Yesterday’s episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, was arguably the most powerful yet, at least as far as the series’ exploration of religion and artificial intelligence is concerned. If anything, the episode could be criticized for overplaying this aspect – often times a subtle approach is best – but in in the end it seems to work.
The episode explores, among other things, the question whether the apocalypse in the Bible and that predicted by Sarah Connor could be the same. And the hand of a robot reaching out, accompanied by the words “Come with me if you want to live”, is likened to the hand of God reaching out to humanity in the Sistine Chapel. Much is said about the soul, but in terms of living on in our offspring – which is not entirely unlike the artificial beings we may create. Indeed, at one point a distinction is made between our human imperfections, which make us human and define our humanity, and our “perfect” creations which are therefore not human. But how can that which is imperfect create that which is perfect?
At the end of the episode, Sarah’s voiceover reflects on things machines (at least at that time) cannot do: “They cannot possess faith. They cannot commune with God.” But for a change does not seem to exclude altogether the possibility that these things can be learned. If machines can learn to appreciate beauty, and create art, then (Sarah’s voiceover continues to tell us) “they won’t have to destroy us. They’ll be us.”
Some final thoughts about the notion of “the hand of God” in this episode. This machine hand, which is our own creation, stronger and “better” in some ways than that declared “very good” in Genesis, is recalled reaching out to humanity, in a parallel and yet a reversal of the Sistine Chapel painting: the “perfect” creature reaching out to its imperfect creation. The very notion of God having hands is anthropomorphism, thinking of God as though a human being. God has no hands, other than the hands we give him – whether by painting them on the Sistine Chapel, or being them in reaching out to those in desperate need of a miracle.