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As I have been immersing myself in literary and cinematic representations of the supernatural, I revisited the 1997 film, Contact. Dr. Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, has searched her entire life for confirmation of life by radio signal. Finally, as an adult, she discovers a signal confirmed from another galaxy. This creates chaos. People at every level of government and civilian interest respond to the news that we are not alone in the Universe. Some pray to God, some pray to aliens, some protest, and others celebrate.
Dr. Arroway discovered the sound and has to fight for her right to remain involved. Unfortunately, even though she is clearly the leading expert in this project, she is placed under the authority of men, many of whom make automatic presumptions from colonial military perspectives. Meanwhile, protestors bring attention to the religion versus science debate. Arroway summarizes the debate “it seems like your saying that science killed God.” In her relationship with a religious leader, Palmer Joss, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, she is forced to explore her own faith. Unfortunately, her refusal to profess belief in God costs her the opportunity to embark on the mission to communicate directly with the Vega Star System 26-light years from the earth using a machine built following alien instructions.
Scientists believe the alien-originated machine will transport an individual to the Vega system. However, religious fanaticism leads to terrorism—sabotage, destruction of the machine, and the many human lives aboard. Fortunately, a second machine was built in secret. Dr. Arroway is recruited to test the schematic. She is outfitted with human-made security features to protect her, even though she is rather inclined to put her faith in the alien schematic and ride freely in form.
Dr. Arroway travels to another star system where she observes a beautiful celestial event in space before she is lowered to a planet on what appears to be an oceanside beach. The landscape looks identical to an image she drew in the past, and a being approaches her. It morphs into the image of her dad and speaks knowingly to her. She immediately recognizes that the aliens downloaded memories from her subconscious to speak with her familiarly. In addition, she learns many other species have responded to the same message. This is how the aliens make First Contact.
When Dr. Arroway returns, she finds out that no time passed, and she is the only one who believes she made contact with other life forms. Science confirms that only a fraction of a second passed. Dr. Arroway must defend her experience but cannot provide any evidential proof or scientific evidence that she traveled through a wormhole and made contact with another species. Due to this lack of evidence, she is put on trial. The government accuses S. R. Hadden, her benefactor, of manipulating her experience as “the most expensive hoax of all time.” In the end, the question is posed in terms of faith. She concedes that she cannot believe her own story because there is no scientific evidence that it happened, yet she cannot deny that it was real. Can both things be true?
In the end, Dr. Arroway, the skeptical scientist, concedes the possibility of truth in faith. Her companion, Joss, declares his belief in her. After all, he says, they are both in pursuit of truth. Can belief in something be evidence of the truth of something? This is a question that continues to plague human philosophers through the ages. Is it even possible to believe in something without a reasonable modicum of doubt? The implication that scientific evidence must be required for something to be is true is an idea that hinders scientific advancement. The pursuit of any truth begins with a theory that may be based on nothing but faith.
Dr. Erica Mongé-Greer, holding a PhD in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, is a distinguished researcher and educator specializing in Biblical Ethics, Mythopoeia, and Resistance Theory. Her work focuses on justice in ancient religious texts, notably reinterpreting Psalm 82’s ethics in the Hebrew Bible, with her findings currently under peer review.
In addition to her academic research, Dr. Mongé-Greer is an experienced University instructor, having taught various biblical studies courses. Her teaching philosophy integrates theoretical discussions with practical insights, promoting an inclusive and dynamic learning environment.
Her ongoing projects include a book on religious themes in the series Battlestar Galactica and further research in biblical ethics, showcasing her dedication to interdisciplinary studies that blend religion with contemporary issues.