The Modern Missionaries of Evangelical Atheism
According to its website, The Unbelievers movie “follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.”
Okay, so let’s unpack that a bit and examine the contents of the film in light of its billing.
Science and Reason
Shortly into it, there is a string of clips, apparently taken from an Australian TV show called Q&A, in which (unbeliever) Dr. Dawkins and (believer) Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, participate in an informal debate. Now here’s something to pay attention to, the truly inquiring free thinker might say to himself, rubbing his hands together and preparing to listen up.
But that genuinely curious viewer-listener would be disappointed if he were hoping to hear a scientific or reasoned argument over the existence or nonexistence of God. Or even just a scientific or reasoned argument at all.
Here’s a little snippet from the Q&A:
Cardinal Pell: Most evolutionary biologists today don’t believe … this crude, fundamentalist version of random selection that you have proposed.
Dr. Dawkins: I do not propose it, and I strongly deny that evolution is random selection. Evolution is non-random selection. Non-random.
Cardinal Pell: Oh, so there’s a purpose to it?
Dr. Dawkins: No! [laughs can be heard from the audience]
Cardinal Pell: Could you explain what non-random means?
Dr. Dawkins: Yes, of course I could. That’s my life’s work.
But we never actually get to hear the explanation, if there was one. Oddly, interspersed between the clips of this discussion, we get selected clips from another debate, at another location, between (unbeliever) Dr. Krauss and Muslim (believer) Uthman Badar. When the film cuts back to Dawkins and Pell, the discussion has moved on.
We can surmise, though, from listening between the clips, if you will, that there was mention of discernible purpose in the universe and some reference to the human inclination to look for meaning:
Cardinal Pell: It’s part of being human to ask why we exist.
Dr. Dawkins: The question Why? is not necessarily a question that deserves to be answered.
There are all sorts of questions that people cannot ask. Like, What is the color of jealousy? That’s a silly question. Why? is a silly question.
You can ask, What are the factors that led to something coming into existence? That’s a sensible question. But, What is the purpose of the universe? is a silly question. It has no meaning.
Sadly, we don’t get to hear what Cardinal Pell said next, as the film cuts away again to Krauss and Badar.
Then it cuts back:
Dr. Dawkins: We do have a scientific understanding of why we’re here. And we therefore have to make up our own meaning to life.
We have to stand up, look the world in the face, face up to the fact that we are not going to last forever, we have to make the most of the short time that we have on this planet. We have to make this planet as good as we possibly can and try to leave it a better place than we found it. [applause can be heard from the audience]
And this is, as far as the film is concerned, the end of the Q&A. It’s also the end of any semblance of reasoned argumentation in The Unbelievers of the basic point purportedly at issue: whether there is reason to believe or unbelieve in God.
Encouraging Others to Cast Off … What?
After the two debates, which we see by clips and switches, the film shifts to a ponderous conversation between Dawkins and Krauss. The two are riding in the back seat of a car when Dr. Dawkins expresses some exasperation with the debate format.
Dr. Dawkins: Well, I got thoroughly fed up with BBC type interviews where you have a chairman in the middle and you’ve got an interesting conversation going on between two … there might be [as many as] five people around the table. And A and B are having an interesting conversation. And so the chairman suddenly says, ‘Well, what do you think about this, C?’ totally breaking the flow and spoiling the conversation, all in the interest of balance and things like that.
And it occurred to me, Why on earth do we bother with chairmen? They’re not necessary. Certainly my recent encounter with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford (click here for debate), that was completely ruined by the chairman, who was a philosopher and felt it was his role to clarify things. And of course that meant obscuring things.
The two scientists share a knowing laugh. Those silly philosophers who ask clarifying questions. Don’t they know some questions should not be asked?
And to Embrace … What?
Having cast off those questions that should not be asked or that have no meaning by the fifteen minute mark, the remainder of the film consists mostly of this “Dynamic Duo of Science” traipsing the globe, pontificating together, and speaking to sympathetic audiences about the universe “that can come from nothing,” the multiverse “that can be eternal,” and how we are “endowed by evolution” to create our own meaning during our “brief moment in the sun.”
Look at those phrases again. Does this sound to you like the language of science or the language of religion?
Dr. Kraus: I guess the best part of communicating is the excitement. Science turns us on. Science is fun. Science excites us. … I feel it’s so fascinating for me that I want to tell people about it.
Dr. Dawkins (looking off into the distance): Carl Sagan said, “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world,” and say to them, “I’m in love with science, and I have to tell the world.”
Do you hear the echoes of religiosity as Dawkins and Krauss pontificate together? These men are not advancing science or reason. These are adherents of an alternative religion.
So don’t ask them silly question they aren’t prepared to answer. Science turns Dr. Krauss on. And Dr. Dawkins? He’s in love, and he has to tell the world about it.
Watch The Unbelievers if you like. But not if you want to hear a discussion based on authentic science or grounded reason. The Unbelievers is about two scientists who are missionaries of Evangelical Atheism.