Recently, I watched Contact (1997). While I am not a huge Carl Sagan fan, and while many of the arguments found in the movie are weaker ones (based on personal experience above other evidence), the movie is great fiction and exposes the essence of arguments made for something which supposedly gives no physical evidence for itself. Perhaps the most beautiful irony which the screenwriter employs is the use of reference to Occam’s Razor. By so doing, the audience is left to realize that the simplest explanation is not always the true one, and that, not all things are equal in debating the matter of the immaterial vs. the material. Furthermore, the Palmer Joss character correctly depicts a society longing for meaning and never finding it in the materialism, technological drive and naturalism of our age. Lastly, the writer gives poetic justice its moment to shine when Drumlin goes to a tragic death just after his poignant statements about fairness and a broken world.
Contact (1997) – Quotes:
Dr. Drumlin: What’s wrong with science being practical, even profitable?
Palmer Joss : Nothing–as long as your motive is the search for truth. Which is exactly what the pursuit of science is.
Dr. Drumlin: Well that is a rather interesting position, coming from a man on a crusade against the evils of technology, Father Joss.
Palmer Joss: I’m not against technology, Dr. I am against the men who deify it at the expense of human truth.
Larry King: Are you anti-technology? Are you anti-science?
Palmer Joss: No, not at all. The question that I am asking is this: Are we happier as a human race, is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the web… at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history. We’re becoming a synthesized society in a great big hurry to get to the next […]. I think it’s because we’re looking for the meaning…. Well, what is the meaning? We have mindless jobs. We take frantic vacations. Deficit finance trips to the mall to buy more things that we think are going to fill these holes in our lives. I mean, is it any wonder that we lost our sense of direction?
Ellie: [speaking to Joss] Would you like me to quote you? …”Ironically, the thing that people are most hungry for…meaning…is the one thing that science hasn’t been able to give them.”
Joss: yeah, yeah.
Ellie: I mean, C’mon. It’s like you’re saying science killed God. What if science has simply revealed that he never existed in the first place?
Joss: I think we’re gonna need to go get some air.
Joss: And a few more of these. [indicates champagne]
[couple step outside]
Ellie: I’ve got one for ya.
Joss: oh, yeah.
Ellie: Occam’s Razor [Joss overlaps, repeating], Occam’s Razor. Ever heard of it?
Joss: Sounds like some slasher movie.
Ellie: No. Occam’s Razor. It’s a basic scientific principle, and it says, “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”
Joss: Makes sense to me.
Ellie: So what’s more likely? An all-powerful, mysterious God created the universe and then decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that he simply doesn’t exist at all and that we created him so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?
Joss: I don’t know. I couldn’t imagine living in a world where God didn’t exist. I wouldn’t want to.
Ellie: How do you know you’re not deluding yourself? I mean, for me, I’d need proof.
Joss: Proof. [pauses] Did you love your father?
Joss: Your dad. Did you love him?
Ellie: Yes, very much.
Joss: Prove it.
Joss: Dr. Arroway, would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Ellie: uh… I don’t really understand the point of the question. Uh, I consider myself a moral person.
Patel: I’m sure we all agree that is the case, but I think what Mr. Joss is, in fact, asking–[interrupted by Joss]
Joss: Do you believe in God, Dr. Arroway?
Ellie: As a scientist, I rely on empirical evidence, and in this matter, I don’t believe that there is data either way.
Patel: So, your answer would, in fact, be that you don’t believe in God.
Ellie: I just–I don’t understand the relevance of the question.
Committee Member: Dr. Arroway, 95% of the world’s population believes in a supreme being in one form or another. I believe that makes the question more than relevant.
Joss: Our job was to select someone to speak for everybody. And I just couldn’t, in good conscience, vote for a person who doesn’t believe in God. Someone who… thinks the other 95% of us suffer from some sort of mass delusion.
Ellie: I told the truth up there, and Drumlin told you exactly what you wanted to hear.
[Joss later states his real reason for not voting for Ellie is he doesn’t want to lose Ellie.]
Ellie: suppose that I discovered the message means I have some sort of PR value.
Drumlin: Of Course. [pause] Ellie, I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that is an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.
Ellie: Funny, I… always believed that the world is what we make of it.
[Drumlin goes to his death]
Ellie: [Witnessing a celestial light show up close] Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.
Michael Kitz: How do you explain these things, Dr.?
Ellie: “I can’t.”
Michael Kitz: That’s very neat, Dr. You have no proof, because they didn’t want you to have any. A phenomenon known in psychiatric circles, I believe, as a self-reinforcing delusion.
Ellie: Is that what you think? That I was delusional?
Michael Kitz: Well, I think you may have suffered some kind of episode, yes. Yeah, I do.
[conversation regarding Hadden passes]
Michael Kitz: Dr., are you familiar with the scientific precept known as Occam’s Razor?
[Long pause as Ellie looks at Joss]
Ellie: Yes. It means that all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.
Kitz: Exactly. Now, you tell me. What is more likely here? [Kitz continues to accuse of hoax]
Panel member: Doctor Arroway, you come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that to put it mildly strains credibility. Over half a trillion dollars was spent, dozens of lives were lost. Are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all… on faith?
[pause, Ellie looks at Joss]
Michael Kitz: Please answer the question, doctor.
Ellie: Is it possible that it didn’t happen? Yes. As a scientist, I must concede that, I must volunteer that.
Michael Kitz: Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story.
Michael Kitz: You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing.
Michael Kitz: You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!
Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] Then why don’t you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this “journey to the center of the galaxy,” in fact, never took place!
Ellie: Because I can’t. I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.
In response to Ellie’s comment: “So what’s more likely? An all-powerful, mysterious God created the universe and then decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that he simply doesn’t exist at all and that we created him so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?” I reply this way:
Empiricism and naturalism deal only with gaining factual knowledge from only one aspect of life–the material. It completely ignores the possibility, yes rather, the reality that earthly existence is not merely material but also immaterial, something the ancient Greeks and Romans knew long ago… and which all modern religions (false or true) recognize. Christianity highlights the truth claims of Jesus Christ–that He alone is God incarnate, the Creator of the Universe–and that natural data is evidence enough for a Creator (if one chooses to interpret it that way), while the Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word (Self-revelation) of God which plainly reveals the origin of all things, the meaning in all things, the purpose of all things, and the destiny of all things.
3 Free Christian Apologetics Presentations — on the Bible, Debunking Evolution, and The Resurrection of Jesus Christ