Is Genesis History? is a film produced by Thomas Purifoy and hosted by Del Tackett that purports to look into this titular question. The description on Netflix reads “Del Tackett travels the world to interview scientists and scholars to determine whether the book of Genesis is only allegory or the literal truth.” As such I was hopeful that this movie would give a concise balanced look at Genesis discussing historical interpretations of Genesis and how it connects to archaeology and modern science. Sadly I cannot recommend this film due to three main issues, namely numerous logical fallacies, misrepresentation, and setting Christians on a faulty cornerstone.
The logical fallacies most prevalent in Is Genesis History? are circular reasoning and begging the question. In reality the whole film is an exercise in this. While the title and description implies a balanced look at the question, the film is anything but. The answer assumed throughout the film is that Genesis is history. While certainly we would wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion as Lutherans, it is never proven in this film as all the segments engage in question begging and circular reasoning.
Rather than asking the title question and letting the evidence lead where it may, all the evidence instead is presented uncritically with no counter argument or disputation. Not even objections to this view are discussed critically but rather simply disregarded. This approach is not beneficial apologetically or educationally. The arguments of the militant atheists in favor of the naturalistic approach to origins are very convincing and should be dealt with directly. Alternate readings of Genesis aside from the obvious literal reading are found in the history of the Christian church and deserve time to explain them and demonstrate why they should be rejected. Much of the science in this film is presented by young earth creationists and is fringe at best, making bold claims that aren’t backed up by data or explanation. All of this leads to an unjustified conclusion that does not stand up to logical scrutiny.
This failure to live up to the promise of the title is part and parcel of the misrepresentation in this film. Straw men abound and assertions are made with no proof and little explanation. Factually inaccurate, or very fringe, scientific claims are made and stated as fact with no critical evaluation or sufficient evidence. Perhaps the most egregious example is the claim that radioactive decay rates have changed over time, which would require a rewrite of particle physics as we know it. This bold statement is not explained or backed up with any evidence. In fact, this claim is easily disproved simply by looking at decay rates in supernovae which are powered by decays of metals which match what we see here on Earth. Since looking at stars is looking at the past, as light travels at a fixed constant speed to arrive to us, we can be sure that decay rates have not changed since the creation of the world. However, rather than bringing up a discussion of what evidence exists that proves that decay rates have changed the film instead simply states it and moves on as if ashamed of this bold claim.
Beyond this one of the people interviewed, Paul Nelson, dissented from his role in the film saying that he was misrepresented in what he actually thinks on the topic he was interviewed about. His full article is here for your reading: https://evolutionnews.org/2017/02/new_film_is_gen/ He asked for his interview to be modified to reflect his actual thoughts, but it was not. To not correct this is dishonest as it puts words in Dr. Nelson’s mouth that he does not believe or that he thinks are misleading. It also, fair or not, makes the entire film suspect of using spliced footage to make people say things that they do not mean or to take things out of context.
The film also eisegetes the Genesis text in many and various ways. Many claims are made by the people interviewed as being supported by Genesis, but most are just their preferred speculation or theories that do not rise anywhere near the level of actual Scripture. While one is certainly free to speculate and theorize about what the pre-Flood or the pre-Fall world would look like, we do not have a “thus saith the Lord” regarding anything other than what the text of Scripture explicitly say.
Anything else, even if it corresponds nicely with the Genesis text is not binding on the Christian conscience. There are also many instances of attempting to explain how God did it when it comes to obvious miracles. While God certainly could have used naturalistic methods to do His work, all we have is what the Word says. Any theories that try to explain it are that, just theories and likely wrong due to miracles violating natural law. They are subject to all the normal scientific and Scriptural scrutiny that one would expect and should not become sacred cows.
Perhaps the most subtle error of all, the film leaves the Christian with the wrong cornerstone of faith. Scripture is very clear. The foundation of our faith is Christ and His life and work, most especially His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). However, the film explicitly sets up a literal reading of Genesis as the foundation of our faith ignoring the primacy of the Resurrection, which is never mentioned in the film to my recollection. To quote Del Tackett from the cover image, “Nothing in the world makes sense except in the light of Genesis.” The film also heavily implies (if not outright claims) that all the science presented in the film is the only viable way of dealing with the evidence we have. This belies the true foundation of the evangelicals who produced this film. The foundation of their faith is not Christ, but rather the house they have constructed on their pet theories about what is going on in Genesis.
We Lutherans would wholeheartedly agree that Genesis should be read plainly. When read this way the text demands six 24 hour days. The text demands (complete genealogies or not) that the world is young. The text demands a universal Flood. However, God’s Word does not demand anything more than what the actual Scriptures say. To demand more than what the Scriptures say is to eisegete the text. Also, Genesis is not the key to the all the Scriptures or faith. Christ explicitly tells us that the Scriptures are about Him (Luke 24:13-35, John 5:39). He is the Way (John 14:6).
Thus as important as Genesis is, it is not the cornerstone of Scripture. Christ is our cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). This film though would put Christians on a false foundation that can be undermined. Modern science is very convincing and frankly, much of the science put out by young earth creationists is lacking. When my faith and reason struggle due to the conflict between the very convincing theories of modern science and what Genesis clearly teaches, Genesis is not where I look to bolster my faith. Instead where I look is to Christ and the reality of His death and resurrection. I can look there and say with utmost confidence, yes Christ died and was raised from the dead. Since Jesus of Nazareth is alive and that verifies His claims of divinity, I can trust what He says (Romans 1:4). He says that Genesis is true, thus I must believe it even if all evidence appears to be to the contrary (Matthew 19:1-12). This is not Gospel reductionism, this is the Gospel itself as it is putting our confidence in Christ and His work, which He points us to (1 Corinthians 2).
Given all the above I cannot recommend anyone watch Is Genesis History? Too many problems exist with it intellectually, scientifically, logically, and theologically. While we may agree with the conclusion, that yes Genesis is history, the way they get there is circular at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. If you want to learn what evangelical young earth creationists (e.g. Answers in Genesis) are thinking about, go ahead and view it but do so critically. Do not accept what the film tells you at face value. Some of it is very good, but much of it is suspect scientifically. I will admit that there are several interesting ideas and theories in this film that deserve much more time but they don’t outweigh the glaring problems. If you view this film, do so with caution. Have an open Bible and recall that the entire film is one-sided with no rebuttal or critical view.
One recommendation for a better discussion of the topics of creation and biblical history there are two videos by Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute put out by Focus on the Family – “Does God Exist?” and “Is the Bible Reliable?”. Start with the discussion on the historicity of Jesus and His Resurrection first and then go back to talk about Genesis. Regardless of what resource you use be sure that it is fair and balanced on the topic and firmly Christ-centered, else you will be building on a house of sand and not on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27).