Considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, Alien was released nearly four decades ago. The space-trucker movie where everything that could go wrong does changed the genre of sci-fi horrors and stands as a bench mark for all sci-fi movies in its category. The amazing use of practical effects and stunning acting from the original cast gained enough attention to the 1979 crowd that it opened a whole new film franchise.
Ridley Scott, the original director, is back in the helm with his most recent installment called Alien Covenant. This new film has gained mixed attention from critics and viewer. And much like Prometheus before it, viewers are not sure how to take the direction of the franchise. This is a real shame since both movies are great additions to the Alien franchise and open up the Alien Universe. But looking beyond box office reception, one directional characteristic that makes the last two installments great are the philosophical conversations that the films naturally brings up. Questions like where did life come from? What is the meaning of life? And is there such thing as destiny?
The philosophy of these films offers hours of discussion, but really, the direction of the films allow yourself a glimpse into the current cultural understandings and questions of existence and meaning in this world. Most notably, the film seems to be a medium to work through life’s big questions, and it does so in a way that looks sourly upon faith and God. That is, Scott’s direction of the films has opened the conversations to talk about existence and meaning, but it’s done with a predisposed bias against theistic beliefs.
*Below are minor spoilers of Alien Covenant.*
A look into Alien Covenant and its views on faith and reason
Without ruining the plot of the movie, the crew are on a colonist space craft with two thousand passengers, a thousand embryos, and are headed for a remote planet, Origae-6, to colonize. Due to a malfunction in the spacecraft, the crew members are awakened to help stabilize the ship when they hear a mysterious transmission coming from a nearby, unknown planet. Oram, the serving captain, decides to investigate the planet as an alternate option to Origae-6. Daneils who is the main protagonist of the film protests Oram’s decision and wants to keep the ship on course. Oram refuses to listen to Daniels and, as captain, he orders the crew to chart a course for the planet.
The difference of opinion between Oram and Daniels is Scott’s way of introducing a feud between faith and reason. Oram, played by Billy Crudup, and Daneisl, played by Katherine Waterstone, relationship is meant to serve as a contrast to each other. Oram is the faith-driven captain, and Daniels represents the strong-willed, reason-focused, female leader. While we all know it’s an Alien movie and something needs to go wrong, who Scott decides to pin the blame on is what makes this movie worth talking about. That is, Scott uses Oram’s faith as the cancerous tumor that causes the struggle and inevitable downfall of the crew. But this isn’t simply a critique on Scott’s views of faith and reason, as it is a cultural critique on societies’ views between the two.
Alien Covenant gives a classic example of how our culture views faith. Faith is what causes people’s reason and better judgment to be clouded.
Alien Covenant gives a classic example of how our culture views faith. Faith is what causes people’s reason and better judgment to be clouded. It takes a scientific minded person like Oram and corrupts him with the naïve idea that fate (possible from a higher power like God) has providentially allowed the crew to stumble upon a new planet. Fate has brought them here and so they must respond to its call.
A hard question to ask is if it’s true? Does faith really corrupt our thinking and lead to our own downfall? More specifically, are faith and reason at opposite ends of the spectrum?
Religion the cancer of the mind
The popularity in anti-religious messaging stems from a shift in cultural thinking. This shift was most noticeable two hundred years ago with the rise of Darwinian evolution and humanistic beliefs. These beliefs showed that God was not a necessary part of the equation to explain our existence. And since this belief is now widely accepted, Christianity (and other religions that have a creator) seem outdated, and just flat out wrong.
This makes sense of why Scott chose Oram to be the lynchpin that brought the downfall of the crew. Society accepts and expects that in a scenario where someone is driven by science and the other by faith, that the person who is leading by his religious convictions will be the one that screws it all up.
Are faith and reason really at odds?
In the narrative of Alien, faith and reason are at odds with one another, but is this really the case? The answer isn’t as cut and dry as we would like. As Christians, we are called to have faith (Hebrews 11:6), and we are also called to have reason (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Peter 3:15). The problem between these two views is that society thinks they’re mutually exclusive. Faith is typically understood as a blind will to believe regardless of what you may know. While reason is typically understood as what makes logical sense given what you know. But this is not how the Bible explains faith and reason.
…we are to have a confident faith in things that we have good reason to believe, and not a blind, unguided, wishful faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This is a key verse in understanding the relationship between faith and reason. The author of this verse is trying to explain that we are to have a confident faith in things that we have good reason to believe, and not a blind, unguided, wishful faith. It’s much like the kind of faith that we place in another person given what we know of that person, or the faith that we place in the laws of physics that a plane, despite its weight, will fly.
The real villain of the movie
This understanding of faith is a real slap in the face to Hollywood’s pathetic portrayal of faith and goes to show how Christians should rethink faith and reason in their own lives. Oram’s decision to follow his faith-driven beliefs in the movie may have caused the crew’s downfall, but the real villain of the movie wasn’t Oram, but David.
David, the android from Prometheius who is played by Michael Fassbender, falls victim to his Darwinian/mad-scientist-esque beliefs that superior beings (i.e., himself and his xenomorphs) deserve the right to do harm to anything else just because of their inherit superiority. Thus, the real tragedy of the film is not Oram and his faith, but the secular, scientific beliefs that do away with absolute meaning, morality, and purpose in this world. It was David’s scientism that led to the mass genocide of the people and the slaughter of the crew. He thought himself as a creator and god merely because he was smarter and stronger. Perhaps if David was given a little faith, the world of Alien could have been a better place, but who wants to watch that movie?