SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen the movie yet, I suggest doing so before reading this. While what I say here will not totally take away the fun of watching the movie, it may diminish your enjoyment to a certain extent. I recommend seeing and supporting it in order that more movies like it may be produced.
So, you have seen the movie and you were intrigued by the arguments put forward in the classroom, but maybe the arguments went by a little quick, or maybe you just want a little more depth. There is a lot of depth to be found in these argument, and in some cases, hundreds of years of thought behind what Josh put forward in the classroom, most of which would have been very familiar to his Philosophy professor.
The movie has certain elements and story-lines that interweave their way through the picture. Some people’s lives are going well, while others are not. Much like many other decidedly Christian movies, there is the stereotypical Atheist who seems all too eager to destroy Christian belief, but gets turned around by some event in life. In many ways that is the character of Amy, who in her emotional distress, begins to consider God. When faced with the possibility of losing her life, she turns to the Creator.
The Character of Professor Radisson is different. While ultimately it seems his Atheism was the result of an emotional trial, he, like many others, has found reasons, arguments, and evidence that he feels give the Atheist position the upper hand. Too often I believe that we as Christians dismiss such intellectual arguments as a mere facade, a mask worn to cover the real reasons why people do not follow God. This is much to our detriment. While it may be the case that some Atheists ultimately believe what they do for emotional or moral reasons (wanting sexual freedom, etc.), the arguments they use can be legitimate and major barriers to coming to Christ. These arguments can also lead to unprepared Christians losing their faith when confronted by Atheistic ideas. Therefore, we must be prepared to give a well reasoned and well though out defense of our faith as Josh did in the movie, and as the Apostle Peter told us to do in I Peter 3:15.
So let’s dig in:
First we should discuss the arguments advanced by Professor Radisson. The kind of arguments he utters are more likely to be found on the lips of the “man on the street” Atheist rather than a tenured Philosopher, but the fact remains that many people, including college professors, both find such arguments compelling, and use them when speaking to Christians about matters of faith. In short it is not out of the realm of possibility that a student would hear their professor make similar claims, so it is important that we examine them.
First, there were a couple of arguments the Professor used which are meant to stack the deck in his favor. His first argument is an appeal to the masses saying that one should just admit what every sophomore already knows, there is no God. This is what is known as an argumentum ad populum, which is just a fancy Latin way of saying, everyone believes it is true, therefore it must be true. This is a fallacy (a wrong way of reasoning). As Josh pointed out later, the fact that the majority of the world at one time accepted Aristole’s view of a static Universe (meaning the Universe is not getting bigger or smaller), that did not make it true. If everyone believed the scientific viewpoint that the Sun revolved around the Earth, as was the case for many hundreds of years, that did not make such a statement a true statement about reality. So, the statement that “Everyone knows there is no God,” is not only false because it assumes everyone agrees (this fallacy is called a hasty over-generalization), which we as Christians serve as counter examples, but even if everyone did believe there was no God, that would not make it true. God either exists or He does not; the opinion of people does not change the truth, just as the opinion of people cannot make the Sun travel around the Earth.
The professor then put a list of names on the board; names such as, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, and so on. These people are all Atheists, and the implication is that if these smart people are all Atheists, you should be Atheist too. If one were so inclined, we could make an even more impressive list of smart people that believed in God: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Mendel, as well as many others. However, it might be a good idea to refrain from doing so, because this is another fallacy. This one is called an appeal to authority: basically it states just because someone has power and authority or they are a tenured professor with a Ph.D. lecturing at the University, it does not mean they are right. Certainly smart people should be taken seriously, especially when they are speaking about things within their area of expertise, but experts can be wrong. So it doesn’t really matter how many smart people are Atheists, it only matters what the truth is.
One last thing that Professor Radisson does in his opening remarks is to use rhetoric which makes belief in God sound like something only the ignorant could hold. Phrases like “Sky-Daddy”, “ancient superstition,” and “a book written by ancient goat-herders” are common taunts of the Internet Atheist crowd. The professor uses many such pejorative remarks in order to try to brow beat Christians into believing that they must have something wrong with them in order to have been duped by such an irrational idea. This is a common tactic of Atheists recently. They have basically defined faith as irrational, blind, and ignorant of facts and evidence, but that Atheism has science, logic, and reason on its side. This is further complicated by the fact that they usually proceed to twist science using faulty logic and bad reason. On the contrary, reason is on the side of the person who believes in God. One should not shy away from looking into evidence and using logic and reason, for they are all in our favor. Christianity is in some sense the pot of gold at the end of the reason rainbow. The Atheists want to make it seem that they have a monopoly on logic, reason, and science, but the truth is that Theism can be more logical and reasonable. For more reasons why the idea that “Atheism is superior because it is more rational” is wrong, see the book True Reason edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer.
This wraps up the discussion of Dr. Radisson’s opening remarks. In part two we will move on to analyze and explain the arguments put forward by the character Josh when he steps up to the podium in the Philosophy classroom.