Review of “Is Genesis History?” that premiered nationally in theaters in a one-night Fathom Media event on Feb 23.
It’s very difficult to get a hearing for intelligent design these days, let alone Genesis 1-11. And even if you got a public platform for Genesis, limiting it to a rational discussion of creation in six literal days and a global flood would seem miraculous. But that’s what Compass Cinema pulled off in secular theaters around the country for a one-night film event by Fathom Media. Some towns had to open additional theater space because of the demand. That happened in Littleton Colorado, I know, and in my hometown, a second theater was added. Both filled up, indicating significant interest in the subject.
The film consists largely of conversations by Del Tackett with leaders in the Biblical creation movement about scientific evidence supporting the historicity of Genesis accounts of Creation and the Flood. The conversations occur at Grand Canyon, in museums and zoos, on a dinosaur dig and other locations. Del is founder of The Truth Project, a popular worldview apologetics course. In 2008, Del was among two dozen Bible scholars who participated in a special scholar’s rafting trip through the Grand Canyon sponsored by Canyon Ministries. I was on that trip and got to know Del, finding him to be a humble, godly, and very intelligent man, an excellent teacher who is genuinely interested in scientific questions. It appears that trip was very stimulating for him and all the other Bible scholars. We all saw profound evidence for the Flood with our own eyes as veteran guide Tom Vail steered us down the river. Details of the evidence were expounded by PhD geologist Andrew Snelling, who is also prominent in the film. Perhaps that trip was a turning point in Del’s thinking to take him beyond mere Biblical apologetics into full embrace of the historical Genesis.
The experts interviewed—all credentialed scientists and scholars— are listed on the film’s website. Topics range from strata in the Grand Canyon, the nature of the Hebrew text, the extent of variability of original created kinds, the Biblical epochs contrasted with secular geological epochs, fossils and soft tissue in dinosaur bones, questions in recent-creation astronomy, world history after the Flood, and more. The variety of topics (necessarily covered briefly though sufficiently for film) provides a well-rounded answer to the point of the film: can Genesis be reasonably considered a true history of the world, given that the mainstream believes in a big bang and billions of years? Tying each scientist’s answer together is recognition of the importance of paradigms. The evidence does not speak for itself; it is always evaluated through a paradigmatic framework, especially for historical questions that cannot be repeated in a lab. Genesis provides an eyewitness account of earth history by the Creator himself. Secular science, without that advantage, constantly changes its stories. Several of the scientists remarked that what they were taught in school as fact is no longer believed. In conclusion, a pastor connects Genesis to the gospel and urges building one’s view of world history on the Bible’s reliable record instead of the shifting sands of science.
Production quality was OK but not great. Being used to the top-notch Illustra Media films, I thought the energy level was somewhat low, the music mediocre, and much of the scenery poorly shot. There was not a trajectory of interest leading to a climax; just a series of interviews at about the same energy level throughout. For its purposes, though, the producer needed to concentrate on the facts being shared; the audience benefited from each expert having enough time to explain his views. Each of the experts delivered key points with authenticity and credibility. Many of the face shots were a bit too close for my comfort, and often shaky, but not to a disturbing degree. Graphical elements were few. The interviews were tied together with pencil drawings that merged into live action, with a few others used to illustrate points. A few scenic shots and drone shots were eye-catching, but I could imagine someone watching the film once, and then listening to the soundtrack alone the second time. It was a film for the ears more than for the eyes.
As a presentation of the young-earth creationist view, the film was probably more effective by being low-key, fact-rich, and personalized than by trying to generate artificial interest with special effects, dramatic music and emotion. It was clear these were reasonable men, not scientific renegades or nuts as opponents are prone to portray them (see ridicule in the Baloney Detector). They all have PhDs from secular universities in their respective fields.
Even though it was low-key, the film had very interesting moments. From reactions I sensed around me, the dinosaur soft-tissue demonstration by Kevin Anderson, when he pulled on stretchy tissue found inside a Triceratops horn that he and Mark Armitage had dug out in Montana with their own hands, was a high point. The images seemed to elicit gasps of astonishment, illustrating that facts of sufficient import need no extra dressing. The widespread flat layers of strata pointed out by geologists Steve Austin and Andrew Snelling also had visual punch for the catastrophist/Flood position. The audience was probably also surprised when Snelling revealed results of radiometric ages from the same rock he had collected that differed by millions of years depending on the method used. I thought Tackett’s opening was very effective. He stands in a deep canyon, hiking along a stream, sensing the vast spans of time that must have passed, only to reveal that the whole canyon was younger than he was! As the drone camera backs away, he explains that the canyon formed within a couple of days in a catastrophic mudflow at Mt. St. Helens since the 1980 eruption. The similarities to Grand Canyon in the subsequent episode are apparent, showing that you can’t always trust your senses if you didn’t know the true story of what happened. Later, Kurt Wise applied that point well to warn of flaws in uniformitarian interpretations of present processes.
Audience responses I heard outside the theater were uniformly positive. Everyone was smiling and commenting that they thought it was really good and were glad they came. There’s a lot of science in this film without being technical. Each viewer probably had their own favorite moments, whether the towering dinosaur reconstructions, swimming sharks, stars and galaxies, Grand Canyon, or a fossil dig in progress. I would like to see two impacts of this production: first, to encourage pastors to take a bold stand for Genesis as “true to what is there,” and second, to encourage young budding scientists to follow in the footsteps of these men whose dedication has given many Christians confidence for having reasonable faith, because God’s word is trustworthy. It fits the world as we see it. It’s history; His story.
Update 2/24/17: Just got word that there will be encore showings on March 2. See the website for details. This indicates that interest was high. The publicity team says, “Our premier last night vaulted Is Genesis History to one of Fathom’s best releases!”
It was good to see a spirit of unity among the participating scientists. They come from different organizations; sometimes that can result in divided loyalties. They also avoided infighting over different young-earth models, focusing instead on points of agreement. The producer and participants also wisely avoided disparaging comments about theistic evolutionists or old-earthers. Hopefully that will encourage viewers of those persuasions to consider the evidence itself.
On the day of the showing, Paul Nelson felt it necessary to issue a “dissent” about his part in the film. On Evolution News & Views, he claims his views were misrepresented, mistakenly portraying a false dichotomy between old-age secularism and young-earth creationism as if those were the only two options. While his feelings are understandable and his arguments sound, I’m not sure it was necessary or helpful to call this a “dissent.” He could have called it a “clarification.” Nothing Paul says in the film is false; it’s only incomplete. The word “dissent” appears to put him at odds with not only the producer, but with Del Tackett and all the other honorable scientists who appear in the film. Paul is a good, wise and honorable teacher himself; let’s hope this issue will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction in the DVD version.
I’m glad to know many of the scientists in the film personally, and even more glad to know that many of them are supportive of Creation-Evolution Headlines. If you missed the film, I hope this review encourages you to see it if and when it comes out on DVD. —David Coppedge, reviewer