by Tony Watkins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, David Morse
Certificate: PG

Carl Sagan was an astrophysicist with a gift for popularising science. He was one of a handful of scientists around the world who have deeply influenced people's beliefs. One of his books, Cosmos, is one of the most popular science books ever and the associated TV series has been seen by over 500 million people in sixty countries. In it he makes clear his basic belief: 'The cosmos is all there is or was or ever shall be.' He talked of the world as demon - haunted by which he meant that people believe all kinds of things which are not science - including horoscopes, the predictions of Nostradamus, and Christianity.

Knowing that left me feeling puzzled by the recently - released film of his book, Contact. Ellie, a scientist searching for extraterrestial life, is sceptical about anything 'spiritual'. She is not impressed by the religious experience of her friend, Palmer, but finds herself on the receiving end of similar scepticism after an incredible (scientific) experience for which there is no physical evidence. Ellie is forced to concede that she cannot prove the reality of her experience but is nonetheless personally convinced by it - at which point meaningful glances are exchanged with Palmer.

I confess to not having read the book but my guess is that Sagan would have been trying to communicate his firm belief that 'there is always a simpler explanation'. All those poor deluded people who've had a spiritual experience just don't realise that there's a simpler - physical - explanation for that experience.

Having not read the original, I can't comment on whether the film takes liberties with it or not. But we live in a culture where personal experience is increasingly the ultimate - or even the only - test of truth. I know full well that many of those who watch the film will interpret its message as: 'There are all kinds of experiences that can't be proved but are real nontheless. What's important is that you find your own personal truth and stick with it no matter what everyone else says.'

In our experience - based culture, our own experience of God is important. But others have profound experiences too. Our experience cannot be the only test for what is true - our faith does not ultimately rest on that but on truth - real truth with real evidence.

Our experience of God is important but we're in danger of being tricked by our culture into thinking that it's the final test of the truth of what we believe. There is good evidence for the historical reliability of the gospel.

Author: Tony Watkins
© Copyright: Tony Watkins 1997