A Matter of Faith (2014)
“What came first; the chicken or the egg?” Traditionally this has been presented as an unanswerable question; a philosophical conundrum. It’s been used to describe situations when it isn’t clear which is the cause and which is the effect, but there’s been a trend in the last few years to try to provide a definitive answer to this question.
The 2014 film A Matter of Faith also wants to provide a definitive answer to that question, with this answer: Chicken. What has in the past been a question of philosophy has become a question of science. Evolutionary biologists argue that the answer to this question is the egg. The makers of this film and evolutionary biologists don’t agree on much.
The film tells the story of a father, Stephen Whitaker (Jay Pickett), sending his daughter, Rachel (Jordan Trovillion), off to a state college to major in biology. Whitaker wanted her to go to a Christian school “but we hope she finds a good church.” He’s quite concerned about staying true to her Christian faith. Before she leaves, he even sets up a test: he puts a $20 bill in her Bible so he can check to see whether she reads it -- because far be it from him to just ask his daughter whether she’s been reading her Bible and trust her to answer with integrity.
The real shock for Whitaker comes when he finds out that his daughter, majoring in biology, takes an Intro to Biology class which teaches evolution. Whitaker goes online to research Rachel’s teacher, Professor Kamen (Harry Anderson of Night Court). He is shocked to discover Kamen wrote articles about evolution “which don’t even present Biblical creationism as an alternative.”
Whitaker goes to his pastor to find out if it can actually be true that evolution is taught in public schools. The pastor (who doesn’t seem to have a name, but is played by Fred Stella) breaks the bad news to Whitaker that evolution is indeed taught in public schools. (Especially taught in biology classes. Did I mention Rachel is majoring in biology?) “The attack on the book of Genesis is a real battleground. There are even Christian schools that are buying into evolution.”
Whitaker responds, “She’s not the one I want to talk to.” So Rachel’s parents make a surprise visit to their daughter at college, and without consulting his daughter, Whitaker goes to talk to Professor Kamen. He says to the Prof, “I have a problem with what you are teaching in your class.”
Kamen asks Whitaker, “Are you a religious man? Does your faith help you sleep at night?” Kamen says that’s a good thing. He then says he just teaches evolution because that is what is in the text books. (Which is true, of course. If the father had done even a tiny bit of research, or been awake in the 20th century, he would have been aware of this.)
But Whitaker continues to complain and says the teaching of evolution “goes against what Christianity stands for.” (It should be noted that while there are Christians who believe evolution is contrary to Scripture and Christian teaching, there are many Christians who don’t agree. Among those who believe God may have used some form of evolution in the act of creation include: many Christian scientists, the Roman Catholic Church, and the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis.)
Kamen then asks Whitaker if he would like to have a public debate about Creationism vs. Evolution, and Whitaker agrees. He agrees to this without consulting his daughter. His daughter who is still in Kamen’s class. In fact, Professor Kamen seems to take Rachel’s feelings into consideration more than her father does, explaining to his class that though her dad is debating, Rachel can think for herself.
Rachel is embarrassed by her father taking on the debate. “Dad you can’t!” But he can.
Her father says, “That man has no respect for God or what we believe in!” Just to be clear, Professor Kamen never said anything hostile to the Christian faith.
Rachel says, “I can’t believe this is happening!”
Kamen is one of the most popular teachers on campus. He makes an effort to make his lectures funny and entertaining. He also promises that students who attend and pay attention will get a minimum of a “C.” (The filmmakers present this as a devious plot to get students to listen to teaching about evolution. Just seems like good teaching to me.)
There is very strange scene where Kamen asks a track student in his class about his race times. Kamen points out that the student’s time would have won him a gold medal in the 1896 Olympic Games, but track times have gotten faster, which is a proof for evolution in the human “race.” This really upsets Rachel.
This is a simply awful argument for a number of reasons. The improvement of race times can be explained better by improvements in technique rather than evolution. On the other side, evolution or change within a species is not a problem with even seven day creationists. Everyone acknowledges there is change within a species -- looking at the history of dog breeding, for example, makes this plain. Most Creationists have no problem with “microevolution” (change within a species) but have problems with “macroevolution” (change from one species to another).
Whitaker goes to his pastor for support.The pastor thinks it is great that Whitaker is taking a stand for Christianity. This baffles me. Why would you want someone to take your side of an argument if they’re completely ignorant of the issues just days before debating someone who is a professional in the field? The pastor promises to drive the three hours to the college, bringing along congregants to cheer Whitaker on.
When the big debate comes, the rules are baffling. Each man is given the chance to make a statement, and then they can respond to each other and ask questions. But they don’t stick to issues of biology. Whitaker keeps bringing in the Big Bang, which is an issue of physics and astronomy. And Kamen brings in Freud, whose theories have been discredited by most of academia, rather than evolutionary biologists who have dealt with theories of the origin of belief in God.
Whitaker argues that Biblical creationism should be presented on a equal plane with evolution. But should the Creation stories of other religions be presented with equal respect? If Whitaker knew the issues, he would have argued for the presentation of “intelligent design” rather than “Biblical Creationism.” Creationists generally prefer the former phrase, because it can be couched in scientific rather than theological terms. Sadly, there seems to be little intelligent design in the making of the film.
The film ends with a title card saying, “The chicken came first.” The mystery of the old chicken and egg question must be resolved -- no more gray, just black and white.
As for our steeple rating for Whitaker’s church and pastor...the Pastor obviously believes Creationism is one of the basics of the faith, but doesn’t provide even rudimentary teaching about the alternative views, I can’t rate him too highly. But he seems like a nice guy, so I’m giving Two Steeples.