Movie Review: Is Genesis History?

My wife and I had the opportunity last night to view the  movie Is Genesis History?  It was a fantastic introduction to the overall theme of the historicity of the events of the first 11 chapters of Genesis — very timely since I have just begun preaching through the book.  It made the basic point that people operate from either of two very different paradigms when it comes to viewing the scientific data.  So it is not really a debate over science vs. the bible but rather a debate over whether the events recorded should be considered real and historical.  Presuppositions and faith approaches provide the grid of interpretation for both positions.  In fact it takes far more faith to hold to the evolutionary model.  The vast difference in time schemes required by the two different views makes it imperative to deal with some of the dating issues in the various scientific disciplines.

Beautiful filming on location at various key sites – showing the grandeur of God’s Creation and allowing us to go and see some of the data that then must be interpreted.  Host Del Tackett interviews various scientists from the realm of geology (formation of the surface of the earth – looking at the Grand Canyon), paleontology (the fossil record – visiting prominent archeological digs), and astronomy (peering through a telescope at the vast universe).  He also provides a platform for a Hebrew scholar to discuss some basic characteristics of the text such as:

  • The Hebrew word for day (yom) and how it should be understood as a literal 24 hour period in this context
  • The historical structure of the narrative – as opposed to trying to label it as poetry or as a myth story
  • The structural significance we have mentioned of toledot as a unifying feature in the book

The movie starts off with a visit to the site of Mt. St. Helens dramatic volcanic eruption back in May 1980.  If you had no background of the surrounding events, you would look at what you see there today and possibly come up with a much different dating model than what is the case – not hundreds or thousands of years but only less than 40.  The same argument then applies on a grander scale with the various dating paradigms for the earth used by different scientific disciplines.

Is Genesis History? attempts to deal with that one simple question: Is the biblical account of creation and flood and the Tower of Babel meant to be understood as history? Does it describe actual history? And does the world give evidence of recent creation and catastrophic flood?  At the end the major contributors to the film gather for a roundtable discussion to wrap things up and encourage the viewer to go online to various creation websites to dive deeper into areas that might interest them.  All this film can do is provide a basic introduction and overview to the issues.  Obviously, it is selective in its approach and the other side would have other empirical data it would like to feature.

Many Christians have surrendered this ground so easily with a casual, “What does it really matter” type of attitude.  The wrap-up addresses some of the key theological implications of embracing any form of evolution – either the naturalistic total view or the somewhat modified Theistic Evolution or Day Age approach.  As we have already discussed, you cannot have death introduced into the world until the Fall of Adam.  Otherwise you have no Gospel and you have seriously undermined the credibility of the entire Scriptures.  Big answers to the So What question.

Challies: In many ways the film is about addressing assumptions. The underlying assumption in the film is that history tells us what happened while other fields tell us how it happened. If Genesis is history from the first chapter to the last, it is designed to tell us what happened. Once we know what happened, we can look elsewhere—geology, astronomy, biology, and so on—to determine how it actually came about. When we understand Genesis as history, we can then approach the world through its lens. Suddenly we see evidence all around us. We see the world backing up the Genesis story.

Alternatively, if we understand Genesis as mythology or literary framework, we approach the world through that lens and, not surprisingly, find evidence to back that faulty claim. So much comes down to paradigms. The film means to show that contemporary scientists and even theologians approach their field with faulty presuppositions, one of which is that the universe is ancient. Not surprisingly, then, they come to interpret the evidence in light of their presupposition.

Just to mention a few of the specific scientific observations:

When it comes to the geological evidence, the importance of the catastrophic impact of the universal flood in Noah’s day is critical.  The nature of the different distinct layers of rock formation that you see exposed at the Grand Canyon (but that extend for a vast area beneath the earth’s surface) support sediment being deposited rapidly during a cataclysmic event rather than gradual erosion over eons of time.  Otherwise you would not have such clear and distinct lines of demarcation between the layers.

When it comes to the fossil record, you see in one well-defined layer of 10-20 feet of sedimentation, that the bones have been deposited in a clear pattern of heavier bones at the bottom of the layer and lighter fragments at the top.  Certainly this lends itself to the type of distribution that would come from a rapid water event rather than gradual deposits over time.

When it comes to the study of biology, you don’t see any of the transitional forms that evolution requires.  The arguments from Design and Complexity were explored as well in the film.  The concept of the Survival of the Fittest leaves no room for transitional forms that would have required long periods of time to sustain mutations that would not proved to be productive until the final complex form was developed.  So the commonly reported evolutionary tree actually has no connecting branches.  In fact the data supports reproduction within kinds as Genesis reports.  That does not mean that all of the animals and bugs and fish that exist today were directly created by God or even brought onto Noah’s Ark.  But the gene pool contained the potential to develop into all of the variations that we have with us today – just like the variety of ethnicity in humans can be traced back to the 8 people on the ark – and ultimately back to Adam and Eve.

The concept of man being made in the image of God and distinct from the apes was discussed in a zoo segment where man was directly contrasted with his supposed ancestors.  It is no accident that these animals are inside the fence looking out and we humans are in dominion over them, able to think and reason and communicate and function in a manner consistent with the image of God.

The clues from astronomy also can be interpreted from an early earth paradigm.  That does not mean that no perplexing questions remain.  For example, if the earth is only 6,000 – 10,000 years old, how can we be seeing the light from bodies in the universe that are so many light years away from the earth?  Various answers could be given (certainly it is helpful to believe in a God of miracles when offering up these explanations).

  • Maybe God created the light that we see as well as the bodies that give off the light
  • Maybe God sped up the processes so that if you had been back in the 6 days of Creation, things would have taken place in very rapid progression (like time lapse photography)

I guess we can close this review with the words from 2 Peter 3:3-7 that expose the error of uniformitarianism which is behind the evolutionary paradigm:

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

The producers also tried to steer the audience to some good internet resources for follow-up inquiry and deeper investigation.  Obviously the presentation was designed to provide a basic overview and encourage people not to surrender to the overwhelming voice of science in our culture.  But everyone will have questions that remain in different areas of the topic.  For starters you could check out:

Answers in Genesis

Institute for Creation Research

Check out the blog on the movie by Tim Challies.