Written by Steve Norton of Newmarket, Ontario
“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” – Supreme Leader Snoke, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
There’s always been tension between seeing and believing.
Especially over the last few decades, there has been an increasingly heavy emphasis on the belief that truth exists only when we can prove things scientifically or experience them for ourselves. This debate has caused tension between the Church and the scientific community, seemingly forcing people to pick a side.
Unsurprisingly, this has also shown up on the big screen.
Let’s look at some of the most popular science fiction stories in recent years. Films like Prometheus, Interstellar, and The Martian have all been hits at the box office and explored questions of our purpose in life. In each case, the films shoot for lofty ideas but land on the premise that life is really about us and what we can do. For instance, often called a “love letter to science,” The Martian also argues that if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
In an interesting twist, even some of the most recent Biblical epics attempted to explain God’s interaction with creation in a more scientific manner. Films such as Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings and (arguably) Aronofsky’s Noah have both offered new depictions of the Biblical stories with a smaller focus on God and a greater emphasis on our human perspective and understandings as a source of hope.
Now, hear me out. I’m not taking a shot at science. Not at all! Science is our primary way of understanding our world. However, what I am noticing is that the pendulum of knowledge has swung so far in the seeing-to-believe direction that our culture seems to have lost its ability to believe in anything other than itself. I think that the pendulum is about to swing back.
All of a sudden, science fiction has opened the door enough to admit that, sometimes, they don’t have all the answers.
This year alone, there have been some substantial film releases that take a scientific approach that, although helpful and meaningful, isn’t always the final word on what’s real. Films like Jeff Nichol’s Midnight Special, this summer’s underrated Ghostbusters reboot or even Netflix’s massive hit Stranger Things, have all fused a scientific worldview with an eye staring keenly into the spiritual.
These shows tell us that we have to believe to see.
Just look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
When rebooting the franchise, one of the most important factors in the film’s success was bringing back an emphasis on the mystery of the Force. Whereas George Lucas wanted to explain away this amazing power in his infamous prequels—remember Midichlorians? The fans and director J. J. Abrams wanted the Force to be mysterious. By emphasizing the power of the Force, Abrams breathed new life into an idea that had lost its grandeur, without taking away any scientific explanations Lucas had introduced.
Science and faith were friends again.
Interestingly, all of these examples have a throwback feel to them. Whether they take place in the 1980s themselves, or are simply reboots of old franchises, each case seems to point to a simpler time. With this in mind, one has to ask if perhaps our world is wondering if, for all our advancements, we’ve lost something along the way. Is it possible that, with all we’ve learned, we are starting to realize that there’s still something powerful that we can’t explain?
Does God really fit into our scientific worldview?
Maybe our culture has finally realized that to understand our world, we need both seeing and believing.