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Is Genesis History? asks a question that many Christians struggle with. Is the first book of the Bible comprised of pious myths? Is it an allegory designed to teach important lessons about God, but not actually a record of the history of life on Earth? Or is it a reliable record of events that actually occurred in the past? In other words, is Genesis the oldest book of history available today, one that records events that really did occur in the ancient past, or is it and the information it contains something else?
In addressing whether or not Genesis is history, host Del Tackett of Focus on the Family takes viewers to a number of spectacular locations. At each of these, he interviews an expert who explains the significance of what is being viewed. Paul Nelson comes across very well in a museum of computing and Marcus Ross in a museum full of dinosaurs and other fossils. Art Chadwick’s segment out at the spectacular dinosaur site he and his team are excavating is impressive, and who wouldn’t be interested in what Steve Austin has to point out in the Grand Canyon? The way in which the film takes viewers to places and exposes them to some of the abundant scientific research makes this a fascinating and compelling film. I count a total of 11 expert scientists ranging from microbiologist Kevin Anderson to astronomer Dany Falkner, but Hebraist Steve Boyd and Pastor George Grant add a dimension that rounds out the film in an interesting way. It turns out that the humanities play a role as important as the sciences in addressing questions about Genesis.
This doesn’t mean that every possible line of evidence is explored, the focus of the film is on history, geology and time, but there is so much data and so many questions that covering everything is more than the work of a lifetime. While some wise restraint is shown, if I had one criticism, it would be that Is Genesis History? still probably tries to cover a bit too much ground in too little time. At least this keeps it moving along at a brisk pace and gives a general overview of some of the science that is consistent with the Genesis account, as well as theological arguments and commentary on the original Hebrew.
Most Young Earth Creationists will probably love Is Genesis History?. It is a good general introduction to some of the evidence consistent with events like the flood and the understanding of origins shared by Bible-believers. Those who do not share that belief, but are willing to take this film as an education in what others are thinking will be better off for watching it. On the other hand, zealous deniers of the Genesis record of history will find it maddening. Is Genesis History? will inevitably get lots of 1 and 5 star reviews if it is ever sold on Amazon.com.
Probably the most valuable thing about Is Genesis History? is that it makes quite clear to any viewer that there are serious scientists and scholars who are willing to engage with and, in fact, embrace the biblical account of history and the data from nature. In addition, a significant amount of that data they engage with is consistent with and well interpreted within a biblical paradigm. In other words, believers are not fanatics who believe based on blind faith. There are reasonable empirical reasons to believe that Genesis really is a record of history and, in general, the interpretations that come out of this paradigm are quite rational.
Is Genesis History? avoids advocacy of controversial models that seem improbable when you think about them. If I give examples, I risk many long and pointless discussions with those who believe some of them actually do make sense, so I’ll avoid that. Watching a film about the creation in which it is not necessary to occasionally wince as some improbable speculation is trotted out as both true and supported by the Bible is wonderful.
Finally, the way Is Genesis History? is being released is interesting. It will be screened for one night, February 23, 2017, in several hundred theaters across the US. This is being done through an organization called “Fathom Events.” How effective will this be? Only time will tell, but my expectation is that it will get a lot of church groups into theaters that night. Christians should not be embarrassed to take a Christian group to see it, or a friend who is interested, but not a believer. The production quality is pretty good; it moves along at a stimulating pace and Del Tackett is an engaging host who draws out the expertise of the 13 experts featured in the film. I’ll be going to watch it and expect I will be in some very good company.
Epilog - February 24, 2017
These are my reactions after watching Is Genesis History? at the Regal Riverside Plaza Stadium 16 theater in Riverside. Please note that I’m writing from memory, so there may be some minor errors in my recall of details, but my objective is to report major impressions rather than give an exhaustive and detailed critique.
My reaction falls into two categories: 1) the actual experience of the event and 2) my take on the final cut. I will begin with the experience itself, but to do that I should first mention something that occurred shortly before the showing. This was a posting by Paul Nelson repudiating what he said in the film. It can be found at:
This sounds far worse than it actually is, but Paul’s concern about the way he comes across in the film is valid. For a detailed explanation, read what Paul has to say. Paul is concerned that he placed the fundamental dichotomy between evolution and long time periods versus creation and short time periods, which is wrong place. He feels—and I’m sympathetic to this view—that the true dichotomy revolves around the philosophy of naturalism. If methodological naturalism is embraced as the rule for scientific knowledge, we come to an interpretation of nature which generally includes evolution and long time periods. If we reject naturalism, we head in the direction of theism which may or may not involve creation over long or short time periods. It is unusual for the premiere of a film to coincide with a critique by one of those involved of their own performance, but I personally think this is fantastic. It reflects incredibly positively on those who worked on Is Genesis History?. These are not people who are offering simplistic explanations rooted in traditional interpretations. Paul shows an admirable concern for what is true and a willingness to evaluate what they have done and correct misconceptions. I am in deep admiration of the courage and humility it took to do this. In addition, I believe that Paul’s repudiation brings a level of clarity that we seldom see in discussions of origins.
After procrastinating for way too long, when I went to purchase my ticket online for Is Genesis History?, I was both surprised and pleased to see that the screen where I was to watch it was almost sold out. This meant reserving a seat near the end of the very front row. After I purchased my ticket, there were about 8 seats left. When I arrived to see the film, I was surprised to see that it was being shown on a second screen in the multiplex theater, but have no idea if this was added in response to the fact that the first screen sold out. What was interesting was seeing the number of people who just looked like Christians in the lobby. In fact, I ran into one or two people I know who were there to see the film. Looking at what was showing on the other screens in the theater, the juxtaposition of Fifty Shades Darker with Is Genesis History? was interesting. If nothing else, showing Is Genesis History? in this particular multiplex meant that two of its screens were showing something of actual interest and with the potential to edify viewers.
As expected, when I took my front row seat to watch Is Genesis History?, there were not many empty seats. In fact, in this 76-seat room, I counted 3 empty seats, but I’m not sure about the few handicapped seats that were available. Certainly, there were less than 10 empty seats, but I have no idea how many there were at the other screen in the same theater. The crowd itself seemed to be excited about what was going on, with different snippets of conversation revealing, unsurprisingly, a large proportion of evangelical Christians. The gentleman seated next to me attends The Grove Community Church in Riverside. Strangely, while there was nothing on the screen and the lights were turned down, there was some audio running that sounded as if it belonged with video. At exactly 7:00 pm, the scheduled start time, anticipation was clearly high, but nothing actually happened. Eventually, what sounded like an opening series of ads for other films began, but there was still no image on the screen. This prompted some joking and murmuring among the audience. Further technical difficulties marred the start of the program. Eventually, there was video, but no audio and finally, with a bit of an audience cheer, we had both. However, we were still subjected to a long series of promotions for different wonderful looking programs and extra materials associated with Is Genesis History? Then, a short film was shown detailing who the experts featured in the film are.
While I think everyone was more than ready to get into the film at this point, showing this short about the authors before the feature film did address one objection raised before the showing, that viewers could have the misimpression that Steve Boyde, an expert in Hebrew, was associated with Hebrew Union College, where his interview was filmed. While Dr. Boyde has a Ph.D. in Hebraic and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College, both the short and website for Is Genesis History? make it clear that he does not work there. I believe this misimpression arose from the fact that in the film itself the lower thirds consistently give both the name of the person being interviewed and the place where the interview took place. So “Steve Austin” and “Grand Canyon” appear together and the pattern repeats with the other experts. So, while Dr. Boyde does have some legitimate association with Hebrew Union College, the lower third was simply revealing the location of the interview.
The film itself didn’t start until 7:30 pm, half an hour after the scheduled start time. Some of this may have been due to the initial technical difficulties, but irrespective of that, my personal feeling was that the amount of material before starting was excessive and detracted from the experience. It may be that some of it was shown to cover for the technical problems, but I have no real way of knowing. What was clear was that there was some degree of relief among the audience when the actual main feature started and we could sit back to enjoy it in our special reclining theater seats.
I will get to a short critique of the final cut of Is Genesis History? in a moment, but want to mention that at the end of the feature, there was an interview by the host, Del Tackett, of three of the experts featured in the film: Andrew Snelling, Danny Faulkner and Robert Carter. When the film ended by fading to a quotation of Romans 1:20, there was a smattering of applause among the audience, but this petered out when the film went straight into the interview. Many in the audience had clearly enjoyed the film, but were ready to leave, so the interview was a bridge too far. During it some started to leave. This was a pity as the interview did a lot to flesh out some important points, like the fact that not all creationists agree on all interpretations of the evidence. When the end finally came, it was after the scheduled ending time of 9:00 pm, suggesting that the technical issues at the start drove the timing of everything back by several minutes.
So how would I summarize the overall experience? For me it was pretty wonderful. Being with other believers is always a joy and Is Genesis History? really is an interesting film to watch. Yes, there were some technical difficulties and these probably made the experience seem to drag on a little too long at the end, but overall it was great.
As far as the final cut of Is Genesis History? is concerned, this is a good film and my overall impression remains consistent with my initial review of an earlier cut. Del Tackett’s opening at Mt. St. Hellens is very cleverly done. His interviewing style is great and he does the very difficult job of bringing experts in various fields to the point in a reasonably succinct way. That is not a trivial achievement!
What about Paul Nelson’s repudiation of what he says on the film? I continue to admire Paul for what he did. As a philosopher, he is clearly seeking for the greatest precision and clarity in the important point he is making. Having said that, I’m fairly sure that more casual viewers will not be troubled by what is actually on the film.
The few films that I have personally worked on do not make me an expert on every aspect of film production, but there were a few production issues that did jump out at me. While most of the audio is excellent, there is wind noise in a couple of short segments. The most distracting noise comes during one part of the interview with Art Chadwick where tarpaulins flapping in the wind make a significant racket. Audio is something that anyone producing a film has struggled with and maybe perfection is too much to expect, but those few short segments were distracting for me. The editing is well done and keeps the pace of the film comfortable while constantly moving forward. If there was one change I’d make, it would be to comb through and remove every possible occurrence of the word “absolutely.” Editing audio to remove words can be tricky, but for some reason the word “absolutely” pops up absolutely too many times. In general, the videography is excellent. The way drone shots were used, particularly toward the beginning and end, is spectacular and the impact was greatly enhanced on the big theater screen. At the same time, much of what was filmed occurred in bright sunlight casting harsh shadows. There were many shots that would have been enhanced by using a reflector to brighten the speakers faces, or shooting earlier or later in the day when the lighting is a bit softer and more complimentary. This is particularly true of times when the speakers were wearing hats casting a dark shadow across their face. I wish the director had talked Del Tackett into removing his cap when he was talking out in the field. Finally, I’m not sure whether this was an issue with the camera used or something else, but both in Is Genesis History? and the interview that followed, dark areas on the screen were quite pixelated in some shots. There are a number of reasons this can happen, some of which may be fixable, but whatever the reason, it is a shame to see this sort of thing in a film. While these are minor quibbles and don’t detract from the content of the film, they may not even be visible on smaller screens, it is a pity to see them.
In summary, I’m glad that I joined the thousands of other viewers who attended the rollout of Is Genesis History?. The experience was great and the film itself is well worth seeing, whether or not you agree with everything that is said. If you are interested in seeing Is Genesis History? yourself, the place to watch for additional showings and announcements about DVDs or web streaming is the film’s website at:
Is Genesis History? was the top film in theaters within the United States on February 23, 2017. It may be tempting to sniff at this, after all, it was a Thursday night, not a weekend, when theater audiences peak. Having said that, over 143,000 people attended, and that is nothing to sniff at. Additional showings have been scheduled, mostly in the same theaters, for Thursday, March 2 and Tuesday, March 7.
Review by Timothy G. Standish, PhD
Geoscience Research Institute