A Matter of Faith - Creation, Science and Authority
A Matter of Faith is a film by a production company called Five and Two Pictures who identify themselves as an indie Christian film production company. The film is currently available on Netflix which is how I found out about it so if you want to watch the movie before this review please do. It is one of many movies about Christianity vs. the secular world with it's primary focus being on the debate between Creation and Evolution.
While I am happy to say the movie breaks out of some of the tropes typically displayed in this kind of movie it falls victim to bad writing and actually reveals one of the fundamental differences between science and the skeptically minded and those who espouse this brand of evangelical Christianity.
In this hub I want to break down some of what the movie does right, some of what it get's wrong and some of what it reveals to the audience about this particularly sect of Christianity.
Our Main Character - Rachel
Our story follows Rachel, a freshman at college who is studying biology, Rachel also happens to be from an Evangelical family who believe in the story of Creation. Things seem to be going well for her at first. She enjoys the lectures given by her biology professor Prof. Kaman and although she does seem to have doubts about evolution she doesn't let this interfere with her studies. In fact Rachel is doing exactly what most sane rational Christians would do in her situation, she's learning the information she needs without necessarily sacrificing her whole belief system.
Kaman starts out his lecture by holding up a rubber chicken and asking his students the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Of course Kaman says the egg came first since eggs were around way before chickens were. The movie doesn't quite drive the point home though. The difference here is that Rachel and Creationists in general think God created a chicken wholesale, just BOOM an entire chicken while those who understand science and evolution know that chickens evolved over the course of millions of years from other egg laying animals.
Chickens even have dormant genes to grow teeth because some of their ancestors had teeth.
Modern Creationism Isn't Scientific
But of course this just can't be allowed to stand. Rachel's Father gets wind of how Professor Kaman teaches his classes and the fact that Professor Kaman has the nerve to not even MENTION Creationism as a viable alternative to Evolution.
This is the first sticking point where the obviously Christian writers of the script don't understand how science works and why only evolution is taught in biology. There is nothing scientific about Creationism, it's a religious belief, it relies on the supernatural and unfalsifiable. Evolution on the other hand could be falsified at any time through empirical evidence and yet it has stood the test of time and become the unifying and central theory of all life sciences. To put it simply creationists have never discovered a scientific fact that points to a supernatural explanation rather than a natural one and no discovery ever made has falsified evolution.
So we've got reams and reams of evidence for evolution, from genetics, from fossils, from morphology, from behavioral science, etc. And we have no scientific discoveries that would suggest an alternative to evolution let alone ones that would come close to falsifying the entire theory.
The reason Creation is not taught in science classes is because it is not science.
Ancient Creation Science
Thousands of years ago the first scientists to study life were mostly Creationists. In Ancient Greece and Rome for example the first people doing dissections and anatomical studies to try to learn of the origin of life and how it functioned were mostly made up of pagan Creationists who believed in the gods. And yet they did not allow this belief to stop them from doing actual science, rather they were rational about it, adjusting their beliefs according to the evidence like true skeptics.
When Darwin's theory emerged it threw the world into an uproar that still hasn't died down completely. Many Christians could not reconcile the deep time and utterly natural way in which life had diverged into so many amazing forms with their belief that God had made the world and all the creatures in it. But some Christians did – and do – accept Evolution just as the ancient creationists would have if they had the kind of evidence we do now.
Perhaps the ancients wouldn't have rejected their faith outright BUT, given the overwhelming evidence, would have adjusted their view of the gods and of how those gods achieved such wondrous creation. But as we will see the characters in this movie are not comfortable shifting their perspective in lieu of the evidence and, in fact, they turn a blind eye to evidence altogether in favor of submission to authority.
Christian Dad VS Evolutionist
One of the faint favorable points I have to give the movie is in its portrayal of the Straw Man evolution professor. While it is explained that he got a colleague of his fired for teaching Creationism he isn't vilified for this action outright. He isn't painted as some sort of enemy by the movie and manages to be a nice guy throughout the whole run time. So in that sense the movie is a step-up from garbage like God's Not Dead portraying atheists and non-Christians as angry, abusive, selfish, etc. In fact Kaman is never explicitly identified as an atheist or abject non-believer.
So Rachel's Father, Jay, finds out she is being taught biology by someone who actually understands science (an evolutionist) and that he wants to have a chat with Professor Kaman. Kaman, who has just been handed an opportunity to set up a science department debate, sees an easy victory in debating Jay since he's never done a debate and clearly doesn't know anything about evolution. Jay resists at first, especially when Rachel shows up and begins asking what the heck he's doing interfering in her education, but Kaman goads him into it and he agrees believing it is an important topic.
The idea, I suppose, is that Jay is doing this to save Rachel's soul from Hell, which is where all evolutionists must go since you can't possibly still believe in Christ and God if you accept evolution and reject the literal interpretation of Genesis.
This Movie Treats Rachel Like Shit
Rachel, despite being the main character, is treated like shit in this movie by everyone, but especially by God. Her Father is an absolute clown who doesn't learn ANYTHING new by the end of the movie and thinks that he can interfere in her education and turn her against science.
She is majoring in biology, remember, so by attempting to undercut this college's science lectures by injecting theological teachings from a narrow branch of one religion he is directly sabotaging her education. If you don't learn actual real science in your biology classes – and science classes in general – how are you going to compete in the job market? How are you going to get a job studying the evolution of bacteria if you think bacteria were popped into existence fully formed, fully complex, via magic words?
If this were Mormons or Islamists or Scientologists trying to teach their wacky beliefs in a science class Christians would lose their collective shit BUT if it's their specific brand of authoritarian Bible-thumping Christianity then it's the ONLY legitimate alternative.
And it isn't as if Kaman is attempting to deconvert his students, he doesn't even MENTION religion or religious thinking in the brief snippets of his lectures we're given. He isn't offensively berating Christian students in the classroom, he's simply teaching the actual science they need to know.
Later on in the movie Rachel realizes the “error” of her ways by getting right with the Lord. And this is where we start to see, more and more, the message of the movie – submission to authority, preferable male authority. Rachel has been at odds with her Father due to his decision to debate Kaman, she wants to be left alone and wants him to call off the debate because, you know, she's an adult and her Father has no business embarrassing her AND fucking up her education.
Are You Fucking Kidding Me Movie?
She's also spent some of the movie dating some guy while resisting the creepy religiously motivated advances of Evan an evangelic (see what they did there?) student who works for the school paper. Apparently her would-be boyfriend is shallow and was just dating her for her looks. I should point out that they've only gone out maybe twice at this point so I'm not sure how deep the writers expect college romance to be after two dates but I'm pretty sure, “she's cute” is a good enough reason for most guys to go on date number 3.
But Rachel has to submit to her Fathers, her Earthly Father who is fighting for her soul and her heavenly Father who hasn't said a word in two thousand years but who she still believes in because childhood indoctrination. Evan guilt trips her into recommitting her life to Christianity and agreeing with her Dad's decision. Evan is creepy throughout the entire runtime of the film including a bizarre scene where he secretly meets Rachel's Dad for what appears to be a romantic date at the park. In fact the sexual tension between the two men could be cut with a knife.
In the end Evan has to settle for Rachel since homosexuality is against the rules in Christianity although he's been nothing but a creep and an asshole to her the entire time.
And where is God in all of this? Silent of course. What does a merciful and perfect God want with submissive obedient slaves? Never mind that!
Token Black Guy
So Jay, Rachel's Dad, goes to meet with the Professor who Kaman got fired to try to get his assistance in the debate. Professor Portland is played by our very first black actor in the entire film. I'm serious, you can watch it for yourselves, the handful of students that attend the college are all white as far as I can tell (there may have been one Asian). Now I'm no social justice warrior and I don't think a cast HAS to be super diverse for a movie to be good but I do find it amusing that we have to wait 45 minutes before we get our first black character.
Portland is played by Walker Texas Ranger sidekick and all around veteran actor Clarence Gilyard though they give him nothing to do with this role other than knock-down poorly constructed straw men.
So we finally get to our debate and it's filled with strawmen. Kaman basically stands up and declares that evolution is irrefutable absolute truth. He doesn't really bring up the many many lines of evidence or any specific discoveries, he doesn't even bring up Darwin's finches. He does bring up abiogenesis, which is of course a strawman since evolution would be a reality regardless of whether a God sparked the first single-celled organisms or not.
But here, and sprinkled elsewhere, we get hints at what the real difference of perspective is between Christians who agree with and write stuff like this and those who are actually interested in evidence and truth.
In the end they make the claim that evolution and creation are both FAITH BASED positions because they fail to even understand evolution on a high school level.
Warning Strawman Alert!
Man Vs God or Man Vs Bible
As you can see above the problem isn't addressed as whether or not evolution is scientifically accurate or a scientific fact. The problem is addressed as whether or not you're going to take man's word for it or listen to the Bible which is supposedly God's word.
Of course last I checked God's word says to burn witches, stone gays, slavery is okay while ham bacon and pork are forbidden. While man's word, aka science, cured smallpox, nearly doubled the human lifespan, took us to the moon and discovered the origin of species.
Also we have the claim that we can't prove evolution. Of course we can. On the basis of the DNA evidence alone we KNOW, as a scientific fact, that all species on Earth are related genetically, as in via reproduction/common ancestry. That is scientific fact. It may not be "irrefutable truth" but it is a scientific fact.
Really once again we are looking at calls to accept on faith the authority of a book that says stars can fall from the sky and there are windows in Heaven that keep the rain at bay against the work of secular skeptical scientists who demand empirical evidence and objective verification before they go spouting off about anything.
Christianity is About Submission
This brand of Christianity isn't about a personal relationship with Jesus. It isn't about Salvation or grace or mercy. It isn't about attempting to live a better life or a more Christ-like life. It isn't about adopting Jesus' moral philosophy, or selfless giving, or reflecting his pacifistic resistance to the corrupt world around us. Nope, in this movie Christianity is about slavery and submission to authority figures.
Rachel has to submit to her two Fathers. And constantly in their language the characters make it clear that Christianity is about giving yourself blindly over to an authority and refusing to look at evidence that might contradict that authority. If evolution and science begin to contradict this ultimate authority – the Bible – then it must be evolution and science that are cast out. If colleges are not willing to “teach the controversy” then they must be in on the conspiracy against the celestial dictator of the entire Universe.
And if you see someone stumbling or doubting or being convinced by evidence you MUST report them to God through prayer, always report all suspicious activity to the authority in the Sky.
Where's the Beef?
Sorry but to a skeptic the highest "authority" is actual reality and if something can't be shown to match up with reality, ya know, through empirical evidence, then the likelihood of it's existence cannot be determined.
Something has to have some demonstrable effect or manifestation in reality to be considered real. If you can't even show your God exists in the first place why would anyone consider this God an authority? Especially when the book you hold out as the word of this God is so obviously flawed, morally bankrupt and scientifically inaccurate.
The fact of the matter is we have enough evidence to confirm evolution to a decent degree of certainty, this film gives NO REASON, other than baldly asserted "authority", to take the Creationist position seriously.
Sorry but that's not how my brain works movie and if your God is real and I have to give an account one day all I can do is shrug my shoulders and ask "WHERE'S THE BEEF?" Where is the evidence? If it's all a matter of faith than I'm afraid I fail, because I refuse to deceive myself into believing something for which there isn't sufficient evidence or reason to belief. Where is God? Where is the evidence?
Where was your God when poor Rachel here was treated like total shit and never once got to use a wakizashi.
Red Herring Alert!
Evolution Doesn't Require Faith
Science functions on skepticism, that is to say that in order for an idea to take hold in science it must undergo rigorous doubt and testing and be proven empirically. Many ideas that have turned out to be correct were originally doubted by the scientific majority including evolution, the Big Bang, plate tectonics, to name a few.
But if the evidence is there and the theory isn't falsified by other evidence and replaced by a better theory than the odds of it being true increase drastically. Evolution, like gravity, plate tectonics, and the Big Bang, has mounted up mounds and mounds of evidence with no competing theories to oust it and no discoveries that contradict it.
Sure evolution changes – all science does - new information is found that helps us better understand it. But if you live your life by an absolute unquestionable authority like this brand of Christians do you are in danger of hellfire for the mere act of doubting. You don't adapt or adjust your understanding of nature, your understanding is dictacted to you by authority figures. Your parents, your preachers, your Bible, your savior – THEY DEMAND SUBMISSION.
Evolution doesn't want or require you to become enslaved to it and it doesn't take faith. Evolution is a scientific theory about how we get from single-celled life to the vast array of beautiful organisms on planet Earth today. It isn't taught in science class to indoctrinate, it's taught in science because it is scientific. Evolution is not a matter of faith at all, it's a matter of fact.
Boring and Authoritarian
Movies like this are confused about what evolution is because they are written by folks who don't know the first thing about evolution outside of what they read on Answers in Genesis or learned in Middle School.
When I was fifteen and in biology class learning about evolution I raised my hand like the zombie I was and asked about abiogenesis and why we couldn't learn creation is class. My teacher, who I know look back on as very wise, simply replied that questions of theology and religion are not scientific questions. We were asked not to give up our personal beliefs but simply to recognize that God cannot be scientifically tested.
Years later when I broke free of the programming and gave evolution a fair shake I found it an enriching reality. It's not something that rules out the activity of a God, though it does rule out the magic we see when reading Genesis literally. I look back now and wish that I'd been able to break that programming in ninth grade biology instead of letting the information stay in my brain only long enough to pass tests and quizzes. Because if I had let myself actually understand evolution I'd know that I had nothing to fear from it.
The authoritarian brand of Christianity is genuinely frightening to me but I am glad that it is only a small portion of Christians who think this way. At the end of the day though the language to support their view is all their in scripture. God as a King, Jesus yoking those that serve him and the end of the world where those who do not support God's ultimate authority are damned.
In their unswerving loyalty to the authority of the Bible they forget that not everyone does or should think like they do. And they also disregard what science is and the fact that skeptics must question authority, be it scientific, religious, or supernatural.