The question is on the lips of many Christians. Does our historical insistence on the truthfulness of the Genesis account hinder Christians’ ability to reach our unchurched neighbors? Are we forcing people to choose between scientific data and the teachings of the Bible? Is it a naïve or simplistic belief that’s pushing younger generations out the door?
More simply, do the early chapters of Genesis hurt more than they help?
These are not easy questions to answer. In fact, most attempts on either side of the debate tend to be answered without a great deal of sensitivity as men of straw abound. But legitimately there are people who feel the tension between science and faith. And for good reason: there is a tension.
Just not the one you might think.
That was probably my biggest takeaway from Is Genesis History?, a new documentary written and directed by Thomas Purifoy. The documentary follows host Del Tackett as he meets with a number of scientists to explore the story the geological, biological, and astronomical evidence is telling us about the origins of the world—and why it matters.
For those wondering, yes, this documentary unashamedly takes what is often called the “young earth” position; that is, its makers and the scientists featured hold to the belief that the universe was created in six literal days per Genesis 1-2. But their focus is less on Genesis 1-2 specifically than the first 11 chapters collectively as being an account of actual events in history. A literal first man and woman, a flood that really did cover the entire earth, an ark built by a man named Noah… All of it. And for those also wondering, I agree with this position.[1. Though I’ll readily admit that when someone asks how old I think the world is my answer is, “I don’t know.” But that’s another story.] I affirm it not because I’m ignorant or a science denier, but because I believe it is a better explanation than the one offered by naturalism.[2. That life developed through an evolutionary process, a series of incremental changes that successfully occurred over a long period of time, all governed by “chance”.] But that being the case, I didn’t watch this documentary out of a desire for confirmation bias. I wanted to watch it for the benefit of my many friends and relatives who think a belief in the historicity of Genesis is ludicrous.[3. As ludicrous as believing that a man died and rose again three days later, in fact.] I wanted to see the persuasiveness of the argument and if it was a film that would be beneficial for them.
So that was my desire in watching it. What did I find? Here are three thoughts:
1. “Is Genesis History?” points to the real issue in the debate.
The Genesis debate is not one of science vs. faith, but of competing worldviews. One scientist interviewed astutely pointed out that all scientists are using the same sets of data and evidence—the issue itself is the lens through which they interpret that data. So, to pull out a few big fancy words, the issue is epistemological (the source of knowledge) and metaphysical (the nature of reality), even more so than cosmological (the origins of the universe). This is why the debate gets so heated—the nature of how you see and understand the world is being challenged. And that’s why we can’t go into it looking to “win” an argument. Instead, we need to be winsome and gracious as we examine the evidence and hear the arguments. On this point, I think Is Genesis History? does a solid job of respectfully reframing the debate where it needs to be, even as it makes the case from the available evidence that the earth may in fact be significantly younger than the prevailing view in the scientific community. The scientists interviewed, I suspect, can hold their own against any of their peers on the other side of the aisle in a debate.[4. As an aside, I would have loved to see a little more diversity among the scientists interviewed to show that this isn’t a position exclusively held by white men. Were I making the film, I would have featured Anita Woods, a professor of human physiology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. She’s a microbiologist who holds to the traditional creationist view. She and I also attended the same church for seven years.] Would one convince the other? Honestly, I’m not sure. But the issue isn’t one of brainpower. It’s the way we see world.
2. The documentary encourages thoughtful discussion.
After watching the film, my wife and I discussed its content for a couple of days straight, both what we thought was strong and what could be improved (more on that in a minute). The presentation of the evidence is particularly intriguing, especially in the early portion of the film as Tackett and geologist Steven Austin discuss rock formations and sedimentary layers in the Grand Canyon. The evidence, Austin argues, doesn’t point to a slow gradual process of erosion, but “a lot of water and a little time.” Similarly, the presence of soft tissue in some recently discovered dinosaur bones is also a critical piece of information of which I have yet to see a compelling explanation from the broader scientific community.[5. Granted, I have not read exhaustively so don’t take this statement as my final word. It just means I haven’t found it yet.] Microbiologist Kevin Anderson suggests that this should challenge the prevailing assumption of dinosaurs living tens of millions of years before humanity—that they may actually have existed alongside us at a certain point in history.[6. As another aside, Mary Schweitzer, the first scientist to find red blood cells within a dinosaur bone and is referenced in the documentary, is described by Tim Stafford in his book The Adam Quest as frustrated that her discovery is used in defending the young earth position (a view she does not affirm).]
3. The documentary is more for those on the inside than out.
By this, I mean it is a film that speaks well to Christians, but maybe not so well to our non-Christian friends and neighbors. That’s largely because it is not attempting to present you with both views evenly. As I said earlier, this documentary is an apologetic for the young earth creationist position. But because of that it, at times, risks losing the plot, particularly when discussing Genesis and our culture (the final segment of the film). What’s unfortunate about this is the interview used is, by and large, exactly what you’d expect: a by-the-numbers explanation of the moral and, to a lesser extent, theological implications of treating Genesis as anything other than history. That probably sounds strange because I agree with the implications of losing Genesis presented in the film. If I had to boil the issue down, it would be the tone of the interview. This segment was far less irenic in its approach than any previous interview. It comes across almost antagonistically, which is unfortunate because that undercuts what is said. Yes, it’s true that if we lose Genesis we lose foundation for human dignity, the nature of marriage, gender and so much more besides. But what I would have loved to see would have been the traditional arguments turned on their heads—talk less about what we lose without Genesis and more about what we gain from it: we know why people matter. We have a greater reason to honor marriage and sexuality. We have an answer to the great problems of the world. All of these and so much more. We always need to be painting a picture of a better world—and a better worldview—to those on the outside. We need to show that the gospel is better than the counterfeits and competitors. And this is what was missing, particularly at the end of the film.
So, is Is Genesis History? a bad documentary? Not at all. You just have to know the right audience. As a small group resource, I think this could be helpful for those who want to know that real scientific evidence for the biblical view of creation exists. As an outreach discussion starter, it’s probably not going to be wildly successful. This is for “us,” not for “them.” Go into it knowing that, and I think you’ll find it helpful.