|Freewill, Interference, and God's "Prime Directive"|
If you are not a member of the Star Trek generation, consider the following declaration:
As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.
Fans of ST will want to tune out for a paragraph, as we need to contextualize this for others.
To put it simply: ST was a space exploration show set in the 23rd-24th century. The Prime Directive above (hereafter PD) was an instruction to all exploring Earth ships to not interfere with or contact other planets that had not yet achieved a certain specific level of technology. (In this case, the ability to travel at faster than light speed, what is called a "prewarp" society -- "warp" referring to lightspeed travel.) In the ST lore the initiative for the PD was (according to my readings) a time when Star Fleet initiated contact with a culture that was "not ready" (it was the Tellarites, for fans) and caused a widespread panic. Devastating results were averted when a Star Fleet leader appeared in broadcast media on the planet making friends with the planetary leader, but Star Fleet anticipated that worse was possible, hence the PD.
Back to all of you now. The reader will by now wonder what point this has for Christian apologetics. The answer is that there is a certain irony involved here, when it comes to Skeptical objections like these:
Now the irony. ST as a program supposedly embodied the highest ideals of non-theistic humanism. Now reword that PD:
As the right of each culture to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Israelite personnel or deity may interfere with the healthy development of foreign life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Jewish personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their possessions unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.
By no means do we say there is an exact parallel here. For one thing of course, Star Fleet did not create all the alien cultures (though the relationship of those that had forgotten or rejected knowledge of God would be essentially the same). For another, cultural contact would be inevitable between the Israelites and other nations.
What I want to highlight, though, is the specific point that we see in the PD from Trek an example of non-interference as a virtue. Those who have seen the series to any extent know that the PD was reckoned with even in examples where an alien world was in danger of destruction. They will also recall that characters regularly (more so in the older ST series) acted with blatant inconsistency with respect to the PD.
And therein lies yet another irony. God has His own Prime Directive with which he is consistent. Yet ST set its own PD and then had the characters violate it with impunity.
Elsewhere we have previously noted that if they really thought it through, Skeptics would not really want God to violate His own Prime Directive. God does not take the high hand in things because, first, it is coercive, and true love does not rely on coercion; second, and most importantly, we have shown every time we sin that we do not want God's personal guidance in such high-handed fashion.
Skeptics and critics who believe that the God of the Bible, rather than punishing sin justly, ought to simply pick us up, dust us off, and pat us on the head like a senile grandpa, show thereby exactly the God they want. On the other hand, those who ask for God's interference had best watch out, because the first thing on the list to be zapped is most likely you, because before you ever got to the podium someone else who was wronged by you beat you to it!
With this also in mind, consider some comments we culled from a discussion between two ST fans on the subject of the ST Prime Directive. As we proceed, we'll add editorial comments paralleling the matter in a Biblical context of Skeptical objections. The first speaker was "anti" PD as a whole:
But my question is, why NOT interfere with a prewarp species?
With careful guidance, I dont really see the point in not messing with a prewarp species. I'm not saying that the Federation or Vulcan or someone should just go around turning cavemen into intergalactic explorers, but under the right circumstances, I dont really see a problem.
Everyone's excuse has always been that it might be harmful to a species, and then liken that to the unpreparedness of primitive species to grasp the scope of actual alien species outside of its own. But I see it as more of a situational decision to be made.
For example, a warlike and violent species comparable to 1990 would conceivably be less capable of dealing with other alien species than a species with primitive, medieval technology but with a completely pacific mindset. I really dont see how technology can be a great factor in determining First Contact when the Federation itself has encountered a ton of violent, aggressive, warp-capable species. Just because a race is able to fly out of its own solar system is no reason to extend a hand of friendship.
If you listen carefully, you can hear echoes of Skeptical objections made above. They may say, if God did it carefully, He could certainly feed those Amalekite children, or provide the paper, and so on, without doing any damage. The commentator hypothesizes that the PD is a "self-defense measure" and then goes on to say:
I think the whole "no harm" excuse of the Prime Directive is stupid and makes no sense. First Contact with a race, even if they have warp, is no guarantee that it will not harm them or that the ideals of the Federation wont impact the evolution of their species. Its STILL a first contact and the race will STILL be massively affected
And what harm would be caused if a prewarp race who's violent could be reformed into something better? Is it worse to let an aggressive species achieve warp on its own and make war on their neighbors or contact them before that can happen and try to turn their violence towards other, more constructive means? Or, as the Prime Directive would have you believe, is trying itself wrong?
Can you hear the echoes? "Why not reform the Midianites or Amalekites by showing them miracles?" All in all it is a second-guessing procedure: Better to try with an aim for good and risk failure, than to allow things to continue as they are. In both cases the arguer assumes to know better -- the Skeptic better than God, the Trek fan better than the imagined authorities of Star Fleet -- and to be capable of making a sounder judgment, but based on what?
Not a depth study of the culture; not knowledge of real alternate history, but based on nothing more than implied sympathy. Indeed, we can see the "risk failure" versus "continue" in the next few lines:
I do think that in tampering with a primitive species, mistakes can be made. And it would be bad if somehow, the Federation were responsible for it. But washing one's hand of it doesnt seem to me any better. In the above example, would not the possibility of reforming a violent species and the lives it would save be preferable to the near inevitable death that comes with them achieving warp and attempting some kind of rampage? I mean, the Fed does have to deal with them sooner or later, why not sooner in order to tame them or try to?
Rework that: "Would not the possibility of reforming the Amelekites be preferable to the near inevitable death that comes with them achieving readiness for war and attempting some kind of rampage? I mean, God does have to deal with them sooner or later, why not sooner in order to tame them or try to?"
It's the same discussion: Does God take away their freedom now, and also assume what risks come with that, or punish them later?
The writer continues by commenting on matters from the ST show of how to react AFTER he PD has been violated, and thus leaves the scope of our discussion, though some comments are pertinent: "What is so noble about letting people stay primitive AFTER the damage has been done, to die of easily curable diseases, to be at the mercy of the forces of nature on that planet when there is at least some proof that those people, given enough time to learn, can adapt themselves to the lifestyle of a warp-capable species?" (The proof referred to in the named episode was a handful of persons showing an "enlightened" attitude.) It is now interesting to look at a contrary response by another ST fan:
...would that all Federation captains were as wise as Picard. sadly they arent, and putting that kind of power in most of the commanding classes hands would just be begging and pleading with open arms for an intergalactic disaster of mythological proportions.
Note how this mirrors a response we might make that running interference invited disaster. Then, after some comments not directly related to ours here:
recall if you will the episode "The Last Outpost". the Enterprise and a Ferengi ship both come across a planet that has them trapped together. after much fenagling, the away crew, led by Riker, comes across Portal, a being of pure energy. Portal sees that the Ferengi are a small minded and ignorant race who has obtained dangerous levels of technology, so he volunteers to destroy them as a favor to Riker. Riker simply replies "But then they would learn nothing."
We can see mirrored here our reply that certain processes are performed strictly for the sake of experience. Why not just transport them instantly from Egypt to Canaan? If that were done, what of the crucible of experience that would make the Jews what they were in the future?
its a matter of responsibility. if the federation did that, they would be assuming direct resposibility for everything that species ever did from that day forward. wether or not they ordered it, or were even aware of it. let it evolve on its own and sure, it may become an evil empire but as Picard once said to the Godlike protector of a primitive race, thats the risk they gladly assume, and infinitely preferable to the alternative.
Wouldn't it ever occur to Skeptics to allow that God, knowing all possible timelines, knows indeed that the apparent "risk" of not interfering miraculously is "infinitely preferable" to sticking His nose in? No, for Skeptics, the mere surface appearance is enough.
thats ludicrous! first off you assume that this wise, enlightened species would ACCEPT such a huge leap in their own evolution. it doesnt take a genius intellect to see the inherent dangers a species takes on in such an endeavor.
The question we might ask: How can Skeptics assume that the "wise, enlightened" Amalekites would accept such a huge leap in their own evolution -- social, theological, or otherwise?
The next line of reasoning is not germane to our case directly -- but it does show that even in a naturalistic scenario, Skeptics could create reasoning as "cold-hearted" as they claim God to be.
secondly, you show an almost complete lack of respect for natural law. why does it fall on the Federation to save those who may be selected for eradication by desease, or a stronger species. what if humans in todays world went out and started helping the weaker, slower animals to be as successful as the stronger, faster ones of the same species? to add some context, lets say you went on safari, and a monkey spotted you. lets even say the monkey brought all his friends and they started examining you with curiosity and whatever. does that automatically mean that your supposed to take it on yourself to teach the monkey how to make fire, or give it a handgun and show it how to shoot? hell no. now maybe you shouldnt have been in the monkeys little part of the jungle in the first place, but just because it spotted you is no reason to teach it all those cool tricks you learned in the CIA.
How would it be any different if the Amalekites were "selected" for eradication because of their own traits? The only difference is that we see the "selection" process as the result of conscious decision against sin by God, whereas they would see the process as unconscious. Is the Skeptical world any "better off" when it is consistent with its principles?
The second writer talks a bit about the "past violations" issue that goes beyond our scope. He closes with a point that is pertinent:
aside from all that, your entire supposition seems to rest on the idea that the Prime Directive has been followed without question in any and all instances, no matter what the price. this simply isnt true. all star trek shows have had numerous instances where the Prime Directive is overlooked for a greater immediate good. literally dozens of planets saved, or species rescued, etc.
Where does this apply? To the question, "Why does God interfere in some places and in some persons' lives, and not in others?" The answer: God's PD is only "overlooked for a greater good" (in the span of eternity, it need not be immediate). And unless you are going to presumptuously second-guess God (or what would be assumed to be divine knowledge), you simply don't have any solid argument that God missed a greater good.
A reader who was also a ST fan added this -- I recall this episode myself, but not the title or the minute details:
There was one show where the Enterprise came into possession of a particular substance. Two different races, or species, came onto the ship demanding this substance. Race Y needed it allegedly to survive while race X wanted it so they could basically sell it to race Y. As I recall, race X gave race Y that substance in exchange for either money or slavery (or both). When race Y went awhile without the substance, they would get really bad symptoms and thought that they needed the substance to survive. Dr. Crusher analyzed the substance as well as one of the people from race Y and determined that it was actually withdrawal symptoms that were occurring. In other words, race Y was actually addicted to that substance like a drug and they were not dying at all, just going through withdrawal! Well, they were not allowed to tell race X and race Y this information or interfere because of the PD. So, the Enterprise kept the substance and sent both races back to the planet that they share. Race Y, of course, thought that they were being sent to their doom. However, do you notice something? The Enterprise knew that by going by the PD, in this case, they would actually liberate race Y from race X's clutches. Suffering would come upon them from the withdrawal symptoms, but they'd eventually get better and realize they did not need the drug. Therefore, a much greater good, although not apparent to race Y at the time, was going to ultimately be achieved.
Does this not sound like a situation parallel to, "though we may not know, God does, and knows what the greater good will be"?
In conclusion: We present this as some "food for thought" to those whose immediate objections involve objections to actions of God in the Bible. Even humanist thought -- which is what lies behind the ST series -- recognizes that moral hierarchies exist within which a greater good might demand something so great as letting people so much as die based on a principle of non-interference.