"The Unbelievers Movie" Part 2
Dr. Craig continues his analysis of this film and speaks to the church about attitudes toward science.
The "Unbelievers Movie" Part 2
Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we have been discussing this movie featuring Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss called The Unbelievers, and boy, just the main point of this movie, once again, is the supposed conflict between Christian faith and religion, or science and religion, and it seems to me that Krauss and Dawkins ought to know better than this just from their interactions and Krauss’ debate with you; they should know better. I see here, personally it seems to me, an exploitation of this widespread belief of this false dichotomy. That there is a conflict between science and religion. Lay people tend to believe that, and you hear it all the time, “Well, why aren’t you a Christian? Why don’t you believe in God?”and they will go “science.” Science is the coverall against anything religious or spiritual, and they want to exploit that on a lay level.
Dr. Craig: I do think that the underlying assumption of this film is that there is this dichotomy between science and religious belief, that these two things are mutually incompatible. And I think, Kevin, that explains this, otherwise, very puzzling feature in this film: that there is so very little argument in the film against religious belief. The film actually has very little critique of religion in it. Instead, it simply extols science. Richard Dawkins has one memorable line near the end of the film. He says, “I’m in love with science, and I want to tell the world.” Now, what you see there is, I think, this false dichotomy between science and religion. If you are in love with science and you want to extol science, then that automatically means that religious belief is somehow rendered incredible and untenable. So you have Krauss in the film asking Dawkins at one point, “Which would you rather do? Would you rather explain science or destroy religion?” There you see this false dichotomy. You don’t really need to attack or destroy religion. Krauss says later in the film he is not attacking God; instead, you just extol and celebrate science and that is taken to automatically do the duty of excluding religion. So you are saved all the trouble of giving any arguments for atheism - any arguments against the existence of God. You just extol and celebrate the massive achievements of science and that automatically excludes religious belief. As I said in a previous podcast, they are conceived to be like two ends of a teeter-totter, where if one end goes up then the other end goes down. So, by celebrating and extolling the greatness of science, religious belief is automatically pressed down in terms of its credibility and sustainability. What we need to say is, “What is the justification for that dichotomy?” That is a false dichotomy! There is no reason that someone can not celebrate and extol the magnificent achievements of modern science and at the same time have a deep religious belief, a belief in God or in Christ. These are in no way incompatible and if Dawkins and Krauss think that they are, they’ve got to do more than just assume this. They have got to show this and give us some sort of argument.
Kevin Harris: So, Dr. Craig, are you saying that the assertion here is that you don’t have to disprove religion, you just have to prove science.
Dr. Craig: There you go, that is a simple way of putting it. I really do believe that that is the assumption that underlies this film. That is what Krauss and Dawkins think. You don’t need to disprove religion, you just need to prove science and, when you do, that automatically dispenses with religious belief.
Kevin Harris: I say that they should know better. Maybe they really think that.
Dr. Craig: Oh, I think they are quite sincere. I do think that they are sincere, but they should know better. They should be aware of the massive literature in both professional journals as well as academic presses and of their colleagues at their various universities that there are religious believers and are credible, outspoken scientists. They should know better than this - to just think that they can get away with assuming this false dichotomy.
Kevin Harris: Bill, I want you to reiterate something that we talked about on the last podcast. Talk to the church now too. Talk to believers and followers of Christ who run from science because they think that it is a threat. They have been taught that it is a dichotomy and that you are either going to have to just ignore it or find some way to defeat it. There has been an intimidation factor, I think.
Dr. Craig: I think that is very true. Often, you will see this when religious believers put on events on university campuses and ask you to speak or debate on a topic like “science vs. religion.” They do not realize that even in stating the topic in that way, they have assumed what needs to be proved; that there is this sort of adversarial or mutually exclusive relationship between the two. They have bought into that same false dichotomy, and I think that as a church, we as Christians, need to give our young people the vision of serving God by becoming a professional scientist or university professor, and to see this as a noble calling from God to which one might aspire.
Kevin Harris: When you think about these two propositions:
1.The earth rotates around the sun.
2. God exists.
Is there any contradiction between those two things?
Dr. Craig: And you know what is interesting, is that Krauss and Dawkins never really identify any propositions in their film that are supposed to exclude the existence of God. I kept waiting for them, and I really couldn’t find anything in here that was supposed to show what it is about science that makes it impossible to believe in God.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, because I don’t think the motivation of the movie is to show where the problems lie, where the conflict lies, and what the arguments are. It is just assuming that it’s there, and here are these two bold unbelievers in the face of this irrationality.
Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly, and I think, Kevin, that would also explain the appeal to ridicule that Dawkins and Krauss both endorse. Rather than argument, they suggest that religion needs to be “ridiculed with contempt.” That is a direct quotation from this film.
Kevin Harris: In fact, Lawrence Krauss said this at a lecture at a bookstore in La Jolla,, CA recently, “You know, I debated this huckster called William Lane Craig in North Carolina, a Christian apologist, a year or two ago.” Even given the most generous definition of huckster, it is clearly disparaging.
Dr. Craig: And the reason for that is that they don’t have any good arguments against religious belief and so they resort to mockery and ridicule instead.
Kevin Harris: And if that is what they do, then don’t say that the goal of this film is to start a conversation, because that is what the film says.
Dr. Craig: That’s their claim isn’t it? Again and again, “the goal of this film is to start a conversation,” but the conversation is only between the unbelievers. People like Krauss and Dawkins. They don’t want to have a conversation with us, instead we are to be treated with ridicule and contempt and not even engaged in rational argument.
Kevin Harris: I know the focus of the film is that facts should change beliefs, and that religion should be open to discussion. For several years now, Sam Harris says this a lot as well: religion kills conversations, it is a conversation stopper, and we ought to be able to question anything and not just hold that it is impolite to question someone’s beliefs. Everything should be on the table.
Dr. Craig: Yes, this is an emphasis that appears repeatedly in the film: everything should be open to question and examination, nothing should be off the table, nothing is taboo. To which I would say, are these gentlemen really that naive and uninformed about the renaissance in Christian philosophy or in New Testament studies, for that matter, that has been going on over the last fifty years in which these very questions are treated rigorously and examined. Of course, we’re not afraid to examine our religious beliefs logically and to subject them to tests. So they are attacking here a straw man; a kind of blind irrational faith that is afraid to exhibit arguments in its favor or to examine criticisms of it. Of course, Kevin, the sort of reasonable faith that we represent is not at all to be so characterized. We do not regard faith in God to be something that is immune to examination or criticism. We take seriously the objections that are raised against it and want to have a conversation about them. The second thing that needs to be said is that if it is true that no one’s views are not subject to question and examination, then that goes for Krauss and Dawkins as well and therefore we are quite within our rights to say to them, “Well then why do you assume this dichotomy between science and religious belief? Why do you think that these are mutually exclusive? What justification do you have for that?” In other words, they’ve got to be prepared to examine their own assumptions as well and to not let those be off the table.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, there is a real bristling when you talk to someone about what they hold as scientism and not the scientific method or science qua science and so on, and it really is. When you point it out you can really get a negative reaction.
Dr. Craig: Kevin, you have really put your finger on another major assumption that is a deep assumption behind the film. That is this scientism; that the physical sciences are the only genuine sources of knowledge, and that there are not sources of knowledge outside of the sciences. I think that this is a fundamentally incorrect view, indeed, a self refuting view since scientism is not itself something that is established by the natural sciences. That is a philosophical point of view that needs to be questioned and examined. It can’t be off the table. You need to examine the credentials of scientism, and I don’t think they hold up very well; indeed, it turns out to be self-refuting. So, fundamentally, I think the whole film is flawed in turning to scientists to adjudicate the question of the existence of God. I think that scientist are, frankly, ill equipped to answer this question and therefore I am very unimpressed when they trot out surveys showing that the number of top scientists that are atheists is very very high and the percentage that believe in God is very low. I am utterly unimpressed by that because to my mind, Kevin, the views of scientists about the question of God’s existence are about as irrelevant as the views of political scientists about this question. They are simply not equipped in their discipline to adjudicate a metaphysical question. So, you might as well ask golfers what their view is of the existence of God as asking natural scientists. There is no reason to think that physical scientists have any more authority in this area than political scientists, which is none. This is a metaphysical question that transcends the natural sciences and, quite frankly, most natural scientists, and in particular Krauss and Dawkins, are very ill equipped to discuss metaphysics.
Kevin Harris: Bill, did you notice the film really tries to downplay philosophy and metaphysics, and yet, it engages lots of philosophical questions. Dawkins was asked about the purpose of the universe. What was his reply?
Dr. Craig: He says the question, “What is the purpose of the universe?” is a meaningless question, and he says why questions are silly questions that ought not to be asked. Now, Kevin, that is so superficial philosophically. Why questions can also be questions about science. For example, why do plants bend in the direction of the light? That is a perfectly legitimate scientific why questions that can be asked. So, you can’t dismiss all why questions as being silly, even on his own scientism. Similarly, a question about the purpose of the universe need not be phrased as a why question, like, “Why does the universe exist?” He, himself, phrases it in the film as a what question, “What is the purpose of the universe?” So, it is not even phrased as a why question. So, it is very evident that Dawkins has a very superficial understanding of why questions and what they are looking for. What he really is opposed to is asking questions about the purpose or the meaning of things, and in that respect I would say, how does he know they are meaningless without an argument? If God does exist then it clearly is meaningful to ask, “Why does the universe exist? Is there a purpose for the universe?” Indeed, that question is meaningful even if God does not exist. Finding out that the answer to the question is “the universe has no purpose for its existence” would be a very important thing to discover. That there is no meaning to my life would be a very important discovery.
So, I do not understand with what justification Dawkins can say that these questions about meaning and purpose are meaningless. In fact, he, himself, says with respect to human beings - and he says this in the film - that we can plan for the future. So it would make sense to ask of a human being, “Well, why did you plan to do this?” or “Why are you going to the physical society conference next weekend” or “Why are you publishing this article?” That is perfectly meaningful to human beings. Well, why can’t you ask a question about why does the universe exist or what is the meaning of my life? That is a perfectly meaningful question that might be given a positive answer if God exists. And Dawkins has said nothing to show that God does not exist. It is all based, again, on the false dichotomy that if you celebrate and extol science that automatically dispenses with religious belief.
So, this whole film is just fraught with underlying and, ironically, unexamined and unquestioned assumptions - assumptions that science and religion are mutually exclusive, the assumption that science is the only source of genuine knowledge about the universe, and the assumption that scientists are the authorities to whom we should go to find answers to questions about the existence of God.
Kevin Harris: Bill, just looking at a couple more things on the movie. Krauss says that the universe could plausibly come from nothing. Plausibility being the key here.
Dr. Craig: This really jumped out at me, Kevin, because I have wondered, what is the criterion for truth that these men would advocate? They have attacked logic, as you know, in many cases; they attack common sense.
Kevin Harris: They attack philosophy
Dr. Craig: They attack philosophy. And so, here Krauss gives us some clue as to what he is looking for. He says more than once in the film the question is: is something plausible? Now, what struck me about that, Kevin, is that is the very same quality to which I appeal in offering sound deductive arguments for conclusions. In offering my arguments, I say that an argument needs to be logically valid, it needs to have true premises, and then in addition to that, the premises needs to have some additional quality. I suggest that it can’t be certainty, that would leave us all skeptics. It’s not just plausibility, though this is what Krauss appeals to. What I say is that the premise need to be more plausible than its contradictory. If the premise is more plausible than its negation then we ought to believe the premise rather than its negation. It seems that Krauss is espousing something very close to that in appealing to plausibility. Now, to me this is an encouragement, because it means that we can finally find some common ground on which to argue about these things. We can offer arguments for God whose premises are more plausible than their opposites and therefore, if Krauss is willing to follow plausibility as his guide to truth, then we can say, “Okay, Professor Krauss, then why don’t you come to this conclusion? If this follows logically from an argument that is based on premises that are plausible, indeed, more plausible than their negations.” So, this was I think a very key element in the film that provides some hope for a common ground on which to engage these people in dialogue.
Kevin Harris: Dawkins says, “Probably two hundred members of Congress are atheists but have to lie about their belief. They are obviously lying.”
Dr. Craig: This is, I think , one of the most remarkable features of this film. It is very clear that because Dawkins and Krauss think that no intelligent person can be a theist, therefore, when you meet intelligent theists, they have to be liars. And, therefore, Dawkins comes right out and says he thinks that probably two hundred members of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives are really atheists, but they are obviously lying in order to be elected to public office. Well, this is just an outrageous aspersion on their character and outrageous claim. Only 2-3% of the American population is atheistic. So, if the makeup of the House and Senate reflects the makeup of the U.S. population, only 2-3% of the members of Congress would be atheistic and that would be, what, around 25 people or so would be atheist. And yet, he is claiming here that it is really two hundred or so, and that they are just liars. Well, this, I think, is shameless and it illustrates again this false dichotomy that they have between reason and religion such that no reasonable person can actually be a theistic believer and therefore they have to besmirch and attack the character of those with whom those they disagree. We see this same sort of besmirching of people’s character when Krauss says, near the film’s conclusion, that at a funeral people cry when their loved ones are gone and why? Because they don’t really believe that they will see their loved ones again. They are just liars. They are deceiving themselves and others. They really don’t believe that they will see their loved one again, as is evident from their grief and tears at the funeral. Well, Kevin, this is just an idiotic analysis of the grief.
Kevin Harris: A very shallow thing to say.
Dr. Craig: Yes, of course, the reason the bereaved cry is because they miss their loved one who is now no longer with them. That does not mean that they don’t have a deep hope that they will see their loved one again someday in heaven, or that this loved one has gone on to a better place. People, I think, do hope for that. They cling to that hope, but they miss desperately their loved one who is gone. So, of course, they cry. Here we see how this assumption that no intelligent person can really be a religious believer leads Krauss and Dawkins, again, to besmirch and assail the character of people who are sincere religious believers and claim they are not really sincere, they are liars or insincere.
Kevin Harris: For the Christian, even Christian theology is that death is an enemy and it’s a defeated enemy, but it is still an enemy. It still represents a fallen world. It still represents sin and Christ himself had to die for us.
Dr. Craig: Well, and speaking of Jesus, do you think Krauss would say that when Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb that Jesus didn’t really believe that God exists? I think not. I think that Jesus of Nazareth was probably a theist, don’t you?
Kevin Harris: Yeah. Bill, there are a lot more things we could talk about from this film. But if you don’t mind, as we say, could you tie up the ends of this podcast and just kind of put it all together for us.
Dr. Craig: I think that in summary what I would like to say is that underlying this film are some very, very deep philosophical assumptions that are never examined by Krauss and Dawkins. Indeed, I think they may even be unconscious of these assumptions. One of these is this false dichotomy of extolling the greatness of science and holding to sincere religious belief. They think that these are incompatible and that, therefore, they do not need to attack the rationality of religious belief, they need to simply extol the greatness of science and that will dispense automatically with religious belief. The other assumption, related to that, is that scientists are the go-to persons that we should recognize as authorities with respect to the question of God’s existence. And I think that that is clearly mistaken because scientists in their professional training receive virtually no education in philosophy or religious studies and therefore, when they begin to speak to questions about the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, they are like un-tutored lay persons, not authorities. You may as well ask for the opinions of golfers or political scientists with respect to the existence of God as to these professional scientists.