Is God Dead? Propaganda with Popcorn!

The smell of overly buttered and under-salted popcorn, the excitement as some people go to see films on artificial intelligence and super heroes, the somewhat squeaky movie seats and awkwardly placed armrests . . . ah, ’tis the theater. Earlier tonight I attended a showing of “God is not Dead” with another member of the club. Besides being possibly the first movie ever written entirely based on an internet thread of a made up story, it also had cliché script and entirely unbelievable characters (as well as un-believing character… get it?)

The premise of the film is there is a crotchety atheist professor of philosophy who makes it his personal duty to see to the non-belief of all of his students in deities (though, really, he only ever attacked singular deities of Monotheistic religions. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess this is due to the Christian theme). Early in the film, a list containing the names of a few philosophers is brought up. From then on, the philosophy is reminiscent of that of Jaden Smith. In other words, no philosophy whatsoever.

god dead meme

In addition to the regular atheist hate which I expected, there was also a disturbing amount of bashing of Muslims. Spoiler Alert! When a Christian female character from a traditional Muslim family is found out, her father beats her severely while her little brother looks on and throws her out of the house. Fortunately, she experienced no bruising from the brutal slaps to the face, and was able to fall off her bed, traverse backwards through a straight bathroom while defending Jesus, and end up back in the same room on the far side of the bed.
Perhaps I’m being too sensitive in this aspect, but the girl also looked strikingly less ‘foreign,’ for lack of a better term, than her actively Muslim family. Considering the portrayal of the latter, this is reminiscent of the complaints I’ve heard about Aladdin, and the difference in appearance of the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

Carrying on with the serious note, this film is rife with poor definitions, a poor representation of the actual debates which occur between theists and atheists, and some terrible misrepresentations of science and the evidence known to us.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down the exact definitions from the script which the “Professor” uses in his class. However, for standard definitions see the about page extension, “Quick Facts”.

My specialty, though, is science, so these issues struck me most of all. The main Christian character, Josh Wheaton (sounds like Joss Whedon to me), describes a quote from Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design as circular logic. This entirely ignores that there is scientific support for the claim.

  • “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.”

The movie focuses on the first sentence. The problem arises when we realize that this is not circular logic due to there being supporting evidence. If there were an extensive discussion of laws of gravity, the shape of the universe, essential instabilities, and so forth before the quote, it would be a simple conclusion to the presented evidence. However, the film entirely ignores the existence of actual empirical evidence and thus avoids discussion of science as well as philosophy.

In response to the terrible attempt to debunk inorganic origins of life while appealing to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection (or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life), I have a few comments. The following is the only mention of the origin of life in Darwin’s Origin of Species. 

  • “Probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some primordial form, into which life was first breathed”

Why doesn’t he discuss this important question more? Well, because Origin is not about the Origin of Life, it is about speciation. It is about a mechanism of gradual change, natural selection. It is entirely true that natural selection does not occur until there is something to work on. It is also true that natural selection only gets to work on genotypes by way of phenotypes, something you will never see Darwin discuss as the New Synthesis came around after his work. One cannot say that natural selection doesn’t work because we as scientists are willing to admit we do not know every detail of the world, including the exact way organic matter started to organize in a construct we would call alive. This is like saying “trains can’t run” because “how did the tracks get there?” or “no one picks what movies to watch because you don’t know the director, actors, set and location, budget, and producers which brought about the films”. In short, natural selection has absolutely nothing to do with the origin of life, it only starts after we have competition. If you’re interested in the basic requirements for natural selection, here you go:

natural selection

1. More organisms are produced than can reproduce
2. Resources are limited
3. Heritable traits exist in populations, some of which are better for survival than others

Another common misconception, natural selection is not ‘survival of the fittest’ (a term Charles Darwin did NOT coin), it is more like ‘survival of the good enough.’ Those good enough to mate get to have their genetic lineage continue. One could think of this in that it is not enough just to survive to puberty, one must also find a mate. Or one could consider that the sketchy traits can sneak through. You can probably think of quite a few people in sexual relationships you would not consider reproducing with.

Another Spoiler Alert! Silly silly silly ending. The atheist professor has a death-bed conversion after a hit and run car crash whilst trying to find his ex-girlfriend. This is cheesy enough, but it was even worse when his tragic death was celebrated (super spoiler, it’s actually a concert movie). Everyone is happy, a reverend diagnosed the medical problems the dying man was suffering from, God started a car for the reverends and dried their hair between scenes, and all the while a man has just died. I do not know a single person who claims to be atheist because they are “angry with God”. This is an assumption theists make all the time, and one that apparently leads not just to misunderstanding and hatred but also to poor filmography.

Weekly Update

  • Discussion this Thursday at 7pm in the MU Gold Room.
    • Topic of discussion: Are science and religion compatible? Can one hold a religious worldview and a scientific worldview consistently? Are faith and reason both ways to knowledge?
    • Zach, our Discussion Chair, has some suggested reading and videos to help get us thinking: 1) an accomodationist argument from Ken Miller, 2) an anti-accomodationist rant by Sean Carroll of the Cosmic Variance blog, 3) a 3 minute video by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, and 4) a 3 minute video of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
    • At the Thursday meeting, we’ll also briefly discuss the Superstition Bash.
  • Ask an Atheist Booth this Friday 11am to 1pm in the Free Speech Area. Rain location is in the covered walkway by the library facing the Free Speech Area.
  • Some major events are coming up. Details and RSVP at this spreadsheet, indicate if you can drive or need a ride, and add comments as needed.
    • Darwin 2009 Conference: series of talks celebrating the 150th Anniversary of On the Origin of Species.
      • Oct 29-31 in Chicago, RSVP by Oct 16 so we can get rooms reserved and make plans on when we’ll leave Ames.
      • Talks start at 6:30pm on Friday, it takes about 6 hours to get to Chicago.
      • Registration for students is $20.00, and includes 2 lunches and the reception.
    • Reggie’s Sleepout: an event to raise funds for homeless youths in Des Moines.
      • Oct 24 in Des Moines, RSVP by Oct 19 so we can arrange carpools and collect boxes.
      • This will be our Secular Service Day event.
      • Whether you can or can not attend, help us collect boxes (particularly big sturdy ones) for the Boxed In Design Contest and solicit donations for our team. Contact Andrew for where our boxes are being stored.
      • Sleeping bags and tents are not necessary, but are allowed. You can rent equipment for cheap through Rec Services.
      • For registration questions, contact Andrew or Anastasia. When you register, sign up for the team “ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society“.
    • Living History Farms Run: a 7 mile cross country “fun run” to benefit Living History Farms.
      • 9am on Nov 21 in Des Moines, RSVP by Oct 21 so we can get spots (there is a 7,500 max # of runners).
      • We need to decide on a team name – and then all enter our team name exactly the same on the registration form. Teams are recognized for their costumes at the start of the race. IAF and IS will be invited to participate with us. Vote on a team name and costumes on the spreadsheet.
      • The course takes you through farms, past barns, across streams, etc. You will get dirty and wet, you will have a blast.
      • The entry fee is $30 if you register online before Nov 4 at noon. You get a shirt and a runner’s goodie bag.
      • On race day, we’ll meet in the Orange lot at 6:30 so we can be there no later than 7:45. The parking lots around the race start get very crowded after 8am. Post a comment if you need a ride from your house rather than from the Orange lot.
  • For those of you who are following the story of Ray Comfort’s edited version of On the Origin of Species, see the Secular Student Alliance for a nice overview of what’s happening.