Star Trek

This tag is associated with 14 posts

“The Masterpiece Society”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Genetics, Eugenics, and Ethical Quandaries

the-masterpiece-society

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife from the beginning and recently watched “The Mastepiece Society” from Season 5. The episode is a fascinating look into the moral issues of a society that wishes to control breeding. Here, we will examine some of these questions. For a plot summary, see here. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Eugenics/Genetics

The “Masterpiece” society is one in which they have actively worked to use genetic enhancement and therapy [see my post on genetic enhancement and therapy to get some background into this debate; see a differing opinion here] to try to create a perfect society. Diseases are genetically selected against; other alleged defects are also screened before birth (euphemistically referencing the termination of pregnancy); and other methods are hinted at.

One of the most poignant scenes is when Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer, is sitting down with Hannah Bates and they talk about his blindness. He challenges her on the notion that he would have been terminated before birth:

“It was the wish of our founders that no one have to suffer a life of disabilities.” – Bates
“Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I might have something to contribute?” – La Forge

After this brief discussion, it turns out in an ironic twist that Geordi’s visor that helps him see actually is the solution to saving the colony. This emphasizes his point: he does have much to contribute.

One can’t help but wonder about the echo that those unborn who are killed each and every day through abortion would raise. What contributions have we stolen from our society through the desire for convenience or other reasons for abortions?

Free Will

Suppose we were able to create a society in which we could select genetically the features we deemed best-suited for specific roles. What would this due to free will and the right to choose one’s own destiny? Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise, asks this very question.

It sounds like something wonderful: we can have sure and certain knowledge of what we’re going to do. There is no uncertainty; no worrying about a job. The society has been built around having you in the exact place you are to occupy based on your genetics.

Is there, in any sense, a right for children to not have their genetic qualities selected for them? I’ve discussed this very issue elsewhere, but I think this episode raises it fairly poignantly. Suppose someone was bred to be a leader in the society, but they felt they would rather be a construction worker? The society, it seems, would suffer in the sense that they now lack a leader; but perhaps someone else who would want to be a leader could step up to the task. Of course, as in the episode, one fears a kind of cascade effect in which people who would be perfect, allegedly, for the tasks they are destined to be assigned instead opt for tasks they can only “imperfectly” perform.

This, then, leads to questions of what it means to be “perfect” for a task. Are we merely genetically determined creatures, or does our freedom to choose transcend the genetic history we have been dealt? What benefits or costs might there be to a society in which you are trained from birth to occupy a specific role?

Conclusion

Star Trek frequently raises ethical issues, and “The Masterpiece Society” was particularly thoughtful. I’d recommend watching it and then reflecting on the worldview-level issues it raises. How much are we currently missing out on because of the system we have in place? What might we do ethically to improve our society without restricting the freedom of the individual? Is this latter question even important?

From a Christian perspective, it seems clear that it is impermissible to terminate humans simply because they are blind or have some genetic impairment. Here, it seems, the Christian perspective can also demonstrate its practical utility, for as Geordi demonstrated, we may miss out on quite a bit if we decide to allow such things to occur.

Regarding genetic enhancement, however, the issue is much more difficult. My perspective has shifted a bit, but I am still fairly wary of the notion. I admit this might purely be some kind of bias on my part that doesn’t have as much a rational foundation as I’d like to think. The post I shared earlier from a friend has some pretty strong arguments in the direction of genetic enhancement even from a Christian perspective. I recommend reading his post, and checking out my older post (about 2 years old) that I edited as I wrote this one.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I go over a number of key ethical issues related to genetic enhancement and therapy.

“The Measure of a Man”- Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood– I discuss matters of “personhood,” using the character Data from Star Trek as a foil.

Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children– An argument that differs from my perspective on genetic enhancement. What are your thoughts on this post in favor of it?

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 11/06/15- Star Trek theology, egalitarianism, and more!

postI hope you’ll enjoy this week’s roundup of posts from around the web. You can watch a video explaining egalitarian theology from Genesis, survey challenges your kids might encounter for their faith, learn about pro-life dialogue, discover theology in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and explore a cold time before a young earth could have existed. Let me know what you think of the posts, and be sure to let the authors know as well.

Egalitarian from the Start (Vide0)– this sermon is from Richard Davidson, author of the monumentally important study on sexuality in the Old Testament, Flame of Yahweh. He argues that, from the beginning of creation, egalitarianism is the ideal perspective.

17 Ways Your Kids Will Encounter Challenges to their Faith– Children will encounter a great number of challenges to their faith as they grow up. Simply being aware of the way children can be confronted by these challenges will help parents prepare to answer them and help their kids find answers.

Four Practical [Pro-Life] Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent– Josh Brahm, an excellent pro-life speaker, offers some dialogue tips alongside a case study of an actual conversation he had with a pro-choice advocate.

Star Trek Theology- “Remember Me”– The Sci-Fi Christian, an excellent website and podcast, offers up this heaping helping of theological analysis of The Next Generation episode, “Remember Me.” It’s an episode I enjoy immensely, and I also enjoyed reading this post. Check it out.

A Holocene Cold Snap In the Year 2,200 B.C. (Before Creation)– Here is an analysis which challenges the Young Earth timeline, because it demonstrates that we can observe weather patterns from before dates set by groups like Answers in Genesis.

 

“The Measure of a Man” – Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood

measure-manStar Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite television series. I’ve been rewatching it recently with my wife and I got to the episode called “The Measure of a Man” (check out my plot recap and review here). This episode brings up some issues I felt were pretty relevant for discussing here. We will explore only two major aspects of this episode: personhood and self-sacrifice. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows.

Personhood

The episode centered around the question of whether Data could be property. Properly speaking, it seems the episode was centered around whether Data was to be considered a “person” in the legally relevant sense. The arguments brought up regarding this question were interesting, particularly for those of us interested in philosophy of mind.

Data’s conversation with Maddox, the scientist who wishes to disassemble him in order to build more of him, centers around phenomenal consciousness. Data argues that although he has no doubt Maddox could preserve the content of his memories by simply downloading the, erm, data from his brain, he thinks there is something more to these thoughts and memories than simple facts. There is a “feel” to thoughts which have a kind of aboutness that is ultimately beyond the facts and into the realm of experience.

Frankly, this is a stunningly complex argument to make for a television show. It reflects a kind of appeal to phenomenology: the content of thoughts and the “aboutness” or taste of them. Some philosophers of mind (and I would agree with them) argue that there is a real notion of this phenomenal aspect of thought which goes beyond the simple facts. Indeed, this very aspect of thoughts and feelings–the ability to have an “about” aspect to them–is the very criterion for consciousness which some philosophers appeal to. In context of the episode, if Data really has this “aboutness,” I would say it is indisputable that he would be a person (not to say that consciousness is required for personhood, but surely a self-aware, conscious being would by necessity a person be).

Ultimately, the episode climaxes in an argument over what is it that determines someone as human or a person, and Maddox summarizes the standard definitions well by appealing to self-awareness and consciousness–though again this is disputable: surely I am a person even when unconscious!–and the arguments center around this question. These are interesting and necessary questions and I think they get at the depth of the philosophical debate surrounding this issue.

Self-Sacrifice

Interestingly, this episode also clearly focuses on the concept of “self-sacrifice.” William Riker does not want to prosecute the case against Data, but he is forced to in order to save his friend. In one epic scene, he ends up flipping Data’s power switch off and as Data collapses he says “the strings are cut” referring to Pinocchio. The final scene shows Data finding Riker staring out into space, clearly pensive over his actions and hurt over his own seeming attack on his friend. Data, however, states that although Riker knew his actions would “wound” him, Riker still prosecuted the case because he knew the alternative would be, for Data, at least akin to if not literally death. Thus, Data says, Riker “saved me.”

This kind of self-sacrifice is found exactly at the heart of the Christian message. Christ was wounded for our transactions, and, as Riker does here, Jesus came knowing that such wounding would happen. These wounds were borne for our sake.

Conclusion

“The Measure of a Man” is one of those rare episodes of a serial TV show which forces viewers to take a step back and think–really think–on a topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the episode or not, it must be admitted it raises a number of interesting topics to explore. What do you think of this episode? What additional themes did you pick up in it? How do your favorite shows resonate with your worldview?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Star Trek: TNG Season 2, “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”– Check out my ongoing recaps and reviews of Star Trek: TNG episodes at my “other interests” site, Eclectic Theist. Here, I review this episode and the following one. More recaps may be viewed here or by searching on that site.

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” – A Christian Perspective

Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_35I had the chance to go see “Star Trek: Into Darkness” recently. As a big Trekkie (and Star Wars Fan–I cover all the bases of nerdom), I was extremely excited to see the film. Here, I will survey a number of worldview-level issues in the film. There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

Primitive Religion

I was a bit taken aback by the portrayal of primitive religion in the movie. At the very beginning, the crew of the Enterprise is engaged in an effort to save a primitive indigenous population. Kirk steals a scroll, to which the natives were giving obeisance. It is apparently something they worship, and when he finally unrolls the scroll to slow them down, which causes them to stop and worship, the situation is shown to be absurd. Once the Enterprise reveals itself, however, the natives immediately forsake this scroll and worship an image they draw in the dirt of the ship.

I may be a bit hyper-critical here, but I can’t help but think that this picture of primitive religion is a bit off. Sure, it’s science fiction, but the people are clearly human-like and it is easy to uncritically imagine the scene as a facsimile for how human religion may have played out. I cannot help but be extremely skeptical of this scenario. First, the notion of a bunch of simplistic idiots whose faith can shift from one moment to the next was odd. Second, the notion that primitive persons automatically worship whatever they see or cannot explain seems inaccurate. I admit that I have not studied the formation of religion as much as I hope to one day, but even what reading I have done reveals an enormous amount of debate on how religions formed and developed. No work I have read, apart from that of those with clear agendas (and little interaction with the archaeological, sociological, and anthropological evidence), has suggested that religion developed just by people seeing a bird and immediately worshiping it. Granted, the Enterprise is more than a bird, but it still seemed odd. Third, I can’t help but think that rather than immediately forsaking their holy scroll, the people would have turned to it to find guidance to discern the meaning of the events they had witnessed.

Again, I realize I am here being extremely critical, but I feel that if a movie is going to engage with religion, it should attempt to do so in an honest fashion. Trek‘s portrayal was, I think, a bit disingenuous.

The Prime Dire… wha?

Star Trek’s metaethical system essentially centers around the “Prime Directive.” The Prime Directive is complex, but essentially boils down to the notion that people should not interfere with lesser-developed cultures. Those who have seen “Into Darkness” know that in no way did the main characters follow this. But as Maureen Moser at Reasons to Believe pointed out, the Prime Directive essentially entails a kind of moral relativism wherein no one is capable of judging other cultures as morally evil. But of course this seems absurd. If, for example, one ran into a lesser-developed society which was exterminating certain groups, it seems obvious that this is a morally wrong action.

In the case of the film, one is forced to wonder–as it seems Kirk did–whether it really is morally satisfactory to allow an entire society to be destroyed simply for the sake of not being seen by that society. Is it morally right to ignore the fates of other societies?

Looking more broadly at the Trek universe one sees again and again that the characters cannot operate within the constrictions of ignoring the ills of other societies. Should we?

star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-posterEvil

Admiral Marcus seemed to lack any kind of motivation other than a desire for militarizing the Federation. I thought this was particularly hard to believe, especially when that motivation made him not even hesitate to carry out atrocities in front of his daughter. Frankly, I saw no real reason for him to go as insane as he did, which made this part of the film harder to believe.

Khan, of course, was the big “secret” going into the movie. I called it back when the character was first shown. Of course it would be Khan. But why did Khan do what he did? He was fairly clearly motivated by revenge, but there was more to his character behind the scenes.

It was revealed that Khan was a war criminal who was conducting a genocide against any whom he found to be “imperfect.” I can’t help but think that this line, was was basically incidental to the plot, is one of the better talking points from the movie. After all, is the destruction of the “imperfect” is exactly what is taking place within our society with issues such as abortion and euthanasia. On the other side, we see the unwillingness to “give a handout” to those who are hungry or in need. Our culture is steeped in a notion where we do not value the “imperfect,” whether they be elderly, unborn, mentally disabled, or poor. Moreover, one must wonder: who defines perfection? I can’t help but think that a character like Khan is not that different from the evils which are occurring each day within our society.

Miracles

When Kirk has given his life to save the crew of the Enterprise, one crew member comments that “It was a miracle.” Spock responds simply, “There are no such things.” I admit that I was baffled by this comment. After all, the series of events which had just occurred in the space of the previous 5 minutes of the film were so over-the-top that the only reasonable explanations were either Hollywood meddling (of course, this was the case) or the hand of the divine.

I vividly remember someone a few rows down in the theater audibly scoffing when Spock said this. Why would this be a reaction to a line like this? Well, simply put, some things are so beyond probability, luck, and circumstance that they cry out for explanation.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed the film. But I realize that I enjoyed it more as a Trekkie than I did at a worldview level. It seems as though the writers attempted to raise some tough questions, but never got around to providing satisfactory answers. When answers were easy to see (as in the case of miracles), a main character like Spock flatly contradicted it. Those who watch the film with worldview-glasses on will find much to discuss. I think the film is worth seeing simply to start up discussions about miracles, relativism, and even some specific ethical issues. I could see the clip at the beginning used as part of a larger discussion on the history of religion. Of course, as a Trekkie, I also think it is worth seeing for the sake of its place in the Star Trek canon. Let me know what you think.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my other posts on movies (scroll down for more).

Star Trek’s Prime Directive and Moral Relativism– I found this post fascinating. It explores the Trek universe to discuss the metaethical view of relativism.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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