In my previous post, I reviewed an episode of the Seth MacFarlane’s comedy-scifi series, The Orville, in which the show presents its worldview concerning the dignity of women. Whereas “About a Girl,” is a positive case for the show’s worldview, the following episode, entitled “If The Stars Should Appear,” throws some barbs at the Christian worldview.
The episode’s premise depicts the Orville happening upon a massive vessel adrift in space — about the size of New York City, unresponsive, and on a collision course with a star. Yet six months and this thing will be destroyed. Unable to establish communications with the vessel, Orville docks to it to warn the people inside. As they get inside, they discover that it’s a bio-ship teeming with millions of life-forms.
Living within it is a mostly agrarian society. Their initial encounter with the residents goes poorly. One resident tries to shoot them before the away team incapacitates him as Captain Mercer jokes to himself that his team is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The shooter’s wife is very confused at the away team’s warnings about the spacecraft heading towards a star. She pleads with the away team not to harm them, as they are good, decent people who embrace the Word of Dorahl. It becomes apparent that these residents do not know that they are aboard a spacecraft. The son, Tomilin, is initially confused but exhibits some suspicion that there is indeed something beyond. His mother tells him to quit that blasphemy, but Tomilin instinctively leads the away team elsewhere against his mother’s demands. Meanwhile, native guards attack the second away team, capturing Commander Grayson and leaving Lieutenant Kitan for dead.
Tomilin begins to explain to Captain Mercer and the others that some of them have begun to question scripture. They believe there may be something beyond what they can see. Dorahl, as in Word of Dorahl, is apparently the creator of the universe according to their teachings. Isaac, the artificial lifeform who obviously is a spoof of Data, remarks the following:
ISAAC: “The common impulse of biological lifeforms to attributed the origin of the universe to an omnipotent being is most curious.”
TOMILIN: “Well, then, how do you think the universe began?”
ISAAC: “On the sub-nuclear scale, it is quite natural for quantum fluctuations to create matter and energy where none exist.”
See? We’re from the future, erm, scientifically developed. We know better than you primitive people and your omnipotent creator being because “on the sub-nuclear scale, it is quite natural for quantum fluctuations to create matter and energy where none exist.” 🙄
Tomilin leads the away team to go meet The Reformers, a dissident group that suspects that there is more beyond their New York City-size world. They explain to the away team that the concept of a beyond has been heresy through all of recorded history and that the population will not change their minds easily. There’s also a leader of the religion, Hamelac, the First Guardian of the Word of Dorahl, who holds absolute religious and political authority.
We get to meet Hamelac soon thereafter as the guards who captured Commander Grayson bring her into the city. Hamelac begins to preach to the crowd about the importance of protecting the Word of Dorahl against heresy. His guards produce one such heretic. After sufficiently riling up the crowd, Hamelac releases the heretic to the crowd to be beaten to death. He then notices Grayson in the background and motions the guards to bring her in for a violent interrogation. The rest of the away team catches up, having found Kitan, rescues Grayson from her interrogation, and warns Hamelac of his world’s nature and impending doom. Hamelac is stubborn but under further questioning, he admits knowing there may be something beyond what can be seen, but the society isn’t ready for that kind of change. Or rather, as the Orville crew charges, Hamelac isn’t ready to give up power.
The Reformers then show the away team a forbidden place, an apparent wall they cannot go beyond. Isaac opens it easily. They get to a lift and discover the bridge of the ship, and the Reformers get to see space for the first time.
There’s also a recorded message left by Captain Jahavus Dorahl (Liam Neeson). Welp. Looks like Dorahl isn’t God after all. He’s just the first captain of the ship from 2,000 years ago. The vessel was constructed as an attempt for his people to visit another planet, and the journey would take three generations. An ion storm disabled the ship’s propulsion, leaving it adrift. The people had apparently just continued to exist from then onward.
Isaac finds that the ship’s engines aren’t too difficult for them to repair, and the upper roof of the ship is retractable to simulate night. Captain Mercer orders the roof opened, revealing outer space to the entire population of the ship for the first time. Even Hamelac appears moved. Now, the people of the Dorahl Bioship can direct their own future. Praise Science!
There are obviously some problematic things in this story.
(1) First, we didn’t get to see or hear any of this scripture called Word of Dorahl in this episode. Maybe it would have been too obvious if Hamelac was holding up a Bible. But we do have a Bible and a reliable manuscript tradition without parallel that tells us that what we have now is what the early church had back then. While there are textual variants, not a single textual variant challenges a single major doctrine of Christianity. To equate the Word of God with the mistaken message of a starship captain is ill-advised.
(2) The church is not presently executing heretics for promoting science. They really shouldn’t have back then, and they aren’t now. Of course, the whole science fiction rewrite is really convenient here, as it just flips things around to make the secularists (not even believing scientists who came under religious pressure to conform) correct in all respects.
And (3) — this is the really subtle one — did you notice the underlying theme of wondering whether there is something beyond what people can see? Tomilin said people are questioning scripture and wondering if there is something beyond what they can see. And Hamelac is forced to admit that there may be something beyond what can be seen. But in reality, the battle between Christianity and secularism is the other way around. Christianity is the worldview which understands that there is something beyond. It understands that by natural revelation we come to understand that God is.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
(Romans 1:18–23 NAS95)
In The Orville, the religious are those who say that only what is seen is what exists — other than this god Dorahl — and the reformers are those who say there’s something beyond. In reality, Christianity says there’s more to this world than matter, and secularists say they only believe in what they can see. Of course, that secularist claim is actually false because the Bible states right there that God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived. Moreover, it was the real-life Reformers who made the call, “Ad fontes!” The Reformers called the people away from the man-made traditions of the church and to the text of Scripture. The Orville‘s “Reformers” are calling the society to skepticism.
As with the previous episode, The Orville’s platform of science fiction allows the re-writing of facts to fit a particular worldview. The onus is on us to be informed and to educate others about what actually is and what actually happened.
Oh, and let us know in the comments if you think the “Reformer” leaders look like Martin Luther and Jan Hus.