Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"In the Hands of the Prophets" (DS9)

<--Season 1b  Season 2a-->

In the last episode of the first season, DS9 really takes its first full shot at the topic that the series has become known for in the Trek universe: religion. In this story, religion and science clash in the classroom, but it is all just a smaller piece in a larger plot.

The parallels to real life are, as is usual for the series, not so subtle. The children are being taught the scientific facts about the wormhole near the station; a wormhole that local religion teaches is the abode of “the prophets.” When the religious leader at the station demands that the “blasphemous” scientific teaching stop, we have our oh-so-obvious parallel with issues like creation, evolution and the intelligent design debate.

This episode hands the issue quite well considering the context. Sure, the scientific facts are never brought into question or presented as an issue of debate, but one has to consider the worldview of the show. Trek is a Secular Humanist platform, and even if DS9 is more postmodern than its predecessors, it is not going to present a fuzzy depiction of science.

Even though the religion in this episode is extreme, not all faith is depicted that way. Sisko discusses the issue with his son, Jake, in the context of a Galileo history lecture presented at the school the next day. Jake thinks the faithful are stupid, the way the Church in Galileo’s day was:

Sisko: You've got to realize something, Jake: for over fifty years, the one thing that allowed the Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith. The prophets were their only source of hope and courage.

Jake: But there were no prophets; they were just aliens that you found in the wormhole.

Sisko: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn't they be considered prophets?

Jake: Are you serious?

Sisko: My point is: it's a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn't make it wrong. If you start to think that way, you'll be acting just like Vedek Winn, only from the other side. We can't afford to think that way, Jake. We'd lose everything we've worked for here.

This is a refreshing take on faith from Hollywood. Some may be concerned that Hollywood, or the scientific community, do not see their beliefs as being as self-evident as they do. That is the nature of faith, after all. It means believing in something that cannot be seen. If it were demonstrable or proven, it would no longer require faith to accept it.

Of course, for this episode to be truly balanced, the dogmatic side of science should be shown. Questioning the facts and testing conclusions is what the scientific method is built upon. Once you start presenting theories as doctrine you move from “pure science” to scientism, and that is simply another faith altogether.

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