Recently during my free time I found in my Netflix queue a curious movie called “The Unbelievers”. I have heard of this movie before but never bothered myself to watch it, but I had a spare hour so I decided to see if it had anything new to say. Alas, Professors Krauss and Dawkins have disappointed me once again in their attempt to pass off half-baked arguments and old ideas as a new case against the existence of the Christian God. Without me ranting too much more, let’s get this review started. I will be commenting on the material of the movie as well as inserting my comments and questions as I write, so I apologize if the style is a little odd.
The movie begins with various scientists and celebrities discussing their problems with religion, how religion and science are competing worldviews, and how religious people shut down any critical discussion. I have already discussed how science and religion are mutually beneficial and not competitive, but I’m sure I will be covering it more here. As for the discussion about religion, I am more than happy to discuss my Christianity with you (I am a scientist as well so I can talk both science and religion and hopefully prove through my life how they aren’t mutually exclusive!). I will pose a question as we begin here. You say that religion makes unproven claims about the universe, but what about an atheist’s unproven claims about what is outside the universe? Science can only study the natural world, but atheists use this to make claims about the supernatural. I will also comment on science and religion as competing explanations. I think that we are using God as a mechanism when instead we should be using him as an agent. The analogy for this is like telling someone to choose between Henry Ford and the laws of Thermodynamics for the existence of the internal combustion engine. It’s ridiculous to pick between the two; you need both to answer the question.
The first time we see Dawkins and Krauss speaking is at two separate events, Dawkins is debating Cardinal George Pell and Krauss is speaking to a Muslim student group in Australia. I started to notice here that the talks were edited pretty heavily with voiceovers from Dawkins and Krauss or that the talks were cut to show supposed fumbles on the other parties involved in these talks. From what I could gather with all of these jump cuts, Krauss basically raised the question as to whether or not atheists can be moral. My answer to that is yes, atheists can be moral, but they do not acknowledge the being that made them in His own image with that moral framework in place. Dawkins’ big point from this is that why is a silly question. Seriously Richard? You are rewording the fallacious argument of Stephen Hawking that philosophy is dead and then proceed to use philosophy to prove your point. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Both Krauss and Dawkins ended their talks saying that we have to make our own purpose in life, and to make the world better than when we arrived in it. Excuse me, but did you just tell me that I can do what I want but then tell me to do what you want? What if I just want to watch the world burn? If my ultimate destiny is to fade into oblivion, why should I care about the quality of the world I am in?
The second portion of the movie is a joint talk by Krauss and Dawkins. There were a few parts of the discussion here that I wanted to note. Dawkins got to talking about the first human, and brought up what I thought was a bad analogy. He describes a person moving from middle-aged to old. We really don’t have a day that we decided we were old just that there really wasn’t a first defined homo sapien. This analogy doesn’t really sit well with me as age as it is described is subjective, and species distinction seems to be objective. I would think that there has to be a definite first homo sapien as we would describe ourselves, otherwise I can take this analogy and subjectively describe myself as a guinea pig. Krauss and Dawkins then go on to describe how awesome it is that our brains, which weren’t evolved for science, are able to do science and discover the truths of the universe. I think it was Roger Penrose who commented that “if the thoughts of my brain are the random motions of molecules in an organ produced by unguided processes, why should I trust them?” If my brain wasn’t meant to do science, why should I trust the “science” done by that brain?
There is another break in the talking for a montage of Dawkins and Krauss going around their lives on this tour. Krauss is then on a couple of talks with Stephen Colbert and a large lecture about his book “Something from Nothing”. The biggest part of these solo talks is Krauss talking about us disregarding God because we understand the universe better. This is the result of someone following the God of the gaps argument, i.e. God is used as a stopgap for areas of ignorance in our collective knowledge. I refer to a previous comment I had made about agency vs. mechanism. We are trying to use God as a mechanism when he is a person, and is thus an agent in our universe. God designed our universe, regardless of our understanding of it. If I find something new about the workings of a car or any other device, I respect the engineer more, not decide that I don’t need him anymore to explain how that device came to be. After this, we jump to Krauss and Dawkins talking again about politics and religion. They mention how atheists are the most distrusted people group in the US, if not the world. I have a reason Lawrence and Richard; you have been distorting the truth and in some cases outright lied in a lot of what I’ve seen from you.
The next talk in the movie is Krauss going on radio shows and Dawkins is on a phone interview with someone that I don’t think was ever identified. The first few notes I took on this were about Dawkins telling his interviewer that people telling their children believe in God or they are going to hell is essentially evil. I want to take a minute and unpack this. I understand where Dawkins is coming from, using fear to control your children, but I think there is something else in here. Dawkins is mocking this because he doesn’t believe Hell exists. But for us who believe Hell does exist and understand what it is, we don’t want anyone to go there after they pass from this world. Maybe some Christians need a little more tact on this issue, but the fact remains that I believe we go one of two places when we die, and I would rather we all go to be with the Father than not. Krauss does his usual argument here that has been driving me up the wall of redefining nothing from the philosophical sense to a physical nothing where it is still something.
So from here on in the movie I would like to note that Dawkins and Krauss move from a semi-reasonable approach to presenting their cases for why religion is wrong to openly mocking any sort of religious thought. Maybe they think at this point they have convinced people, but certainly not me, so the latter part of the movie left an especially bad taste in my mouth, but I proceed on.
Next we move to another lecture with Dawkins and Krauss. Dawkins starts by saying that he hopes religion is dead and that atheism is the only worldview in 10 to 20 years. They start talking about evolution and how natural processes can plausibly bring about living systems and explain away the creation story of the Bible. While plausible, I would wait to see it proven, and even then I am not entirely convinced that this explanation would be a “replacement” for God. God has acted through events that one can explain naturally and events that we can’t explain naturally. So if we come up with a natural explanation, I don’t think that removes the agent that brought it about. As an analogy to this, I can bring you a meal that I have prepared and cooked myself, and explain how it came to be there through thermodynamics and the biochemistry of protein denaturation and so on. But I would still have to be there directing the ingredients and adding them in at the proper time to produce the meal that sits in front of you now.
Dawkins and Krauss then move on to discuss how the multiverse can replace God, but until we have knowledge that it actually exists and that we can truly understand it, I doubt that the multiverse can explain God. For those unfamiliar, the multiverse posits that the universe we inhabit is one of a potentially infinite number of universes. These universes can potentially be universes just like ours that can cover all possibilities of what could be, be it something like for each choice we make; a universe exists for the other scenario for the other choice. These universes could also have different fundamental constants as an explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. This multiverse theory seems enticing, but the question can still be asked, “Where did the multiverse come from?” It could be eternal, but I think I can extrapolate from the evidence for the big bang for our universe and claim that the multiverse had a beginning as well.
Dawkins is then speaking about how he wants to take words like “intelligent design” and “morality” back. You can have those words back Richard, but I want you to return the definition of faith to what it was in Latin: “to trust” and not “belief where there is no evidence”. I would also like that you return the word “reason”. Dawkins then goes on to explain how natural selection has been misunderstood. Natural selection cannot plan for the future of the species apparently. He then quickly jumps onto another bad analogy about how humans extrapolate from past trends to predict and plan for the future. Pardon, but isn’t that in essence what natural selection does? Natural selection is the “choosing” of the better gene sets that can deal with the current environment. It cannot account for an apocalyptic event, but it is accounting for past events to deal with the future the best it can.
The final part of the movie moves onto the Reason Rally in Washington DC. This was the largest gathering of atheists, humanists, and secularists in the history of the world. The new comers in the movie cover quite a bit of what I have already. What I am going to cover here is what Dawkins said. He starts by saying that religion doesn’t need to be ridiculed, but reason will prevail in the end. This statement confuses me quite a lot. Right before this, there was a scene of atheists mocking and cursing at a preacher. Dawkins then goes on to say that if necessary, religion should be ridiculed and mocked with contempt. So atheists should only mock religion when necessary? Apparently there are quite a few who find it necessary, and a lot of the mocking is in poor taste in my opinion. The movie ends with a text blurb about the reason rally, Dr. Krauss, and Professor Dawkins.
So in short, I would compare the unbelievers to God’s Not Dead. The movie is probably ok to those who are unbelievers, but I find it poorly thought out as a philosophical case for atheism. I cannot speak for other religions, but the myths of Christianity denying the advance of science in the past are almost assuredly that, myths. A lot of the founding fathers of modern science were theists, if not Christians. I found the movie disappointing that there wasn’t more of a systematic look at theism and Christianity. For Dawkins, I would pose the challenge for you to go to Saudi Arabia and spout the line about mocking religion and to mock the Muslims there. You take advantage of our God-given right of free speech to mock him here in America, try going to a place where you do not have that freedom and see how far your supposed tolerance can take you. I realize this article may be taken as an ad hominem attack on Krauss and Dawkins, but I stay only to the material presented in the movie and not the character of the people presenting it.
May God bless you and have a good rest of your day.
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