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Friday, 30 March 2018

A Summary of Critical Responses to the YEC Film "Is Genesis History?"

Unsurprisingly, the 2017 YEC film Is Genesis History? has been something of a hit in the fundamentalist Christian world, with its excellent production values and presence of YECs who possess non-diploma mill qualifications allowing fundamentalist laypeople to reassure themselves that the universe really is only 6000 years old and most of the geological features of the earth were formed rapidly by a recent global flood.

Also unsurprisingly, outside of this tightly-sealed universe, the film has met with negative reviews. Joel Duff, professor of biology at The University of Akron who is a devout Christian notes that, "[i]n summary, although the film presents...selective facts, suffers from mischaracterizations of other viewpoints, and presents a false dichotomy to its audience, the target audience is unlikely to be aware of these flaws." [1] Given this, a summary of scientifically informed refutations of the many errors in Is Genesis History from conservative Christian sources is imperative in order to help lay Christians recognise that the YEC / flood geology worldview is theologically and scientifically bogus.

Theologian Gavin Ortlund, in a May 2017 article for the conservative Christian organisation The Gospel Coalition took exception to the false dilemma laid out in Is Genesis History? (IGH hereafter):
 
Ultimately, the movie presents two options: full-blown naturalistic evolution, in which all life is created by “strictly physical processes,” and the “historical Genesis paradigm” (young-earth creationism).
This way of framing the debate, however, excludes from visibility a huge portion of Christendom. Viewing the world as neither “naturalistic” nor “young” is the position of a wide array of Christians as diverse as C. S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Spurgeon, William Lane Craig, and the Pope. Indeed, many stalwart defenders of biblical inerrancy (such as B. B. Warfield or Gleason Archer) and staunch opponents of liberalism (such as J. Gresham Machen) affirm both the historicity of Genesis and also an ancient universe. Unfortunately, viewers will not be aware from watching this movie that such positions even exist. [2]
Apart from the deeply disturbing way in which conservative Christian views on the age of the Earth other than the relatively recent [3] YEC view proposed by IGH are brushed aside. Otlund also took exception to how IGH failed to tease out the nuances in a historical reading of Genesis, arguing that this "will likely give the impression that the choice is simply between 24-hour days or 'myth/poetry.'", a view which again marginalises OEC / EC readings of Genesis 1-11 that defend the essential historicity of these chapters.

Ortlund also took exception to the misrepresentation of the mainstream geological views on the age of geological formations and the mechanisms by which it occurred. With respect to the iconic Grand Canyon, he noted:
There is some debate among scientists about how many millions of years the formation of the Grand Canyon took (70 million years or 5 million to 6 million years?), but outside the young-earth camp few if any scientists would question that the Colorado River did the carving, and that it took millions of years. It’s misleading to give viewers the impression that what’s being “jettisoned” by “most geologists” is this basic idea (Colorado River + millions of years).
For Ortlund, the fact that the film would provide more ammunition for atheists, serve as a barrier to sceptical but sincere potential converts, and end up provoking a crisis of faith in those who accept its flawed arguments but later confront the facts were a deal-breaker for him:
For these reasons, I would not recommend this film to pastors and church leaders as a discipleship tool unless used in coordination with other resources, and I would encourage all its viewers to engage with it critically, testing its claims in relation to alternative views of creation.
Mike Beider, a retired naval commander and former YEC took exception to the film's failure to interact with alternative science/faith views and other hermeneutical positions. With respect to the first, Beider stated:
Tackett’s [the presenter of IGH] unquestioning affirmation of this false dichotomy completely (and conveniently) ignores the fact that both OEC and EC adherents wholeheartedly affirm the existence of a divine mind, the very same one fellow Christ-followers believe endowed the universe from its very beginning with design and continues to uphold its existence by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). Why perpetuate a false dichotomy? Why portray all other perspectives on origins as essentially atheistic, even those held by devout Christians? This glaring straw-man fallacy allows the movie to repeatedly insinuate that it presents the only viewpoint that really believes in a Creator. 
As for the second failure of IGH, Beider notes:
IGH also ignores the existence of other (arguably more faithful) interpretations of Genesis 1, such as those proffered in Deborah and Loren Haarsma’s Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design and John Walton’s Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology. Hebraist Steven Boyd, who serves as the movie’s hermeneutics expert, claims that a linguistic analysis of Genesis 1 proves that it is “obviously” an “accurate historical account” that “speaks of real events.” In fact, Boyd goes so far as to claim that “all Hebraists affirm Genesis [chapter 1] as historical narrative” (emphasis mine). Never mind that linguistics supplies only part of the meaning behind any ancient text, that a close cultural study of Genesis 1 is necessary to obtain a fuller understanding of that chapter’s original intent. It is as if Dr. Boyd is unaware that the last century-and-a-half has uncovered a vast trove of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) manuscripts, literary treasures that have allowed biblical scholars to shed considerable light on the meaning of Genesis 1.  Such discoveries turn onto its head Boyd’s claim that considering alternative views “only works if you impose a foreign idea onto the text.”

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



Geologists Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, and biologist Joel Duff likewise commented on the same problem that Beider and Ortlund highlighted, namely the misleading way in which the debatre as framed solely between YEC and unbelief:
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. [5]
The failure of the filmmakers to consult non-YEC scientists, if only to provide balance to the exclusive YEC lineup quite rightly was criticised by Davidson, Duff, and Wolgemuth, particularly given that YEC, even among Christians who are scientists, is a vanishingly small position:

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. [6]
The authors were contributors to the recent (and highly recommended!) book The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, so it is hardly surprising that their criticism of the scientific failings of IGH come from here. They point out that:
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"? [7]
Earlier, I quoted Joel Duff who stated that the film "suffers from mischaracterizations of other viewpoints, and presents a false dichotomy to its audience, the target audience is unlikely to be aware of these flaws." Given that lay Christians are not in a position to be able to comment on scientific facts, it is imperative that any presentation aimed at this target audience not only make this technical material accessible, but do so honestly. As Duff points out, regrettably, this did not happen:
Later in the film, Dr. Carter mentioned that fossils of the sea reptiles called Mosasaurs are all found on land. This resulted in an audible gasp from the audience in the theater. This seemed like compelling evidence that could only be explained in the young-earth/global flood paradigm. Granted, this observation by itself would not be inconsistent with a global Flood, but Dr. Carter should be well aware that it is not inconsistent with a deep-time model of earth’s history either. When further observations are made about the context of those fossils—including what is not found with them—the young-earth narrative falls apart.
How is the presence of mosasaurs explained by geologists? Geologists have long understood that shallow seas once covered the central portion of North America. They know—and YECs also acknowledge—that sea levels have changed dramatically in the past. Sea level has been much lower—100 meters or more—during Ice Ages and much higher during times when the Earth was warmer than it is today. Combined with abundant evidence that many regions, such as the North American plains, have been uplifted along with the rise of mountain chains such as the Rocky Mountains, there is nothing mysterious about the discovery of sea reptiles in rocks found above sea level today.
Significantly, the very fact that mosasaurs and other sea reptiles are found in vast deposits of rock over the interior of the US is evidence that a shallow sea once existed there. Much like the deposition that is happening off the coast of South America and other continents today, sediments were being deposited across wide stretches of North America constantly over long periods of time. Going back to Snelling’s assertion that deposits over large areas require a global flood, the deposition of sediment in a shallow sea over the interior central portion of North America didn’t require a global flood and thus the presence of large sediments layers is not proof of a global flood.
On the surface, the above explanation could appear to be a different interpretations of the same facts. Well, it may look that way. At a minimum it demonstrates that it is irresponsible to act as if the YEC model is the only model that fits this data. But, in fact, a closer inspection will quickly reveal that the YEC model is an inferior model for explaining our observations. In the film Dr. Snelling makes a big deal about the sharp contacts between rock formations and although he admits they are not perfectly flat everywhere he gives the impression that these contacts are very sharp over large areas. This is misleading but even if we grant that generally there are “missing” layers of rock between formations, the shallow sea model is a far better explanation for the observed data than the global flood model. Emphasis mine. [8]
OT scholar Joel Edmund Anderson, in his review of the film was even more scathing in calling out the lack of intellectual honesty in the film.
"[Throughout the rest of the movie, Tackett uses these “two paradigms” as the framework for his entire questioning with the other scientists. Which makes more sense: “blind, purposeless, chance and millions of years” or “God did it in six days, 6,000 years ago”? Those are your options, period.

There’s just one problem: Paul Nelson wrote an online article, openly stating that the movie misrepresented what he was saying, that it presented a false dichotomy, and that he dissented from his role in the film. In the article (provided here), he writes: “To put the matter as plainly as possible, what I say about only ‘two paradigms’ is not true, and I have recommended that it be corrected by the film’s producer and director, Thomas Purifoy, before the DVD is released.” And again, “I must accept my share of responsibility for this error, and regret that so many people will hear me say something I do not believe to be accurate. Throughout my thirty years in the intelligent design and ‘creation/evolution’ discussion, I have consistently explained that, given one’s assumptions, an array of differing positions — more than two, certainly — exist concerning origins.”
You can read his full comments in his article, but this speaks volumes of the lack of integrity of this movie, for it repeatedly referred back to the “two paradigms” comments throughout the entirety of the movie—as I said, the “two paradigms” question really formed the framework to the entire movie. And yet, the man who they have saying that in the movie, tried to correct his comments, told them ahead of time, before the movie came out, and they chose not to correct the error. Emphasis in the original [9]
Like the other conservative Christian commenters whose opinions I have cited, Anderson criticises the false dichotomy at the heart of the film, namely that YEC and atheism are the only options facing the Christian. One could perhaps forgive the filmmakers for allowing their misguided zeal to blind them to the problems inherent in that decision, but as Anderson notes, there is more than a whiff of intellectual and moral dishonesty in the film. Misrepresenting and then failing to correct the views of an ideological ally even when he asked them to correct his comments ahead of time positively shouts that despite the irenic tone and excellent production values, Is Genesis History? is still the same mendacious, pernicious nonsense that characterises YEC.


References

1. Joel Duff A Landmark Film for the Young-Earth Community: Reflections on “Is Genesis History?Naturalis Historia May 29, 2017
2. Gavin Ortlund ‘Is Genesis History?’: Revisiting an Age-Old Debate The Gospel Coalition May 5, 2017
3. YEC and flood geology in their current form come from Seventh Day Adventist teaching, and prior to the mid-20th century were minority views in conservative Protestant Christian denominations.
4. Mike Beider A Former Young-Earth Creationist Responds to “Is Genesis History?” BioLogos March 07, 2017
5.  Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff,  Ken Wolgemuth A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?” BioLogos March 01, 2017
6. ibid.
7. ibid
8. Joel Duff Reflections on “Is Genesis History?” Part II: Where do the Lines of Evidence Lead? Naturalis Historia June 1, 2017
9. Joel Edmund Anderson Digging Deep into the Movie, “Is Genesis History” (Part 1): Rock Layers, Paradigms, and How This YECist Movie Tries to Bury the Truth Resurrecting Orthodoxy June 2, 201