The Recent Catastrophic Formation of the Grand Canyon

by Stephen Caesar

Geologists have come to realize two facts about the Grand Canyon long known by Creationists: it is younger than previously assumed, and it was formed catastrophically. The September 30, 2000, issue of Science News reported that geologists are finding "that this epic tale [the formation of the canyon] could be, in fact, a short story, geologically speaking" (p. 218).

In the nineteenth century, scientists had assumed a great age for the canyon. "In the 1930s, however," stated the journal, "geologists began to accumulate clues indicating the relative youth of the canyon" (ibid.). In that decade, scientists revised the age estimate from hundreds of millions of years to 40 million years. "Now, however," the journal reported, "evidence is mounting that the canyon is much younger still" (ibid.).

In 1964, geologists moved the formation date up to between 6 and 11 million years ago, based on findings indicating that the canyon was formed by the rapid joining of two rivers that became today's Colorado River. "The result," stated the journal, "would have been a strengthened torrent of water that could carve its way through rock at a faster clip than ever before" (p. 219). Geologist Richard Young of the State University of New York commented, "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" (ibid.).

Geologists Francis Gough, Robert Biek, and Grant Willis studied similar canyons nearby, and found that their formation also occurred much more quickly than previously assumed (pp. 219,220). They based their findings on radioactive dating methods, which still give several million years of age. This does not mesh with young-earth Creationism but, as James Perloff pointed out in Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism, radioactive dating methods are biased toward old-earth evolutionism, and are not reliable in proving great ages.

The other point made by the journal is that the canyon was formed by the rapid movement of water, bolstering Creationist theories that it was formed by the Genesis Flood. As mentioned, some geologists think the rapid joining of two rivers caused catastrophic conditions that formed the canyon. Other scientists have a similar theory: "[C]ircumstantial evidence is mounting that erosion of the gorge could have been started by the floodwaters of a small lake that stood near where the eastern Grand Canyon sits today, says George H. Billingsley, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff" (p. 220). Geographer Norman Meek of California State University hypothesizes that the lake's water broke through the edge of the basin containing it, and the resultant outflow "began to gouge the Grand Canyon" (ibid.). Geologist Scott Lundstrom of the U.S. Geological Survey studied gravel deposits at the western end of the Grand Canyon and found support for Meek's theory. His dates for these deposits mesh with Meek's date for the overflowing lake scenario. Lundstrom estimates that the catastrophic breach of the lake's basin released as much as 1,000 cubic miles of water.

These dates don't mesh perfectly with biblical chronology, since the geologists place the catastrophe at about 5 million years ago. Further, they do not hypothesize a world-wide flood, but an extremely large local flood. Nonetheless, they are moving toward a more biblically-oriented scenario. Since the close of the nineteenth century, they have gone from an extremely ancient, slowly-formed Grand Canyon to one that is considerably younger and that was formed by the catastrophic movement of water.


Perkins, S. (2000). "The Making of a Grand Canyon." Science News 158, no. 14.

Stephen Caesar is currently completing his master's thesis in anthropology/archaeology at Harvard University. He is the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at

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