“The Unbelievers” out in two days

December 11, 2013 • 9:12 am

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:

Picture 4

(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.

87 thoughts on ““The Unbelievers” out in two days

      1. Me, too! I have the same pair in pine green.

        I like a bit of whimsical styling from people who do serious thinking for a living.

        A line must be drawn, of course. One should not allow one’s sartorial adventures to include the wearing of underpants on one’s head.

    1. I rather like the obstreperous streak in Krauss. I find his informal style appealing and his argumentation reminiscent of Feynman. Let Lawrence be Lawrence. If he starts wearing a headscarf I will probably start advising him on his wardrobe.

  1. i have 2 interesting points:

    what if we will find a self replicat watch with dna?iiiiis this kind of watch is evidence for evolution or design?

    2)can a car evolve in a close room?if we will close a room for bilions years a bacteria in the room can evolve in the room into a human that will make a car= a car evolve in a close room? think about that

        1. No I don’t think you are.

          If the watch tells the time for the benefit of a distinct lineage of replicators (e.g. commuters, or boxing referees), it would be like a horse that developed a saddle and stirrups for the benefit of riders. Such things are not known to evolve by natural selection (because genes are selfish), but could possibly be produced by an intelligent designer through artificial selection or more sophisticated genetic technologies. The designer, of course, would have to have evolved first.

          1. so what about self replicat robot(ape from material prespective?). evolution can e xplain that this robot or even watch evolve because so or so. i dont think that this watch will be a problem for evolution to explain. like now the evolution try to explain anything we see in the nature. but the question is if this explain is ture or not.

            1. On the slim chance you’re not a troll, evolution only applies to populations of organisms which reproduce with an inheritance mechanism that mostly but not always copies the genetic information intact from parent to offspring.

              Evolution does not address how such populations arise in the first place; a separate field of study (abiogenesis) addresses those questions.

              Your examples, if they existed, if I’m making sense of your Engrish, would evolve over time with subsequent generations. Each generation would be slightly different from the preceding one, and, over time, those changes would tend to favor individuals more likely to thrive in their particular environment. Assuming, of course, they didn’t go extinct. Give them enough time — hundreds of generations, generally, at a minimum — they might (or might not) diverge into two similar species, each similar to each other and the original, but sufficiently different that they no longer interbred (for whatever reason). Likely, early on, they do still interbreed, but just not as often, and they do so less and less (and less successfully) with each successive generation. Given enough time, that branching will continue indefinitely, and the far-distant cousins will accumulate enough differences that they only superficially resemble each other.

              You’ll note that, nowhere in any of that, did I address where the original population come from; again, that’s the question of abiogenesis.

              We don’t have a solid picture of how life arose on Earth, but we’ve got a pretty decent fuzzy picture. It’s not enough to know exactly what happened, but it’s far more than enough to rule out all sorts of possibilities — just how you can tell that an out-of-focus picture is of a person (and not an unicorn), but it’s not clear enough for you to tell if it’s a man or a woman, let alone if it’s anybody you actually know.



              1. hi. we can test the claim that small steps over time= big steps. we can check if there is any steps from one system to another in small steps. so: is there a step wise from a self replicat material to a car? what is the worth in half a car? i think its the same with biological systems.

              2. There are some great mysteries in the universe that remain unsolved.

                One of the more difficult is whether trolls who use shift keys are actually a different species from those who lack the ability. If you crossed a Shift-capable troll (Trollus shiftie) with a Shiftless troll (Trollus shiftlessicus), would the offspring be viable?

                Nobody knows.

              3. “If you crossed a Shift-capable troll (Trollus shiftie) with a Shiftless troll (Trollus shiftlessicus), would the offspring be viable?”

                Impossible to do, because they self replicat.

        2. gil just keeps on cracking himself up here with the spelling/grammar schtick, and generally having an all-around big time playing the atheist’s today.

    1. gil has been copy/paste trolling this nonsense all over the bl*gosphere since August. It’s ignorant trolling & nothing more.

      1. ‘self replicat watch with dna?iiiiis this kind of watch is evidence for evolution or design?’

        A replicat watch, gil, is evidence of Ceiling Cat.

    2. Hi gil,

      You might have mental problems. First, work on your English skills, starting with spelling. Second, identify, clearly what sort of experiments you are proposing and then state them clearly so others can understand. You might have something worth discussing, but, at present, it is indiscernible from basura (Sp.).

      1. we can check if there is any steps from one system to another in small steps. so: is there a step wise from a self replicat material to a car? what is the worth in half a car?

        1. I’m having a bit of trouble making sense of your English.

          However, a close parallel of your last question is, “What is the worth of half an eye?” — a very famous and interesting question.

          If you’ve got a bit of time, Richard Dawkins answers that very question with a wonderful demonstration in the Christmas Lecture he gave a quarter century ago:

          Richard is an eloquent and engaging presenter; you’ll be hard pressed to find a better answer to that very question.



              1. Ayup.

                Gil, you wanted to know how something complex (half a car) could evolve into something even more complex (a whole car). I gave you an even better example: how a complex-but-primitive eyespot could evolve into something as sophisticated as the modern human eye.

                Now you’re just moving the goalposts. You’ve at least tacitly acknowledged that the barely-functional eyespot was the precursor to modern human eyes, and now you’re objecting that those eyespots themselves couldn’t possibly have evolved from something more primitive. Guess what? The same way: from nerve bundles that, yes, are still complex, but not as complex as eye spots.

                Next, of course, you’ll put those goalposts on rocket sleds and want to trace the evolution of nerves all the way back not just to abiogenesis but to cosmogenesis.

                Sorry, but we’ve all played that game before. It is a logical necessity that our knowledge must reach its limits, and it is a certain bet that your psychological pathology will cause you to insert your favored gods into the resulting gap. And when we figure out what fits in said gap, just as we’ve figured out what fits in every other gap we’ve filled, you’ll just move the goalposts again and again and again.

                You and your ilk have cried “WOLF!” so incessantly that the word has lost all meaning coming from your lips. Worse, that’s all that you ever have to say, rendering your every word equally meaningless.

                Come back when you’ve grown up to the point that you no longer talk to your imaginary friends or are frightened by the monsters under your bed. Then we might be able to have a meaningful conversation.



      1. Places to see movies (films?) in the US are often called “movie theatres”. As I recall, this terminology is not shared by other English speaking countries other than Canada.

  2. Both scripture and tradition explain to Fr Coyne what physically happens during the consecration of the eucharist. In fact, god explains exactly what happens during transubstantiation, in ways that are testable by scientists like Fr Coyne.

  3. Well, no Tomatometer rating yet, but it has a Rotten Tomatoes User Rating average of 100% based on 447 ratings.

    I am very interested to see the movie, and even more so the public’s, press’s(?) and critics'(?) reaction to the movie.

  4. “a totally gratuitious remark by an unfortunately-named Vatican astronomer”

    Would that be the flip side of the Coyne?


  5. As the aforementioned Woody Allen (or rather, his character) says in “Deconstructing Harry”, “Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”

  6. Nobody ever goes to bed middle-aged and wakes up and says, oh no I’m old.

    Curiously enough, that sorta happened to me just this past Tuesday.

    I was sitting in on the monthly meeting of the Tempe Transportation Commission when the chair noted that only one of us was under 40 and that we should probably suggest to the City Council and Mayor that they should think about appointing some younger members — especially since the Millennials are leaving the car in droves. And then I realized that, not only was I in the over-40 crowd, I might not even be the youngest of the over-40 crowd.

    How the fuck did that happen?

    I sure don’t feel middle-aged. Hell, it feels like it was only a few years ago that I escaped college. Okay, maybe several years — but it can’t really be close to two decades, now, can it? That’s simply not possible.


    1. How’d it happen? Why ask why?

      You are at the point where you notice the treadmill seems to be accelerating. This perception is just that, an illusion — only a trick of consciousness. Unfortunately, as far as the brain is concerned, this illusion might as well be the real deal. The governor on your sense of time passing is now permanently uninstalled.

      For many, an occasion like this one marks the point at which perception of one’s personal mortality begins a perpetual cycle of periodic and unexpected reassessments. Each occasional future instance of redefinition follows ever more closely upon its predecessor, each succeeding prognosis is inevitably ever more grim.

      Haveanice daay.

    2. Coffee filters, that is the number I have used. Those are the only thing that give me a sense that life is moving past me. I too am in the young 40 crowd though I do not feel old. How did that happen?

      Many Americans walk, behave, feel older than they are. They supplant hope with dread or they have churned life into low gear and think that’s where life goes…down.

      You definitely are not in that category.

      1. What’s a bit disturbing to me is that I’ve noticed a few friends the same age who’re starting to look…well, not old, exactly, but not exactly young, either.

        I sure don’t feel middle-aged. And I don’t feel dread, except vaguely and impersonally about the usual sorts of things completely out of my control related to politics and environmental catastrophe and the like.



        1. My dad is always saying how people look old and that he feels old. I always say, “that’s because you *are* old!”

          1. My Mom just turned 79 a week ago. And, yeah, she ain’t no spring chicken anymore…but all the other people her age I know are old, and she’s still much more of a “retiree” than an old person.


        2. Well, I was officially 30 for a long time. Which is to say, I decided that I *felt* like 30 inside (even if I couldn’t quite run around like a 30-year-old). In fact, I was 30 for as long as it took me to get to 30 in the first place. I eventually gave that up when it became too hard to maintain the fiction. Now if anybody asks, I am – like the Pythons – just f$#^$#in old.

          What is disconcerting is the number of people the same age as me going off and dying or coming down with various diseases of old age – how inconsiderate of them.

    3. Yeah, I have a terrible habit of thinking that everyone is my age and I’m always disappointed when I learn they’re 10 years younger than me at least. I totally feel like I woke up old and when I heard Dawkins say that, I tried to think up a cheeky answer.

          1. I read somewhere once that the older we get, the younger we think others are – some sort of bias. When my doctors have interns with them I can’t believe how young they look (they are in their 20s). I’ve always looked younger than my age so people don’t usually realize that I’m the age I am so I make sure to tell new people I report to because it nips age bias in the bud early on.

            My dad is in his 70s but he looks like he’s in his 50s.

    4. Something similar happened to me at a conference in LA last month: One of my thirtysomething colleagues noted that I was old enough to be her father … OK, so I’m in my second half-century, but you don’t have to rub it in!


  7. Being a fellow physicists, I have to stand in solidarity with Krauss: he can wear whatever the hell he wants. We do (should) not care other people think about us. Although boots almost always trump shoes and red is not a color I choose to wear.

  8. 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.”

    I call equivocation here. The Vatican astronomer has flipped between “we assume God exists because it is the best explanation for X” and “we assume God’s purpose is to explain X to us.” That’s not quite the same thing.

    Yet he’s still using God as an explanation. “God” is the hypothesis which explains how we know from scripture and tradition that God has revealed Himself. It is the best explanation for this knowledge.

    Of course, as Jerry asks — “What knowledge?” And even if we substitute the word “believe” it’s still either question-begging circularity (“we believe God revealed Himself because God revealed himself”) or just pathetic (“we believe God revealed Himself because books and traditions are reliable” … or maybe even “we believe God revealed Himself because we believe it.”)

    When making statements in public, I think it’s a wise strategy for atheists to use the word “love” as quickly as possible. Fit it in somehow. Beat the theists to it and take away their trump card. We said it first; now you’re just going to be copying us. “Love. Atheism is about love.”

    Throws the little weasels off balance.

  9. I saw the Unbelievers for its debut in Toronto in April and I thought it was pretty good. Both Dawkins and Krauss came and answered audience questions and the place was packed. When I was standing in line to get in (I came early to get a good seat as you bought your tickets in advance but admission into the theatre was general with no assigned seating) someone asked me what was going on and when I told him he sorta looked like he didn’t understand but wasn’t going to ask me to clarify. There were a lot of people lined up around the building and many that came without tickets, hoping to buy some (and I think they started standing in line in the morning).

    At the end of the film, there are several celebrities speaking about atheism. My favourite was Sarah Silverman because I had the exact same reaction as she did to what she was describing!

      1. She was reacting to how they treat women in Israel, esp at the wailing wall. Her sister was actually arrested there (her sister is a rabbi).

      1. Yeah it was Hot Docs. I think they’re working on how to distribute the movie whether it’s on Netflix, iTunes, etc.

  10. 20 or 25 years ago in Boston there was a group called ‘Composers in Red Sneakers’ who put on concerts of new/avant garde music. If you showed up wearing red sneakers, you got in free. I have no idea if that has any bearing upon Dr. Krauss’ choice of footware, but he did attend MIT at around that time.

  11. “their rock star-like fan base.”

    As if the popes and imams and buddhas don’t have fan bases that behaves like rock star fan bases. Though Beatles _were_ greater than “Jesus” the pope idol.

    Krauss’s book did ignore the question of where a quantum vacuum comes from

    I don’t know what the “quantum vacuum” refers to since I haven’t yet read that book. Maybe it is the particle physicist’s quantum vacuum of particle fields and low energy gravity (semi-classical physics).

    But I have seen paper that describes how universes, with vacuums that can be approximated thusly through inflation and after, can arise from a “quantum void” with a process analogous to particle pair production. And that quantum void can be understood, it seems to me.

    As I understand it the unique quantum void consists of two parts, quantum physics acting on action in the mechanics sense. I.e. the quantity that incorporates every constraint of the environment for a system. (Making particles follow geodesics, say.)

    Part 1: Action arises out of Noether’s theorems of symmetries/conserved charges as they transform by a diffeomorphism. (I.e. continously.) As action describes how all systems with physical laws (symmetries) transform, the void as a quantization of generic action describes all possible physics of systems.

    Part 2: Quantum mechanics is unique. It minimizes the number of variables (no hidden variables). And I’ve seen somewhere that it minimizes the number of parameters as well.

    Moreover, there are papers that describe that it is the physical realization of probability, i.e. all possible pathways of all possible configurations of a system (all histories). E.g. classical probability describes systems with an approximation, as being taken discontinuously between states before and after by a continuous process. While quantum probability properly describes such systems with a diffeomorphism between incoming and outgoing state, a continuous transformation between.

    So we have a min-max principle at hand, the largest possible outcome of systems by the smallest possible physics applicable to systems. [Try to push magic into _that_ (non-existing) gap!]

    As for why systems are possible – why would they be impossible?

  12. The “rock star” simile is a slight. One never hears Rick Warren or Joel Osteen called the “rock stars of Christianity.” But if we’re in a generous and equanimous mood, we can tolerate Dawkins and Krauss as rocks stars so long as Warren and Osteen are cult leaders. Hold aloft your lighters for an encore, non-believers!

  13. NY Times “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.”
    This comment has quite made my day, as it has now solidly placed me in the category of being a rock star.

  14. How can the “other side” even be in the discussion when they have nothing but silly stories of miracles that in the 21st century are comical. As my hero says “Religion, together we can find a cure”

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