THE BLOG
10/23/2014 05:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I'm a Christian, but I Enjoyed The Unbelievers

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(Photo: Black Chalk Productions)

The Unbelievers is a documentary that stars Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. (It's streaming on Netflix right now!) These two scientists travel the world preaching a simple message: Science is awesome, and religion is not. If you haven't watched the trailer yet, it's worth viewing.

After watching the movie, I have some good news and some bad news. Just like the Rock's character from Fast Five, I like good news before bad news: Dessert first, then the veggies.

Dessert

  • The cinematography is amazing. The documentary is visually beautiful.
  • Dawkins does a great job explaining why monkeys don't have human babies. Parents and their offspring are never a different species. Instead, animals turn into new species very slowly. Dawkins explains that none of us go to bed middle-aged and wake up elderly. Similarly, species change slowly over long periods of time we can hardly grasp, with many intermediate forms. (Dawkins explains this idea very well in a short clip from a few years ago.)
  • Penn Jillette has a great quotation: "If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality." Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, has a point. Doing good deeds for their own sake is better than doing them out of fear or for a reward. Penn has an unlikely ally, though, in theologian J.B. Torrance. He wrote that fear of hell or reward of heaven are both wrong motivations for belief. According to him, the only correct motivation is gratitude for the grace Jesus has shown all of us. Christians don't obey to receive forgiveness. God first grants forgiveness, and then we respond with gratitude and obedience.
  • Joe Pesci makes an appearance. Well, someone at the Reason Rally holds a poster with Pesci's face on it. The sign says, "I pray to Joe Pesci." Brilliant.

Veggies

  • Krauss misunderstands the doctrine of creation. Krauss argues that the universe came from nothing. (For Krauss, though, "nothing" means quantum fields -- which are certainly something.) Does his scientific argument disprove the doctrine of creation? No, the natural sciences can never disprove the doctrine of creation. This is not a cop-out, it is simply acknowledging the difference between metaphysics and science. Theologian William Carroll explains the doctrine well:

    Creation is not primarily some distant event; rather, it is the on-going complete causing of the existence of all that is. At this very moment, were God not causing all that is to exist, there would be nothing at all. Creation concerns first of all the origin (source of being) of the universe, not its temporal beginning.

    What if someone proved that the universe is eternal? Well, that still wouldn't disprove the doctrine of creation. (Aquinas, for example, thought God could have created an eternal universe.)
  • Dawkins undercuts the movie's mission. Early in the movie, Krauss asks Richard a question: "What is more important... to explain science or destroy religion?" Dawkins replies that destroying religion is promoting science. While Dawkins's mission to popularize science is fantastic, his understanding of religion is not. Saying religion and science are incompatible is not a scientific statement. If Dawkins says that accepting evolution means accepting atheism, that's a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. For an atheist with a better take on the relationship between science and religion, see Eugenie Scott.
  • "Science or religion?" = "cake or death?" Science and religion coexist just fine -- if both are properly understood. Dawkins and Krauss, however, settle for caricatures of both: Science is wonderful and religion is obviously horrible. My good friend Russell Johnson, a philosophy of religion doctoral student, said these caricatures turn any dialogue into an Eddie Izzard joke.

Final Thoughts

Even though I have serious problems with the movie's main argument, it's worth seeing. It provides a great window into how Krauss and Dawkins think; it's cinematography and soundtrack rock.