“Voices in the Dark”: Babylon 5 and “Out of the Silent Planet”

Babylon 5, though written by a skeptic, remains one of the better sci-fi shows in terms of exploring religion in an age of high science. Recently rewatching the episode “Voices in the Dark” has made me wonder whether sometimes skeptics really do “have our number” in how they formulate arguments.

To wit: Unable to deal with a seemingly actually demonically-possessed man by any means at their disposal, the crew of Babylon 5 calls in a priest to perform an exorcism. In discussion with the demon, the priest, who has earlier confided a deep crisis of faith based on the fact that for 200 years (the show is set in 2260) Christianity has steeply declined *because* man has found no evidence of God or angels in space and his or advanced aliens’ science seem poised to answer all “really important” questions, learns that in the very distant past God made Earth the prison of fallen angels such that they could never go to the stars. Finally, though, one demon has managed to escape earth via possessing a human space traveler, and is now trying to get himself exorcised *off Earth* so he can freely roam the stars again.

(I don’t have time to expand on it here, but this whole concept strikes me as profoundly thoughtful in the light of C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet.)

The episode is fascinating in many ways, but what got my attention most, in light of C.S. Lewis’ notation that scientific progress and and space travel tend to be fallaciously used to discredit Christianity, is that the priest himself struggles to understand why no traces of the supernatural have ever been found in 200 years of space travel. Shouldn’t there be, if not choirs of angels singing in the heavens, at least “a stray Seraphim left behind in the general evacuation”? How does God expect anyone to believe in him when fusion drives make the stars a hop, skip, and jump away and alien technology can reshape whole planets as was done in Genesis?

The questions no doubt seem silly to “really informed” believers, but again, I wonder if there isn’t a way in which this version of them actually does hit the common man’s faith. Growing up Evangelical, I remember hearing weird stories off and on about how scientists pointing instruments at the stars heard singing they couldn’t explain (presumably angelic choirs) or how miners delving too deep heard tortured screams (presumably from souls in hell). But if *Evangelicals* can find such stories credible, and spred them far and wide as “proof” of Christianity, then the skeptic writer of Babylon 5 is correct: the steady advance of science, and especially space travel, would cause a rapid decline in faith. Why?

Simply this: such a kind of faith is so crudely “cosmomorphic” and “geomorphic” that it really does think (albeit probably almost subconsciously) of God as some kind of exalted Sky Father inhabiting a super-stellar throne, and Hell as a sensorily-verifiable place under the ground. Therefore, once science finds out that “angels” are actually just hyper-evolved aliens, what place is left for faith?

Ultimately I think there are profound and satisfying answers to these questions of science and religion, and that Lewis is probably the best place to find them, but again, it’s fascinating to me to think that what is so easily (scoffingly) dismissed by triumphalistic modes of apologetics might actually hit closer to home than we like to admit.

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