Monday, November 12, 2018

Is Genesis History?

Introduction

A couple years ago the documentary "Is Genesis History?" was released. This documentary aims to defend the truth of the Christian worldview by defending the historicity of the early chapters of the Bible from a scientific perspective. The documentary attempts to accomplish this by demonstrating evidence in support of intelligent design and a young (~6000 years old) creation. As those who follow this blog know, I do not hold to the view that the universe is 6000 years old, as Del Tackett and the other contributors to "Is Genesis History?" do, yet I affirm the historicity and scientific accuracy of the Genesis accounts of origins.

Because many people (including those in this documentary) believe that the historicity of these early chapters and a young earth interpretation of them cannot be separated, a friend has asked me to offer some comments in the way of clarifying this common misunderstanding and some other concerns in the movie. There is much unnecessary confusion and heat in the Church concerning the debate over origins, so I am hoping to provide a charitable critique in the context of Christian unity and love.



Areas Of Agreement

Since this post will focus primarily on some points of disagreement, I do want to start with what I agree with that was presented in the documentary. First, obviously, we agree that the Christian worldview accurately describes reality (is true). That alone means that our agreements outnumber our disagreements dramatically; we are brothers and sisters in Christ, part of one Body, neither greater nor lesser in the Kingdom or more or less useful in the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 12).

Second, there are actually numerous areas specifically related to origins that we do agree upon. A couple of years ago I wrote a post that lists out 40 of these points of agreement on origins: What Do Young Earth and Old Earth Creationists Agree Upon Regarding Origins? It is important to keep these points of agreement in mind so that as unbelievers view our behavior towards one another in the midst of disagreement, they will see love and reconciliation in Christ modeled. As Dr. Hugh Ross states in his latest book "Always Be Ready: A Call to Adventurous Faith":

Quote from Hugh Ross' book "Always Be Ready: A Call to Adventurous Faith"- "Christians can help people receive the message of reconciliation to God by modeling reconciliation among themselves. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” How well do we show love when we disagree? Nonbelievers look on and wonder if they can trust Christians to deal gently and respectfully with their questions and doubts if we don’t treat each other that way." #Bible #Christianity #Theology #IsGenesisHistory

Third, we agree on the inerrancy of Scripture. It is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), thus it is true in all that it affirms. We also agree upon the authority of Scripture. All disagreements are not regarding what Scripture is or its authority in our lives but rather on what it means in the particular areas of disagreement (disagreement on meaning in one area does not necessitate disagreement on meaning in another).



Fourth, there were many things explicitly said throughout the documentary that I also find strong agreement with. These agreements range from agreements about the failure of high criticism to the denial of common ancestry. As I was taking notes while watching, I kept a running list of these agreements, and here it is (with links to my reviews of books that dive deeper into a defense of the particular item):

Finally, as a computer technologist, I was excited to hear that Del Tackett's formal training was as a computer scientist. I really was hoping that he was going to bring our field into the documentary in support of God as the Intelligent Creator (there are many areas where computer science can be appealed to to argue for a beginner, a designer, free agency, and the validity of cumulative cases, just to name a few). Unfortunately, he did not, but I do hope that he does in a future documentary. Check out "The Programming of Life" for an example of one of these arguments.

Quote from Donald Johnson's book "Programming of Life"- "The challenge for a purely physical origin of such a cybernetic complex interacting computer system is the need to demonstrate the rules, laws, and theories that govern electronic computing systems and information don't apply to the even more complex digital information systems that are in living organisms."- #IsGenesisHistory #intelligentdesign #Science #ComputerScience #Biochemistry

Now, as I mentioned in the introduction, there are several areas regarding origins which I believe "Is Genesis History" got wrong. I am going to attempt to keep my explanations short in this post because there are quite a few, so the case that I present for each inaccuracy is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is still meant to be sound. I will include links to articles and/or books throughout for further investigation. I have categorized the disagreements into three different categories for easy location later if you want to refer to this post in the future. Let's begin with the philosophical issues.

Philosophical Issues

False Dichotomy

At the very beginning of the documentary, it is proposed that only two options exist regarding origins: either naturalism or a young-earth creationist view. Because of the fact that they intend to investigate an important historical event, it is important that they do not preclude any options before their investigation even begins. If an investigation reveals that neither option is viable, then what is the Christian to do? Because of this drastic philosophical mistake from the beginning of the film, if a Christian is ever convinced that the universe is ancient, then it is implied (if not explicit) that the creators of the film believe that the logically consistent person must reject Christ as well. However, other views do exist, so when a Christian sees the compelling evidence from God's creation that it testifies to an ancient universe, there is no need to jettison Christ or even the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.

Old earth creationism as proposed by Reasons to Believe holds firmly to the historicity of the Gospels and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and does not fall by the fatal critiques against either naturalism or young earth creationism. Contrary to what is implied at the beginning of "Is Genesis History," rejection of young-earth creationism does not logically necessitate rejection of the historicity of the life, death, and bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ (see "Origin Science: A Proposal For The Creation/Evolution Controversy"), and a rejection of young-earth creationism is not a compromise of truth but a compromise of falsehood, which is precisely our goal- reject falsehood and follow the evidence from God's creation exactly where it leads. If you are interested in the evidence for a historical reading of Genesis and the gospels, check out these awesome books:




Logical Fallacy- Hasty Generalization

In the documentary, Tackett and the contributors make the logical mistake of arguing that since quick processes created a few things (some geologic formations) that they created all things (all geologic formations). This is problematic for two reasons. First, it is a logical fallacy, so it invalidates their conclusion that the Flood of Noah is responsible for the formation of the Grand Canyon (and all other geological features). Second, in this argument, they assume that old earth creation models allow for only slow processes, when in fact they allow both slow and quick processes. If the young earth creationist finds solid evidence for a quick process, that evidence is perfectly compatible with an ancient earth. The task before the young earth creationist is to provide solid evidence that the other formations also came about by a geographically global flood. In fact, when the evidence of these long processes is examined in the context of each other, we see powerful evidence of a grand orchestrated project culminating in a home for humanity (see "Improbable Planet; How Earth Became Humanity's Home").

Logical Fallacy- Conflation

Perhaps the first issue described above is the result of the fallacy of conflation. Naturalism and an ancient universe are not the same. Naturalism is a philosophical position that denies the existence of anything outside this universe. An ancient universe simply is a measurement of the amount of time that has passed since the creation event. Through the use of this conflation, the argument is made that since naturalism is false so must any view that holds that the universe is ancient. Because the argument employs the use of a fallacy, its conclusion is invalid. Naturalism can be false while the universe is ancient, and the same evidence that has forced scientists to concede a finite (but ancient) universe is the same evidence that argues powerfully for God as Creator and Designer. See these three books:

Quote from Dr. Michael G. Strauss' book "The Creator Revealed: A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible"- "If the big bang was God's method of creation yet we as Christians deny its veracity, then we are building an unnecessary wall between us and other people who accept the big bang but don't yet know God." #IsGenesisHistory #God #Science #BigBang #Astrophysics



Philosophy of Science- Investigating the Past

It is quite common for young-earth creationists to claim that the past cannot be known with any level of certainty like the present can be. According to "Is Genesis History" present processes cannot be used to figure out what happened in the past. If they affirm Jeremiah 33:25-26, then they affirm that the laws of physics are as unchanging as God is. This is important because the past can be known by observing the present and using this "principle of uniformity" (not uniformitarianism- they are different), we can deductively conclude what has happened in the past. By working our way backward in time, using God's actions (current observations) and God's words (Jeremiah 33:25-26), we discover that the universe did not reach its point of creation 6000 or even 10,000 years ago. Rather it goes all the way back to roughly 13.8 billion years ago. God's creation testifies powerfully of its creation out of nothing (affirming the historicity of Genesis 1:1, and the rest of Genesis along the way). See these articles and book for more on this philosophy of science:
Philosophy of Science- Changed Laws of Physics
In the above section, I mentioned that the incorrect philosophy of science may be corrected by simply affirming Jeremiah 33:25-26 (unchanging laws of physics). However, several times throughout the film, changing laws of physics were affirmed (specifically at the Fall of Adam and Eve). This is problematic for numerous theological and philosophical reasons, the least of which is the unknowability of the past (thus they cannot even critique alternative views based on evidence from the creation) and possibly the worst of which is denying God's unchanging nature that He explicitly compared to the laws of physics (and in turn, denying the doctrine of biblical inerrancy). For more on the details of this issue see the book "Peril in Paradise."

Jeremiah 33:25-26a #IsGenesisHistory #ConstantLawsofPhysics #Science #PhilosophyofScience #Philosophy #Bible


Since that last issue addresses both a philosophical and a theological issue, it provides a good segue into the second category of issues.

Theological Issues

Nature Cannot Interpret Scripture

This issue can also be seen as both philosophical and theological. When it is restated, the theological implications become more apparent: "God's actions cannot be used to interpret God's words." This is the result of denying Jeremiah 33:25-26 (affirming changed laws of physics). For changed laws of physics means that the creation does not reflect God's actions. However, since God has told us that the current observations of the universe do reflect His original creation (Jeremiah 33:25-26, Psalm 19, and Romans 1), we cannot deny that God's actions can be used to interpret His words. Affirming that God's actions (the creation) can be used to interpret God's words (Scripture) is not a matter of "man's fallible ideas versus God's infallible Word," rather it is a matter of affirming that God's infallible actions are necessarily consistent with God infallible Word. And when God's actions unequivocally reveal an ancient universe, we need to change our interpretation of what God's Word in Genesis means to reflect His actions and not our fallible ideas. See the following three articles that go deeper into the relationship between God's Word and God's actions:

Quote from Dr. Hugh Ross' book "A Matter of Days: Resolving A Creation Controversy"- "The Bible teaches a dual, consistent revelation. Just as readers rightfully expect valid interpretation of Isaiah to be consistent with that of Mark, so too they can expect accurate interpretation of the facts of nature to be consistent with the message of Genesis and the rest of Scripture." #IsGenesisHistory #science #Bible #Christianity #Science #Interpretation


Christians Who Disagree With Young-Earth Creationism Are Denying Genesis Is Historical
By using God's creation to help us interpret His words (thus concluding an ancient universe), we are not denying the historicity of the Genesis account; we are affirming its historic and scientific accuracy and our own fallibility in interpreting the words and actions of an infallible God. In fact, when Genesis 1 is interpreted from the proper perspective (the surface of the planet, according to Genesis 1:2), we discover perfect alignment between the events described in Genesis 1 and what scientists have discovered about the history of our planet and life. This is far from denying historical accuracy; this is providing solid scientific evidence of the historical accuracy of the account. For more on this, see these books:

Quote from Michael G. Strauss' book "The Creator Revealed: A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible"- "There are some Christians who say that most scientists today have misunderstood the facts of nature. They say that the facts clearly point to a universe created just a few thousand years ago. But such a belief is inconsistent with what Romans 1:20 implies. Paul says that the evidence left by the creator should be clearly visible so that all, even the scientists studying the universe, are without excuse if they fail to see it...[T]his is exactly the case with the big bang." #God #Science #Genesis #IsGenesisHistory


A Global Flood and the Judgment of Sin

In "Is Genesis History" the contributors asserted that the only way that God's judgment (the whole purpose of Noah's Flood) is that it be global in extent. The purpose was to judge humanity for its evil, so its geographical extent need only be to everywhere that humans had inhabited. The debate about the geographical extent of the flood comes down to the extent to which humans had migrated around the globe. If they had not migrated far from the place of Adam's and Eve's creation, then God could still accomplish His purpose 100% by merely flooding that geographical area. Given the strong evidence for the lack of migration of early humans (see Who Was Adam) and the fact that no geological evidence exists for a worldwide flood (see the Hasty Generalization above), the interpretation of the Flood as a universal event (affected all humanity but not the whole globe) affirms both the historicity of the Flood account (God's words) and the accuracy of the record of nature (God's actions). See "Navigating Genesis" for more on this.

Scientific Issues

Evolution Can Take Place in Billions of Years

The first scientific issue that I want to describe with is the idea that naturalistic evolution can produce the origin (and diversity) of life we see today in just billion years. As more and more research is conducted into the cosmic, galactic, planetary, geological, and chemical conditions required just for life to originate, 13.8 billion years is actually numerous orders of magnitude too young! This is one of the reasons why the big bang (establishes that the universe began merely 14 billion years ago) was so vociferously opposed. Since the evidence is so strong for the universe's beginning (ex nihilo) in the finite past (see "Creator and the Cosmos"), naturalists have attempted to exponentially increase their chronological resources by positing a multiverse (which includes a near-infinite number of universes) to accommodate the necessity for amounts of time orders of magnitude more than 13.8 billion years.

Quote from Dr. Hugh Ross' book "Creator and the Cosmos"- "Today, the physical and historical evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible is so extensive and compelling that nonbelieving skeptics are increasingly resorting to nonempirical arguments to defend their unbelief. That is, they speculate about what we do not yet know or cannot possibly know about the universe and life to hypothesize that some exotic physics or biology might allow one to conceive of the universe and life existing apart from God."- #IsGenesisHistory #God #Science #Bible #Biology


Young earth creationists (including those in "Is Genesis History") constantly accuse scientists and other Christians, who hold to an ancient universe, of needing 13.8 billion years to accommodate evolutionary processes. The reality is that that is simply not the reason. The evolutionary process is simply not that efficient by many orders of magnitude. It is not feasible by any stretch of the imagination! The only reason naturalists have accepted that the universe is only 13.8 billion years old is because the evidence from God's creation (Romans 1) is so strong that they can no longer deny it logically or scientifically (again, see "Creator and the Cosmos"). If anyone tells you that the old earth creationist needs or is trying to force 13.8 billion years into the Bible to accommodate evolution, please understand that they really do not understand just how inefficient the evolutionary process is. See "A Matter of Days: Resolving A Creation Controversy" for more on this chronological impossibility for evolution.

"As astronomical advances proved the universe to be some 10 to 15 billions years old a majority of both scientists and Christians mistakenly assumed that billions of years allowed ample time for a naturalistic account of life. This error has been costly. Recent scholarship increasingly reveals that time boundaries as brief as only several billions years constrict evolutionary theory so tightly, particularly concerning life's origin, as to strangle it. In other words, a 14-billion-year-old universe is too young for any conceivable natural-process scenario to yield on its own, even the simplest living organism."- Quote from "A Matter of Days" by Dr. Hugh Ross #IsGenesisHistory #God #Bible #Genesis #Science

Affirmation of Macro-Evolution

One of the major problems with the global flood hypothesis is Noah fitting all the different animals on the ark. The diversity we see today could not be represented if there was a one to one representation. Global flood proponents, including in "Is Genesis History" have posited that all animals descended from a collection of ancestral "kinds" that were on the ark. They believe this process was either fully naturalistic or could have been theistic (preloaded into the genes at original creation). Several problems exist.

First, "kind" can be roughly comparative to either "genus" or "family." While creationists (old earth and young earth) believe that micro-evolution (adaptation within a species) does happen and speciation (evolution from one species to another) is possible, they believe that evolution beyond this level crosses into macro-evolution (evolution from genus to genus or family to family) and either does not happen or is impossible. Young earth creationists (including those in "Is Genesis History") are quite critical of both naturalistic and theistic macro-evolutionary models for numerous reasons. These same reasons serve to falsify their own affirmation of macro-evolution.

Second, even naturalists and theistic evolutionists understand that the macro-evolutionary process would be slow and not as quick as the global flood proponent would need to explain today's observed diversity. The global flood proponent would have to posit not just a mechanism that they already claim to have falsified but one that works at orders of magnitude more quickly. If a process is not possible, speeding it up does not make it more possible. It would also be akin to punctuated equilibrium- one of the evolutionary answers to sudden appearances of animals in the Cambrian and Avalon explosions. The proposed solution to the diversity problem will not work by any standard. See "Navigating Genesis" and "Peril in Paradise" for more on this issue with the necessity of global flood proponents to affirm macro-evolution.

Quote from Mark Whorton's book "Peril in Paradise"- "If environmental changes at the fall or the flood brought about the relatively immediate emergence of modern species, then each individual species in a coupled ecosystem would have to simultaneously adapt to each other in a dynamic fashion. As one species adapted to changes in the dynamic ecosystem it would require simultaneous re-adaptation of all other mutually dependent species."- #IsGenesisHistory


Dinosaur Soft Tissue Affirm A Young Earth

In "Is Genesis History" one of the proposed evidences to defeat an ancient universe and earth (and cause doubt about other dating methods) is the discovery of dinosaur soft tissue. This is a really cool discovery that has been in the news for a few years now and has spurred on much more scientific inquiry. The idea behind this evidence is that, by current understandings of soft tissue degradation, the dinosaur soft tissue should have decayed a long time ago, if they had been dead for 60+ million years. The discovery of dinosaur soft tissue adds a huge question mark behind two beliefs: the date of the dinosaurs' death and the current understanding of soft tissue decay processes. In "Is Genesis History," they posit that the current understanding of soft tissue decay processes is complete and that scientists should rather doubt the ancient date for the death of the dinosaurs (and affirm a young earth).

The problem is that this is only one piece of evidence that seems inconsistent with current dating (among many pieces of evidence that falsify a young creation), so scientists have opened up more research into decay processes for soft tissue. These have been quite fruitful in producing discoveries of multiple conditions that would result in longer decay times. As biochemist Fazale Rana describes in his book "Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth," these newly discovered conditions defeat the claim that soft tissue is incompatible with an ancient date for the death of the dinosaurs. So, this evidence, contrary to what those in "Is Genesis History" claim, it does not provide evidence against an ancient universe or earth. But again, as described above, this does not mean that Genesis is not history; it just means that the young earth interpretation is not accurate.

Conclusion

So, is Genesis history? Yes! But the history recorded in Genesis does not teach that the universe is only 6000 years old. While the answer to the title question of the documentary is in the affirmative, one does not have to accept the scientific, biblical, theological, and philosophical inaccuracies in the "Is Genesis History" documentary to believe that Genesis is history. In fact, when investigated, we find that the historical record in Genesis is perfectly compatible with modern scientific discoveries of God's creation. What secular scientists are discovering about God's actions is revealing more details of the general events that Moses recorded thousands of years ago. Moses had no way to know such things (especially since he was in the middle of an ancient near eastern culture that held to the eternal past of the universe and its lack of design and purpose [see "The Bible Among The Myths"]). This provides powerful evidence that the Bible was inspired by the Creator of the universe, and consequently, such evidence points directly to the truth of biblical claims about our sinfulness and need for a Savior. The reality of the antiquity of the universe (and big bang cosmology, properly understood) does not undermine Christianity; it provides solid evidence, from God's own actions (creation) for the truth of the Bible, that no Christian should fear or be reluctant to affirm.

If you are ready to explore God's creation and see how, as Romans 1:20 proclaims, God's attributes are so evident in His work that skeptical scientists cannot escape public acknowledgment of them, definitely pick up any of the many books linked to in this post or check out these excellent ministries:



2 Corinthians 4b-5 "We demolish every argument and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of #God, taking every thought captive to obey #Christ." #Bible


5 comments:

  1. Excellent overview and YEC/OEC comparison. Thank you!

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  2. Citing my expertise as consisting of reading a few books and listening to several lectures over the years, i will agree with old earthers that there is no telling how long the earth was without form and void, but what convinced me of a young earth was that from the moment light was created, i believe the rest was created in six actual days because Genesis 1:5 says "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day". Were the days 24 hours long? i don't know. True, "day" could mean "an age", but evening and morning are pretty definite. And if a day was an age, all plant life on the dark side of the earth would have died in such a long period of evening (unless divine providence saved it). And a local, not world-wide flood? Genesis 7:19  "And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered." If you believe "Scripture is God breathed", i'm pretty sure God meant what he said. If you don't believe God is the author, why bother believing any of it?

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    Replies
    1. SoTxJoe, thank you for your comment.

      First, obviously we disagree on the correct interpretation of the biblical passages regarding origins. But we are disagreeing on what God meant; we are NOT disagreeing that God spoke or that what God has spoken is true and authoritative. When I offer a differing interpretation of the passages from your interpretation, I am not saying that I disbelieve that God spoke or that those passages are not God-breathed (nor am I saying that about any other part of the Bible), I am simply saying that I disagree with you on what God meant by what He said. Interpretation is a man-based enterprise that is subject to fallibility, so both the YEC and OEC interpretations are not infallible and are subject to being wrong. It is God's Word that is infallible not your or my interpretation of it, so please do not make the mistake of thinking that you can infallibly interpret God's Word or that someone who disagrees with you deny biblical inerrancy.

      Second, if you are truly interested in seeing the strongest arguments for the day-age interpretation and the universal flood (destroying all humanity save Noah and his family but geographically local), then I would highly recommend these books:

      Peril in Paradise-
      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/book-review-peril-in-paradise.html

      A Matter of Days-
      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/book-review-matter-of-days-resolving.html

      Navigating Genesis-
      http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/book-review-navigating-genesis.html

      These books address the concerns that you brought up in your comment.

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  3. Do you only post the comments that support your view?

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