As part of the publicity for The Happening, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan gave a number of interviews to science journalists, including me, Andy Revkin, and Ira Flatow. And what Shymalan said has come in for some criticism: that he incorrectly called the placebo effect inexplicable, misrepresented Einstein's religious beliefs, and at times sounded downright crypto-creationist.
I offered some mild criticism of my own in my podcast, but I think the harsher criticism misses the point. Shyamalan is not a deep thinker about science. He never claimed he was. He's in the business of mass entertainment. Moreover, he has been fairly explicit about the film's religious themes, so nobody should be surprised by them.
When I talked with Shyamalan, his enthusiasm about science was palpable. He reads science books and articles and clearly cares. He wrapped his film in science (at least, science as he understands it) when he didn't need to. He reminded me of friends who approach science from a mystical perspective -- who keep copies of Lisa Randall's Warped Passages next to their crystals. As I've blogged before, not only is there no inherent conflict between science and religion, the two can be mutually reinforcing. Human curiosity bubbles out in diverse ways, and I think that's cause for celebration.
There's another well-known screenwriter whose style is very different from Shyamalan's, but whose attitudes actually seem pretty similar: Ronald D. Moore. Battlestar Galactica has a lot of religious themes and supernatural occurrences, including eternal recurrence and prophetic visions. The only real scientist depicted in the show became a Jesus figure. But would it be fair to call Moore anti-science?
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
George Musser is a contributing editor to Scientific American and author of Spooky Action at a Distance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) and The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory (Alpha, 2008).