In the “Venus” episode of Defying Gravity (a series following six astronauts as they journey through the solar system on a mission they recently realized involves a new life form), Paula is struggling with Dr. Mintz’s request that she examine an experience she had as a child in which her dog Hector seemed to be miraculously brought back to life after being hit by a car—an experience foundational to her faith in God. She talks with Steve, a theoretical physicist with whom she has formed an unlikely but deepening friendship.
Paula: Do you believe in miracles, Steven?
Steve: I believe that amazing stuff goes on in the universe every single day. But they all have an explanation. Miracles are—
Steve: —reality with parts missing.
Paula (despondent): So they’re lies.
Steve: No, they’re incomplete. It’s like we smooth over the missing stuff with what we want to believe.
Paula: That’s just it. Mintz wants me to examine every moment of my miracle with Hector.
Steve: So? Who’s to say that examining every moment is going to make it any less a miracle. I mean, most religious people I know are physicists. The explanation is what makes them believe in a higher power.
One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Defying Gravity—and sincerely regret that the series was cancelled—is because of exchanges like this. While it definitely has its weaknesses (including its periodic use of religious story and references stereotypically, shallowly and even incorrectly), I deeply appreciate moments like this, not only because it brings God-talk into open spaces but also because faith and science move away from dichotomies and begin to intertwine.
As I listened to Stephen’s description of miracles, I couldn’t help but think of Dallas Willard’s description of Jesus’ miracles in The Divine Conspiracy:
At the literally mundane level, Jesus knew how to transform the molecular structure of water to make it wine. That knowledge also allowed him to take a few pieces of bread and some little fish and feed thousands of people. H e could create matter from the energy he knew how to access from “the heavens,” right where he was….I am fascinated by this idea that Jesus’ actions are not in violation of the laws and physics of nature but rather a mastery of them. If truth be told, I find it breathtaking. And if I knew the physics and mechanics of how Jesus manipulated energy and matter, it wouldn’t make them any less “acts of God” (as this dictionary defines miracles). In fact, contemplating that kind of mastery, manipulation, intelligence and power (as Steve puts it above) only serves to strengthen my “belief in a higher power,” my awe of and trust in God.
He knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or ax. He only needed a word. Surely he must be amused at what Nobel prizes are awarded for today….
All these things show Jesus’ cognitive and practical mastery of every phase of reality: physical, moral, and spiritual. He is Master only because he is Maestro. “Jesus is Lord” can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, “Jesus is smart.”
He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived… He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life. Let us now hear his teachings on who has the good life, on who is among the truly best.
I also appreciate this episode’s theme of examining what we believe and why (something this series has explored before). It is important that we always seek the truth of our reality and our experiences. And this is in line with the kind of faith we see in Scripture. God doesn’t want us to walk around in a stupor of blind devotion to a belief or doctrine. He wants us to know him for who he is and the universe around us as it is. C.S. Lewis reflects that if we really seek to know if God exists and who he is we will inevitably discover the areas where we simply get it wrong. In the A Grief Observed, Lewis says:
Images of the Holy easily become holy images—sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself… And all this time, I may, once more, be building with cards. And if I am, He will once more knock it down as often as proves necessary.We are called to constantly pull our lives and thoughts into the light and examine them. We shouldn’t be afraid of honest and sincere questions and examinations—be they from ourselves or others. Yes, there will be times of darkness, suffering or doubt. But if God is who he is and can do what he says, our faith and trust can only grow deeper and the reality around us will only grow richer.
I like this concept of miracles as “reality with parts missing.” It is useful to me. And I appreciate a story that offers up this kind of approach that not only allows that faith and science are not mutually exclusive but can actually go hand in hand. Yes, the series (and even this scene) contain aspects with which I would argue, but it definitely was the kind of series that brought God-talk into open spaces.
Too bad it won’t continue to do so.