“Mars will come to fear… my botany powers!”
— Mark Watney, The Martian
Mark Watney is a man of faith.
Faith is something that can exist even if religion is completely absent. The basic processes are the same. You can have faith in a person’s actions, or faith in a belief — especially if you don’t have proof for that belief. In The Martian, faith is central: faith in science, faith in competency, and faith in humanity.
Watney’s faith is in science; it is the faith of farmers from the dawn of time, to place something in the ground and make it grow. It is the same faith that pioneers must have had when they set out across the oceans and plains. It is the faith of people that know God, and that know the rules God has placed for the universe… except, this time, those rules are rocket science, and a little more crucial and complicated than the basics of Genesis.
Even on his darkest day on Mars — when an accident destroys his farm and his ability to grow Martian potatoes — Mark relies on his faith in science to provide another solution. Mark relies on what he knows, and has faith in the processes that nature has established, to nourish himself.
While originally skeptical about Watney’s ability to survive, NASA leader Teddy Sanders commits to a deep faith in his cohorts’ ability to get things done. He has faith in their knowledge, in their commitment, in their desire; he knows that if he asks them to tackle the impossible task of repurposing a probe in thirty days, that they’ll succeed. His faith never wavers — because he knows he can trust their knowledge, just as God’s people know they can trust God’s grace.
Finally, Watney’s crewmates have faith enough in their own abilities to feel comfortable adding hundreds of days — and hundreds of ways to die — to their own journey in order to save them.
The result of this faith in science? Mark Watney came home.
This is Mark’s central statement of faith, said to a group of astronaut cadets at the end of the movie. Both religious and areligious people alike can take this and apply it to their own lives:
“When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you. This is space. It does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”
Even if you doubt God, have faith.
Have faith, and then begin.