Genesis, Paradise Lost: A Tale of False Dichotomies and Missing Voices
The movie Genesis: Paradise Lost's ignorance of alternative perspectives in the origins conversations presents its viewers with a dilemma between Christianity and evolution that need not exist.
Last November, my wife and I sat in a movie theater with dozens of fellow evangelicals to watch Genesis: Paradise Lost (hereafter G:PL). Co-produced by Eric Hovind’s Creation Today ministry, the film’s centerpiece is a verse-by-verse reading of Genesis 1 accompanied by sometimes-impressive computer-generated imagery. Narrator Voddie Baucham’s baritone reading of Genesis’ first chapter is interspersed with commentary by a number of high-profile young-earth creationist (YEC) apologists that include Ray Comfort and Ken Ham. The sincerity of their faith in Christ and belief in the Bible’s authority is clearly evident throughout the film.
Like its cinematic cousin, Is Genesis History? (which I reviewed here), G:PL also features about a dozen highly educated scientists who insist that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not only scientifically invalid but also inherently atheistic. This incessant claim, however, is woven together out of myriad false dichotomies. For example, Dr. Andrew Fabich, one of the film’s expert witnesses, explicitly claims that if humanity resulted from evolutionary processes, “we have no meaning. There’s no reason for you to exist.” In essence, the logical conclusion of accepting biological evolution is the belief that life has no intrinsic value. There is no middle ground.
The movie’s second oft-claimed assertion is that a young-earth creationist (YEC) paradigm is the only possible way to faithfully interpret the Bible and believe the Scriptures are theopneustos—God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). The film repeatedly suggests that for the Christian to treat Genesis 1 as anything less than a scientific guidebook to natural history is to distrust God himself.
Thus, it appears that GP:L’s goal—mirroring the broader YEC movement—is to convince its audience that Christians like me—who both embrace the findings of modern science and believe the Bible to be divinely inspired—should not be taken seriously as participants in the origins debate. Not once does GP:L mention the evolutionary creationist paradigm or any other Christian perspective on creation. The 38 percent of Americans who accept evolution alongside a belief in God’s providence over creation are, in the movie’s narrative, virtually invisible. I understand that young-earth creationists strongly disagree with the evolutionary creation position, but what G:PL displays is something beyond disagreement: a refusal to acknowledge that other Christian positions even exist.1
For decades, I was a die-hard believer in young-earth creationism. I grew up in a loving Christian household and church environment, where the YEC paradigm was assumed to be true. Even during some challenging college years, I never felt the need to abandon this paradigm. Interestingly, what helped changed my mind was two decades of military service, which exposed me to foreign cultures, languages, and ways of thinking that made me realize the narrowness of my own cultural viewpoint. After I encountered biblical scholars who offered me an interpretation of Genesis 1 that was more faithful to what God intended to communicate to its original audience, I realized that I had been reading the Bible—and Genesis in particular—through a cultural lens that was foreign to the original context in which it was written. This new perspective enabled me to see that Genesis 1, when understood properly, was concerned with the “who” and “why” of creation, rather than the “how” and “when.” In evolutionary creationism, I found a means by which I could remain true to the words of Scripture and the evidence found in rocks and genomes. I was—and remain—so in awe of God’s mighty creative power and sustaining love after contemplating the evolutionary means by which he fashioned the universe!
In other words, my own journey unfolded completely differently than Genesis: Paradise Lost would lead you to expect. I fully accept the conclusions of mainstream science but have not slidden into nihilism, or materialism. In fact, evolutionary creationists like me have much more in common with young-earth creationists than G:PL would lead the uninformed viewer to believe. I, too, profess belief in a personal Creator-God who became incarnate for the sake of redemptive love. I, too, believe that Jesus is the Christ, the perfect Savior of the world, whose story is told in a sacred body of literature that I also believe to be God-inspired. We both affirm that these texts, which comprise the Bible, command us to serve as God’s images-bearers (or representatives) in this world. And because of these beliefs, we both have a sense of responsibility to perform God’s holy work and to reflect God’s loving character in everything we do.
I am not the only one who defies the false dichotomy G:PL portrays. Many prominent Christian leaders have not viewed evolutionary science as an intrinsic threat to biblical faith: the list includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, John Stott, N.T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Tim Keller, Alister McGrath, Os Guinness, and many others. For any young-earth creationists who may be reading this review, I ask you: If so many thoughtful, faithful Christians have accepted mainstream science without abandoning their faith, is it possible that GP:L has drawn the battle lines of the origins debate in the wrong place?
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