Lacking Faith in Science Fiction

Screenshot from Mass Effect: Andromeda.
One the biggest differences between science fiction and fantasy is how religion is treated. In fantasy, there are robust faith systems where the gods who interact with people and their organizations do both great or terrible things; there is often an acceptance of these deities within societies. This is my case for calling Star Wars a science fantasy rather than science fiction because the Force has true power, its followers live good lives and society recognizes it as significant, even if some people disagree with the Jedi mandate. The Death Star was science perfected, but Vader could still Force Choke an admiral over vid-call. Religion had power.

In science fiction, however, religion is usually treated with scorn, particularly in the face of science. The crew of the Enterprise meets many new people and many different faiths; often religion is failing or abusing those people, and the crew uses science to help them.

Science is also king in Mass Effect. The Reapers aren’t out for blood until a society becomes scientifically advanced enough to start using Mass Effect relays and access the monoliths. In response, the first Reaper arrives and uses something called ‘indoctrination’ to twist and control people and begin killing others. Through indoctrination, Saren is converted to their cause and tries to undermine the Alliance and keep them from mounting a defense against the Reapers’ return.

Science and faith don’t have to be in direct opposition.

Some people respond to the Reaper invasion by saying it is the judgment of God, and they are laughed at or mocked. Faith as a response to the Reaper invasion is faced with extreme criticism, though one of the Normandy’s crewmembers, soldier Ashley Williams, does profess a faith in God and Commander Shepard is given the opportunity to discuss it with her, agree with her, make fun of her, or tell her to keep her mouth shut about it.

In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this theme of science over religion persists. The main enemy is called the Archon, and his ranking system is straight out of high church. Cardinals stand as generals, the Invictus are his hand of power, and the minions range from ascendant to chosen. Religious wording runs throughout his organization and these are the bad guys. But behind this religion is a scientific gene practice that is infecting and converting species. He is using religion in order to abuse people and hide scientific gene therapies to convert others to his belief structure and control them.

As much as I love playing the Mass Effect games, I know my faith is going to be slightly abused when I do so. In the Mass Effect world, my belief in God is not appreciated and the underlying story is that I am foolish because of it. This frustrates me because though I am a man of faith, I do not think that excludes me from being a man of science as well.

Screenshot of Suvi from Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Science fiction’s constant portrayal of religion as evil or foolish upsets me, but that is what I’ve come to expect. That is, until I was running around the deck of my ship, The Tempest, in Mass Effect: Andromeda talking to all my crew members. As I began a conversation with one of my science officers, a woman named Suvi, she made a comment about the dark beauty of the scourge and Helios cluster as a “constant reminder of the divine intelligence behind all creation” (a quote from Lee Strobel).

I read that line and was immediately captivated. I responded by saying, “Divine intelligence, you mean… a god?” And she replied by saying that science draws her closer to “something greater than [herself].” I’m given the option to argue with her, point out how she’s foolish for believing in God and how much more enlightened I am. Or I can tell her that I feel the same way.

I almost held my breath as I selected that response in hopes that this wasn’t going to lead to a conversation that was going to paint her as insane. What followed, however, was a dialogue about seeing God in the heavens and through science. She explains that she found God while rebelling against her extremely logical, scientific family and it wasn’t until she became a scientist that she started seeing the hand of the creator in every little thing. She came to know God as creator, inventor, and artist.

In science fiction, religion is usually treated with scorn.

All I wanted to do was drag over a chair and spend the next few hours talking about these things with her, but that was the end of the conversation. I immediately went online to post a thank you to Bioware for having a character who didn’t hate religion, but instead understood the beauty of God seen through science. She didn’t push a young earth, hyper literal faith that shouts against science, she instead was speaking about the marvels found in science as the ways in which God has created the amazing, intricate and beautiful worlds we live in. Every time I step on the ship’s bridge, I glance at her and I am comforted because there is one person in the Mass Effect universe who loves God and sees Him within the world of science.

More and more I read about scientists who have become disgusted with religion and turned from God, yet there are voices who are saying the opposite. They aren’t turning back to deny science, but, like Suvi, are seeing God in science and trying to understand how to read the Bible in light of the reality of both. Mike McHargue recently wrote a book called Finding God in the Waves that talks about this very same thing: meeting God and now looking to science to better understand him and his creation even if that means setting aside the traditional, literal readings of the Bible. There is a group of scientists, theologians and others who have begun a website called Biologos (www.biologos.org) that seeks to uphold a high view of scripture but explore the realities of science. Their goal is to demonstrate that science and faith do not have to be in direct opposition but science can reveal the incredible God who has created and designed the cosmos in all sorts of different ways.

Though this is an uphill battle, I am grateful for having met Suvi and had a conversation that has given me hope. For the first time in forever I am playing a sci-fi game where religion is treated with respect (even though it’s also being used for evil by the villain). There is at least one other person on the mission who knows that God does not have to be a construct for abuse but can be seen as the divine artist who painted the heavens, shaped the worlds and designed every incredible thing that moves.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Father and husband, Dustin has a current gamer score of 77,797. He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player.He is a sometimes theologian and all times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg

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