Science doesn’t save The Martian; Art does

By Joel Hess


This past Friday I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, “The Martian.” Directed by Ridley Scott (so it has to be good) and closely based on the book by Andy Weir. Its a movie about a fellow, Mark Watney (well portrayed by Matt Damon) who is stranded on Mars and must rely on his scientific education, general cleverness and survival instincts, in order to get back home to Earth.

The book reads easily and enjoyable as the Weir artfully peppers it with concrete technical details like Hemingway connects to his story with absinthe and filet mignon. No Weir is no Hemingway.

My kids loved the book and though the movie missed some of the highlights of the book (so my son says), it flowed well, gave us a lovable character, couple of surprises, believable thrills only to conclude in a satisfying ending. Thought it is a little longer than needed to be, I’ll give it an A for entertaining.

On a secondary level, the movie has achieved applause from those who demand scientifically or factual accurate sci-fi movies and books. Not only did much of the film/book accurately depict what a journey to mars would look like in 20 years, but it equally worshiped, in hollywood fashion, the god of science when it comes to solving all problems.


This was portrayed perfectly as the main character whittles kindling from a small crucifix brought by one of the astronauts who apparently was a devout catholic. Watney says to himself in Weir’s book, “I chipped his sacred religious item into long splinters using a pair of piers and a screwdriver. I figure if there’s a God, He won’t mind, considering the situation I’m in. If ruining the only religious icon I have leaves me vulnerable to Martian vampires, I’ll have to risk it.”

Unfortunately regardless of whether the hero is religious or not, that statement was about as deep as he gets throughout the book. Seriously? No wondering about the meaning of life? Not even an existential crisis?  Shallow man.  Or author.

Weir is well educated in things scientific, unfortunately he doesn’t know much about Roman Catholicism, let alone Christianity, if the crucifix’ meaning doesn’t extend beyond vampire movies.

While this might not be the main thrust of the movie’s message, it is clear that God has no place in this adventure. That’s for religious folk. When it comes down to it salvation will come at the hands of science. In fact that’s why they are on this whole journey to begin with; to save mankind.


Science will save mankind. We hear this so often. It is drummed into our heads that even conservative Christians live as if this is true. We don’t say a word while Science and mathematics are promoted over and above the liberal arts. Our tax dollars pay for national campaigns to get more females in the sciences.

Bill Nye doesn’t even employ rational or actual scientific arguments anymore to make his increasingly bizarre cases. He just says, “I’m a scientist so…”

Yet while I was momentarily mesmerized by all the cool space and science stuff in the movie I realized that what I was really enjoying was not science but Art!

The artist Ridley Scott was the real hero, not science. He used science to do Art! You see in the end science has and always will serve Art. Art, not science, as changed the world. Rhetoric, films, movies, books, paintings, poems get us to Mars and back far more than science per se.

Artistic Eye

Science certainly does not back current popular ideas such as same sex marriage, transgenderism, or any sort of separating sex from one’s biology, abortion, etc. These concepts have no backing in science or reason, quite the contrary. Yet science, nee technology, is employed to go against nature. At first glance one would assume that necessity is the mother of invention. That may be true, but desire is the father. So here we are.

In the end we can do amazing things with science. We can send a man to the mars. Perhaps he can survive for a while there and even return home using the wood of a cross to make a fire.

But that man will still die, probably from cancer due to the long time he was exposed to the high radiation of the red planet. Scientists still die. Every one. We have really gotten nowhere. The universe is no smaller and we are no bigger.

crucifixion (1)

So the hero of ‘The Martian” is that crucifix, the suffering savior, even Jesus. Too bad neither Weir nor Damon realized it. That in the midst of death and despair, there is light in the One who is risen from the grave. In Him we not only can survive, but live eternally.

He is the grand artist after all. Painting a world in 6 days. Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh in one day as He entered our canvas, our film, not content to be in the audience. And His Word continues to create, re create new lives out of old ones, hope amidst hopelessness, peace amidst chaos until the musical score includes trumpets and angels and shadows are replaced with resurrected men and women.