Movie Review: “Is Genesis History?” (Part 3)

Let’s continue with our critique of this young-earth Creationist movie (part 1).

Undercutting uniform change

Our next expert is paleontologist Kurt Wise. He has a PhD in geology from Harvard. In high school he used scissors to cut from a Bible everything that, if taken literally, would contradict science. He said about the resulting corrected Bible, “I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two.”

The movie doesn’t give this background on Wise, but he has made clear that his allegiance lies with the Bible, not with science. “If all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Back to the movie: the Creationist’s dilemma is acknowledging the great change during earth history (mountain formation, volcanism, erosion, and so on) but not having enough time to do it in, assuming today’s rates of change. The solution is to imagine that the rate of change is now drastically reduced. (Just hope that no one asks for an explanation for or evidence of this change.)

Or, play the Bible card, as he does. 2 Peter 3:3–6 says that naysayers will ask about the promised second coming. Where’s the big change? “Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation,” they will say, but they forget that God’s great building (Creation) and destroying (Flood) projects are part of history as well. Nothing like that happens today; therefore, the present is no guide to judging the past.

Of course, as objective evidence, New Testament quotes are useless. Further, drop the agenda-driven constraint of squeezing all the geological events and evolution of life into only 6000 years, and the problem goes away.

Mechanisms of the Flood

Next up is Marcus Ross, a paleontologist at a museum in Tennessee. He talked about the mechanism of how the Flood would deposit the animal carcasses, but he didn’t answer what seems to be the obvious question. If we ignore evolution and suppose that all animals lived together before the Flood, why aren’t animals from the same ecosystem buried together? Since hippos live in rivers and wetlands, the Creationist should expect Hadrosaurs or similar water-dwelling dinosaurs to be fossilized alongside them.

This parallels the famous response by biologist J. B. S. Haldane. When asked what could destroy confidence in the theory of evolution, he said, “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.” The fossils created by the Flood should provide countless examples of the coexistence of all life. We see none. Score another one for evolution.

Back to our paleontologist. As an example, he gives the distribution of fossils of mosasaurs (large aquatic reptile predators) across the map of the earth. “[Mosasaur fossils] are globally distributed and they’re distributed on continents. So, looking at these things, you’re saying, ‘What is it that has the power or capacity to take the marine world and throw it on top of continents in such a violent and destructive manner?’ And the Flood makes perfect sense for this.”

Huh? The Flood is magic! It should be the explanation of last resort. We don’t need to imagine mosasaurs swept onto continents by a global flood. Conventional science explains mosasaur fossils just fine—they lived and died in many parts of the world’s oceans for 20 million years. Land rose, and some seas became part of continents, which made some of those fossils accessible for us to discover. Where’s the problem?

He likes the Cambrian Explosion, because Creationists imagine that the rapid diversification of animals into new phyla that happened during this 25-million-year period is impossible to explain through evolution. He said that this comes from “conventional paleontology” (perhaps he meant “reality-based paleontology”). But that won’t work—he wants to agree with paleontology when it suits him so he can choose factoids here and there, like picking flowers for an arrangement. Is he on board with “conventional” paleontology or not? He can’t dismiss its foundational tenets but then sift through its conclusions for goodies to make his argument.

The discovery of Tiktaalik, a plausible transition between fish and land animals, is a popular example showing how evolution works. Knowing the date that such an animal would’ve lived, paleontologists found exposed sedimentary rock of the right age on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada. They searched, and bingo.

Duplicate that with Creationism.

And we shouldn’t get overexcited about the Cambrian Explosion. Yes, most of the animal phyla developed during a relatively small period, but that’s about it. Dramatic speciation had to wait millions of years for the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (more here). The Cambrian Explosion was remarkable, but so were other periods.

He ends by stating that the savage dinosaurs that embody the Age of Dinosaurs for most of us are the result of “the Curse.” These are Flood-era animals, not Eden-era animals.

Yet again, this raises more questions. Did these animals evolve between Eden and the Flood? What did they look like in Eden? Since we still live in a fallen world, why don’t we have equivalently scary animals today?

Mechanisms of fossilization

Arthur Chadwick is a taphonomist, a scientist who studies decaying organisms over time and how fossilization works. With a Wyoming fossil deposit as background, he noted that a dead coyote would be quickly scavenged, leaving its bones scattered. He demanded to know what could explain the intact skeletons that he was digging up, implying that a Flood would do nicely.

Yet again, where’s the puzzle? There are lots of ways to preserve an intact (or moderately so) carcass from scavengers. Ash from a sudden volcanic eruption buries animals intact. The slow part of a river bend collects and buries animals that died individually or were carried downstream by a flood. Deep water in lakes. Peat bogs. Marshes. Swamps.

He concluded with a dig at conventional science. Evolution is imposed with an agenda; it’s not coming from the data. And he assumes “the historical record of Genesis.”

None of this was backed up with evidence. Quelle surprise.

Concluded in part 4.

[Does God ever appear?]
We only ever seem to get the monkey,
never the organ grinder.
And the monkey always says,
“This is what I say my god wants.”
— commenter epeeist

Image credit: Kevin Walsh, flickr, CC

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  • Mr. A

    “Evolution has an agenda, so it can’t be trusted. Now, let me tell you what really happened by a priori assumption, and after that you’ll have enough proof to go to the church I want you to.”

  • GubbaBumpkin

    “If all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would
    be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because
    that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

    (Pssst, Kurt: if the Bible has that many errors in it, then maybe it’s not really the “word of God”.)

    • Kevin K

      …that is what the Word of God myths borrowed from several earlier cultures and revised to make the Jewish people believe they were superior beings seems to indicate.

      Fixed it for him.

    • Tommy

      There you have it. Kurt will believe despite no evidence or contrary to all evidence. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s called a delusion.

    • Michael Neville

      Thanks, Dr. Wise, for showing that creationism is faith based, not science based as so many of you creationists pretend.

    • David Hughett

      Yeah, that’s what I figured, even as a child.

  • Kevin K

    Why should a species of dinosaur appear on all continents? One word: Pangea.

    Continental drift/plate tectonics also accounts for why you see remnants of tropical “stuff” in Antarctica. Because, at one time, it was at the equator.

    • eric

      Sort of. Pangea broke up starting about 175 million years ago, while dinosaurs were on Earth until 60 million years ago. So they were there for a lot of time when the continents were separate and when some of those continents dipped into low latitudes. AIUI that’s why we see related but not identical Cretaceous species of dinosaur on different contents – for example, IIRC T. Rexes only occur in North America (which was an island at the time); similar but not identical carnosaurs evolved on the other continents from a common ancestor.

      However, it was also significantly hotter in the high and low latitudes during that age. Warm enough so that there was no year-round ice at sea level anywhere on Earth, including the poles. IOW there was tropical ‘stuff’ in Antartica even when it had drifted close to the south pole for the much simpler reason that it was fairly tropical at the time.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    Is Genesis History ?

    Nope !

    Did anyone else see the lizard head in the above rock formation ? An example of pareidolia on my part perhaps ?

  • Scopi314

    One correction: it’s been decades since the consensus among paleontologists has been that Diplodocus was aquatic to any degree.

  • Only Some Stardust

    Just because there wasn’t a giant single flood doesn’t mean there were never any floods at all in evolutionary history. His logic doesn’t follow.

    • RichardSRussell

      I wonder if he also takes the old Ella Fitzgerald tune “Cry Me a River” just as literally.

      • Michael Neville

        I’ve always liked that song about the main waterway in the Crimea peninsula.

    • The Black Sea was closed at the Dardanelles. When it opened up (7000 years ago was it?), that would have been a slow-motion flood. Something similar happened to the Mediterranean Sea, though IIRC that was before humans. And then you’ve got the sudden floods that I’m sure hit the Fertile Crescent periodically. So, sure, there were lots of catastrophic local floods. From that cultural history, Gilgamesh, Noah, and other flood stories evolved.

  • RichardSRussell

    In high school [paleontologist Kurt Wise] used scissors to cut from a Bible everything that, if taken literally, would contradict science.

    Yeah, I’ve heard that Thomas Jefferson did something like this as well, cutting out all of the supernatural parts of the New Testament to reduce it to just its parables and dubious (tho plausible) “history”. I’ve always wondered about the exact process involved, tho, since cutting something out of one physical page also cuts out something that might be perfectly innocuous printed on the back of that same page.

    Things are so much easier now that we have the availability of cut-and-paste techniques on a computer. Yay, science.

  • Sophia Sadek

    One of the insights that Jesus brought to his disciples was metaphoric interpretation of ancient Jewish literature, including the stories that were based on Pagan traditions like the Deluge. Pagans knew about metaphoric interpretation for centuries, but Jews had been deceived into taking such stories literally. Fundies act as if Jesus never opened up the eyes of Jews to basic Pagan wisdom.