Science Versus Religion

Thoughts While Watching Twelve Monkeys, the TV Series, in 2020, Part IV of IX

It does not take long for the storyline of the 12 Monkeys series to press the often explored issue of science versus religion. There are a number of factions established in the future universe of the Twelve Monkeys. But the one that challenges Dr. Jones scientific project directly is the standing government, which consists mainly of leftover militia in the Americas, and a leader who is hell-bent on discovering a cure for an ever-mutating virus.

For Col. Foster, the leader of Spearhead, there is no use looking to the past. He works with a team of doctors to develop a cure and make way for the future of humanity. He is a man of faith. His work is protected by a divine providence. He argues that Jones’ work is futile in the face of God’s promise for a future in discovering the cure and re-inhabiting the earth through natural procreation.

Foster holds onto the virtue of Christian religion. He references Psalm 91—“whosoever shall love the shelter of the most high shall rest in the shadow of the mighty,” and references Clement of Rome (c. 96 CE), “for we shall rise phoenix-like from the ashes of death and decay.”* He prays a Christian prayer before dining, and his main argument agains Dr. Jones’s work is that God has already provided for a future. He urges her to support his efforts to seek a cure.

Dr. Jones believes he is a hypocrite. She describes his efforts as lies to fuel hope in a dying world. Jones is an academic scientist whose faith in science borders the impossible. She was working on defying the natural order of time long before any pandemic made it, from her perspective, necessary. For Jones, religion is a luxury which can no longer be afforded in this post-apocalyptic world. Early on in the series, she establishes science as the only valuable pursuit. In her first interaction with Cole, she is matter-of-fact about it—“Spirituality,” she says, “is just science we don’t understand.”

Foster is convinced that Jones’s pursuit is blasphemy. Her scientific advancements in time travel seeks to undo the progress. Ultimately, he sees her as disruptive to creation of life, that is, children and relationships born in this present reality. This is not just a theoretical discussion. It is made personal in the series when Ramse discovers that he has a young son with a women who he had loved and was previously lost to him.

There is not much sympathy for Foster. Ramsey calls Spearhead a cult and compares Foster’s fervor to the maniacal tendencies of Deacon. Both Deacon and Foster seek to seize power in the present reality, assigning value to what is, and then shaping the values of those around them. It may be that Jones is doing the same thing, but because we are given her story from the beginning, it is easier to justify her perspective. When Jones destroys Spearhead to acquire their power source, she recognizes the eternal reality of the physical universe above all else. “No matter what will happen to us,” she says, “the stars will remain.” 

For Jones salvation will be the result of humanity’s efforts to rewrite a past made wrong by humans. And while Foster intends to put the past behind him, the only thing ahead is a world dying without a cure. Both leaders see their work as the only way of redemption for humanity. Both believe the ends justify the means of their actions, even when their actions are corrupt. When Jones faces Foster with a gun and kills him, her faith in the Splinter project is revealed when she says, “goodbye, Jonathan … for now.” She has no doubt of the success of the project.

*This is an allusion to Christian beliefs in the resurrection of the dead. Ironically, the analogy of a phoenix could also apply as an outcome to Jones’s Splinter project, which would rewrite history to form a new world, life out of the ashes of the pandemic which came first.

Twelve Monkeys is currently streaming on Hulu.

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