Quote from the movie Contact (1997)

In the movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays an athiest scientist that recives a communication from outer space offering instructions on how to build advanced space travel technology. She becomes one of a group of possible candidates that will pilot the space craft that is constructed. Each candidate goes through an interview process to determine his/her worthiness for the mission. Matthew McConaughey plays a theologian who is one of the people involved in the interview process. Ultimately, he rejects Jodie Foster as a candidate. He says that one of his reasons for not selecting her was, “Our job was to select someone to speak for everybody. And I just couldn’t in good conscience vote for a person who doesn’t believe in God. Someone who honestly thinks the other ninety five percent of us suffer from some form of mass delusion.”

This quote got me to thinking. Does the fact that a large number of people profess belief in a higher power actually make a good argument for religious belief? I don’t think so. The Matthew McConaughey does not delve into the possible reasons why so many people believe as they do. It seems that he assuming that all those people have legitimate, rational reasons for believing as they do. He does not take into account historical and psychological reasons for belief.

For example, I’m sure one good reason why so many people have some sort of religious belief is because religion has been propagated and exploited by those in power for much of humankind’s existence. There really wasn’t much of an option not to believe in what the ruling class told one to believe. This reason alone certainly explains why religion has lasted as long as it has. Even after people were given the option not to believe in a religion, so many people were already accustomed to it that they just kept on doing it. And there are still plenty of those in power who still benefit from pushing religion on the masses to this day. The propaganda and manipulation and the politics behind belief are still going strong.

Also, there are a multitude of psychological reasons for belief. Egoism, wanting to be a part of something, fear of mortality, fear of uncertainty, fear of change, fear of complexity, conformity, ect.

If the historical and psychological reasons are combined, I’m sure that many of the people McConaughey mentions would be fall into one or more of these categories. Maybe all of them would. I think one of the problems with religion is that nobody ever questions the motivation behind belief. It is just assumed that each person has made a valid decision to believe without factoring in all the underlying causes that may be at work. Using 95% of the world’s population as a justification for religious belief is just as absurd as trying to use them to determine what the best restaruant to go to is.

I don’t think “Is religion justified?” is good enough. Religion entails the embracing of the existence of a god or gods on a large scale populationaly speaking. Who cares if its one person or a million people? They all believe that a god(s) exists.

Step back from the crowd first and read the brochure.

“Is the belief in a god justified?”

Thats a better question I think.

“This quote got me to thinking. Does the fact that a large number of people profess belief in a higher power actually make a good argument for religious belief? I don’t think so”

No, but the context that the movie put it in made perfect sense. The panel was looking for someone to represent humans in general and most humans believe in some form of a God so their representative should be someone that believed in a God.

Why would your intent be to have a representation of a mentality that stresses Earthling’s solitude in the universe? In the movie, suposedly there was life on other planets. You would rather send a person who’s world view included the idea that no life was elsewhere, over someone who’s mentality allowed for such thinking?

If I were the Vegans I would have thought “Wait… seems kinda silly to send a non believer.”

I dont think it’s about logic, this is politics. The taxpayers are footing the bill and in a Democracy there has to be a show of pleasing what people want and the people probably want the representative to ask or answer a question about God to the aliens.

Send an agnostic…

I think that tradition and history give good reasons for people to engage in religious practice. Whether or not the belief is justified, however, is completely independent of the number of people that practice it.

That said, in the case of the movie, it makes good sense not to send an atheist. If you are making contact, you would want someone who can serve as an ambassador of our culture – not just in some vague academic sense, but very much in a literal one (since chances are, any communication is going to be limited).

Send a cat.

Send a 100-foot-tall radioactive dinosaur, just in case.

That reminds me, your avatar change.