Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and anti-science–an update

Aliens cockpit ©HR Giger, 1978

For some reasons, the new movie Prometheus by Ridley Scott has struck a nerve with the skeptic blogosphere. I’m pretty certain, based on what I’ve been reading, that there is a distinctive creationist or intelligent design (as if they’re different) thread within the movie. And the overt religiosity of the characters who should have solidly denounced their anti-science religion once they discovered an alien being who seeded the earth with DNA (even if it was bogus science). 

Here are some of the better blog posts that I’ve read:

  • Prometheus: pandering to anti-science | The Atheist ExperienceIt’s a staggering disappointment, but I think those of us in the skeptical/atheist/pro-science community will find its script — co-written by Damon Lindelof, best known for the TV series Lost — especially insulting.
  • Prometheus: Science Fiction or Religious Fiction? | Tor.comIf it’s science fiction, then the theme of Prometheus shouldn’t be faith versus science. Instead, it should be about coming up with a scientific explanation for God. And, the movie in a way, tries to do that. But it sends a mixed message by having these characters act like such bad scientists. It’s as though the screenwriters couldn’t decide where to fall on explaining any of the cool science fiction stuff, so they just decided to explain almost none of it.
  • Suspension of Disbelief: Prometheus – Teen SkepchickThe movie doesn’t even make an effort to make the science sound right. An archeologist does DNA analysis. The biologist unironically uses the term “Darwinism” and runs away after finding a dead alien body on the planet. (Really. Why would you travel millions of miles to study a potential life form, then run away when you find one?) Both Shaw and Holloway make it clear that they just “choose to believe” their thesis, that aliens seeded Earth with humans. It’s maddening.
  • Why ‘Prometheus’ gets it all wrong, and why it matters « e v a n e s c e n tNo matter how wild your story premise is, there must be a part of the audience that thinks “this could happen, this is how things might’ve have been, even if they weren’t.” For example, imagine a story where aliens brainwash Hitler to invade Poland. Silly, yes, but at least it can’t be disproved. (Of course, something isn’t proven true just because it can’t be disproved.) But with Prometheus, it simply can’t be true, because we didn’t pop into existence with unique DNA 150,000 years ago – we evolved from other species very slowly and share our DNA with all other life on earth. The story is not reflective or metaphorical, it’s dumb.
  • Of course, I wrote about it too
These are just a selection of complaints about the movie from a scientific point-of-view. Even the movies Screenwriter, Damon Lindelof, responded to the anti-science complaints in an interview:

It’s definitely not anti-science. In fact, if anything I think it’s pro-science because it advances the idea that part of our own programming as human beings, we’re many ways just as governed by our programming as David is. We have to seek out the answers to these questions, even though we know we’ll never get satisfying answers. We’re curious about what happens as we die. We need to know where we come from. What the meaning of life is. What kind of life we’re supposed to lead. These are all sort of nonscientific, philosophical, religious, and spiritual questions. But the idea that we can find some comfort in science, that science can sort of give us a path to follow in understanding our roots. I think we’re better off from understanding that we’re descended from apes than we are looking at some book that was written 2000 years ago that gives us an explanation for our own roots.

Though Lindelof makes a valid point that the book, presumably the Bible, written 2000 years ago (more like 3000, but the point is made) is worthless in understanding science. However, we didn’t descend from apes, we actually descended from a common ancestor to humans and apes. Lindelof, even in trying to make a valid point about science, doesn’t get it right!

I went to see the movie again (I went with a friend only on the condition that I don’t pay for the ticket, since I couldn’t bring myself to give more money to Ridley Scott).  I noticed something else that bothered me quite a bit. Near the beginning of the movie (after the alien provided the seed of DNA on a planet that apparently already had evolved plant life), the archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, discover a cave with the star map on the Isle of Skye, a windswept peninsula along the west coast of Scotland. They claim that the cave is 35,000 years old. Which would be interesting save for two large issues:

These aren’t difficult points to uncover. Even the relatively useless Wikipedia could provide the writers with some data to determine if human occupation of the Isle of Skye was even partially reasonable. All they had to do was move the date to 25,000 years ago might have been a better choice, though still probably not very reasonable even then.

Again, either the writers were lazy, disrespectful of science, or were trying to make some other anti-science point that isn’t clear. 

I’m rarely this picky about a movie. Except, I was a big fan of Alien and Aliens. I enjoyed the crazy biology of the alien. I like the spookiness. I waited years for a prequel that kind of explained some of the story. I know that Prometheus isn’t supposed to be a prequel, but that’s a contradictory claim, since one of the very last scenes shows us an alien evolving that looks just like the aliens in the later (in the Alien timeline) movies. The movie wasn’t scary. It had lame characters. The female characters didn’t have any of the strength and leadership of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in the original movies. And the overt anti-science, pro-creationist tones of the movie demolished any interest I might have had.

Don’t waste your time with this movie.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!