On two nights this past week (Nov 13 and 16, 2017), the young-Earth creationist (YEC) documentary Genesis: Paradise Lost was shown in select movie theaters across America. I spent $15 (the most I have ever spent for a movie) and sat in the upper corner of the theater where there was a little light that enabled me to scribble some notes. This movie included speakers from Answers in Genesis as well as other institutions, and will undoubtedly be a fixture in the YEC segment of Evangelical Christianity for quite a while.
The purpose of the film is to promote the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11, as stated on the movie’s web site:
Cutting-edge cinematography meets proven science and biblical accuracy to deliver GENESIS: PARADISE LOST, bringing the first book of the Bible to life in both 2D and 3D formats on the big screen. Stunning visual effects and field research invite audiences to explore the much-studied and debated opening chapters of the Bible. This highly-anticipated movie event will show in cinemas nationwide on Monday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m. local time.
GENESIS: PARADISE LOST will entertain and educate as an event for the whole family. The digital animation is interwoven with insightful commentary from accredited scientists and educators such as Dr. Charles Jackson and Dr. Georgia Purdom, and popular speakers such as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. Cultural apologist Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.’s deep booming voice serves as Genesis’ “unseen narrator” whose vocal presence gives the visual images deeper meaning and life.
Genesis: Paradise Lost began with brief statements from various YEC scholars, such as:
- “Science has been hijacked.”
- “You either trust God, or trust man.”
- “There are only two possibilities.”
- “The big bang, millions of years, and evolution are all fairy tales.”
- “If you can’t believe Genesis 1-11, then what part of the Bible can you trust?”
The bulk of the documentary alternated between narration of portions of Genesis 1-3 and short statements by various YEC scientists, Bible scholars, and teachers. The narration (slow and deep) was accompanied by computer animation of the various creative acts of God, such as the creation of light, the separation of land and water, the separation of waters above from waters below, the emergence of plants and animals, and the creation of Adam and Eve.
The style of the speakers was what I would call “flash bang grenade.” One speaker would say something, then another would say something related, and then another. For the most part, these were sound bites that those who are already YECs would agree with, rather than a presentation of any sort of sustained biblical or scientific argument. The segments flowed from one part of Genesis 1-3 to another, but the arguments still seemed to be somewhat disconnected. There was nothing in these sound-bite arguments that convinced me, as an old-Earth Christian, that the Bible requires a young Earth, or that science points to a young Earth.
The movie ended with a presentation of the gospel: The bad news of sin, and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Some Strong Points
YEC documentaries have come a long way from the days of Dr. Dino videos. The animations of the events of creation were all well done.
There were viewpoints expressed by the speakers that I agreed with. For example, I agree that naturalism is insufficient to explain the origin of the universe, and probably the origin of life as well.
I rejoice to hear the gospel presented, even when it is presented in a context that I believe is highly problematic (Philippians 1:18). The bad news is that humans are sinful and in rebellion against God. Because of Adam’s sin, and because of our own sin, we live in a world of misery and death rather than flourishing and life. God’s solution is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, that those who put their faith in him can be restored to what God intended for humanity back in the Garden of Eden. I agree with all of this, and none of it depends on Earth being only 6,000 years old.
Biblical and Scientific Problems
Though there were a few things in the movie I agreed with, I found many more areas of disagreement. Here are a few, starting with some Biblical problems with the movie, and then moving on to scientific difficulties:
It was dogmatically stated that Genesis 1 has the genre of historical narrative, and that the text must therefore be read “literally.” Many inerrancy-affirming, Evangelical Old Testament scholars would disagree that the genre of Genesis 1 is “historical narrative.” The problem is that many YEC scholars oversimplify the issue by presenting the only genre options as historical narrative or poetry, when in fact there are a number of genres in the Old Testament. Obviously, Genesis 1 is not poetry in the same sense that Psalms or Proverbs are poetry. But when reading Genesis 1, even in English, it is clear that Genesis 1 has patterns that are not present in standard Hebrew historical narrative passages, such as in most of the rest of Genesis, or the historical portions of Exodus through 2 Chronicles. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins calls the genre of Genesis 1:1-2:4 “exalted prose narrative,” indicating that there is something much higher going on in this section than in more ordinary narrative passages. The vocabulary is more exalted, there are analogies, and the structure of the opening passage of Genesis is perhaps unique in ancient Hebrew literature. If interpreters don’t get the genre of the passage correct—and YECs may indeed be getting it wrong—then it is likely that the final interpretation will also be wrong.
It was also stated that Jesus believed that Genesis is real history, with the implication that Jesus was endorsing the young-Earth interpretation. I agree that Jesus affirmed the historicity of Adam, and of Noah and the flood. As an old-Earth Christian, I therefore also believe in a real Adam and Eve in a real garden, committing a real sin, and in a real Noah who rode out a real flood in a real boat with real animals. None of this requires, however, a young Earth or a global flood.
The movie did not present the Garden of Eden as it is described in the Bible. Genesis 2 describes the garden as being at a specific location on Earth, identified as being in the Ancient Near East by the four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. Genesis never describes the entire Earth as being the Garden of Eden. Instead, the garden seems to be a protected place (with Adam and Eve having a role in its protection), with the rest of the Earth being a wild place in need of subduing. Nevertheless, the film stated that the entire planet was lush from pole to pole; a paradise in its golden age in which animals could grow to enormous sizes. But this is not what the Bible says.
The movie stated that there are immense amounts of evidence for humans and dinosaurs living together. The speaker mentioned dinosaur-like petroglyphs, and references to dragons in the historical records of many cultures. In reality, I believe there is no convincing evidence that humans and dinosaurs ever lived together. YECs commonly point to the creatures Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40-41 as proof that dinosaurs lived back in the second millennium B.C. Much more sober Bible commentators have better, more natural explanations for the identity of these creatures. A brief explanation of the identity of Behemoth and Leviathan can be found in the notes of the ESV Study Bible.
The presentation on radiometric dating wasn’t even all that consistent with the largest YEC research project on the topic, which was the RATE study. The film listed four assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to work: 1) known initial concentrations of the parent and 2) daughter nuclides, 3) a constant decay rate, and 4) a closed system. So far so good. The RATE study concluded that, in most cases, assumptions 1, 2, and 4 can indeed be demonstrated, which was not mentioned in the movie. The RATE scientists, therefore, focused on questioning assumption #3, the decay rate. The documentary presented lutetium-176 (I think that was the nuclide) as an example of a radioactive nuclide for which the decay rate can be changed dramatically in a laboratory. What they didn’t tell you is that lutetium-176 has to be completely ionized in a plasma at a temperature of millions of degrees for this to happen. This is hardly applicable to the conditions on Earth during a flood or at any other time. The speakers in the film also didn’t mention that accelerating radioactive decay millions of times faster would release enough heat to boil Earth’s oceans and melt part of Earth’s crust as well.
It was also stated that the geologic column (Precambrian—Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—etc.) is the product of circular reasoning. This also is a common YEC argument: that rocks are dated by fossils, but that fossils are dated by rocks. This is a faulty argument, and confuses inductive reasoning with circular reasoning. The concept of the geologic column, as the better YECs acknowledge, reflects a real order that is observed in nature. Rock layers, in undisturbed areas, always occur in the order Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—Devonian…, not in some mixed-up order like Triassic—Ordovician—Jurassic—Silurian. Always. The geologic column is a product of inductive, not circular, reasoning.
I picked just six out of a couple dozen topics I could have chosen for critique. Note that I have spent more time on the Biblical problems with the movie than with the scientific problems. I believe that young-Earth creationism is not only faulty in terms of science, but a stretch in some ways of the text of Genesis.
The people involved in making Genesis: Paradise Lost, whether the producers and backers, or those who spoke in the film, are sincere Christians with a love for God’s Word, and a desire to see people come to faith in Christ. I commend them for their love and zeal.
I am convinced, however that the young-Earth interpretation is an over-reading of the text of Genesis, which actually forces many things into the Bible that are not there. There are a number of reasons to suspect that the intention of Moses was not to give us a geology lesson on the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. In any case, Genesis says nothing about the origin of the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks of Earth crust; volcanoes, canyons, glaciers, and many other geological wonders of God’s creation.
Furthermore, the scientific arguments presented in the movie, on topics such as radiometric dating, deposition of sediments, plate tectonics, comets, planetary surfaces, fossils, or fossilized poop, are just about all unsupportable. Most of these features cannot be explained in the young-Earth framework. For example, it was stated that it would impossible for things like worms or feces to be preserved in the fossil record by the slow deposition of sediments. I actually see no reason why an occasional worm or turd could not be preserved in certain depositional environments, but cannot imagine how worms and piles of excrement could survive being suspended in a watery slew of abrasive sediments in a catastrophic flood and then be deposited in just the right part of the geologic column (dinosaur poop in the Mesozoic; elephant poop in the Cenozoic) without being obliterated. Very few Christian geologists are convinced by YEC arguments, either for the age of the Earth, or the origin of the rocks of Earth’s crust.
I believe that the movie presents bad science based on a questionable interpretation of Genesis. Bad science, no matter how well-intended, is bad apologetics, and bad apologetics drives people away from Christianity.
Genesis: Paradise Lost is just part one of a two-part series. Part one focused on Genesis 1-3, so I assume part two will focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.
Grace and Peace
None of the quotes should be taken as direct quotes, as I was scribbling notes in a rather dim setting.
I haven’t written a review yet for the other 2017 YEC documentary, which was Is Genesis History? I would say that Is Genesis History? makes a much stronger case for young-Earth creationism, as it presents sustained arguments rather than a string of sound bites. Not that I was convinced by either the Biblical or the scientific arguments in Is Genesis History? either.