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Star Trek’s Loopy Deity

Star Trek’s Loopy Deity

by Mike Duran · 47 comments

“If this is your God, he’s not very impressive. He has so many psychological problems; he’s so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He’s a pretty poor excuse for a Supreme Being.” — Spock, The God Thing, by Gene Roddenberry

This quote was recently making the rounds on Facebook. It’s taken from a newly discovered script, what The Complete Star Trek Library is calling “Gene Roddenberry’s Last Star Trek Novel.” Roddenberry was an ardent atheist and it appears he was constantly working his critique of religion into the series. The God Thing is a testimony to Roddenberry’s atheistic aims.

Williaml M. Leubscher, in the Chicago Catholic Examiner’s The God Thing, summarizes:

In the 1970s, Roddenberry always tried to get a script off the ground called “The God Thing”. In this story, he attempted to use the Star Trek universe as a soap box to explain his theories on how mankind developed religion and what caused the creation of the universe. The grand finale of “The God Thing” had Captain Kirk run into some all-wise and all-knowing entity that first manifests itself as a probe on the Enterprise, explaining that it traveled to earth many times before in past centuries and millennium, always in a noble effort to lay down the law of the cosmos. When Kirk asks the entity to reveal itself, it presents itself as different images of humanoid prophets, some seemingly from other planets, but some of them appearing as humans from different earth civilizations, such as “first [appearing] as the prophet Hammurabi, a tall striking Masai black man of thirty years” Each time, it asks Kirk if he is familiar with this person, and Kirk answers “No”. Its final form is to appear as Jesus Christ, the carpenter. Kirk reacts instantly and says “Yes, I know you!” to which the being is baffled. It replies “Strange that you did not know these other forms were me”

In the end, apparently, “God” turns out to be a malfunctioning computer that’s been “stuck” on the image of Christ. Rather than updating its message every several centuries, refreshing the image to suit the culture and era, it got loopy and kept repeating the Jesus image.

There’s a couple things that strike me about “The God Thing,” but mainly it’s Roddenberry’s fervency at trying to get this message across. The story was written over 30 years ago as a script for Paramount. The studio eventually rejected it, Roddenberry claiming it was due to one of the exec’s Catholic beliefs.  Roddenberry finally got a “creation story” with the script for Star Trek V (a story treatment by William Shatner in which the Enterprise meets God and discovers it is really the devil in disguise). Meanwhile, The God Thing book went through several fits and starts, some elements of it were reworked into the first Star Trek motion picture, before disappearing. And 20-plus years later, resurfacing.

Obviously, this was a theme — or better yet, a goal — of Roddenberry’s series, one he was determined to articulate.  Star Trek was a humanist tract, a vehicle to critique and belittle religion. The God Thing was more than just a single script, it was the culmination of Roddenberry’s non-religion, an over-arching theme that sprouted up constantly in his story lines.

The discussion about fiction as propaganda aside, what’s fascinating is how such “agendas” play out. Because you can’t prove a negative, atheist apologetics are typically a critique and condemnation of religion, rather than an assertion of… Nothing. And in this case, the loopier the god, the better. God as a malfunctioning computer is the ultimate straw man; only the slightest wisp of logic is required to topple such a flimsy deity.

What’s ironic is how, despite its anti-religious worldview, the Star Trek universe serves as a sacrament for its devotees. John Moorhead in his post Star Trek: the God Thing makes a similar observation:

This aspect of Star Trek‘s history, and that of its creator, is ironic in that while he wanted to use science fiction to raise the question of God’s existence, and critique the character of the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition as unworthy of worship, as his franchise developed after his death, it increasingly adopted various religious or spiritual elements, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine perhaps being the series most heavily spiritual in its basic orientation around the main storyline. In addition, scholars have noted that Star Trek functions for many fans as a form of religion as they adopt it’s ethic of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. In addition, other scholars have looked at fan participation in Star Trek conventions and have considered this as a parallel to religious pilgrimage. In our age where the transcendent has broken out of more traditional boundaries and concepts of religion, science fiction often functions as the sacred, and as a result, even an atheist television pioneer cannot escape his creation becoming involved with The God-Thing. (emphasis mine)

“When people stop believing in God,” said G.K. Chesterton, “they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” In Roddenberry’s case, and the Trekkie’s, Science and Reason are just substitutes for God, Humanity is the Savior, Star Trek conventions are their Mecca, and science fiction is their sacrament.

Star Trek’s loopy deity is, ultimately, Man himself.

Why go to the trouble of proving a negative when you can just swap a malfunctioning computer for Humanity? But when Humanity becomes the deity we end up worshiping, we’re the ones who’ve gone loopy.

 

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

E. Stephen Burnett August 27, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Great stuff, Mike, and very true.

Yet it is also interesting that later versions of Star Trek, such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and even J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film reboot, kept the future and/or fun, and lost the “faith.”

Deep Space Nine combined elements of fantasy and good-versus-evil into the mythos, challenged Federation humanism, and respected the religion(s) of other characters. And Star Trek (2009) (in-)famously lost all semblance of philosophical exploration in favor of futuristic flash-and-bam.

As you point out, constant negativity against religion can only go so far. Frankly, if Roddenberry had not died (during the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation), that series may not have developed further. Moreover, we would not have had other Star Trek series that dared to “boldly go” beyond “in this future, man is perfect” into more-challenging themes, characters, and story-worlds.

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Jill August 27, 2012 at 9:20 AM

How very disingenuous and insulting to pretend that Jesus’ hold on humanity could be a computer glitch. I find myself attracted to atheistic writers and musicians–for unknown reasons–but sometimes they just cross the line.

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Bobby August 27, 2012 at 11:38 AM

I know exactly what you mean…I could listen to Christopher Hitchens for hours. Just listen to him talk about anything.

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Shayle August 27, 2012 at 10:55 AM

God (or Jesus) turning out to be a “computer glitch” is humor at it’s finest for an atheist audience. ( I am still having a pleasant chuckle over this one) That Christians or persons of faith can’t or won’t laugh when they are the brunt of the joke shows that they have little to no sense of humor. Come one people! Live a little, laugh a little, even at your own expense.

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Jill August 27, 2012 at 11:17 AM

I don’t mean to call you retarded–but, here’s the thing–the idea that Jesus is a computer glitch is retarded because 1) it’s fiction and 2) it’s fiction that fails to examine why Jesus has left such an enduring impression on humanity. There are other, logical problems with the idea, but I’ll leave it at that.

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Shayle August 27, 2012 at 1:56 PM

(She just called me retarded.)

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Fifth July 3, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Jill, is “I don’t mean to call you retarded, but …” the Christian equivalent of line “I’m not a racist but” that racists use?

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Thea August 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM

It certainly is justifiable for a sci-fi universe. Fiction is extremely useful for taking what-if’s and examining them, changing one aspect of reality, or perceived reality, and seeing what results from that.

For those that look at Jesus as ridiculous and believing in God as tantamount to believing in the Easter Bunny, yes, a malfunctioning computer being responsible for Christianity is hilarious. But, for those that take Jesus and God seriously, for those who have found substance in their faith and reality in the person they believe, and positive, not to mention revolutionary, life change from these things, it is a terrible insult to say that all that came from a malfunctioning computer.

Think of the person who has done the most good in your life. The one who you think of the most fondly, and who makes you feel better, stronger, more capable, and more loved than you usually do. What if I told you that they were nothing more than a robot pretending to be human? What if I told you that all the things they had done and said and made you feel ultimately came from nothing, and that none of it meant anything? Ever?

I acknowledge that, from your point of view, this whole idea of God as a malfunctioning computer is hilarious and should not be treated too seriously. For your sake, and for the sake of those who see it that way, I have done my best to understand your point of view and I see why you would laugh. In return, I ask nothing. I only hope that you would try to understand our point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

Sorry this was so long. I tend to be pretty verbose when I talk about things in a way I’ve never talked about them before.

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Shayle August 27, 2012 at 1:51 PM

In fictional worlds, anything can happen. When C.S. Lewis creates a talking lion who dies in another character’s place, Christians (rightfully) get all excited and are still talking about it. But it’s still just a story. But it’s NOT JUST a story. It is myth and has symbolic power. Study Freud. Study Jung. Study Joseph Campbell. They understand that the archetypes are “hard-wired” into our psyches. It is an aspect of the “software” to our “hardware”. All fiction, good fiction, has an impact on the reader insomuch as it “exploits” these hidden archetypes. Is this God-directed? Who know? What was formerly the domain of religion and art has been picked up by Science. I find the quest fascinating, without jumping to the “God” explanation right off the bat.

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Nicole August 28, 2012 at 7:09 AM

It’s amusing that you give examples of Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell to study as if studying them gives us some kind of factual guidance. Long before Freud, Jung, or Campbell “discovered” how we’re hard-wired, it was clearly evidenced in written form. It’s clear by your mention of science that you’re willing to accept assumptions rather than clearly apply the definitions of what science is truly supposed to be. Much of today’s so-called “science” attempts to prove wishful thinking and opinions and fails miserably.

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Shayle August 30, 2012 at 4:46 PM

We all accept assumptions. It is part of the human condition.

At least some people of stature in their respective fields have done a large amount of systematic research before they publish.

You said, “It was clearly evidenced in written form”. Please elaborate; I am unsure what you are trying to say here.

Your closing statement is so general and vague as to be entirely unhelpful in this quest for knowledge, as it merely hints at a bias you yourself possess, without identifying what that bias is. Nor does it lay a specific charge at the feet of the scientific community

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Nicole August 31, 2012 at 6:40 AM

Man-made global warming, the repeated “find” of the “missing link”, order resulting from chaos, and other hoaxes perpetrated by the so-called scientific community. And, really, just because Freud and Jung did “studies” in their fields of research, they did it with presuppositions with an unprovable methodology, and ended up with some significant general errors and guesses. The Bible outlined the nature of man and its “assessment” has yet to be unproven.

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Shayle August 31, 2012 at 11:25 PM

First, let me state, the verdict on anthropogenic climate change is still out.

Second, just because we have a handful of “hoaxes” over the last hundred years, does not invalidate “true” science.

How many times has the Second Coming of Christ been predicted in the last one hundred years by various people? That does not necessarily invalidate ALL of Religion.

So, let’s see, Freud and Jung had “presuppositions” and utilized an “unprovable” methodology?

Actually, the methodology they used is called the scientific method, and it involves recording all data in a systematic fashion in order to create hypothesis, which is exactly what they did.

You said, “The Bible outlined the nature of man and its “assessment” has yet to be unproven.”

I don’t even know where to start.

The Bible identifies man’s nature as inherently sinful; sin is, (as I understand it) broadly defined as breaking one of God’s Laws. Well, first, we would have to prove the existence of God in order to show that someone had offended that particular deity by breaking one of His rules.

But here’s where it gets really good. By definition, it is not possible to prove/disprove the existence of God, because He/She is outside of the natural order. Therefore, your entire construct is “unprovable”, the very charge that you leveled at Freud and Jung!

In fact, their work conformed to the scientific method, is recorded, quantifiable and measurable, and therefore falsifiable (able to be proven false).

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Thea August 31, 2012 at 11:46 PM

Just a point about Freud (since I’ve studied some of his work, especially in the area of subconscious/unconscious processing): From what I understand of his theories, many aren’t at all falsifiable. They can be used to explain absolutely anything, especially if the subconscious was involved. Also, there was a significant problem with who he did his research on. The vast majority of his subjects were upper class European women, which means his findings are all almost certainly skewed. A true experiment would involve a random sample, since that will have the best chance of representing how things really work. Freud never did that.

As for Jung, I have no idea. I’ve never studied him.

As for the idea of the Bible’s assessment of man, I will also have to bow out, as my understanding of the nature of human beings (according to empirical evidence) is still too small for me to make an informed comment on that subject.

As to sin and the provability of God, those areas are fraught with controversy of such a kind that I know I cannot yet clearly navigate.

I just wanted to make it clear that I was only commenting on Freud, and nothing more. :)

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Nicole September 1, 2012 at 12:47 PM

“But here’s where it gets really good. By definition, it is not possible to prove/disprove the existence of God, because He/She is outside of the natural order. Therefore, your entire construct is “unprovable”, the very charge that you leveled at Freud and Jung!”

“Natural order”. That’s a good one, Shayle. And what would that be? Proof? Okay, I’ll give you a chance to prove Freud’s hypothesis is accurate since the “scientific” psychiatric community has come out on both sides of his assumptions based on his studies. [See Thea's comment.] And Jung? Really? I’ve read Jung. He could just as easily be Timothy Leary.

And the only ones who are still claiming climate change is man-made are those who fail to study those pesky facts that keep challenging it.

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Shayle September 1, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Nicole,

You fail to grasp my point! Even if we are able to prove/disprove Freud’s theory(ies), we are still operating within the confines of the scientific method. This IS science.

Invalidating a Freudian theory that is false is good science and, ultimately, good FOR science. However it does not weaken my position. The quest for knowledge still moves on.

It in no way invalidates science. Science is the quest for knowledge using a set of strict criteria applied to observable data. Why are you so hostile to this pursuit?

The natural order is that which is observable and subject to natural or scientific law (gravity, thermodynamics, etc.)

Since the God hypothesis operates outside of this construct, He is therefore not “falsifiable”. He is not provable/disprovable, operating from within the natural order, like a Freudian or Jungian theory might be.

Your original claim was that Freud’s theories were “unprovable”, now you have disingenuously moved your position into purportedly making me the responsible party to prove/disprove Freud. Nice try!

In return, just to be fair, I may as well lay on you the monumental task of “proving” that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. (not that I would seriously require that you or anyone do such a thing)

P.S. I never stated that I accept the global warming camp’s position(s); that is an assumption you made, something you seem to make a lot of. I am starting to suspect that I may actually be communicating with a computer program stuck on a glitch. If you are a bot, reveal yourself!

Shayle September 1, 2012 at 3:39 PM

Undoubtedly, we could perform our research specifically on a subset of “upper class European women” if it served the interests of science! ;)

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Shayle August 27, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Computers themselves ( along with the internet) have arguably left more of an impression on world culture than Jesus Christ alone. Don’t believe me? Think about your daily lives….do you go to church and pray or do you log in to facebook, etc.? I think this is a perfectly justifiable reality for a sci-fi universe.

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Mike Duran August 27, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Shayle, I thought the “God as malfunctioning computer” was kind of unique. But as I said in my post, it’s a straw man. It doesn’t really answer the questions Christ raised, namely, who he was. Nor does it answer an even bigger question for the atheist: If God is just a computer glitch, who made the computer?

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Shayle August 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Mike, you are absolutely right and I agree with you! It is a point of humor for someone who is already an atheist. It is not a persuasive argument in and of itself. Roddenberry is a confirmed atheist writing fiction. Millions of people enjoy his fiction not for the fact that he is an atheist, but simply because he has created an incredible alternate universe and populated it with characters for us to enjoy. Gene Roddenberry’s creation mythos in STNG actually seems very close to what I have studied about Mormonism, ironically.

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R. L. Copple August 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM

STNG pretty much followed in the same vein. I guess because Roddenberry was still alive to influence it. But just looking at the first and last episodes of that series tells you all you need to know of the message: humans evolved from a single-cell that gained life, and will eventually evolve into “gods” even beyond Que, who is a god-like entity that is more capricious and unethical than the Roman and Greek gods.

Pretty standard secular fare, really, malfunctioning computer and all.

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R. L. Copple August 27, 2012 at 12:36 PM

Incidentally, the initial quote you gave, Mike, is nothing more than criticizing God for wanting to have a relationship with His creation. BAD GOD! lol. After all, my wife likes to get hugs and kisses from me daily, and she married me even though I’m faulty. Maybe she doesn’t exist either.

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Bobby August 27, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Makes sense that Roddenberry was an atheist. I think his style is most evident in the Original Series (Kirk, Spock, etc.). Anyone who’s interested in Roddenberry and the creative process of Star Trek has to read Michael Pillar’s “Fade In,” which chronicles the writing of Star Trek: Insurrection.

Pillar was one of the main writers for Star Trek: The Next Generation and wrote Insurrection. He goes into Roddenberry’s ideas for Star Trek, how he envisioned the series and what he expected (allowed/wouldn’t allow) from his writers. Very interesting. Roddenberry envisioned a perfect society in which mankind evolved beyond conflict. Pillar lists some fascinating war stories of trying to come up with drama in Roddenberry’s world in which mankind was, in many ways, perfect. I believe the book is free on the internet.

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R. L. Copple August 27, 2012 at 2:07 PM

“Very interesting. Roddenberry envisioned a perfect society in which mankind evolved beyond conflict.”

Interesting thing is, this conflicts with the needs of a good story. Perfect humans leads to little to no conflict and tension…one of the things it was criticized for (and DS9 was said to “fix.”) Still, what you ended up with was imperfect humans in some form or another, and enemies to defeat, despite the story of continuing to evolve into perfection. And the view among all the races in the Star Trek universe, humans were the ones to emulate and unique.

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Bobby August 27, 2012 at 1:02 PM
Timothy Stone August 27, 2012 at 1:18 PM

Roddenberry’s attempts to critique religion are hilarious until you realize he’s serious. It’s sad that such a creative genius is so wanting on any matter of deep intellectual conversation that his attempts seem like a parody of atheism.

My advice is that, even though he was still woefully wrong, if you want somewhat intelligent discussions of atheism from a dead guy, go to the late Christopher Hitchens. This and the other attempts by Roddenberry were more comedy to be laughed at.

That is, until you realize he spurned Christ’s gift and is in Hell. That’s sobering and sad.

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Jessica Thomas August 27, 2012 at 2:27 PM

So, here’s some strange stuff related to Gene Roddenberry in regards to his spiritual(?) beliefs, if you haven’t seen it. Who knows…

http://phyllisvschlemmer.com/background.html

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Mike Duran August 27, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Interesting. Thanks for the link, Jessica.

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Timothy Stone August 27, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Sadly, that’s what I would expect, Ma’am. More and more, scientists and mathematicians are discovering that, even if they staunchly believe evolution is true, that there had to be some power behind it. There’s too much order and design, chaos can’t bring us this world and universe of ours. But some of them are so unwilling to accept the idea of God that they believe in some alien presence. This idea that used to be sci-fi, or the ravings of the woman in your link, is now being theorized for real. Because “logic” and “science” say (according to them) there can be no supernatural, it must be aliens. It’s absurd and funny, but quite sad also, how far we go to deny the existence of Our Creator.

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Todd Michael Greene August 27, 2012 at 4:28 PM

I’ve found that a lot of sci-fi writers, past and present, are atheists. I’m not sure why this is, but it is. I think it’s one thing that, consciously or unconsciously, kept me from enjoying the genre for so long. I still don’t enjoy reading it much. I tried a Star Trek novel several years ago and got bogged down in the technology and science language. Same thing happened to me when I tried to read a Tom Clancy political thriller. Science and technology are just not my strong points. However, I do enjoy tv shows and movies that are sci-fi. I think it’s because with those formats you can’t spend a lot of time on the details and exposition because of time constraints that don’t exist in written form.

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Bobby August 27, 2012 at 5:05 PM

Atheists write sci-fi for the same reason some folks write Christian fiction the way that they do: they envision a world of their dreams. For many Christian women, that’s a world in the past. For atheists, it’s a future in which mankind has progressed past things they see as encumbering human progress. Religion is almost always at the top, if not top 3.

Some writers wrestle with the issues they find troublesome. Others simply pretend they don’t exist and wish for the past or long for the future.

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BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) August 28, 2012 at 5:52 AM

I don’t know about the people behind the sci-fi, but all this “agenda” had no impact on me watching Trek growing up. Of course I had parents who did their job and raised me to know who the one true God is, so I guess I”m fortunate in that all my life, God has been my filter through which I view everything.

When I watch TOS, I’m not concerned with failed fake gods such as in the episode “Who Mourns For Adonis?” but what that show, just like many westerns has done time and again–deal with a code of ethics and people having to make choices in how they will live and affect the lives of others.

It’s the same reason I can read books outside Christian fiction. God can reach out to people even using folks who don’t know Him.

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Nikole Hahn August 28, 2012 at 8:31 AM

That’s the only thing I didn’t like about Star Trek (and I am a Trekkie) was the lack of God. Even the newer and varied versions might have been spiritual, but they didn’t feel even close to Christian–just some kind of eastern or new agie spiritualism. There was one episode of, I think, Next Generation, where they used the episode to put down a cultures belief in God (that turned out to be a space ship). I liked the Star Trek stuff for the action, but when Next Generation became more about philosophy than story, I stopped watching.

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Lyn Perry August 28, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Original Star Trek, Bread and Circuses.

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Lyn Perry August 28, 2012 at 4:18 PM
Jim Hamlett August 28, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Poor Gene Roddenbery. A great talent misguided. I grew up on the original series and was a devoted fan. But then I met Christ, and everything changed. If Mr. Roddenberry ever had any doubts whether his beliefs were true or not, he has none now. And tragically too late.

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Katherine Coble August 28, 2012 at 9:15 AM

I feel like I’m missing something here. What are you trying to say? That because this one story is stupid (and it is stupid) that atheism is stupid? That Star Trek would be better if it had religion?

I just don’t think it’s logically possible to extrapolate from one stupid story or one fallible man that atheism is worthless. Now of course I’m not an atheist, as we all know. But I have read countless stupid Christian fiction stories and I’ve seen atheists use those as Proof Positive That Christians Are Stupid.

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Jill August 28, 2012 at 12:39 PM

I would only concur with this one story idea being stupid. I read all manner of atheist fiction. Atheist authors don’t have the same control system in place that Christian authors do and, sometimes, their irreverent wit goes too far for me.

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Shayle August 30, 2012 at 5:14 PM

First I’m “retarded”, and now Roddenberry had a “stupid story idea”. What exactly are you adding to this debate, pray tell?

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Jill August 31, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Stupidity, I’m sure. You see, I’m a computer. Owing to a glitch, I got stuck in stupid mode. And you?

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Shayle August 31, 2012 at 11:29 PM

I am not a robot. Do you believe in God?

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Mike Duran August 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM

As Leubscher’s article shows, this was a theme that peppered many of Roddenberry’s episodes, not just The God Thing. Of course, this one story doesn’t prove atheism is stupid. But it’s definitely part of a flawed apologetic that atheists repeatedly use.

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Shayle August 30, 2012 at 5:09 PM

And Phillip K. Dick has recurrent Christian imagery (he was an idiosyncratic Episcopalian). He is still one of the best writers of the genre, regardless of what one’s personal religious background is.

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J.S. Clark August 28, 2012 at 7:06 PM

My world is crumbling. First I notice unwanted political overtones in “It’s a Wonderful Life” which I love, and now Star Trek? What will they take next? Batman!?!?! Zorro!?!?!

Oh, well no worries.

I do think its interesting that more Roddenberry flavorered eras of Star Trek had to be rebooted. Perfection kept needing redefining . . . did anyone think about the way Kirk’s eyes followed every skirt? I’m not shocked or surprised, I just speculate that the denial of the supernatural/spiritual/religious may be why Star War has seemed to endure more across the years than Star Trek.

I mean TOS is mostly forgotten, TNG has aged, there are some good stories there but . . . Maybe its just me, being a follower of Messiah, I don’t find the Star Trek universe has had as lasting gut-level appeal vs. Star Wars.

And I used to think the opposite by the way.

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Bob Avey August 29, 2012 at 3:57 PM

I’ve always enjoyed the Star Trek programs and movies. However, I also noticed the atheist themes even in the earlier programs. It’s too bad.

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Ben May 26, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Consider that bajor believed the prophets to be gods. But the federation knew them to be wormhole aliens. The dominion created servent a thru genetic engineering- and those servants believed their creators to be gods. It was a show constantly asking its audience to look beyond

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RRLane July 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM

How can there be “atheist apologetics” when atheism doesn’t make a positive claim to defend? Atheism is simply the lack of belief in god or gods. It doesn’t have anything to prove because it is simply a request for proof of the assertion of deities.

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