As Christian movies go, The Genesis Code may be in a class of its own. It’s a religious movie aimed squarely at the left-wing factions of the church, those who consider themselves Christian, but think of much of the Bible as allegorical. The problem with this is that once that string gets pulled, the whole story unravels and it’s not long before the skeptical believer begins to see the world as it really is. To counter this, the movie–co-directed by C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy, from The Outsiders) and Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out)–begins the process of reprogramming slowly, telling its viewer: “You believe in science? That’s okay, that’s okay, we can work through this together.”
So we’re introduced at the outset to Kerry, who describes herself as chaste. When college hockey star Blake guesses that she must be a believer on this information alone, Kerry rolls her eyes and with a level of sarcasm that’s simply uncalled for, smacks, “Oh, one guess – how smart!” Not to get derailed by asides this early, but this bratty, sarcastic attitude isn’t just a single strange choice: she snaps at Blake repeatedly throughout the movie, making this clearly part of who she is as a person. In any case, Kerry is a reporter for the school newspaper and has been assigned to write a bio on Blake, which helps explain why they continue to spend time together even though the girl is insufferable.
The pair goes to a restaurant to celebrate the hockey team’s latest win, and this is where things begin to get interesting. Blake’s teammates harass Kerry over her Christianity; she defends herself with the smug matter-of-fact statement: “I believe science will catch up with the truth of the Bible one day.” It’s so weird, I feel like I should feel bad that she’s being made fun of by these college athletes, but her smarmy attitude just makes me want to see her get her comeuppance. Blake, for his part, isn’t quite as outspoken against Christianity as his friends are – not to say he’s a fan. Even after going to church with Kerry (“We don’t bite,” she says) and hearing her father the pastor say, with a straight face, “Genesis answers most, if not all, of the basic questions of human life,” Blake still isn’t convinced of the literal truth of the Bible. What is his deal?
With almost every Christian movie, there are no true atheists. Usually, the mean atheist character has forsaken God because of some slight they’ve experienced – usually the death of a loved one, but sometimes it’s some petty annoyance like having been raped. The non-believers in The Genesis Code are unique in the fact that their lack of belief stems from being unable to harmonize Christianity with science. Actually, with Blake the movie tries to have it both ways: he’s mad at God because his father died in an accident in Alaska and his mother is currently in the hospital, in a coma caused by pancreatic cancer. Yow. But in addition, Blake tells Kerry that he thinks there are lots of things in the Bible which are true. In fact, come to think of it, he believes everything in the Bible is true… except for Genesis. Not the entire book, mind you, but the first few chapters that detail the creation of the universe. By limiting the discussion so much, the movie sets up the pledge: you accept a seemingly inoffensive proposition to start, that if Genesis is proven true, then the rest necessarily follows. As with any magic trick, you have to realize that no, that is not an ordinary deck of cards. By getting you to give in so much at the start, the trick effectively stacks the deck in the magician’s favor – all the movie needs to do is convince you of one thing… one thing that you think is impossible (there’s no way he can guess which card I picked out of that deck!), but which with a bit of sleight of hand will soon seem all too real (there is no way he could have guessed my card, but I saw it with my own eyes!).
Ah, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, Kerry, who is a paleontology major, is called before her academic advisor. There, she is told that her belief in absolute Biblical truth is poison to her career. I thought it was hard to believe that an academic advisor would make such a bold proclamation to a student, but perhaps for one going into the science field it’s not as surprising. After all, Kerry is essentially taking her classes with her fingers crossed, trying to get a degree so she can throw it in people’s faces. Still, the way that Kerry’s advisor goes about this discussion seems a bit suspect. “There are no absolutes, there are no restraints,” she informs Kerry, “the only truth is subjective.” Doesn’t Kerry understand that the only way she’ll succeed in this world is by abandoning the Bible? Her advisor continues: “There is no truth. All religions and lifestyles are equally valid.” So it’s clear this woman is made of straw, given that she acts exactly like the bizarre caricature Christian movies like to paint of scientists and atheists. She stops just short of yelling, “CHAOS IS GOD. THE ONE TRUE RELIGION IS ANARCHY.” In any event, it gives Kerry room for a subplot in this nearly 2.5 hours long movie to worry about how her faith will affect her later in life. Kerry’s dad the pastor also gets to go toe-to-toe with this straw man, wearing a shit-eating grin the entire time (ah, now I see where Kerry gets her arrogant attitude). Ethics are subjective, huh? Well, what about female circumcision? That’s inherently bad, right? Haha! I just defeated an argument nobody would ever make! Or if they did, they would probably say that because the culture is determinative of its values, a practice like female circumcision is still subjectively “good” even if it’s objectively bad. Kind of like the Old Testament’s call for continuous ritual sacrifice is subjectively “good” in that culture, even if it’s objectively insane.
Okay, I know you’re getting antsy, so let’s just skip to the good stuff. Kerry gets Blake to agree that if she can prove that Genesis and the scientific understanding of the origin of the universe are not in conflict, then he will become a born-again Christian. Through the magic of a montage of science-y words being spoken and formulas being written down, Kerry’s brother the physicist cracks the code – The Genesis Code! Are you ready for this, because it’s a bit of a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. The short of it is that the Biblical account of creation happening in six days is the same as the scientific account of the universe’s age, 16 billion years, all on account of the speaker’s frame of reference. You’re familiar with Einstein’s theory of relativity, right? The short of it is that if Person A (for clarity’s sake, let’s call him Alex) is standing in one spot, while Person B (we’ll call her Bernice) travels at near the speed of light, Alex, who is standing still, will experience time much faster. While Bernice will feel that she has been gone for maybe an hour, Alex will have seen some ten years pass. Time is slowed by speed, gravity, and the expansion of space. You with me so far? If not, don’t worry: the point is to lose you somewhere along the way.
At the Big Bang, the creation of the universe, there was nothing – no speed, no gravity, no space, and consequently no “time”. After the Big Bang, all of that came into existence at once. “Time”, in the cosmic sense, is measured by the light that was created by this event – something that we can still perceive today in background radiation. As the universe expanded and objects in space sped away from one another, time too sped up. Where a light wave (the measure of time) was able to go from Point A to Point B in a short amount of “time”, the two points growing further apart increases the “time” it takes light to traverse that distance. If Bernice was there, at the time of the Big Bang, what she may have experienced as six days, Alex on Earth – so far removed from the origin point of the universe – will understand as 16 billion years. Only this time, let’s call Bernice “God” instead. Still not convinced? Well, maybe throwing in some numbers will make it sound more scientific: Kerry’s physicist brother indicates that the speed of light is halved every so often (a minor detail!), so that a day’s passing to Bernice will seem like several billion years to Alex, another day’s passing from the location where light “stopped” after the first day will seem like half as many years to Alex, another day’s passing from the location where the light “stopped” after the second day will seem like half as many still, and so forth ad infinitum.
Therefore, starting with a passage of time, or POT, of 8 billion years (no reason! just go with it!), we count down for six days of creation. 8 billion + 4 billion + 2 billion + 1 billion + 500 million + 250 million = 15.7 billion, or, about 16 billion years. Ta-da! Do you hear the angels singing? We’ve just proven that the Biblical account of Genesis is literally true because the book is written from God’s perspective – six days IS 16 billion years! Now, you might be thinking that this is just a version of the old “Day-Age” argument, but the movie is very clear that this is not so. “That was an attempt to rationalize and reinterpret the words used,” pastor dad calmly explains. His son chirps in: “This is science! There’s no spin or subjectivism!” What an odd notion, given that the entire theory hinges on subjectivism. In any case, there’s a whole host of reasons this is just pseudoscience pretending to be rational to ensnare liberal Christians into hardening their hearts to the world.
1. First, as I’ve hinted at already, this conclusion (“theory” is far too strong a word to describe the Genesis code) is entirely subjective, and it relies on viewing things from the perspective of Alex, on earth, living today. It starts with the number “16 billion” and tries to work its way toward “6” from there because the number “6” has already been selected. Even if this doubling of time as we move backward to the Big Bang were true, which I have my doubts about but can neither confirm nor deny, there’s a reason the calculation starts with “8 billion” and it’s not because it was discovered. Or rather, it was “discovered” in the same way that Nostradamus’ predictions (or even, ahem, the Bible’s predictions?) have been proven true, by cramming the square peg of science into the round hole of theology. It’s an illusion just as surely as the “think of a number” trick because the formula was created with the desired answer in mind already. That’s not science.
2. Speaking of the square peg of science, it’s actually more rectangular: science had ruled by the year 2008 that the age of the universe was approximately 13.7 billion years, give or take a few million. This movie was released in 2010 – and if you’re prepared to argue that maybe it sat on the shelf for a while, know that they reference J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek in this movie. What this means it that the number used by the movie, 15.7 billion, is two billion years off. So what? No biggie, right? Well, using the movie’s own infallible numbers… 8 billion years (Day 1) + 4 billion years (Day 2) + 2 billion years (Day 3) = 14 billion years. If the Genesis code is correct, we are currently living in the third day of creation. We shouldn’t even exist yet. This more accurate number, 13.7 billion years, was known in 2010; the only conclusion I can draw from this is that the movie intentionally used an outdated number to deceive its audience.
3. From a theological perspective, there are incredible holes here as well. Gen 2:2-3… “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” Again, using the numbers of the Genesis code, it would suggest that God rested for 175 million years, from our perspective. Hmm, I guess that would explain his conspicuous absence from the world today – maybe he’s taking a quick nap. So God just ducks out of the affairs of the world for millions of years at a time when he wants a rest? And if “day” doesn’t actually meanday, then God blessed a specific 175-million year period? Pretty sure I know a few people who would be strongly opposed to that interpretation of the Bible — like, everybody.
4. Getting back to the idea of “perspectives”, the whole reason the Genesis code is supposed to work is because Genesis is written from the perspective of God. Interestingly enough, pastor Kerry’s father later tells Blake that it’s blasphemous to presume to know the mind of God, but the Genesis code itself turns on an assumption of God’s perspective – exactly the sin that he derides. But this becomes particularly problematic when Kerry’s physicist brother has her father describe what the Bible says happened in each day of creation while a science teacher follows up with what science says happened during the same time period. For example, in the first 8 billion years, stars and planets begin to be formed (Day one, “let there be light”). In the Bible’s Day 4, or 15 billion years after the creation of the universe (let’s just assume their 15.7 billion number is workable for the purposes of this exercise), the sun, the moon, and the stars are created. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, the science teacher says that in the same time period on Earth the atmosphere would have cleared up enough that “the sun, the moon, and the stars would be visible for the first time.” The story is supposed to be told from God’s perspective, right? What effects were seen from Earth’s surface would not be the experience that God had seeing this all unfold from the spot where the Big Bang occurred. Even if we want to take some “God’s everywhere, so he was on Earth” cop-out to this, certainly he’s smart enough to realize that the sun isn’tnewly createdeach time the clouds clear up.
5. Finally, with regard to perspective, the formula only works from Alex’s perspective, on Earth – even though the movie uses God/The Big Bang as its starting point. What I mean is this: 6 days, to God, is 15.7 billion years based on the halving of POTs. How long then is, say, three weeks to God? Two months? As the time halves itself repeatedly, it will eventually reach a point indistinguishable from zero, from total stand-still. At that point, no matter how much time passes for God, no time at all will have passed for an observer on Earth. God could wait a hundred billion years from his own perspective to give us time to use our free will to come to him… but it will have meant nothing because one hundred billion of God’s years has become a fraction of a fraction of a second for us. This, of course, is ridiculous. Which is why the formula only works going backward. The time period grows larger, not smaller, until it goes back to the beginning of the universe. And, again, it doesn’t work at all because the numbers are made up.
6. One more time for the theologists – all this talk of God’s perspective and time dilation and the speed of light is great, but the flaw of the Genesis code is the same one that Blake initially had misgivings about: science and religion CANNOT be harmonized. What makes God a god is the same thing that makes him a fairy tale to those who understand science. God is supposed to be outside of space and time, hence his creation of the universe. Measuring God with math formulas makes him a known entity. It begins with the assumption that God exists and that he is knowable, that he exists within the space that we do, that he is operated upon by the same laws of physics that we are. This makes him concrete, a finite being. Once you admit that God is finite, for the purposes of a fake “proof” of his existence, that fissure grows. If God is a victim of time dilation and gravity, is he truly omnipotent? Is he truly omnipresent? Is he truly God, and if not, what is he? Is it possible that a finite being created the entirety of the universe? Suspicions and skepticism are only fueled.
Luckily for The Genesis Code, it’s unlikely that most of its target audience are going to put as much thought into its thesis. When its characters declare that what they are doing is science, I have to assume most viewers will take it as its word. And for those who aren’t impressed by the scientific mumbo-jumbo the eggheads are spewing, be aware that Blake’s mother miraculously awakens from her coma, completely cured of pancreatic cancer, I guess? And because we now know that God must exist because the book of Genesis not only makes total sense, but also has been proven by science… well, it only follows that God is the reason Blake’s mom is alive and well and sitting up and cracking jokes, and it only follows that we should all bow down and worship him AT ONCE. And so everybody lives happily ever after.
And on the whole, The Genesis Code isn’t “bad” in the same way that something like Flywheel is bad; its actors are, for the most part, okay at what they’re doing. The camerawork and set design and lighting and all that good stuff, it makes it look like an honest-to-goodness, legitimate movie. And yet the movie is bad, in the sense that once you crack the Genesis code, there’s no putting it back together again.