Before the Flood

Before the Flood March 26, 2014

IO9 asked which myths deserve to be made into science fiction movies. One response was the image above. It imagines more or less what Ken Ham’s words could be construed as meaning, when he suggests that humans lived with dinosaurs, and that people may have had more advanced technology before the flood that for some time afterwards.

Perhaps we need more young-earth creationist science fiction? Do Stargate and Prometheus spread a literal belief in ancient aliens, or cement its status as science fiction?

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  • texcee

    “Dinotopia” was pretty good.

  • “Prometheus” takes a viable scientific hypothesis (that alien life seeded the initial single celled life forms on earth), but then takes that idea to a ridiculous and untenable extreme, suggesting that somehow the DNA of an alien could seed an evolutionary pathway that would eventually lead, billions of years later, to humans that look basically just like the original aliens. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Evolution is blind to outcome – if a meteor hadn’t destroyed most species of life on earth during the Cretaceous era, an intelligent species of dinosaur (rather than mammal) might have evolved.

    What I appreciated about the Stargate series for so long was that human life on alien planets was explained as the enslavement of humans by a very unhuman species. The idea that life that evolved on another planet would have two eyes, two hands, two legs, and the same basic shape as a human is counter to the understanding that evolution is blind. Had things been different on earth, we might have had intelligent octopuses instead of humans (actually octopuses are quite intelligent for animals).

    When Stargate later introduced alien species that were clearly “humanoid”, I was very disappointed. I was used to overlooking this obvious mistake in the Star Trek and Star Wars worlds, but, I thought for a while that the Stargate universe had cleverly overcome the problem.

    • $41348855

      Thinking about the scenario in Prometheus is a good way of thinking about evolution in general. Even if the environment was largely predictable the scenario in Prometheus could never work. In order to work, the genetic programming would have to function absolutely faultlessly over billions of years. Any tendency for errors to arise would inevitably derail the project over that period of time.

      This tells us something interesting about evolution. Evolution is the only process that can work on this timescale because it uses the environment to correct errors. Everytime an error occurs it is weeded out by natural selection. In the scenario in Prometheus the responsibility for controlling the whole process would reside in the life forms themselves but in the real version of evolution the process is controlled by the environment. Only one of these can actually work.

      • Good points, except that I would argue that evolution is not a process that corrects errors, it is a process that is built on errors. All mutations, good and bad, are errors in DNA replication. The environment weeds out most errors that are either harmful or neutral, it is the rare “happy” error that results in helping the organism survive, thus reproducing the error.

        So unlike the “Promotheus” suggestion that evolution has some “end product” in mind, real evolution works through the accumulation of beneficial errors over billions of years.

    • arcseconds

      I don’t really know much about stargate, I only saw the original movie and a couple of bits of episodes, but I thought the G’ould or whomever were the enslaving aliens? Are they really humans who just rebelled and took over the franchise or something?

      Anyway, one very good reason for having very human-like aliens is that the purpose of science ficition is (almost always) primarily to tell a story, and if the characters aren’t at least vaguely recognisable as human, it becomes increasingly difficult to establish any audience rapport with them. Even animated works with animal characters make the animals very human-like – they might not stand on two legs, but they smile, laugh, raise their eyebrows, etc.

      A lot of science fiction staples are not very plausible (or, as far as we know, impossible) scientifically, but are there because we want to tell those kinds of stories. FTL travel is a very dim theoretical possibiity, which doesn’t look like a practical proposition any time soon. Colonizing worlds seems like it would be an incredibly difficult, highly risky and expensive proposition – either it would take many decades of terraforming, or there would be already life there and therefore there’d be a high risk of infection going in both directions. But we want to tell stories set on exotic worlds, so we just allow these things to happen easil (in particular, we seem to often want to re-tell exploration and colonisation stories in space, so it has to be so easy to get around that a single individual can explore and a small group of not especially well off settlers can settle.)

      We want people to walk around on the floor like we do, but in vessels which are not much bigger than a house, so there’s artificial gravity everywhere. We want exciting space battles, so they all happen up close with humans firing things, not at huge distances where the enemy is just a pinpoint in the distance, with all the targetting done by computers (this is even unrealistic given air and naval combat right now).

      ‘Humans everywhere’ is just another example. We usually want to tell stories about humans (maybe humans with odd cultures, who look a bit different, and who have strange abilities, but still humans), not gestalt hive minds or pods of giant space-travelling creatures. So humans are put everywhere.

      Ian M. Banks said he thought about how this is evolutionarily implausible, but decided that he really just wanted to tell stories about human beings, so he put humans everywhere. He claimed at one point to have come up with a justification for this, which he might explore at some point, but I’m not sure he ever did.

      He did put an explanation into one of his characters’ mouths, though: humans exist everywhere to drink up all the space ethanol 🙂

      • Of course, you are absolutely right, and that’s why I enjoy Star Trek and Doctor Who most of the time. The point is not plausibility but a good story in which the sci fi world is just an analogy for stories that happen right now on earth.

        Star Wars I like for a different reason: special effects! The original pushed the envelope of what was possible in realistic effects, and the franchise continues to explore the possibilities.

        But I didn’t find any particular depth in the Stargate stories, and the special effects were largely derivative (though good). It was basically sci fi action. But I appreciated their attempts at a unique approach to scientific plausibility. The Star Gates themselves were an attempt to by-pass things like “warp speed” and “jumps to light-speed” with wormholes through space (yeah, I know that looks less plausible these days), and the universe appeared to be populated with humans because, well, lo and behold, they really were humans, kidnapped from earth civilizations throughout human history, by aliens that looked like large slugs. This was an innovation of the television series, btw. The original film briefly revealed an area 51-style gray humanoid alien.

        OK, if anyone had doubts about my nerdiness before …

        • arcseconds

          Yes, it would seem to be a narrative flaw with a narrative that’s being consistent to a particular notion of scientific plausibility to not follow through on that.

        • arcseconds

          I take the view that one really oughtn’t to notice the special effects. It’s good for a film to be visually stunning, but if the special effects come to the foreground as special effects, then it detracts.

          Basically, a space film should look like it’s filmed in space.

          Also (until recently at any rate, but maybe still now) what looks good in one era looks pokey in another, so relying on special effects to drive your movie is usually a mistake for that reason.

          The original Star Wars trilogy doesn’t do too badly in this respect, actually (except it appears to be space filled with some kind of an atmosphere…). The special effects are largely in service to the story. The later trilogy seems to have it something of the other way around. While a lot of it looks rather good, I do wonder whether some of the CGI will continue to stand up, especially with the organic creatures interacting with human beings.

  • Jakeithus

    It might be somewhat off topic, but Dino-Riders had a disproportionately large influence on my childhood for a 14 episode TV show designed solely to sell cheap toys to children. That picture always brings back memories.

  • Here’s a writer you may not have come across – new blog – good summary of what is in the Bible from surrounding mythologies – plenty for a film here.

  • Gary

    I immediately think of good old Edgar Rice Burroughs, my favorite as a kid. Hollow earth series, which was, in the early 1900’s, a popular theory. Hole at the North Pole, center of earth had Dino’s and cave type people. Even better, the land that time forgot series…a quasi evolution as you go further up a river on a lost island. Add a few German sailors, and a ride on a German sub. Further up the river you go, the further back in time you go, with the appropriate flora and fauna changing with distance up the river, not with time. A 12 year olds dream world.

    • Tony

      Me, too! Edgar Rice Burroughs was definitely ahead of his time, which, I think, is why most of his ideas keep resurfacing in modern sci-fi.

      • Gary

        Yeah. I think the old Tarzan stuff gave him a bad name, and the old movies. But his SciFi was very appealing to me as a kid.

        • Tony

          Agreed. I re-read the John Carter novels almost every year. You have wonderful taste, sir.

  • David Evans

    I would love to see a movie of the Tower of Babel episode. Of course the plot needs some work. How about this:

    Just before the Flood, God decided to save the Garden of Eden by placing it in the firmament (which was quite low down in those days). A brilliant architect realises that he can reach it by building a tower. God goes down and confounds everyone’s speech, but it doesn’t matter because the architect and his determined team still have the blueprints. So they reach Eden, and find it still guarded by Cherubims*, and a flaming sword which turns every way. But are they daunted? You’ll have to wait for Babel II.

    * Yes, I know “cherubim” is plural. Blame the KJV.

  • histrogeek

    What they need is some dino-riders versus Noah smackdown. I’d pay to see that.

  • arcseconds

    Prometheus had some good ideas and was very pretty, but was overall a rather flawed movie.

    My favourite thing about it was the ling-fi! Not a lot more plausible than the evolution stuff, but we don’t see ling-fi very often (or ever…).

    • arcseconds

      Actually, if we’re worried about the effects these films may be having on culture, the ling-fi is probably more dangerous than the ancient aliens thing. At any rate, the suggested prejudices are a lot more widespread.

      Where it seemed to be going is that there’s a pure, original language of which everything else is a degenerate form. Also, that original language is obviously heavily inspired by (or kinda even supposed to be) proto-indo-european or sanskrit (or some kind of putative super-early sanskrit predecessor), so there’s a clear European bias here, as well as a rather squarmous connection to, um, well, the notion of the aryans and the search for the Urheimat, and we all know what that led to…

      This sort of stuff has proven to be more dangerous in the past than belief in ancient aliens, and people still believe things like this.

      There are also more prosaic annoyances resulting from related beleifs, like the meaning of words is somehow to be found in the way they were originally used…

      • guest

        Surely at some point there was an original language though? Way before Europeans or Sanskrit, when proto-hunans came down from the trees and started grunting at each other?

        • arcseconds

          Well, there are a variety of possibilities here. One is that there was a single original language. But that actually seems somewhat unlikely to me.

          People didn’t go from some fairly simple signalling
          system, like other social mammals have, right to epic poetry overnight, no matter what 2001: A Space Odessy might suggest. So presumably there was a whole spectrum of proto-languages over a longish period of time. (‘Proto-language’ might be misleading here as they presumably always had perfectly good uses in their own right that they were completely fit for, they weren’t just bad ways of doing ‘proper’ language’.)

          Plus, there’s no reason to think it developed singularly, in one place. It’s not hard to imagine that each little band had its own linguistic practices, quite distinct from other bands, with (perhaps far simpler) pidgins and even more simple signalling systems for communicating with other bands.

          Large-scale societies tend to simplify and standardize languages, which tends to have us thinking in quite simple terms about languages as kind of monolithic entities. Small-scale socities are often lingusitically complicated in many respects. Vanuatu only has a population of about 200,000 people, but has 113 languages! There are some societies that have several languages, like one for the women, one for the men, one for priests, etc.

          On the other hand, the human population apparently reached bottlenecks at some points in the past, so it is possible that all languages today (with a few exceptions, like the deaf sign language that spontaneously emerged in South America last century) are descended from a single language spoken at one of these bottlenecks, a long time after language evolved.

          But it’s a fair bet that all traces of such a language have been completely obscured by linguistic evolution.

          There have been attempts by some linguists (I’m not sure of their bona fides) to trace back even the reconstructed proto-languages (like Proto-Indo-European – these proto languages are reconstructions of presumably fully-fledged natural languages, by the way, there’s nothing proto about them being languages, it’s that they’re proto in the sense of being predecessors to existing languages) to proto-proto-languages, and some have thought they were reconstructing the original language, called ‘Proto-World’ by some. But these ideas aren’t taken very seriously by most linguists.

          It’s not so much the notion of an original language I was bringing into question (although I do question that notion) but the notion that it could be obviously related to a known language, and more related to one particular known language (or family of languages) than another.

          And the notion that there would be anything ‘special’ about this language.

  • anon

    It’s something I’ve often wondered about. I enjoyed Stargate, the original movie, and watch the series when it’s repeated on telly. It’s a great series, but there is a lot of soft science and basically mysticism in there- acension, spirit guides, genetic memory, instant clones, things that attack you in your dreams…Dr. Who is the same, lots of old fantasy tropes with a shiny scientific gloss. Would people become believers in ancient aliens after watching Stargate? Probably not, but it might influence them on a subconcious level towards considering those ideas. It also might lead fans of the series to find out about the writer’s inspiration and read books like Chariot of the Gods, and then start believing in it. It might be the same for creationist films.

    The flintstones is sometimes suggested as a reason why so many people believe dinosaurs, sabre-tooth cats and people co-existed.

  • $41348855

    Scientists find mechanism for Noah’s flood:
    This looks interesting. Apparently, there is a vast amount of water locked up in minerals in the earth’s mantle. It seems that this could have provided the water for a flood that would have entirely covered the earth.

    EDIT: This is a joke, of course. There is no way of releasing any of this water, except by a miracle.