Friday, August 29, 2014

Movie review: God's not dead

After Kevin Sorbo's recent rash of ugly and clueless remarks, and all I've been hearing about the upcoming Left Behind movie I felt it finally was time I took a look at God's Not Dead. I'll break it down below, but if the rating is all you want, the best way I can describe it is as a steaming pile... There was so much wrong in this propaganda film, it's not funny.

When you get down to it, this movie is no more than a way to promote terrible stereotypes and perpetrate the insane persecution complex that many Christians have developed.

God's Not Dead opens with Josh being warned about his philosophy class because of the crucifix he is wearing. So we start with the absurdity that being openly Christian is dangerous. Sorry, but in the USA that is the least dangerous religious view to hold. It is a far bigger danger to be openly atheist as recent studies have shown.

Dr. Radisson (the professor Josh was warned about) opens his class by telling the students to write 'God is dead' on a piece of paper. If they do so, he will allow them to skip the first three weeks of classes. No professor worth their salt would just skip material like that. Due to this, and other issues we will get into, I feel that anyone in the education community should feel insulted by Sorbo's portrayal of his character. Furthermore, this sounds absolutely nothing like the experiences had by any actual philosophy class experiences I could reference.

Then Josh is told that he will have to debate Radisson since he refused to write on the paper, and that if he fails to win will fail the class. This is again quite absurd. This is not how any class anywhere works! It is also odd that Josh is somehow the the only Christian in the class taking a stand. How is it that only 1.25% of this class is Christian in a country that is 78% Christian? This (and Sorbo's character) is but a playing up of the absurd myth that higher education is inherently atheistic and hostile to belief.

One constant theme in this film are the comically exaggerated stereotypes. Radisson is the picture of the angry atheist stereotype. I am an atheist and I don't walk around fuming all the time. I would have to say that I don't know a single atheist that is anything like Radisson. What more, Radisson is also irrational and immoral. His constant harassment makes him look like a total asshole. What the makers of this film failed to realize is that this is not at all representative of the vast majority of atheists, nor is it realistic or believable. Hell, as a supposed philosophy professor he doesn't even what the famous phrase 'God is dead' means! Nietzsche wasn't even talking about God's existence, when he said those well known words. You would think that a philosophy professor would, you know... know philosophy!

Another atheist in the movie doesn't believe in love and leaves his girlfriend when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is unrealistic as well. If my wife were diagnosed as such, I would stay beside her to the end. Then what about the stat that believers get divorced more often than atheists? If we are better at marriage, chances are we are better at relationships in general.

The movie also cranks off the 'Muslims are oppressive, abusive fanatics' stereotype as well as the 'overly strict unsympathetic Asian parent' stereotype. What we are left with are inaccurate caricatures for characters and one giant straw-man in Radisson.
We get it, he's supposed to represent the myth that atheists are
all angry assholes.

Josh somehow wins the worst debate in the history of the world (I'll come back to the debate later) when Radisson admits that he hates God because his mom died when he was young. This means a few things. For starters, the evil atheist Josh was doing battle with isn't even an atheist. It also promotes the false claims that atheists just hate God, and that people are only atheist because something terrible happened to them. Neither point is true of me, or any other atheist that I know.

In the end Radisson is hit by a car and lies dying. He then turns to God on what is effectively his deathbed to perpetuate the claim that 'there are no atheists in foxholes'... that our lack of belief is so weak that we will all just turn back to faith in the end or when things get rough.

But wait... How can they simultaneously claim that tough times will turn people from God, yet that a dire situation will turn anyone to faith. These are two wholly contradictory constructs. So Sorbo and company... which is it?

The credits also feature a list of courts cases that are supposed to back up this idea of Christian persecution that permeates from this movie. But they really don't. There was one case where a five year old who was picked up by the scruff of his neck for praying over his lunch and then yelled at by a teacher and the principle. But looking at the facts, he was actually ten and was simply given detention for fighting at lunch. That's quite a difference there! Another student was disrupting class with a homophobic rant. When the professor told him to stop he somehow tried to make the claim that his religious rights were being violated. Then there are the philosophy students who are supposed to write a paper making the case for God's existence. The students that get bad marks tend to instantly claim religious discrimination. There is another, and much more likely possibility however. And it is actually the answer the professor gives when asked. They got a poor grade because their argument was poor.

Now onto the the Josh vs Radisson debate...

•Josh says that atheists can't prove there is no God... Well no shit Sherlock! It is logically impossible to completely prove that anything doesn't exist. If I were to claim that there is a magic Swedish meatball that can tap-dance and sing the complete works of Frank Sinatra in perfect French, it is also impossible to prove for 100% certain that it doesn't exist. So if Josh claims that not being able to disprove God proves that he does exist, then my magic meatball does as well. This is a shifting of the burden of proof of course. It is up to the believer to prove that there is a God, and not the other way around.

•Josh claims that things can't pop into existence out of nothing. When it is pointed out that the same would apply to God, Josh simply states that God is exempt because he is eternal. This is no more than special pleading. You can't just say that something is exempt from a rule without first showing that is it in-fact exempt. If Josh just wants to claim God is eternal, anyone could just counter that the energy the universe in comprised of is eternal and we are right back to square one. He may like to point out that everyday objects don't just pop into existence, but that's not we're talking about here. The question is if matter/energy can simply pop into existence out of seemingly nothing. And through the study of quantum mechanics and vacuum fluctuations we have found that they actually can!

Congratulations, that's a terrible argument...
•Josh claims that Genesis got the creation of the universe right all along, while science got it wrong. Okay, science doesn't always get the right answer right away, but as the evidence builds we get better and better answers. That's why the Big Bang theory is still the best explanation of the origin of the universe. After years and years of study, all the evidence is in it's favor. Also, the Bible didn't get it right. It actually got it very wrong. One thing some believers like to do is take what science has discovered and shoehorn it into vague passages and claim "See, see! That's what it was talking about all along!" It's a rather dishonest enterprise really.

•Josh quotes Gavin Jenson (who he claims is a philosopher, scientist and mathematician) who says that Hawking's argument of a self explanatory universe is circular. The problem is that Jenson was not what Josh claims. Rather he was a BYU graduate who majored in graphic design. His work has not been published or peer reviewed. Josh also doesn't seem to realize that claiming that it is logically impossible for something to be self explanatory would also disprove his claim that the Christian God is.

• Josh then says that evolution doesn't account for the origin of life, and that Darwin said that nature doesn't work in large jumps, yet life appeared suddenly anyway. The complaint that evolution doesn't explain the origin of life is an absurd one. The origin of life isn't even a part of what evolution is about. Evolution is about the diversity of, and change within species. The origin of life is a question for abiogenesis, not evolution. Josh's complaint would be akin to complaining that they didn't get a pizza for lunch when they ordered a cheeseburger instead. It is also quite odd that he would say that life conflicts with evolution moving slowly when life has been evolving for about 3.6 billion years. Additionally, the universe is 13.8 billion years old. So life has been evolving for about 26% of the universe's existence. That is far from a sudden jump as Josh claims. Actually, these are the types of time periods evolution expects.

•Josh says that God allows evil to allow us to have free will. There are many problems here. If God is supposed to be all-love, then him allowing evil would be evil and unloving. Also, theists like to say that God has a plan for us all. If he has a plan for us and he is omniscient, then he makes that plan knowing exactly what every one of our choices will be. Hence there isn't really any free will, because your life has been pre-scripted. The claimed omnicience of God also throws a wrench into the whole claim that he is testing us as well. If he is all-knowing then there is no need to test us because he would already know what we would decide to do under every situation possible. This would additionally mean that he is needlessly allowing unnecessary evil that he could prevent, making him sadistic.

Except for when he is committing mass genocide,
punishing people for a problem he created,
killing people to win a bet, condoning slavery,
needlessly condemning people to endless torture,
the fact that he actually created evil... Do I need
to keep going?
•Josh claims that everything is permissible without God. He argues that there is no basis for moral standards without God. Again, there are many issues. First, Biblical morality isn't an objective morality as Josh claims. Remember, God says not to kill, but also Commands and commits genocide while calling it good. So what we are left with subjective morality. But this doesn't mean that anything goes. There are many paths to morality, including naturally. Moral standards we form ourselves can be wonderful and still restrict certain behaviors. We arrived at the standards we hold be agreeing on what helps and harms us, what is fair, etc. Some would claim that a weakness of subjective morality is that it can change, but this is actually a strength. We can edit it as needed and fix mistakes. We once thought slavery was okay, but later realized the mistake and fixed it.
Meanwhile a reliance on God's word as the static standard would mean that slavery would still be okay, rape victims would have to marry their rapist, disobedient children would be allowed to be stoned to death, etc would still be allowed as well. So there is no problem with morality either.

•Josh claims that science has proven God even though it hasn't.

•Finally Josh asks Radisson why he hates God. Radisson then replies that it's because God took his mom's life from him when he was so young. Josh then says that you can't hate what you don't believe in, which is true. But that doesn't explain how he supposedly wins the debate. The charge was to prove that God exists, and Josh didn't do anything of the sort. At best he established that Radisson actually does believe in God. But that kills the whole point of this movie being atheist vs Christian. Despite the myth they are playing off of that atheists are just angry with God, Radisson is not an atheist. The whole debate was actually angry Christian vs Christian.

Radisson is also a terrible terrible philosopher as well if he couldn't battle off Josh's arguments or see that last trap coming from a mile away. He also did a terrible job at the debate. I'm not an expert, but I could have easily destroyed Josh's arguments with my eyes closed.

So in conclusion, God's Not Dead was a terrible movie. It was amazingly inaccurate and dishonest. It is obvious that they did absolutely zero research into the subject matter and instead decided to create a propaganda piece. In fact, it was so out there and full of errors, I wager that a better title would have been Crazy and Biased Email Forwards From Your Uncle: the Movie.

-Brain Hulk

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