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

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View of the Grand Canyon from Moran Point. (Photo by Mike Koopsen)

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!”

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.*

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"?

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.

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).

Notes

Citations

MLA

Wolgemuth, Ken. "A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?”"
http://biologos.org/. N.p., 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 September 2017.

APA

Wolgemuth, K. (2017, March 1). A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?”
Retrieved September 22, 2017, from http://biologos.org/blogs/guest/a-geological-response-to-the-movie-is-genesis-history

References & Credits

*Edited 3/7/17. The original sentence read, “The global presence of the Great Unconformity exists only in Dr. Austin’s mind.” A careful reader noted that while the distribution of the Great Unconformity does not fit with a global flood, it is technically true that it is found on portions of continents beyond North America. We regret the overstatement.

The authors are contributors to the recent book The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth. The book is an excellent source for understanding how geologists know what they claim to know about the past, with a focus on the Grand Canyon, and why Noah’s flood is not responsible for the earth’s vast storehouse of fossil-bearing layers.

In addition, we recommend the following resources at BioLogos on the geological evidence for an old earth, and the evidence against a global flood:

How are the ages of the Earth and universe calculated? (Common Question)

How Old is the Earth? (Video)

How Do We Know the Earth is Old? (Infographic)  

Flood Geology and the Grand Canyon: What Does the Evidence Really Say? (Blog Post)

Science vs. Flood Geology: Not Just a Difference in Worldview (Blog Post)

Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology (Blog Series)

How should we interpret the Genesis flood account? (Common Question)

About the Authors

Davidson Gregg

Dr. Gregg Davidson is chair of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi and conducts original research in geochemistry and hydrogeology, often employing radiometric dating methods to determine the age of groundwater and sediments. In 2009 he published a book about his keen interest in integrating a lifetime of studying geology with his firm conviction about the infallibility of God’s Word, When Faith & Science Collide – A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth.

More posts by Gregg Davidson

Joel Duff

Joel Duff is a professor of biology at The University of Akron. He earned his B.S. in biology from Calvin College, and a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Tennessee. He research focuses on understanding biological diversity by examining differences in DNA sequences and genome structure. He has worked on numerous plant and animals systems and has authored more than 40 research articles in science journals. He is an active writer and speaker exploring the intersection of science and Christian faith. He is a contributor to the book Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth and blogger at Naturalis Historia (thenaturalhistorian.com). He is an avid nature photographer and enjoys exploring God’s creation with his wife and five children. 

More posts by Joel Duff

Ken Wolgemuth

Dr. Ken Wolgemuth is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tulsa and a Petroleum Consultant teaching short courses on petroleum geology and “Geology for the Non-Geologist.” Over the last 10 years, he has developed a keen interest in sharing the geology of God’s Creation with Christians in churches and seminaries.

More posts by Ken Wolgemuth

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