I had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
Your Life Matters
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.
The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.
And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.
Linear vs. Non-Linear Time
I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?
Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.
Time, Part 2
Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?
Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.
“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.
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Over the past weekend, I was privileged to spend some time in Georgia (Atlanta area) at the seminar “God, Time, and Creation” with William Lane Craig (in picture next to me). It was part of a class of the same name for the Master of Arts Program with Biola University.
The seminar was a blast. I took approximately 25 pages of notes. Craig’s lecture notes comprised about 440 pages. Awesome!
The seminar focused on God’s relationship to time. Is God timeless, or temporal? Interestingly, Craig holds that God was timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation. His book, Time and Eternity, expands on the issues at great length.
First, Craig covered the arguments for and against a timeless God. It seems like a timeless God is not philosophically untenable, and the argument for a timeless God based upon the idea of the imperfection of a temporal life has some plausibility. Then, Craig went over the arguments for and against a temporal God.
After that, we covered the static (B-theory) of time–which holds that all of time and space is a kind of 4-dimensional block–and the dynamic (A-theory) of time–which holds that temporal becoming and passing away is real. It seems that the B-theory of time is, at best, extremely counterintuitive. If the B-theory is correct, our feeling of passing through time is illusory. Further, the theological problems with the view make it really implausible. If time is static, then the J.W. from three hours ago is literally a different entity than the J.W. now, because each is a different “slice” of a four-dimensional “block” of time. So, for example, it would seem as though the J.W. now could not be punished for the sins of a past J.W.–they are, in fact, different entities. Therefore, the doctrines of atonement, justification, sin, etc. seem to be at best vacuous. So a static theory of time, I think, is very implausible for the Christian to hold.
I’m reading through Paul Helm’s Eternal God: A Study of God without Time right now. He holds that God is timeless, and holds that time is static. I’m interested to see if he counters any of these theological issues.
Craig concluded that without creation, God is timeless–there is no change. But once God created, He underwent at least an extrinsic change, which Craig argues means God is temporal subsequent to creation.
This is one of the few areas I disagree with Craig on. I actually think it is more theologically plausible to hold that God is timeless, period. The main problem with this view is that many argue a timeless God entails a static theory of time. If I find on my further study into the area that this is the case, I may be forced to abandon the view that God is timeless. Therefore, I’m looking forward to delving into greater detail on this topic.
I’ve read Brian Leftow’s Time and Eternity and found it extremely interesting and thought-provoking. Craig is highly critical of Leftow’s view and charges that Leftow makes category mistakes throughout his work. As I said, I’m also reading Helm’s Eternal God, so I’ll see how that holds up. This is a very interesting topic which affects the core of study about the nature of God, how God relates to the world, divine providence, and many other areas. I’m excited to continue my research in this area.
On a side note, the Atlanta area is pretty awesome to visit! The weather was gorgeous. It isn’t that much fun driving there, however.
I visited a Christian Bookstore in the area–Lifeway Christian Bookstore–which had a huge sale on CDs. I couldn’t resist picking up some more Christian music (5$ cds!).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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 and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.