The Unbelievers: A Review

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Published: 16 December 2014 (GMT+10)
the-unbelievers

“What are you willing to believe?” is the subtitle of The Unbelievers, a documentary that centers around Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, and presents them as ‘rockstars’ of the atheistic movement.

From the outset, one can see that sober scientific analysis of the evidence for evolution and against God’s existence will not be the focus of the documentary, as it opens with clips from actors, directors, and very few scientists making sound bite statements such as “Beliefs don’t change facts. Facts, if you’re rational, should change beliefs” and, about morality, “Religions think they own that conversation. To the contrary: they kill that conversation.” Not only do these statements say nothing of substance, they come from people who should hold absolutely no credibility on scientific or philosophical topics. Cameron Diaz was recorded comparing evolution to the growth of a person from infancy to adulthood, for instance.1 I think few creationists would have such gross misunderstandings of the evolutionary theory.2

The goal: destruction of religion

At the beginning of the documentary proper, Krauss recalls a question he asked Dawkins: given the choice, would he rather explain science or destroy religion? Dawkins’ answer is illuminating:

“I think they go together, because destroying religion makes it sound negative. To me, it’s a positive thing. Science is wonderful, science is beautiful, and religion is not wonderful, it’s not beautiful, it gets in the way. There are all sorts of other things wrong with it, but I mostly care about truth, the beauty of truth, the poetry of reality which is science. And the fact that religion, as a scientific explanation—it is a competing scientific explanation—it’s so dull, it’s so boring, it’s so petty, and it’s also wrong.”

First, the high priest of atheism himself admits it: Religion (specifically creation) is a competing scientific explanation. So there should be no more of the claim that “creation is not scientific”, because we have it straight from the lips of the former Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science of Oxford University himself!

Second, look at the adjectives in that paragraph—wonderful, beautiful, poetry, dull, boring, petty. There’s not a thing in that list that can be measured scientifically. He didn’t say, “I think they go together, because once people understand evolution, they will intuitively reject the God of the Bible”, which could be seen as a more science-based answer, at least (albeit one we think is wrong). Instead, he talked about what is beautiful, what is poetic. And that is fundamentally not a scientific way of speaking.

Krauss fares no better. He says, “When empirical evidence tells you something, you have to accept that.” But surely such an eminent scientist should know that what we observe, in and of itself, doesn’t tell us anything—it doesn’t communicate in terms of propositional truth. It must be interpreted within a framework to become evidence for one view or the other. For Dawkins and Krauss, that framework is evolutionary materialism.

A disconnect

For two people who want to promote the understanding of science, and hence presumably convert people to their way of thinking, they both seem remarkably tone-deaf to their religious audiences (or at least that is the way the documentary makes them appear). On his way to a university meeting, Krauss points out a group of Muslim students praying on a university lawn as if he is the host of a National Geographic show, and proceeds to read his own “Bible”—a copy of the late Christopher Hitchens’s book, God is not Great.

Dawkins also seems not to understand his audience. One of the concerns people have about atheism is that it eliminates any possible meaning for life. But he casually dismisses the question of the meaning of reality. “Why is not a question that deserves an answer. Why is a silly question. … ‘What is the purpose of the universe?’ is a silly question.” “We do have a scientific explanation of why we’re here, therefore we have to make up our own meaning.” So there is no meaning except that which we make up. This is an honest answer, but he doesn’t seem to understand how troubling this is to Christians.

An unwarranted generalization that continues throughout the movie is lumping religions together without differentiating between them. Specifically, Muslims and Christians are not differentiated. But this is hardly fair. Even Richard Dawkins has admitted: “Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse”, i.e., the form of Islam that goes around killing anyone who won’t convert or submit to dhimmitude. And famous atheist Penn Jillette (also shown in The Unbelievers), of the famous magic duo Penn and Teller, admitted that the world would be a better place if the world’s population of Muslims converted en masse to evangelical Christianity.3

Also, when Christians are shown, they are non-scientists, who are juxtaposed with Dawkins, Krauss, et al. This gives an unfair impression, much like what would be the case if we juxtaposed evolutionist Cameron Diaz with our Ph.D. creationist scientists.

No first man

Dawkins views explaining evolution as his life’s work, and says as much a couple times in the documentary. One scientific explanation Dawkins offers is of the nature of evolution:

“At first sight it seems obvious that there has to have been a first person, and there has to have been a first rabbit, and a first rhinoceros, and things. After all, people are people, aren’t they, and their ancestors were not people. If you go back sufficiently far, your ancestor was a fish. Mustn’t there have been a time when, so to speak, the last Homo erectus parents gave birth to the first Homo sapiens baby? And the answer is no, there never was a first person; there never was a first rabbit or first rhinoceros, because every organism ever born belonged to the same species as its parents, and yet because it was so gradual, because it was so slow, not only was our 200-million-greats grandparent a fish, but if you go back further still, they were worms and so on.”

We intuitively know that every organism has parents that are of the same species. But there are millions of changes required to change the lobe-finned fish Eusthenopteron foordi into a Homo sapiens. Ears and a frontal lobe; fingers and feet all have to develop along with countless other transformations to make this fish into a person. And every stage has to not only work, but confer an advantage over the previous one, so much so that it becomes prevalent in the population.

Perhaps at first, the creature would simply seem like a Eusthenopteron with a few exaggerated features. But at some point, the creature is most definitely not a Eusthenopteron. So at some point, the Eusthenopteron must give birth to something that is not a Eusthenopteron, even if it is by the slightest margin.4

Furthermore, whatever changes define this new animal have to be beneficial enough for them to become prevalent throughout its population. Even a neutral or slightly beneficial mutation would probably be lost through genetic drift. Dawkins emphasizes the gradual nature of the transition, but at least some of it must take place extremely rapidly, or else it won’t happen at all. This was the problem behind the proposed solution of the ‘hopeful monster’.

This process must have been repeated countless times to get from the postulated fishy ancestor to humans. Even if there were a process that could do the above described things to populations of organisms over time, there wouldn’t be enough time for this process to lead from fish to people, even if we granted the evolutionary timescale of billions of years. And there is no evidence that it actually happened.

Evolution and Christianity cannot coexist

One clear message of the documentary is that evolution and Christianity cannot coexist. Krauss says:

“Most people who have faith, I think, in our society, naturally pick and choose from the doctrine those things they find absolutely ridiculous, and throw out. And the Pope would say that’s not palatable, and I would tend to agree with the Pope. I think if you can’t believe some of the stuff, and you need to throw out, just forget the whole thing.”
Photo: Wikipedia commons richard-dawkins
Richard Dawkins

This is one statement where we would actually agree with Krauss. Christians shouldn’t just pick and choose what to believe from the Bible. Christianity makes certain historical claims, and if those historical claims are wrong, there is no reason for us to believe the claims of Scripture regarding salvation. Jesus Himself said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). We would argue that the historical claims are true, and therefore there is a good reason to give serious consideration to the spiritual claims. But theistic evolutionists are on much shakier ground, because they actually have to give up much of the Bible when they reject biblical creation.

Dawkins knows this, too. He says:

“What a disgusting idea, that the only way to forgive somebody is to have a scapegoat—to have your own son tortured and killed because there’s no other way to forgive. The idea that there can be no forgiveness without bloodshed, without punishment, is an ancient idea and it’s a horrible one, in that particular case of original sin, the original sin is supposed to have been committed by Adam, who as we now know never existed. So we now have the preposterous idea that Jesus was sacrificed, the scapegoat was sacrificed for the sin of a non-existent forebear.”

So atheists clearly understand a historical Adam is necessary for salvation to make sense. For an answer to a similar argument from Dawkins, see Dawkins’ dilemma: how God forgives sin.

A major part of the documentary featured footage from the global atheist convention in Australia, and from the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. At the former, atheist Sam Harris said:

“But the problem is that most people, most of the time, are desperate to believe ridiculous and divisive ideas for patently emotional reasons. And while rarely explicit, what they’re really worried about is death. When we’re arguing about teaching evolution in the schools, I would argue that we are really arguing about death. It seems to be the only reason why any religious person cares about evolution, because if their holy books are wrong about our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death.”

Here again, we see an atheist making a very good point. If we know that Scripture is wrong on origins, why should we believe the Bible’s claims about eternal life?

Foolish hearts darkened

Perhaps ironically for a documentary about two prominent scientists and atheists, there is a strong feel of religious fervor to the documentary. The gatherings of atheists at the Global Atheist Convention and the Reason Rally are filled with ‘true believers’. There is no criticism of Krauss’s ‘universe from nothing’ idea (which has received criticism from other evolutionary cosmologists and physicists). There is no criticism of Dawkins’ crassly simplistic caricatures of religious people (and even fair-minded atheists have noted that Dawkins is no philosopher—see our review of his book The God Delusion).

The documentary is actually a revealing look at the true face of atheism, and I would recommend it except for one instance of graphic and obscene blasphemy during an encounter of a mob of atheists with a street preacher. I cannot recommend that any Christian listen to such obscenity.

References and notes

  1. The video was deleted, but not before other websites picked up on it; e.g. Klinghoffer, D., Cameron Diaz Gives a New Proof of Evolution, evolutionnews.org, 6 May 2013. Return to text.
  2. Of course, the human baby already contains the information in his or her cells to develop into an adult—but the single celled first life did not have any of the information to cause it to give rise to all the life we see on earth today. Return to text.
  3. See video at Surprising Debate: Rabbi Lapin asks Penn Jillette if he thinks the world would be better if all Muslims became Evangelical, glennbeck.com, 12 April 2013. Return to text.
  4. Dawkins is using the same argument as in his book The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (2004). See review, Weinberger, L., J. Creation 22(1):37–40, 2008. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

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Reader’s comments

Vicki L.
I've observed thru life that if one listens to another's judgment on a matter, often it is a projection of their own character. This struck me when I read what Sam Harris had to say about death. If you turn his statement around and read it as though he is speaking about himself, it gives some enlightenment about his own motives for being an atheist: He is worried about his own death. Ceasing to exist after death would be preferable, in his mind, to any afterlife (good or bad). I could presume a bit about his motives for wanting to believe this; he is at least honest enough with himself to recognize he doesn't deserve heaven and could never measure up to God's standard. With this being the case, he disavows the whole concept and prefers the idea of ceasing to exist. What he fails to understand is that, though Jesus, perfection isn't a requirement. By grace we are saved. This is why we should pray for understanding and truth to be revealed to these people rather than ridiculing them, though I admit the temptation is rather strong!
OLIVER S.
Dear wonderful people at CMI,

Your brilliant articles enlighten me every day. I can’t thank you enough.

The likes of Dawkins also believe in miracles - in fact, bigger miracles than those we Christians are accustomed to reading in the Holy Bible. The only problem is either they are in denial, or they honestly don't know it (which makes them greater fools).

I am not a scientist, but when people say that we have evolved from worms, I have often wondered which gender came first. I would like to ask them: if human beings do have a common ancestor, how did both genders evolve – complete in every respect - at the same time? The self-proclaimed drum-beaters of science such as Dawkins should know that this simply cannot be explained by science and yet they go to exasperating lengths to prove it.

They actually want people to believe in the absurd notion (for them scientific fact) that some half-human creature (here also both genders are a MUST for reproduction as, I hope, Dawkins et al know) gave birth to the first perfectly formed male human and a few years later gave birth to a first perfectly formed female human. If not, then it is even more fantastic that a "male" human evolved from one line of creature, and then after a few million years a "female" human evolved from another line and somehow met to advance the human race. (The same, of course, would have to happen for every known creature). It is also interesting that somehow every creature knew that they MUST procreate - as if that was their only purpose in life (and why?)

Since none of this can be proven, and is not even possible, then Dawkins et al should know that it is not something that comes under the “science” umbrella and should stop harping about how scientific they are. What arrogance!
Gevara B.
I have enjoyed reading the review and I have noticed that "The Unbelievers" flyer has no place for women and whereas the depicted pictures are of Dawkins and Krauss, they should have thought about it so that their "fans" would support them more enthusiastically. I have also noticed that their paths, Dawkins and Krauss, are separated from each other, each one is pursuing his own path and the path that’s unifying them is the sign of the cross at the far end of the brochure, furthermore, both of these scientists found it necessary to put the sign of the cross in their brochure, strange as it may look but reflecting the presence of the living Christ is quite evident.
On the other hand, It is quite interesting that Atheists 'always' refer to God in their conventions even if believer aren't present and if there's any explanation why they always do so, it is, the necessity of the existence of God gives meaning to their argument about the non-existence of God. So they find themselves obliged to talk about God to prove his non-existence!!!
Furthermore, the most important issues that are believed to be the pillars of the Christian faith were all discussed/mentioned by the world’s leading atheist, Richard Dawkins. The first man, Adam, the sin, the salvation, Christ, death, judgement….it was more like a religious gathering than atheists convening to discuss their own agendas, if they have any, I doubt.
Greetings,
Guevara Zia Brikha
December 16, 2014
Baghdad, Iraq
Jason C.
What are you willing to believe? Atheists, apparently, are willing to believe literally anything that (in their minds) gets them out of believing in God—something coming from nothing on its own, life from nonlife, a degradation-dependent process leading to higher, more complex life forms ... talk about a fairy tale.
Chuck J.
It's the same old Satanic lie that you will be as gods.
richard L.
Re. Robert B's first noted question (thanks!) and the article's related "disconnect" (also, thanks for the article):

As creationist writers have previously noted, an order to do science is implicitly present within the co-regency command to Adam and Eve. (One needs a minimal level of expertise--gathered by research about nature--to wisely rule the earth.)

And God has given us (1) a curiosity bump about nature, (2) an ability to think causally, and (3) a responsive 'buzz' of joy at the thrill of scientific discovery. He has hard-wired these science-enterprise prerequisites into us to enable us to carry out our earth-stewardship duties.

I strongly suspect that scientists get an extra measure of all 3 wired-in elements, and that science-lovers get an extra measure of at least the 'buzz'. This 'buzz' also arises from the contemplation of future advances in scientific technology and resultant discoveries.

Could it be that philosophical materialists (like Dawkins and Krauss) get a big buzz-maximization from their worldview, a worldview that simplifies reality down to what (future) science can totally inspect, reality being limited to only the material-energy universe (or multiverse)? (Scientists will one day be able to discover EVERYTHING!)

I strongly suspect that it is so. Such scientists are so intoxicated by that bigger buzz that they have insulated themselves away from the chill of the existential despair and nihilism within that philosophical-materialism worldview.

Sadly, many thinkers who believe they have an obligation to that worldview, but thinkers who have not been granted this particular buzz, feel the full negative effects of it... and sometimes suicide.

And advocates--such as Dawkins and Krauss--are tone-deaf to that despair. The disconnect.
Robert B.
I recently took myself and a friend to an appearance of Krauss and Dawkins on the "Unbelievers Tour" where they presented the movie and stayed onstage for some q&a afterward. Most of the questions were on two topics.

How to console people dealing with death.
and
There were a lot of questions on the multiverse.
Adolfo E.
It is ironic that some self-proclaimed atheists, like Richard Dawkins, can be so moralizing when in their worldview this is not possible. If Richard is just made up from elementary or fundamental particles (fermions and bosons) as his worldview claims, how is it that he can have thoughts about things? One piece of matter cannot have thoughts about another piece of matter, just like my smartphone cannot have thoughts about my laptop or vice versa. If a piece of matter cannot have thoughts about another piece of matter, much less will it have thoughts about something as non-material as morality. If Richard Dawkins were a true atheist he would have to be amoral, as other intellectually honest atheists have concluded.
Geoff C.
Richard Dawkins says: "The idea that there can be no forgiveness without bloodshed, without punishment, is an ancient idea and it’s a horrible one." Do we presume, therefore, that he believes criminals should be simply forgiven and go unpunished? I suspect he would be one of the first to complain if a murderer or child molester were set free by a 'kind' judge. If we believe in human justice, then why deny God's right to judge sin? Dawkins' comment is totally illogical! Could it be that he (like many atheists) don't like the idea that they might be answerable to some higher Power?
Henri D.
I am so grateful to get CMI's material, it serves to strengthen me in my faith. I have never really believed any element of evolution, even as a child at school, so I have had an advantage on that score. I am saddened however to see how even Christians glaze over when you share this information with them. Atheists whom I know and care about do not even read the material, that is how much hearts had been darkened. We must pray for them at all times.
Michael I.
The whole thing breaks my heart. Christ said it would be so, but it still breaks my heart to see so many lost and so many willingly ignorant to Christ. Not just lost but completely volatile and hostile to someone of faith. Youtube, there is a verbally violent place if ever I encountered one. Christian Music videos, CMI videos, Evangelical video's. New/Militant atheist's on every one of them on a search and destroy mission it seems. The whole lot of it is sad. I suppose if anyone knows it is the men and women of CMI... God bless.
Matthew C.
"...not only was our 200-million-greats grandparent a fish, but if you go back further still, they were worms and so on.” And to think atheists accuse creationists of believing in magic and fairy tales!
Geoff C. W.
"Also, when Christians are shown, they are non-scientists, who are juxtaposed with Dawkins, Krauss, et al. This gives an unfair impression, much like what would be the case if we juxtaposed evolutionist Cameron Diaz with our Ph.D. creationist scientists."
Well, I know what you're saying, and you wisely used the word "impression". In FACT, there probably isn't a great deal of difference between non-scientist Christians and these two scientific imposters, except that the latter are a lot better at doublespeak.
Helen D.
I'm pleased to read that this much touted 'documentary' is composed of the scientific and philosophical weaknesses I have come to expect from the New Atheists. Perhaps this would be best viewed as a double bill with the infinitely more reasoned and logical film "Evolution's Achilles Heel."
james p H.
you people "pull your punches" way too much with these clowns! what about the recent discovery that the nucleus of the cell has DNA packed into special compartments, sub-compartments and loops.....highly analogous to directories and sub-directories on a computer hard disk drive? just that alone should be enough to shut the likes of Dawkins down permanently.... you need to be jumping all over these feral fools with size 20, hob-nail boots!
Lita Cosner
James, thanks for these comments, but see our article How do we love our neighbor? for some reasons why we usually don't take that sort of approach.

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