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Reel Life Journeys

Science and faith can work together to discover the truth

Contact-800x345The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1)

When I earned my five-year pin at HCA last month, I was also given the choice of an item from a gift catalog. To my children’s surprise, I picked a telescope.

“Why did you choose a telescope, Dad?” they asked.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to look at the moon,” I answered.

When they finally stopped laughing, they said “You don’t need a telescope to see the moon!”

“Yes you do, if you want to look at it up close. I want to find the Sea of Tranquility and other areas where the astronauts landed.”

Growing up during the Space Race in the 1960s, I thought the astronauts were modern-day mariners. Like Ericson, Magellan and Columbus, Neil Armstrong explored a distant, new land when he climbed down the ladder of Apollo 11 and took both a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind.

Today after 50 years of space exploration, we have looked past the moon and deep into our own galaxy, even beyond. With the Hubble telescope, scientists can see billions of stars, pulsars, quasars, and nebulas. Since Einstein’s theory of relativity states the speed of light is constant, looking deeper into the universe means looking farther back in time.

However, the deeper you look, the more complex your subject becomes. Deeper meanings can not always be clarified by science. Our faith in God helps us fill in the holes that science can’t explain.

In the firm Contact, adapted from the novel written by American astronomer and astrobiologist Carl Sagan, the two main characters each have experiences they can’t explain.

Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a woman of science who has devoted her entire life to the S.E.T.I. (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program. She develops a relationship with Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a man of faith and presidential advisor who keeps his finger on the religious pulse of American culture. His book Losing Faith: The Search for Meaning in the Age of Reason questions whether people are happier, despite the advances made by science.

“Is the world fundamentally a better place because of technology?” he asks during an interview by Larry King on CNN. “We shop at home, we surf the Web, but at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier. We feel cut off from everyone else…The one thing that people are most hungry for—meaning—is the one thing that science hasn’t been able to give them.”

Joss is convinced that he experienced the presence of God one night when he was troubled. “I looked to the sky and for the first time in my life, I knew I wasn’t alone, not even afraid of dying.” With no other explanation, he knew “it was God.”

Arroway, on the other hand, is the empirical scientist. In her mind, every event can be explained by the facts and figures of science. In the film’s climax, she experiences a profoundly moving event, yet she’s left with no physical evidence to prove that it happened. The scientist in her admits that she might have imagined the entire event, but in her heart she believes that the event was real, even if she can’t prove it.

Joss lends his support by telling the reporters “As a person of faith, I am bound by a different covenant than Dr. Arroway, but our goals are the same—the pursuit of the truth. I believe her.”

Years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I was confused and unsure how to proceed. Even with the loving support of my family, I felt so alone.

One Sunday before Mass, I went off by myself to pray. “God, grant me the strength to deal with this situation.” But that prayer did not seem quite right, so then I said, “Okay Lord, it’s in your hands. Your will be done. I’ll leave it up to you.”

Walking back to the church, I was suddenly surprised to see my Aunt Peg from Indianapolis standing outside with her students. They were on a bus trip for the weekend and unexpectedly stopped in Nashville for Mass at the Cathedral. I was comforted by her presence and pleased to sing for her class.

Strange coincidence? Perhaps, but I believe my prayer and submission to God’s plan was answered in a way that soothed my feelings of loneliness and helplessness. I no longer felt alone.

So once I figure out all the knobs and settings, I’ll enjoy my new telescope and will use it to see as far as the technology will allow. To see farther and deeper, I’ll rely on my faith to recognize God in my life and in those lives around me.

First published in the September 7, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

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