Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

In Prometheus, Ridley Scott Takes on Intelligent Design — and the Cambrian Explosion?

David Klinghoffer

Prometheusposterfixed-1.jpgI don’t say this is a recommendation, or the opposite, for the idea of intelligent design. I only offer it as an observation that several thoughtful and highly successful Hollywood directors have surprised us lately by broaching, in their films, the subject of ID. See here and here for recent instances. Now Ridley Scott seems — I say seems, since there’s only one review out of his new film, which opens June 8 — ready to join the honor roll.
Prometheus is kind of a prequel to Scott’s superbly scary sci-fi classic Alien (1979), and it appears to take Richard Dawkins at his word that alien intelligence could be responsible for the evident aspects of purposeful design in life. The story? In the not-so-distant future, a crew of space explorers journey to a bleak, distant moon in search of revelations about the origins of life on earth. The lone review so far, in the Hollywood Reporter, describes a conflict between two characters, scientist-explorers who debate the question of Darwin v. Design.

Elizabeth [Noomi Rapace] and her scientist boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) continue to spar about the potential momentousness of their journey — she, who wears a cross, hopes to find confirmation of her religious beliefs that will point to the existence of a traditional creator, while he is convinced that what they discover will merely prove once and for all that Darwin was right.

The Wikipedia article on the film gives this additional intriguing detail, in describing the plot. Who knows what the provenance might be, given the source, but still:

During the Cambrian period the spacecraft of an advanced humanoid alien race arrives on Earth. One of the aliens from the spacecraft is left behind and sacrifices itself, becoming the first DNA.
In the late 21st century, a star map is discovered by archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) among the remnants of several otherwise-unconnected cultures. On the back of this discovery, the Weyland Corporation funds a scientific expedition to follow the star map aboard the Prometheus.

You may recall Dawkins’s admission in Expelled:

It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, by probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

So it sounds like the premise of the film holds that an eruption of biological information in the Cambrian accounts indirectly for the functioning genome we as humans enjoy today, a fact that scientists are destined to discover, at considerable risk, for themselves. That sounds plausible so far.