The Grand Canyon is considered a geographic wonder of the world. Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a canyon like no other, with spectacular views and brightly colored red and orange cliffs. At the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River, and this landmark has become a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the world. The following essay seeks to compare two theories on how the Grand Canyon was formed, as the Grand Canyon is a unique phenomena unlike anywhere else on the world. One view is the Old-Earth secular view, which analyzes the formation of the Grand Canyon based on scientific theory, while the other view is the Young-Earth view, which speculates the Grand Canyon was created as a result of the Great Flood. The main point of contrast between the two is in the estimated age of the Grand Canyon itself, although both viewpoints agree that erosion caused by water is the main way the canyon was formed.
II. Old-Earth Secular View
According to the old-earth secular view, the Grand Canyon is the result of erosion that occurred for millions of years. The Grand Canyon is considered part of the Colorado Plateau, which aside from the Canyon itself is an elevated platform of rock. The plateau is the result of natural geographic movements that raised the land similar to the way mountains are formed, although the plateau itself is flat and does not feature typical mountain peaks (Carothers and Brown, 1991). This movement of the earth also reformed how the Colorado River distributed water. The estimated time of the Grand Canyon’s formation varies somewhat, even within old-earth secular viewpoints: until 2008, it was widely accepted that the Grand Canyon was approximately formed around 6 million years ago, although a study published in the journal Science in 2008 used a new dating method, called uranium-lead dating, that proposed the Grand Canyon was actually formed 17 million years ago (Karlstrom et al., 2014). This remains somewhat controversial, as alternating old-earth secular views differ on the exact age of the Grand Canyon.
Because the Colorado Plateau is consisted primarily of sandstone, which is softer than other forms of rock, the Colorado River simply cut into the canyon, eroding it over a period of millions of years. Thus, the central premise of the old-earth secular view on the formation of the Grand Canyon is that it is the result of simple erosion, which was made possible due to the soft sandstone that was cut away by the moving waters of the Colorado River. The result of millions of years of erosion is what we see today: an enormous canyon that exists because the underlying sandstone gave way to moving waters, and as this process has been occurring for millions of years, the Grand Canyon became massive. The reason this remains a relatively unique formation on the planet is because of the combination between a raised plateau made of soft material, and a sizable river capable of creating the canyon. No other location in the world has this exact set of geographic features, which is why the Grand Canyon is unique.
III. Young-Earth View
The young-earth viewpoint of the Grand Canyon’s formation is that the Grand Canyon is not the result of millions of years of erosion, as the Earth is not believed to be that old according to young-earth theorists. Rather, the Grand Canyon is the result of the Great Flood that occurred between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago (Morris, 1991). In this view, the Great Flood is believed to have pushed the soft sandstone that forms the walls of the Grand Canyon into its current position, and when the water was drained, the waters of the Colorado River were trapped inland, while the rest of the water drained off into the oceans. Because the water was trapped and the ground beneath it was soft, it carved into the ground, creating the Grand Canyon we see today (Hovind, 2010). The argument supporting this position is that the rock remained soft due to the amount of water that was initially present, and that the Colorado River would only have been able to carve its way into the Grand Canyon is if the rock remained soft. Thus, this theory believes that the Grand Canyon was created in a relatively short amount of time, as short as within a few years, unlike the millions of years that old-earth secularists believe it took for the Grand Canyon to form.
IV. Comparison of the Viewpoints
The similarities between the viewpoints are that the Grand Canyon was formed due to erosion created by the Colorado River cutting into the rock bed that makes up the Colorado Plateau; and also that this erosion was only made possible by the soft nature of the sandstone that largely comprises the Colorado Plateau. In these two ways, there is little differentiation between the two theories, as both sides agree that the Grand Canyon was the result of erosion caused by the Colorado River, and that the unique sandstone deposits allowed this erosion to happen, whereas many other rock beds are formed of harder material.
V. Contrast of the Viewpoints
The two main differences between the two views are the time it took for the Colorado River to cut into the Colorado Plateau, forming the Grand Canyon; and the primary geological event that contributed to the Grand Canyon’s formation. In the first view, ages range between 6 million and 17 million years, although both of these estimates believe the Grand Canyon was formed much further back in history than young-earth scholars believe the world even existed, as the young-earth estimates believe the earth is only 10,000 years old, with the Grand Canyon being formed approximately 7,000 or 8,000 years ago. Additionally, old-earth secular views do not believe a flood would have been responsible for creating the waters that would have eroded the Colorado Plateau, and that it was only millions of years of the Colorado River that caused the erosion, while young-earth theorists believe the Great Flood was the event that caused water to become trapped inland, carving its way into the Colorado Plateau. There has also been additional dispute between the two sides regarding the fossils that have been uncovered within the walls of the Grand Canyon itself; old-earth views use this argument to state that because the fossils are believed to be millions of years old, the Canyon must also be this old. However, young-earth theorists would counter argue that these fossils are much younger than scientists believe, and that faulty dating methods are responsible for the incorrect age of these fossils. This argument is supported by the fact that even old-earth secularists do not agree amongst themselves on the age of the Grand Canyon, with some believing it to be 6 million years old, and others believing it to be 17 million years old.
There are two main theories describing how the Grand Canyon was formed: the old-earth secular view, which believes the Canyon was formed as a result of millions of years of erosion created by the Colorado River cutting into the relatively soft sandstone comprising the Colorado Plateau; and the young-earth view, which also agrees that erosion caused the Grand Canyon’s formation, but that the erosion is the result of the Great Flood believed to have occurred around 7,000 or 8,000 years ago. Thus, the two sides agree on erosion being the central cause, the exact nature and time it took for this erosion to occur is in dispute. This analysis explored both sides while drawing both comparisons and contrasts between the two elements, with the primary difference being whether the Grand Canyon is the result of natural geologic forces, or the result of a cataclysmic flood that fundamentally changed the way current land masses were formed.
- Carothers, S. W., & Brown, B. T. (1991). The Colorado River through Grand Canyon: natural history and human change. National Geographic Institute.
- Hovind, E. (2010). Evidence for a Young Earth. Creation Today, May 6, 2010.
- Karlstrom, K. E., Lee, J. P., Kelley, S. A., Crow, R. S., Crossey, L. J., Young, R. A. & Shuster, D. L. (2014). Formation of the Grand Canyon 5 to 6 million years ago through integration of older palaeocanyons. Nature Geoscience, 7(3), 239.
- Morris, J. (1991). Is There Geological Evidence for the Young Earth?. Acts & Facts. 20 (11).