March 16, 2016

God's Not Dead

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 17, 2016

God's Not Dead

I am a Christian with three degrees in philosophy—BA, MA, PhD—so sometimes I'm asked what I think of the 2014 film God's Not Dead.

This movie is about a Christian student taking a philosophy course at a secular university with an atheist professor who requires the class to sign a sheet saying "God is dead." Spoiler alert: the student refuses and after some setbacks successfully argues that God exists.

Although there are cheesy parts, I liked the movie. I found it refreshing to hear the student actually present some good arguments for God's existence. (I confess: the student's appeal to Oxford philosopher of science John Lennox sealed the deal for me! Lennox's work in Christian apologetics and the interface between science and faith is excellent.)

The part of the film that wasn't true to life (at least my life as a philosophy student) was the professor's explicit requirement of students to declare God's non-existence to pass his course.

It isn't totally far-fetched, though. When I was an undergraduate student, my philosophy of religion professor (an atheist) began the semester saying, "I don't give a tinker's damn about God's existence!"  And he went on to present many, many strong arguments against God's existence.

Significantly, though, he allowed those (few) of us who disagreed to argue our case (but we had to work hard, probably much harder than the rest of the class). Happily, at the end of the semester this professor recommended me for graduate studies in philosophy.

I had a similar experience as a doctoral student when my ethics professor (an atheist) told students that "theological ethics is fundamentally impossible." But he gave me an A for a paper in which I argued to the contrary.

Generally my experience as a student was that philosophy professors (mostly atheists) valued good arguments.

Still, it's important to realize that God's Not Dead gets some not unrealistic traction in its professor's requirement to sign the God-is-dead sheet. How so? Because the general intellectual milieu I experienced in the study of philosophy was strongly stacked against the Christian believer.

The implicit assumption and general consensus of the intellectual milieu in secular academia was (is) that arguments favouring the Christian God and Christian ethics fail. The sustained cumulative effect of this intellectual milieu subtly served (serves) to overwhelm and push students to go with the flow and absorb/ passively accept (i.e., "sign on" to) the God-is-dead position.

Here are a few generally-assumed-to-be-true and/or strongly-argued-for theses I had to deal with as a philosophy student who wanted to remain true to the God who is revealed in Jesus:
  • Arguments for God's existence fail.
  • Evil and suffering show God doesn't exist (or make it highly probable God doesn't exist).
  • God is a logically incoherent concept (thus can't be true).
  • Incarnation is a logically incoherent concept (thus can't be true).
  • Reports concerning Jesus' resurrection are not reasonable to believe (because miracles are maximally improbable).
  • God is irrelevant to ethics.
  • Real/ objective moral values are illusory (ethics are mere agreements or what's useful).
  • Human life isn't sacred (when asked what to do with the starving, one ethics professor answered "let them starve"; and some philosophers say the unborn child has the worth of a squirrel).
  • Most forms of sexual behaviour are okay if consensual.
Much more could be said. My point is that the philosophical challenges were huge, sometimes overwhelming.

Here's my advice for Christian young people who wish to study philosophy.

Pray for wisdom.

Live pure.

Seek truth.

Study logic and critical thinking (master these, yet remain humble).

Get understanding (even if this means doing extra work, taking extra time, costing more money).

Also, read Christian thinkers who specialize in philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, Christian apologetics, and ethics. For starters, read the works of Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Douglas Groothuis, Gary Habermas, John Lennox, Michael Licona, Sean McDowell, Stephen C. Meyer, J. P. Moreland.

A new film—God's Not Dead 2—is being released this April. Also read Rice Broock's book Man, Myth, Messiah: The Evidence Behind God's Not Dead 2.

(Hendrik van der Breggen teaches philosophy at Providence University College.  Hendrik's PhD dissertation is titled "Miracle Reports, Moral Philosophy, and Contemporary Science"The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

1 comment:

Kerry said...

Enjoyed reading this, I really appreciate John Lennox also, and have high regards for the efforts of Alvin Plantinga. Thanks for sharing.