An editor of the Wonder series at Word on Fire tells about this new series of short videos.
The nones are on the rise. There are now more U.S. adults who identify with no religion (29%) than those who identify as Catholic (21%). If current trends continue, the “nones” will become the majority in a matter of decades. Why are so many leaving or ignoring religion? It’s no mystery—they have told us themselves. The single biggest reason is that they question religious teachings.
Of course, there are as many forms of that questioning as there are nones. But a key driver, time and time again, is the perceived conflict between religious teachings and scientific progress. Three-quarters of nones believe that religion and science often conflict—and a majority of Americans agree.
Word on Fire has long led a charge against this idea in the culture, showing the harmony of faith and reason in the Catholic tradition. This year, the counteroffensive reached new heights with the inaugural Wonder Conference on faith and science supported by the John Templeton Foundation.
The growing contingent of nones, of course, are not likely to attend a conference hosted by a bishop. But they are likely to be surfing YouTube—the platform where, more than 15 years ago, then-Fr. Robert Barron first broke into the online spaces of the unaffiliated. To add fuel to its new fire, Word on Fire has released a free short film series on YouTube titled Wonder: The Harmony of Faith and Science.
This series—compellingly written by Christopher Baglow, beautifully directed by Manny Marquez, and expertly narrated by Jonathan Roumie of The Chosen fame—is poised not only to be a powerful hook for secular YouTubers but also a critical resource for religious families and parishes for years to come.
I had the privilege of serving as a script editor on these films, and in this series of articles, I wanted to briefly spotlight each episode and its theme, drawing your attention to some of the details between the lines and behind the scenes.
The first episode, titled “Light from Light: Scientific Enigmas and Theological Mysteries,” tees up the great “conflict” between faith and science with one word: “mystery.” Isn’t religion the realm of the muddled and misty, whereas science is the realm of the clear and distinct? How can “an honest person of sound mind” embrace the seemingly contradictory mysteries of faith?
The 15-minute film quotes Thomas Jefferson (played by the curator of the Will Rogers museum in the Oklahoma birthplace of the folk hero), who called the doctrine of the Trinity “mere Abracadabra.”
After glimpsing the contributions of Catholic scientists like Pierre Gassendi, Francesco Grimaldi, and Augustin-Jean Fresnel to our knowledge of physical light, Roumie delivers us into the wonderful conclusion of Albert Einstein: Light is both a particle and a wave. “In a word, it is mysterious.”
Light, a classic metaphor for God, thus becomes a confluence of the paradoxes of both physical and spiritual reality. The science of light lifts our eyes to the ultimate mystery of “light from light.”
The director Manny Marquez, who shot much of the series in his native Oklahoma, cites Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky as inspirations for the project, and the former’s influence is especially strong in this first episode. “Both of those filmmakers have a relationship with God, nature, and science that they’ve explored so often in their movies,” Marquez explains. “I looked to those two for confidence in my mission.”
Flanked by longtime collaborator and friend Rod Hassler on cinematography and well-known Catholic composer Sean Beeson on the score, Marquez constructs naturalistic scenes that wash over you like ocean waves. In quiet fields we see a woman in prayer and children at play—Marquez’s own wife and children—and are led, by the beauty of creation, into the rhythms of Eucharistic Adoration and candlelit vigil.
“Light from Light” is a subtle introduction to the worlds of the supernatural and the natural and a greater commerce between them. Yet it is just an appetizer. In the next two episodes of Wonder, we dive into the main course of perhaps the greatest debates in this whole arena: creation and evolution.