earth?) However, the muds or shales flowing into the ancient oceans from surrounding land masses amazingly preserved the next explosive step in the creation of life: Creation Day Five.
Sea Life, Creation Day 5
The first layers of shales or slate, which is compressed mud that flowed down streams from the first mountains onto the bottom of the ocean floor, are the Cambrian layers. Wonderfully preserved in these shales or slates is the evidence of the sudden appearing of complex sea life in the “Cambrian Explosion.” These layers deep in the Grand Canyon are the strongest fossil evidence of the sudden (in geologic terms) and unprecedented appearance of “a tremendous diversification of life forms…proliferating at an astonishing rate…Members of almost every major animal group appearing in the oceans in a relatively short period, perhaps as little as five million years.”
|Figure 2 Horizontal Cambrian layers begin above the vertical granites of the basement rocks.|
You and I call the Cambrian Layer Creation Day 5. This layer and its characteristic fossils are found not only in the Grand Canyon, but all over the world. In China, Cambrian muds have revealed that a small complex animal with a heart and circulatory system, mostly feeding its little brain with eyes on long stalks (think of a little lobster), suddenly appears fully designed with NO FOSSIL PRECURSORS, no evolutionary intermediates, and no basic design changes in the 540 million years since then. These muds are found in Canada in the Burgess Shale, again telling the story of millions of complex animals’ appearing in the early oceans of earth. This layer is also found in England (in Wales or “Cambria”), repeating the very same story of the sudden appearance of complex life. “Early members of major invertebrate groups such as brachiopods, mollusks, sponges, corals, echinoderms, and arthropods emerged during this time period. Even primitive vertebrates appeared…” In fact, 22 of the 27 phyla of life found in fossils (or the 35 phyla recognized today) are found in this very first layer of life preserved in the muds of the early mountains washing into the seas all over the earth.
So with your binoculars, from up here on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or up close when you hike down to the bottom just a few feet above the granite bedrocks, you see a few thin layers of limestone with no fossils except those of algae, and then the horizontal 277 miles of Cambrian Shales above the granites, testimony to the time when God said (on the morning of Creation Day 5), “Let the waters swarm with a swarm of living beings.”
What about Creation Day 6?
Above the Precambrian photosynthesizing algae of Creation Day 2, the muds from mountains appearing on Creation Day 3 and the sudden appearance of complex sea life of Creation Day 5 in the bottom shales, are at least 38 other layers up to the top of the present Canyon. These layers are both marine (limestone) and terrestrial (washed in from land about the seas). All 40 layers are grouped into 7 major sections. From the bottom up they are as follows:
|Figure 3 Wickipedia, Licensed for free use.|
Section 2 is limestone, sandstone, and shales of Precambrian earth.
Section 3 has sandstone from ancient beaches to 325 feet thick, the Cambrian Shales some 450 feet thick, and above the shale more limestone from 136 to 827 feet thick.
Section 4 has limestone, some from freshwater lakes replacing salt water seas. Some of these layers are 400-800 feet thick. Salt and fresh water fossils are found in different layers, showing different types of bodies of water over time.
Section 5, or the Supai Group (where I hiked from summer camp), shows layers of mud, silt, and sand, suggesting a time of coastal plain like the Texas Gulf Coast of today.
Section 6 shows fossils from the later part of Creation Day 5, with winged flying creatures, cone-bearing plants, and ferns. There are tracks of lizard-like animals in some of the sandstone layers, with reptiles walking along the beaches. There are also fossils of creeping things here like millipedes and scorpions, which may show the start of Creation Day 6 with land animals appearing.
(Section 7 is mostly washed away from the plateau about the Grand Canyon, so visitors to the Grand Canyon rims are walking on limestone and sandstone of the Section 6 top layer called the Kaibap Limestone. A few remnants of the Mesozoic depositions are left in Red Butte, south of the Grand Canyon Village, but these layers are mostly found many miles to the north of the Grand Canyon in the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyon, and Bryce Canyon areas, known as the Grand Staircase, of the younger, top layers, no longer present in the Grand Canyon.)
So the Creation of land animals on Creation Day 6 is mostly NOT recorded in the Grand Canyon itself, except for those tracks of reptiles and insects on the sandstone beaches of Section 6. Monument Valley’s younger layers to the east of the Grand Canyon have bones of amphibians. Petrified Logs from those younger layers show evidence of beetle and termite damage. The Triassic and Jurassic, or Dinosaur, eras are recorded in younger and higher layers in other parts of Arizona and Utah. Small mammals are also found with the dinosaurs but the mammalian explosion only came after the dinosaurs disappeared.
The Grand Canyon itself has no mammal fossils, no dinosaurs, no mammoths or giant sloths. And, of course, no fossilized human remains, which come very recently in the geologic record of creation, just as the Bible says, at the very end of the last Creation Day: Day 6.
|Figure 4 Over 40 different layers of different materials cover Creation Days 1-5.|
Floods and Noah
As you and I stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking down at the one-mile deep, 10-mile wide, and 277-mile long exposure of the early history of the world, we of course want to know about Noah’s flood. Wasn’t a huge flood recorded in Genesis? Of course it was, and what we are seeing today has given us no reason for doubting that a massive, destructive, history-altering flood did come to an early human ancestor of ours. All human cultures know of a type of Noah in their ancestral stories, as did the Babylonians (Gilgamesh knew him as Utnapishtim), the Egyptians who educated Moses, and the inspired Scriptures themselves. A recently-translated Babylonian tablet almost 1000 years older than Genesis still has the animals going in two by two! But before God created humanity, it is clear that there were oceans, lakes, floods, uplifts, volcanos, continental separations and collisions involved in the preparation of an earth suitable for us.
Perhaps Noah’s flood or another one similar to it did carve out the canyon that now holds the Colorado River, running from the uplifted Rocky Mountains on the east of the Colorado Plateau to the Gulf of California down on the west of the plateau, where the Pacific plate subducts under the North American plate, lifting the Colorado Plateau between these two geological bookends up 8,000 feet higher than the ocean and lake bottoms they previously were, as recorded in the rocks. But Noah’s flood did not create the sedimentary layers in 40 days and 40 nights, and then cut through them on the 41st day of the flood!
Those sediments of dying bacterial, algae, and plankton are hundreds of feet thick. They are interspersed with dry eras caused when sands blew in, they so have animals buried in the muds, but they also have layers of sandstone with tracks of animal running along the beaches, covered by later inland lakes and seas, and topped by 400 feet of limestone with fossilized sponges, sea shells, corals, and crinoids growing and preserved. Those 40 layers, each so different, each with the finger prints of different types of creatures, different types of sediments, now a flow of mud, now a drying up and sand blown beach, then another fresh water lake, then another salt water ocean with years and years and years and years of accumulation of sediments present, are impossible to put into a short Noachian flood.
So what did I learn? and what am I suggesting to you as we stand together as fellow Adventists on the Rim of the Grand Canyon at the Interdenominational Worship Site, and stretch our minds over the evidence of Creation recorded in the layered stones revealed by the canyon?
Creation Day 1, starting on a dark, dead planet that is home to Satan, God introduces into the darkness time with light. And it is good.
Creation Day 2, after another period of darkness and possible conflict, God introduces intelligently-designed algae and other one-celled and multicellular creatures to make an oxygen-rich atmosphere over those ancient oceans. And it is good.
Creation Day 3, after another period of darkness and possibly conflict, God has the land appear and asks the land to bring forth plant life. And it is good.
Creation Day 4, after another period of darkness and possibly conflict, with a newly-formed atmosphere it is time for the heavenly time-keepers to be revealed, so the sun and moon and the stars now are visible on the surface of the planet. And it is good.
Creation Day 5, after another period of darkness and possibly conflict, the Creator creates a multitude of animal types to inhabit the seas and lakes of earth, and still later introduces animal types to inhabit the atmosphere of earth. And it is good.
Creation Day 6, after another period of darkness and possibly conflict, the Creator creates a multitude of animal types to inhabit the land, and then later creates mankind in His image, male and female, and finally it is very good.
Creation Day 7, a Sabbath. No more darkness of conflict, Earth has been created and now God stops creating, and in a safe and perfect garden on earth called Eden turns over care of this dynamic, changing earth into human hands. From now on, instead of working with life, he works with humanity. They are asked to direct the progress and improvement of life on earth. He asks them to pattern their human week after his Creation Week. How are we doing?
Let Ellen White Be Human
What do we do with the fact that Ellen White wrote that God’s creation days were 24 hours long just like our days, and that this all happened as many others before her had taught, only about 6,000 years ago?
Admit that our departed prophetess was not error-free about dates and chronologies, and never claimed to be. Agree that in this case of the chronology of creation and age of the earth she was wrong. Forgive her for that and move on to a broader larger understanding of the truths about creation, unhampered by our errors on the chronology of creation. Agree with her that Creation did not happen by itself but has God’s fingerprints all over it. Understand that Creation also has Satan’s fingerprints all over it.
God Does Not Lie and the Stones Don’t Lie
God does not lie, the Bible does not lie, and the stones do not lie. Adventists must not lie either. As we stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon we can see that life was created over a long period of time best understood as stages or eras. We can see that there was plant and animal death before the creation, much less the fall of mankind. That it was human death, not plant and animal death, that came from Eve and Adam’s sin.
This does suggest to me that the Great Controversy has been going on before the beginning of God’s Creation Week, much as it continues to do today, but that is a subject for much further discussion.
1Christa Sadler, Life in Stone – Fossils of the Colorado Plateau, (Grand Canyon Association, 2006), 15.
4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Staircase has a great graphic showing the Grand Canyon’s layers to the right and the younger higher layers of the Grand Staircase to the left. These steps are from bottom (above Grand Canyon) up as the Chocolate Cliffs, the Vermillion Cliffs, the White Cliffs, the Grey Cliffs, and the Pink Cliffs. Each can be reached within one day’s drive going North from the Grand Canyon on highway US
6 Revelation 12:7-9
7 For different ideas on how animal death came to be, I’d suggest you consider the following approaches to death before the fall:
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain—This modern prophet suggests that death before the fall was due to Satan’s fall before the creation. I agree with him.
William Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World – says that there was death before the fall of Adam. In anticipation of the fall, God permitted or created a good and evil world because he knew Eve and Adam would need it based on his foreknowledge of their disobedience. Interesting, and a bit convoluted, but worth a read.
Gregory Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy—I haven’t read this yet, but I’m ordering it based on Ronald Osborn’s recommendation.
Jack Hoehn, “The Greater Controversy—How Ellen White’s Great Controversy Theme May Help Coordinate Geologic and Biblical History” – article Submitted to Adventist Today print magazine, awaiting publication; subscribe now so you can be the first to read it.