"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roger Ebert on Prometheus and Creationism


Chase, Luke... discuss.


  1. I was already planning on discussing Prometheus here, so I’m glad you afforded me the opportunity!

    First, I’m going to start with the article you posted.

    I saw Prometheus with my best friend, Ally. We were both overwhelmed with the theological undertones radiating from the film. Creation is clearly the most prevalent, and that’s what the blog discusses. If humans are the result of the actions – perhaps a glorified science project? – of a more advanced species, does that suggest these beings are God/Gods? Does it remove any trace of mystical creationism? (It should be noted here, that like the blog suggests, we now must distinguish between creationism as performed by a higher power and creationism as enacted by a more advanced species).

    As I see it, the film presents the arguments for every side but refuses to provide adequate evidence to decide which one is correct. To me, I see absolutely no reason why Darwinism would be discounted by scientific creationism (my phrase for creation by higher species). The reason is simple – yes, our DNA is identical to theirs, but who is suggesting that the Engineers themselves did not evolve via Darwinian laws? They created us in the same manner that we tamper with cells in a Petri dish; the existence of fungus in a plastic cup doesn’t disprove human evolution. It merely suggests intelligence.

    The argument might then devolve to, “How can you discount a higher power when you just asserted that humans are the ‘intelligence’ behind growth in laboratories? What if God is the scientist and we are the fungus?” The difference is that humans can’t build cells from scratch, which is what any higher power would have done. Neither does this occur in Prometheus! The Engineer dies, and his DNA becomes humanity. That does not suggest the creation of life. It suggests science.

    Then, how do I discount the Engineers as God/Gods? Well, it’s simple. They are mortal. They perished. No omnipotent God could be mortal, nor does the concept of an entire species being a single God/Gods fit into Judeo-Christian thinking. Next, the question becomes, “Who created the Engineers?” I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. A character suggests that God created the Engineers. And that really pisses me off.

  2. (Continuing)

    The problem I have with theology in general is theology’s constant changing in order to adapt to new evidence. Religion changes and grows, becoming unidentifiable with the philosophy it once was. The Bible says humanity was created in seven days. Now, the Church doesn’t necessarily hold that to be factual. “But that doesn’t disprove the existence or reliability of the Bible.” Okay, fine. But every time a new development occurs, religion changes its tune to adapt. Noah’s Ark? Just metaphor. Five loafs of bread and two fish feeding thousands? Just a parable now. If a thousand stories in the Bible turn out to be fictional, does God become fictional, too? Of course not. The 6 billion theists on Earth would find a way to reconcile it with the existence of God. So, where does it end? When does the reconciliation stop, and the acceptance of factual inaccuracies begin? It begins at when Prometheus does.

    The movie shows, in no uncertain terms, that we were build by the Engineers. One cannot suggest that the Engineers were acting as agents of God, and God created the Engineers. This doesn’t reflect what the Bible says. Either the Bible is right, or it’s wrong, and continually adapting dogma perverts both science and God.

    In the end, Prometheus doesn’t make you decide what’s true. It only makes suggestions. I would be ready to hear arguments suggesting that the Engineers are God’s angels, acting as his instruments. But if this is the case, then explain to me why God attempted to eradicate his angels on LV-423, and why his angels are bent on ending the human race. There are serious questions there, so be prepared for some serious cross-examination if you’re going to make that argument.

    I have a TON more to write, but I’m exhausted, so I’ll save it for a rebuttal to someone :P

    And, just as a side note … Prometheus was badass. Just sayin’.

    Oh, and a review for Prometheus had a GREAT quote… “A thinly-veiled intro to the Alien franchise revising that classic's tagline to suggest: In space, no one can hear you scream, except perhaps God."

    1. It was pretty badass, ay?

      I'm going to post below this... so stoked this Friday that I checked and there were NINE responses!

  3. Thanks Tina! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Chase and I were called out specifically! Just like Chase, I feel like I could write pages upon pages of analysis of Prometheus because it is filled with material. Before I get started, I would like to say that I think this movie could easily have replaced or worked in addition to 2001: A Space Odyssey in UW. They seem to have some of the same underlying themes throughout the entire film.

    I guess the best place to start my commentary is with Ebert's blog post. Ebert did a nice job of refuting the creationist's points. The film doesn't talk about Panspermia but I believe it is largely about Intelligent Design. At its core, Intelligent Design suggests that we were "designed" by another being--most people would assume this to be God--but there is no reason why humans couldn't have been created by little green men or the Engineers.

    The only character that seemed to show any connection of religion throughout the film (to the best of my recollection) was Elizabeth--interestingly she was the only one to survive other than robotic David (God was watching over her?). Therefore there was little to no talk of God in the film, rather the idea of a creator focused almost exclusively about the Engineers. I think the question then boils down to: why? Was it purely by accident that the Engineers created us when the humanoid fell into the water and his DNA started to spread out? Why would they create us intentionally and then try to destroy us? But then many more questions arise like why would the Engineers be in stasis for that long instead of killing us off earlier?

    None of those questions (to my annoyance) were even close to being answered. The closest that we came to answers was when David attempted to contact the Engineer and with a brief pause the Engineer decided to kill everyone in existence. We don't know exactly what David said to the Engineer; was it really what Weylan told him to say or was it something completely different?

    My watching of Prometheus left me with more questions about God, theology, and Intelligent Design than when I was when I walked into the theatre. One thing sticks out to me though, there is no need for God in this movie strictly in the Judeo-Christian theistic sense. But God could exist in the deistic sense--setting the universe in motion but not interfering other than that.

    Perhaps the most talked about scene in the whole film is when Elizabeth performed her own C-Section/abortion. I'm surprised that this has not caused an uproar among pro-life proponents. If humans are part of "God's creation" (which the movie refutes anyway), then wasn't the squid-like alien that was growing inside her? Didn't that squid-like alien deserve to live too instead of being killed (or so she thought) in the medical chamber? I don't agree with these positions but it seems like a double standard.

    Chase wrote quite extensively about the impact of the Bible and theology in all of this. He makes what I think are ultimately very damning points against theology (sorry Professor Berry). It is necessary to point out that this is based on my opinion that the Bible as a whole must be taken literally in order to hold up as a religious doctrine worth using in worship. When people say that the Bible is filled with metaphors, how are we supposed to know what is a metaphor and what is literally true? It boils down to arbitrarily deciding what is a metaphor and what is truth as Chase touched on. In order to avoid that, the Bible should be viewed as either completely literal truth or an entire story (this leads to problems too: was Jesus real? is God real? What would the difference be between the Bible and another science fiction novel?). But the Bible we know cannot be taken literally, if only due to book of Genesis. Therefore, what merits the Bible being used in worship?

    Well, this is a good start for my writing. If anyone responds/comments I will be happy to clarify and/or write more.

    1. Luke... I thought the same thing about the c-section/abortion scene, too!

  4. Hello!

    I had the pleasure of seeing Prometheus when it was released in the U.S. at midnight last Thursday night. Unfortunately, the theater only was showing it in 3D. I despise 3D.


    Luke, Chase, and I have been discussing the film on Facebook. Prometheus definitely has some interesting religious connotations. Chase and Luke both raised great points about it. A point that I brought up on Facebook was the relationship between the creators and creations in the film. Elizabeth Shaw's faith is an important aspect of the film as it motivates her to pursue these aliens on LV-223. When Holloway says, "they made us," Shaw responds, "and who made them?" This little bit of dialogue is really interesting because it shows that Holloway believes in conflict between religion in science and Shaw believes in some form of dialogue. The film does not make any attempts to refute the idea of the Judeo-Christian God. What Prometheus does is suggest that there was something between God and human beings. The opening scene of the film shows an Engineers releasing his DNA into the water during what appears to be the Cambrian period. As their DNA is later shown to be almost matched to ours, we are lead to believe that millions of years of evolution led to the recreation of the Engineers genes. We saw at the Human Origins Exhibit that we are very genetically similar to bananas. Perhaps that's because bananas, like us, originated from these pale beings.

    Many gaps are left in the background story of Prometheus. One important question my father asked after we left the theater was, "why did they make us?" I responded, "because they could." Holloway gives the same answer to David when asked why humans created androids (specifically David). Ridley Scott and the writers of Prometheus included that exchange in the film for a reason. In my opinion, the Engineers created us simply because they could. But then there's an even more important question: why did they decide to destroy us around two thousand years ago? As I pointed out on Facebook, the fact that the Engineers made this decision around two thousand years ago is probably related in some way to Jesus Christ. With all the religious aspects of Prometheus, this wouldn't seem like too much of a stretch. Was Jesus the son of an Engineer? Were the Engineers angry that humans were now worshiping "God" instead of them? Perhaps the gods that the Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks, Romans, etc. worshiped were the Engineers. So many statues of Greek and Roman gods were made of marble. I couldn't help but thinking of marble when I saw the Engineer in the opening scene (http://www.prometheus-movie.com/media/sacrificial_engineer_prometheus1.jpg). The Engineers did not appear to be displeased with humans in all the other times they visited earth. Chase's mentioning of Noah's Ark made me thinking of the Engineers' intention to destroy us.

    So many thoughts race through my head when I think about this creator/creation relationship. The humans are undone by their creation, David, who gets them into all sorts of trouble in many different ways. The Engineers on LV-223 were destroyed by their creations (implied to be the xenomorphs from the original Alien films).

    At this point, I don't really know where I'm going with all this. Prometheus really made me think and I look forward to a sequel (rumored to be titled "Paradise")

  5. Also, for any of you who are hardcore Alien fans:
    Weyland Industries must have merged with the Yutani Corporation after the events of Prometheus. With no one left behind to really run the show, there was a big merger. The crew of the Nostromo in Alien worked for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Interestingly, the company probably knew about the Prometheus trip and intended for the Nostromo to pass by it. Considering Prometheus never returned and all communication was lost, the company probably also knew that were was something in that planet system of value to it. Unfortunately, the Nostromo lands on LV-426 instead of LV-223. The Derelict the crew finds was most likely one of the Engineer ships en-route to Earth to drop some alien eggs on us and mess us up hardcore. Like on LV-223, the aliens got loose and killed the pilot.
    Also, if the entire Alien franchise is to be taken as canon (not including AvP), then Elizabeth never returned from the Engineers' home planet. So what happened to her? And what happened to the xenomorph-like alien at the end of Prometheus?

    1. Ben... I'm pretty sure the xenomorph at the end of Prometheus is the Queen. Like I said in my post... if it's not, then we just wasted two good hours. The Queen makes more of an appearance in Aliens than Alien, but she's able to reproduce on her own. So... the creatures in Alien are her off spring. Though how they got to LV-426 is a good question. Maybe this will come out in the sequel to Prometheus... because there's gonna be a sequel! So, it could be that LV-426 is where Elizabeth and David stop next? and the Queen somehow was a stow away?

  6. After reading Luke’s post, I’ve decided that Prometheus is making a rather annoying case for creationism.

    Why is this annoying, you might ask? It’s annoying because, after following through on my own questions, I’m stumped. In my original comment, I said that we must distinguish between scientific creationism and mystical creationism. But after thinking hard on Luke’s comment, suggesting that “At its core, Intelligent Design suggests that we were ‘designed’ by another being,” I’ve come to the conclusion that intelligent design, scientific creationism, and mystical creationism could all be one in the same.

    I hate admitting this, because it actually reveals the inadequacy of my own argumentative and logic skills. That is not to say I’ve accepted divine creation as fact, but that I’ve surrendered what I once believed was the high-ground … and that means surrendering certainty.

    Prometheus is making a case for intelligent design. While the movie itself suggests that we were created and built by the engineers, at a deeper level, it lays out a framework for the argument of divine creation. In the end, the film does not literally suggest aliens created us – it only tells a story while shrugging its shoulders and saying, “Why not?” Perhaps creation was scientific, orchestrated by a higher power (perhaps a vastly superior extraterrestrial species), unrecognizable to early man, finally manifesting itself as the Judeo-Christian God worshipped today?

    How I came to this conclusion was thinking long and hard about my own use of the word “mystical” when referring to creationism. The word has negative connotations, conjuring images of magic and fables; this, unfortunately, is the caricature offered by Genesis.

    Now, I’m starting to wonder if the story was related by the early composers of the Bible in such a manner (what today looks “mystical”) because that was the only way it could be understood by humanity at the time. Not scientifically advanced enough to understand the concept of DNA and microbes, the story was simplified and romanticized?

  7. (continued)

    That is, at least from my perspective, how Prometheus is arguing for intelligent design. Intelligent design, therefore, may be synonymous with evolution and scientific creationism. At least that’s what the movie is saying.

    Me, personally? I hate not being able to answer my own questions. I suppose that’s a consequence of being curious enough to ask them. I’m still highly critical of religion for adapting to evidence that proves a theological/Biblical assertion false. But just as I said above, perhaps our divine texts are filled with simplifications and metaphors because we weren’t capable of understanding the truth. But now that we do … does it seem any less magical?

    To respond to Ben, I can’t imagine that the 2000-year time difference is coincidence, but two things should be taken into account – first of all, that is when the Engineer’s were turned on by their own creations. What is the significance of that? The death of the Engineers as the catalyst for the redemption of humanity? Second of all, I can’t imagine the Engineers were angry about worshipping another God; at the time of the crucifixion, monotheism wasn’t the norm. So, actually, worshipping many gods might have pleased them, believing humanity revered them. Additionally, they had already painted the cave “invitations.” They wanted us to come… what would motivate them to destroy us before we had the chance?

    And as for the discussion on Nostromo … I feel like events must have transpired after Prometheus but prior to Alien wherein the Wayland Corporation made additional attempts to bring back life. On the Nostromo, Ash was given orders to bring back the “alien” at all costs, suggesting the company already knew it was out there. I don’t think it was coincidence that the Nostromo found LV -426 … Wayland already knew what happened there.

    Oh, andddd … one last question. Doesn’t the gradual change in the xenomorphs (as Ben called them – not sure what their official name is) from one generation to the next suggest evolution? In this case, evolution is triggered by creation … the intelligent designer, the Engineers, designed evolution.

    1. In response to Chase in response to Ben... the 2000-year time difference is definitely not a coincidence. But the major problem I had with the Engineers turning on the humans is the lack of explanation. The Space Jesus theory makes some sense. But... I think it has to do with the reptilian creatures that swim around and invade a host body. I think somehow those are involved with the destruction of the Engineers and why they turned on humanity. And just in typing this, I realized: Duh! Of course they do. They are snakes right? I guess we'll have to wait for the sequel to see if the writers meant to do that or not.

      Per the evolution factor... yes, I totally agree! I want to believe that it's due to somebody working on the movie recognizing since technology has evolved since the first Alien, they can do a tongue-in-cheek homage to that notion by having the aliens evolve. But I'm not sure it's as well thought out as that. My disbelief is not willingly suspended on that one.

  8. Whoa. This pretty much says it all ... HIGHLY recommended reading.


    1. Okay, I've got a couple things to say about this:

      --first of all... this is really good context!
      --Space Jesus: I like it and I hate it. I like that it's subtle, but I think that because the script was SO BAD that it's too subtle. Though, I should have been paying more attention. At the end of Alien: Resurrection, it's too obvious, with Ripley falling into a fire pit as though she is nailed to the cross. Prometheus isn't as direct, so the idea that Jesus was actually a messenger of the Engineers could have been done better. Though... back to the me not paying attention part-- if the Engineers are supposed to be God then duh! Of course he's Space Jesus.
      --I'm not sure I agree with how the writer works through the black goo. Old Man Weyland thought it was the secret to life, and maybe it was. But... how did he know? Did he have access to the information that the rest of the crew didn't? Did Elizabeth know about it and that's how she got Weyland Industries to pay for the trip? Also I'm not sure if the black goo goes neutral when David is "holding" it. I wonder if maybe it's responsible for making him more human... after he encounters it, he starts to develop feelings... just saying.

      Thanks for posting Chase!

  9. @Chase
    Well in my mind I saw all of the gods humans worshiped as representations of several Engineers. After reading Ridley Scott's interpretation of the events and now this article you posted today, I pretty firmly believe that Jesus was an Engineer (perhaps they don't all appear bald and nine feet tall) or that he was related to the Engineers in some way.

    @alien evolution
    The aliens seem to take on characteristics of their hosts. In Alien 3, one bursts out of a dogs chest and takes on dog-like characteristics. The human-host aliens all appear to have the same appearance. The "proto-Alien" (named Deacon in the concept art) differs from the ones in the original series because a) it's born from an Engineer and b) the humungous facehugger (named a Trilobite) is not an average facehugger.

    @Intelligent design
    I keep thinking back to the RadioLab episode where they talked about the fireflies. They all eventually blinked in the same pattern. In Prometheus, the Engineer sacrifices himself and his DNA is split up and spread out in the water (and possibly the air). It reforms in many different ways and interacts with what's in the water. Over the course of millions of years, this life evolves and almost reforms into that original structure (as humans). I feel like there's some intelligent design in that?

  10. You guys... this totally made day! 9 comments!! I love it!

    So my take on this movie... I don't know! After the movie, I was really disappointed. But I can't stop thinking/talking about it and reading about it, so obviously, I liked it.

    My biggest gripe about this movie is that the script sucked. Aside from horrible writing (I am fairly certain that Idris Elba cringed when he had to quote CSN in such a cheesy way), the story had a lot of extraneous holes. I read one blog that talked about how Old Man Weyland must have known about the black goo, since it seems like David made a b-line for that once they were in the rock structure.

    The story only really had to do one thing, which it does at the end: introduce the Queen. After the movie, one friend who I saw this with said: so, um, was that the Queen? I said... if it wasn't, then we just wasted two good hours. I was pleased how that happened-- that the Queen is part human (sort of), that the HR Geiger look is still as freaking scary as it was when I was 12, it was the payoff I wanted.

    But... I think the issue is that since the script is SO CRAPPY the whole intelligent design stuff isn't hashed out as well as it should have been. I'm guessing that is because this is a summer blockbuster and there needed to be an appeal to the lowest common denominator. Which is total bull corn. Ridley Scott invented the Alien movie genre, he (or the studio) needs to trust the audience and give us a good story. And his studio needs to trust him. The folks from Lost wrote this script, and there is definitely a lot of "hey, even though we talked a whole lot about the Polar Bears in that one season, nobody will notice if we don't explain them at all." There was a lot of that in the script. That's just bad writing.

    Speaking of genre... Luke-- you are spot on about 2001! There was a lot of Kubrick in Prometheus. Also Speilberg (during the scene when David finds the pods and presses the egg-like buttons, I turned to my friend Jason and started to sing the notes from Close Encounters because it was the same thing. A nice homage). What I noticed, though, is that Scott goes about it all the wrong way. The brilliance of 2001 is Kubrick's attention to detail about how the science could actually happen made the movie brilliant. In this movie, it was like Ridley Scott said to his crew "okay, so we need a thing that's going to do exactly this thing that we need it to do" and the props department created it. An example is when Elizabeth takes the little jump drive screen thing out to show the other guy the DNA samples. Whereas Kubrick's technology is organic, Scott's is a means to an end.

    All this and I haven't even gotten to the Intelligent Design/Panspermia thing. But I think that too is just a means to an end. The end: introduce us to the Queen. The means: the crappy story that suggests Alien visitors are inviting us back to their world, which sets the path for the destruction of humanity by their doing. So it's really just ID for the sake of it and not for an actual, meaningful discussion.

    Ben... I'm glad you saw this with your dad. I saw Aliens with my dad, too. I love sci-fi/horror kinds of movies because he took me to see them. I think he was glad that when I was finally of age, he had somebody to go with since my mom hates them. But I thought a lot about my dad and what he might think about this movie. He would have loved it because it was hella fun, which is the whole point of the movies, right?

    Per Prometheus... this is a painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I think the first time I saw this was around the same time I saw Aliens, so talk about full circle: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/104468.html

    1. Well I actually did a lot of research leading up to the film about how it fits in with the Alien canon. Scott suggested in a few interviews that the Derelict on LV-426 has been there for a LONG time. He wanted to avoid having the end of Prometheus actually lead into Alien. I think the proto-Alien might be the queen- at least some sort of queen. It does have that sack attached to this. I don't think its eggs are related to the ones in the Derelict on LV-426. My most recent theory is that Weyland or Weyland-Yutani sent another ship between Prometheus and Alien to investigate LV-223 but its crew ended up being killed by the offspring of this new proto-Alien. That would provide a better explanation why the Nostromo doesn't land on LV-223 even though they know there's something there.

    2. And I agree with you on the numerous plotholes. It felt a bit like HP7 Part 1. There was important stuff going on... but certain things seemed pointless and aimless until you saw Part 2. Prometheus felt very much like a Part 1 of something. Very Lost-ish of the writers. Hopefully Scott will hire different writers for the sequel.

    3. And I had to post this. Just saw it on a website.

      There is apparently a deleted scene from the film shows some sort of elders arriving with the Engineer on Earth. His sacrifice is supposed to be ritualistic.

      Here's a pic: http://www.prometheus-movie.com/media/engineers_behindthescenes1.jpg