The Unbelievers: A Review


Published: 16 December 2014 (GMT+10)

“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

The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover