Movie Review: Is Genesis History?

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).

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

Comments

Movie Review: Is Genesis History? — 15 Comments

  1. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I appreciate this review by Dr. Edmon of Harvard University very much! I am glad to find someone in the LC-MS who thinks the same way I do about the relation of science and Scripture. I too have been concerned about creation-scientists who peddle their theories as if they were scientific or Scriptural fact. A previous generation of LC-MS scientists, who were creationists, did not make that error. Here I am commending to your reading the writings of LC-MS people like: Paul Zimmerman, John Klotz, Scott Meyer, and many others. It is good to see the new generation of LC-MS scientists taking up the mantle with the proper care and respect for the facts and for Scripture. I encourage the editors of BJS to publish more of Dr. Edmon’s writings, as he has time and interest.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post Dr. Edmon!

    This quote about articulates exactly how I approach the creation narative too:

    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 actually 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).

    I think it is our natural tendency to want to understand everything. A lot of people wish we could wrap up the entire creation narrative along with science and tie it up with a nice little bow.

    From what I have seen from the Lutheran heritage, though, is we are often the readiest to admit that there are many great theological mysteries and we should not expect to understand everything. Our faith isn’t in our understanding, it is in Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins. This is why we often speak of tension, mysteries, and paradoxes. As such I especially think it is poignant when you say that “To demand more than what the Scriptures say is to eisegete the text.” I believe this is where Lutherans can be a helpful voice in the creation debates, reminding everyone we can only speak with certainty as far as the text will let us.

    As sola scriptura believing Christians, it is easy to want to fall off the other side of the horse and try and read the Bible into our science. As this movie shows (and sadly quite often a lot of young-earth creationist materials), this usually just leads to bad science, bad philosophy, and even quite often, bad theology.

    Thank you for reminding us of our Lutheran principles with this wonderful post; for not shying away from a clear tension of our modern times and offering us your perspective as a scientist.

    God bless,
    Chris

  3. Dr. Edmon,

    It just hit me. Your magnum opus is waiting to be written. Remember to keep it lay-friendly. You could name it something like “The Intersection of Science, Fiction, and Faith” or “Faith, Fiction, and Science.”

    Seriously, do you have such a book on your radar? I think it would be most valuable in our Lutheran schools and Concordia University system, not to mention providing the “Lutheran Option” to the Evangelical creation debates of which Dr. Arand speaks.

    Something to consider…

  4. My guess is that in 2023, when Dr Arand finally releases his “Lutheran Option” it will sound like this article. Thank you Dr Edmon.

  5. @Andrew #4

    Hey, Andrew–that bit about “2023”–that was a cheap shot.

    So Dr. Arand is taking his time about his blog series–so what? Is he supposed to shoot first and ask questions later?

    And, if he agrees with Dr. Edmon, so what? Do you want them to disagree?

    Lots of people blame Chuck Arand for the Jurchen brouhaha because Arand is the executive editor of the Concordia Journal. Well, do you blame the editors of BJS for every single mistake made on this website?

    Give the guy a break, will ya?

  6. @Mark #3

    Wow, that is a good title. I may have to borrow it if I end up writing a book on it.

    As to your question. Sadly I am not aware of one. The best one I know is the CTCR report “In Christ All Things Hold Together”, but that is very dense. It’s wonderful though. I lead a study through it at FLC and they really liked it but I had to walk through many of the philosophical ideas and concepts of the text. Definitely not something appropriate for schools, but rather more for academics or interested laymen. A distilled version of that text would be wonderful for classes on philosophy of science. However, while that text alludes and interacts with Genesis it doesn’t really do a full treatment (nor is it really intended to as its just laying out overarching principles which generally apply).

    A specific text about Genesis regarding the latest science on all sides and theology would be beneficial. While the theology doesn’t really shift (Old Earth, Young Earth, etc. have been around for quite some time) the science does. So its hard to maintain and up to date critique of the science on all sides in a textbook. Doesn’t mean that something shouldn’t be written, but rather it may be out of date when published with respect to the latest science.

    I know in talks I give on the topic (you can find two of them recorded here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q7HMeqaIEk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arE6z18Wdnc) I take the format of:

    1. Talk sbout Genesis
    2. Talk about Modern Science
    3. Talk about how to resolve the two

    I’ve found that it tends to work pretty well, but I usually end up rushing to fit into a 1 hour time slot. Really it should be a three week study.

  7. Dr. Edmon writes: “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.” And “The foundation of our faith is Christ and His life and work, most especially His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).” And “Christ explicitly tells us that the Scriptures are about Him (Luke 24:13-35, John 5:39). He is the Way (John 14:6).”

    The scientists who appear in the movie agree with these points.

    Dr. Edmon writes that the scientists in the movie make bold claims that aren’t backed up by data or explanation.

    However, it should be noted that at the end of the movie there is a panel discussion in which several of the scientists who appear in the movie say that there was not time in the movie to go into sufficient detail on the many points that they raised in the movie. Instead, they encourage the viewers to go to the websites of their respective organizations and read the MANY, MANY articles that DO go into great detail on these subjects, giving the data and the explanations and point-for-point rebuttals of secularist views of origins.

    Does Dr. Edmon himself perhaps make a false dichotomy between Genesis and Jesus? Between the written Word of God and the Word of God incarnate? The Son of God is the Creator (together with the Father and the Holy Spirit) whose work is revealed in Genesis. He (together with the Father and the Holy Spirit) is the divine author of Genesis. He reveals Himself in Genesis (just as in all of the rest of Scripture) and also gives testimony in the NT that He accepts Genesis as historically accurate. Furthermore, Jesus said: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).

    I propose that Concordia Seminary organize a symposium and invite Dr. Edmon and the scientists who appear in the movie (including Dr. Danny Faulkner and Dr. Andrew Snelling) to be speakers. They could go into detail on their views, giving both the Scriptural and scientific evidence. They could respond to one another’s presentations and also answer questions from the audience. This (one would hope) would provide more light and less heat than we have seen in this debate of late. At least at such a symposium all of the speakers would be scientists who believe that the Bible teaches a six-day creation, a young earth, and a world-wide Noachian flood, and who also believe and confess Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Creator, Savior and Lord.

  8. @Rev. Warren Woerth #7

    You make a powerful argument and admonition. Your assertion reminds me of those who say things like, I can live with Scriptural uncertainty but I cannot live without Jesus,” or “If all the Bibles were confiscated I still have Jesus” as if Holy Scripture is but a mere presentation of Jesus but has no ju-ju in and of its own. To them I say, God’s word is inspired and infallible, but most of all efficacious by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel read or spoken to an audience can create faith where there was none, ex nihilo. The written Word and the living Word are inseparable, each attesting to the other and mysterious like the two natures of Christ, and we dare not make a dichotomy where our understanding is concerned to the demotion of the Bible. The Bible is not a relic or a talisman nor is it to be worshipped. But it is certainly not just ink and paper.
    Having said that, I look forward to Dr. Edmon’s response. I especially like your symposium idea/challenge to Dr. Edmon. I believe we would all gain from such scholarship and debate, although I am reminded that trial lawyers hasten to quote Aaron Burr, “Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained,” and I wonder if science isn’t trending in that direction too. One of my favorite words in the realm of math and science is the word, “conjecture,” which is sometimes hard to separate from what is considered to be fact.

  9. @Dr. Paul Edmon #6

    I am old school, closer to your father’s age. I remember lugging thick textbooks around campus with one arm and then the other. I still prefer a tactile experience reading longer texts to looking at them digitally on a screen. I cannot bring myself to read something like F. Bente’s Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions on the computer or other device. No, give me a comfortable piece of furniture, a good light, and a strong cup of java and then I’m ready to read epically.
    I have enjoyed your videos and have one suggestion, if I may. Have the camera intermittently zoom in to your face to make the experience a little more up close and personal. I also think you could publish video and audio seminars à la Paul Maier http://www.paulmaier.com/index_files/Page344.htm. This would give you more exposure to the churches of the LCMS and allow them more time to digest the content during protracted Bible studies or the Sunday School hour.
    Thanks for sharing your passions with us. We are the better for it.

  10. Dr. Edmon, thank you for your scientific expertise, your service to our Synod, and your courtesy.

    I have a follow-up question to an earlier article of yours. (I figure you will be monitoring this one more closely, since it’s being actively commented upon.)

    You were discussing why you believed in the omphalos hypothesis, and I asked you about how the cosmic background radiation would exist if the Big Bang never happened. You said something along the lines of “The CMB needs to exist for us to have a consistent universe”–sorry if I misquoted you.

    Could you please explain that further?

    Thanks in advance!

  11. With respect to Professor Arand’s articles they should be coming out soon so no need to wait until 2023. I know he is busy doing research on the recent background on many of these discussions among the evangelicals. Their thinking has crept in to our own circles so it will be good to refresh our minds as to where they stand as well as how we properly respond. I look forward to his articles coming out on this topic.

    As to the questions above.

    @Rev. Warren Woerth #7

    Yeah, I worried that that might be the interpretation that would come through in my article. Rest assured that was not my intention. Rather I’m trying to point out the very subtle shift in where the evangelicals typically rest their footing. Rather I would have us follow what St. Paul says regarding the Scriptures:

    19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

    So the Scriptures form the foundation of the Church with Christ as the cornerstone. However it seems (at least from my watching this film as well as listening to the evangelicals talk about this) that they have Genesis as their cornerstone not Christ. As noted above it is subtle for I don’t doubt that they hold Christ’s Resurrection as important too. So let it be said clearly that I definitely do not want to set up a dichotomy between Genesis and Jesus. That was not my intent with the statement above. It was more directed to the issue related to what is makes up the heart and core of Scripture. In fact what makes up the heart and core of Genesis. That is Christ. If I have any doubts about Genesis, I look to Christ to verify that book and all of Scripture. This is not to set up a dichotomy but rather looking to who gives the authority to Scripture? Christ does because He is God. How do we know Christ is God? He was raised from the dead as He said He would be.

    The danger with the evangelical position is if the science that underpins their understanding of Genesis is undermined then it can cause people to lose their faith because the way they argue can lead people to put their faith on the scientific theories they have constructed rather than on the Word. Now this won’t be true in all cases, but from the way of their argumentation I can see some one very easily being lead astray and putting their trust in their science as its their proof for Scripture. If that proof is undermined then Scripture is false and that person’s faith is compromised. If instead you put your faith on the truth of the Resurrection (where St. Paul tells us to), then if the science that they have proposed to support Genesis is undermined then your faith is still secure and well founded.

    I just want to have ourselves keep critical distance from scientific theories being the basis of propping up our faith. Like it or not, people do this very naturally. It is very easy to fall in to the trap of having a bad foundation for their faith. Sometimes its more subtle than others.

    @James Gibbs #10

    As to your question regarding the CMB. Really its the same problem with anything in Creation with Omphalos. The self consistency argument I made is really more general namely that the universe is as it is because it is logically self consistent. For God is a God of order. That’s really all I meant. Now could God make it another way? Certainly. I get the feeling though that the universe as it stands is as it is due to the effects of sin and the reworking of the cosmos that God originally created to be self consistent with that reality. Part of the birth pangs that St. Paul talks about in Romans 8:22.

    That said, it is pure conjecture on my part and I am quite willing to be wrong about it. I never want to underestimate the results of the Fall on Creation, but frankly other than death entering the world and the other curses we don’t really have any other statements about the impact on the whole of Creation. Genesis after all isn’t an astronomy text book and frankly the Fall is one of these cosmology bending events that I’m not even sure that science would have access too. These are just my conjectures though and certainly should be taken as such. It’s a topic that I am actively thinking about and working myself through.

  12. @Rev. Warren Woerth #7

    And now, something from the other Dr. Edmon.

    I am Paul’s father (my Ph.D. is in Atmospheric Sciences). We watched the movie on Netflix right after Christmas. There was no panel discussion at the end of this version of the movie, I went back to it tonight and double-checked. However, a panel discussion still would not have fixed many of the defects in the movie Paul mentioned in his review.

  13. I briefly looked at the Summer 2017 issue of Concordia Journal, and read all of Prof. Jurchen’s paper. I was struck by the difficulty in finding people who are both talented scientists and orthodox Lutherans. We need such people to help navigate this minefield; too often we go in the wrong direction when the discussion is dominated by those whose vocation is one but not the other. Kudos to Dr. Edmon. Keep up the great work, and consider a presentation at youth conferences such as Higher Things.

  14. Hello Dr. Edmon. Excellent article. This is the Lutheran Voice I hope could rise again. I wrote about this in the Summer 2017 issue of Concordia Journal. I really appreciated what you wrote:

    “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. ”

    Next time you are in St Louis, hope we get a chance to meet. http://swami.wustl.edu/ http://peacefulscience.org/

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