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Friday, March 28, 2014

God's Not Dead -- report on the movie

I saw the movie, God's Not Dead, today. It stars Kevin Sorbo, as Professor Radisson, and Shane Harper as a university freshman, Josh Wheaton. Radisson begins his philosophy class by having the students all write "God is dead" on a sheet of paper, with their names, and hand it in. Wheaton says that he can't do that, and Radisson says that, as an alternative, Wheaton must prove, in three 20 minute presentations at the end of the next meetings of the class, that God is not dead.

This movie was obviously made by Christians, and the intended audience is also Christians. Sorbo, and, probably, all the other actors, are also Christians. The Newsboys and Willie and Korie Robinson, of Duck Dynasty, appear as themselves, and are portrayed as outspoken Christians.

Some (not all, I'm sure) Christians may be disturbed by some aspects of the film. A Christian character prepares a meal, and purchases and serves wine. Wheaton's defense of God's existence includes the following, which some will not appreciate: 1) It's not possible to disprove God's existence, but it's not possible to prove it, either. 2) God worked through the Big Bang in the origination of the universe (for more on that, see here) and this is consistent with "Let there be light!" in Genesis 1. 3) Evolution occurred, as God's method of establishing the diversity of living things. This last point got only a couple of sentences, and neither Radisson or Wheaton mentioned the origin of humans.

I will try not to give away much of the plot, and there is a plot. In fact, there are several plots, more or less woven together, involving several characters. I will say that three different couples broke up during the film, and one of the less believable aspects of it is how they stayed together long enough to be presented as couples in the first place, considering that each one had at least one seriously self-centered egotist as one partner. (One of these was supposedly a Christian.) I thought there was too much going on in the movie, actually.

The film is a dramatized version of Christian apologetics. In my view, it does this well, presenting most or all of the important reasons that atheists claim argue against God's existence, and some rebuttals of these reasons. One apologetic defense is to ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or to ask "Who started the Big Bang?"

Stephen Hawking is a prominent atheist, and was named, by Radisson, as the greatest scientific mind in the history of the world. (That claim could certainly be disputed, with, say, Newton, as another candidate!) In his book, The Grand Design, co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, the following statement occurs, and Radisson quoted all or part of it: Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

There are some problems with using this passage to disprove God's existence. First, as you will see if you go to the Wikipedia article on the book, you will read that by no means all scientists are in agreement with Hawking and Mlodinow, and apparently some who don't agree with them are also unbelievers. Second, why is there gravity at all? (I am sorry that I have yet to read this book -- possibly the authors answer that, but I really doubt it.) Third, as Wheaton pointed out to Radisson, ". . . philosophy is dead." (p. 5)

There was an apologetics advisor for the film. I glimpsed that in the opening credits, but do not recall the name given, and I haven't found it in the movie's web site. Whoever this was, I thought he did a good job. (It was a he. That much I can recall.) At the end of the film, as part of the credits, there was a rather long list of universities that had been sued by Christians (and possibly by some others) for denying Christians their constitutional rights. I'm not sure that any of these were directly related to the subject of the movie. I found one such case on the web site of the Alliance Defense Fund. A student was required to argue in favor of adoption by same-sex couples, and asked for a different assignment, but, instead, was subjected to an examination ". . . for hours about her Christian faith," by a faculty committee. Eventually, apparently after action by the Alliance Defense Fund, she was exonerated, the professor was fired, and she was offered compensation by the university. The credits also said that, at the University I graduated from, the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship was banned as a student organization, and that ruling was overturned, after intervention by the ADF. I checked, and found that that claim seems also to be true.

Is being told that there is no God, by a professor, persecution? I don't think so. Being required to act as if you agreed with it, when you don't, would seem to be, however. I don't think being asked to defend one's beliefs is persecution either, in and of itself. It is often part of a higher education, on all sorts of issues.

At least one university philosophy professor has written in defense of Radisson. One claim he makes is that it is Christian universities who deny freedom of thought, by expecting students and faculty to agree to statements of belief, and then expelling them, or firing them, if they don't live up to such an agreement. To some extent, this is true. However, I was on the faculty of a Christian university for over four decades, and never heard of a student being asked to leave for unbelief. (Some were asked to leave for various kinds of bad behavior.) Some students did not believe, of course. At least a couple of faculty were let go precipitously, also for behavior inconsistent with the university's statement of belief. The professor cited claims that state universities are tolerant of all beliefs, and allow freedom of thought. Cases like the ones mentioned above indicate that freedom of thought isn't always tolerated on secular campuses, in spite of what the professor believes. He makes other claims. Some of them seem to be at least partly valid.

I'm glad that I went to see God's Not Dead. It wasn't the greatest movie ever made, but it was thought-provoking.

Thanks for reading! 

* * * * *
Note added, May 21, 2014. I have now read, and discussed, the book by Hawking that was so central to the conflict in the movie. My discussion is here

June 17, 2014. The Speculative Faith blog has published a review of the film, which points out some of the same flaws as the post above. 


atlibertytosay said...

Thanks for your review … I wanted to write a review for it that would mean something but I couldn't find the words. I simply liked it and that's about it.

As you say, there were parts I didn't like too, but I suppose that's true of most any movie.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay.