Jodi Foster’s Empiricism in Contact

[This is a “reprint’ of part 2 of a series I posted on my home blog, www.ldsphilosopher.com]

One of my favorite movies is Contact, based on a novel written by Carl Sagan. One reason I like it is that it makes such important statements about how we come to know things. (Spoiler alert: Those who haven’t seen the movie and would not like the plot spoiled for them should not read this post.)

Ellie Arroway and her friend Palmer Joss discuss the meaning of religious experience.

One of my favorite movies is Contact, based on a novel written by Carl Sagan. One reason I like it is that it makes such important statements about how we come to know things. (Spoiler alert: Those who haven’t seen the movie and would not like the plot spoiled for them should not read this post.)

The movie is about a woman named Eleanor Arroway (Ellie, played by Jodi Foster), who is an astronomer working for the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). She scans the stars using radio telescopes, looking for radio signals from other planets that may be communications from intelligent life outside the solar system.

Traditional Empiricism

Ellie is an atheist (or at best, an agnostic); she does not find any compelling evidence to believe in God. She refuses to believe in anything unless it can be demonstrated to her scientifically. She does not feel that there is enough evidence to warrant belief in a Supreme Being.

Ellie befriends a man named Palmer Joss, who is a theologian and a humanitarian specialist who writes books about the lack of meaning in our lives. He finds it remarkable that despite an increased standard of living and incredible technology, we Continue reading

Highlights from General Conference, April 2009

We had another great General Conference! Some of the dominant themes were faith and endurance amidst trials, temple worship, and unselfish service. Here are some highlights, with some of my own thoughts (and at least one soap box.)

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If I could ask God one question…

Things are quiet on the blog lately, so I figure it’s a good chance to make an appearance. Perhaps few people will read this entry and then I can likely avoid being blacklisted.

I applied to teach at Messiah College in Pennsylvania recently and part of the application was affirming the Apostles’ Creed. I affirmed the Apostles’ Creed, and I did so because I agreed with all the statements that were made within the creed. However, after having done so, I couldn’t help but recall the words of Joseph Smith when discussing his First Vision: “the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (JS-H 1:19).

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“Objective” Has to Go

I hear the word “objective” used fairly often. I’ve heard it at home, at the university, at work, and even at church on occasion. One thing I think we fail to appreciate is that this word can have several different meanings and that some of these meanings may convey more philosophical baggage than we might know.

Although there may be more ways to use the word, I’ve decided to deal specifically with two ways I hear the word “objective” used daily.

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Instrumental Reasoning (or Why Prayer Works)

How often have you heard someone testify from the pulpit that prayer works, that priesthood blessings work, that the gospel works? Well, I heard one of those again today and (as always) it made me cringe. By now I’ve probably proved myself someone who gets a little too caught up in the way people say things and I plead guilty here. I really believe that the sister in my ward who said that the gospel works meant to say much more than her words alone conveyed. But, since this is a blog and not sacrament meeting, I think I might indulge myself in a bit of nitpicking.

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The Kingdom of God Is Among Us

Whenever I hear people talk about the kingdom of God, it seems like it’s always referred to in the future tense. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if the kingdom of God isn’t already all around us.

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Vulcans and Wizards: Transcending Naturalism in Literature

Today, I would like to consider two different genres of fiction: fantasy and science fiction. The way in which I talk about them will probably be different than the way a literary expert would talk about them; I make no claims to any serious research in this post, but rather I would just like to share some personal thoughts I have had when comparing the two genres.

Today, we live in a world where it is assumed that everything that happens has a “scientific explanation.” This means more than that everything is explanable; it means that everything is understandable and accountable in terms of matter governed by mathematical laws. If anything out of the ordinary happens, we simply assume that it can be explained scientifically, even if we don’t exactly know how yet. This modern perspective is often called scientific naturalism. This perspective is intricately connected with determinism, which is the assumption that all events are predictable, if you know all of the antecedent circumstances. In other words, whatever happens, happens inevitably. Continue reading