"Prometheus," the new movie from the director Ridley Scott, operates on several levels. Most importantly and impressively, it is an unforgettable reminder not to open anything, ever. Doors, caves, containers — never open them!
But it is also a scientific and spiritual quest. I don't think it is spoiling anything to say that the scientists in the movie think somebody or something else created us.
Creationism? Yes, in a way, but creationism for geeks, of the sort that science fiction writers and scientists have long indulged in. 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.
Fred Hoyle, an astronomer, is one of the best-known scientists to suggest that life may have had an extraterrestrial origin. Others, like Francis Crick, who with James Watson discovered the structure of the DNA molecule, have flirted with the idea. Crick even suggested at one time that intelligent extraterrestrials might have gotten the ball, or helix, rolling.
Thomas Gold, an Austrian astrophysicist, suggested in 1980 that perhaps life on Earth came from garbage left by extraterrestrials. And among the writers, Arthur C. Clarke suggested in a brief commentary, "The Toilets of the Gods," that since fecal matter had been detected on satellites and spacecraft (from the astronauts, presumably), and since something similar would happen with any physical life form, extraterrestrials who passed through the solar system desperately looking for a rest stop might constitute a whole new explanation for where life on Earth came from.
Does this geek creationism conflict with the idea of evolution by natural selection? Not that I can see. A character in "Prometheus" argues that the scientists who have come up with the weird interstellar quest in the movie are throwing out several hundred years of Darwin.
But there is nothing about the scientific method or about Darwinian evolution to suggest that it all had to happen on Earth. The basic notion that some organisms leave more offspring than others, and that their genes are preserved, works regardless of location.
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