We watched this the other night and I liked it quite a bit more than I expected. I think using CGI zombies was a mistake, but other than that it was a taut sci-fi/horror thriller with some interesting themes (the fate of humanity, providence, the nature of heroism, etc.). Will Smith nicely toned down his usual wisecracking everyman to deliver a more credible character who is hopeful, determined, despairing, and paranoid at various points.
The movie raised the interesting (to me, anyway) question of what stake God has in the survival of the human race. At one point, Smith’s character recites, in response to another character’s claim that God led her to find him, the statistics of the disease that has wiped out most of humanity: it’s killed 90% of the human race and the remnant is divided between bloodsucking nocturnal zombies and their victims. “There is no God,” he concludes.
Now, this could be just a variation on the problem of evil–why would God allow so much pointless suffering?–but you can also interpret it as a claim of God’s existence being falsified by the (impending) extinction of the human race. And, given that we have pretty good reason to believe that the human race will become extinct at some point in the real world, does this count against belief in God?
After all, science tells us that, as our sun dies out, the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable. Consequently, humanity will die off, assuming we haven’t already exploded, poisoned, cooked, or infected ourselves to extinction (or been destroyed by super-intelligent machines of our own creation) in the meantime. Does this mean that God’s project will be frustrated?
It seems to me that theists can take a variety of approaches to this, with varying degrees of plausibility:
1. God will supernaturally intervene before then to either whisk humanity away to heaven/hell or to remake the Earth prior to our solar system’s demise, effectively overriding the laws of nature as we know them;
2. God will leave the universe to wind down into either a lifeless entropic state or a “big crunch” that will give rise to a new universe, but the souls of dead humanity will be preserved and/or resurrected in heaven/a “new earth” existing in some kind of parallel reality;
3. the human race will, in fact, not go extinct, but will spread out into the universe, possibly becoming the kind of vast, artificial intelligences that believers in “the Singularity” like to talk about;
4. humanity will simply go extinct, there is no afterlife, and our existence will be one small part of the vast cosmic tapestry that, perhaps, adds some kind of value to God’s being, as in some forms of process theology.
(There are undoubtedly other possibilities, but these are the ones that occur to me.)
I lean toward something along the lines of option 2, but 4 intrigues me in its rigorously non-anthropocentric outlook. Christian theology, I think it’s safe to say, is still strongly anthropocentric, but how plausible is that? If humanity exists in only a tiny fraction of the space and time that makes up the life of the universe, are we supposed to think that the rest of it is entirely pointless?
A book came out recently called The World Without Us that, according to the website, tries to describe “how our planet would respond without the relentless pressure of the human presence.” I haven’t read the book, but the idea is worth thinking about: if we disappeared, the world would go on, and most of the universe would be entirely unaffected.
I guess what I want to believe is that sentience does have a special significance and that God will gather in all his creatures–at least the sentient ones–into some final consummation. But, as H. Richard Niebuhr taught us, “radical” monotheism means seeing the world in relation to its Source, not in giving absolute value to any finite part of it, including us.