In a recent episode of the Flash, Joe West was talking to Barry Allen about his being in love with Joe’s daughter Iris. Joe offered the following words of comfort, “Sometimes the universe has a way of bringing two people together.”
From the purely naturalistic perspective that so much of the traditional science fiction community takes, the notion of an impersonal universe caring about the fastest man alive’s longtime crush is absurd. But it does highlight an interesting trend in many science fiction stories who are giving the Universe powers and attributes that are often associated with God.
The same can be said in Doctor Who. In “The Snowmen”, Madam Vastra suggests the Doctor is trying to bargain with the Universe to save Clara and the Doctor responds that he’s owed by the Universe. “The Rings of Akhaten,” begins with Clara’s father as a young man nearly being run over by a car when a leaf flew in his face and her mother saves him. He saves the leaf and described why it was the most important leaf in human history, “Because this exact leaf had to grow in that exact way, in that exact place, so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch, and make it fly into this exact face. At that exact moment.”
The same story has the Doctor explaining to the young Queen of Years of her importance by saying she was the result of lengthy billions upon billions of years of evolutionary process: “The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one Merry Galel. And there will never be another.”
Such a romanticized view of evolution is something many Atheists would scoff at. Professor William Provine of Cornell speaks for many of these with his conclusions as to where life stands, “There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death… There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.”
The legendary Douglas Adams wrote the classic Doctor Who Story “The City of Death” which posited that life on Earth began as a result of an alien spaceship exploding near a pool of amino acids. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to “Life, the Universe, and everything” is “42” and the rest of the plot indicates, to Adams, the greatest joke of the series was that anyone would expect to find any meaning in life at all.
Despite a decreasing percentage of people claiming a religious affiliation, a cold, purely naturalistic view of the world doesn’t resonate with the human experience or the greatest longings of the human heart. So we’ve seen the rise of secular science fiction that’s been far less hardline and suggests a benevolent providence without God or religion.
This development is fraught with both peril and promise for Christians. In some ways, this mystical approach to atheism goes along with a society that offers ala carte spirituality where everyone picks out whatever religious tenets sound nice to them and believes those, disregarding what they don’t like. This makes each individual the arbiter of truth. Ultimately, that makes each of us our own god.
This certainly bodes well for new age and neo-pagan religions which offer people a sense of spirituality without the holiness of God. We’ve already seen more pagan views of human life and human sexuality take hold in the West over the past few decades.
For Christians, this presents a perfect Mars Hill opportunity. The challenge is much the same as it’s always been, to explain how the greatest needs of the human heart are met in the person of Jesus Christ. The only difference is, while Paul pointed to an altar to an unknown God, today’s Christians may point to the latest episode of The Flash.