You’d be forgiven for thinking that A Matter of Faith was the sequel to the 2014 sleeper hit God’s Not Dead, since both have nearly identical plots. Only instead of a freshman philosophy student shaming his atheist professor by proving God’s existence, here it’s a freshman biology student shaming her atheist professor by proving evolution is “just a theory”. Or rather, it’s her dad who steps in to defend her honor.
Yes, Rachel (Jordan Trovillion, The Genesis Code) has been seduced by the humor and logic of her biology teacher, Professor Kaman (Harry Anderson, who I’d be more ashamed of for starring in this if he weren’t in good company). In particular, she’s bewitched by Kaman’s theory of evolution, which he demonstrates by holding an egg in one hand and a rubber chicken in the other. “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” He assures his class that the egg came first because complex life forms come from simpler lifeforms. This… isn’t a description of evolution at all. The growth of one individual over its life cycle is not an example of evolution. Later in the movie, Kaman makes another statement about this fantastic natural process by pointing out that a track and field star in his class can run a 1500 meter race faster than any of the participants in the 1904 Olympic games. Comparing Olympic athletes against one another says absolutely nothing about human evolution – it does not mean that we, as a species, are becoming faster, or that our alleged increase in speed was some sort of adaptation in response to our environment. But I suppose asking the writer-directors Dave and Rich Christiano to have even a basic grasp of the scientific concept they so strongly oppose is foolish. To quote myself: “Why let a little thing like ‘facts’ get in the way of religion? No reason to start now.”
In any case, Rachel’s father, Stephen, decides that he’s going to have a little chat with this so-called science teacher and confronts him on his evolutionist ways. Kaman, to the Christianos’ credit, tells Stephen that if he is a religious believer then he should continue believing–but that he feels no remorse for teaching accepted science in a science classroom. Stephen remains upset because it “goes against what we’ve been teaching Rachel all her life.” We’re trying to keep her ignorant, Kaman! I knew I never should have let her have an education! Kaman suddenly has an idea: since you’re so passionate about this subject, how about we make it the topic of the school’s monthly debate? It should be noted that Kaman is in no way challenging or taunting Stephen with this suggestion (maybe that was the intent, but Anderson didn’t play it that way) – it just seems like something he thinks will be an entertaining topic.
It’s also worth noting that the movie straight-up uses the term creationism. This is significant because, in the legal field at least, that nomenclature has been discarded in favor of the more pseudo-scientific sounding “Intelligent Design”; the idea being that, despite pushing the exact same ideas, it isn’t the impermissible creeping of religion into public schools if it’s a hypothesis about some intelligent creator (who just happens to be God) instead of saying “God” out loud. But A Matter of Faith says “God” out loud, and it doesn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable about it. When Stephen learns that Kaman caused another biology teacher to be fired 12 years ago for teaching creationism in his classroom, he tells the bitter man, “Maybe you were fired because you were making an impact for the Lord.” They’re not even pretending this has anything to do with knowledge or science.
In one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the movie, Stephen tells his wife that he’s gone to the library and checked out a high school biology textbook which says, “There is nothing supernatural about the origin of human life.” Maybe high school textbooks should say that in the hopes that ignoramuses like Dave and Rich Christiano will fade away, but I promise you they do not. Nevertheless, the movie has Stephen reinforce the lie by adding: “I don’t know [how they can say that], but they do.” No, they do not.
While her father has become the main character of the movie, Rachel is relegated to playing love interest to a handful of different guys, almost all of whom make explicit their devious plans to take advantage of Rachel and leave her. Which is totally something that teenage boys do, because this is a very realistic movie. One of those boys, however, is a good Christian named Evan; despite Rachel’s failure to see that she should be in love with him, he is kind to her and defends her father against the invectives of Rachel and her classmates. Evan scoffs when Rachel tells him Kaman makes good points. “He only appears to make good points,” Evan states. “Let me guess: he gave you some line about the fossil record and scientific research?” Oh damn! Evan just described scientific research as “some line”, effectively skewering the theory of evolution with his brilliant arguments! One of Rachel’s classmates interjects that he believes Kaman is right, that we “came from apes”. But Evan’s ready for this one, too. “Do your family members look like apes?” he asks, leaving the student stunned and winning the argument. Um… yes? Yes, they do. So… this is awkward.
Credit where credit is due: the Christianos managed to hold themselves back from arguing “If we came from monkeys, why do monkeys still exist, huh?” Maybe they’re saving it for the sequel.
Before you know it, it’s the night of the debate. Rachel has since re-accepted Jesus into her heart after hearing that one of the many guys she’s been fooling around with was only pretending to like her because he thought she was pretty. At the debate, Stephen goes first. Although he’s later cowed by Kaman’s oratory flair and saved by the arrival of Professor Portland – the teacher terminated 12 years ago, returning to take revenge – I think that Stephen’s arguments are still supposed to be taken seriously. During the debate, the movie indiscriminately dumps every tired anti-evolution “argument” it can out into the air, hoping something will stick. Stephen essentially makes four arguments:
(1) Evolution is not scientific because it cannot be tested or observed. It goes without saying that this argument necessarily requires discarding the God hypothesis, which is truly untestable or unobservable; Stephen obviously doesn’t recognize that. Further, evolution can be observed in the fossil record (that old line!) and in the morphology of living creatures – humans have tailbones, for chrissakes!
(2) If God didn’t create the universe, what did? Aliens from the 8th dimension! Or tentacle-monsters from Mars. Or magic mice from Minnesota? The correct answer is: I don’t know. Not knowing the answer doesn’t give you free reign to make up any nonsense that pleases you.
(3) Nothing x Something ≠ Everything. This sentence is gibberish; it has no meaning. Nonetheless, let me take a stab at it… Nothing + Something x Something to the Something power = Everything. BOOM.
(4) Evolution is a religion. I’m always pleased to hear religious people use “religion” as a slur like this, as it suggests to me that they understand that religion is a bad thing. In any case, if this can even be considered an argument, it obviously applies with equal or greater force to creationism, which is literally religion.
Here is where Portland takes over, delivering a long monologue to the assembled audience about how he needs to stand up to Kaman because in the evolutionary perspective, there are no rules! His arguments follow:
(1) Experiments show that organic life forms can come from inorganic matter. This isn’t so much about “evolution” as it is about “the origin of life on Earth”, which is a completely different topic. Also, it seems like he’s arguing on Kaman’s behalf. Oh wait, he’s continuing: “Intelligence is needed to do the experiments.” Yep, that’s his argument. Yes, organic life can come from inorganic matter, but something had to make it happen. Yes, gravity exerts the same force on a feather and a bowling ball, but somebody had to drop the bowling ball! This argument is wildly absurd.
(2) The fossil record is not continuous / we don’t see one animal change into a different kind of animal. Not every deceased creature is fossilized – what he means by “not continuous” is that there are “gaps” in the fossil record, places where the lineage is assumed rather than certain. The common comparison is to a jigsaw puzzle – one can understand the overall image and infer as to what the missing pieces look like, even when not all the pieces are available. As to the second portion, the meaning is unclear. The fossil record does show chains of development between species (e.g. growth or loss of legs). In more contemporary terms, all dog breeds came into existence within the time that humans began domesticating wolves. If you’re looking for a croco-duck, you’re out of luck: only creationists expect evolution to produce such a creature, and that is only because of their refusal to understand how evolution works. (Though I suspect it’s not a lack of understanding, so much as willful sophistry.)
(3) Cells are very intricate. Therefore, they lead to the conclusion that there is an immensely more intricate creator? I understand that the implication of this one-sentence argument is that because cells are complex, they could not have been created via natural processes – but the one-liner doesn’t attempt to show that they could not. It’s essentially a rehash of the old “Watchmaker” argument, which itself is based on unjustified assumptions. The argument goes that a watch is complex and so must have had a designer, therefore the world (cells, in this case) must have had a designer as well. This fails at its core: I could just as easily say “I know that things which are hot are made of fire; therefore, my coffee is made of fire.” Just because one thing is something doesn’t make all things that thing. Just because a flock of flamingos are arranged in the shape of a flamingo does not mean that there was an intelligence designing them into that shape – it just means there’s an intelligence (humans) interpreting it as design.
(4) Earth is not millions of years old. I… I don’t… how can you even…? Does anybody but the most mindless Biblical literalist actually believe this line? The entire basis of this argument is that there are some instances where radiometric dating – that is, the method whereby scientists are able to determine the approximate age of a fossil based on the rate of decay of chemicals within – has produced inaccurate results. This is akin to grounding all aircraft due to a handful of isolated crashes, although the overwhelming majority of flights are error-free. Creationists are content to ignore more than a century of independent radiometric dating tests which provide consistent results. They are incredibly intellectually dishonest.
(5) Nobody can scientifically prove or disprove evolution or God. …therefore, God? Also, this is so wrong. First, evolution has been scientifically proven again and again and again, as previously stated. Second, all you have to do to disprove God is recognize that the sun gives you cancer. That is clearly not intelligent design. Of course, this is the time when creationists begin changing the definition of “God”, to weasel their way into preserving the lie they’ve dedicated their lives to.
Yet Kaman just stands there in silence, allowing Portland to monologue all this insanity. Once Portland finishes (with “We can only present theories here tonight”, as if creationism had any claim to being called a theory instead of a hypothesis), he walks away with great satisfaction at having made his nemesis look like a fool in front of dozens. Kaman is offered an opportunity to rebut Portland’s delusional rambling, but declines. He doesn’t even do that, he just stands in stunned silence.
In the moving final moments, we see Kaman looking thoughtfully at that rubber chicken, no doubt considering for the first time the love of Jesus Christ he’d long been denying. Yes, Jesus is here symbolically represented by a rubber chicken. And with that image making me cackle in the theater, suddenly it was all worth it. A Matter of Faith is an unceasingly stupid movie, but at least it ends with a biology teacher, having been thoroughly trounced in a debate with a Young-Earth Creationist, contemplating the divinity of Jesus while staring at a rubber chicken. You really can’t ask for much more than that out of a Christiano brothers movie.