THE GRAND CANYON - We've seen images of how the name of God is being driven out of the public square. Remember when the Ten Commandments statue was rolled away at the Alabama Judicial Building? At the Grand Canyon too, there have been attempts to undermine God's word and remove His name.
To see the Grand Canyon in person is awe-inspiring. Its beauty and size are humbling. There are majestic images hidden deep within the canyon, but it is also filled with questions. Just how old is it?
Secular geologists say it dates back millions of years. Try telling that to Tom Vail. He runs Canyon Ministries. It's part whitewater fun, part Bible lesson.
Vail teaches that the Canyon isn't millions of years old. Rather, it was formed by Noah's flood 4,500 years ago.
He's written a book about it called Grand Canyon: A Different View. It's being sold in the Grand Canyon bookstore. Inside are stunning photographs and interviews with dozens of scientists who back up the creationist view of the canyon.
"What we see in the Grand Canyon really does support what we read in God's word,” Vail asserts.
His book has created quite a bit of controversy. Several science organizations sent a letter to the National Park Service asking that it be pulled from the bookstore. In that letter, they complained that "the book is not about geology, but rather advances a narrow religious view about the Earth."
"The reason they become so upset with it,” Vail explained, “is that if we're right, if the Grand Canyon is the result of a global flood and that the Bible is true, then there's a God - and if there's a God, then there's a God that they might be liable to."
The National Park Service doesn't have an "official version" of how the park was formed or how old it is. So even though the park service said a few years ago they'd review whether or not the book should stay, no decision was ever made. So the book is still there. The Grand Canyon Association approved it.
Brad Wallis, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Association, said, "We are committed to supporting science here at the Canyon, but as educators we feel that having divergent viewpoints is the best model because then people can reach their own conclusions, rather than being given only one alternative."
But the scientists say that Vail's book is a religious one, and shouldn't be sold in a government- sanctioned bookstore. Plus, the secular geologists are convinced that their version, the millions of years version, is the right one. They claim that a majority of scientists believe it to be true, so the park service should adhere to that version.
"We're not trying to censor the book,” insisted Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “The issue here is that in these park service-maintained stores, they are only supposed to approve material that supports the interpretive theme, and is accurate. And according to their rules, this book shouldn't be sold."
Vail has a long list of why he believes Noah's flood formed the Canyon. For example, the contact points between the layers are table-top flat, signaling a flood of epic proportions.
"There's no sign of either physical or chemical erosion along this point,” he said. “And if that represented 15 million years, you would expect to see some sign of erosion."
He also points to tons of fossils found near the red wall limestone. For fossilization like that to occur, the fish must be buried catastrophically, like in a huge flood, so they’re protected from decay.
The irony here is that for years Vail used to teach the Evolutionist theory of the Canyon, but he was left with too many questions. Later, he became a Christian and his perspective changed.
The way he sees it, this is a classic case of Creation vs. Evolution. A battle of religious world views.
Vail said, "They want to dismiss it because it's not science. Well, if you want to take that tact, there's isn't science either. It's religion."
Vail's book about God in the Grand Canyon is confined to the bookstore, but along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, there are other references to God. These are outside. They are biblical plaques placed on buildings by a group of nuns. And that has been controversial too.
Sister Mary Ann and Sister Pinea belong to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Thirty years ago, their covenant put up three plaques with biblical passages around the canyon.
But a few years ago, after some visitors complained that religious plaques shouldn't be on federal buildings, the Grand Canyon superintendent temporarily pulled them down.
"They were down and we thought there's no hope,” said Sister Pinea, “but God raised up people to express their outrage and their sadness, and I think He put things into motion to put them back up again."
Just a few weeks later, after numerous complaints to the park service, the deputy director of the park service overruled the Grand Canyon superintendent. The plaques were put back up.
In a letter sent to the evangelical sisterhood, he apologized saying he would like to correct the situation. He went on to say that the park service will "promptly undertake a more in-depth legal and policy review."
To this day, though, so far at least, the plaques stand. That worries some.
"If the Government gets into the business of deciding which religious views get displayed in certain locations,” Ruch stated, “we're on a slippery slope that the First Amendment was designed to keep us off of."
But Sister Pinea said, "It's the Government that's not supposed to be interfering with our freedoms. It's not that religious people are not allowed to express their faith and their views."
So now, tourists at the Grand Canyon see, up-close-and-personal, passages from Psalms that declare how wonderful God's works are.
"Finding words for His Majesty, I don't think there's a better place than in the Psalms. God's word is living and active," said Sister Mary Anne.
It may be living and active at the Grand Canyon, but the plaques are hanging on by a thread. Park service officials admit that since these plaques were put up more than 30 years ago, they've become part of the park.
If they were put up today, a time when separation of church and state means eliminating any public references to religion, these plaques may not have survived. But the nuns have won, and so has Tom Vail.
For them, it's about having the liberty to share God's word with those who don't believe. Like Noah's flood, for example, where they say the Canyon clearly shows God's truth.
Vail said, "The message is that God's word can be trusted. That you can trust God's word right through the first verse of Genesis through the end of Revelation."
And though some may try and silence that at the Grand Canyon, you can't silence images like this: a double rainbow dipping into the Canyon, a majestic reminder that God is ever present here in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.