In a few weeks I will be a guest on “The Christ-in Culture” podcast. ( http://www.thechristinculture.com ) This podcast is run by three of my good friends, and they look at our culture – mostly media – and how it points to
Christ and our desire for him. When deciding what to talk about on the podcast, I decided to look at how the interaction of science and faith is portrayed in today’s media. Spoiler alert: Almost all media portrays scientists as the pinnacle of human knowledge and people of faith as unintelligent. Woof. It’s painful. Once I started to think about it, I started to see it everywhere and got really grumpy. When I then searched for media that specifically pitted them against each other, the 1997 movie “Contact” was at the top of every list I found of “Science v. Faith” movies.
So I decided to watch it. Before I watched “Contact”, all I knew was that Jodie Foster was the scientist and Matthew McConaughey was the religious person. That alone made me nervous, and I was preparing myself for a vicious attack of religious people as being idiots. I was happily proved wrong.
So the main thing I want to talk about is “intelligent life”. As Christians, we believe in the story of Genesis – that God created everything and found it to be “good” or “very good”. Immediately after that is the story of the fall. This original sin is passed on to every human for the rest of time, but it doesn’t take away our inherent goodness. God still sees each and every one of us as good and loves us. This is true whether you are perceived by other people as a perfect saint or a dangerous criminal. God loves us and made us good. This truth gets preached over and over that humans are loved, but God didn’t just call humans good; He called ALL OF CREATION good. That means mosquitos and volcanoes and anything else you personally may not like, God created it. This is often forgotten, and we humans sometimes feel threatened when we see other things touted as good, because it threatens our “spot at the top”. Often when talking about new technology, we refer to man’s mastery over nature instead of seeing ourselves as a part of that nature.
So in this light of God creating all things to be good, us being a part of nature, and us fearing “the other”, this movie gives us the topic of aliens. If they are real, then they are just as much a part of God’s creation as we are, which means that God sees them as good. But we fear them; we fear what their existence could mean.
In the movie, Ellie (the scientist) says that if the aliens are so intelligent as to understand long-distance space travel, then they MUST know what they’re doing and be good. This scientist, who throughout the whole movie is a cynic, sees their intelligence and thinks they must be good, even though she has seen the humans as the most intelligent earth-dwellers and sees them as bad. In this way she doesn’t see the full goodness of God’s creation.
Then on the other hand you have the government and the majority of the population who see the humans as the good. They think we are the ones who must be protected and they assume, without ever meeting them, that the aliens are bad. Thus they prepare all the military defenses. So even though they have a different view, these people too do not have a complete grasp on the goodness of God’s creation.
So back to my original topic, “intelligent life.” Does being the most intelligent creature on this planet make us perfectly good in everything we do? No. Just because these aliens might be smarter than us, does that guarantee that they will be perfectly good in everything they do? No. Does that take away from the beauty and the goodness with which God created all of us? No.
Part of why I love science is because I’m constantly amazed by it. I see the beauty even when it’s something that seems awful, like an extremely deadly virus. In this movie it is fascinating to see the MANY different perspectives of MANY different people. Yet somehow the only person who truly grasps the beauty of all of God’s creation is the preacher, portrayed by McConaughey. He honestly is the most level-headed of all the people in the film, which was not something I expected. At the end of the movie his character made me so happy. After all of this arguing and fighting, and at times real hatred, he simply and beautifully says, “Our goal is the same, the pursuit of truth.” Whether he means religious, scientists, aliens, or humans, the statement remains.
I know this movie is fictional, but the possibility of life on other planets is still a real thing that scientists are investigating, and many people feel threatened by that. As I’ve said before, the pursuit of science is to find what is true, to discover more about what God has created. If there ARE aliens out there, this doesn’t threaten the realness of our God. It’s just another part of his creation, another piece to help us understand the fullness of our creator. I can’t wait to talk about so many other parts of this movie on the podcast. Keep an eye out for that coming soon. I watched this movie with my husband and we were both SUPER impressed by it. It was very well done. It covered missteps and misconceptions by all sides. There were points where I physically cringed and parts I jumped out of my chair with joy. I highly encourage everyone no matter their view of faith or science to watch it. Immediately after watching it on On-Demand, I ordered a physical Blu-ray from Amazon, so if anyone wants to borrow it, just let me know.
For now I leave you with another amazing quote from the movie:
“I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.”