Digging Deep into the Movie, “Is Genesis History” (Part 1): Rock Layers, Paradigms, and How This YECist Movie Tries to Bury the Truth

This past February, the movie Is Genesis History? was shown in countless movie theaters across the country for one night only. It starred Del Tackett of The Truth Project by Focus on the Family, and it involved him interviewing a number of scientists regarding issues like geology, astronomy, biology, etc. in order to address the question found in the title: “Is Genesis, in fact, history?” Many groups like Answers in Genesis heavily promoted the film, so I pretty much knew what the conclusion of the movie was going to be, before it even came out. Therefore, I didn’t bother going to the theater that night to watch it.

Over the past few months, I’ve skimmed a number of reviews of the movie, most of them by actual scientists. All of them very respectively, but also very strongly, disagreed with the movie’s answer to its own question. It really isn’t much of a spoiler alert to say that the movie really wasn’t asking if Genesis was history, but rather if Genesis 1-11 was history. And its answer was, “Yes, it is history, and you really have only two options: young earth creationist paradigm or the godless secularistic paradigm that has taken over our culture.”

After reading those reviews, I congratulated myself for not wasting $8.00 on the movie. Last weekend, though, a friend of mine (who is not a young earth creationist) told me he had a DVD of the movie, and he really wanted me to watch it, because he wanted to get my take on it. I figured I’d take a look at it—at least I would only be wasting two hours of my life, and not $8.00.

Well, I’ve watched it, and I’ll be honest, I felt as if my head was going to explode.

The reason why the movie angered me so much was not because of the answer the makers gave to their question. No, what angered me was that no matter how well-done the movie might have been made, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere Del Tackett might have been, the stone-cold fact is that it was fundamentally dishonest from the very beginning to the end.

A Little Background on Me
Now, I have written quite a lot about the young earth creationist movement over the past two years, both here on this blog and in my book, The Heresy of Ham. As that title will obviously tell you, I am not a fan of YECism. My educational background, though, is not in science. I majored in English Literature, and then went on to eventually earn a PhD in the Old Testament. My major concern has always been the proper interpretation and exegesis of the Bible. And as far as Genesis 1-11 is concerned, I had already come to the conclusion that it is not history or science a good ten years before I even began to care about the creation/evolution debate,

Or to put it simply, if you would have asked me back in 1997, “Do you believe Genesis 1-11 is history?” I would have said (and still say), “Of course not!” And if you would have asked me up until 2008, “Do you believe in evolution?” I would have said, “Of course not!” My answer to that question has since changed, basically because I’ve taken the time to actually understand what it really states. Still, I have my questions about it, but the point is, my conclusion about Genesis 1-11 had absolutely nothing to do with the creation/evolution debate.

In any case, over the next few posts, I’m going to take you through Is Genesis History? and show you how fundamentally dishonest and misleading the movie is from beginning to end. Joel Duff is doing his own series of posts on the movie in which he goes into more scientific detail than I can, but what I hope to do is show the sleight of hand and great deficiencies in logic that persist all throughout the movie.

I may be somewhat of a layperson when it comes to science, but I think I know my Bible pretty well, and I know what a well-articulated argument looks like. On the flip side of that, I also can tell when someone is cutting corners, performing a sleight of hand, and using smoke and mirrors in their argument. And my oh my, did I see that on display in this movie.

So let’s dive right in…

Del Tackett

Del Tackett’s Opening
There are essentially thirteen segments to Is Genesis History? with some opening and closing comments by Del Tackett at (quite obviously) the beginning and end of the film. Now, like I said earlier, the title of the movie is actually misleading on two counts. First, it isn’t really about debating the historicity of Genesis, but rather about the historicity of Genesis 1-11. And secondly, it doesn’t really debate the historicity of Genesis 1-11—halfway through the very first segment entitled, “What Do Rocks Tell Us?” it is pretty clear: to the makers of the movie, the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is assumed, not questioned, and certainly not up for debate at all.

In any case, the film opens with Del Tackett at Mount St Helens. He points out that because of the volcano’s eruption in 1980, there was massive change in the area within the matter of a few days. Catastrophes happen, and that changes the landscape.

Now, I don’t think anyone disputes that. So why does Del Tackett state the obvious? He immediately jumps to the young earth creationism/evolution debate: Was the earth created in six days, or did it take millions of years? Was there a worldwide catastrophic flood 4,000 years ago? Or, as the title of the movie should state: Is Genesis (1-11) History?

So within the first few minutes, it is quite clear: they are going to look to science to determine whether or not Genesis 1-11 is relating historical facts.

The first thing wrong with this, though, is that the movie skips over what should be the fundamental exegetical question regarding Genesis 1-11: What was the intent of the author of Genesis 1-11? Before one should even think of asking scientific questions, one should first step back, look at the historical and literary context of Genesis 1-11, and ask, “If Moses wrote this during the Exodus for the Israelites journeying to the Promised Land (or some anonymous writer in Babylon to the Jews in exile), how would they have understood it?

The fact is, we in the modern world look at Genesis 1-11 and immediately start interpreting it with our modern, scientific, Enlightenment “worldview glasses”—and thus we start with scientific questions. But would ancient Israelites living in a pagan world, surrounded by pagan nations, filled with stories of gods, goddesses, and a general mythological worldview—would they interpret Genesis 1-11 in the same way we are inclined to do?

The answer should be obvious: no. They weren’t asking scientific questions. They didn’t read Genesis 1-11 and think, “Wow! That is totally going to refute Darwinism!” Or to put it another way, since they didn’t have a scientific worldview, and thus were not asking scientific questions, it is ridiculous to think (if one takes the notion of biblical inspiration seriously) that God would inspire the author of Genesis 1-11 to tell of things that the original audience would not have been concerned with.

Simply put, Genesis 1-11 was not written to refute Darwinism or modern science. It was written to refute the false notions put forth in pagan myths relating to the gods, the world, and mankind. That’s a whole other topic in and of itself—and it’s a topic the movie never touches upon because the movie fails to ask the most fundamental question that should be asked regarding Genesis 1-11: What was the intent of the author of Genesis 1-11?

Instead, as it becomes obvious within the first few minutes of the first real segment, the movie simply assumes Genesis 1-11 is history. Consequently, the entire movie is just one big attempt to mischaracterize, downplay, and deny the findings of modern biology, geology, astronomy, and genetics. When it does actually touch upon Genesis 1-11 itself, all I can say is that it is equally as painful to watch.

What Do Rocks Tells Us? (Interview with Dr. Steven Austin of Creation Ministries International)
As you will soon realize in the course of these posts, every single scientist Del Tackett interviewed was a young earth creationist. In this first segment, Tackett interviews Steven Austin at the Grand Canyon. They take note of the various, clearly different rock layers the Grand Canyon exposes, and immediately conclude that it was caused by Noah’s flood. (Please note, there is no question as to whether or not Genesis 1-11 is history, the assumption that it is, is there from the start).

Rock Layers in the Grand Canyon

In any case, Austin says the rock layers had to have been laid down very quickly, because if it was “millions of years,” the rock layers would show signs of erosion, but they apparently don’t. Therefore, Austin concludes, these different rock layers “tell us” that they were all laid down within the span of a few months, about 4,000 years ago.

Now, I’m no geologist, but I really have a hard time believing that. If there really was some sort of cataclysmic, ultra-destructive, worldwide flood that was so violent that it tore up absolutely everything on the face of the earth, pulverizing rocks, tearing up sediment, and whipping everything up in a colossal blender, does Austin expect us to believe that the flood waters somehow were able to perfectly lay down all the sandstone (that had been whipped up in that colossal blender) first, let it instantaneously solidify, then lay down shale (again, that had been swirling around in the colossal blender) in the next layer, let it instantaneously solidify, and then continue in that fashion with the limestone, more sandstone, more shale, etc. etc.?

Again, I’m not a geologist, and far be it from me to question Stone Cold Steven Austin of Creation.com, but his assertion that “the flood did all that” without any real explanation…well, call me skeptical. His assertion is not evidence; and it certainly doesn’t prove Genesis 1-11 is history. I welcome any comments by any geologist who can further elaborate on this.

Question of Paradigms (Interview with Dr. Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute)
The next segment of the movie is actually quite crucial to the movie’s argument. Tackett interviews Paul Nelson about different “paradigms” that are used to interpret scientific evidence. According to what you see in the movie, Nelson states that there really are only two paradigms: the conventional paradigm—that argues for long periods of time, with natural forces, and no planner or designer involved; and the Genesis paradigm—that argues there is a divine mind behind creation, that creation has purpose, and that things were formed fully functional from the start. The conflict, therefore, is not between two views of science, but between two competing views of history.

When I watched this segment, I wrote down in my notes, “Those aren’t the only two choices; he’s conflating evolution with philosophical naturalism; his Genesis paradigm sounds like a hybrid of YEC and Intelligent Design.”

Now this is important, because throughout the rest of the movie, Tackett uses these “two paradigms” as the framework for his entire questioning with the other scientists. Which makes more sense: “blind, purposeless, chance and millions of years” or “God did it in six days, 6,000 years ago”? Those are your options, period.

There’s just one problem: Paul Nelson wrote an online article, openly stating that the movie misrepresented what he was saying, that it presented a false dichotomy, and that he dissented from his role in the film. In the article (provided here), he writes: To put the matter as plainly as possible, what I say about only ‘two paradigms’ is not true, and I have recommended that it be corrected by the film’s producer and director, Thomas Purifoy, before the DVD is released.” And again, “I must accept my share of responsibility for this error, and regret that so many people will hear me say something I do not believe to be accurate. Throughout my thirty years in the intelligent design and ‘creation/evolution’ discussion, I have consistently explained that, given one’s assumptions, an array of differing positions — more than two, certainly — exist concerning origins.”

You can read his full comments in his article, but this speaks volumes of the lack of integrity of this movie, for it repeatedly referred back to the “two paradigms” comments throughout the entirety of the movie—as I said, the “two paradigms” question really formed the framework to the entire movie. And yet, the man who they have saying that in the movie, tried to correct his comments, told them ahead of time, before the movie came out, and they chose not to correct the error.

He hoped they would correct it by the time the DVD came out—they didn’t. How could they? The whole “there are only two real paradigms” proposition formed the basis of the entire movie. They were intent on telling their viewers, “Hey, it’s either YEC and God, or godless evolution! Are you really going to reject God’s eyewitness account of the history of Genesis?” If they were to then add Nelson saying, “Actually, those aren’t the only two options,” that would undercut the entire movie, wouldn’t it? They couldn’t present YEC as the only “godly” option, could they?

And so, they chose to ignore the truth that Nelson was trying to convey. It’s bitterly ironic, given the fact that Del Tackett is most known for his work on The Truth Project.

I guess you could say that Is Genesis History? has tried to bury the truth, presumably under all those sedimentary rock layers in the Grand Canyon that Noah’s flood supposedly laid down.

In my next post, I’ll cover the next few segments of the movie, where Tackett interviews Steven Boyd, Andrew Snelling (YECist), Kurt Wise (YECist), Marcus Ross (YECist), Arthur Chadwick (YECist), and Kevin Anderson (YECist).

Take a guess what position these men will take.

4 Comments

  1. Wasn’t Todd Wood (AKA “the honest creationist”, a moniker he supposedly dislikes) in this movie? How did his segment fare?

  2. Might the Israelites be asking questions about pre-history (in the truest sense) / history though?

    I think so, since 2 1/2 chapters between Genesis 1 to 11 are devoted to genealogies.

    What do you think that might indicate about the author’s intent?

    1. If I might add:

      (1) As any OT scholar such as yourself knows, the two basic types of genealogies in the Scriptures — linear and segmented — assume that they are relaying history, do they not?

      (2) If not, why else would they be used / included?

      (3) Can you name one non-historical book of the Bible that features a genealogy?

      (4) Does not the answer to (3) indicate that the books containing genealogies are meant to be understood as history? Why or why not?

      If I might reference a first-century source, let me say that even the first chapters in Josephus’ tome “The Antiquities of the Jews” assumes the historical nature of Genesis 1 to 11. The first chapter of Genesis appears to be even singled out to be straight-forward history (1.1.34), not philosophy, poetic, or anything else.

      Thanks!

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