Science and Faith in the Movies


(Laura) #1

Is there something in us that wants belief or imagination to “win out” over rationality?

I was just musing the other day about how many movies I’ve seen where some kind of faith is contrasted with (or even pitted against) something more scientific and “rational,” and how the faith part usually comes out on top (though rarely in the form of an actual religion).

There are plenty of cute, non-religious Christmas movies that are all about “believing,” and the more rational characters tend to be the villains (The Santa Clause, The Polar Express, etc.), but even more “sciency” movies surprise me sometimes, such as Interstellar, where Anne Hathaway’s character appears to choose love over correct data (“Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.”).

I also think of The King’s Speech, where the medical doctors’ techniques failed miserably, and the king was only helped by someone who later confesses to not being an actual doctor (“There are no letters after my name.”)

I’m sure there are other examples I can’t think of at the moment. Even in the original Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm’s statement “Life… finds a way” sounds more metaphysical than purely scientific, though perhaps I’m painting too black-and-white of a picture here, as imagination can fuel scientific discovery.

Anyway, have others noticed this in movies you’ve seen, and if so what do you make of it? Is it because we live in a science-driven world and just love underdog stories?


(Phil) #2

I think you are correct, and perhaps the prototypical movie/TV show is Star Trek, where Spock contributes, but ultimately it is the intuition and cunning of Captain Kirk that saves the day. Then in the Next Generation, you have Data who is pure logic and reasoning, but longing for fulfillment by acquiring emotions.
Perhaps it is a longing in people for something more, a desire to find meaning in an otherwise cold universe.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

I think that captures some of what drives Hollywood. Maybe whatever is “underdog” in terms of being culturally interesting and provocative. When Star Trek started it was provocative in that it portrayed victorious logic and science and (mostly) outmoded religion – which was a pretty interesting and still fairly counter-cultural stance to take back then. Since then, though, with the cultural perception that organized religion does not enjoy the cultural dominance it once did, it is now more interesting for shows to be provocative by portraying religious life in a more sympathetic light. So while the show “Bones” still has the main character poking fun of religious thought, she is nonetheless not left undisturbed or unchallenged with her views. Even Star-Trek got a little less one-dimensional in its approach to religion by the time Deep-Space 9 rolled around.

Our family really enjoyed the sci-fi series “Babylon 5” which is a sci-fi show on a space station, complete with aliens and such. In one episode it has a genuine Pentecostal praise service actually enjoyed by leading characters and not just mocked by them! It manages to take religion and mystical themes seriously. Also it has real-life, messy politics happening back on earth - none of this “poverty and war have all been vanquished by science back on earth” nonsense that you get from Star-Trek.

On a different track: Robert Duvall in “The Apostle” was a very interesting and good movie dealing with Christian themes in particular. Duvall is a Christian in real life. While some might find that movie offensive for portraying (some) Christians as it does, it is a very real treatment that remains apropos to our attentions today. [think of a passionate David who follows the Spirit, but yet has blood on his hands …]


(Phil) #4

And then there is Wrinkle in Time, where the journey took them to the evil techno-planet, run by IT, but which erased most of the Christian heritage found in the book and replaced it with whatever it was that prevailed.
I am not sure if there is a way to make a coldly scientific movie entertaining, or if it would just be a documentary. Even the documentary type programs that are memorable have a lot of emotional drama associated with them (thinking of the PBS Voyager program, and the Apollo 13 documentary.) though that gets away from faith a bit.


(Larry Bunce) #5

Scriptwriters do not tend to be scientists, and must rely on right-brained creativity to come up with story ideas. This would cause them to favor touchy-feely, and to exaggerate the left-brained nature of scientists in their scripts.
Actual scientists working on leading-edge projects must rely on hunches and intuition, aided by familiarity with current knowledge to make progress and major breakthroughs.


(Laura) #6

Star Trek is a good example… I’m not a Trekkie but I should have thought of Spock as far as “rationality” goes.

For some reason, I’m reminded of the latest Star Wars movie, where the ancient Jedi books are burned, which to me looked like a jab at organized religion (though it didn’t change the theme of the “magical” winning out over the ordered and powerful).


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Ohhh – and here’s another one that I thought interesting (okay - it’s from 1992, but still…). “Leap of Faith” with Steve Martin in it. Through most of the show it would seem that revival religion is being thoroughly mocked as one follows the charlatan “revivalist” (Martin) through his shenanigans inflicted on a gullible midwest small town. And that impression is not far wrong, I’ll suggest. But watching it to the end leaves one also with the impression that a distinction has been allowed between TV-preacher-style connivance and genuine faith. The movie leaves things somewhat open-ended (complete with Martin character himself being somewhat shook up by the end of it).


(Steve Schaffner) #8

Only they weren’t actually burned – we see later that Rey had taken them with her. Some jokester that Yoda is.


(Laura) #9

Hmmmm… I must have forgotten that part. But I do remember Yoda saying “page turners they were not!”


(Steve Schaffner) #10

You only see the books for a second, in a throwaway shot. Yoda says to Luke, “Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess.” That’s because she already has the library.


#11

Science fiction, while usually set in the future, really tells us more about our own time.


(Laura) #12

Definitely – I think it sheds light on what some of our biggest fears are. I remember seeing a movie version of “The Time Machine” which was made during the cold war, and when the time traveler goes into the future, there’s a violent nuclear war going on. Nowadays it seems futuristic sci-fi is more dystopian.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

Last night we just enjoyed a “Young Sheldon” episode titled “Crisis of Faith and Octopus Aliens”. Did anybody else catch that episode? While “Big Bang Theory” will probably never be accused of being religion-friendly, it would seem the Young Sheldon show might show a surprising amount of nuance.


(Laura) #14

That would be nice…I haven’t watched that one. I do enjoy BBT, but don’t care for their mocking of Christianity, even though it’s mainly just caricature.


(Phil) #15

Missed it last night, but enjoy the show. The young actor playing Sheldon does a great job. Jim Parsons grew up in East Texas, so as producer does a good job of keeping it sorta real. The pastor in the show is interesting also.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

Yeah – I really like the dad in the show. While he’s a little goofy, he’s obviously got intelligence, humor, and makes good use of it. He’s a welcome break from the Homer Simpson extreme of dad caricatures [another guilty pleasure in our family]. The pastor is just a little more out there when he shows up (and even just “showing up” is nothing to be taken lightly for pastors and churches in TV world). But you’ll enjoy that last episode - they actually give the pastor a few good lines I thought. (along with his bumbling, perennial inability to handle any of Sheldon’s challenges - that stays, of course.) But the religious theme of the episode wasn’t centered around the pastor; nor did it need to be. I’ll take what I can get!


(RiderOnTheClouds) #17

The Jurassic Park movies have always been my favourite movies, and now I realise there is a strong Christian message found throughout them, about the dangers of too much rationality.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #18

Game of Thrones may not be entirely suitable for Christians, but at least they avoid the common mistake of portraying medieval religion as a consistently sinister, negative force. I am debating whether or not to continue watching it, or reading the books.


(Randy) #19

I’ve never seen that show. I enjoy Plugged In, which reviews movies and other entertainment from a Christian standpoint. Here’s their post: https://www.pluggedin.com/tv-reviews/game-of-thrones/

It does sound depressing.

I’m not sure that Christianity considers rationality too dangerous. Going that way would discard it as “pie in the sky,” and in contrast, it’s Gethsemane and the lamenting Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Job that I find comfort. @swamidass just posted a link to C S Lewis’ journey from faith to doubt, then faith again–https://www.vqronline.org/essay/one-mythology-among-many-spiritual-odyssey-c-s-lewis interestingly, first because he thought Christianity was bare myth, then that it was too true, bare and boring to be myth. We had discussed myth earlier on our discourse, and the link from @Christy was very helpful to me. The necessity of myth

I’m discovering more and more that it’s not by focusing on the material in question that one finds whether it’s appropriate–but by focusing on Jesus’ account and “what would Jesus do” that helps me decide.

On the other hand, that definition will vary from person to person. As parents of a 10, 8 and a 5 year old, we have to decide what to have our kids watch. I grew up with parents who were anti-gun and anti-violence. We couldn’t play with toy guns–something I at first found very onerous. However, I grew up avoiding violence as a result, and find myself shocked to see young children playing Call of Duty and other games. As a physician, I loathe even more the gratuitous cruelty portrayed in Jerry Springer than the violent films, but they’re both really hard to watch.

However, everyone will have to decide for themselves about what is best to watch. I am still learning this one.f


(Laura) #20

Yes… or not enough balance between rationality and ethics. Too much of one or the other and we seem to be in trouble.