Science Docudrama Biases Against Religion
On New Year’s Eve, the Discovery HD Theater re-ran the 2005 BBC science docudrama Supervolcano, which dramatizes what might happen to civilization if the volcano under Yellowstone were to unleash its pent-up magma with the fury of prehistoric eruptions.
At three points at least, the program touched on issues of religion and ultimate meaning.
- Two victims huddled in a bunker, imprisoned by the rain of volcanic ash, got onto the meaning of it all. One asked the other if he believed in God. “God?” the other smirked. The first responded that he preferred to believe in God’s mercy. The other man responded sarcastically that he should ask if it was merciful for the 250,000 people who died in the blast.
- News announcers periodically made matter-of-fact statements about millions of years and evolution.
- Near the end, one of the characters commented that disasters such as this were not only catastrophic agents of death and destruction, but, ironically, agents of life and progress. The suggestion was that, under threat from the environment, life re-emerges to diversify and evolve, conquering death with new life.
A program whose gurus were scientists thus presented a philosophy or theology that could be described as scientific materialism, based on an imaginary event.
Notice one thing: in real life, the volcano has not erupted. The BBC used a fictional disaster story as a pretext to present an atheistic worldview, sanctified by science. A God who would let hundreds of thousands die, and millions more to suffer, cannot really be merciful, can he? Therefore he must not exist. Hello… Earth calling BBC… Yellowstone is peaceful and calm today. Millions of people visit the grand old Park each year. Quite a few even worship there in the various outdoor amphitheaters, praising God for the beauty of creation. Can we keep that point in mind?
“But it could happen, couldn’t it? Sure, and a nearby star could go supernova and fry us, a meteor could hit the earth, or the sky could fall. True, the Yellowstone caldera is rising, and the potential is there for a massive eruption. Until it does, and even if it does, how can the BBC draw any theological conclusions? Maybe God in his mercy is preventing the Yellowstone volcano from erupting right now. Try to prove from science this is not the case. In Christian theology, God watches over his creation. Nothing happens without his knowledge and control. But we know that supervolcanoes have erupted in the past, right? Clearly so, but who is to conclude those events were outside the sovereignty of God? These are theological issues, not scientific ones. Creationists might postulate they were associated with the aftermath of the Flood when there were no cities or people around anyway.
And who is the BBC to tell us about mercy? If, as the producers of this show seem to believe, the world is a product of blind evolution and dispassionate natural forces, mercy is a meaningless term. What happens happens. Nothing is good or bad. In fact, evolutionists should see it as a good thing; nothing like a catastrophe to provoke the blossoming of new life (as if that is a good thing, in a world where good and evil are undefined terms). They cannot comment on the attributes of God without assuming what they need to prove.
A theological position must be informed by actual events, not imaginary ones. No one is so blind as to not realize that disasters have ravaged civilization as long as man has existed on this planet. Tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes, plagues and wars have caused untold human suffering. Voltaire was horrified at the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Some of the worst disasters have occurred within our lifetimes. These do not appear targeted at the wicked, but often sweep away everything and everyone. Want a really, really bad disaster? How about a world-wide flood that kills everyone except those on an Ark?
The problem of pain and suffering is as old as Adam. The authors of the Bible knew all too well about disasters. It did not stop them from presenting God as wise, merciful and longsuffering. Theodicy (squaring God’s love with the reality of evil) is a complex issue, but theologians have wrestled with this problem for thousands of years. Though “seeing through a glass darkly,” as is the predicament of mortals, most have achieved satisfactory answers sufficient to give them courage and confidence in spite of incomplete understanding. Those interested in pursuing the issue should study the Christian theodicies from antiquity to modern times. Read, for instance, C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, or Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith (to be adapted for film in early 2008).
The problem of human suffering is not the domain of atheists. Only believers in the Judeo-Christian God have any grounds for making an argument for God’s mercy or lack of it. Atheists and scientific materialists lack the moral categories to make moral judgments. They lack the categories to even make logical judgments. It takes a Christian worldview to even begin to argue about anything. To assume truth and the laws of logic you must first assume the existence of intangible realities and moral qualities that are timeless, universal, and absolute. This point should be settled at the outset when debating an atheist or evolutionist. Once settled, it becomes an issue of imperfect humans trying to understand how God’s love and the reality of evil can be harmonized.
We must avoid, also, the error of mischaracterizing God by focusing on His love to the exclusion of His righteousness. The God of Scripture is wrathful and angry at sin. The Creator is also the ultimate Judge of the universe. If He were to let the Yellowstone volcano loose, what could any man say about it? Shall the clay say to the potter, what are you doing? God has already decreed that all men shall die; the only question for each individual is when and how. Those willing to believe His word and trust Him are promised salvation for their souls, not deliverance from earthly disasters. Sinners on a planet destined for fire should not expect anything but judgment. The question becomes not why God sends disaster, but why He hasn’t sent it yet. Seen in this light, the sunny days are all the more cause for thanksgiving that for another day we have not received what we deserve. Finally, it’s not like He hasn’t told us the end of the story. It’s not like he didn’t warn us to be always ready.
The reason for an entry about a TV re-run is to draw attention to how philosophical and theological biases can pervade visual media, even when the subject matter is about something else. Supervolcano, like a similar one portraying the aftermath of a comet strike, is entertaining for its special effects and human drama. The virtue of discernment calls us to be aware of overt or subliminal influences that pretend to give knowledge without warrant. Teach your family how to identify bias cues. Point them out and discuss them; overcome evil with good.
Producers have freedom of speech to present their points of view, even atheistic and materialistic ones. Their customers have the freedom to sublimate such messages into teachable moments.