Hung-to-the-over and clutching at a bottle of warm Coke, I sat through most of Alien 4 today. It’s not a good movie, but it’s more interesting that the previous two in the Alien franchise (none of them come close to the original’s shock and awe). The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, plays it for laughs, insofar as a movie about chest-bursting aliens can be funny. Heroine Ellen Ripley has been reconstructed from a blood sample of her former self, along with an ickle baby alien insider her (“Oogie-woo, who’s a pretty boy? Don't bite. It's rude.”) The monster is removed surgically and allowed to grow into a Queen. The Queen retains Ripley’s ability to reproduce in the mammalian manner (ie, the father is down the pub throughout) and gives birth to a bouncing baby boy – who then kills his alien mother with a mean right hook. Ripley, understandably conflicted, then kills her “son” by burning a window open with her acidic blood and flushing him out into space. If all this didn’t take place in the year 2525, it could easily be a Greek myth. There’s certainly the right amount of incest and matricide.
Incredibly, there’s a moment in Alien 4 when an android sees a crucifix and crosses itself. “Are you programmed for that, too?” asks Ripley. Crucially, no – for we learn that the androids have been gifted free will by their creators.
One of the themes of the Alien series is how man is surpassed by the things around him. He is outlived and outpaced by animals and by even the robots that he built. That the android believes in God suggests that life doesn’t begin and end with man. Ripley is a zombie, but the android is alive and – as Ripley points out – more compassionate and therefore more “alive” than her human colleagues. Even the aliens have started to surpass us. When Ripley’s oozing baby is born, we glimpse the future. Who knows, perhaps even the chestbursters will one day sing “Nearer My God to Thee” as they fly merrily from their eggs?
Androids believe in God, but scientists don’t: or at least geneticist Richard Dawkins says he doesn’t. Or does he? He can’t be sure…
In a debate with Rowan Williams this week, he admitted that he is an agnostic. Dawkins said that he is only “6.9 out of seven” sure of the absence of God but that “the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.” I’m surprised at the level of surprise that this statement has garnered, for he has indeed insisted many times before that he can’t dismiss the possibility of God. But what is surprising is that Dawkins can consider that possibility and then so quickly disregard it. For the possibility of God existing is far more mind-blowing than the likelihood that he does not.
I don’t want to make the case for Pascal’s Wager being a determinant of faith. “Betting of God” is a shallow approach to religion and isn’t what motivates anyone but Pascal to follow one. But it’s also an odd reason to discount the existence of God, too. When it comes to theology, probability and consequence are not proportionate to another. The probability of God existing might be low but the consequences if he does are high. Vice versa, the probability of God not existing might be high but the consequences of that outcome are very low.
Consider the calculations that a man makes when insuring his house from fire. If the chances of his houses catching fire are just one-in-a-hundred, he might forgo purchasing insurance because he gambles that he’s unlikely to ever need it. Yet all of us would still make the purchase because the consequences of that one-in-a-hundred accident happening are so unbearably dire. A single, improbable spark could destroy everything. Therefore, the man buys the insurance.
If Dawkins is playing the law of averages, then he has to make the same calculation about God. To be sure, he only acknowledges a 1.5 percent chance that the Almighty exists. If his gamble is proven right, then Dawkins will die and suffer no consequences. But if that 1.5 percent chance comes through, the consequences are hugely disproportionate to the stakes. One of the reasons why I go to Church is that I don’t want to run the risk of spending eternity in Hell with Richard Dawkins. Even a 1.5 percent risk isn’t worth running.
To re-emphasize, I don’t want to push Pascal’s Wager – but it does strike me as odd that if an intelligent man would concede that there is a 1.5 percent chance that something is true (especially when something has the weight of 2,000 years of civilization behind it), he wouldn’t explore it more seriously. It’s even odder that he thinks there is a greater possibility that there’s life on other planets. But what would it mean if that life worshiped God, too? What if the Predator is a Methodist? Or the alien is a Seventh Day Adventist? What would Dawkins say if he opened the front door and found a dalek clutching The Book of Mormon? If he wants to get rid of him, the easiest answer is, "I'm sorry, I'm a Roman Catholic..