There is a lot of buzz surrounding Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. It’s being made into a movie staring Matt Damon. Here, we will look at the book from a worldview perspective. There will be major SPOILERS in what follows.
The Value of a Human
One of the objections raised in the novel to moving missions around to try to save Mark is the sheer cost of the expedition. Why spend millions or even billions of dollars trying to save just one person, particularly when there are so many others who could be saved?
Towards the end, Mark himself is reflecting on this and he writes “The cost of my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother? …[T]hey did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true… Yes, there are [expletive]s who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.”
The appeal to basic goodness of humanity is not without a number of assumptions. For example, how is it that the basic goodness of humanity is established? It isn’t just assumed–the evidence cited is that the overwhelming majority of people have basic instinct built into them to help others. But I wonder whether that evidence is drawn more from the extraordinary circumstances Mark found himself in than from the reality of human nature. It is a fact that women are taught in this country (the United States) to shout “fire” rather than “rape” if they are under assault, because people will answer more readily to cries to help fight a fire than they will try to intervene in an assault. The circumstances often determine how willing we are to go the extra mile to help others.
Thus, the conclusion seems a bit naive. Yes, the world pulled together in this work of fiction to help a man stranded on Mars–and I suspect that all kinds of red tape would, in fact, be cut if this ever happened–but that cannot be applied universally to every situation. The fact that there is so much human suffering happening right now–visible human suffering that can be seen in places that are, for example, attacked by IS, or wracked by storms, and the like–without humanity pulling together to stop it suggests that this notion of universal good will towards all is not as powerful as was suggested.
On the other hand, from a Christian perspective, each and every human life is precious, not because we have some inherent need to help others (though that could arguably be there), but because we share human nature, a nature given to us by God to be the image of God in this universe. Humans are valuable simply because they are humans, and we have an obligation to help those in need.
Humans and Others
It is not explored very deeply, but there is a sense throughout the book that humans are made to be with others. Mark feels a profound sense of loneliness when he realizes he is stuck on Mars, but he ultimately gets to work on trying to survive as quickly as possible. This work helps to distract him from his sense of loss, but at times throughout the book it crops up again. The sense of loneliness is at times crushing for him, but he is always able to get himself moving again, perhaps because he continually has hope that the loneliness will be squashed by being rescued or at least getting contact with Earth.
Humans are made to be people in community. I think this again reflects the Christian concept of the image of God. As God is Triune and in community (speaking here rather metaphorically, of course), we are made to be in community as well. Moreover, God created man but then realized “it is not good for man to be alone” and created a woman. These profound words are often explored from various angles, but I wonder whether they don’t also speak to us from a sense of loneliness. We are not meant to be alone but rather to exist in community. Our existential longing and loneliness ultimately points beyond ourselves to a higher reality–in which we may experience communion with God.
The Martian is an entertaining read. It doesn’t raise as many worldview questions as some other science fiction works do, but it does ask us to consider the value of humanity and shared experience. I’d recommend reading it, but be aware of a large amount of swearing.
Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.