There were certainly efforts to categorize Lord of the Rings as science fiction in the 1960s, leading to confusing assumptions like the idea the novel took place in some post-apocalyptic Earth that had then reverted for some reason into this magical neverworld (which may explain the peculiar 1970-ish fascination with magical post-apocalyptic Earth scenarios).
Ian Keldon wrote:
^Uh, no. They make frequent references throughout Avatar to the interconnectedness of all life on the planet down to a neural level. The process is even demonstrated between the Na'vi and their riding animals as well as with the Tree of Voices and the Tree of Souls. The implication is that in some way the entire biosphere of the planet is part of a "group mind" that may or may not be conscious in and of itself.
The Na'vi may have personalized this group mind as the "goddess" Ewa, but that does not make an entirely plausible scientific concept into fantasy.
Even if you consider the group mind element of Pandora's ecology plausible (which I don't), it doesn't change the fact that it's extremely similar to idealized, fantasy views of nature. It is in narrative terms the same thing just couched in slightly different language.
However, most popular literature tends to be in some degree escapist. Some of the older SF tropes have been around long enough to be regarded as mere conventions, no more to be viewed critically than, say, the faux mediaeval social structure in most fantasies or the neo-Victorian empires of most steam punk.
Just so. Hell, the rise of steampunk in itself is a pretty good example ofthe popularity of backward looking genre fiction* (in ways that some critics have found problematic).
Third, as stated, the God that works is in fact plainly supposed to be natural in origin. I suppose it is possible that the sequel will reveal the natural origin to be due to the blue guys' command of natural science.
It's possible. I personally think with Avatar the alien society has little interest evolving beyond the tribal level because they live in a magical equilibrium. How the ecology operates, complete with the world-net implications of Eywa, doesn't require for the Na'vi to improve their lot with technology. It's extolling the virtue of a static, harmonious society, as opposed to the progressive (and thoughtlessly destructive and reflexively imperial) world of humanity.
*Of course, steampunk can be either science fiction or fantasy, or possibly both, depending on how it's being presented. Typically whether or not the steampunk is set in an invented world or an alternate history Earth is the quickest way to determine which.