Re: Contact

Jeremy Ulrey (
Sun, 26 Apr 1998 18:40:51 -0700

Max wrote:

> Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 08:51:29 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Yak Wax
> Subject: Science and Religion
> I recently said there was one thing in _Contact_ that's been on my
> mind recently, now thanks to the flurry of responses there's another.
> At the end of the film the overall message seems to be that science
> and religion don't have to be opponents because they both seek to
> attain the same goal - truth. I think this is wrong and is a
> fundamental reason for the religious opposition to science. Science
> does not seek "truth" that is the sole aim of religious groups.
> Instead science seeks to develop theory, these theories are judged by
> their applications in the real world. For instance, it doesn't matter
> if quantum mechanic's is true or false as long as I can build a
> working quantum computer. I think science needs to make a clearer
> distinction between truth and theory, especially in areas that clash
> with religious beliefs. Evolutionary theory has clashed on many
> occasions with creationism, I think this is largely due to scientists
> wrongly suggesting that creationism is entirely untrue and that
> evolutionary theory proves this. Creationism is not of importance to
> science simply because it has no application in it, whereas evolution
> has bread artificial life, genetic research, game theory, etc. This
> abundance of applications does not mean evolution is true and
> certainly does not mean creationism is false. But scientists
> increasingly "attack" religious beliefs, which means religious groups
> have to defend themselves and look at science as an opposing belief
> system.
> - --Wax

Actually, I think the pious become defensive more over the facts that
science brings to light rather than personal attacks, but otherwise you
raise a good point. What you said explains perfectly why science
doesn't need religion, but you left out an important point: the
emotional reasons that people need religion, and need to see it as some
kind of "truth" and not just an educated guess. In nearly all cases
this stems from some sort of fear, whether it's fear of no life after
death, isolation, etc. I think this is the reason scientists tend to
look down on religious people. They see the religion as nothing more
than a crutch to pacify a person's weak emotional fears, with no other
potential for good. Personally, I believe there's a great deal of
validity in this, though such a person's weaknesses always manifest
themselves in more concrete, destructive ways than going to church on
Sundays. I think most scientifically inclined agnostics realize that if
the masses are taught better logic than religion will decline on it's
own. Those logically educated individuals I know who still claim to
believe in God have reduced their so-called religions to such a vague,
undefined state that they remain only a blemish on their otherwise
secular lifestyle.
But enough about that. I also have a few problems with "Contact" as
a film that the over-fawning reviewers seem to consider irrelevant.
First of all, am I the only one who thought the entire movie reminded
them of the juvenile discussions you used to get into when you first
renounced religion but still hadn't been sufficiently educated in
philosophy to make a good case on your own, that is without a Nietzsche
textbook to quote from? I actually read the book before I saw the
movie, and for someone of Carl Sagan's stature it kind of reeked of a
sell-out. Kind of like he thought he could get society to immediately
embrace science if he just admitted "God's OK." The only problem is he
makes a completely backward case for his cause. For instance, at first
the climactic meeting with the aliens seems to make a juvenile fairy
tale of Christianity, until for no apparent reason Sagan has the alien
representative admit to Ellie that the worm holes they use to traverse
the universe were "there when they got here", ie it could very well have
been God that made them. What??? In a book full of cop-outs this one
takes the cake.
Another point the reviewers have focused on is how long it's been
since a woman held such a prominent and dignified part in a mainstream
Hollywood film. That may be true, but despite the superficial sense
that in the end science and religion have been reconciled on equal
terms, deeper analysis reveals that it is Ellie who has been defeated
without any real compromise on the part of Christianity (yes, the movie
criticizes the masses' perception of religion, but this seems a poor
tradeoff considering science is pissed on from the highest of academic
standpoints). I found Sagan's symbolic representation of the sexual
union between Ellie (science) and Palmer Joss (religion) to be equally
revolting. And what good does it do to have a strong female in a lead
role if at the end she is sent home defeated in the triumphant arms of a