Underlying the theme of fate versus freewill in Lost is the related theme of the conflict between faith and reason. In the first few seasons, Jack Shepherd, a spinal surgeon, is presented as an empiricist: he trusts only in evidence and reason, and does not believe that they are on the island for some larger purpose. His counterpart is John Locke, presented as a man of faith. He boards the plane that crashed as a paraplegic, but on the island he is suddenly and miraculously healed. This experience convinces him that he and the others were brought to the island for a reason. The crux of Jack’s character development over 6 seasons has been a transformation from relying on reason to living by faith. This transformation is epitomized in this week’s episode in which Jack, when faced with the choice to follow Sawyer’s plan to leave the island or to stay on the island, decides to stay because he believes “we were brought here because we are supposed to do something…the island is not done with us yet.” Sawyer interprets the choice of staying on the island as a “leap of faith” that he is not willing to take.
In a recent interview in Wired magazine, the creators of the show discuss its meaning quite openly. They say the show has always been about order vs. chaos, or put another way purposefulness vs. randomness. Of course these themes have profound religious implications, which is why executive producer Damon Lindelhof says, “Now the question has been boiled down to its essential root—is there a God or is there nothingness?” On one side purposefulness, order, and God align with faith while randomness, chaos, and ‘nothingness’ are associated with reason. This dichotomy pervades the mindset of mainstream Western culture. Are these distinctions valid? Does belief in a random, purposeless universe lead to a life of reason and sustain scientific inquiry?
An investigation of the history of modern science would suggest otherwise. There are reasons the scientific revolution originated and flourished in a civilization that was founded on a biblical, Judeo-Christian worldview which holds that the nature was created by an intelligent Supreme Being and therefore operates according to intelligible, stable laws that may be ascertained by rational, scientific methods (the same could be said of the significant accomplishments in science and mathematics in Islamic civilization which shared a similar metaphysical perspective). Many well-known scientists have held such beliefs and were compelled by them to unlock the mysteries of nature:
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the council and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being” – Issac Newton
“[I engage in science] to obtain a sample test of the delight of the Divine Creator in His work and to partake of His joy” – Johannes Kepler (deduced laws of planetary motion)
“In the distance tower still higher [scientific] peaks which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects, and deepen the feeling whose truth is emphasized by every advance in science, that “Great are the works of the Lord”” – J.J. Thomson (discovered of the electron)
“Speculations, man, I have none! I have certainties. I thank God that I don’t rest my dying head upon speculations for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” – Michael Faraday (discovered electromagnetic induction – the basis for electric power generation).
These scientists believed that the laws of nature were the works of God and that they were doing the will of God by advancing man’s knowledge of what God has made. One of the most fundamental beliefs, or presuppositions of science, is that the laws of nature are immutable – that is the laws that govern nature today are the same throughout space and time. If these laws were transient and unstable, scientific endeavors would be futile. If the universe is ultimately random and purposeless, on what basis would one have confidence that nature’s laws are constant and therefore knowable? Contrary to the worldview of Lost, the presence of order and purpose makes science possible.