>Star Trek V and the Atheist’s Strawman

Posted: 13/06/2009 in atheism, Star Trek

>I recently watched Star Trek V: The Final Frontier for the first time. There has been plenty of ink spilled over the philosophy of Star Trek (especially, no doubt, in blogs). I’d like to do a different take on it. I think that this particular Star Trek movie showed clearly the god of popular atheism. What I mean is it showed the god that many atheists reject. It is not though, the God Christians actually believe in.

The plot of Star Trek V is fairly straight forward (I apologize for spoilers). A Vulcan mystic named Sybok has had a vision from god. God wants him to come to him beyond the great barrier at the center of the galaxy where no ship or probe has ever returned from. This place is known has Eden to us terrans and a bunch of different names depending on whatever alien species you happen to be talking to. Sybok, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy eventually land on the planet where they meet god. The emotion and tone is one of great discovery, reverence, and general profoundness of the situation.

God has a small request. He needs a starship. Sybok is ready to give it him. Kirk, on the other hand, asks a question: “What does God need with a starship?” God gets a little upset. Sybok explains that Kirk is not totally on board with the mysticism. Finally, god starts smiting Kirk et al for doubting him. God never answers the question.

Whether it was intended or not, this image of man encountering god is something that is told by “atheist folklore.” It would not be hard to put Christopher Hitchens or Dawkins in Kirk’s place (or maybe they wouldn’t have come for the ride. Who knows?), or any atheist who might describe god as a “cosmic ego maniac” or something similar. God, so presented, can be found on just about any atheist website or in the stinkpile of non-theist vs theist forums on the internet. The belief is that if you question god, he will kick your ass. So theists worship him because they’re either too dumb to ask questions or so scared that they’re groveling all the time.

The problem is that this simply isn’t the God Christians believe in. I can’t think of any Christian thinker (at least no credible one) that has taught that if you ask God questions, or doubt him, God will smite you. In fact, anyone familiar with Abraham’s, or even Moses’ dialogues with YHWH we can get a clear idea that God doesn’t smite people for “doubting” him.

Now, it is true, that God isn’t obligated explain himself. This is something else that atheists may not seem to get about the Christian God. We can ask God all we want, but we may not always get an answer. If God does not answer, then this is no fault of him. This is the important point that Abraham seemed to understand when he questioned God. He did not ask presumptuously or as if he had authority to take God to court. Yet even if people shake their fists at the God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that he is not likely to smite them as the big scary blue god did in Star Trek V.

Next time I run into an atheist who denies the existence of god, maybe I should ask what “god” he rejects in the first place. I think that might clear up a lot arguments. By clear up, I of course mean “avoid.”

Thanks for reading.

  1. >Just to play the devil's advocate here….Firstly, I take the argument of Dawkins and his ilk to be that the God of the Old Testament is portrayed as cruel and as smiting doubters (as well as commiting and endorsing other crimes). In so doing they place believers between the horns of a dilemna: Either they accept the God of scripture who is responsible for cruelty and injustice (and, more to the point, can be shown quite definitively to NOT exist, by virtue of the fact that unbelievers are NOT struck down) or they are self-contradictory. Furthermore, the obligations that God has to creatures is the subject of much philosophical and theological speculation. Indeed, it seems intuitively sound to suppose that God would in fact have the obligation to explain Himself to His creations to as great a degree as possible (insofar as doing so would enrich their lives, put an end to needless religious conflicts, unite the species behind a common goal, etc). It likewise seems plausable that He could be doing so to a greater degree than He currently is (I have not heard any booming voices from the heavens lately). The absence of such explanations or, indeed, of any uncontroversial communication between God and humanity constitutes a problem that is perhaps more pressing even than the problem of evil: the so-called Problem of Divine Hiddenness that continues to plague analytic philosophy of religion.I always took the message of that film to be an altogether different one: That the notion of a God "out there somewhere" is misleading. As Kirk puts it, the question is not whether or not God is out there but whether He lies within. Now, whether such a notion leads to some sort of pantheism or psycho-social reductionism is another question….-Daniel W. Ambord

  2. D2M says:

    >Ew, I hate when people say that God was mean and cruel in the OT. I swear the people who say that stuff never actually READ the WHOLE of the Old Testament.I've often wondered something similar about the average vanilla atheist. It seems that many are atheists not out of genuine disbelief but because they feel they've been wronged by (their version of) God somehow. So rather than re-evaluate their view on God, they just (apparently out of spite and/or intellectual laziness) decide not to believe in any God at all.Please note that I did not say ALL atheists are like what I described. Just that there seems to be a large segment of atheism (in the USA) that are that way.

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