In his online column, New York Times science writer James Gorman gives his humble scientific opinion on the Ridley Scott sci-fi thriller Prometheus, which opened in theaters last Friday. It’s “creationism for geeks,” he says, the type that science-fiction writers and scientists have long indulged in.
He’s quick to point out that this type of creationism fits right in with Darwinian thought.
It does not run counter to the idea of the process of evolution; it just sets the beginning of the whole business somewhere and some time other than the Earth.
But that’s exactly where science becomes science fiction — the point at which our “science” requires us to posit imaginary events in order to tell a good story.
On film, Scott gets to take us on a journey through his interpretation of life’s beginnings. It’s a journey that is necessarily dark and dangerous. Journeys of light and goodness just don’t sell as many tickets. As the film’s tagline boasts, “The search for our beginning could lead to our end.” More intriguing than, say, “The search for our beginning could lead to greater understanding of our reason for existing in the first place.” Thankfully, life is not all about box-office receipts.
Gorman’s point seems to be that we should keep an open mind.
I myself am not really fond of monsters. My own particular science fantasy is that life on Earth developed from some biological Lego parts lost by a superbeing toddler. I don’t really believe this, but the world is a bit like some broken toy, so I am keeping an open mind.
At the end of the day, though, it takes more than an open mind to tackle life’s toughest questions. It takes evidence. The main character in Prometheus, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, focuses on the evidence and goes where it leads, come what may. She won’t stop until she finds the proof to fully explain human origins. She is not satisfied by hearsay or taking on faith the ideas of a certain English naturalist writing in the late 19th century. She is aware of the dangers of her quest and meets them head-on, armed with street-smarts intelligence, tenacity, and an unshakeable faith.
In a teaser video clip released by the film’s producers ahead of its release date, Shaw has this to say to the company she hopes will fund her search:
I have doctorates in paleontology, archeology, human mythology, and mimetics. This is not who I am. It’s simply what I know. I make the distinction, sir, because there’s a difference between what a scientist knows and what they believe. That difference is proof.
The sure sign of a scientist with guts and integrity — whether in fiction or real life? A willingness to follow the evidence, wherever it may point.