It’s true. The existence of God has come into question during our time. Christianity really is under more attack today in America than ever. If you call yourself a Christian you are sure to be labeled as a bigoted, uneducated, mean spirited, prude, with a huge chip on his shoulder. So when a film comes out that holds to a Christian worldview and even promotes a belief in God it’s hard not to get excited about it. The growing attack against the existence of God fuels the intriguing story lines in the movie “God’s Not Dead.”
When I first saw the trailer for the movie I have to admit that I was kind of excited about it. Finally we would have a movie that could help answer some of the more difficult questions being thrown at us in academia. Apparently, I was not alone in my excitement. Despite the fact that “God’s Not Dead” was only shown in 780 theaters it still made the top 4 in box office results. It actually made a whopping 9.2 million dollars in its first weekend which understandably shocked the Hollywood world.I believe that the reason the movie was so popular was because it deals with the most important question anyone could ever ask: Does God exist?
In short, the movie is about a young college student who stands up to his teacher who had boldly proclaimed on the first day of class that God is in fact dead. Josh is college freshman with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. He has to find a philosophy elective that fits his schedule so he lands on the class Introduction to Philosophy. Dr. Radisson, the professor of the class, is infamous for his atheistic rants in the classroom. In the very first class period Dr. Radisson gives a short lecture about the advantages and academic superiority of atheism. His first assignment for the class is that they all write on a white piece of paper three simple words: “God IS Dead.” Writing the words down and turning the paper in will result in a passing grade. Josh refuses to do the assignment. Dr. Radisson then offers Josh an alternative assignment. Josh will be given 20 minutes of time in during the next three lectures to prove the existence of God. If the students are convinced at the end of Josh’s lectures that God is NOT dead Josh passes the assignment. If not, he will fail the class.
As I sat watching it was at this moment that I was ready for the movie to make its lasting contribution to my life. Who doesn’t want to hear three compelling lectures on the existence of God? As a former high school and college debater I was eager to hear some of the arguments that Josh would present in the movie. To my chagrin I was left disappointed by what Josh had to say when he gave his very first argument for God’s existence.
First Debate Scene
In his very first session Josh equates the big bang to what we would expect if God spoke the universe into existence. Let me rephrase that so you are completely clear on what I am trying to say. Josh Wheaton, the main character in this movie, uses the big bang and theistic evolution as arguments for the existence of the universe. While there are those such as Tyler Franke who blogs for the site godofevolution.com that are thrilled about Josh’s views about evolution, I do not share their sentiment. Francke, a professing theistic evolutionist said this about the movie: “I was glad to see the Big Bang used as part of the defense for the existence of God.” I disagree with Mr. Francke. I was not glad to see Josh use the big bang theory as one of his proofs. I saw it as a watering down of the arguments and even a frightening compromise.
[I want to be very clear before we go any further. I understand that there are those who will disagree with me about that claim. I also understand that I am not the only one to lay such a claim on this movie. After reading the transcript of this section of the movie and refreshing myself on theistic evolution, however, I have become increasingly convinced that Josh was indeed teaching theistic evolution.]
Let me explain. In his lecture Josh references Georges Lemaitre. Josh uses Lemaitre’s arguments to attempt to reconcile the big bang model with the Genesis 1 account of creation. Here’s an exact quote from the movie:
Josh: He [Geoges Lemaitre] said that the entire universe, jumping into existence in a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, out of nothingness in an unimaginably intense flash of light, is how he would expect the universe to respond if God were to actually utter the command in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light.”
So who is Lemaitre and why is it such a big deal that Josh would use his arguments? Lemaitre is remembered in history as being the “Father of the Big Bang.” He was a Roman Catholic priest and a professor by trade. He actually taught at the French section of the Catholic University of Louvain for years. He was the first to propose that the universe expanded from an original “cosmic egg.” This proposal that he called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom” is what we know as the “Big Bang Theory.” In the movie Josh Wheaton is suggesting that the big bang explains exactly how we would assume the universe to be formed if God were to speak it into existence.
Is Josh correct? Does the account in Genesis 1 really align itself with the big bang theory? Before we run off and accept Josh’s argument let’s stop and compare the account in Genesis 1:1-5 to the big bang theory. The big bang was supposed to have happened millions of years ago with the sun allegedly appearing millions of years before the earth was formed. This stands in stark contrast to the account in Genesis 1:1-5.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
The big bang theory stands in direct opposition to the very Genesis passages that Josh is supposed to be defending. Josh is even affirming that the age of the earth is billons of years.
To be fair, this first argument that Josh gives is not all bad. Josh actually provides us with a solid apologetic for the question, “Who created God?”
Female Student: But, in his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that if you tell me God created the universe then I have the right to ask you who created God.
Second Debate Scene
In his second debate Josh addresses the problem of life coming from non-life. He moves from this into a dialogue on biological evolution. Using the analogy of a clock Josh attempts to explain the existence of life on earth. His conclusion is that God must have guided the process.
There are some things worth noting in this section. First, Josh clearly denies Darwinian evolution.
Josh: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, for the last 150 years, Darwinists have been saying that God is unnecessary to explain man’s existence and that evolution replaces God, but evolution only tells you what happens once you have life. So, where did that something that’s alive come from? Well, Darwin never really addressed it. He assumed maybe some lightning hit a stagnant pool full of the right kind of chemicals—Bingo—a living something. But, uh, it’s just not that simple.
Many people see this in the movie and immediately assume that Josh is not teaching evolution. The thing that they forget in making that assumption is that Darwinian evolution is not the only form of evolution being taught or adhered to today. Denying Darwinian evolution is actually a popular approach taken by those who accept a cosmological or geological evolution. This is the belief that evolution took place over billions of years but was not some kind of blind, random process like that taught by biological evolution. What Josh is holding too appears to be very similar to that taught by the Intelligent Design movement. Basically, Josh believes in a big bang and then a long, slowly developed process that was controlled by God.
Looking at this at face value I would conclude that Josh’s comments in the section of the movie are a ringing endorsement of theistic evolution. I strongly believe that this argument does not correspond the teachings of Scripture. Josh’s old earth view does not fit with a plain reading of the creation account.
The creators of this movie really missed a big opportunity with these first two arguments. Not only were the arguments flawed Biblically they would also have a difficult time holding up in any informed debate. While the professor in the movie was left reeling by Josh’s arguments most any informed atheist would not have a difficult time shooting them down. An informed atheist would no doubt point out that evolution is a cruel and wasteful process. Why would anyone want to believe in a God who would use such a flawed method? Furthermore, the producers clearly must not have heard Richard Dawkins, a committed atheist, say that he believes those holding to theistic evolution are diluted.
Third Debate Scene
After watching the first two debate scenes I have to admit that I wasn’t too thrilled about the impending third debate. But that’s where I got it wrong. The third scene was actually a welcome reprieve from the flawed arguments Josh had been using earlier. This was a uniquely powerful part of the film and I am sure God has and will continue to use this scene for good.
Josh tackles the problem of evil. In this scene Josh uses God’s character as the basis for recognizing absolute truth. He appeals to the innate sense of morality in all of us. During this argument you can sense even in Dr. Radisson’s eyes that the momentum has swung in Josh’s favor.
But Josh has a problem. The foundation that he has laid does not provide a pedestal from which he can preach about a God who wishes to eradicate all forms of evil. The account of creation that Josh has laid is that of an old earth view. Thus, Josh is forced to accept that earths history has always been filled with pain and suffering. Notice in the transcript that Josh nowhere mentions that God originally created a perfect world where there was no pain and suffering
Josh: It has been said that evil is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith. And it is! After all, the very existence of evil begs the question [sic], “If God is all good and God is all powerful, why does He allow evil to exist?” The answer, at its core, is remarkably simple: free will. God allows evil to exist because of free will. From the Christian standpoint, God tolerates evil in this world on a temporary basis so that one day those who choose to love Him freely will dwell with Him in heaven free from the influence of evil, but with their free will intact! In other words, God’s intention concerning evil is to one day destroy it.
Josh missed the boat when he elaborated on his first two arguments. From an old earth perspective there has always been evil. Death is not a result of the fall but a process of creation. Because Josh did not form a foundation of a young earth creation he has nothing to stand on now. While his arguments in this third debate are solid there is something missing and that something should have been there at the beginning.
“God’s Not Dead” has much to be commended for. It absorbing, entertaining, and provides much food for thought. It also addresses a real issue that we all need to be aware of. As the credits rolled out all the college organizations that had been attacked because of their religion I was overwhelmed. The movie is actually authentic to the college experience. God really is being put on trail every day in colleges across America.
With that said there is much to be wary of in the movie. The greatest danger I see is Christians using these arguments in their own personal conversations. Given the overtly flawed nature of most of the arguments we are best served never using them. Most likely you’re scenario will probably not go the way Josh’s did. In that instance you may be tempted to doubt the veracity of your beliefs rather than the weakness of your arguments.
I’ll admit some trepidation in writing this piece simply because I know how greatly impactful this film has been. I trust this blog has at least made you think.
 Francke, Tyler. "Review: 'God's Not Dead' (because we made a movie about him)." God of Evolution. 12 August 2014 <http://www.godofevolution.com/review-gods-not-dead-because-we-made-a-movie-about-him/>.
Posted by Caleb