Sam Harris's new 'Reason Project' has announced a competition for films that 'promote critical thinking' and 'erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry'. Accordingly, and inspired by the release of Agora, I have written a script for a new film, 'Science and Religion' the movie. Like most Hollywood historical dramas, this is based entirely on fact and no liberties have been taken.
Science and Religion - The Movie
Opening scene – Bertrand Russell is sitting in his study writing his History of Western Philosophy, as the camera pans into the room he looks up expectantly and begins to speak.
Bertrand Russell – The tale I am about to relate is the story of science and reason, an epic of discovery, ingenuity and man’s attempts to probe the secrets of the world around him. It is also a tale of barbarism, arrogance, stupidity and superstition and the way these dark forces have set themselves against the fragile progress of enlightenment. Our account begins in the Greek era, a golden age of philosophy and scientific endeavour’.
The scene dissolves into an amphitheatre in Athens in the fourth century BC. All around are men in togas exchanging philosophical ideas. In one corner a man is demonstrating the principles of Geometry. In another Eratosthenesis is pointing to a picture of the earth drawn in the sand and is demonstrating it’s size. Plato enters the scene and greets Aristotle.
Plato – ‘My pupil, what new and exciting activities of rational enquiry have you been engaged in these past few days?’
Aristotle – ‘Ah, my old teacher, I have been busy laying out an approach for the investigation of all natural phenomena and penned a treatise on virtue and its relationship to well being and happiness.
Plato – ‘Impressive!. With the application of mathematics and deliberate empirical research we will soon unlock the very secrets of the universe. What a glorious future awaits us’.
A Montage shows the Great Library of Alexandria with its 800,000 scrolls. Men and women in Togas walk around in the sunlight reading from papyri and exchanging rational ideas with one another.
Bertrand Russell (voiceover) – And yet, the progress of Hellenic civilisation would prove to be fragile. The minds of the populace would soon be seized by a new and pernicious superstition.
The dark outline of a cross falls across the scene and the music for the Imperial March from Star Wars begins. Jesus is showing leaping manically around in front of a crowd of onlookers in Judea and telling them they are going to hell if they don’t worship him. He is then dragged off kicking and screaming by the Roman authorities. The scene cuts to the apostles who are seen making up the gospels and inserting lurid details into the text. Children are then seen being brainwashed by their parents and forced to memorise the New Testament. Hooded figures stream out of churches and begin to burn temples and kill Pagans.
The scene cuts to the interior of the Great Library of Alexandria. Hypatia is sitting with a group of her pupils and teaching them about ancient learning. She is a slim voluptuous woman in her early twenties and wears a loose fitting toga. She seems oblivious to the flames and the shouting coming from the outside.
Hypatia - ..and so, having built on and significantly improved the treatise of Aristarchus I have proved that the earth and the rest of the planets are in orbit around the sun
Her students clap politely
Suddenly the door bursts in and faith-crazed Christians rush into the library. They begin setting light to scrolls and destroying everything they find. Any philosopher unlucky enough to get in the way is stabbed to death. One hooded Christian comes forward, grabs a pile of papyri from next to Hypatia and beings to tear them to pieces.
Hypatia – ‘Noooo, you cannot destroy these scrolls, on this one is written the works of Archimedes
Crazed Christian – Did you hear that?, that sounded like science and reason to me. Let’s kill her lads!.’
The mob attacks Hypatia and deals a death blow. As this happens the scene suddenly turns black.
Bertrand Russell – With Hypatia’s death, Christianity sapped the intellect of the people and all Pagan learning vanished for a thousand years. This period became known by historians as ‘The Dark Ages’. Only a few candles of reason burned in a world lit by the fire of superstition.
The Dark Ages – The scene is a field outside a monastery. Groups of filthy peasants are shown wearing hoods and slapping themselves in the face with bibles. A hairy man sits in the foreground scratching himself and attempting to copulate with a chicken. To the right, a group of plague infested men and women are busily worshipping the dismembered toe of a saint. This is an age of darkness.
In the monastery two monks are sitting next to each other. One, James of Hannam is shown laboriously copying out the Gospel of Mark. The other, Roger Bacon, is busily reading an ancient text.
Brother James – What is that you are reading Brother Bacon?. That does not look like any book of the bible I am familiar with.
Roger Bacon – Nay Brother James, this is ancient learning, the works of Aristotle.
Brother James – Lord in heaven, what kind of heresy is this!. Did not the great Tertullian say that Jerusalem had nothing to learn from Athens, did not Augustine himself urge caution when dealing with the writings of Pagan Infidels. Why, the Bishop of Paris himself warns that reason cannot be used, all we need to know is contained in the Holy Bible
Roger Bacon – Ah but Brother James, perhaps they were too hasty. Look what wondrous things are contained within this text. Here, look it says that the world is a sphere.
Brother James – A sphere!, heresy!. Does it not say in the Bible that the world is flat. Did not the great Cosmas Indicopleustes demonstrate this without doubt through reference to scripture and did not his treatise win much favour within the church.
Roger Bacon – But I
Brother James – Silence heretic. Brothers, cast him into the dankest cell.
The scene returns to Bertrand Russell’s study.
Bertrand Russell - ‘And yet science and reason could not be held back forever, it lived on it the hearts of those men who were not afraid to challenge the revealed wisdom of their time. One of them, the great Copernicus was about to challenge scripture and shake society to its very foundations.
Dissolve to Copernicus’s observatory. Copernicus is shown making observations of the heavens. As he works on his treatise ‘De Revolutionibus’ he looks over at his opened bible. For a while he seems torn, then he closes the bible abruptly and returns to work on his treatise.
Copernicus (voiceover) - I knew that the treatise I had prepared would destroy the authority of the bible forever and so I asked my assistants to postpone publication until my death. Had I not done so the church would have had me burned for my impudence, and yet I could not let the truth die with me.
Giordiano Bruno is then shown teaching heliocentrism and claiming that there are other planets with life on them. Hearing this a group of inquisitors grab him and burn him in the public square. Galileo watches on in disgust and returns to his house. To his horror a group of the Inquisition are there waiting for him.
Inquisitor – Going somewhere Galileo?. The Pope wants a word with you about your recent dialogue concerning the two world systems.
Galileo – I will present myself to the holy father, I feel sure he will see the light of reason in this matter.
Galileo is led into the chamber of the inquisition. A series of demonic looking inquisitors sit behind a bench. On the table in front of them are a series of grisly looking torture devices including thumbscrews and rusty nails. An Iron Maiden is located in the corner of the room which creaks open as Galileo enters.
Galileo – What is this?, I come to debate matters of science with the Pope
Head Inquisitor – Silence heretic, there will be no such debating here. You will must bow before the authority of scripture or be tortured to death for your impudence.
For a while Galileo puts up a fight and is thrown in jail, but after a while he recants.
Galileo - ‘I submit to your will, the earth is located at the centre of the universe and does not move’
The inquisitors look pleased with themselves and leave
Galileo – (whispered) ‘And yet it still moves!’
Cue heroic music and scenes of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. The Philisophes are shown debating in coffee houses and Hume is shown writing his ‘dialogues concerning natural religion’. Columbus is shown completely anachronistically, proving that the earth is round to the horror of the Church.
Bertrand Russell – And with those words the enlightenment began, the power of religious dogma would be broken and science and reason were finally allowed to flourish. There was but one final act remaining.
The scene shifts to Darwin’s study. Darwin is sketching in a book, he draws a monkey and a human being and then a line between them with a note saying ‘I think’.
Charles Darwin (Voiceover) - ‘My poor wife. I knew my discoveries had shattered Paley’s design argument and removed all rational basis for belief in God. I decided to delay publication but finally I could contain myself no longer
Cue scenes of Church of England minsters denouncing Darwin from pulpits. The wife of an aristocrat is shown saying:
‘Descended from apes!. My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it may not become widely known.’
The scene shifts to Oxford university Museum and the Wilberforce Huxley debate
Wilberforce – Mr Huxley, may I enquire whether is through your grandfather or your grandmother that you claim your descent from a monkey.
Huxley, slowly rises to his feet
Huxley – ‘Sir, I would rather be related to an ape than a bishop!’
For a while, there is a stunned silence, suddenly the room breaks out into laugher. Mayhem ensures. Robert Fitzroy rises in a frenzy shouting "The book! The book!" while holding a bible aloft. Women faint around him. Huxley is carried out in triumph and Wilberforce is defeated.
Bertrand Russell – And so Darwinism had triumphed. All basis for belief in God had been vanquished, and yet the virus of religion remains with us today. Reason and science must continue to thwart the efforts of the faithful to plunge us back into ignorance. To save the world will requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.’
Andrew Dickson White (deceased)
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