Eugenie Scott's picture

Back from the NCSE Creationist Grand Canyon Trip

Josh, Steve, and I just returned from spending 8 days with a group of 21 NCSE members on NCSE’s Grand Canyon raft trip. Steve regaled us with the actual geological history of Grand Canyon, and Josh supplemented with a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the creationist view – with me helping a bit around the edges. Josh also kept up the natural history side of things as he introduced us to a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate varmints along the trail.

eugenie scott, josh rosenau, steven newton

Well, it isn’t completely true that that we went with a group of 21 NCSE members. They were mostly NCSE members: we had a last-minute unfortunate cancellation of two of our rafters due to illness. As it happened, one of the other Grand Canyon outfitter companies had screwed up a reservation, and had to solve the problem of a couple who had come all the way from London to raft Grand Canyon on a boat that had no room. Could NCSE help out and let them join our group?

Well, probably. NCSE’s trip is not a random collection of individuals, but a charter of like-minded people: would the new people fit in? After all: you’re stuck on a boat for several hours each day with no escape. Steve told them that NCSE’s trip was a charter of people who had special interests in science, and if the orphan couple was uninterested in science, they might not have a very good time – since that’s what we tend to yak about on the boats, on the trails, and even at dinner time in camp.

More importantly, however, we were planning to discuss a sensitive subject: the creationism/evolution controversy. Although he made it clear this was not a religion-bashing expedition, a conservative Christian might find the discussions uncomfortable. For all of that, our own members, out of a sense of politeness, might feel inhibited from speaking freely about creationist views. If the newcomers knew what they were getting into, and were OK with our emphases on science and the creationism/evolution controversy, we’d be happy to accommodate them. Who wouldn’t sympathize with their plight?

We were joined later that morning by two cheerful English retired ex-police officers, a husband and a wife. They were delighted to be with us, and even joked that they preferred being on a raft trip with people around their own ages, rather than joining a trip leaving around the same time as ours full of twenty-somethings who seemed primarily interested in how cold their beer was.

The Brits, Steve and Ann, were great – genial, friendly, and helpful. Sturdy Steve was very handy when heavy items needed unloading or loading from the rafts, and each had a good sense of humor. Though not quite the science fans the rest of us were, they expressed curiosity about the geology and natural history that NCSE staff provided.

It wasn’t until the last day on the river that we heard how apprehensive they had been about joining our group. Steve Newton had asked the outfitters to pass on to the prospective joiners the above-mentioned “full disclosure” caveat about science and religious sensitivity – but as with the game “Telephone”, passing information orally has its perils. Our outfitter passed the message to the other company with which the Brits had booked, which was passed to some other broker, and the message finally trickled down to Steve and Ann as “would you like to go with a creationist group?” Desperate not to lose their dates on the river and spoil their American vacation, they decided, as Steve put it, “As long as it wasn’t a KKK trip, we’d go!”

So the first couple of days were a bit confusing. We’d contrast the creationist and evolutionist views at stops along the river, for example where tetrapod footprints occur in a huge slab of Coconino sandstone. It seemed to them that the evidence for creationism wasn’t very good. Eventually they figured out that we were not, actually, a creationist group, but to the contrary, quite convinced by the evolutionary evidence. General hilarity when Steve and Ann told us on the last day that they at first had thought that they were rafting with the creationists.

So if you want to go on next year’s NCSE Grand Canyon raft trip, make it clear to your friends that it’s a “Creationism AND Evolution” excursion – not a creationist trip! Staff will explore both explanations of how this fantastic geological feature came to be, but there won’t be much doubt on which side we’ll come down on.

Next year’s trip launches on July 3, 2015, and lasts until July 10. Save the date! Steve and Josh will soon determine the cost, and a FAQ will be posted. If you want to be notified as soon as information is available, send an email to rosenau@ncse.com and he’ll let you know when you can make your reservation.

You won’t want to miss it.