The Common Good

A Matter of Misinformation

In just the latest evidence that a certain subset of conservative evangelical Christians really has no interest in occupying the real world with the rest of us, the trailer for a new movie called A Matter of Faith has hit the Internet.

Via 'A Matter of Faith' website, amatteroffaithmovie.com
Via 'A Matter of Faith' website, amatteroffaithmovie.com

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The film follows the travails of a Christian father, who — horrified by the fact that his daughter’s college teaches the theory of evolution as a fact (gasp!) — challenges the villainous biology professor to a public debate that will no doubt settle the matter once and for all.

If this premise sounds strangely familiar, it could be that you’re remembering God’s Not Dead, a film released in March, in which a Christian student who — horrified by the fact that his philosophy professor is a committed atheist — challenges the dastardly nonbeliever to a debate on the existence of God that, no doubt, settled the matter once and for all.

(I’m told that the new movie was called Christians vs. the Straw Man II: This Time It’s Personal throughout production, before filmmakers decided to rename it A Matter of Faith.)

The similarities between the two pictures don’t stop there. For example, both feature iconic former TV stars for their antagonists (ex-Hercules Kevin Sorbo in God’s Not Dead and Night Court’s Harry Anderson in this one). Both seem earnest in their desire to put forth a positive, pro-Christian message in an industry apparently hell-bent on becoming more trite, commercialized and vacuously soulless every year.

And both, ironically and unfortunately, are doomed to failure because of their stubborn refusal to apply even a passing measure of fairness or generosity to the characters and viewpoints they disagree with.

I haven’t seen A Matter of Faith yet, obviously (it releases in September). But I’ve watched the trailer and read the summaries and released by those involved. I know that the Answers in Genesis staff member responsible for the “Evolution Exposed” book series (which I have read, unfortunately) served as a “content consultant” for the film, and I know that AiG president Ken Ham is hailing it as “a great new movie” that he is “fully behind.” So I think I’m about as well-informed as a person could be.

Not having seen it, it would be unfair to lambaste the film with snide remarks (like, “A sure way to win a debate for Jesus is to let Christians script both sides of it, huh?”). Instead, I’ll let its synopsis speak for itself:

Rachel Whitaker, a Christian girl, heads off to college for her much-anticipated freshman year. New friends create situations that require important, quick decisions — some about her social life, some about her core beliefs! Rachel begins to embrace the ideas of the university’s immensely popular biology professor, who boldly teaches that Darwinian evolution is the only logical explanation for the origin of life, and the Bible therefore cannot be true.

It would take more than the length of this column to explain everything that is at odds with reality in those three sentences, so I’ll just hit the highlights. First of all, there is no such thing as “Darwinian” evolution, just as we do not credit falling objects’ return to earth to “Newtonian” gravity.

Gravity had existed, and wrought its inexorable marks upon the universe, long before Sir Isaac Newton devised his theory of gravitation, so it makes little sense to apply the scientist’s name to the force as if it needs to be qualified somehow. The same is true of evolution. Life did not begin evolving when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. He did not “invent” the idea of evolution; he merely took notice of the phenomenon and sought to understand and explain it.

And for that matter, what he was seeking to explain was the process by which life changes, and has changed over time. That’s what evolution is. It is not an explanation — logical or otherwise — for “the origin of life,” because it could, in fact, do nothing until after life originated. The absence of life is also, necessarily, the absence of evolution, and if we never fully understand how life first appeared — or if we prove beyond doubt that it was started by God, or aliens, or a mystical blue fairy with sparkly wings — none of that would change our understanding of evolution one iota.

But what it most concerning to me about this movie is that everything about it, from its trailer to its synopsis to its gushy praise from the likes of Ken Ham, screams the old saw that “evolution” means “atheism,” and Christianity just ain’t Christianity without good ol’-fashioned young-earth creationism.

Movies like this do not spread the gospel. They don’t reach non-Christians because they caricaturize non-Christians as willfully ignorant scoundrels. As surprising as it may be, a pro-faith pitch to atheists that begins with, “I know everything there is to know about you, I don’t like you, and I consider you an enemy of me and my God,” doesn’t tend to push people to know more about Jesus.

Nor do these kinds of saccharine, subtle-as-a-stack-of-Bibles-falling-on-your-head messages nourish the church. They propagate the absurdly unbiblical idea that a six-day creation 6,000 years ago is a central, non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith. They encourage further insulation by believers — because we already know all we need to and outsiders can’t be trusted. And they further entrench the battle lines in a toxic, suffocating debate that has produced nothing good in the past 50 years.

In the end, they do nothing but engender more culture war. Just what we all need.

Tyler Francke is a print journalist and freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. He is the founder and lead contributor of God of Evolution — a blog promoting the harmony of biblical Christianity and mainstream science — and author of Reoriented , a novel due out in May 2014 by TouchPoint Press.

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