by Ryan Davidsen
I recently attended a documentary entitled What the Bleep Do We Know!?, described as a "unique cinematic creation interweaving a documentary, a story and incredible special effects" which aims to bring together many leading scientific minds of the day to ponder what modern science can tell us about life. The film takes aim at the most basic questions of life such as the nature of reality, consciousness, and individuality.
While this film does not dive deep into quantum mechanics it does a good job early on of explaining some of the peculiarities in modern science and how scientific discoveries are raising questions about everything we have held fast to throughout the centuries. Most interesting in this discussion is how the lines between science, religion, and philosophy are blurring. It is also a direct attack on much of traditional science which has relied on a more dualistic or naturalistic view of the world.
Dualism is the view that both mind and matter are real, but separate. The problem for dualists is that this is counterintuitive to our experience. Dualism struggles to explain the mystery of how these two distinct and utterly separate realities can ever interact. As such, matters of faith and values are essentially written off as a separate unquantifiable reality distinct from the knowable world. Materialism is the view that only matter is ultimately real. Darwinism, a natural by-product of materialism, has had a tremendous influence on thought and science by explaining one of the key problems for a materialist emergence. While the passage of infinite time is often cited as the solution to the seemingly insurmountable problem of a naturally evolved consciousness in matter, Darwinism is receiving increased skepticism even from its traditional allies in science for representing little more than wishful thing in explaining the emergence of consciousness.
By challenging a dualistic and naturalistic view of the universe, the producers have opened up traditional science for critical view in light of more recent discoveries and have made a strong case for reevaluating the role of spirituality in interpreting who we are, why we are, and what our purpose is. This rejects a popular notion that religion and spirituality are highly "unscientific." Of course, every director has their own agenda and this is also the case in "What the Bleep Do We know!?". While even some of the more bizarre science presented in this film is "good" science the majority of the film is more about deriving a new philosophy. This new philosophy is not anything new, per se, but the film serves as a strong apologetic for their particular brand of faith. Rather than a carefully laid out theology, the creators embrace mystery but lay out a few foundational beliefs:
All reality is a unity. The views expressed are similar to Hinduism which sees the entire universe as making up the divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and transcends it while constantly creating new realities.
Your reality is your mind. Rather than succumbing to patterns of addiction and defeat (i.e. submission to some other reality), one must recognize the power to literally create a new reality for yourself.
The reality you create has the power to affect the reality of others.
By embracing your ability to transcend the world around you and recognize your creative powers you are in actuality God.
While trying desperately to sound objective and rational throughout, this film takes a strangely polemic tone towards Christianity. This seemed out-of-place to me in the overall dialog which goes to great lengths to explain that the universe is infinite and unknowable, that God (or at least a concept of God) most certainly exists and is "near" but unreachable, that prayer actually works, that no matter how "positive" or "good" we want to be our bodies and minds seem curiously programmed for corruption, and that science which denies spirit is misguided denial of the reality we all experience. The filmmakers are careful to guide the audience away from certain conclusions. While Christianity provides a worldview that is remarkably consistent with these findings (e.g. intelligent design, the fallen-ness of creation, a conscious Creator that is infinite and unfathomable) the filmmakers make a direct effort to avoid those conclusions by proposing a "way of looking at the Universe through the eyes of the Spirit without the archaic trappings of religion: i.e. guilt, judgment, condemnation, assuming everyone who doesn't believe like you IS WRONG (and is a candidate for The Sword), etc..."
CHRISTIANITY AND THE "NEW" SCIENCE
Sadly, this film is absolutely correct in its critique of institutional religion. Yet the Christianity they berate, while perhaps sounding familiar to some, is nothing like True Christianity. Whether this is a deliberate deception designed to defame followers of Jesus Christ or simply represents ignorance is open to debate. The film says that one of the greatest tragedies in human history is the creation of a religion (i.e. Christianity) where men are taught that there is a God waiting to strike you down for your evil deeds and He must be appeased by doing good. I absolutely agree this kind of religion is a tragedy! It is sad to say that throughout history many vocal "Christians" have misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ, which stresses that it is through grace alone that we are saved and our good or bad deeds can do absolutely nothing to reconcile us to God or even appease or impress him -- our deeds are in fact irrelevant with no power to save or secure favor. Many have used Christianity as an excuse to condemn and justify unspeakable acts against humankind all the while following nothing more than their own ego or lust for power.
In fact, the greatest difference between Christianity and the kind of spirituality supported in this film is that Christianity is a religion that stresses the denial of self, whereas Ramtha, one of the films spiritual teachers, stresses the need to embrace self as God and Creator of all reality. How the film slips from a world that has revealed our connectedness to one another and our unique juxtaposition to an unfathomable Creator to concluding that we are each our own "God" and "Creator" is laughable and strange. When one of the film's teachers denounces Christianity for creating God in our own image (to audience applause) I find it very strange that the film does exactly the same thing by claiming "We are Gods!" Same lie. Different packaging. In fact this sounds eerily reminiscent of the serpent in Genesis chapter 3 tempting Eve with the promise that "ye shall be as gods". I think the producers would be surprised at how much they share in common with hypocritical Christianity that places one's self at the center of the Universe. That said, I much prefer the honesty of someone that will admit a Theology of Self outright to one that lives it but claims to be a follower of Christ.
While I may sound critical, I find this film extremely encouraging. Though Christians are regrettably silent and disengaged from popular culture much of the time; I hope they can embrace those in the culture that are asking some of the deeper questions of life, passionately searching, excited about the possibilities (read any of the visitor's comments at <http://www.whatthebleep.com/>http://www.whatthebleep.com ), and rejecting a worldview that tells them there is no spiritual reality. Much like Paul addressing the open minded Athenians about their tribute to "An Unknown God", this film (and the underlying science and philosophy) provide an excellent forum to engage people on these issues and provide a Christian worldview to help others understand the reality of God, His Creation, His Truth, and redemptive work in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While historically science and Christianity have been unnecessarily at odds I believe today the harmony of faith and science is becoming evident. As Christians, lets not make the easy mistake of denouncing a film like What the Bleep Do We Know!? Let's stop shouting and start listening to the culture around us! Increasingly, it is a culture comfortable with mystery and with questions -- seeking debate rather than dogma. My prayer is that we engage in the debate. My fear is that we will retreat in our own smugness and condemn this film as "New Age garbage" while the world around us is embarking on a journey towards truth desperately in need of someone to walk along side and encourage them to keep asking questions.
SYNOPSIS FROM http://www.whatthebleep.com/
"WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW?!" is a new type of film. It is part documentary, part story, and part elaborate and inspiring visual effects and animations. The protagonist, Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, finds herself in a fantastic Alice in Wonderland experience when her daily, uninspired life literally begins to unravel, revealing the uncertain world of the quantum field hidden behind what we consider to be our normal, waking reality.
She is literally plunged into a swirl of chaotic occurrences, while the characters she encounters on this odyssey reveal the deeper, hidden knowledge she doesn't even realize she has asked for. Like every hero, Amanda is thrown into crisis, questioning the fundamental premises of her life -- that the reality she has believed in about how men are, how relationships with others should be, and how her emotions are affecting her work isn't reality at all!
As Amanda learns to relax into the experience, she conquers her fears, gains wisdom, and wins the keys to the great secrets of the ages, all in the most entertaining way. She is then no longer the victim of circumstances, but she is on the way to being the creative force in her life. Her life will never be the same.
The fourteen top scientists and mystics interviewed in documentary style serve as a modern day Greek Chorus. In an artful filmic dance, their ideas are woven together as a tapestry of truth. The thoughts and words of one member of the chorus blend into those of the next, adding further emphasis to the film's underlying concept of the interconnectedness of all things.
The chorus members act as hosts who live outside of the story, and from this Olympian view, comment on the actions of the characters below. They are also there to introduce the Great Questions framed by both science and religion, which divides the film into a series of acts. Through the course of the film, the distinction between science and religion becomes increasingly blurred, since we realize that, in essence, both science and religion describe the same phenomena.
The film employs animation to realize the radical knowledge that modern science has unearthed in recent years. Powerful cinematic sequences explore the inner-workings of the human brain. Quirky animation introduces us to the smallest form of consciousness in the body the cell. Dazzling visuals reinforce the film's message in an exciting, powerful way. Done with humor, precision, and irreverence, these scenes are only part of what makes this film unique in the history of cinema, and a true box-office winner.
Comment: Physicists have bought into today's prevailing scientific naturalism with less enthusiasm than most biologists. On the scale of the atom, the universe now seems more fuzzy and ethereal. Many of the founding fathers of physics (Newton, et al.), embraced Christian values. For many years a small group of physicists and astronomers have wondered if their work could be correlated in anyway with insights gleaned from the religions of the East. The referenced film and web site indicates a growing interest in spirituality and science--especially the intrusion of Eastern, new age, thought into traditionally Western science. One classic example of this is the still-popular book The Tao of Physics:
First published in 1975, The Tao of Physics rode the wave of fascination in exotic East Asian philosophies. Decades later, it still stands up to scrutiny, explicating not only Eastern philosophies but also how modern physics forces us into conceptions that have remarkable parallels. Covering over 3,000 years of widely divergent traditions across Asia, Capra can't help but blur lines in his generalizations. But the big picture is enough to see the value in them of experiential knowledge, the limits of objectivity, the absence of foundational matter, the interrelation of all things and events, and the fact that process is primary, not things. Capra finds the same notions in modern physics. Those approaching Eastern thought from a background of Western science will find reliable introductions here to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism and learn how commonalities among these systems of thought can offer a sort of philosophical underpinning for modern science. And those approaching modern physics from a background in Eastern mysticism will find precise yet comprehensible descriptions of a Western science that may reinvigorate a hope in the positive potential of scientific knowledge. Whatever your background, The Tao of Physics is a brilliant essay on the meeting of East and West, and on the invaluable possibilities that such a union promises. --Brian Bruya (Amazon.com review).
September 29, 2004.