Monday, July 28, 2014

THE B-LIST: 5 B-MOVIES WITH BAD SCIENCE

Ugh, what a rough week at the movies. I reviewed both Persecuted and Lucy for Aleteia. Both movies are pretty dumb, so it’ll just depend on what you’re in the mood for. Given current events, Persecuted actually has a decent message about the erosion of religious freedom, but it’s buried under a ton of cinematic ineptitude. Lucy, on the other hand, is well made, but utterly stupid in logic, philosophy, and especially its science.

Of course, Lucy’s reliance on the completely discredited notion that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity shouldn’t be that much of a shock. Hollywood is notoriously bad at getting basic science right. The War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park, Star Trek, they all get things wrong. Heck, Armageddon alone has a whopping 168 scientific errors. Yes, NASA actually counted them so they could use the film during training to help recruits recognize scientific improbabilities.

It’s not just the big releases, though. B-movies and cult films are just as slipshod with science, as the following 5 movies will attest…

Black Hole, The

THE BLACK HOLE

Sure, most of the movie is pretty goofy, but I have to admit as a kid I always liked the ending of The Black Hole when the survivors of the the USS Palomino plummeted into the titular phenomenon, passed through heaven and hell, and emerged into a brand new universe on the other side. It’s a shame that because of the gravitational forces involved, what you would really experience if you fell headlong into a black hole would be what astrophysicist Martin Rees termed “spaghettification”, the stretching out of your body from head to toe until you eventually became nothing but a stream of subatomic particles. Bummer. Don’t worry though, scientists speculate that if you fire your ship’s rockets at just the right time, you’ll still have a few moments to say your final prayers before the end.

Hideous Sun Demon

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON

I reviewed The Hideous Sun Demon a while back. The story involves a scientist who is able to “devolve” himself into a reptilian life form because, according to the Biogenetic Law first proposed by Ernst Haeckel in 1866, an “embryo fully repeats the evolutionary process of its species before it's born. In other words, a human being starts out as a single cell organism, then becomes a fish, then a reptile, and finally a mammal.” The lead character simply finds a way to reverse this process and go backwards from human to lizard. The problem is that all of this is, of course, nonsense. As the technology behind embryology developed, it became obvious that we start out as tiny single-celled humans and we end up as crotchety old humans. Kind of puts a crimp in some arguments for abortion, doesn’t it?

Attack Of The Puppet People

ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE

Attack of the Puppet People is just one of many B-Movies featuring human beings shrunk to the size of a toy. And why not? It’s a fun idea. Think about being able to sleep in a Barbie dream house. Think about being able to fit into a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter toy. Think about having to eat your weight daily just to survive. Yeah, it turns out that just like a hamster or a shrew, a human that size probably wouldn’t be able to maintain his body temperature unless he found a way to increase his metabolism exponentially, meaning he would probably have to eat for 24 hours a day. I wonder if that would count as gluttony.

Fantastic Voyage (3)

FANTASTIC VOYAGE

Maybe we could bypass the previous problem if we just kept on shrinking people until they became microscopic in size. Then, just like in Fantastic Voyage, we could inject them inside someone’s body to perform surgery. Of course, considering they would be completely blind, I’d prefer not to be on the receiving end of their laser scalpel. You see, at microscopic size, a human’s eyeballs would actually be smaller than the wavelength of visible light, meaning they couldn’t see a thing. Fortunately, Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he told us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.” Otherwise, these byte sized bozos would completely out of luck.

Village Of The Giants

VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS

Oh well, forget shrinking. Maybe going the other way would work out better. At least that’s what the juvenile delinquents in Village of the Giants thought. They stole some stuff from Opie that let them balloon up in size and then they took over a town, demanding buckets and buckets of fried chicken and dancing around in slow motion for entire reels at a time. Sadly, in real life, they would have to eat all that chicken while writhing around on the ground in pain because all of their leg bones would have crumbled into dust. According to science, the only way a giant human’s leg bones could withstand the stress of the load bearing down on them would be for the legs to actually widen more than they lengthen, so the load stays proportional to the mass. What can I say, God made a universe with mathematical laws. You don’t like it, take it up with him.

So yeah, there’s a lot of films full of bad science out there. But you know what, I like most of them better than Lucy because they don’t pretend to have the answers to life, the universe, and everything like Lucy does. I prefer my stupid movies to know they’re stupid.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SHORT FEATURE – WHAT ON EARTH

When faced with the choice of reviewing Cameron Diaz in Sex Tape (shudder) or another Purge movie (yawn) for Aleteia this past week, I decided to chicken out and just take the family to see Planes: Fire and Rescue instead. It’s pretty innocuous as far as children's movies go, nothing special, but probably something really young kids will enjoy.

Not being the toddler I once was, I have to admit my mind wandered a couple of times while watching the film. I couldn’t help but wonder how do some of the things in the Cars universe work? Why are there sidewalks in a world with no humans? What exactly were the dinosaurs mentioned in Cars 2 like? Who builds all the houses and train tracks and stuff? And where do new baby vehicles come from?

If you too have been bothered by such questions while watching any of these films, don’t fret, because it looks like the Martians have gotten it all figured out…

Okay, so the Martians don’t have quite everything figured out. But once they do and show back up to talk to us parasites, you  can be sure we’ll be ready to make Catholics out of them.

This willingness to embrace extraterrestrials seems to come as a shock to a lot of non-believers. For some reason, there’s a trope out there that all religions would collapse if intelligent life in outer space were to be discovered. The people in the pews know better though. According to the Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey, “the vast majority of religious believers, regardless of religion, see no threat to their personal beliefs caused by potential contact with intelligent neighbours on other worlds… religious adherents overwhelmingly registered confidence that neither they as individuals nor their religious tradition would suffer anything like a collapse.”

In a 2008 interview, Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, explained that the possibility of extraterrestrials “is not in contrast with the faith, because we cannot place limits on the creative freedom of God. To use St. Francis' words, if we consider earthly creatures as 'brothers' and 'sisters,' why can't we also speak of an 'extraterrestrial brother?” … God became man in Jesus in order to save us. So if there are also other intelligent beings, it's not a given that they need redemption. They might have remained in full friendship with their creator… but if needed, God's mercy would be offered to aliens, as it was to humans.”

During a homily this past May, Pope Francis himself confirmed as much. “If – for example - tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them… And one says, 'But I want to be baptized!' What would happen?… Who are we to close doors? In the early Church, even today, there is the ministry of the ostiary [usher]. And what did the ostiary do? He opened the door, received the people, allowed them to pass. But it was never the ministry of the closed door, never.”

So let the Martians come. Once the initial confusion is worked out, we’ll be happy to welcome them into the fold.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

SHORT FEATURE: THE ONION – APE MORTALITY

One of the big questions asked by the (excellent) movie I reviewed for Aleteia this week, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is what exactly would simians be like if they suddenly gained the self awareness of a human being? Well, The Onion wondered the very same thing a while back…

Okay, making an ape cry shouldn't have been that funny, but… it was.

Still, if only the idiot scientists had thought to mention the possibility of an afterlife to poor old Quigley, then maybe the big fella wouldn’t have taken things quite so hard. After all, as it says in I Thessalonians, “We shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.”

Of course, these guys are probably the type of scientists who would never have introduced such an idea anyway because they likely hypothesize that the whole idea of Heaven is nothing but a fairy tale humans developed centuries ago for the express purpose of combatting their fear of death. Well, it’s true that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea of Heaven (or the fairy tale theory either, for that matter), but since we’re talking about the soul, how could there be? But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate, rational reasons for believing in an afterlife. Philosopher Peter Kreeft (my go-to guy for these kind of things) has a pretty impressive list of them at his website.

Still, even if you accept the possibility of an afterlife, there’s still the question of why the Christian belief is the right one. As critics are quick to point out, the biblical concept of Heaven changes drastically from Genesis (where it’s virtually nonexistent) to Revelation (where it’s pretty elaborate). For Catholics, though, this really isn’t much of a problem at all. As apologist Dave Armstrong explains on his website,

“Many doctrines develop from the Old to the New Testament. The inclusion of the Gentiles into the Covenant People of God is a development. The New Testament (particularly, Pauline) understanding of the relationship of the Law, Jewishness, and grace to salvation is a development, as is baptism (as the continuation of circumcision, in terms of an initiatory rite). Angelology highly developed in the inter-testamental period. And so did the doctrines of the afterlife… We have kernels and tantalizing hints in the OT (which is why later Judaism definitely adopted conscious eternal existence for both the righteous and the wicked, and a form of purgatory as well). Christianity came down firmly on the apocalyptic and Pharisaical side with regard to eschatology… It is argued that hellfire and consciousness after death was first believed by the Greeks, not the OT-period Jews. But truth is truth, wherever it is found. The ancient Greeks developed classical logic, too, which everyone now utilizes, including -- very much so -- the Apostle Paul and Jesus Himself. So we are to reject logic because the pagan Greeks figured it out rather than the ancient Hebrews, who were not at all of that mindset?”

So, for us papists, it’s no surprise at all that peoples throughout the ages would come to believe in some kind of afterlife for the reasons given by Dr. Kreeft. And it’s no big deal that it took a while to develop a clearer understanding of the notion because we accept that divine revelation was gradual on the topic (just why God works that way is another post for another time). And we’ve come to believe in our particular version of Heaven, what the Catechism describes as “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness,” because it’s the one Jesus revealed to us. I mean, we believe the guy was God incarnate, so why wouldn’t we take his word for it? Those are pretty good credentials.