Dr. Strange is an interesting character in the Marvel Universe where he has supernatural rather than superhuman powers. He draws from the arcane arts to subdue his foes instead of using powers from mutations or the classic origin story accident. Dr. Strange was a world-renowned physician and surgeon before a car accident left his hands themselves inoperable. As a man of science, he was skeptical of alternative medicinal practices, but he eventually sought help from The Ancient One as a last-ditch effort to cure himself. His hands were not healed, but he did learn to use magic to help others.
Dr. Strange’s storylines span several decades, from his first appearances in the 1960s to the current iteration in 2017. Jason Aaron’s vol. 4 run involves a villain known as the The Imperator. His parents were Hieronymus and Abbadona Hellgore. They were declared heretics by worshipers of Shuma-Gorath for practicing science after Hieronymus shared his scientific work with the elders. Both of The Imperator’s parents are killed while trying to protect him from being sacrificed. The name Hieronymus is likely, and fittingly, derived from the German monk that was also a physician and botanist. Abbadona’s name is likely inspired by the fallen angel that later repents in Friedirch Gottlieb Klopstock’s The Messiah. Abbadona seems an unusual choice, however, where Aaron’s version is defiant and unrepentant during her short appearance.
The Imperator understands the use of magic and worshiping entities as corruption. He tells Doctor Strange that, “I grew up alone in a womb of science. All I ever cared about was finding the tools of technology that I need to obliterate magic. To purge the evil that murdered my parents.” Doctor Strange eventually replies, “Apparently science makes monsters of men just as easily as magic.”
The dialogue between The Imperator and Dr. Strange parallels a discussion on faith and science in the United States. The Imperator’s viewpoint is in-line with Richard Dawkin’s view on religion in the United States; that it holds back scientific progress. Interestingly, The Pew Research Institute’s 2015 study on religion and science found 59% Americans believe the science and religion often conflict, but only 30% believe their own religious beliefs conflict with science. People unaffiliated with a religion are more likely to say that science and religion conflict.
The main areas where a person’s church attendance predicts their stance on scientific issues are human evolution, creation of the universe, modifying a baby’s genes, and using animals for research. Church attendance is generally not predictive of stances for other scientific discussions, including environmental issues, childhood vaccination, and genetically modified foods. A prior Pew Research study found that a myriad of influences, including political party affiliation, age, education, race and gender, contribute to beliefs in these areas.
Dr. Strange himself was a faith skeptic until he met The Ancient One. Science was unable to cure his hands, but faith was able to heal his identity. He had been lost as a non-practicing surgeon, but he found a new calling as Sorcerer Supreme. He does not disavow science while he embraces magic. Dr. Strange’s view is in accord with Francis Sellers Collins, who is a physician, geneticist, and was a leader of the Human Genome Project. A former atheist, Collins views religion and science as compatible, where science struggles to answer questions such as, “Why is there something instead of nothing? Why are we here?” He also finds it “anachronistic” that “scientific and spiritual views are incompatible.” Collins believes that, “Science and faith can actually be mutually enriching and complementary once their proper domains are understood and respected.”
The Imperator makes a series of statements to Dr. Strange about his scientific up-bringing. He states that he devoted himself to studying the “sacred power” of science and that he was baptized “in the waters of super-science” so he could be “reborn.” His dialogue draws from religious imagery to show his devotion to science. The religious references come to a head when The Imperator is defeated by Dr. Strange and one of his minion robots, known as inquisitors, proclaims, “Father…Why have you forsaken…” as it goes offline. The religious references and imagery suggest The Imperator became the exact thing that he despises, a zealot willing to kill others for his beliefs.
The Imperator illustrates the dangers of hardline stances against religion based on scientific elitism. It may be a stretch, but perhaps it was intentional that The Imperator is an outsider to the United States just as Dawkins is an outsider to the United States. Dr. Strange is a U.S. superhero that fights against an outside influence that tries to delegitimize religion in an age of science. He takes a stance like Collins that leaves room for the supernatural and the natural. It will be interesting to see whether this discussion occurred previously in Dr. Strange’s storylines or if it will be addressed again, perhaps with another science-centered character, such as Bruce Banner or Reed Richards.