I finally saw the 2014 Christian movie God’s Not Dead (see the trailer here). I doubt that I can share all of my thoughts about the movie in one single post, so I may write more than one post about it. Or I may not!
Here are some thoughts:
1. A key plot-line in the movie concerns Christian student Josh
Wheaton’s interactions with his atheist philosophy professor, Dr.
Jeffrey Radisson. Professor Radisson shows his students the names of
philosophers were were atheists, and he proposes that all of the
students bypass discussion of the existence of God and sign a piece of
paper saying that God is dead, so they can all move on to more important
(in his eyes) philosophical topics. Josh Wheaton says that he cannot
do this because he is a Christian, so Professor Radisson shares with
Josh the alternative: Josh must defend the existence of God in class.
What surprised me in the movie is this: Josh gives his first
presentation on the cosmological argument, the argument that God is
necessary to explain how everything began. Professor Radisson responds
that, according to Stephen Hawking, gravity makes God unnecessary for
the existence of the universe, for the universe could have come into
existence on its own. Josh does not know how to respond to that, so it
appears that Professor Radisson has won that round.
The thing is, it is after this particular presentation that Professor
Radisson fiercely confronts Josh and says, “Do you think you’re smarter
than me, Wheaton?”, and promises to derail Josh’s chances of becoming a
lawyer if Josh continues with his charade. I was expecting this scene
because I saw it in the trailer. I was not expecting it, however, to be
after the presentation in which Josh lost the argument. I was
expecting it to be after the second presentation, in which Josh
presented Oxford mathematician John Lennox’s critique of Hawking, then
referred to Hawking’s statement that philosophy is dead, which was
followed by the students’ laughter. But no. Professor Radisson got all
fierce and defensive after actually winning the debate, after (in his
words) pricking the balloon of Josh’s entire argument.
That made no sense to me. Maybe the goal here is to present
Professor Radisson as a defensive atheist, one who is insecure about the
topic of God’s existence because he hates God. That is, after all, the
point of this entire sub-plot. Perhaps that is why Professor Radisson
wanted to bypass discussion of the topic of God’s existence altogether.
His stated goal, though, was that it is only after we give up religion
that we can make progress.
2. Overall, except for that scene in which Professor Radisson quoted
Hawking, I found Professor Radisson to be pretty disappointing as a
representative for the atheist side, at least in terms of presenting
arguments for atheism. I would expect for a philosophy professor to be
able to come back with more. Josh was saying in his third presentation
that God is necessary for moral absolutes—-for saying, for example, that
academic cheating is wrong. I didn’t entirely buy that, for one can
think of secular or non-theistic reasons that cheating is wrong:
professors want students to learn the material, society is benefited
when people actually know things rather than taking short-cuts, and
those noble goals are obviated when students cheat. But Professor
Radisson did not mount a critique of Josh’s argument.
Also, I was surprised that Radisson did not criticize Josh for using Lee Strobel as a source. Lee Strobel is a Christian apologist and was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune.
Sure, Lee Strobel knows stuff, but one should appeal to Lee Strobel’s
sources (after reading them, on some level, to see if Lee Strobel
represents them accurately) rather than Lee Strobel himself. Josh in
his first presentation was sympathetic to this sort of issue: Josh
referred to a non-believer as an authority to rule out believer bias.
In the beginning of the second presentation, Josh referred to Oxford
mathematician John Lennox—-though I found Josh’s discussion of that
debate to be a bit shallow, since I wondered how specifically Hawking
believed that gravity made God’s existence as a creator unnecessary for
the existence of the universe, and what Lennox’s critique of that
specific point was. Still, at least Josh was referring to John Lennox!
Then Josh turned right around and cited Lee Strobel as an authority for
a scientific point. And Professor Radisson did not criticize that, or
at least ask, “Who is Lee Strobel, and what are his credentials?”
3. Professor Radisson’s list of atheist philosophers caught my eye.
I was initially surprised that he included John Stuart Mill on the
list, since I thought that Mill believed in a creator, but it turns out
that Mill was rather critical of Christianity and supernaturalism, even
though he was not a dogmatic atheist (see here and here).
I was also surprised that Radisson included Richard Dawkins on the list
of philosophers, for my understanding is that Dawkins is a biologist,
not a philosopher, or one with philosophical training. Yeah, Dawkins
makes philosophical points, but his field is biology.