Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Is Genesis History? The Dishonest Silence of a Young-Earth Creationist Film

Is Genesis History? is a documentary film that promotes young-Earth creationism.  It was written, directed, and produced by Thomas Purifoy.  Del Tackett takes the central role in the film as he travels around the world to interview over a dozen young-Earth creationist scientists.  The photography of beautiful landscape scenery is excellent.  The film has been shown in some theatres around North America.  Today, the film was released for buying as a DVD, downloading, or renting for streaming.  It's easily available at Amazon ($5 for streaming).  It's about 1 hour and 45 minutes long.  It's well worth watching.

This film is an engaging presentation of some of the arguments for young-Earth creationism as based on scientific evidence.  It shows the remarkable mental agility of the scientists supporting this position against the evolutionary theory embraced by most scientists today.  The film was produced primarily for church groups, homeschooling parents, and private Christian schools, where Christian parents want to teach their children that evolutionary science must be rejected as an atheistic attack on the Bible, and that the historical accuracy of the Bible as showing six-24 hour days of Creation, Noah's Flood a few thousand years ago, and a total of only 6,000 years of cosmic history since the Creation can all be defended as consistent with scientific evidence.  Moreover, as is made clear at the end of the film, this teaching has a moral purpose, because rejecting young-Earth creationism must discredit the Bible, and thereby deny the moral authority of the Bible, which necessarily brings a moral relativism in which there will be no standards of right and wrong for human life.

The underlining rhetorical strategy of this film is dishonest silence.  By that I mean that in presenting the case for young-Earth creationism, the film is carefully silent about points that would weaken this case, which is dishonest because the film tries to deceive the viewer into thinking that there are no serious objections to the case being presented.

The most fundamental dishonest silence is the premise from the beginning to the end of the film that there are only two paradigms or worldviews that one can take in judging the historicity of Genesis.  Either one adopts the "conventional" view that explains everything through natural evolution over millions or billions of years and denies the Biblical teaching of Creation, or one adopts the "historical Genesis" view that explains everything as guided by the miraculous interventions by God over 6,000 years as set forth in the Bible.

This is dishonest because it tries to trick the audience into thinking that young-Earth creationism is the only form of creationist science.  In fact, as I have indicated in my previous posts, old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross) see God as carrying out His creative acts of miraculous intervention over a deep time of millions or billions of years, and evolutionary creationists (like Francis Collins, Dennis Venema, and Deborah Haarsma) see God as carrying out His creative design through the natural processes of evolution over a long span of deep time.  If Del Tackett had interviewed Hugh Ross and Francis Collins, the film could have started a serious discussion among Christian scientists with different points of view that could have stirred some deep thinking in the audience.

Even Paul Nelson, who is interviewed in the film, now admits that he was wrong to speak in the film about "two paradigms"--"the conventional paradigm" and the "biblical history paradigm."  Nelson is a Senior Fellow of the Discover Institute, the organization that promotes Intelligent Design Theory as an alternative to evolutionary science.  ID has been called "Intelligent Design Creationism."  But the ID proponents have strongly rejected this label, because they want to claim that they are not Biblical creationists.  Nelson and others at the Discovery Institute are Biblical creationists, even young-earth creationists, but the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute does not allow them to identify ID as creationism. 

The reason for this rhetorical strategy is that the U. S. Supreme Court in 1987 said that teaching Biblical creationism in public school biology classes is an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and therefore the Discovery Institute needs to say that teaching ID as an alternative to evolution in public school biology classes would not be unconstitutional, because ID is not creationism. 

In 1987, one of the creationist textbooks used in public schools was entitled Creation Biology.  After the Supreme Court decision, the title of this book was changed to Of Pandas and People, and the word "creation" was replaced with the word "intelligent design," while the word "creator" was replaced with the word "agency."  All of the other writing remained the same.  So, clearly, this was an attempt to teach religious creationism under the nonreligious sounding term "intelligent design." 

In 2005, in a case involving the public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, where Of Pandas and People was a textbook, a federal judge ruled that this was unconstitutional, because teaching "intelligent design" was a deceptive way of introducing religious creationism into the public schools.  One crucial piece of evidence for the judge was provided by the testimony of Barbara Forrest, who had studied the various drafts for the book Of Pandas and People. In an early 1987 draft, this sentence appeared: "Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view."  In a later 1987 draft, one word of this sentence was changed: "Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view."  She had found the missing link in the evolution from creationism to intelligent design: "cdesign proponentsists"!  Nelson is silent about all this in the film.

Almost every interview in the film has some dishonest silence.  For example, Tackett interviews Kevin Anderson, a microbiologist who is Director of the Van Andel Creation Research Center, Chino Valley, Arizona.  He argues that dinosaurs were created by God only a few thousand years ago.  As evidence for that, he praises the research of Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist, who has presented evidence (in Science in 2005) that the fossil bones of T. Rex dinosaurs contain soft tissues.  Paleontologists have generally assumed that soft tissues decay so quickly that dinosaur fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old cannot have any preserved soft tissues, and so they initially refused to believe Schweitzer's report.  Anderson points to this as evidence that the young-Earth creationists are correct about the dinosaur fossils being only a few thousand years old.

Anderson is completely silent, however, about the fact that Schweitzer has identified herself as a "Christian evolutionary biologist," who criticizes the young-Earth creationists for distorting her research.  She says that there are two ways to interpret her findings: "either the dinosaurs aren't as old as we think they are, or maybe we don't know exactly how these things get preserved."  While the young-Earth creationists take the first interpretation, she takes the second.  In her recent research, she has argued that the iron particles associated with soft tissues might preserve those tissues over very long periods of time. 

Schweitzer has said that she thinks "the creator is revealed in the creation," and that God creating the world so that it can naturally evolve over billions of years is the greatest tribute to God's beautiful design: "That makes God a lot bigger than thinking of Him as a magician that pulled everything out in one fell swoop."  Here she agrees with Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, quoting Charles Kingsley, in believing "that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."

Tackett and Anderson are very careful to remain silent about this in their discussion of Schweitzer's research.  And, more generally, the film is silent throughout about the idea that Schweitzer offers that natural evolution and divine design are not opposed, because natural evolution is divine design.

There is also significant silence in the interview with Todd Wood, who has been the subject of my previous posts.  Wood summarizes his thinking about how natural evolution occurs only within "created kinds."  So, for example, the created kind of cats can diversify into different species by natural evolution, but still these species are all cats, and thus this conforms to the Biblical account of how God created the kinds of life.

Wood is silent, however, about how his theory of created kinds (or baramins) rejects the creationist theory of special creation of fixed species that Darwin refuted in The Origin of Species.  And thus he is silent about how creationists had to change their interpretation of the Bible to be consistent with Darwin's science.  If he had spoken about this, this might have created an opening in the minds of the audience for evolutionary creationism: If God can create "kinds" with the natural potential for evolutionary self-development into many different species, why couldn't he also create the world with a natural potential for evolutionary self-development into all forms of life at all taxonomic levels?

Wood is also silent about some of his thinking about human evolution.  He does mention his claim that human beings belong in the same "kind" with Neanderthal.  But he says nothing about his admission that the "biological similarity" of humans and chimpanzees looks like evidence for their common evolutionary ancestry.  This came up in my previous post.  Since the interview with Wood is the only point in the film where human evolution is discussed, it's remarkable that Wood and Tackett are so careful to avoid talking about the genetic evidence for human beings evolving from primate ancestors.

There are more moments of silence in the interview with Danny Faulkner, an astronomer.  Faulkner refers to the universe being only 6,000 years old, and he leaves the audience with the impression that this is stated in the Bible.  But he doesn't indicate that this dating comes from James Ussher rather than the Bible, and that the young-Earth creationists must assume an Ussherite worldview that cannot be found clearly in the Bible.

Faulkner is also silent about his famous debate with Hugh Ross, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  In December 2009, Faulkner and Ross debated the question of whether the scientific evidence and biblical teaching supported a young age (6,000 years) or old age (billions of years) for the Universe.  The debate was carried out before a panel of 13 evangelical Christian astronomers who evaluated the debate.  These astronomers were affiliated with prominent institutions such as the University of Chicago, the University of California, Cornell University, and NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, Caltech.  After a long deliberation, the 13 Christian astronomers all signed a statement that concluded: "It is our professional judgment that the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly supports a universe that is billions of years old."

Faulkner and Tackett had to carefully keep silent about this, because if they had brought this up, this might have forced the audience to think seriously about what it means that most evangelical Christian astronomers are evolutionary creationists rather than young-Earth creationists.

Still, I recommend watching this film, if only to study the popular rhetorical techniques of young-Earth creationism.

Another critique of this film--concentrating on the geology of the Grand Canyon--can be found at the BioLogos website.

This film reminded me of another film--with 200 proofs why the earth is flat.

Like the other film, this film makes arguments that might sound persuasive to anyone who hasn't heard the good objections to these arguments.

1 comment:

sykes.1 said...

This creationist movement is a fundamentalist Protestant movement, and, as such, represents the views of an vanishingly small fraction (1%?) of Christians. The last several Popes have all endorsed the reality of evolution and the ancientness of the world. They do quibble about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Creationist views get some traction in the US because the US is a majority Protestant country. However, Protestants comprise only about 10% of Christians world wide. 80% are Roman Catholic and another 10% or so are Orthodox.