The movie Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997), starring Jodie Foster & Matthew McConaughey, is definitely one of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi films.
The film is adapted from a Carl Sagan novel by the same name. Sagan (1934-1996), an astronomer, cosmologist, and astrophysicist, was a self-professed agnostic. He spent most of his career as a professor and director of planetary studies at Cornell University. And he was a major supporter of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).
Sagan was a brilliant scientist, but like a true naturalist he was doubtful of God’s existence. Which is what makes the movie Contact so interesting.
Jodie Foster plays Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a MIT grad and agnostic scientist working for SETI. She listens for radio transmissions in outerspace until she eventually receives a signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers. The signal is from the star Vega, 25 light years away.
After the initial contact is made, the world undergoes mass hysteria and fear. Some believe it’s the end of the world, others can’t contain their excitement. What does it all mean? What will happen next?
We meet some interesting characters along the way. There is the leader of the “Conservative” Coalition who wants to suppress the new discovery out of fear. There is a Christian fundamentalist who preaches that the devil is at work in science and that God will judge all scientists. He even resorts to violence in an attempt to stop NASA. But nothing can stop Ellie.
In time it becomes clear to Ellie (Foster) and her colleagues that the signal outlines plans to build a machine. What was thought to be some sort of space craft turns out to be a portal into another dimension which transports Ellie to Vega and back again. Ellie was gone for hours, but it was only seconds to everyone else. What she experienced will change her forever.
Throughout the film Ellie had been in conversation with Palmer Joss (McConaughey), a renowned Christian philosopher. Palmer challenged Ellie to consider that faith and science were not mutually exclusive.
While Palmer may not be the most straight-laced believer you’ll ever meet, he deeply cares for Ellie and her unhealthy skepticism. He believes in her and wants her to accept a very real aspect of knowledge… that of faith.
But Ellie wants proof and evidence for everything. Knowing that Ellie lost her beloved father at an early age, Palmer asks, “Did you love your dad?” Ellie says, “Yes, very much.” Palmer replies, “Then prove it.”
The following video captures one of the final scenes from the film. Ellie (Foster) is being questioned by a congressional committee about what she experienced in the machine. She finds herself saying the same thing Palmer had told her about faith, only she had scoffed at it earlier in the film.
Palmer looks on as Ellie reveals her transformation.
Watch and ponder the relationship between faith and science. I find them both mysteriously intertwined, as I stand in awe of the God of science.
The church has often been guilty of setting the Scriptures (divine revelation) up against science (natural revelation). Let’s consider how we can hold both theology and science together. It’s time to move beyond the culture wars and allow science to reveal the glory of God.
D.D. Flowers, 2013.