How Not To Prove the Existence of God April 19, 2014Posted by Sobek in News.
I mentioned in the comments section a while back that I saw, and enjoyed, the movie God is Not Dead. One thing I enjoyed about it is that I spent my money on conservative filmmakers, which is a nice change. The main reason I like the movie is because it’s really about the importance of standing up for your convictions. At least, that’s what I got out of it. I say that because as a work of apologetics – the reasoned defense of a system of faith – I found it quite lacking. The opening credits actually refer to the apologetics researcher for the film (I don’t remember who it was), and I’d frankly be a little embarrassed if it were me.
So before I explain why, here’s a promo for the movie. I add this because before Mrs. S said we should watch it, I had never even heard of it. I don’t know how many of you are in the same boat.
Mild spoiler alert for the rest of the post, although none of it has to do with the important plot developments at the end.
The storyline is that Josh goes to college and enrolls in an Intro to Philosophy class, where the professor is a militant atheist. Professor Evil asks all the students to sign a statement saying “God is Dead,” so they can all agree not to waste their precious time discussing the matter and get into other, more important philosophical discussions (such as?). Josh refuses to sign, because he is a Christian. Professor Evil says fine, you have three class periods to present the case that God exists, and if you can’t, you lose thirty percent of your grade for the class. Professor Evil is a cartoon character, so he later tells Josh that he will make it his personal mission to destroy Josh’s academic future. So this analysis will approach the first day, in which the challenge is issued, and then the three days on which Josh makes his presentations.
1. Professor Evil shows the students a list of fifteen famous philosophers, and says the thing they have in common is they were all strong-form atheists. But so what? One might easily make a much longer list of famous philosophers who believed in God – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle come immediately to mind, but then you can throw in guys like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, or Soren Kierkegaard, to name the first four that occur to me. Philosophy is not done by listing famous people, stating what they agreed upon, and declaring “the philosophy is settled.” Especially not when you’re comparing Plato to, say, Denis Diderot. Much more interesting is the question of why the atheists were atheists, which allows an examination of their methods, rather than a base statement of conclusions. Really, that’s the most interesting and useful part of philosophy: training your mind to the method of rational analysis, rather than the specific conclusions of dead people.
2. Professor Evil asserts (there will be no evidence or argument forthcoming) that God was a “useful fiction” to explain natural phenomena, such as floods, lightning or pandemics. This assertion really bugs me, and I see it all the time because I’m a huge history dork, and historians have this nasty habit of going beyond the evidence when it comes to early man issues. Rather than merely speculating, let’s consider some evidence.
The oldest written records that we know of are all theistic. They all assume the existence of some kind of deity. That means as far as a written record goes, no one can possibly point to evidence of a time when mankind transitioned from a pre-theistic to theistic worldview. In other words, there is no record of cavemen living without a conception of deity, and then observing a lightning strike, and then deciding (collectively or individually) that it must have come from Zeus or whoever. If there is no written record of early man’s reasoning when he invented the notion of deity, what about the archeological record? But to ask that question is to uncover the real evidentiary problem: what could you possibly dig up that would prove, one way or another, what the first hypothetical theists were thinking when they formulated their ideas?
No, the Professor has neither reason nor evidence on his side when he asserts the reason why earliest mankind believed what they did. This kind of speculation is not limited to theology, of course – I also see it from biologists who say, “modern man feels altruism because early man figured out they needed to share their mammoth meat, or they might starve after the next hunt.” Wait, how do you know that? Did one of them write as much in a diary? Of course not. But when there’s no evidence either way, there’s no way to demonstrate that the speculator is clearly wrong – only point out that it’s speculation.
3. When Josh refuses to sign the paper, Professor Evil punishes the class by assigning them an extra essay to read – because the class couldn’t “reach unanimous consensus.” Wait, that’s how philosophy is done? By vote? Or rather, in this case, by coercion? That’s why I call him Professor Evil, and why I call him a cartoon. I know there are bullies in academia, but dude. If you want to make a movie about a real argument, you need both sides to be more credibly portrayed.
4. Professor Evil refers to theists as “flat earthers.” This also bugs me a lot. Sure, he’s using the phrase rhetorically. And sure, he’s a philosophy professor rather than a historian. But it bugs me because the phrase perpetuates the myth that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat (they did not), and in this context that the Church deliberately kept people in ignorance. If so, then why was the Globus Cruciger – the symbol of Christ’s dominion over the world – a cross set on an orb?
Fun fact: the first guy we know of who correctly calculated the circumference of the earth was Eratosthenes of Cyrene. The story of how he did it is a fascinating one, and I encourage you to read it. Of course, none of his calculations would have made any sense had he assumed that the earth was flat.
(I’ll cover the next three days’ fallacies in another post)