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Friday, March 28, 2014

God's not dead

God's not dead is a movie that's gaining some notoriety in the USA. Here's a synopsis ...
Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson assigns him a daunting task: if Josh will not admit that "God Is Dead," he must prove God's existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. GOD'S NOT DEAD weaves together multiple stories of faith, doubt and disbelief, culminating in a dramatic call to action.
I haven't seen the movie (yet) but I'm guessing that the 18 year-old Christian student wins the debate against his "dogmatic" professor.

This sort of thing happens quite a bit in the movies. It's pretty rare to find a university professor portrayed as a good person, or even a smart person who knows their stuff. If you are one of those university students who watch the movie and are convinced that you can win a debate with a professor on the subject "Do gods exist?" then please contact me and we'll set up a time and place for you to make the attempt. I'm pretty sure I can find a smart professor at most major universities.


  1. The direction, dialogue and actors seem rather awful so I think I will pass and read the reviews.

  2. Debates Larry? You are aware that debates are more about rhetorical strategy than about having the facts on your side, right? You know that "theologians" and "apologists" spend a good part of their curriculum just training for rhetorical strategy, right?

    1. Whatever. If it's just rhetorical strategy then I still encourage all teenagers to take on their professors and see how well they do.

      In fact, I warn my students about this very danger. Professors have lots and lots of experience at this sort of thing so even if we are wrong it's still very difficult for a young person to win a debate. That's why the onus is on professors to tell students when they are expressing an informed opinion on a topic where there's controversy within the field.

      In any case, I'm not challenging the professional debaters. I'm challenging the idea that a typical university 1st year student can beat a professor in a debate on the topic of the course.

    2. OK. Got it. You're right. Also, students might still be honest. Something we can't say with much confidence about the apologist pros.

  3. Sounds like the "Big Daddy?" fantasy. (I assume you are familiar with the famous Chick tract.)

    1. Big Daddy

      It would be funny except that there are actually people out there who think this is the way things might work in a biology class on evolution.

      If anyone reading this thinks they are one of those students, get in touch with me ASAP so you can give it a try.

    2. The atheist prof in the Big Daddy cartoon is very Jewish-looking-- the whole cartoon is like something out of Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer. At least in the "God's Not Dead" movie, the prof is Aryan-looking. That's progress I guess.

      I once read a racist creationist blog where Jews are blamed for evolutionary theory (a common accusation from the Far Right; it's been around since the ~1900's; the earliest instance I know is in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and shortly thereafter The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem and Elizabeth Dilling's The Conspiracy Against Christianity, etc.) and the modern-day racist blogger attacks a generic atheist biology prof as "Professor Schlomo Greenbaumstein", illustrated with a photo of... Ernst Mayr. Sharp wits they are not.

  4. It is playing in some local cinemaplexes here. It might have a little more impact than most of those "Christian movies" that put a crown of thorns on some guy with a beard and have him walk around saying biblical things. Compared to that, the Big Daddy legend seems to have "legs".

    If a student got up in my class and said they didn't believe in evolution, I'd just say that that was too bad, and maybe offer to spend a little class time on their arguments. But in the end I would point out they did have to know what evolutionary biologists argued. Saying they didn't believe it would not excuse them from answering the questions on the exam. The questions are written so as to ask what evolutionary biologists argue, not to ask what the students themselves believe.

    What really has astonished me is the rise, mostly in the last few years, of people who argue that even being made to hear about the methods and results of science is an infringement on their religious freedom. That their religious freedom includes the right not to hear about whole scientific fields, while getting a university degree that certifies that they have studied science.

    1. I actually saw the film. What troubled me is that the audience seemed to genuinely buy into the idea that professors are requiring them to change their beliefs.

      I agree with Joe's sentiments, however. We don't and shouldn't be require particular beliefs from students so much as understanding of the relevant positions (whether scientific or philosophical) and the evidence/arguments for them. They, of course, flag a bunch of actual court cases at the end, but provide no actual details. I'd be very surprised if anyone literally requires their students to be atheist as a part of a philosophy course. Even if one person could be found it is hardly standard practice.

    2. Of course there may well be some courses out there where professors proselytize in-class for atheism. Is it possible that there are some stupid and immature professors out there? Sure, I've known some. But I would be very very hesitant to accept the characterizations of the filmmakers for any purported case without careful checking.

      What is always distressing is the endlessly repeated assertion that when we argue that evolutionary biology shows that evolution actually occurred, that we are doing this primarily as an argument for or against the existence of gods. I do know that when I got interested in evolution it had nothing to do with that -- here was this neat mechanism that made all these weird organisms, wasn't it amazing.

      But creationists have a conspiracy theory.

  5. You know.... Imagine the universe is like a book. Scientists are experts at working out the "grammer" of it all - all the spellings and punctuations and laws. But any meaning above that is completely oblivious to them. They can't see the forest for the trees, and never will. None of their "evidence" will ever reveal it.

    1. Unfortunately, you've just make a fairly common fallacy of assuming that just because you can make an analogy, the analogy must be apposite and revealing of a great underlying truth. Without knowing in advance that there is a deeper meaning to the universe, it's just an exercise in begging the question, and you might as well say "imagine the universe is like a giant tiramisu".

    2. Erm, "made". I should proofread with more care.

    3. In the midst of the hurly-burly of scientific activity, has the true meaning of the universe been revealed to you? If so, how can you be sure that you are not simply deluded?

    4. Even if the analogy is accepted, it goes more like this: Scientists look at the words in the book to figure out the meaning, while the religious ignore the actual words, make up their own and claim they have now understood the book.

    5. So let me guess, this "meaning" is only revealed to those who have no understanding of the grammar, spelling and punctuation of the book and the "meanings" discerned by tribal goat herders thousands of years ago have precedence over anything a mere "gammarian" could have to say.

      The thing of it is, the search for meaning in how the universe works is a past time of the ignorant.

      As you become more aware of how reality operates you begin to realize that the "why" questions are the childish projection of fear of death and the dark into the real task of understanding reality which of course is only accomplished by the "how" questions of adults.

    6. Science has given us a glimpse of the wonders of the universe. In comparison the 'biblical' universe was very impoverished. A small flat earth with a petty tyrant of a god just above the clouds. What has been 'revealed' is reality. Much, much better than mythology.

  6. Of course, as one can see from the trailers, the crux of the situation isn't that the professor doesn't believe in god, but that he hates god. I suspect this trope is common because it is important to downplay the possibility of disbelief - hate if necessary, but not disbelief.

    1. Oh, I'm pretty certain the movie will make the professor look like an idiot by making him say things a real professor would ever say.

      That's to be expected. The answer, of course, is that I don't "hate" gods any more than I hate the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Cinderella, leprechauns, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    2. The single most frustrating part of the film (in terms of the arguments) was precisely this. Spoiler alert: The prof at one point is finally pushed to admit that he hates God. It was said by the student, 'how can you hate someone you don't believe in?' The audience clapped. I was very frustrated.

      I do, however, have a slight complaint with Laurence's remark, at least if it is taken to be representative of how we should in general reply to this kind of reasoning. I think professors with an interest in atheism etc (often but not always, perhaps Laurence is an exception) do feel a kind of dislike of God, at least as portrayed by certain traditions/people. So, in that sense, this is not analogous to bigfoot or santa etc, which don't normally invoke the same emotions. For this reason, I think a better reply to the relevant objection would be this: one can feel dislike for an idea without thinking that the idea has an actual intentional object. If the relevant evangelicals disagree, they should ask themselves how they feel when they think of deities in other traditions who claim that they will be punished for their beliefs. I am willing to bet that (1) many of them would feel a kind of hate or strong emotional reaction and (2) that they don't actually believe the relevant deities.

  7. Currently some of Eric Hovind's special students are making unevidenced assertions* on PZ's blog Pharyngula (Thunderdome thread). If the arguments they use are examples of what we'd see in the movie, the protagonist doesn't stand a chance.

    *It is suspected that these students are going to be graded on how well they follow the Hovind script. It's tough for them because the horde is improvising.

  8. The reviews are coming in, and it is getting widely slammed even by those who seem quite sympathetic to religion:

  9. One cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.... That's is why both sides either believe or disbelieve his existence....

    For many, including many scientists, God's existence is the best logical explanation for the existence of the universe that had a beginning-its fine tuning, expansion and acceleration etc..., as well as the existence of complex life, self-awareness, conciseness and many, many more....

    To me personally, the most devastating blow to unbelievers is the failure of science to recreate even the simplest form of life, as well as the inability to reassemble (self-reassemble as well) a living cell when it gets punctured and its contents leaks out of it...

    If so many of you believe that life somehow came about from nonliving matter by natural processes, but you neither know the origin of those processes, nor how life could have originated without intelligence, how can you be so sure that it happened that way...? What is the evidence for it...? I haven't seen any.... Have you...?

    It’s obvious that scientists can't recreated life... If they ever do...(I doubt that personally)… will that mean that life could have originated by natural processes...? Or that even the RECREATION of life requires an intelligent scientist...?

    Would anybody like to debate the above...? I'm pretty sure I could find one or two who would....

    1. "One cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.... That's is why both sides either believe or disbelieve his existence..."

      We don't need airtight proof to show that godbelief is evidentially unjustified and irrational. Look up inductive and probabilistic reasoning.

      Actually, just start looking up reason. No wait, start with elementary logic.

    2. In fact Quest, here are 3 recent posts that fit your encephalitic shortcomings remarkably well:
      Inductive logic 101

      Critical thinking, Part 1

      Categorical misunderstandings of atheism

      Your brain will thank me one day.

    3. Quest giving us his camp's classic argument from incredulity, with a dash of the "fine tuning" argument (made by the ignorant who see non-existant perfection in all of nature). That pesky god of theirs - always a male by the way, they're quite a phallocentric bunch - is always hiding just out of sight in whatever phenomena we have yet to reproduce or explain. We've stripped away 'his' volcanoes, lightning bolts, plagues, and earthquakes so all 'he' has left to hide behind is a very rare phenomena buried in the distant past that requires undemonstrated (for now) reproduction. When - not if - artificial microbial life is demontrated the goal posts will simply be moved once more and the millennia-long song and dance will go on.

      Of course, to use Q's words, the most devastating blow to believers is the failure of god to make itself (or himself as our friends like to assert) apparent, evident, and demonstrated to its more prized creation (their words) who it claims to love yet will dump them into eternal hellfire for simply taking the most evidenced position - the null hypothesis.

    4. Rum+rocket,

      You seem to have forgotten that most, if not all believers, have faith and don't claim to have proof of the existence of God... On the other hand, morons like you claim that what they believe in is science and they have evidence for when they really have neither..... All you have is faith, but you claim to have the evidence...Which obviously means you have nothing... Blind faith is what you have...

      If you are so cocky, I challenge you to prove me wrong.... If you can prove ONE, ONLY ONE, of my arguments above about the origin of life wrong, I will not only thank you. You will become my hero... So, since you claim to be a scientist and call me all those names, lets start with some real experiments.... Which one would you like to preform first..?

    5. Prove your arguments wrong? For that you have to actualle MAKE arguments, instead of just statements of opinion.

      Lay out your arguments with premises and conclusions and I'd be happy to show you how utterly void of thought you really are, again.

    6. Seans Boli,

      Please tell me that this is not your best arguments...? I asked my 9 year old this and he smiled and told me to ask his 7y old brother easy stupidity like

    7. OK, I'll play.

      "It’s obvious that scientists can't recreate life... If they ever do...(I doubt that personally)… will that mean that life could have originated by natural processes...? Or that even the RECREATION of life requires an intelligent scientist...?"

      Let's steel man this and turn it into an argument.

      1. Scientists have never replicated the process by which life was created, therefore have not proved how life was created.
      2. Even if they replicated it, that would only prove you needed an intelligent designer to do it.

      Let's knock (2) over, because that's the key to this.

      (2) Is, obviously, insurance against an announcement later today, tomorrow or at some other point from a scientist saying they've created life in the lab. If and when that happens, that would invalidate (1). It's getting the excuse in early.

      If a scientist 'creates life' there are two ways he could do it: (a) one possible on an early Earth or other plausible natural environment or (b) one that need specialist equipment, material or conditions that can't occur in nature. And a scientist and his equipment couldn't occur in nature before life existed.

      For Quest's argument to make any sense, we can only be talking about (a), and if we're talking about (a), that scientist would, by definition, have proved that life *could* have emerged on the early Earth without a designer.

      (The excuse would then shift to 'well, you've found a way it *might* have worked, it doesn't mean it *actually* happened that way, does it?', and pretending that it's the same argument they were making before.).

      Quest's argument is that because (a) hasn't happened, it's impossible. This is, of course, a huge hostage to fortune. It's just God of the Gaps - 'your mighty science can't explain X, can it?' 'Yes, actually', 'Well, it can't explain Y, though'. 'Actually ... ', 'Well, there's Z', 'No, we can't prove Z', 'A-ha, there *is* a God!'.

    8. The other obvious point to make is 'science can't replicate it, therefore God exists' is the standard leap.

      We could, glibly, point out that as scientists can't replicate gods in a lab, by Quest's logic, that means gods don't exist.

    9. "We don't need airtight proof to show that godbelief is evidentially unjustified and irrational."

      We can never prove that no gods have ever existed or will ever exist. Thor could be serving tea to the Flying Spaghetti Monster from that teapot in Mars orbit as we speak. Or could have done ten thousand years ago.

      What we can do, usually trivially easily, is knock over the individual truth or logic claims made by religions.

      On this model, we'd imagine there to be a set containing, say, 'the proofs that modern Creationists use to demonstrate God's existence'. A large set, but a finite one.

      My argument is that if there were, say, 37 proofs in that set, and we went down the list and crossed them out one by one, you'd be left with an empty set.

      From my point of view, once that set is empty, you've disproved that God to the required standard. The problem is that religious faith holds things to a different standard, which is basically that an empty set still counts as a set.

      It's another one of the shell games so common to theology.

    10. But, OK, Quest, quid pro quo. There are a handful of godkiller arguments, but I think this is the best one:

      'How would you determine, either practically or in a thought experiment, that the being you call God is God, and not merely a being powerful enough to persuade all other beings (possibly including itself) that it was God?'.

      It seems obvious to me that a being that pretended to be God would need a fraction of the capability the actual God has. The Old Testament God is pretty powerful, but most of the things he does when there are people around could be achieved by, say, the crew of the Starship Enterprise with a few tractor beams, replicators, transporters and photon torpedoes.

    11. Q never actually attempted to refute me so I'm just going to go ahead and declare myself victor, if I may

    12. I guess NickM got himself a new nickname Jem,..?

      Well, let's start with the so-called critical thinking that pretty much everyone here says that creationist and other believers are lacking...

      1. What is the obvious conclusion from the scientific fact...?

      Enzymes are needed to produce ATP. However, energy from ATP is needed to produce enzymes. However, DNA is required to make enzymes, but enzymes are required to make DNA.

      However, proteins can be made only by a cell, but a cell can be made only with specific proteins....

      So, how is this ALL possible in view of evolutionary prospective and the origin of life...?

      What is the obvious conclusion from the above fact or facts...?

      Let's see critical thinkers to come up with that....

      I'm all ears... ;-)

    13. "I guess NickM got himself a new nickname Jem,..?"

      I have no idea what that means. My name's Jemima Cole, there's no reason you should know who I am, but I've been posting here about three years, I pop up in other places from time to time, too, like here:

      "Well, let's start with the so-called cri-"

      No. Let's start with you giving a direct answer to the question I asked, or you fucking off and dying of leprosy of the penis. Pick one, I don't care which.

    14. Fears are growing for Quest, as he's not been seen since he fled the scene of an argument the authorities say 'he could not possibly have survived' twenty four hours ago.

    15. Jam,

      Fears are mounting in my camp that I will not see any scientific evidence disproving the above.. Some of my friends say that if you have any brains, you will have to get a transplant.... If you have any evidence, scientific, do it now, because I have faith, but not in science... You can bullshit me and others all you want, but if "intelligent" (hihihi )fuck like you can't RE- created simple form of life that an mindless process has created, to me... personally.. you probably need help...

    16. Almost forgot:

    17. "I will not see any scientific evidence disproving the above."

      I answered that question. To summarize: if the proof that something is real is the ability to create it in a lab, then create God. Now, answer my question:

      'How would you determine, either practically or in a thought experiment, that the being you call God is God, and not merely a being powerful enough to persuade all other beings (possibly including itself) that it was God?'.

      There are a number of godkillers, but this is the most elegant, I think.

      Your 'God', if it exists, is actually a skilled conman. You don't have to prove that wrong. Just sketch in a broad outline of how you *might* prove that wrong.

    18. Quest said:

      "Almost forgot:"


      What a total fuckwit you are, Quest. You're very lucky I'm a cruel person who enjoys kicking fuckwits when they're down.

    19. Jem is right-- the video of Jonathan Wells is hilarious, and just 82 seconds long. Wells lacks all self-awareness regarding his severe intellectual limitations.

    20. Jam and Dinogenes,

      While you might find the video hilarious, everyone with some sense of logic knows that your laughter is sardonic at best…
      Wells, myself and many sceptics know that scientists’ failure to re-create life out of lifeless matter means that abiogenesis is simply a theory to satisfy the need out there… It is not a scientific theory, because it is lacking even the tiniest bit of evidence… But there is more…and the video proves this very well… Scientist not only can’t re-create life, like a “simple” cell, they can’t even put back together a living cell that gets punctured and its contents leaks out of it…just like the video beautifully depicts… You can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again... No way...

      So, unless you can provide me with some scientific evidence and proof that such process is possible, Wells, myself and others can only find your claims hilarious…

      So, don't keep me waiting too long guys...!

    21. Pest: "Wells, myself and many sceptics know that scientists’ failure to re-create life out of lifeless matter means that abiogenesis is simply a theory… Scientist not only can’t re-create life, like a “simple” cell... No way..."

      Gotcha. We have never seen an intelligent designer create life; therefore, an intelligent designer must have created life.

    22. "While you might find the video hilarious,"

      We find *you* hilarious. You didn't spell his name right. So YouTube guessed what you meant, and linked to one called 'The Most Ignorant 82 Seconds You'll Ever See'.

      "don't keep me waiting too long guys"

      I answered your specific point on Monday, I answered it fully, and if you don't understand that, get a grown up to explain it to you. It's a stupid argument when Wells makes it, so when you make the same argument but mutated into some shambling, clubfooted version by your transcription errors, it's not less stupid.

      If you'd like to answer my question, now, please feel free.

    23. "We have never seen an intelligent designer create life; therefore, an intelligent designer must have created life."

      Weeding out fools and double standards is the way of the scientist, science is the way of the enemy, therefore any argument for God has to be made by a hypocritical fuckwit.

  10. No. Go find your one or two's and leave us out of it, please.

  11. "That pesky god of theirs - always a male by the way, they're quite a phallocentric bunch"

    I have this theory (theory in an Hovindian sense) that the bigger the universe the smaller the phallus. In fact, what's the point of a phallus without a Mrs.God? Unless, of course, God's .... Cripes, surely not.

  12. Googling Juhn Allegro, I was surprised to learn that "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" is still in print and, as it seems, he's been vindicated on much of what he wrote.

    The most important thing in life was life itself, and life is rain. The reasoning is simple. Rain begets vegetation on the earth as spermatozoa beget offspring in the womb. God, the Creator, the source of rain, must therefore be the sperm of creation and the heavenly penis from which it spills. The storm is the orgasm of God. The drops of rain are the ‘words’ of God. Earth is the womb of creation.

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  14. I wonder how something like this would play as a documentary. Sort of like Expelled, but hopefully less poorly made than Expelled.