Here’s another life influence.
So, another one of my favorite movies is Contact. Movies affect me a lot, and a lot of them are life influences to me. My favorite movies are the ones I can watch over and over again. And I can watch them over and over again because they remind me of some truth. The Shawshank Redemption, It’s a Wonderful Life, Pleasantville – these and others always remind me of something I feel like I need to remember.
Anyway, Contact is like that. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. But, it was based on a book by Carl Sagan, a well renowned scientist from Cornell. And that shocked me. Because, I’m fairly certain he was a staunch atheist. He was definitely not a believer, in Christianity or anything like that. Very much the science is God type mentality, as far as I could tell. But the movie to me is so encouraging, it’s almost a defense of faith, so that really surprised me. Maybe it’s just another example of me taking from the movie something the movie maker didn’t exactly intend, like Pleasantville. But that doesn’t matter.
So, if you haven’t seen it, maybe you want to not read this. In fact, you really shouldn’t read this. Go watch the movie and read this later. But what happens in the movie is that this scientist played by Jodie Foster is wasting her talents (as maybe believe) on the search for intelligent extra-terrestrials. And she’s very much the scientist, anti-religion, although she ends up having a relationship with the sketchiest “pastor” (or some kind of religious guy) played by Matthew McCounaghey, however you spell that.
Side note. This character was totally annoying. So Hollywood. Just, this incredible man of faith who casually sleeps with someone he barely knows and whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to his own, and somehow becomes the spiritual advisor to the government. If we chose a single spiritual leader for the country, it would not be this guy. Give me Billy Graham. Or James Dobson. Even the Pope. Heck, I’d take Britney Spears over this promiscuous slacker guy who very convincingly played a stoner in Dazed and Confused.
Anyway. So yeah, she doesn’t believe in God, in large part because there’s no evidence for Him, stuff like that. And she ends up making picking up a signal from some ET source, and after a lot of interesting twists, decodes it as being technical specifications for some sort of transportation machine.
Another side note. Another thing I like about this movie is that it has so many interesting elements. Just how the message is decoded, the nature of the message, the political and religious reactions to it; it’s very interesting, thoughtful, and well done. Just, if something like that happened, I think the movie accurately portrayed the various reactions people would have to it. It really is a well made movie.
So there’s more drama and Ellie ends up being going through the transporter. And she ends up going through a wormhole to another place, making contact with the other civilization. And she asks them why they do it like that, why they just send a single person, how come they don’t just massively announce their presence, and the being she talks with says something like, “small steps, Ellie. It’s been this way for millions of years. It’s the best way.” Something to that effect. And then they send her back.
The thing is, back home, it doesn’t seem like she’s gone at all, and there’s no evidence that anything she says that happened really happened. So of course there’s this whole controversy about it.
Hmm. I just explained the movie, ruining it for people who haven’t seen it, and for those who have, it’s unnecessary. Oh well.
So there’s a great scene at the end, when she’s being questioned in a Congressional hearing, and they present her with the facts – that they really have no evidence or reason to believe that anything she said that happened really happened, other than just her word. And they ask her, as a scientist, does her word alone constitute compelling evidence? Why should they believe her? And she admits, as a scientist, she wouldn’t be compelled if someone told her the same thing.
But then she says, even still, even though she can’t prove her experience was real, every fiber of her being testifies to its reality. She can’t prove it. But she nevertheless knows that it was real.
So, this is what I love about the movie. Just, to me, this is Christianity. I don’t think we can prove to a complete skeptic that Christianity is true, or even that God exists. But that’s no big deal. First of all, because people don’t realize it, but you can’t prove a lot of things we take for granted to a complete skeptic. Including why induction is justified (meaning, how we can believe that something will happen just because it’s always happened. Like the laws of gravity still working tomorrow just because it always has. This is a problem that bothered Hume all his life.) and how we can know whether anything we believe is true. As I understand it, philosophers nowadays agree that you can’t prove anything to a complete skeptic. So they take a different approach to the theory of knowledge. This is something I’ll write about someday.
Anyway, yeah, that you can’t prove God exists to a skeptic is no big deal, because you can’t prove a lot of fundamental things to a skeptic. It’s also not a big deal because the fact that you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it’s not logically consistent. So, it’s not intellectually weaker for that reason either.
But what Ellie realizes at the end is that there is something she can’t prove but nevertheless know is true. To me, this is Christianity. We know that what we believe in, what we hope for is true, but we can’t prove it.
In fact, I think this is the definition of faith in the Bible. I was reminded of this looking at Hebrews yesterday. Here’s Hebrews 11:1, a verse you could meditate on for the rest of your life and still learn from, I think: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We can’t see it. But we still know it’s true. What I love about Contact is it’s conclusion – there are things we can’t prove but still truly know to be true. That’s faith.
So, I got into this discussion with someone before who was saying that a weakness of Christianity is that you can’t prove it, so you can’t know that it’s true. But I think this is a misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith isn’t believing in something you’re not sure about. Rather, it’s (according to Hebrews) being certain of something that you can’t see. It’s by definition being sure of something, although you can’t see it. Again, it comes down to the fact that you can be know something to be true without being able to prove it. That’s deep to me. Faith is being sure, not being uncertain.
I don’t know, some people might argue that you can’t truly know something that you can’t prove. But to me, this is just a game of definition. What you’re saying by this is that to know something you have to be able to prove it by definition. And you can’t argue against that if you’re going to play that game of definitions. If knowledge is by definition provable, then of course you can’t know something you can’t prove.
But that’s lame to me, to prove something by defining it how you like. I don’t know, just, I agree Contact, and that’s what I truly believe, that you can know something without being able to prove it. And for some reason, that encourages me.
Here’s the other thing about Contact that encourages me. It’s what the being she communicates with says to her when she asks why they do it this way. Just, the being (in the form of her dad) says that they’ve discovered that it’s the best way. Little steps Ellie. Little steps.
Dude. That was so powerful to me because that’s also Christianity, I think. So often we wonder why God chooses to do it this way, why He depends on us for evangelization, why Jesus spent so little time on earth and interacted with so few people (and believe me, he didn’t go to America), and why it’s so slow and gradual. Why can’t God just overwhelmingly show that He is God? It’s the same question Ellie asks them, why can’t they just come and show without a doubt that they exist? So that the earth can join their civilization right away?
And the answer they give her I think is the same answer for us. Little steps. I have no idea why God does it this way, but I can trust that God knows it’s the best way. And I love how at the end of the movie, it just seems like nothing happened. No one seems to believe her, and the earth is no closer to joining that advanced race than before. What the heck is this best way? It doesn’t seem like a best way at all. Nothing freaking happened.
And yet, we know that they’re a super advanced race, far beyond us, with millions of years of experience, so, it might seem like they’re wrong, that their method of communication is just wrong, but we have to conclude that we’re the ones that just don’t understand, and that “little steps” really must be the same way.
That’s the Christian situation. It just may seem like God’s plan for saving the world is just not working, that’s it’s so ineffectual, that there’s a much better way, but in the end, we have to conclude that God knows way better than we do, and His way is best. Little steps.
So I just find that incredibly encouraging and makes me want to persevere. In the face of not being able to “prove” our faith to skeptics, and the seemingly ineffectual plan of God to reveal Himself to people, and wondering why He doesn’t just make it clear, in a way that’s so much better. It just reminds me that faith is being sure of what we can’t see, and though we can’t understand His plan, we can know it’s best. That’s the message of Contact to me.
And that amazes me, because like I said, I’m fairly certain that Sagan is an atheist. But whatever. Contact is just an incredibly encouraging movie.