By Aprille Hanson
The last thing I ever expected while watching the hit CBS show “The Big Bang Theory” was a correlation to something Pope Francis said back in October. Primarily, the discussion between God and Science and how the two can coexist without jeopardizing faith or fact.
In “The Space Probe Disintegration” which aired Jan. 8, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is worried and stressed for most of the episode waiting to hear whether the New Horizon Space Probe that he helped launch nine years ago was able to collect information about Pluto. He tries taking his mind off it by hanging out with Howard (Simon Helberg) but soon realizes he can’t relax on his own or with the help of his friend.
The two go for a drive and Raj makes a surprising request: that the two of them go to temple. Howard of course misunderstands, thinking he’s referring to his Jewish temple, but Raj explains he’d like to go to his own Hindu temple. It’s a minor side story that ultimately makes a bigger splash for the series as a whole.
While religion has been discussed throughout the show’s eight seasons, it’s never come from a desire to be near God. Typically, Howard will make jokes about being Jewish and Sheldon will complain about his overly Christian upbringing in Texas, only made into more of a caricature when his mother (Laurie Metcalf) shows up to enforce her views.
A show called “The Big Bang Theory” about a bunch of scientists has no room for serious talks on religion … at least until now. Howard points out that Raj has never had an interest in going to temple or talked about “believing in God.” Raj explains that for him, religion is very personal and he does in fact go to temple. Howard pushes him further about his belief in God, exclaiming, “But you’re a scientist.” Raj doesn’t see the problem, but Howard goes onto explain that as a scientist you are programmed to adhere to fact and evidence. Raj explains that plenty of famous scientists believed in God, including Albert Einstein who, “was famous for attacking quantum theory on the grounds that God does not play dice with the universe.”
Raj’s next answer to Howard has added another important layer to the show. It’s not a funny moment in a show that’s irreverent 99 percent of the time, even throughout this whole bit, as Howard provides the comic relief. It takes a serious turn, marking a major shift, as Raj says: “You know what? Whenever I walk into that temple I realize that whatever happens is OK. We’re all part of an immense pattern and though we can’t understand it we can be happy to know it’s working its will through us. Whether you call it God or the universe or the self, we’re all interconnected.”
Of course, his speech is cut short as a man in the temple parking lot dings his car, so the comedy sets back to its course.
It’s the first time I can see that the show has not bought into the stereotype of scientists vs. religion and for a show built on stereotypes – the geeky comic-book loving genius falls for the hot girl next door was what the show was based on after all – it proves that the show is evolving. Every character started out as a caricature, but has experienced some sort of growth throughout the progression of the show … except Raj. Yes, he’s able to talk to women now, but that was an inevitable occurrence. His leaning on a greater power leads right into what Pope Francis said about creationism and science.
“When we read the account of creation in Genesis, we risk thinking that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand, able to do everything. But it is not like that,” the Pope said. “He created living beings and he let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave each one, so that they would develop and reach their full potential.”
It’s such a shift from the early days of the Catholic Church when Galileo was excommunicated for saying the Earth and planets orbit the sun. Pope Francis is not the only pope to explain that evolution in particular is not at odds with Christian faith, but having this most prominent figure who reaches beyond just the Catholic faith say something so bold as this next phrase is a shift: “The Big Bang, which today is held as the beginning of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator, but requires it. Evolution in nature is not at odds with the notion of creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve,” the Pope said.
It helps that Pope Francis is in fact familiar with scientific notions. He holds a Master’s degree in Chemistry.
So what does all this have to do with Raj? No, he’s not Catholic and the Pope is not referenced in the episode. But it’s not too far of a stretch to see a correlation between the Pope’s words, as he is a worldwide religious figure, or Raj’s, the musings of a scientist character on a TV comedy. They have the same theme. It’s important because this mentality of not putting religion and science at war has seeped its way into Christian faith and now, pop culture.
In the end, Raj and Howard arrive at the temple only to find out the space probe is safe. It doesn’t matter that we never know if Raj still goes in to give thanks to God. The bigger picture is how these two, as it turns out, scientific and religious figures prove that the two schools of thought can live in harmony, whether in the real world or the most popular comedy on television.