Star Trek and Richard Dawkins

by Jan 29, 2010Culture, Theology1 comment

It was a beautiful fall day for a seven-year-old kid to be playing outside, but when I came back into the house my dad was watching people in weird pajamas striding around on a spaceship. That was 1990, I believe, and my first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. My dad and I immediately loved it, and we regularly watched the show together for the next several years. I was a particular fan of Commander Data. (Interestingly, I was fascinated with his quest for emotions, and now I’m writing a dissertation on emotions in the New Testament.) I even learned lifelong leadership lessons from Captain Picard.

Why did two conservatives like what is supposed to be a thinly disguised leftist polemic? It wasn’t just the explosions and Klingon fights. It was the transposition of today’s issues into interesting circumstances in our distant tomorrow. Issues of race, sex, class, culture, and religion were taken out of their 20th century light and placed in a 24th century light (OLEDs, I would guess).

The explosions and Klingon fights were also nice.

I recently succumbed to my curiosity to see a few episodes after a decade’s hiatus, and my wife and I picked up two Star Trek DVDs from the library. The early 1990s production values faded quickly out of view as we both got into the stories and characters.

My wife and I watched an episode called “The Chase,” in which Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, and humans all converge on a remote planet to put together the last piece of an intergalactic archaeological puzzle. Some think they’ll find an incredible weapon. Others are sure it’s a massive power source. No one wants anyone else to get whatever it is. As they all squabble, Dr. Crusher secretly finds what they’re all looking for, and a holographic image suddenly appears before the assembled races. It’s a 4-billion-year-old recorded message from an alien humanoid who explains to her surprised guests that her race had “seeded” life on all of their planets—in fact, on many planets throughout the Alpha Quadrant. Her race, she explained, had evolved to a high level and decided to preserve their memory by this means. There’s more linking Klingons and Cardassians than either would care to admit.

The Global Village Atheist

And that’s where Richard Dawkins came in. The climactic scene of “The Chase” brought Dawkins’ conversation with Ben Stein in Expelled to mind. It wasn’t quite fair of Stein, perhaps, but Dawkins was led to believe he was talking to a sympathetic ear. All the same, he said what he said:

BEN STEIN: How did [life] get created?
RICHARD DAWKINS: By a very slow process.
STEIN: Well, how did it start?
DAWKINS: Nobody knows how it got started. We know the kind of event that it must have been. We know the sort of event that must have happened for the origin of life.
STEIN: And what was that?
DAWKINS: It was the origin of the first self-replicating molecule.
STEIN: Right, and how did that happen?
DAWKINS: I told you, we don’t know.
. . .
STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in Darwinian evolution?
DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.
. . .
And that Designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable process. It couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That’s the point.

The Point of This Post

There are two remarkable similarities between the Star Trek episode and the infamous global village atheist. Both are 1) willing to posit the existence of an intelligent designer behind evolution as long as it’s not God. And both 2) make sure to mention that this designer has to itself have evolved by naturalistic processes.

Everyone’s a fundamentalist. Everyone has presuppositions. Everyone believes some things he can’t prove except by appeal to his basic beliefs.

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1 Comment
  1. Don Johnson

    Interesting, Mark, but I think you make a mistake with the line “everyone’s a fundamentalist”.

    If you said, “everyone’s a presuppositionalist”, you might be more accurate.

    Fundamentalist does not equal Presuppositionalist.

    Evangelicals, for example, generally share the same presuppositions as fundamentalists. But they are not the same.

    Fundamentalism isn’t really an apologetical position, it is a political position within right wing Christianity.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3