Movie Summary: A Matter of Faith

I recently watched the 2014 Christian movie, A Matter of Faith.  See here to watch the trailer.  Familiar faces in the movie include Harry Anderson, who played in the 1980’s sitcom Night Court, and Clarence Gilyard, who played in Matlock; Walker, Texas Ranger; and the first two Left Behind movies.

The movie is about a young woman, Rachel Whitaker, who goes off to a secular university to study biology.  There, she takes a class that is taught by Professor Kaman (played by Anderson), an evolutionist and an atheist.

Unlike the atheist professor in God’s Not Dead, Professor Kaman is much more irenic and hopeful in his worldview.  His approach is to attract flies with honey, not vinegar.  He gives students a “C” just for showing up to all of his class sessions.  He uses humor and visual aids (i.e., the rubber chicken and the egg).  He is optimistic about the direction in which evolution could go, as he notes that people run faster today than they did in the past.  He is not against people looking to faith for comfort, but he is happy when his students “think for themselves” and question conventional wisdom.  He did, however, perform one act of intolerance when he first joined the faculty: he got a creationist biology professor, Professor Portland (played by Gilyard), fired for teaching creationism.

Rachel is open to Professor Kaman’s concepts, and that concerns her father, Stephen.  Stephen, notices that she has not looked for a church yet, and he learns that she has not been reading her Bible.  (He left money in it, then the money fell out of the Bible when he later opened it, showing that she hadn’t been reading it.)  Stephen visits the university to meet with Professor Kagan, and Professor Kagan challenges him to a public debate over evolution vs. creationism.  The university regularly holds public debates, and Professor Kagan’s department is up, so Professor Kagan has to find a topic.  Stephen is reluctant to be in a debate, since he has no experience doing that.  What’s more, his daughter, Rachel, does not want him debating in front of the school, since that could embarrass her.

A fellow student, Jason, a Christian, works for the school newspaper.  Jason gives Stephen books to prepare him for the debate and suggests that he contact Professor Portland, who refuses to help Stephen because he is bitter about being fired.  Jason also reaches out to Rachel, telling her that Professor Kaman is wrong, and encouraging her not just to “add” Jesus to her life, but to submit to Jesus.  This is a spoiler, but we learn later that Jason and Rachel crossed paths years before, when they were kids.  They were at the lake, a coin was on the ground, and Jason took the coin from Rachel.  Jason’s dad used that as an opportunity to teach Jason that he was a sinner who needed a savior, and Rachel’s dad used that as an opportunity to teach his daughter that we need a savior because we deprive God of the glory and obedience that God deserves.

The night of the debate arrives!  Professor Kaman has his students attend.  People from Stephen’s church arrive.  Stephen, in his opening address, essentially says that what exists needed a cause, and that the complexity and beauty of the universe could not have just happened.  Professor Kaman in his speech then says that there is laboratory evidence for evolution, and that the fossil record demonstrates evolution and the old age of the earth.  Stephen then asks Professor Kaman about God, and, echoing Freud, Professor Kaman argues that people made up God out of their insecurity about life and death and their desire for ultimate justice.  Professor Kaman then asks Stephen what proof Stephen has that the Bible is true, and Stephen replies that he does not have proof—-he just has a sense that the Bible is true.

Then Professor Portland enters the debate!  He was sitting in the audience, which was unknown to Stephen.  Stephen lets Professor Portland take his place in the debate, and Professor Portland gives a speech.  Professor Portland says that he doubts that people invented God, for many would prefer not to believe in a God who would tell them how to live their lives.  Portland says that the laboratory results showing that organic matter can come from what is inorganic is not an argument against design, but rather for it, since someone intelligent, the scientist, was conducting the experiment.  Portland states that there is an absence of transitional forms in the fossil record.  Portland then acknowledges that Kaman could come back with counter-arguments, and that Portland could then counter Kaman’s arguments.  According to Portland, evolution vs. creation is a matter of faith.

Portland also critiques how he himself handled the issue as a biology professor years earlier: he was proud, he said, and he tried to teach students to believe in creation, when he should have presented students with both sides and encouraged them to acknowledge and follow the ramifications of their positions.  Portland prefers the creation model, however, both because it makes sense to him, and also because it has better ramifications (i.e., hope).  Portland then apologizes to Professor Kaman for harboring bitterness against him all those years.

Professor Kaman is crestfallen after the debate, whereas he is usually energetic and talkative.  One can tell that he is questioning whether he was right to be promoting atheism all those years.

Also, there is the sub-plot about a student trying to seduce Rachel.

I’ll stop here, for now.  Sometime next week, I may share my reactions to the movie.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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