The following is an modifed version of the very first post I ever wrote, originally submitted to the old Crux Project blog Situation Critical (no longer available online). This is admittedly one-sided, so please read John’s piece for the other side of the coin:
John Colman has written an excellent post defending science fiction’s ability to ask deep questions and point us toward the supernatural. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Ever since I was a kid watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad, I too have loved science fiction. Besides the positive aspects he mentions, I also love the adventure, the dream of exploring the unknown and fighting wicked villains. But most of all, I love the camaraderie that so often characterizes these stories–a tight-knit group of friends facing the future together, come what may!
But our favorite genre also has a dark side that John neglected to discuss. The more I watch these shows, the more I realize just how many of them fairly drip with naturalistic philosophy. Indeed, much of the sci-fi genre is based on thoroughly materialistic presuppositions. And while a lot of mainstream television and film shares these assumptions, sci-fi is uniquely suited to showcase them in that it expresses, more than any other genre, the hopes and fears of a society.
Consider the Star Trek universe, for instance: Here is depicted a future when humanity will finally see past its differences and live in peace and harmony. Of course, there is still war and violence, but not generally among humans or the United Federation of Planets. If every worldview must tell us who we are, what’s wrong, and what’s the solution, then Star Trek tells us we are the product of evolution on one of many planets that have evolved life–not the least advanced, but certainly not the most either. What’s wrong with the universe is not human rebellion against her creator, but interspecies strife among the various races in our galaxy. The solution? Not the final victory of God, but the victory of the Federation against all who oppose peace in the universe–whether they be Klingons, Romulans, or the Borg.
Or take another favorite of mine: Stargate SG-1. Where Star Trek generally ignored religion, Stargate tried to reinvent it in light of modern science. The ancient gods were really just powerful aliens who visited earth throughout our history–some, like the Goa’uld, in hopes of enslaving us, others, like the Asgard, to bless and protect us. In this universe, science is king, and God has no real place. Humanity is a fledgling species, teetering on the brink of either a major evolutionary step forward or complete destruction by our own or some malicious alien’s actions.
Just consider the one episode in the show’s ten-season run which included the word “God” in its title (“There But For the Grace of God,” Episode 119): Through a “Quantum Mirror” we are taken to an alternate earth (one of the infinite universes that exist alongside ours, we are told) where things have not worked out so fortuitously–earth has been invaded by the Goa’uld Apophis and faces slavery to a false god. In the end, this alternate earth is saved by the intervention of another alien, the Asgard Thor (note the Egyptian and Norse mythology lying behind their names), but it is clear that “the Grace of God” had nothing to do with it. The show does admirably remind us that we cannot save ourselves, but when God is barred from that role, an alien or superhuman is forced to take his place.
For, in the end, shows like Stargate teach that our universe could just as well be overrun with evil as saved by good. Indeed, the fact that there are an infinite number of universes means that an infinite number have been overrun by evil, and there is no good reason why ours shouldn’t be one of them. For sci-fi is not without its pessimists.
Where the ancient Jewish apocalyptic writers maintained an unwavering faith that even their darkest dreams of worldwide catastrophe would be tempered God’s grace, today’s secular futurists have no such assurances. Whether we are threatened with destruction by our own technology (as in Terminator), an alien race (as in Independence Day), or a killer virus (as in Resident Evil), there are no guarantees that human life will survive. Only God could promise that, but he is too often dismissed as a figment of our imaginations, a relic of bygone days when primitive men still believed in a universe controlled by spirits. Now, apart from alien intervention, we must trust our own resources to overcome such dangers and charge ahead to a glorious future, unless of course this is one of those universes that ends badly. I’ll have to watch next week to find out.