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.
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.”
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.
Josh: Dawkins’ question only makes sense in terms in a god who has been created. It doesn’t make sense in terms of an uncreated god, which is the kind of God Christians believe in. And even leaving God out of the equation, I then have a right to turn Mr. Dawkins own question back around on him and ask, if the universe created you, then who created the universe? You see, both the theist and the atheist are both burdened with answering the same question of how did things start. What I’m hoping you’ll pick up from all this is that you don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to believe in a Creator behind the Creation. And to the extent that you don’t allow for God, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find any credible alternative explanation for how things came to be.
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.
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.
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.
Professor Radisson: Well, how convenient. “One day, I will get rid of all the evil in the world, but until then you just have to deal with all the wars and holocausts, tsunamis, poverty, starvation, and AIDS. Have a nice life.” Next he will be lecturing us on moral absolutes.
Josh: Well, why not? Professor Radisson, who’s clearly an atheist, doesn’t believe in moral absolutes. But his course syllabus says he plans to give us an exam during finals week. Now, I am betting that if I managed to get an A on the exam by cheating, he will suddenly start sounding like a Christian, insisting it is wrong to cheat, that I should have known that. And yet, what basis does he have? If my actions are calculated to help me succeed, then why shouldn’t I perform them? For Christians, the fixed point of morality, what constitutes right and wrong, is a straight line that leads directly back to God.
Professor Radisson: So you are saying that we need a god to be moral? That a moral atheist is an impossibility?
Josh: No, but with no God there is no real reason to be moral; there is not even a standard of what moral behavior is. For Christians, lying, cheating, stealing, and my example, stealing a grade I didn’t earn, are forbidden as a form of theft. But if God does not exist, as Dostoyevsky famously pointed out, “If God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” And not only permissible, but pointless. If Professor Radisson is right, then all of this—all of our struggle, all of our debate, whatever we decide here—is meaningless. I mean, our lives, our deaths are of no more consequence than that of a goldfish.
Professor Radisson: Come on, this is ridiculous. So after all of your talk, you are saying that it all comes down to a choice—believe or don’t believe.
Josh: That’s right. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been. The only difference between your position and my position is that you take away their choice. You demand that they choose the box marked “I don’t believe.”
Professor Radisson: Yes, because I want to free them. Because religion is like a . . . it’s like a mind virus that parents have passed on down to their children. And Christianity is the worst virus of all. It slowly creeps into our lives when we’re weak or sick or helpless.
Josh: So religion is like a disease?
Professor Radisson: Yes, yes. It infects everything. It’s the enemy of reason.
Josh: Reason? Professor, you left reason a long time ago. What you are teaching here isn’t philosophy; it’s not even atheism anymore. What you’re teaching is anti-theism. It’s not enough that you don’t believe, you need all of us to not believe with you.
Professor Radisson: Why don’t you admit the truth? You just want to ensnare them into your primitive superstition.
Josh: What I want is for them to make their own choice. That’s what God wants.
Professor Radisson: You have no idea how much I am going to enjoy failing you.
Josh: Who are you really looking to fail, Professor: me or God?
Josh: Do you hate God?
Professor Radisson: That’s not even a question.
Josh: Okay, why do you hate God?
Professor Radisson: This is ridiculous.
Josh: Why do you hate God?! Answer the question! You’ve seen the science and the arguments. Science supports His existence. You know the truth! So why do you hate Him?! Why?! It’s a very simple question, Professor. Why do you hate God?!
Professor Radisson: Because He took everything away from me! Yes, I hate God! All I have for Him is hate!
Josh: How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?
Professor Radisson: You’ve proven nothing.
Josh: Maybe not, but they get to choose. Is God dead?
Students [as they stand]: God is not dead. God is not dead. God is not dead. God is not dead. God is not dead . . .
“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