What The Bleep Do We Know – A Christian Response (Movie Review)
What The Bleep Do We Know – A Christian Response
If you missed this film when it debuted, there’s no need to feel out of the loop. You’re in good company with most of the rest of the world. What the Bleep Do We Know was hardly a box-office smash. In fact, you may have never even heard of this little cinematic experiment. So why are we bothering to produce a Christian response to this film? There are several reasons, even apart from the fact that we have been receiving a steady stream of requests for just such a response.
First, while it is true that the movie has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, it would be a mistake to call it a flop. Denver Seminary’s counseling department recently required its students to view the film because of the large number of patients who were asking about it and wrestling with concepts they encountered in the movie. The video store in my town only bought one copy of the film originally, but incessant demand for it quickly prompted them to purchase additional discs. Even now, some 6 months after its release on DVD, it remains a difficult film to rent. I had to buy a copy to be able to see it for myself.
Though the movie made a relatively small splash when it was first released, the ripples of its impact continue to grow. Celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Drew Barrymore have become spokespeople for the film and its ideology. International conferences to discuss the philosophy and science of the movie are drawing astounding crowds. Though you may have never heard a thing about the film to this point, I predict that’s going to change in the near future.
In addition to the growing popularity of the movie, it is worth addressing because it touches on an important phenomenon: the perceived intersection of theoretical physics and spirituality. A number of books have been written recently that address this supposed intersection. While some recent scientific theories in the field of quantum mechanics seem to support a Christian worldview, many of these “discoveries” are cited as proof of the truth of some decidedly non-Christian beliefs. For this reason it is important that the church be informed enough about these trends to help believers evaluate and respond to them.
What are these claims? What exactly does What The Bleep Do We Know teach? Why does this low budget, quirky, pseudo-documentary film continue to intrigue audiences and find new fans around the world?
At its heart, What The Bleep Do We Know is an apologetic for what we might call “quantum spirituality”; an odd blending of quantum physics theory and New Age religion. Of course, the filmmakers would balk at such a description. In fact, What The Bleep makes several overt attempts to distance itself from the New Age label. Many of the interviews which make up the bulk of the film include statements like, “Now, I know that sounds like New Age, but it’s not…”
Try as they may, however, the film’s New Age associations are inescapable. At one point, Miceal Ledwith, a former professor of Theology at Maynooth College, Ireland, says this:
That I am at one with the great being that made me and brought me here and that formed the galaxies and the universes, etc…How did that get taken out of religion? It was not hard. Most of the problems that religion and various philosophical movements down through the centuries have produced have been errors because that is where they started, that God is a distinct separate being from us to whom I must offer worship, whom I must cultivate, humor, please and hope to attain a reward from at the very end of my life. That is not what God is, that is a blasphemy.
Ledwith’s assertions – that God is not distinct from us but is fundamentally one with us (also known as pan-theism) and that God does not desire or deserve worship – are trademark New Age teaching. These ideas recur frequently throughout the film.
Another supposed expert interviewed in the film says, “Do I think that you’re bad? I don’t think you’re bad. Do I think you’re good? I don’t think you’re good either. I think you’re God.” Most readers will probably agree that this seems like an odd thing to find in a documentary that is ostensibly focused on scientific discoveries. For a film that is actually a covert vehicle for New Age philosophy, however, it is perfectly predictable.
If anyone should still question What The Bleep’s New Age underpinnings, no further evidence should be necessary than a look at the cast credits. Throughout the film a blond woman shows up periodically saying all kinds of radical things, including the previous quote about our inherent divinity. Since most of the movie features physicists and medical doctors, one is led to assume that this woman is also a scientist. Watch the closing credits, however, and you will find the following information about this woman, reprinted verbatim from the credits:
Ramtha, Master Teacher
Ramtha School of Enlightenment
Channeled by JZ Knight
If this attribution puzzles you a bit, let me clarify: Ramtha is supposedly a 35,000 year old enlightened spirit being channeled by JZ Knight. Knight herself has no credentials whatsoever, except of course that she is apparently a suitable mouthpiece for this spirit. Given the attempts that have been made to give What The Bleep a scientific polish and to disassociate it from New Age spirituality, Knight’s presence is a bit puzzling, though certainly revealing.
Ramtha, by the way, speaking from his vast knowledge of the cosmos, also informs us that, “[Earth is] the only planet in the Milky Way that has habitation that is steeped in enormous subjugation of religion and you know why that is? It is because people have set up right and wrong.”
Given this sort of obvious New Age propaganda, why should Christians even give this film a second glance? The answer is that these ridiculous assertions are slipped in between claims of supposed scientific discoveries. As such, the “science” is like bait on the hook, masking the barb of the lies.
For instance, one of the central ideas in the film is the notion that reality does not have a truly independent existence, but is created – or at least shaped – by our perceptions of it. This has long been a central tenet of New Age thinking and it has recently been given what appears to be a boost by scientific research.
As What The Bleep explores in some detail, part of this whole notion of “creating reality” is based on brainscan experiments where scientists noted that observing an object and imagining the object activated the same areas of the brain. This has caused some scientists ask the same question that one interviewee in What The Bleep poses, “is reality what we’re seeing with our brain or is reality what we’re seeing with our eyes? The brain does not know the difference between what it sees in its environment and what it remembers.”
On the surface, this may appear to be a natural response to the experimental data: if there is no measurable difference between a brain observing reality and imagining reality, then on what basis do we distinguish between the two acts? However, a bit of reflection clearly reveals this as a non sequitur. All the brain-scan experiments have really shown is that the same regions of our brain are active during observation and imagination. The same is true of a computer hard-drive. If you store a bit of information on a drive, it is that same region that must be activated to recall it; this does not mean that the act of storing and recalling are the same. Of course, the analogy between a human brain and a computer can only be extended so far, but they are at least sufficiently similar in this respect that we need not scratch our puzzled heads too much about why the same regions of the brain are active in observation and imagination. To suggest that this experimental observation shows that we are actually creating reality by our thoughts is ludicrous.
The idea that we create our own reality is also thought to be supported by another experiment which plays a central role in What The Bleep Do We Know: The Masaru Emoto Water Crystal Experiment. One of the characters in the film stumbles upon an exhibit of photographs taken during this experiment. The pictures are startling: water crystals formed in bottles with positive words taped to them are ordered and beautiful, while crystals formed in bottles with hateful words taped to them are chaotic and ugly. Presumably, it is not just the words, but the similar thoughts of the researchers which effected the changes.
I must admit, my first response to the images was amazement. In fact, the images are so startling that viewers of What The Bleep will naturally have two questions: first, is this a real experiment and second, can that really be true?
The answer to the first question is, surprisingly, yes, this is a real experiment. Well…“experiment” may be a bit generous, but the photo exhibit is real and the pictures are supposed to have come from Dr. Masaru Emoto’s research. Dr. Emoto (who is a “doctor of alternative medicine” as granted by the Open International University) has published these pictures as a photo essay in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.” As Emoto’s press releases are quick to point out, this is a peer-reviewed publication, but since the article in question was a photo-essay, it is doubtful that it was subject to serious scrutiny.
Further, since no details about the experiment itself are available, there is no way to evaluate Emoto’s results. We do not know, for instance, if the pictures were taken at random from the water samples or if he searched through the ice until he found a crystal he liked. Nor do we know if all the water samples were frozen under the same conditions or at the same speed. In short, the answer to the second question, “can that really be true?” is, probably not. Or at least, there is no good reason to think that the pictures are anything more than contrived images created to support Emoto’s presuppositions.
As for the other “scientific” claims made in the movie, most are a hodgepodge of decontextualized statements that accomplish nothing more than creating a smokescreen. For instance, interviewees speak of “antigravity,” “magnetic fields of zero point energy,” and “collapsing the probability waves by observer interference.” Such concepts appear scientific and serve to give the film a false veneer of credibility when in fact they are either entirely theoretical concepts or simple misrepresentations of demonstrable principles.
However, What The Bleep Do We Know does get at least one thing right that is of interest to Christians. Decades of sophisticated medical research, intersecting with quantum physics, has unearthed a mystery: the essence of the human creature cannot be boiled down to physical processes. The brain is an incredibly sophisticated organ capable of an astonishing variety of feats, but it does not appear to be the actual source of this thing we call consciousness. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the belief that we possess a non-material component that is largely responsible for our behavior, decisions and desires. While the film wrongly posits that this “soul” is capable of reconfiguring reality to suit our whims, it does get the story at least partly right when it suggests that human beings are more than just complicated biological machines.
Discerning viewers will also notice other interesting tidbits scattered throughout the movie. These are not necessarily true or false propositions, but they are intriguing insights. For instance, at one point, one of What The Bleep’s cadre of physicists says this:
There’s a certain sense in which the fundamental laws of physics that we have don’t make any interesting distinction, say, between past and future. For instance, it’s a puzzle, from the standpoint of the fundamental laws of physics, why we should be able to remember the past and not have the same kind of epistemic access to the future.
What the speaker is getting at is the supposition that past, present and future are illusions…they do not actually exist. This is an amazing display of the arrogance of scientism (the belief that empirical investigation is the only possible avenue to true knowledge). What the speaker is saying essentially boils down to this: Our current understanding of physics cannot account for X…therefore X does not exist.
Unfortunately, it is this sort of presumptuousness that has contributed to the all-too frequent antagonism between faith and science. So long as this is the sort of thinking that predominates “science,” then of course, there will never be an acceptable truce with faith. I remain convinced, however, that true science and true faith are legitimate bedfellows, two different but complimentary methods of inquiry into truth that God desires us to grasp.
So, how should Christians respond to What The Bleep Do We Know? Well, first, if you have friends or acquaintances who are talking about it, I recommend watching it. You may find your head spinning a bit, but at least the film isn’t dominated by violence, profanity and sex (although there is one suggestive scene). Just remember that its scientific façade is just that: a paper thin veneer of credibility unable to stand up to any serious scrutiny. Second, look for opportunities to use the movie as a stepping stone to sharing your faith. If your friends are like most unprepared viewers, they are probably wondering about its claims. By watching the film and being ready to discuss it intelligently, you may have the opportunity to do some very unexpected evangelism. As the old adage goes, if God wants a hole dug, He’s most likely to use the guy walking around with a shovel. By equipping yourself to address opportunities such as this, you are submitting yourself to the Lord’s will (1Pe 3:15) and cultivating a desire to be used for His purposes.
For more Christian responses to JZ Knight and Ramtha, visit www.apologeticsindex.org