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Proofobia: “Fear of Evidence” - “God’s Not Dead” reviewed

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My theory is that the movie was a biography of myself, thinly disguised by making the lead character too young, good looking, and impossibly intelligent. But even that disguise is thin, since everyone knows Hollywood’s heroes are bigger than life. So that anyone looking for the character upon whom the storyline is constructed will naturally be looking for someone uglier and dumber than the movie character. Bingo: me.

I have submitted my Freedom of Information request to learn how the movie producers managed to tap into NSA databanks to learn all those things about me.

Of course it should be no surprise that the movie producers would cover up their plagiarism of my life by insisting, during the credits, that the movie was inspired not at all by yours truly but by scores of lawsuits against colleges for the kind of suppression of Freedom to Think depicted in the movie. The story makes a good cover. But I will keep an open mind, until those FOI requests come through from the NSA.

My wife and I saw the movie the third time we went. The first two times, the first two weeks of its run at a West Des Moines theater, it was sold out. It was worth waiting for.

It seemed unrealistic at first, that a college professor could be so cruelly, outrageously intellectually dictatorial. And that to a freshman student whose crime was to decline to surrender his deepest convictions for no better reason than the threat of a failing grade and the promise of semester-long ridicule. The threats grew from there as the movie progressed.

But I was reminded that yes, there are professors like that, as I watched the credits roll with the notice that “this film was inspired by the following legal cases”, with a list of dozens of court cases and case summaries rolling by too fast to read more than a few. These were like cases I’ve read about in the news over the past 30 years. The case summaries were followed by an offer of legal help for any college student suffering that kind of intellectual abuse today.

I was also reminded of when I took a New Testament class and wound up with a professor whose assignments focused on Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of Luke. Dale Miller was his name. He was left over from when Drake used to be a seminary for the Disciples of Christ denomination. My uncle had gone to seminary there.

We students were assigned to agree with Miller that the alleged miracles never really happened but were symbols of something else. I devoted way more time on my term paper than anyone else in the class, I’m sure, robbing the necessary time from other classes, to address his reasoning and thoughtfully refute it. I got a D.

The Des Moines Register loved Professor Miller. They used to publish the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke on their front page every Christmas morning, and right next to it they would have Dale Miller’s Theory of the Year about how the first Christmas never really happened.

A couple of years later I met Miller’s daughter at a summer camp. We enjoyed a couple of moonlit walks around the lake together. In that friendly setting, I had a chance to talk to the professor again (I mean, in the camp, not around the lake) about that D. He agreed that yes, students needed to think for themselves. Yes, he respected and honored that right. But of course, if thinking for oneself leads one to disagree with his professor, the professor must give him a D or an F. A D, if the professor would rather the student not retake the class.

The quality of my reasoning did not enter the discussion. There seemed to be no room in his worldview for crediting the thoughtfulness or quality of reasoning, when its conclusion disagrees. Sloppy agreement gets an A, while thoughtful dissent gets a D. A for agreement. D for dissent.

It reminds me of the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1734. Zenger had criticized the governor of New York, who had been appointed by the King of England. Zenger said in his defense that everything he said about the governor was true. The judge said it was irrelevant whether it was true; in fact, if it was indeed true, that would be even worse, because criticism is even more cutting when it is true!

Pardon the further digression, but dissent in our family goes way back. When my uncle was going to that seminary at Drake, he had a professor named Stringfellow, if memory serves after all these decades, who once invited families of students to one of his lectures. My grandmother came and brought my mother, who was a girl 10 years younger than my uncle.

After the lecture, my grandmother came down to the front and gave Stringfellow her own lecture about his shameless divergence from the Word of God in a place that licenses preachers. My mother told me the story after grandma passed to her reward. Mom said she just looked up at the exchange with wide-eyed wonder, smiling in disbelief. She said her big brother looked embarrassed. My uncle, when he was 90, confirmed the story, laughing as if still in disbelief.

That must have been between 1930 and 1935. My own experience was in about 1965.

Oh yeah. Back to the movie about me.

Most of the movie was outside that classroom. It showed, as all movies do, the lives, hopes, interactions and betrayals of ordinary people. When disagreement about God occasionally touched a relationship, the character opposed to God was worse than the professor in silencing his counterpart without allowing a single word of evidence. At least the professor gave his rebellious student time to present his case.

That is the thing that is rarer in this generation than in previous generations: willingness to listen to the other side – to the reasoning of someone who disagrees. Debates like the one between Ken Ham and Richard Nye over creationism vs. evolution were less rare decades ago. I wish I could say Christians are more open minded about listening to those who disagree than unbelievers, but that would be a lie. The infection has spread everywhere.

I don’t know if average viewers will find these scenes of zippered-shut minds realistic. They were realistic to me because I have suffered that same evidence-suppressing rejection for half my life, since I first started speaking and writing publicly about God’s view of sin. One who rocks no boats never learns the feeling of being paddled by everyone else’s oars; nor does one learn to hate the experience by paddling other boat-rockers.

In the classroom, the freshman was given 20 minutes to present his case, during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th times that the class met. The professor took the remainder of the hour to respond. The movie showed the freshman with a different pile of library books preparing for each of his tournaments. The movie didn’t say how often the class met. Once a year would have been enough time for me to read that many books. Yet the freshman not only read and digested them in his limited time but made a “presentation” out of it. (For readers as old as I am, that means he made a slide show.)

The debate was spirited and entertaining. The more the professor threatened the student, both in and out of class, and the more others outside the classroom rejected him for even taking on the challenge, and the more he was threatened by everybody with the loss of everything he cared about, the bolder he got in challenging the professor.

He didn’t respond in kind: he didn’t turn mean, or censorial. He didn’t pull rank, or intimidate. But he got enthusiastic, and when a particularly sharp way of expressing himself occurred to him, he didn’t restrain himself to be polite or respectful.

This, too, I found realistic, because it is my own experience. When I venture publicly onto a new subject, I state my position carefully and fearfully, worried about being shot down at any moment by minds focused on the topic decades longer than mine. Often the feedback persuades me that certain details of my ideas are wrong and must be trimmed. Sometimes I am persuaded that my theory is wholly wrong and must be abandoned. But when experts on the subject do not refute me, but mostly ignore me, sometimes intimidate me, and occasionally agree with me, the more confident I become that I am onto something. It inspires me to study more, and confront experts more. The more I do this, and the more my message is resisted without being refuted, the bolder I become.

USA Today complains that the movie plot is not realistic. “The film purports to deal with reality, but such a move on the part of a legitimate instructor at a respected academic institution would have caused an outcry long before Josh came on the scene.” Excuse me, but my own experience at Drake was in 1965. My uncle’s must have been between 1930 and 1935. This kind of “a move on the part of a legitimate instructor at a respected academic institution” is not the latest news.

One good point the freshman made is that evolution doesn’t explain how anything came into existence any better than “God created the heavens and the earth” does. Even if you can believe the incredibly complex genetics of, say, worms, can “evolve” into the equally complex genetics of zebras and butterflies, etc etc., what caused the Big Bang to start?

Apparently that is a good point. Some responses across the internet: “We are still working on understanding that.” “The real problem with this question of what caused the big bang is ultimately a biological one; our brains have evolved to assume that everything has a cause, we can't imagine any event ever not having one. “ (But he rejects God as an explanation because we can’t answer what caused God.) “It is not known what could have caused the singularity to come into existence (if it had a cause), or how and why it originated, though speculation abounds....”

I wish I had a script so I could review the reasoning presented by the freshman in the class. He said he couldn’t prove God exists, but neither can it be proved that He does not exist. I disagree with the script writer at that point: I find many overwhelming positive proofs of God. I find overwhelming proof that Jesus rose from the dead, and I can’t imagine how anyone can deny the Bible’s track record of fulfilled prophecies. Mere men, unless they are hearing from God, simply cannot predict the future accurately for even a few years, much less for a few millennia.

The freshman thought he had a strong point that the world of science, from Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, believed in a “steady state” universe, (which has always existed), while only the Bible described a universe created out of nothing. But now science has come around to agree with the Bible. He quoted a famous scientist who said the first moments of the Big Bang are exactly what one would picture while reading that God said “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)

With that argument, I think the movie overstates how much science now “agrees with the Bible”, since there is still the little problem of the six literal days, six thousand years ago, in which the Bible says the universe was created. Then there is the problem that light was not what God created first. First, He created the heavens and the Earth.

Dr. Russel Humphreys, in his book/DVD “Starlight and Time – solving the puzzle of distant starlight in a young universe”, says the Big Bang is indicated by Relativity calculations only when it is assumed that the universe has no boundary. If it has a boundary, then the calculations point to another scenario. 2 Peter 3:5 says the earth was made out of water, so Humphreys posits a sphere of water a couple of light years in diameter. It would immediately compress, turning into a black hole. If part way through this process God would expand the boundaries of space, then the pressures would explode into a white hole, creating light and an expanding universe. Science didn’t confirm that the universe is expanding until this past century, but the Bible quotes God saying several times how he “stretched out the Heavens”. (Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, Job 9:8, 37:18, Psalm 104:2, Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15, Hebrews 1:12 – the last prophecies a reversal of the process.)

When the movie producers were copying my life into the script, I don’t know why they passed over these great points by Humphreys. He explains how billions of years could pass at the edge of the universe while only a single day passed at the center. He explains a lot.

Uh, back to the movie again. The movie told an old classic joke, but hobbled it just enough that I think many viewers will miss it.

The professor began his introductory class with a list of a score of famous philosophers, and asked the class what they all had in common. A student answered “They’re all dead.” The professor said no, it was that they all said God is dead. Get it? I’m not telling it right either, but do you see the irony? A couple on the prof’s list were still alive, so the prof could say the student’s answer was wrong. Of course we don’t know if they will still be alive by the time you see the movie.

Actual evidence was a small part of the movie, but that is appropriate because actual evidence is a small factor in our culture-wide resistance to God. Most people who resist acknowledging God’s existence just as tenaciously resist hearing any evidence that God exists. Which raises the question, addressed by the movie: what hatred of God can account for such evidence-suppressing resistance?

“What made you hate God so much?” the movie demanded, until a character finally admitted some disappointment with the course of his life years ago for which he had blamed God.

“How can you hate something that doesn’t exist?” the movie asks rhetorically.

Actually this isn’t quite the slam dunk that the movie portrays. The more articulate atheist might have explained instead, that the object of his hatred is the religion that creates idealistic expectations which his life experience sadly disproved. One might even concede that he believes in God, just not any God the Bible describes.

Nevertheless, that more articulate answer still doesn’t account for anyone’s resistance to evidence of God’s existence as described by the Bible, along with evidence of God’s nature, purposes, plans, and promises as the context for what God allows evil men to do. No, resistance to evidence indicates that reality is irrelevant. Truth is irrelevant. There are stronger reasons for rejecting God, than uncertainty about anything.

MANIPULATION ALERT. Hollywood habitually dehumanizes its enemies by presenting them as jerks, while building up its heroes by showing them as more brilliant than life, and as pretty near infallible. Since I am very sensitive to having Christians made the jerks in TV and movies, it was easy to spot that this movie was no exception except that this time the Christian was the hero and the prof was the jerk. Had the prof been shown to be merely wrong about God, the issue would have been fairly addressed on its merits. Instead, the prof was shown outside the classroom doing some real jerk things.

This manipulation was observed in "A(n Atheist) Philosophy Professor Analyzes 'God's Not Dead's case for God", except that he didn't acknowledge that in most other movies, the bias is anti-Christian. I haven't read his whole 12,000 word article, but I found a few other points with which I half agree. (My article is only 2700 words. Unfortunately, I don't have students whom I can flunk for not reading my whole piece.)

Just so you know. I just wanted to give you this little Personal Attack warning. Just a small detail of a movie that definitely stirs thought.

After watching Star Wars I had to remind myself, driving home, that I was in a mere car and not the Millennium Falcon. I finally remembered after the third ticket. After watching Spiderman I struggled to stay in my lane, driving home, as I say myself weaving back and forth between buildings, a hundred feet up. After watching God’s Not Dead, I similarly found myself imagining myself doing what was featured throughout the move: thinking.