Movie Review: “Is Genesis History?” (Part 2)

Movie Review: “Is Genesis History?” (Part 2) April 24, 2017

Is Genesis HistoryIn part 1 of my rebuttal to this young-earth Creationist movie, we looked at the argument that Noah’s Flood lay down thousands of feet of sand, silt, and dead animals that was then cut into a canyon. And then, over a few thousand years, this somehow turned to stone.

I’m a novice about geology, but still I came up with several questions that I think should have been addressed. Unsurprisingly, the fact that conventional geology nicely answers each one was also ignored. Let’s continue.

Philosophical grounding

Our next expert is Paul Nelson, a philosopher. He contrasted the two major views of the history of life and the universe. There’s the conventional paradigm of a 13.7 billion-year-old universe with things happening naturally, gradually, bottom up, and without design. Against that is the Genesis paradigm, which imagines a much shorter time scale and a divine intelligence that designed things. The data we have will be interpreted in different ways, depending on your paradigm.

Let me suggest different descriptions of these two paradigms: one is built on evidence, and one is built despite it. Instead of interpreting data through the lens of a worldview, the honest scholar follows the data and builds a worldview as a conclusion.

And why does this Christian philosopher propose two views? If we’re going to free ourselves from the scientific consensus and cast the net wider, why reach for just young-earth Creationist Christianity for an alternative cosmology? Why not also get the Hindu view and some traditional Native American views and the flat-earth view?

The philosopher stated that Christians have a witness that the scientists don’t have: the Bible. He was dismissed the idea that this approach pits science and religion against each other (a failed attempt that we will see repeated later).

What does the Bible say?

Next was hebraist (Hebrew scholar) Steven Boyd. (Uh, yeah—I always turn to Hebrew scholars when I have a puzzling question about cosmology.) He tells us that the Bible’s authors clearly thought they were talking about real events. Yes, it really was six literal days (yom means “day”). Yes, it really was a global flood (the Flood story has dozens of instances of kol, which means “all”). Only if you impose an agenda-driven, external point of view onto Genesis would you come up with anything else. He asks, Why else would these authors want future generations to learn their history?

You could ask the same of Homer. Why would he want to pass along the Iliad? Presumably to tell his listeners that they were Greeks, descended from gods. But even if Homer thought the Iliad was history, that doesn’t make it so. The same is true for the Old Testament and its authors.

He said that the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, which listed Noah’s sons’ descendants, was more evidence that the flood was global, since it touched on every society. I wonder, though, where the father(s) of the pre-Columbian societies in the Americas are in that list—the Mississippian culture or the Olmecs, Mayans, Incas, Nazca, and dozens of others. Or the other important civilizations far from the Fertile Crescent. How do they fit into the myopic viewpoint of Genesis?

He talks about the genealogy listed in the Old Testament (all the “begats” in Genesis) and the two (incompatible) lists given for Jesus. This again shows the Bible’s historical foundation.

Yeah, if the Bible were trustworthy, this might be good evidence. You’ve done nothing to show that it is.

He said about the Adam and Eve story as the origin of mankind, “The biblical text is not compatible with the conventional paradigm” of evolution.

Uh, yeah, you got that right.

Dating the earth

Andrew Snelling (geologist) was the next expert. He gave several examples of monumental volcanism—the Yellowstone supervolcano (in Wyoming), which sent ash as far south as Texas, or the Deccan Traps, which is a million cubic kilometers of basalt (solidified lava) in central India. He declared that you can’t use today’s rates of volcanism as a standard, because he wants to compress all prehistoric volcanism into little more than one millionth the time that conventional geology gives for it. He didn’t explain why this makes more sense of the data or address the question of how the environment would be different with that much concentrated volcanism.

As for evidence that today’s rates of volcanism can’t be applied to the past, his argument seemed to be (my paraphrase), “Have we had any supervolcanoes in human history?? Well, there you go.”

If volcano magnitude follows a power law distribution (as with earthquakes), it’s not surprising that the last 10,000 years haven’t overlapped with any of earth’s most dramatic volcanic events of the last billion years. (Oops—was it inappropriate to bring up the idea of long time to neatly explain an issue?)

Next on the chopping block was conventional geology’s use of radioisotope dating. We’re told that today’s slow radioactive decay rates can’t be assumed in the past. (Why not?) To prove the unreliability of this dating method, he explained how he had samples from a single rock layer tested using different isotopes. The tests returned dates that were all over the map.

I heard him relate this anecdote in person years ago. My reaction to that is here.

Hold on now—if this powerful new evidence from the Creationists is correct, why hasn’t conventional science accepted it? Haters gonna hate, apparently. Conventional scientists have a “commitment to millions of years.” Here’s how it went down: nineteenth-century geologist Charles Lyell proposed that the earth was millions of years old, and biologist Charles Darwin felt empowered by this to hypothesize millions of years for evolution. Conventional scientists are committed to evolution—not because it’s well supported by evidence but, you know, just cuz—so you must have millions of years.

We’re told at the end, “It’s not a question of science versus the Bible”; rather, it’s two different views of earth’s history.

Right, and the two different views are incompatible. It is indeed science versus the Bible—you can’t have them both. Christians can’t allay their concerns about being antiscientific with the arguments in this movie. They must choose between the option with the evidence and the remarkable track record of telling us about nature and the one with the Bronze Age god who likes human sacrifice.

Pick.

Continue with part 3.

I’m even told sometimes, “You’re attacking the Bible,”
and when I am accused of such I simply say,
“I’m not attacking the Bible. I’m attacking you.
Your problem is that you can’t tell the difference.”
— Pete Enns

Image credit: Web page for movie


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  • eric

    We’re told that today’s slow radioactive decay rates can’t be assumed in the past. (Why not?)

    We don’t have to assume them, we can measure them. Supernovae produce radioactive elements. By observing the gamma ray emissions from supernova remnants over time, we can tell what the half-lives of these elements were many years ago (depending on how many light years away the supernova is). AFAIK this has been done for at least one supernova, Vela.

    A second problem with “faster decay rates” idea is that it would require a thousand-fold change in the rate to make a 6k year old Earth appear billions of years old. Now, what’s the problem with that? Well, in addition to irradiating to death every critter on the planet, uranium ores would have become uranium fission bombs. When we make fission bomb material, in fact, we increase the relative concentration of U-235 (a faster decaying isotope) to U-238 (a slower decaying isotope). The higher neutron flux due to the higher percent of the fast-decaying isotope is what makes a small mass of uranium go critical. But U-235 decays only 20x as fast as U-238; the YECers would require both isotopes to decay 1,000x faster.

    Now, anyone who doesn’t know about the Oklo natural reactor should look it up, just for fun. It’s a cool story. But if the YECers were right, there should have been Oklo type events in every uranium ore deposit on Earth. There weren’t. So the half-life of uranium could not have changed enough to make radiometric dating off by a factor of 1,000.

    • MystiqueLady

      But you’re missing a very important point here. If the YECers are right, then that means Gawd would have made it LOOK LIKE the earth’s radioactive decay rates were not a constant to challenge our faith, either that or the Devil did it to make us question Gawd. (Or something like that — I have a YEC brother and SIL and I have to keep up with these discussions.)

      • eric

        Yes, last Thursdayism is always a potential retreat position. But AIUI most apologists who try to appeal to science are trying to avoid that. They’re trying to say the data sensibly supports their claims, not that God miracled things into looking different than they really are.

        • Tommy

          Apologists appeal to whatever supports their position at the moment. At the beginning of the debate, they appeal to deism, then at the end it’s all Christian miracles.

      • Yep, and he put the light from “distant” stars in transit red shifted so it’d just look like the light had been travelling for millions or billions of years.

        They turn God into an untrustworthy trickster.

        • Reasonable Pete

          Of course he’s an untrustworthy trickster. Just ask Job about how much God enjoys messing with people for chuckles.

    • Greg G.

      Wouldn’t a factor of 1000 make the Earth 6 million years old? Wouldn’t the decay rate have to be closer to a million times faster?

      • eric

        Yep, you’re right. Its even worse than I laid out. 🙂

      • Herald Newman

        Yup, and the speed of light would have to have been at least a million times faster, in the past, as well. No creationist talks about what such a change would have on everything,

        • epeeist

          Yup, and the speed of light would have to have been at least a million times faster, in the past, as well.

          So, do you assume that E = mc^2 is invariant or not. If it is invariant then one has to decrease mass to compensate, so what does this do to gravitational attraction? What are the implications for things like Maxwell’s equations or in fact anything where the velocity of light plays a part.

          If it isn’t invariant then what does this do for Noether’s theorem and conservation laws.

          As ever, the creotards make an ad hoc change without thinking of the consequences.

        • Greg G.

          If light started out from distant galaxies much faster but slowed down, we would see it as blue-shifted, not red-shifted. It would appear to us that the galaxies were headed straight for us.

          I always wondered why the rest of the universe is trying to get as far from us as possible.

      • Kuno

        To quote Brian Cox from the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast I listened to today: “What’s a factor of 1000 between friends?”

        • Greg G.

          We’re told that a thousand years is like a second to God. So a thousand seconds is like 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

    • Dannorth

      But like the ones who claim that the speed of light was faster before I bet they also claim that the rate of change is asymptotic and is now approaching 0.

      Who wants to take that bet?

  • GubbaBumpkin

    To prove the unreliability of this dating method, he explained how he
    had samples from a single rock layer tested using different isotopes.

    Performing a technique badly does not prove that the technique is ineffective.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Here’s how it went down: nineteenth-century geologist Charles Lyell
    proposed that the earth was millions of years old, …

    The field of Geology was convinced by 1850 that the Earth was older than could be accounted for in the Genesis account, and this was well before the discovery of radioactivity or its use in dating rocks.

    • Greg G.

      Probably before that. I saw something from about 1825 by a preacher claiming that with ten or fifteen years, gradualism (in geology) would be overthrown.

      In 1995, I was debating a creationist at work and he made the same claim about evolution. I told him I had heard that twenty years earlier. In 2010, I reminded him what he said but he denied ever saying it.

      • Michael Neville

        Many creationists see evolution vs creationism as a zero sum game. If evolution loses then their specific flavor of creationism automatically wins. They don’t understand the idea that whatever replaces evolution has to answer every question that evolution answers and some questions that evolution fails to answer. GODDIDIT doesn’t answer any questions and so isn’t a viable alternative to evolution.

        • epeeist

          If evolution loses then their specific flavor of creationism automatically wins.

          Oh come on, accusing creationists of promulgating false dichotomies is totally unfair. I mean, when did you last hear of them doing it?

        • TheNuszAbides

          *checks watch*

  • Michael Neville

    If we’re going to free ourselves from the scientific consensus and cast the net wider, why reach for just young-earth Creationist Christianity for an alternative cosmology? Why not also get the Hindu view and some traditional Native American views and the flat-earth view?

    This was the point Bobby Henderson made in 2005 when the Kansas State Board of Education allowed Intelligent Design to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. Henderson wrote a letter to the Board asking that his creation myth, the Flying Spaghetti Monster myth, be taught as well:

    On the first day, the Flying Spaghetti Monster separated the water from the heavens; on the second, because He could not tread water for long and had grown tired of flying, He created the land—complemented by a beer volcano. Satisfied, the Flying Spaghetti Monster overindulged in beer from the beer volcano and woke up hungover. Between drunken nights and clumsy afternoons, the Flying Spaghetti Monster produced seas and land (for a second time, accidentally, because he forgot that he created it the day before) along with Heaven and a “midgit”, which he named Man. Man and an equally short woman lived happily in the Olive Garden of Eden for some time until the Flying Spaghetti Monster caused a global flood in a cooking accident.

    Makes as much sense as Genesis does.

  • Kevin K

    If you compressed all the vulcanism into the 6000-year timeframe, we’d all be dead from the sulfuric acid fumes.

    • Michael Neville

      Also that the Earth’s surface would resemble that of the Moon.

      • Kevin K

        Yeah, except a fuckton hotter.

        • Michael Murray

          Ah so the “new ton” measures force and the “fuck ton” measures temperature ? I kind of feel like the “fuck ton” should be a measure of thrust for some reason.

          EDIT. Oops thrust is force. I should leave the jokes to Dara O’Briain.

        • Dannorth

          Don’t sweat it. It’s covered by the rule of funny.

        • Kuno

          If it helps, I chuckled at the “new ton” bit.

        • Michael Murray

          Excellent 🙂

  • guerillasurgeon

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMvMb90hem8&t=27s
    This is the 2nd time I’ve posted this link today. It is not only relevant, but it brings joy to my heart.

    • Kevin K

      I was in London for almost 2 weeks last fall, and was shocked that both he and Stephen Fry had prime time TV talk shows. They were the only decent things to watch while I was there.

      • guerillasurgeon

        He has a program called “Mock the Week” which is a ferocious look at politics – sort of – by comedians. There is tremendous competition to get their jokes into the actual program and it’s really, really funny. It’s on YouTube. Even not being English I managed to just about pee my pants laughing. I’ve seen every episode of every series now since the beginning. It’s well worth a look.

        • Ignorant Amos

          It’s a great show…but it lost a wee bit of something when Frankie Boyle left.

  • epeeist

    Our next expert is Paul Nelson, a philosopher.

    Having a degree in philosophy doesn’t make him a philosopher. For that you need to be as sceptical as any scientist and have a deep respect for the truth.

  • The Bible is not a “witness”. It’s a book, which at best contains eyewitness accounts, but that is highly doubtful. Taking eyewitness accounts over physical evidence too is a very bad idea. Physical evidence, unlike people, does not lie, change its story, make mistakes, hallucinate, etc.

  • “He asks, Why else would these authors want future generations to learn their history?”

    To fundamentalists, scripture exists for no reason other than to affirm fundamentalist doctrines. In that mindset, a creation narrative’s only purpose is to support literalism. They disregard any literary value or apparent polemic to competing creation myths from the surrounding culture. The actual meaning of the text is lost on them.

  • Major Major

    I don’t know if anyone else has heard of him, but I have just discovered Michael Dowd through the Hope After Faith podcast. I think he can provide a powerful counterpoint to this pseudoscience.

    http://www.thankgodforevolution.com

    I have to dig into it more. His wife Connie Barlow has created stories which help tie in science and mythology. I look forward to digging into the information more.

    • It’s hard to believe we live in a society where you’d need to tell people “It’s OK to accept evolution–baby Jesus won’t cry,” but I hope it works.

  • RichardSRussell

    Pity the poor screenwriter.
    Opening title screen: “Is Genesis History?”
    Cut to: “No”
    Now you’ve still got 89 minutes to fill.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Science and the bible work best together once a body realizes that the bible was never intended to be an accurate depiction of events. It hides its intended meaning behind occult metaphors such as the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Those who take it literally have been deceived into doing so by charlatans who have no knowledge of the discipline that went into the original text.

  • G.Shelley

    “Let me suggest different descriptions of these two paradigms: one is built on evidence, and one is built despite it. ”
    It’s the common claim, scientists and creationists interpret the evidence through different world views
    When they say this, they are hoping people will think those are “the Bible is right” and “the Bible is wrong” rather than “the Bible is right” and “we should follow the evidence”

  • Rex Jamesson

    Great handling of the topics, as always! I don’t know if you’ve already mentioned this elsewhere, but another of apologetics’ most dishonest moves is pervasive in these experts you’re rebutting: the claim that we are just “uniformitarianists”. Just like the presuppositionalists, who claim that science itself is a presupposition as well, the claim that we represent “just another world view” can make it sound to the uncritical audience as if either viewpoint is as valid as the other (it’s a blatant arm-rest on the tu quoque fallacy). But it’s simply not true. “Uniformitarianism,” as they call it, is simply the null hypothesis – it’s the natural understanding of a universe consistently offering stable cosmological and geological constants, and the lack of evidence or philosophical basis for catastrophism. The standard and best predictive science makes a core yet soft and malleable assumption that there is a consistent universe. “Uniformitarianism” is bolstered by multiple independent scientific evidences, all of which would leave indelible traces if – as repeatedly claimed by young-earth adherents – there had been catastrophic changes in the speed of light, the rate of various radioactive decay, the rate of rock formation, or whatever. The fact that their presuppositions are not supported by evidence can be swept under the rug if they use those tu quoque labels on standard science as “presuppositionalist” and “uniformitarianist”, I find this one of the most disingenuous, and unfortunately, one of the most compelling fallacies they offer.