Friday, February 21, 2014

The Star Trek Miracles

From the February 2011 E-Block.
Our item in the last issue about talking animals in the Bible led a reader to write us with this point, among others: 

A month or so ago, I got into a British sci-fi T.V. show called "Doctor Who." In one episode of the 1st seasons, aliens, in an attempt to deceive the human race, give a pig some semi-sentient qualities. Although, it doesn't gain speech, but I don't think my analogy needs to be direct to make the point. My point is that my impression is that sci-fi is supposed to contain things that are possible if we only discover more using science. Therefore, it's not saying something like the pig must be "fantasy." If something like that can come out of Western culture, then skeptics are being a little too harsh on the "unbelievability" of some Biblical events, especially those are who are really into sci-fi. Any thoughts?

Indeed so.

I have always found it remarkable that while Skeptics may be quick to condemn Biblical miracles as unscientific or impossible, their science fiction – such as that produced by Gene Roddenberry, who was a secular humanist – presents ideas and concepts that they would reject as primitive and unscientific if it appeared in the Bible.

As the reader also noted, part of the problem here is that Skeptics maintain a false and forced dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. As I wrote on this in Defending the Resurrection:

The most frequent philosophical objection to the Resurrection has been around since at least the 18th century, and goes something like this: “Resurrection would be a violation of the laws of nature.” In turn, it may then be argued that the Resurrection is a highly improbable, and therefore unhistorical, event.
At the heart of this objection there lies a false dichotomy, one that continues to be assumed to this day: The dichotomy between natural and supernatural, which was created wholesale in the Enlightenment age.

God resurrecting Jesus is no more a "violation" of nature's laws than one of us picking up a box is a "violation" of the law of gravity. While God's work may involve acts beyond our range of competence, the basic manipulation of matter and energy that the Resurrection would have constituted is no more in violation of natural law than the picking up of a box. Miracles are merely God acting in nature as any person would.

The idea that works of God are somehow “above” nature was simply invented by writers like Hume and does not appear in ancient literature. Davis remarks that in the New Testament, people “seemed to view miracles not as violations of natural laws but as revelatory and awe-inspiring acts of God.” [1] Likewise, Tucker notes that “Hume’s definition of miracles as breaking the laws of nature is anachronistic” and recommends that rather than being seen as “supernatural,” miracles ought to be understood as “divine feats of strength” within nature. [2]

In light of this, consider how many concepts in Roddenberry’s Star Trek alone had analogies to Biblical miracles:
  • The transporter is effectively nothing different than Philip finding himself suddenly in Azotus (Acts 8:40).
  • The replicator is nothing more than a machine that does what Jesus did when he multiplied fishes and loaves.
  • The Organians (and several other races) are essentially spirit beings just like angels or demons.
  • Relatedly, if materialism is correct, how could Kirk exchange his consciousness with Janice Lester in Turnabout Intruder?
  • Vulcan telepathy is functionally no different than Jesus knowing what the Pharisees were thinking in their hearts (Matthew 9:4).
  • In the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, the Platonians exhibit telekinetic powers that could have easily lifted an axehead out of water (2 Kings 6). Other episodes also feature such abilities, as was given to Gary Mitchell in Where No Man Has Gone Before or Charlie X.
  • The holodeck – or the Talosian “Cage” -- may as well be a tool for the sort of apocalyptic visions experienced by Ezekiel, Daniel or John.
  • Anyone who has a problem with Moses’ staff turning into a snake may wish to take notice of Trek’s races of shapeshifters (like Odo in DS9, but even earlier, in the original series, in episodes like The Man Trap and its “salt vampire”).
  • Some (myself included) theorize that Sarah and Abraham were given back their youth so that they could have children. If so, it sounds like Harry Mudd was distributing his “Venus drugs” long before ST:TOS.
  • When Jesus vanishes from sight in front of his disciples, Skeptics object. But they don’t seem to object to a Romulan cloaking device at all.
  • An incredible irony is the episode Who Mourns for Adonis?, in which it was suggested that the Greek god Apollo was actually a powerful alien being. Ironic indeed that this reflects the very essence of what Tucker said when he defined miracles as “divine feats of strength”.
  • Biblical reports of people living to be 900+ years old are rejected by Skeptics, but what about the immortal Flint in Requiem for Methusaleh?
Of course, Skeptics may retort that these inventions of Roddenberry’s were never meant to reflect some actual scientific advance, but that doesn’t seem to be a very permanent excuse. It used to be said that warp drive, for example, was impossible, but Trek fans nevertheless continued to discuss whether it might be possible anyway, and now, you can even find plenty of debate back and forth by reputable scientific authorities. Though one suspects that if it were the Bible reporting faster than light travel, it would be immediately be dismissed by many Skeptics as fantasy.

In sum: There’s a clear inconsistency in the way many Skeptics approach the subject of miracles. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the false natural-supernatural dichotomy, but we may rightly suspect that with some of them, personal prejudice has a lot to do with it too.

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