Why Professor Fincke’s Analysis of “God’s Not Dead” Didn’t Actually Care About What the Movie Was About

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Professor (of sorts) Daniel Fincke set out to write an analysis of the movie God’s Not Dead. What he accomplished with it ended up being something else entirely. He admitted early on that the topic had gotten away from him, and that this had turned into much more than a review. It seems to me that it also turned into less than a review.

We’ll take his points in turn. I must warn you: his post was lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong. Many of his subpoints were as long as my usual blog posts. My response, you’ll be grateful to know, is only lo-o-o-ong; less than a fifth of the length of his article.

I’ve written a response to his first point, “hypocrisy,” elsewhere already. This is going to go long enough; no need to repeat myself. Well, actually you’ll see that I do repeat myself in one way as I go along here, but you’ll also see how that makes sense.

Following that point, Fincke goes into a lengthy explanation of “Why Leaving Theology Out of Philosophy Isn’t Persecuting Students.” This has nothing to do with anything in the movie. The same goes for his next topic: “Philosophy Is Not Authority Based The Way Theology Is.” I think he has misrepresented theological authority there, but why did he even bother bringing that up? There’s nothing in the movie about that topic.

There’s a theme developing here…

His complaint under “The Students in the Movie Already Believed in God” boils down to his belief that the students complied with the professor because,

They’ve been conditioned by our educational system to be spineless conformists who defer to authorities. They will write down whatever their professors want if that’s what will get them their grade and get them to where they want to be in life.

… which he admits “has a grain of truth.” I tend to agree. But then he aims at the church and shoots:

The giant log of lazy intellectual conformism and thoughtless deference to authorities is still in the church’s eye. It is churches that praise submission to Christ, overcoming doubts not by endless questioning but by deferring to the Sunday School teacher.

Sure, some churches do that. The other day, though, I gave a talk to conservative Christian parents in a conservative city in Michigan, on “Coaching Your Children Through Their Toughest Questions.” My main point was this: whatever the question is, whether you know the answer or not, have the conversation, and work through the question.

There were a couple dozen students there. At the beginning of the talk, before giving away any of my thesis, I asked them to write on a card “yes” or “no” to the question, “Do you feel safe, and do feel the freedom, to ask questions about the faith at school, at church, and at home?” It was all handled anonymously, secret ballot-style. The result was unanimous: every student said yes to feeling free to ask questions in all three venues.

The fact is, Professor Fincke has stereotyped Christianity according to its least attractive manifestation. I wonder if he’s proud of himself for that. Stereotyping has such a rich tradition, no?

Next he tells us he grades  students who disagree with him by a fair standard. I’m sure he does. Professor Radisson, in the movie, doesn’t. Fincke isn’t Radisson. Radisson is a fictional character. So is Gandalf. So is Saruman. So is Father Mulcahy. So is Church Lady. So was the priest in The Exorcist. So what?

His next informative topic was, “Demanding Philosophical Reasons For Beliefs Is Not Persecution” Who said it was? I don’t know why he bothered to bring that up, other than his desire to carry through on his already-established pattern of delivering platitudes that have no connection to the plot of the movie.

Next up? The student’s, Josh Wheaton’s, use of Big Bang cosmology in his apologetic. Where previously Fincke has been disconnected from the movie, here he demonstrates his disconnection from movies in general. He tells us, “The other argument draws on Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig without directly citing him.” That’s an odd criticism to make: I don’t recall ever seeing a feature film with footnotes.

Wheaton doesn’t prove God, he tells us. He uses 1,600 words to tell us. Wheaton’s argument in this sequence, by comparison, runs to perhaps two minutes, maybe three, if my estimate is correct. He may be the first character in all cinematic history not to prove the existence of God in less than three minutes. Or, Fincke may be the first professor in all of history to find significance in the fact that he didn’t accomplish it. (By the way, we know from elsewhere in the film that Wheaton spoke three times for twenty minutes each, so we’re not seeing nearly all he might have said.)

Moving on, Fincke tells us, “Creating A Strawman of Philosophers is a Lazy Copout,” to wit:”And it is a complete joke to suggest that the strong majority consensus of philosophers against theism is all because we secretly hate God.” Here’s a straw man for you: it’s a straw man to suggest that this was the argument Josh Wheaton made in the film. Nothing of the sort was said.

Fincke goes on to wonder, “Why Do Christians Say Atheists Disbelieve for Emotional Reasons?” The stereotypes fairly ooze off the page: “Christians” say “atheists” disbelieve for emotional reasons. All Christians? All atheists? I don’t think so. Not that it isn’t partly true: some atheists do disbelieve for emotional reasons. They don’t like Christianity. They don’t like its moral beliefs. They don’t want the universe to be like that. Huxley and Nagel are both on record for saying that sort of thing.

Now, if the movie had said this was true of every atheist, that would have been wrong. It didn’t. Prof. Radisson was portrayed as one particular professor with a particular history. He wasn’t portrayed as representing every atheist professor who ever taught. And these filmmakers were not quite the first ever to portray someone in a negative light.

Then the professor  asks, “Who Really Are the Humble Ones More Likely to Say “I Don’t Know”? The Christians or the atheists?”

Gee, I don’t know.

Fincke acts as if he does, even though he provides no sociological or psychological research data. That might have been helpful. But even though he indicates no plausible reason to show he knows the answer, he does not say, “I don’t know.” Interesting.

He’s not done yet. Not even close. Can you believe it? And here’s the amazing thing: he keeps forcing topics into the discussion as if they’re connected to the film when they are not. Case in point: “Why Do Some Atheists Say They Do Know There’s No God? Are Atheists Hypocritically People of Faith Too?”

That’s not in the movie. I don’t know why he bothered bringing it up.

Going on (and on, and on…) Next point from the prof: “If Antitheists Are Bad People, Evangelicals Are Downright Awful”

Really, now. What’s his movie-associated reason for bringing that in?

Why should civil but adamant atheists have to be any less aggressive about promoting our views and values than you are about promoting yours? Why is it a-okay for Josh to explicitly seek to use his philosophy class to preach Jesus but it’s not okay for an atheist to challenge a student’s Christian faith?

Here’s the problem with that: Prof. Radisson, in the movie, didn’t promote any views or values. He  demanded that his students adopt his, so as to be able to “dispense with needless debate.” Josh Wheaton promoted his, yes, but he wasn’t aggressive about it. He did it reluctantly and by invitation only. This complaint by Fincke has nothing to do with the movie. Nothing. Class, repeat with me: “I don’t know why he bothered bringing it up.

Next, “If Professor Radisson’s A Bad Guy, The Christian God is the Worst Possible Bad Guy.”

When you loathe the way Professor Radisson leverages his power to pick on someone smaller than him, you should be loathing your God for doing that to the humans He creates and demands obedience from. When you’re appalled at Radisson’s jealousy and vindictiveness, you should disown when your own God call himself a jealous God who punishes those who don’t worship Him singlemindedly.

Also, he tells us, we who defend God’s goodness are ignoring “all the clear counter-evidence and warping all your moral judgments accordingly, even if it means making excuses for the most heinous crimes imaginable.”

Here Fincke demonstrates his ignorance of God’s goodness and of the reasons for which Christians worship him. It’s a complete straw man distortion of who God is, according to our understanding. (Remember, though, he doesn’t disagree with Christianity for emotional reasons!) 

Do you think Fincke might have an attitude toward God? Check out his other post titled, “The Atheist Philosophy Professor Strikes Back! (Or, “You’re Right, God’s Not Dead, But He Will Be When I’m Done With Him!”). This is not funny, friends.

Then there’s the “God of the Gaps and the Origin of Life”.

Wheaton tries to argue that because scientists do not have an account yet of the origin of life that perhaps it was God that originated it. What is so tedious about this is that it is a “God of the Gaps” argument antithetical to the entire spirit of science.

Ah, the spirit of science. What a happy choice of words! All I have to do is capitalize them: Why fill the gap with God, when we have the Spirit of Science to fill it instead!

Next topic: “Why Explaining Evolution with God is Anti-Science”

Ready, class? “I don’t know why he bothered bringing this up.” No one in this film tried to explain evolution with God. Maybe Fincke doesn’t know the difference between origin-of-life and evolution, but at least Josh Wheaton did.

Next, as if the whole article wasn’t long enough, Fincke gives us a subject heading long enough to be its own article: “How Science and Philosophy Vindicate Metaphysical Naturalism and the Existence of Religious Scientists Doesn’t Vindicate Theism.” He tells us, for example,

[Religious apologists] accuse metaphysical naturalism of being an unwarranted assumption. But I see it as a finding, an inference we have come to (rather than assumed) by seeing the enormous explanatory power that opens up when we assume that nature is all there is. If that holding that position is so unprecedentedly powerful for generating truths in the laboratory, why not think it’s because it’s also metaphysically true.

This part is funny. I’d like to see just where in the laboratory anyone has run a test on these two conditions: one where God exists, and one where God doesn’t exist. That’s how science is done, you know. That could lead to a proper scientific finding. I don’t think it’s actually been tried, though, strange to say.

To say that the success of science demonstrates metaphysical naturalism is to ignore all kinds of other reasonable alternatives, including, yes, standard Christian theism. Metaphysical naturalism is a metaphysical, not a scientific, belief.

Oh, and by the way, this topic wasn’t in the movie. Join with me now: I don’t know why he bothered bringing it up.

Under the question, “Is Philosophy Dead,” Fincke complains, “This is basically a philosophy class that has no interest in philosophy itself.”

Actually, Prof. Fincke, this is not a philosophy class with no interest in philosophy. It’s a movie. It’s two hours of drama that cover at least five different parallel plots, and even the philosophy-class plot takes place mostly outside the classroom.

He says the “real action is in science” in this film. Sure. Why not? It’s a first-semester philosophy class, and it’s also a movie being shown to non-philosophers who know a lot more about science than they know about Nietzsche, Sartre, or Derrida. I suspect the producers wanted it (a) to be realistic to a first-semester situation, and (b) not to be a total dud of a movie that no one wanted to watch.

But maybe, just maybe, Fincke wasn’t so concerned about responding to the movie. (What was my first clue?) Maybe he was more concerned about showing that God’s existence can’t be so easily proved. So let’s go on and consider his next major subheading: “Why The Film Didn’t Actually Care About Proving God’s Existence.”

(Anyone see the irony? Need help? See the title of this blog post.)

Under this heading he writes,

The film, like, in my reading, much of the Bible, assumes almost everyone believes in God and that the real challenge of faith is the challenge to trust God. The filmmakers then treat all the atheists (except possibly Mark, played by Dean Cain) like secret Christians in denial.

Also except for the other faculty members at the dinner party. And Amy. And Martin. And Martin’s father. That is (by a certain way of looking at it), it treats one atheist as a secret Christian in denial. That covers all the atheists in the movie, except for all the other atheists in the movie.

We’re getting close. We’ve made it through more than 12,250 words of Fincke’s fisking. Now for (cue ominous music) “The Problem of Evil.” Fincke thinks  the film’s answer to this problem is inadequate and the discussion is cut short. Yes, it’s too true: his expectations of a full Blackwell’s Companion discourse were dashed.

Finally (yes, he uses that word, too) he turns to “The Appeal to Need for Absolute Morality”. Here I caught the same oddity that Fincke did. Professor Radisson had never identified himself on screen as a moral relativist, but Josh Wheaton argues with him as if he were. Moral relativism can be found among philosophy profs, but it’s a minority position.

But we’ve already seen how Fincke has no trouble finding things in the movie that aren’t there. He does it again here, objecting to the idea of associating moral objectivity with absolutism.  That’s not in the movie. Ready? “Why did he bother bringing it up?”

In Fairness to Dr. Fincke

Now, in fairness to Professor Fincke, I have to admit I’ve touched too lightly over something he explained at the top of the post.

This post turned out to be not just a movie review but a nearly comprehensive counter-apologetics case that I intend to refer Christians to in the future. For both those future and current readers, here is a Table of Contents, with links, so you can jump to the section that interests you most if you do not have time to read all ~12,000 [sic–actually 13,500-plus] words.

True, it wasn’t “just” a movie review. That’s a true statement. It’s grossly understated, but that alone doesn’t make it false.

In fact, whole wide swaths criss-crossing his “not-just-a -eview” had nothing whatever to do with the movie. Yet the title remained, “A Philosophy Professor Analyzes God’s Not Dead’s Case for God,” — even though the case for God he analyzed was in large part stereotyped, and in large part a straw man distortion. In some some cases he twisted things so far out of recognition that it was more of a straw oil tank or something else besides a straw man. In almost every case he gets the movie wrong, distorting its intention or its message. He gets Christian theology wrong, too.

If you ask me, he even gets the whole concept of a movie wrong. That part should have been the easiest of all. I guess it bothered him (maybe this is why he kept bothering us!) that the movie presented a message. So instead of treating it as a movie, he treated it as if it were pure message. He got up on his soapbox, and stayed there until his legs got tired. Finally he got done.

Finally I’m done too.

There are so many topics in this post, I can’t imagine how we could have a focused conversation on it. Talk about whatever you like, only be civil and substantive, and at least loosely connected to what’s gone on before.

P.S. Concerning Daniel Fincke