You’ve certainly heard of the documentary movie “The Unbelievers,” which follows Larry Krauss and Richard Dawkins around as they travel from place to place, giving talks and having public conversations. It will be in theaters in two days. You can find the movie’s website here, which has a bunch of information and photos like this one:
(Memo to Krauss: lose the red sneakers!)
And here’s the official trailer for the movie. They even had Woody Allen there, right behind that sign:
Finally, Monday’s New York Times has a description/review by science writer Dennis Overbye, which is surprisingly positive given the soft-on-faith slant of NYT science writers (except for Natalie Angier, an out atheist, and Carl Zimmer, who keeps quiet about what he believes). Overbye’s piece, “Intellectuals on a mission,” includes some laudatory remarks like these:
[Dawkins and Krauss] make an engaging, if contrasting, couple. Dr. Dawkins, perhaps the world’s best-known atheist after the success of his books “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion,” cuts a dapper figure, often in a suit and flowery tie, a shock of silver hair falling across his forehead. “Science is wonderful; science is beautiful,” he says in that irresistible English accent. “Religion is not wonderful; it is not beautiful. It gets in the way.”
Dr. Krauss, the author of “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” is more rumpled, peppery and casual; his wardrobe often features red sneakers. He comes across as a tireless fount of ideas and quips, with a puppy-dog enthusiasm for science and the spotlight, dancing on the stage in one affecting moment and eager to provoke. At one point, Dr. Krauss asks his companion which he would prefer: “a chance to explain science or destroy religion?”
He is blessed with a professional’s sense of comedic timing.
. . . You don’t need to know much about biology or physics to follow what amounts to highlight reels of the speeches the scientists gave, although an explanation by Dr. Dawkins about why there was no “first man” or “first rabbit” could be worth the price of your ticket.
Evolutionary change is simply too slow and imperceptible for humans to notice, he says, adding, “Nobody ever goes to bed middle-aged and wakes up and says, oh no I’m old.”
(In fact, I have a deep fear that this will happen to me!)
Overbye notes, though, that the movie doesn’t present arguments from The Other Side (the side that claims that New Atheist are strident!), and that there was criticism of Krauss’s book for not telling us where the laws of physics came from (well, we don’t know, though Krauss’s book did ignore the question of where a quantum vacuum comes from). Overby also allows that that Krauss and Dawkins are “preaching to the choir” on their tour. Those are all fair statements. But one is not: Overbye throws in a totally gratuitious remark by an unfortunately-named Vatican astronomer:
George V. Coyne — an astronomer, Jesuit priest and former director of the Vatican Observatory, now a professor of religion at Le Moyne College in Syracuse — wrote in a 2000 book on religion and the evolution of life, for example, that the success of modern science has trapped many of us into thinking of God as explanation, thus the notion of finding the “mind of God” as the ultimate goal.
But he wrote, “We know from Scripture and from tradition that God revealed himself as one who pours out himself in love and not as one who explains things.” God, he goes on, is primarily love: “Even if we discover the ‘Mind of God,’ we will not have necessarily found God.”
This has virtually nothing to do with Overbye’s piece. The “mind of God” trope came from Hawking, not Krauss, and Krauss doesn’t mention it in the article. Further, Father (gulp) Coyne’s blatherings are the usual metaphorizing of Sophisticated Theologian™. He’s simply wrong that God doesn’t explain stuff, for the Big Man does it all the time in His revealed word. He explains how to behave, he explains why he kills people, he explains where life came from (wrongly, of course), and he explains through his son (who is also Him) why Jesus had to come to earth and get crucified. What Father (gulp) Coyne is trying to do here is immunize God against the need for evidence. And what is this pablum about “we know from Scripture and from tradition“? Tradition doesn’t tell us anything: it’s just authority without evidence. Since when did “tradition” become “evidence”? In fact it’s not, for different people’s traditions tell them different things about God (a Baptist, for instance, will surely argue that God explains things). This inter-faith dissent about what God is and does is a sure sign that scripture and “tradition” tell us nothing.
The Los Angeles Times gives the movie a generally positive review, but echoes the New York Times in saying this:
Mostly, the movie is an enjoyably high-minded love fest between two deeply committed intellectuals and the scads of atheists, secularists, free-thinkers, skeptics and activists who make up their rock star-like fan base.
Overbye at the NYT also uses the simile of “rock stars”. I can’t help but think that that demeans the serious intellectual and social purpose of Krauss’s and Dawkins’s travels. Perhaps someone should have said something about the crowds turning out for love of science, and, especially, for love of public atheism. It takes Dawkins to note that the impressive success of Krauss’s and Dawkins’s tour reflects the thirst of closeted atheists for public affirmation of their disbelief.