Another Reason to Like Star Trek

My new issue of Answers Update, the monthly newsletter of Answers in Genesis, turned up in the mail today. It’s a twenty-four page magazine, more than half of which contains advertisements for their various products. But there is also a lead article on the cover, written by Ken Ham himself. Here’s the opening:

I’m sure you have heard the famous saying from the Star Trek TV series, “Beam me up, Scotty!” The 1960s series, which has become a cult classic (I have to admit I’ve watched many episodes myself!), told stories of the crew of a futuristic starship, the Enterprise, as it explored the universe.

Sadly, though, this TV series also “beamed up viewers,” into a universe full of evolutionary ideas.

That last line explains the title of this post.

This is another example of the complete inability of AiG to be right about even the simplest things. I’m sure that we all noticed the egregious error in that paragraph, but for the benefit of younger readers, who probably think the captain of the Enterprise is a scrawny British guy, I’ll point it out.

Sherlock Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

And Captain Kirk never said, “Beam me up, Scotty!” Think they’ll print a corection?

But I’m more interested to know which episodes Ham has in mind. It’s been about fifteen years since I last watched an episode of the original Star Trek, but off hand I can only think of a handful of examples of evolutionary ideas.

There was the memorable Season Two episode “Obsession,” in which Captain Kirk resolves to defeat a creature, more of a gaseous cloud actually, which kills people by devouring all of their red blood cells. Kirk’s obsession (hence the title of the episode) leads to some poor decisions, which in turn lead to the creature boarding the Enterprise. At one point it attacks Spock who, while hurt, survives the attack. Kirk is surprised. Dr. McCoy explains that it was Spock’s green blood that saved him. “My ancestors spawned in a different ocean from yours,” says Spock.

There was also the Season One episode “Errand of Mercy,” in which Kirk and Spock struggle to protect the inhabitants of planet Organia from Klingon intrusions. Our heroes find themselves unable to convince the Organians they are in any danger at all, but risk their lives to help them nevertheless. In the end it turns out the Organians are superior beings with some pretty spectacular super powers. They were genuinely never in any danger from the primitive Klingons. They maintained humanoid form so as not to scare the many tourists who visit their planet. I don’t have a specific quote, but as I recall things there was at least a strong implication that the Organians were “more evolved” than our heroes.

I was going to include the Season Three episode “All Our Yesterdays,” in which Kirk, Spock and McCoy get sent back into the past of planet Sarpeidon. Spock and McCoy find themselves back in the planet’s ice age. At this point in history the Vulcans had not yet become devoted to pure logic, resulting in Mr. Spock suddenly lusting after Mariette Hartley. But according to the plot summary at the link, this was only 5,000 years in the past, and therefore within acceptable bounds from Ham’s perspective.

And that’s all I can think of. If you recall any other evolution references in Star Trek, let me know. Of course, there was that Next Generation episode where a bizarre illness causes everyone to start de-evolving (Riker as a Neanderthal!). That was cool, but it’s not what we’re talking about just now.

Comments

  1. #1 nickmatzke
    October 13, 2011

    Jean Luc was French, dammit!

  2. #2 Tod
    October 13, 2011

    well a bit later on from the originals, but Janeway and her first officer in Voyager were transported backwards along our evolutionary lineage to reptile/reptile-like mammals who then reproduced.. funny episode that one :)

  3. #3 Dunc
    October 13, 2011

    Tod: we do not speak of that episode.

    Funnily enough, the one really consistent thing in the portrayal of evolution throughout the entire ST franchise is how horribly wrong they get it.

  4. #4 Raymond
    October 13, 2011

    There was that TNG episode where they traced down the common ancestor of all the humanoids — which actually made some sense, in that the various Trek humanoid races are similar enough to interbreed, which doesn’t seem at all likely unless they share a lot of genetic similarities (and don’t merely look alike because of convergence).

    But no, I can’t think of much evolution in the original series, either.

  5. #5 JimR
    October 13, 2011

    The use of Star Trek as an opener is a hook to get people started into the article. Perhaps more of the pro-evolutionary articles should use a hook. Star Trek is almost more than a cult fav. It is a bit surprising Ken Ham even mentioned a quasi-religion in his opening lines. The very existence of other species implies alternative evolution lines that may have taken longer than 6,000 years.

  6. #6 Dave
    October 13, 2011

    From Ham’s point of view, I’d have thought that the most “dangerous” aspect of Star Trek isn’t the occasional vague reference to evolution, but the fact that it portrays a flourishing, multi-planetary future society which has apparently abandoned all traces of Earthly religion. Not only has the Second Coming not taken place by the Year 2350 (or whatever), but Christianity seems to have been entirely abandoned. I can’t recall any reference to it at all.

    Equally subversive from the religious perspective is the episode where the Enterprise gets intercepted by Apollo, shown as the last survivor of a super-race who were worshipped as gods on the ancient Earth. Apollo expects Kirk & co. to start worshipping him again just like in the good old days, but our heroes are having none of it. After being told in no uncertain terms that humanity has outgrown the need for gods, Apollo dissolves away into nothingness. I suppose this all reflects the optimistic Sixties viewpoint that religion was on the wane and would inevitably be left behind as humanity advanced towards the stars. Pity it hasn’t quite worked out that way (yet).

  7. #7 Collin Brendemuehl
    October 13, 2011

    Just the presence of Jean Luc made for a good bit of humor. The French and English have been @ war for so long (English call the French Frogs and French call the English Island Monkeys), that now we have an English Frenchman as the main character.
    Perhaps Jason simply forgot the “Bread and Circuses” episode about the “Sun/Son” of god where the theme was parallel evolution? Or the “Omega Glory” with that same theme? Often the evolutionary concept is implicit rather than explicit. (Those of us who are just a little older have seen these episodes just a few more times.)
    When it comes to Voyager, there was the episode (Once Upon a Time (?), with Flotter, who is now in CSI) where the Doctor explained to the Naomi Wildman how mitochondrial DNA was formed. That was humorous science, to say the least.
    Then that TNG episode (The Chase?), referred to by another, which promoted directed panspermia. (Hey, it’s not creationists who come up with this sort of “science” — even a better OEC model is more functional than this.)
    I find it a pity when science is best explained by fiction. But it some cases it seems suitable.

  8. #8 IW
    October 13, 2011

    Riker was a Neanderthal.

  9. #9 James Sweet
    October 13, 2011

    Couldn’t Star Trek IV be interpreted in support of intelligent design? At least for one species, that is…

  10. #10 IW
    October 13, 2011

    I take that back on the grounds that it’s an insult to the memory of Neanderthals.

    Riker was more like a rabbit.

    In the Cambrian.

  11. #11 SLC
    October 13, 2011

    I’m sure that we all noticed the egregious error in that paragraph, but for the benefit of younger readers, who probably think the captain of the Enterprise is a scrawny British guy, I’ll point it out.

    Actually, William Shatner is a rather robust Canadian Jew.

  12. #12 Justicar
    October 13, 2011

    And Captain Kirk never said, “Beam me up, Scotty!” Think they’ll print a corection?

    Subtle and clever, but I see what you did there. =^_^=

  13. #13 Tommy Holland
    October 13, 2011

    I don’t have a specific quote, but as I recall things there was at least a strong implication that the Organians were “more evolved” than our heroes.

    The line you’re thinking of was uttered by Spock:

    “I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.”
    http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/27.htm

  14. #14 JimV
    October 13, 2011

    I’ve always been disappointed by most of the science-fiction in movies and TV series (“Cowboys and Aliens” being a recent example). So I didn’t watch enough of “Star Trek” to be an expert. I do remember an episode involving an android (played by a seven-foot “Jaws”-type character) who evolved mentally from programmed loyalty to independence. When the Star Trek gang show up at first his old programming exerts some control, but then he remembers how he overcame it and destroyed his master many years ago: “Yes! That was the equation! Survival must trump programming!”

    I think to a creationist, little things like that might stand out, as being based on an evolutionary mindset, whereas someone with some science literacy would focus instead on the many scientific flaws.

  15. #15 Dave Briggs
    October 13, 2011

    Sadly, though, this TV series also “beamed up viewers,” into a universe full of evolutionary ideas.

    I think Star Trek beamed up viewers into a universe full of evolutionary ideas, but that universe was big enough that creation ideas slipped in now and then. I remember in one of the movies where, I think it was Spock’s brother, led them to a place where the plan was they were going to meet God in person.

    I just wrote an article recently referring to Star Trek and have to admit, I think they did a whole lot more good than bad for this universe: the 4 dimensional space-time one, or the 10 dimensional String Theory one, or the 2 dimensional movie screen one, which ever you think we live in. Life so many times requires taking the good with the bad.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  16. #16 Sajanas
    October 13, 2011

    Well, Star Trek was created by an atheist, and had a lot of atheist writers even after Roddenbury died (Ron Moore stands out in my mind). All of the main characters were optimistic, good people, yet utterly beyond superstition. Kirk deals over dozens of would be ‘gods’, and never once does he blink. “What does God want with a Starship?” was from a terrible movie, but it says a lot about the attitude of the show… never stop questioning, even if you’re face to face with something that might seem as if it were god.

    Though my memory of it is hazy, I remember Babylon 5 being even more interested in exploring religion and culture than Star Trek, which seemed to have just moved passed it. Each alien culture had one or more religions, which they took with various degrees of seriousness, yet you always got the sense that the universe was to big and strange for any of them to be true.

  17. #17 Spartan
    October 13, 2011

    Not only has the Second Coming not taken place by the Year 2350 (or whatever), but Christianity seems to have been entirely abandoned. I can’t recall any reference to it at all.

    There is only one pseudo-reference that I can recall from the original series. The Enterprise make contact with a less-advanced race and notes that they are sun worshippers. At the end of the episode, Uhura says that she has been monitoring their communications and that they do not worship the sun, but the son of God. Which relies on the enormous stretch that this race miraculously also speaks English or whose language contains words for ‘sun’ and ‘son’ that are also homophones.

  18. #18 Gingerbaker
    October 13, 2011

    SLC:

    “Actually, William Shatner is a rather robust Canadian Jew.”

    Wow, that’s surprising! He doesn’t look Canadian.
    ;>)

  19. #19 Collin Brendemuehl
    October 13, 2011

    Star Trek TOS never moved past religion. It was a persistent subtheme. It was the old positivist progressive mindset. But TNG took an antagonistic view of monotheism specifically and monism was sort of tolerated. Enterprise predicted the demise of montheism. But alternatively Voyager was very strong in promoting a monistic sort of universal religion. DS9 was more interested in war and promoting some sort of dark “ugly” theme. Beginning with TNG they all went heavily into moral relativism (eg, on DS9, murder by Klingons became culturally tolerable) and were clearly postmodern.

  20. #20 ToSeek
    October 13, 2011

    I just wanted to point out that there are seventeen-year-olds wandering around on this planet who were born after Star Trek: The Next Generation went off the air. The real youngsters are those who think an arrogant 20-something is in charge of the Enterprise, assisted by that villain guy from Heroes.

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 13, 2011

    Colin –

    I did remember the Sun God/Son of God theme from “The Omega Glory,” but I did, indeed forget the details of “Bread and Circuses.” Clearly I need to get a complete set of the DVDs and watch them all again.

    I always liked the fact that Kirk was completely unimpressed with the various God-like characters they would encounter. In “Who Mourns for Adonais,” Kirk is not even slightly intimidated by the entity claiming to be Apollo. Just look some of these quotes! I especially liked it when Apollo, now defeated, says, “I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?” And Kirk, totally unmoved, says, “We’ve outgrown you. You asked for something we can no longer give.” That’s some serious badassery!

    There was an episode of Voyager I really liked. Neelix, a Telaxian, is involved in an accident and is clinically dead for ten minutes or something. He is eventually revived, and reports that while he was dead there was simply nothing at all. This conflicted with what he had learned about the afterlife as a child on Telax. Neelix is crushed by this discovery. Chakotay, the resident “spiritual” character, tries to convince Neelix that the stories he learned as a child might yet be true. Neelix is unmoved. Eventually, as I recall, Neelix comes to peace with the idea that there may simply be no afterlife. I remember being very impressed with the episode, since I kept expecting it to go squishy at some point near the end.

  22. #22 Ipecac
    October 13, 2011

    All right, because I’m too much of a Trek nerd not to clear this up.

    “Bread and Circuses” is the episode with the sun/son thing. The episode was about a planet with a parallel Roman Empire that never fell. The rebels of that world worship “the Sun” which the crew find out at the end is actually “the Son” (aka Jebus).

    “The Omega Glory” is the episode where a renegade starship captain, Tracey of the Exeter, is interfering in a planet’s development by taking sides in a war between two peoples, the Yangs and the Kohms, in order to find what he thinks is a secret to long life. It’s famous because it features the US Constitution, the E’ed Plebnista, as read by Kirk. “We . . . the people.”

    And that concludes the Trek clarification of the day. :-)

  23. #23 heleen
    October 14, 2011

    Somewhere or other (either Next generation or Voyager) is an episode where someone wanders into a planet with descendants of Velociraptors or some animal like that as the highly civilized technical species. The highly civilized technical dinos are hughly embarrassed to realize the person for Voyager or Enterprise is a mammal. It is impossible for them to believe that descendants of those smelly little furry unintelligent blisters could have developed a civilization that is capable of space travel. The scientists on the dino descendant planet decide not to tell their general public. All IIRR.

  24. #24 pluky
    October 14, 2011

    23 posts and no mention of Bajoran mysticism in Deep Space 9!

  25. #25 Charlie
    October 14, 2011

    The episode “Devil in the Dark” in the orginal series features a creature that is silicon-based, the Horta(?). The creature is discovered on a mining colony and starts going after humans when they start taking the creature’s eggs. It features one on McCoy’s best lines: “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”
    Anyway, I think the discovery of non-carbon-based life would be strong support for evolution.

  26. #26 Wow
    October 14, 2011

    “Anyway, I think the discovery of non-carbon-based life would be strong support for evolution.”

    It wouldn’t change the case for evolution on jot, Charlie.

    It WOULD be a breakthrough for biological chemistry, however. We currently only have one planet and all it’s “living organisms” are based on Carbon. We have theories about what other options there are, but no examples.

    It’d be amazing to find non-carbon-based life but it doesn’t have a thing to say about evolution.

  27. #27 Alan E.
    October 14, 2011

    @pluky
    I just started DS9 on Netflix. My husband hates the first three seasons, so he keeps jumping ahead to an episode where I have no idea what the heck is going on. From what he tells me, though, there are some creators, thought not exactly gods, that are treated as such by the Bajorans. That’s a little more up Ham’s alley. (see! see! creationism!)

  28. #28 Alan E.
    October 14, 2011

    OH! I just thought of the episode where Data acted as judge/arbiter for a hearing to prove or disprove that some alien was really a god that came back 1000 years later to reclaim her planet. Turns out she was just using a hidden ship to make a lot of really big earthquakes to scare the inhabitants.

  29. #29 Childermass
    October 14, 2011

    “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” which I have not seen in a quarter century mentioned evolution explicitly. If memory serves one of the idiot aliens did not believe in it.

  30. #30 Keith M Ellis
    October 15, 2011

    Perhaps this is an unrealistically ambitious hope of mine, but I dearly wish that somewhere, somehow, someone would introduce to popular culture the debunking of the concept of “more/less evolved”.

    I think of all the popular misunderstandings of evolution—of which there are legion—this one bothers me the most because it’s so fundamental and its implications so vast. It’s probably the very heart of the teleology that thoroughly infects the popular conception of evolution. Plus, it’s central to the noxious anthropocentric hubris that all life on Earth has existed to produce and support us, its “goal”.

    What I find both deeply interesting and deeply dismaying is how the judeo-christian anthropocentric exceptionalism is duplicated, with a near-complete lack of self-awareness, in popular ideologies which are self-consciously secular.

  31. #31 blogger
    October 15, 2011

    Sadly, though, this TV series also “beamed up viewers,” into a universe full of evolutionary ideas.

    Sadly? I think it was a wonderful. I was 9 at the time.

  32. #32 Pierce R. Butler
    October 15, 2011

    Ham: I have to admit I’ve watched many episodes myself!

    What a thrilling life he must lead, that even him watching a tv show calls for an exclamation point!

  33. #33 Collin Brendemuehl
    October 16, 2011

    Alan,
    You mean Ardra.
    She also played Michelle Magnum.
    And did some ligtweight work on Hall mark as a police detective opposite John Laroquette (sp?).

  34. #34 andrew middleton
    October 16, 2011

    My favorite two part season finale “All Good Things…” was all about how the omnipotent galactic prankster Q altered the timeline and introduced a “temporal anomaly” to primordial earth and threatens the rise of all life on the planet. Best line as Q explains to Picard what is at stake while crouched over a puddle of primordial soup: “Strange, isn’t it? Everything you know, your entire civilization, it all begins right here in this little pond of goo. Appropriate somehow, isn’t it? Too bad you didn’t bring your microscope; it’s really quite fascinating.” That’s pretty explicit, although the Q Continuum is as close to God as you can get.

  35. #35 DuaneBidoux
    October 16, 2011

    Face it, every single episode of every version of Star Trek has an underlying assumption of evolution as the origin of life. That is unless a believer believes Jesus went planet hopping distributing Bibles across the universe and creating differing versions of Adam and Eve.

    By the way, and off topic: I’ve always disliked Voyager for one simple reason: they are the farthest of all from home needing to travel for decades to get home and THEY ARE NEVER MOVING.

    Enterprise (the named series), representing the first warp 5 ship, was closer to home base than Voyager by a factor of several trillion light years and they hauled more ass in one year than Voyager did in the entire series.

    Tiny complaint perhaps but I simply never could get over this.

  36. #36 Levi
    November 2, 2011

    Fantastic post I very much enjoyed it, keep up the good work.

  37. #37 Chris
    May 18, 2012

    I can’t believe the Star Trek TOS episode: “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” has not been mentioned. It actually speaks to human evolution from apes. Frank Gorshin’s character, Bele, is half black and half white. His adversary, Lokai, is also half black and half white, but on opposite sides. The color differences is the thrust of the episode because the two men feel the order of their color (left-right vice right-left) denotes racial superiority. There is a discussion in the episode where Bele (Frank Gorshin) says to Spock and Kirk, “I once heard that on some of your planets, people believe they are descended from … apes.” Spock replies, “The actual theory is that all lifeforms evolved from the lower levels to the more advanced stages.”

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