Christian Allegory in Tron

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been surprised many times to discover the hidden messages of faith in my favorite childhood movies. Don’t be deceived by the lack of overt themes of Christianity. As Ralph Wood explains in The Gospel According to Tolkien, his treatise on Tolkien’s deeply Christian fantasy world, the subtle infusion of theology is the most effective way to convey the message:

Tolkien’s work is all the more deeply Christian for not being overtly Christian. He would have violated the integrity of his art — and thus the faithfulness of his witness — if he had written a 1,200-page novel to illustrate a set of ideas that he could have expressed apart from the story itself. This is a principle not only of good art but also of good theology.

Look for the hidden messages of faith in movies. So strong is the influence of Christianity in the West that these messages often find their way into popular entertainment almost subconsciously. Although, sometimes, the message is so allegorical that there can be little doubt of the filmmakers’ intentions.

One such movie is Tron (1982). I knew almost nothing about religion when I was a kid seeing this movie for the first time, but I was still intrigued by the idea of the quasi-supernatural Users and the Master Control Program’s campaign to stamp out any “superstitious” belief in them. Watching this movie again many years later, the message became clear:

Flynn may be a sort a Christ-figure, but so is Tron, the program who teams up with him to defeat the Master Control Program. In addition to his miracles, Flynn sacrifices himself in a way that evokes both the descent of Christ into hell as well as his ascension, while in another scene, Tron communicates with his user in a way that resembles the opening of the heavens at the baptism of Christ. And all of this takes place in an environment in which programs who believe in their users are persecuted for being ‘religious fanatics,’ and are sent to their deaths in video-game battles that resemble ancient Roman gladiatorial fights. (From a now-defunct link at Canadian Christianity)

And of course the villain—whose name, “Sark,” is the Greek word for “flesh”—is the allegorical Satan figure of the movie.

Tron is not a perfect allegory, but its basis in the Christian faith is unmistakable.

Computer-generated images are now so de rigueur in movies that we take them for granted. It must be remembered that Tron was made at a time when computers were a decade away from becoming household items, and constituted both a source of fascinated hope and a cause for concern (cf. War Games, released a year after Tron). Disney was ahead of the curve in creating the computer graphics, which were astonishing at the time, and captured perfectly the cold, electronic quality of a computer world. An intriguing counterpoint to the message of the gospel.

Weekly Psalm 19: LH 95

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — star forming region, LH 95.


LH 95 is a stellar nursery, a region in which star formation is actively occurring, in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The LMC is a small, irregular satellite galaxy orbiting the Milky Way, but visible only from the Southern Hemisphere. LMC’s close proximity allows detailed views of stars and nebulae in a galaxy outside of our own.

Astronomers have identified thousands of baby stars in their initial stages of development in this nursery, providing a detailed picture of how star formation in the early Milky Way likely occurred. The blue color in LH 95 is starlight from very large, hot stars reflecting off hydrogen gas. This glowing gas is surrounded by the cold, dusty molecular gas out of which new stars form.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration.

Newton’s magic vs. Hawking’s science

Stephen Hawking is back in the news making a fool out of himself. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Hawking is quoted as saying, “The laws of science are sufficient to explain the origin of the universe. It is not necessary to invoke God.”

Hawking could only be referring to the multiverse as this explanation, as there are no other “scientific” explanations for the origin of the universe. The problem is, as eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis puts it, the multiverse is just “scientifically based philosophical speculation.” Or, as I like to say, the multiverse isn’t science, it’s merely science flavored.

Surak dismantled Hawking’s specious argument the last time he claimed science had usurped God, so I won’t rehash that. What I want to do, is take this opportunity to contrast the modern, secular scientism so evident in Hawking’s claim with the classical, Newtonian view of science. Consider the following, written by John Maynard Keynes in his essay, “Newton, the Man”:

Because he [Isaac Newton] looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements … but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty—just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, would be revealed to the initiate.

In his biography of Newton, Mitch Stokes commented further:

Most modern scientists pride themselves on having purged themselves of thoughts of mystery and magic, while unwittingly using theories that are as mystical as they are “scientific.” Newton, believing that the world is full of magic, found that it *is* full of magic. He, in turn, revealed some of his discoveries to us.

If you take the particular atheistic view of the universe that there is no God and that only science can reveal the true nature of the universe, then it is one of the great ironies of the world that a classical mystic who thought he was working magic ended up being the greatest practitioner of science who ever lived, while a modern secular hero of science who thinks he’s practicing science is really just working magic.

Weekly Psalm 19: Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — a “supermoon” lunar eclipse.


Last Sunday, many of us were treated to a rare combination of a lunar eclipse and a “supermoon.” A supermoon occurs when a full moon phase coincides with the Moon being at its closest point in its slightly elliptical orbit around the Earth, making our lunar companion look slightly larger (~14% in diameter) in the sky than normal. What really makes a supermoon “super” is its increased brightness — owing to its closeness to the Earth, a supermoon is 30% brighter than a regular full moon.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon, blocking out the sunlight that normally reflects off of a full moon.


When I teach introductory astronomy, the students who are really paying attention will ask why we don’t always get a lunar eclipse during a full moon phase. The answer is, the plane of the Moon’s orbit (outlined with the green circle above) is slightly tilted with respect to the Earth’s orbital plane (outlined in blue), so that most of the time the Earth does not block light coming from the Sun. Rarely, we’ll get the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon lining up when the Moon is in the Earth’s orbital plane, and that’s when we experience a lunar eclipse.

The next time a supermoon will coincide with a lunar eclipse is in the year 2033.

Supermoon lunar eclipse photo credit: Dina Rudick (Boston Globe). Lunar eclipse schematic credit: Wikipedia.

Backyard Astronomy: October 2015

Here are several fun astronomical events you and your family can enjoy in the month of October — plus, a reminder for the lunar eclipse at the end of September. All you need is an inexpensive telescope or binoculars for most of these events, but some of them are viewable with the naked eye.

Reminder! September 27-28: Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon (see below). Unlike a solar eclipse, in which the Moon moves between the Sun and the Earth, you don’t need any protective eyewear to watch a lunar eclipse. During the eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker, ultimately turning red in color. The lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. See here to determine visibility and times in your part of the world.


October 1: Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina. This comet was discovered on Halloween 2013. It could be bright enough to be visible with the naked eye in the Southern hemisphere by the beginning of October. By mid-November, it should be bright and visible in the North.

October 8: Draconids Meteor Shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth moves through a cloud of debris left behind by a comet. The Draconids are debris from Comet 21P Giacobini-Zinnere, and appear to radiate from the constellation Draco. As meteor showers go, this one is kind of paltry with a modest 10 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs every year from October 6th to October 10th, but will peak in the early evening of the 8th.

October 16: Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation. Mercury will be at its greatest apparent distance from the Sun in the sky (~18 degrees). Mercury is best observed in the morning, just before sunrise.

October 21,22: Orionids Meteor Shower. The Orionids are debris from Comet Halley, and appear to radiate from the constellation Orion. As meteor showers go, this one is average with 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs every year from October 2nd to November 7th, but will peak the night of the 21st and early morning of the 22nd.

October 26: Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation. Venus will be at its greatest apparent distance (~46 degrees) from the Sun in the sky. It’s a great time to observe Venus, because it’ll be highest in the sky in the morning, just before sunrise.

October 26: Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. A conjunction occurs when two or more planets overlap, or appear very close together, in the sky. This is the second conjunction of these two planets this year (the closest occurred in July). In the early morning of the 26th, just before sunrise, Jupiter and Venus will appear within 1 degree of each other on the sky, which is the same distance as two Moon diameters.

October 28: Conjunction of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus. This is a rare three-planet conjunction, in which Jupiter, Mars, and Venus form a 1-degree triangle on the sky. It will be visible in the early morning of the 28th, just before sunrise.

Weekly Psalm 19: Mercury

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — the planet Mercury.

Mercury is the smallest planet, as well as the planet closest to the Sun. It has a remarkably long day — a Mercury day lasts 88 Earth days — and a relatively short year (116 Earth days). Because of the peculiar ratio of its orbital period to its rotational period, a hypothetical observer on Mercury would experience only one day for every two years.

Mercury has no atmosphere, so the range of surface temperatures is extreme — -280 F during the night (the part of Mercury that faces away from the Sun) and up to 800 F during the day (the part of Mercury that faces toward the Sun).

Mercury has the most eccentric orbit in the Solar System, which means that out of all the planets, its orbit is the most like an ellipse. The part of its orbit closest to the Sun (the perihelion) precesses, which means Mercury’s orbit spirals around the Sun like a spirograph. Newton’s version of gravity could account for some of this precession, but not all of it. The reason for the discrepancy remained a mystery for centuries, until Einstein formulated his General Theory of Relativity, which explained the precession in terms of the way the Sun warps space around Mercury.

Image credit: NASA.

Our Earthly Flight


Our Earthly Flight
By  W. Carl Rufus

Our Earth is like a transport plane,
That carries wealth surpassing gold.
It trafficks not for paltry gain:
Its cargoes are not bought nor sold.

It holds its course around the sun;
Nor rolls, nor banks, nor stalls, nor spins.
Its yearly flight is never done;
When winter ends, the spring begins.

At eighteen-miles-per-second speed
Without an instrument in sight,
No stick to hold, no maps to read,
It travels on by day and night.

It bears a load of human freight;
From birth to death, men come and go.
They live and love, they toil and hate,
For good or ill, for weal or woe.

A billion walk its crowded ways:
And billions sleep beneath its sod.
But souls are safe through stormy days:
The unseen Pilot’s name is God.

Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.