Came across it on t.v. the other day and decided to watch it since I haven't in such a long time...boy was that movie about the struggle for faith!  I just couldn't decide whether the movie was for or against Atheism.  It seems because of the ending that they were attempting to convey believing in God was not only necessary but right.  What do you guys think?

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I didn't get any sense that they were attempting to convey believing in God but it has been a long time since I saw the movie. What made you think that?

I agree the movie seems a lot more ambiguous than I think Carl Sagan would have liked.

I can't compare it to the book (which he did have full control over), not having read it.

I've read the book and it's fantastic.  In my opinion it's much better than the movie, because the movie strips out a lot of the interesting political and bureaucratic plotlines.  The ending does seem to lean toward theism, but I think we have to take that in the context of Carl Sagan's life, writings, and worldview.

It's clear from his other works and from interviews with him and his widow Ann Druyan that Sagan was, if not an outright atheist, at least a very skeptical non-theist.  I think it's fair to say that he felt religion was an impediment to knowledge and that science acts as a "candle in the dark" (the subtitle, I believe, of one of his best books) to dispel fear, superstition, and belief in the supernatural.

But, at the same time, his personal philosophy was very much entwined with late 1960s/early 1970s humanism, which did not disavow a kind of spiritual aspect of human existence, a transcendent and almost other-worldliness which some (including Sagan, to some degree) sought to enhance through substances, meditation, etc.  Druyan has spoken of the "spiritual uplift" that science ought to provide, and I'm sure Sagan expressed similar sentiments and used similar language.  From the perspective of many 21st-century atheists, including myself, a lot of that seems silly and uncomfortably reminiscent of religion, but we have to understand Sagan by the standards of his own day, not ours.  I'm sure he enjoyed throwing a little kink in the works by adding a mystical element to the end of Contact (religion is a theme throughout the book), but I would suggest that you don't let it detract from your enjoyment of the book, the movie, or Sagan's many other fantastic contributions to popular science and entertainment.

Dear Jeremy:

I watch Contact every few months, as a reminder about the 'conflict' between faith and science. There is one scene where the main character mentions 'they should have sent a poet'. This always catches me up a little, because of my own double sense of wonder and science as seeming two sides of the same coin.

We have been documenting the life on our property due to the family desire for long term preservation. Today we took pictures of dragonflies as they flew around the yard and through the garden. In just a few minutes, we found three varieties. Each with their own beauty.

In the movie, power and wonder are also juxaposed. Wonder exposes power to the vast compexity and denigns it the delusion of infalibilty or completness.

Near the end, when they enter into the car and hold hands, I think the awareness of the sacred and understanding are joined into one knowing. Humility remains.

Does it matter if the movie is ambivalent about faith or atheism? Does the universe care and should we?  

@James - Dragonflies are awesome! Did you know that dragonfly larvae eat mosquito larvae?

Yes.

On a trip down the Rogue River a few years ago, I was more impressed by the diversity of dragonflies than much else. There was a small flooded area with reeds, small fish, and the air filled with the sound of dragonfly wings. I wanted to stay, but we needed to move on racing the afternoon sun. I can't help myself with enchantment. I was amazed how few folks on the trip even would even walk a short distance from the river. On the last streach of the trip we saw otters..;p).

We passed a football team that seemed to be mostly a crew of drunken sailers, the surrounding world wasted on them..;p(.   

Dear Folks:

I read the book sometime before the movie release. As usual the book was butchered. I need to read it again, it has been nearly 20 years since my last read.

I love this film so much.  I especially like that Ellie's story is painted as a kind of faith in the making, only it's not your standard faith in a supernatural being.  Her faith is in the existence of extra-terrestrials.  That's what makes the inability for her to prove her encounter, and her desire to prove it, so interesting, in that it parallels the struggle of evangelicals, and yet is so very different.

I think it stays true to Sagan's independence of mind, given it says to the struggling non-theist, "Go ahead and have faith in something, but be rigorous in your choosing of that something."

That movie blew. I think Mr. Garrison (South Park) summed it up pretty well:


“Waited to see that entire movie to see that alien, and it was her goddamn father!”

I was thinking exactly the same thing, great episode.

Dear Jason:

The term 'blew', I assume, means 'sucks'. This is understandable.

Most SF movies leave little to the imagination. Sadly, many are hardly more that WWII reinactments with aliens in the place of Nazis. If we every encounter 'aliens' I expect not all of them will be warm and fuzzy, deeply intellectual, or spiritual shaman. I do hope our 'first contact' is with kind explorers just looking for a nice place to bed down for the night, and not be nutritionally interested in people that use the term 'blew' excessively. I also have used the term on occasion..;p).

I think I missed that one South Park...;p(    

   I can't imagine a Hollywood producer would ever risk making a movie that explicitly supported atheism.  

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