Scientist in Heaven

Here’s a sketch of a movie idea about an excellent scientist and citizen, which I had had for some time, but which took further form during a cathedral mass in Granada in 1999. (There is also my “A Mathematician at Heaven’s Gate.”)

On the very day our scientist, Prof. Blake, retires he dies, and to his pleasant surprise finds himself at the Pearly Gates.

“It’s incredible, religion was right about this.”

“Are you concerned at all?”

“No, I’ve led a good life, and I’m sure this God must be good and appreciative.”

“What good have you done?”

“I’ve led the advancements in my field and been an upstanding member of the community.”

“What is good about such work?”

“Well, the purpose of humanity is to understand the universe, and I’ve contributed to that.”

“Do you think you did it because it was important, or because it appealed to you?”

“No, it is important.”

“Yes, though some folks find it easy to rationalize whatever they want to do. Why do you think you’ve been so successful.”

“Well, I’ve worked hard I guess, made myself organized and persistent and energetic.”

“And what do you think we should do with others who have been less successful, less organized and energetic?”

“Well, I guess you can’t just pretend it doesn’t matter. Maybe you could let them try again, with a fresh start.”

“Actually, we were wondering whether you might go back and finish up their work for them.”

“The work they’ve left undone? But it’s so disorganized and hopeless; it would be so frustrating; it would take forever. I’m not disorganized like that. I don’t see how you could think of asking me to do that. No one could do something like that.”

“No, it does seem unfair. But He did it,” nodding to the cross above.

A chilling realization comes over our scientist. “My God, I devoted my life to understanding the universe, and I didn’t understand a thing. You have to let me do it over, please.”

“But you’d remember all this.”

“No, surely you could make me forget somehow.”

“Yes, we could, but then you’d just do the same things all over again.”

“No, I’m changed; I can feel it inside. Please give me another chance. I would be different.”

“You are very persuasive, and actually convinced us, once. This was your second time. Don’t you remember.” (His memory is restored.)

“Oh my God, I did everything exactly the same again!” He leaves silently for hell.

Hell it turns out is quite a splendid place. For example, you can eat whatever you like without any exercise and still keep a good appetite and a trim, muscular body. One fellow spends the day in bed eating creampuffs. Another fellow spends the day in a basement room counting his money. There’s lots of TV, nothing new, but lots of old programs. There’s also lots of smoking and drinking, complaining, arguing, and especially, ridicule.

It’s always quite hot and dusty outside, so folks stay indoors, with lots of air-conditioning. The lighting is rather garish.

Eventually Blake prays humbly for forgiveness and finds himself transported to heaven. Heaven, it turns out, is a rather modest place, with only the simplest necessities provided. The inhabitants, however, share a deep appreciation of the forgiveness they receive from each other and from Him. Each acts with touching tenderness and kindness, a type of ultimate intelligence.

Folks spend a lot of time outdoors. Summers are warm with gentle breezes. Winters are snowy, and you need skis to get around and fires indoors. There is lots of activity in the arts and sciences, always unhurried, with equal appreciation of others’ work as of one’s own.

(The figures at the “Pearly Gates,” it turns out, were not His agents at all, but agents of the Worldly One.)

Luke 16:24-31

    24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

    25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil  things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

    26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

    27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

    28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

    29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

    30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

    31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.




  1. satyan devadoss:

    Dear Frank, two questions about this article:

    1. You write, “Well, the purpose of humanity is to understand the universe, and I’ve contributed to that.”
    Do you think this is really the purpose of humanity? Understanding? Or is this one of the misunderstandings that Blake has?

    2. Regarding the Scripture reference from Luke, I see the broad connection about heaven and hell there, but I cannot see what point you’re making by juxtaposing it with the story.

  2. Frank Morgan:

    Interesting questions Satyan.

    1. At one level, from one perspective, I think that it’s a pretty good answer, but yes, it’s definitely put in question by the article.

    2. One specific question here is how far is hell from heaven? In one sense, and according to the story, very far (with a great gulf between). On the other hand, it is one of the most insidious methods of evil to make us think we are hopelessly far from good.

  3. C. Hall:

    I’m clearly missing something in this story. Because the scientist didn’t have faith in one particular God during his time on earth, his positive contributions count for naught? Or is it that the only thing God cares about is one’s belief in him? I find that to spell out a deeply shallow God, concerned with nothing but personal recognition. Surely you can not be suggesting such. If that is the only way to get into heaven, and those that choose other culturally relevant Gods are doomed to hell, well, then that is no God of mine.

  4. Frank Morgan:

    Dear C Hall,
    I guess that the question isn’t about the scientist’s work and certainly not about his faith, but about his self-centeredness and self-righteousness. Is he really dedicated to humanity’s understanding of the universe, or to his personal life-work? By the way, I don’t think that the movie gives an unambiguous answer to that question.

  5. satyan devadoss:

    Dear Frank,

    in this reply post (as well as indirectly in the article), you talk about “humanity’s understanding of the universe” as a goal that is at the heart of the matter.

    I fail to see this.

    I hear politicians, friends, movies and many talk about “education” (or real understanding) as a means to solve problems in the world (including poverty, greed, injustice). Though I believe education goes a long way towards this goal, true understanding is certainly not enough. I believe there is such a thing as evil, where one does truly understand and yet chooses against the choice that is right.

  6. C Hall:


    Couldn’t agree more about self-centeredness and self-righteousness. However, your piece could be easily misinterpreted as damning the man for his lack of faith in a Christian god. Indeed, that was my first reading.

    A much more powerful way to present the same theme would be to take any gods out of the equation, and instead present the tale as a humanist moral drama. For example, you could replace the death with an event that forces a new level of interaction with community, maybe an event that would be largely misinterpreted against the scientist. The main character would find that his vision of himself at odds with that of his local community. He’s forced to come to terms with his self-centeredness by the end. Else, the plea to God looks nothing more like an acceptance of said God’s dominance over all, an entity that must be worshiped unthinkingly, all the points you are trying to express lost.

    At least then you wouldn’t confuse us easily befuddled atheists. 🙂