“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” -Supreme Leader Snoke, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
There’s always been a tension between seeing and believing.
Especially over the last few decades, there has been an increasingly heavy emphasis that truth exists only when we can prove things scientifically or experience them for ourselves. Over that time, this debate has caused a real 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.
For instance, let’s just 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 idea that life is really about us and what we can do. (For instance, often called a ‘love letter to science’, The Martian also explains 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) Aronovsky’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, in anyway, taking a shot at science. Not at all. It’s 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 it’s ability to believe in anything other than itself.
But I think that the pendulum is about to swing back.
All of a sudden, science fiction has opened the door a crack 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, Marvel’s Dr. Strange, 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.
Now, these films 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 seen as 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 the Lucas had introduced.
Science and faith were friends again.
Interestingly, all of these examples are ‘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, maybe, 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’re 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.