Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DS9: In The Hands Of The Prophets

My sixth-grade science teacher, on the first day of class, announced that she would not be teaching evolution or the big bang theory, as she believed in neither. She was a Christian, she said, and that entitled her to choose what she wanted to teach and what she wanted to leave out. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the classroom. I remember the old tables with old graffiti gouged into it.  I remember the fact that there was no air conditioning and that in Kentucky in August, the heat was intense. And yet, as my teacher proudly uttered the statement that she planned to intentionally neglect a large part of our curriculum, a new heat, oppressive and uncomfortable, crept over my body. As a young, curious student, I was confused. I was disappointed. I was angry. 

I thought a lot about that day as I watched "In The Hands Of The Prophets." In the episode, Keiko is teaching her small, rag-tag group of students about the wormhole next to which their station is perched when in comes Vedek Winn. The Vedek (a religious authority and holy figure among the Bajoran people) insists that Keiko ought to be teaching the children about how the wormhole is actually a Celestial Temple and that the aliens within are actually holy prophets. Keiko disagrees. She insists that she's just trying to teach plain, hard, provable science. The story goes back and forth between the two with both Siskos stuck in the middle and a heap of Bajorans pulling their kids out of school over religious differences. 

I find that I can't watch this episode without becoming incensed. And, of course, that was the intent. Contentious stories like this one make us angry or afraid or sad; they make us talk; they make us want to take action. Star Trek has always challenged oppressive societal norms. It has always asked us questions about ourselves, our world, our future. Roddenberry's vision of the future is one in which we celebrate not only our differences but also our ability to overcome. And, to overcome, a culture must progress. And to progress, we must rely on science, whatever our beliefs may be. We may respect one another's beliefs, we may choose to learn about them or even adopt them, but we also have the right to a legitimately rigorous, fact-based, secular education. Children have the right to be taught by individuals who express excitement and can present scientifically literate lessons about the universe and all its wonders. The woman who denounced not only two of the most widely-accepted theories in science but also two elements of the Kentucky sixth-grade science curriculum had no place standing in that classroom.

That year I went to our small town's tiny library on my own and checked out everything I could find about evolution and natural selection. I wrote an essay called, "Arguing For Evolution" and (though normally an honor-roll student) I got a D-. In spite of the poor grade, my scientific curiosity wasn't stifled and I think I owe at least part of that to Roddenberry's future, to spending my evenings watching as yet impossible feats of science on TV, to Star Trek. Unfortunately there are still plenty of Vedek Winns out there in classrooms denouncing the very subject they've been hired to teach and shutting down budding curiosity before it ever has a chance. 


  1. Good for you! You may have gotten a D- on that essay, but you stood up for science! I worry when I see the push to teach religion as science, and I hope to instill in my own children a healthy scientific curiosity.

  2. One of my good friends is a 60-something Christian woman who grew up in West Virginia. As she always says, "I learned about evolution in school and then I learned about Genesis on Sunday. It just never occurred to me that these were conflicting stories."

    Also, your sixth grade science teacher was an idiot. Too bad this hadn't happened more recently or else we could shame her on the internet.

  3. I grew up in a family with a mother who would have pulled me from a class that was teaching me about evolution.

    Overcoming the deep indoctrination I was raised with, has been my life's greatest struggle. I'm thankful that I discovered the humanism and civility of Star Trek TNG back in the early 90's, and the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens in the 2000's. I believe both helped me become a more peaceful and complete human being.

  4. I was raised in a Christian home.. My take on this is that you need to learn all the angles, then make a decision for yourself. It is wrong for someone to take away your right to choose what you will believe and what you will not believe. Like I always say, we won't really know the truth about God's existence until after we are dead. I hope I always remain open to differing points of view, and may I always (as the Templar said,) choose wisely.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...