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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

The Grand Canyon Loses 39 MILLION of Its Birthday Cake Candles
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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“The Grand Canyon presents an unrivaled view into the Earth’s geologic history. From the canyon’s Paleozoic-era rims to the bottom of the Precambrian-age inner gorge, nearly 2 billion years of time are represented in the exposed rocks, or about two-fifth’s of the Earth’s estimated age of 5 billion years” (Hoffman, 1987, p. 11). This quote came from a book that was purchased in 1999 from one of the gift shops at Grand Canyon National Park. The author, John Hoffman goes on to describe how “about 40 million years were required for the Grand Canyon to be eroded to its awesome dimensions” (p. 12). While that book has truly beautiful pictures, the text inside is in dire need of revision.

An article in the September 30, 2000 issue of Science News has shown that carving this beloved hole in the ground may not have been such a long-term project after all (Perkins, 2000). Prior to the 1930s, geologists proposed that the Grand Canyon was about “40 million years old” (p. 218). However, evidence now has come to light that indicates a much younger canyon. Research presented at a June 1999 conference devoted to the origin of the gorge suggests that substantial portions of the eastern Grand Canyon have been eroded only within the past million years. And so, as quickly as ink dries on paper, geologists cut 39 million years off the age of the Grand Canyon, and dropped its age to 1/40 of their previous estimates. This is even 3 million years less than Hoffman’s calculation (p. 12).

In justifying their new calculations for the young age of the canyon, geologists suggest a scenario in which the portions of the present-day Colorado River above and below the canyon may not have been connected. They believe that the most likely explanation is that “the west flowing tributary of the ancestral lower Colorado River began to carve a small valley eastward into the edge of the Colorado Plateau. The upper portion of the river eventually merged with the ancestral upper Colorado River and its tributaries to form a single river system. The result would have been a strengthened torrent of water that could carve through rock at a faster clip than ever before” (p. 219). Faster clip indeed! Thirty-nine million years is a tremendous amount of time to suddenly just vanish! Richard Young, a geologist at the State University of New York, speculated on the swiftness of this erosion: “Fifty years ago, geologists didn’t realize how fast erosion could occur. When there’s a depression in the rock and the river flows through, it can erode incredibly rapidly.”

The Science News article listed other studies in which data show how fast rivers can slash through rock. It also listed the erosion rates of several neighboring canyons, and then noted: “Downstream in the Grand Canyon, where the Colorado carries much more water and sediment, rates of erosion are likely much higher.” This is exactly the point Derek Ager, former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (and head of the department of geology and oceanography, University College of Swansea), made in his 1993 book, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record.

One of the most spectacular sights ever seen by man must have been the mile-high fiery cascade when a lava flow poured into the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Earlier lava flows, before the coming of man, date back a million years, but since that time the Colorado River has only cut down about 50 feet. The canyon itself cannot have started more than 10 million years ago, so here too there must have been some very rapid erosion at some time (p. 80, emp. added).

This new information likely will cause many evolutionists headaches as they try to revamp their theories about the early history of the gorge. The Grand Canyon used to be one of the evolutionists’ favorite landmarks as they tried to establish an ancient age for the Earth. Not any more! The times, they are a changin’!


Ager, Derek V. (1993), The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (New York: John Wiley & Sons).

Hoffman, J.S. (1987), Grand Canyon Visual (San Diego, CA: Arts and Crafts Press).

Perkins, Sid (2000), “The Making of a Grand Canyon,” Science News, 158:218-220, September 30.

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