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Biologos fails with Is Genesis History critique

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Published: 22 June 2017 (GMT+10)

The film Is Genesis History powerfully presents evidence for the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis, namely that this world was created by God in six, literal days, and that the earth was inundated and destroyed by the global watery catastrophe called Noah’s Flood. As such, the film affirms the reliability of the Bible, which gives people confidence to trust its message, and so respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is Genesis History? Grand-Canyon
Grand Canyon is a monument to the reality of the Genesis Flood

In contrast the prevailing worldview is that everything came about through evolution over millions of years, and that God was not involved. To the secularist it did not happen the way the Bible describes. So, it would not be surprising for atheists and secularists to be critical of the film. What is surprising is that some Christians also criticise it. Such people find great support at Biologos which is dedicated to promoting evolution over millions of years to evangelical Christians. Recently, Biologos published a critique of the film on their website entitled “A geological response to the movie ‘Is Genesis History?’”1 I’ve reproduced their critique below in red interspersed with my response.

A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?”

March 01, 2017 | By Gregg Davidson (guest author) and Joel Duff (guest author) and Ken Wolgemuth (guest author)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The film Is Genesis History? has created something of a splash among conservative Christian communities.

We are delighted the movie created a "splash" as it is absolutely necessary that such resources are available to help protect Christians from being misled (Colossians 2:8). The secularist, long-age evolutionary story is promoted in our culture as if it is scientific fact by those who dismiss as untrue the events described in the Bible.

It is a documentary hosted by Del Tackett, who is known to many Christians as the host of Focus on the Family’s Truth Project, which was used as a small group curriculum by many churches a decade ago. Tackett purports to go on a journey to discover whether a literalist interpretation of Genesis yields a historically reliable account of earth’s history. The film is beautifully produced and no doubt will be held up by many as a model of Christian scholarship. And we do not question the good intentions of the filmmakers, but of course we believe their conclusions to be seriously flawed.

We will see that those who wrote this critique also claim to believe the Bible literally. And it will be interesting to see if they provide any evidence for their so called serious flaws.

Is Genesis History? Geology
Dr Steve Austin and Dr Del Tackett explore Grand Canyon close up

Our inbox has been flooded for the last week with people wondering what we think of the film. There is nothing new here that we haven’t attempted to correct before, but we thought our readers might appreciate some discussion of this particular packaging of young-earth arguments. We have several people in our network writing responses. This first one is by a group of scientists who have extensively investigated the Grand Canyon, a (badly misportrayed) centerpiece of the young-earth position.

I’m glad they have been flooded with people wondering. Hopefully those people will rethink their position and see how the Bible interprets the world.

Our worldview is based on a belief that the Bible is true – cover to cover, from Gen. 1:1 to Rev. 22:21.

This is disingenuous, since BioLogos refuses to affirm biblical inerrancy, simply because too many of its staff don’t. Their website has even published articles claiming that Jesus and Paul taught error, in that they affirmed a literal Genesis and historical Adam. See Evolutionary syncretism: a critique of BioLogos.

We believe God created the universe, that sin really did enter the world through human disobedience, that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and that there is life and judgement beyond the grave.

Where did the authors get those ideas from (God created the universe, sin entered through human disobedience, Jesus’ death and resurrection, life and judgement beyond the grave)? They could only get them from a literal reading of the Bible, of course: Genesis 1, Genesis 3, and the New Testament.

We further believe that nature, as a reflection of its Author, is orderly and logical – that we can trust the story it tells to not be designed to mislead. So now you know the lens through which we offer our critique.

Nature does not tell a story. It is people who make up stories. And the stories they make up depend on their beliefs. So, the story Davidson et al. are trusting is a story made up by people, some of whom have covertly worked to undermine the position of the Bible in our culture. (See Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda—to free science “from Moses”.)

The cinematography of Is Genesis History? is excellent, with creative artwork at each transition, beautiful landscapes, and technical prowess. We can also commend Dr. Tackett for his desire for the world to know truth. Unfortunately, the narrative that accompanied the rich display of God’s amazing creation fell far short of reflecting what we actually find revealed in nature.

We appreciate the compliment on the quality. However, I was hoping they would give evidence and reasons for their criticism, but as I read on I discovered they have provided very little substance.

Is Genesis History? Rob-Carter
Dr Rob Carter (right) explaining design feature of remarkable marine life to Dr Del Tackett

The problems start with the title of the film—and especially in conjunction with its subtitle: “Two competing views…One compelling truth.” A false dichotomy is created from the very first words by giving the viewer the impression that the world is divided between those who believe Genesis is history and those who believe it is merely a collection of myths. No mention is made anywhere in the film that highly respected church fathers, going back at least to Augustine, and including more contemporary figures like B.B. Warfield, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis, did not consider the truth of Genesis to be confined to a superficial record of events.

They argue there is no dichotomy and then proceed to prove there is a dichotomy by taking a contrary position to the film’s. In other words, they have refuted themselves here, but I don’t think they realise it. And as usual with compromisers, they have misrepresented Augustine, who was a young-earth creationist, and appeal to a theological liberal like Bonhoeffer.2

As an aside, when Dr. Jeff Zweerink also reviewed Is Genesis History? for Reasons to Believe, he too accused the film of presenting a false dichotomy and then introduced his own false dichotomy by comparing it with videos that promote the idea of a flat earth.3

But let’s allow for a moment the possible truth of the claim that the earth is young and was catastrophically shaped by a global flood. In exploring the natural evidence for such truths, should one only seek the input of those who agree with you? Much can be gained by considering the arguments of those of differing views, yet in the movie Dr. Tackett does not consult any Christian scientists who could point out errors in the arguments of his exclusively young-earth counselors. This is despite the fact that young-earth creationists are a tiny minority among practicing Christian scientists, especially in fields of science relevant to the question of the earth’s age. We ought to demand more from someone who promotes himself as a flagbearer of evidential truth.

“Possible truth?” That the earth was shaped by a global flood is only “possible truth?” Yet they began by saying, “Our worldview is based on a belief that the Bible is true—cover to cover, from Gen. 1:1 to Rev. 22:21.” If they really believed what they claimed there would be no question that there was a global Flood. They would not need to check first if the scientists agreed.

“In exploring the natural evidence for such truths …” How we explore evidence is really important, especially in geology. It is vital to distinguish between evidence and opinions. For example, when long-age geologists see huge formations of sand deposited by the vast and powerful waters of the Flood—such as the Coconino Sandstone and Hawkesbury Sandstone—they don’t use the Flood as an explanation (they have already rejected the Flood). Instead, their first reaction is to imagine it was deposited by wind in a desert. The only reason they invoke wind is because a huge water flow would be too much like the biblical Flood. Yet, when the actual evidence is examined, such as dune angle, particle size distribution, etc. it is clear that the deposits were water deposited. There are many similar examples. When we are trying to get to the truth of the situation we cannot take what the secular, long-age geologist says without question. We always need to dig deeper and check what the actual evidence is.

“… young-earth creationists are a tiny minority among practicing Christian scientists, especially in fields of science relevant to the question of the earth’s age …” Truth is not established by a vote. We need to test all claims against the Word of God. Scripture gives abundant information for us to know that God created the world about 6,000 years ago (see The forgotten Archbishop).

Moreover, would the truth of an earth of recent creation and violent history need to be propped up on a tangled web of misrepresentations, half-truths, and concealed data? Regardless of whether one thinks the earth to be young or old, Christians should insist on accurate and honestly presented data.

So what did we see in this film? It would take a book to flesh out all the false assertions made, so we’ll confine this review to a few illustrative examples.

Note their accusations: “propped up”, “tangled web”, “misrepresentations”, “concealed data”, “false assertions”, and inaccuracy and dishonesty. These accusations are crude and totally false. We do not try to prop the Bible up. Rather we begin with the truth of the Bible and interpret the evidence within that framework. Secularist geologists likewise begin with their belief system (materialism) and interpret the evidence in that system.

Just minutes into the film, we find ourselves in the Grand Canyon with Dr. Steve Austin, a young-earth creationist geologist. Here we are told that the layers are flat with no erosion or significant channels, that geologists have abandoned long ages for the canyon formation since it couldn’t be stable over millions of years, that remnants of giant lakes are found that once dammed water before failing and violently carving out the canyon, and that a massive erosional feature near the bottom of the canyon, known as the Great Unconformity, has been observed all over the world. A bit later in the film, we are informed that the layers of the canyon preserve a succession of marine ecosystems, each washed in and deposited by flood surges. Conclusion? “The only explanation that makes sense is a global flood!”

Yes, the evidence presented is compelling. The physical evidence, as pointed out in the film, is problematic for the idea that the rocks in the area were deposited slowly over hundreds of millions of years, and the canyon was carved over tens of millions of years. There is no question that the evidence in the area is what we would expect from the global Flood.

Many who watch this movie will think: “These men are Christians and scientists, so it must be true!” Yet it doesn’t take much digging to discover that evidence of erosion between layers in the Grand Canyon is abundant, including now filled-in river channels as much as 400 ft deep. The so-called “abandonment of long ages” actually means that while some geologists think the carving took over 70 million years, others think it formed over a shorter period of about 6 million years. The giant lakes turn out to be speculation, with no actual evidence of their proposed size. Attention was drawn to the widespread occurrence of the Great Unconformity, but no mention was made of the two-mile thick sequence of tilted rocks below the Great Unconformity that has remarkable similarities to the layers above – all somehow deposited before the great flood.*

As creationist scientists we encourage people to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We don’t expect anyone just to take our word for it. That is why there is active debate and discussion on scientific ideas in creationist academic journals, such as the Journal of Creation.

The overwhelming impression we see at Grand Canyon, from the many lookouts and on photographs, is of extensive, flat-lying, geological layers sitting one on top of the other with almost straight contacts between them. As the movie explains, this is consistent with what we would expect from large-scale deposition during the global Flood. Yes, there are occasional filled-in channels but these are minor by comparison, and do not alter the overriding impression. In fact, these channels would have been formed during Flood inundation after each successive surge of floodwaters deposited sediment and briefly waned. Their large size (400 ft deep) points to erosion happening locally on a large scale rather than at a small scale all over the various surfaces (see ‘Flat gaps’ in sedimentary rock layers challenge long geologic ages.

The idea the canyon was carved in 6 million years is a lot faster than the earlier number of 70 million. That demonstrates that the evidence for youthfulness is compelling. Long-age geologists still have a way to go but they are going the right direction. There is a lot of other evidence for rapid carving of the canyon and its youthfulness, such as the steepness of the side walls and the lack of debris at their bases. The catastrophic draining of a huge post-Flood lake on the plateau is one hypothesis. Steve Austin says “there are lots of theories” but that his personal preference is for the lake. And he points to evidence for such a lake in the film. (For another idea see: A receding Flood scenario for the origin of the Grand Canyon.)

“… but no mention was made of the two-mile thick sequence of tilted rocks below the Great Unconformity”. These formations, the Grand Canyon Supergroup, have been discussed by creationist geologists in various places.4 Davidson et al. would know about these discussions if they were familiar with creationist geological literature. Some creationist geologists place these rocks into the Creation Week, and consider that they were tilted early in the Flood and eroded by the advancing floodwaters. Others consider they were deposited early in the Flood, and subsequently tilted and eroded, again early in the Flood. Either way, the presence of the Great Unconformity is powerful evidence for the catastrophic erosive power of the early phase of the global Flood. (For some discussion see: The pre-Flood/Flood boundary at the base of the earth’s transition zone.)

And perhaps worst of all, when mentioning those sequential layers of marine fossils laid down by flood surges, they conveniently leave out the fact that in a vertical mile of catastrophically deposited sediments, there is not a single fossilized bird, mammal, dinosaur, flowering plant, or even a grain of flowering plant pollen. This looks remarkably like evidence of rising and falling oceans at a time when birds, mammals, dinosaurs, and flowering plants did not yet exist. How does an earth-scouring watery cataclysm, with a miraculous removal of all traces of these organisms, provide “the only explanation that makes sense”?

Davidson et al. are pushing an evolutionary worldview here. The absence of particular animals from particular horizons does not mean they did not exist. There are many examples of animals that were thought to have become extinct (to not exist) because their fossils were absent from certain rocks. However, they were later discovered to be alive, which means they did exist all that time, even though they left no fossil evidence (e.g. The Shovelnose Ray).

According to the Bible (contrary to the evolutionary worldview) “birds, mammals, dinosaurs, and flowering plants” have always existed contemporaneously since the sixth day of creation. Within a Flood perspective, there are many factors that would affect the vertical order of fossils in the rocks, including the order in which the various environments were overwhelmed by the Flood. Thus, sea creatures are buried first and then land creatures. However, sea creatures continued to be buried with land creatures, which is what we would expect from the global Flood, because it impacted both the ocean and the land.

In other words, that “vertical mile” of sediment has the same sort of features that we see in sediments deposited by floods today, except that it is orders of magnitude larger. It is the nature of a flood to sort things into different categories—vegetation, animals, logs, fine sediment, coarse sediment, etc. Another characteristic in floods today is that large volumes of sediment can be deposited without containing any vegetation or animals. What we see in Grand Canyon is consistent with catastrophically deposited Flood sediments.

Interpreting the order of the fossils as the order of evolution has problems. One is that the fossil ranges are continually being expanded up and down as more fossils are being discovered. The neat evolutionary story continually needs to be changed. (See for example: Grass-eating dinos: A ‘time-travel’ problem for evolution, Pollen problem, and Slow fish in China: The fossil find in China now confirms that fish appear suddenly in the fossil record along with all the other kinds of animals. )

Similar examples and explanations can be made about each section of the film. The strength of each argument is dependent on listeners only being exposed to young-earth resources. While the ubiquitous misrepresentations promulgated in this film are disturbing in their own right, their stated association with the gospel message is what is most alarming. This film will undoubtedly make its way into church libraries, homeschooling and Christian school curriculums, and youth group movie nights, convincing Christian youth that they can safely reject “secular” notions of deep time and evolution. When they go to college or start investigating the evidence themselves and discover they have been misled, the natural tendency is to assume that it is Christianity itself that has failed them. Unbelieving seekers who see this film will likewise be confronted with the confounding association of the truth of Christ with massive misrepresentations about natural history. An enormous stumbling block to faith is laid at the feet of these poor souls, standing between them and the cross.

Yes, that is exactly what we want, for this film to “make its way into church libraries, homeschooling and Christian school curriculums, and youth group movie nights.” And yes, our desire is that Christian youth will think about these issues and reject the untrue, unscientific, and unbiblical notions of deep time and evolution.

“each argument is dependent on listeners only being exposed to young-earth resources”. No one in our culture has only been exposed to the young-earth creation perspective. Many people would not have heard of the young-earth perspective before watching the video. And we don’t want people to accept the young-earth position just because the film says so, but to thoroughly investigate the issue for themselves.

And yes, evolution over millions of years does undermine the Gospel. One effect is that it places death before Adam and Eve sinned, whereas the Bible says that sin brought death into the world. That is the reason Christ died—to pay the penalty for our sin. Placing millions of years of death and suffering before Adam and Eve definitely undermines the Gospel. And it despoils God’s character because it makes God responsible for the origin of death, disease and suffering. The fossils do not belong before Adam and Eve, but after. That is why the Flood, which the Bible describes so graphically, is so important; it explains the fossils all over the world. The dates of millions of years for the rocks are driven by the secularist belief system, and are not objective facts (see: Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?).

I’m not impressed with their emotional claim about the film, that “An enormous stumbling block to faith is laid at the feet” of young people. Our overwhelming experience is exactly the opposite. Those who survive college and stay connected to church are those who, when they were young, were presented scientific evidence supporting biblical history (creation, global Flood, young-earth). This is documented in a survey of college students in CMI’s video Fallout, which we have made available at low cost to alert Christians of this problem and do something to protect their children. The important thing is that young people be exposed to evidence that supports the Bible and made aware of the serious scientific, social, and biblical problems with evolution and deep time.

We long for the day when the church will realize that the gospel and the authority of Scripture do not need to be propped up with convoluted arguments and misrepresentations of the natural world. When nature is allowed to proclaim its message without preconceived notions of its history, it declares the glory of God just fine (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:20).

Yes, the Gospel and the authority of Scripture do not need to be propped up. They are true. They stand on their own. What is needed is for the church to be propped up, to stand on their own book—the Word of God—solidly and unashamedly. Christians need to believe it. So, when the Scripture says there was a global Flood, we believe it. Then, when we look at the world we can see the evidence for it.

Why would we believe a secularist geologist if he tells us there is no evidence for a global Flood? We would know that they are not speaking truth. Why would we believe a theologian who says the same? If we accepted their word we would have to conclude that Jesus was mistaken. He clearly believed Noah’s global Flood happened (Luke 17:26–27). When people tell us that there never was a global Flood, that the world is millions of years old, and that evolution is a fact, we know immediately there is something wrong, even if we don’t know why. Then, when we do a little research we discover that they have begun at the wrong starting point, by dismissing what the Bible says. On the other hand, when we begin with the Bible, we find—contrary to what they claim—that the evidence fits with what the Bible records.

References and notes

  1. Davidson, G., Duff, J., and Wolgemuth, K., A geological response to the movie “Is Genesis History?” biologos.org, 1 March 2017. Return to text.
  2. Weikart, R., The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology, Christian Research Journal 35(6), (2012); equip.org. Return to text.
  3. Zweerink, J., Thoughts on Is Genesis History? reasons.org, 24 February 2017. Return to text.
  4. Austin, S.A., Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, Institute for Creation Research, pp. 57–67, 1994. Return to text.