Imagine squeezing your eyes real tight and wishing hard. What do you wish for?
No, not that Santa Claus will bring you all the stuff on your list or for Tinker Bell’s health after she drank the poison. This time, we’re wishing that all those stories from the Old Testament were really, honest-to-goodness true—from the six-day creation and Adam and Eve to the global Flood, the Tower of Babel, and all the rest. And—it’s a miracle!—our wish has been granted. Or, at least we can imagine so for 101 minutes by watching Is Genesis History?, a “documentary” released as a DVD in 2017.
The movie is unapologetically young-earth Creationist (“young earth” means that they think that the earth and the rest of the universe is roughly 6000 years old, and “Creationist” means that they reject evolution).
The production quality is high, with some beautiful natural locations, and they interview a dozen relevant scientists. Breaking ranks with typical Creationist “scholarship,” these scientists’ doctorates are often actually in the field that they’re critiquing—geology, paleontology, biology, astronomy, and archaeology. They only tangentially addressed the elephant in the room, that conventional science has overwhelmingly concluded that the Big Bang and evolution are real and a 6000-year-old earth and global flood and the rest of the Bible’s “history” are not.
As an outsider to these scientific fields, I’m sometimes in a difficult spot. Some of the movie’s arguments are clearly nonsense. Some are legitimate open questions within conventional science. And some require more expertise (or research time) than I now have. I’ve written about a couple of times Creationists were able to shut me up with arguments I couldn’t immediately answer here. That is, they shut me up until I had a chance to investigate the claims more thoroughly and found out how I’d been lied to, which is not the best way to win me to your side.
If you can expand on my responses below, share your insights in the comments.
The movie opens at a stream in a small canyon. The walls of the canyon look to be made of sand and gravel. We’re asked: How long would it take for a small stream like this to carve this canyon? Thousands of years, you might think? Surprise—we’re near Mt. St. Helens! It’s been just four decades since the famous eruption of 1980, and it already has new canyons. We’re told that streams “cut through deep [bedrock], all in a couple of days.”
Don’t be ridiculous—streams didn’t cut through bedrock in days. I’ve been to Mt. St. Helens many times, including two visits to the Mount St. Helens Creation Center, a tiny museum with a Creationist presupposition that may have been the source of the observation, “Gosh, but don’t these recent canyons look just like a mini Grand Canyon?!”
Who would be surprised that water quickly cut canyons at Mt. St. Helens? They’re made of sand and gravel!
The Grand Canyon
The movie introduces Steve Austin (geologist) who argued for a global flood, using the Grand Canyon as evidence. He said that the many layers show evidence of rapid sedimentation—that is, within hours or even minutes.
How? The upper Grand Canyon layers include sedimentary rock including sandstone, limestone, and shale. These rocks form under different conditions. Are they imagining that the advancing or retreating Flood changed its conditions so that different things would settle out? Limestone is mostly made from tiny fragments of marine organisms like coral. Shale is made from clay and other minerals, and unlike limestone and sandstone, it is composed of thin sheets. It would be complicated enough if all the sandstone were at the bottom, then the shale, and then the limestone (for example), but it’s actually a complex interleaving of various kinds of each stone—sandstone, then shale, then limestone, then more sandstone, and so on.
It gets worse when you remember that these layers contain fossils that are distinct to that layer. It’s not something simple like the animals were graded by size—the biggest falling out of the turbulent flood first and becoming part of the lowest layer, and so on. Why are there trilobite fossils in the Tapeats sandstone layer but none in the Hermit shale above, and why are there fossils of dragonflies with an eight-inch wingspan in the Hermit shale but none in the Tapeats sandstone? How would a chaotic flood create thousands of feet of distinctly interleaved layers? And if the flood was global, why aren’t canyons like this commonplace around the world? The questions aren’t even acknowledged.
The movie points to the Bible, handwaving a geological explanation for water bursting out of the ground (“the fountains of the deep”) to create the Flood.
No, geology doesn’t help you much here, but a mythology borrowed from the nearby Sumerians explains things nicely. They imagined a dome of salt water above the earth (that’s why the sky is blue!) and fresh water underneath. (More analysis here and here.)
Next, we’re assured that the flood was global, not local. Where did all that water come from? Don’t worry—the mountains weren’t as high back then, so covering the earth didn’t take that much. But that means extreme mountain building in the few thousand years since the Ark landed. Again, we’re given assertion but no evidence for this.
Cutting of the Grand Canyon
Finally, he rejects the idea that the Canyon took tens of millions of years to be cut by the Colorado River. He said, “Most geologists have jettisoned that idea” (untrue as far as I can tell). What did carve the Canyon, he says, is catastrophic erosion from the rapid draining of huge lakes, which might’ve carved the Grand Canyon in weeks.
Actually, I can imagine erosion from the rapid draining of huge lakes. Dry Falls in eastern Washington state was formed that way. The one small problem is that Dry Falls and Grand Canyon look completely different (pictures of each here), which makes clear that they were formed in very different ways.
He can sidestep this problem by imagining that the erosion happened to sand or silt, before it was turned to stone. In that case, of course, he must explain the magic that made it turn to stone in a few thousand years.
So many unanswered questions.
Continue with part 2.
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.
— Galileo Galilei
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/18/17.)