Monday, October 05, 2015

Godless honor code

Based on reviews and trailers, The Martian is apparently based on a traditional honor code. This operates at two levels. At one level, you don't leave a comrade behind. Even if he's injured, you try to take him with you. Shared risk. 

Over and above the crew or military unit itself are those in power. Because we're responsible for getting you into that risky situation, we're responsible for attempting to get you out of that risky situation.

This appeals to an instinctive sense of social obligations. But here's the snag: from a secular standpoint, it's ludicrous that people would move heaven and earth to save one human life, one smidgen of matter, stranded some 50 millions miles away (give or take). Even if the rescue mission is successful, Mark Watney will still be dead in a few decades. He will slip into oblivion, like the billions who lived and died before him. Just a blip between one nothingness and another.  

Perhaps the best case an atheist can make is that since everything we do is equally meaningless, we might was well do something preposterously pointless rather than mundanely pointless.   


  1. Steve,
    Not directly on topic...but I didn't know where to ask this..
    I'm reading Paul Copan's essay "Is the Old Testament God Evil?" and there is much that is helpful but there is something repeatedly said that makes me wonder. Copan writes, "...that Mosaic legislation is not the Bible's moral pinnacle but rather a springboard anticipating further development..." and later, " is an accommodation to morally undeveloped ANE cultural mindset--with significant ethical improvements--as well as a response to the rebellious, covenant-breaking propensity of the Israelites." Something about this doesn't seem quite right--any help? Thanks.

    1. Here's one distinction: there's a difference between commanding evil and permitting evil. To command evil would be wrong. But permitting evil isn't necessarily wrong.

      I'd said the Mosaic law never comments evils. It does permit certain kinds of evil, but it mitigates the evils it permits.

      Some laws are prescriptive or proscriptive while others are permissive. In theory, the Mosaic law could forbid every kind of evil, but that would be unenforceable: an empty gesture. Instead, the Mosaic law improves on the status quo ante.

    2. Thanks, Steve. Would you appeal to Matthew 19.8 to show the distinctions you mentioned? I'm seeing a number of writers use this passage in this way.

    3. You could, although I don't think it's necessary to prooftext the general principle. I think that just stands to reason.

  2. I haven't seen The Martian. But I've seen the other two movies with which it currently seems to be most compared - Gravity and Interstellar.

    Gravity was stunning for its visuals. Although the plot was threadbare.

    Sandra Bullock had to do most of the heavy lifting for the movie since she was basically (pace George Clooney) the only character in the entire film.

    Perhaps the most poignant moment of the film was when Bullock's character had all but resigned herself to death, and said she wished she knew how to pray but no one had ever taught her to pray. She had no idea how to talk to God even in her final moments, even when she most yearned to talk to God.

    That's perhaps the best secularism can offer - a hope that there is a God who will hear us there? And, if he exists, how can we reach out to him? How can we initiate communication with God if he doesn't wish to communicate with us? Absent God revealing himself to us, we're literally lost in space. Even if we had a transponder, we don't know how to work the transponder, let alone if anyone is listening on the other side. Dead silence.

    Christopher Nolan is said to be the thinking man's director, and Interstellar is a far more ambitious film than either Gravity or The Martian. It's about how we as a species can survive beyond the end of our planet. The movie itself is grandiose in so many different ways - in terms of its aesthetics, its story, its vision and scope, its character development, the philosophical questions it raises, etc. I liken it to a modern day 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    I enjoyed the movie overall, but the main blight of the movie was that it's ultimately a secular hope. The hope is for humanity to settle in the far reaches of the galaxy and to evolve to a higher dimensional species. But the movie doesn't quite come to grips with the fact that someday the universe too might end, however highly evolved humanity becomes. What then? We can't escape this universe if this universe is all there ever was, is, and will be.