Posts Tagged ‘dogmatic thinking’

The Distant Origin Theory

November 2, 2008

Lately, my preferred method of wasting time has been watching old episodes of Star Trek Voyager. I never watched it during its original run, but, consummate nerd that I am, I recently decided to check it out. I’ve found much of it decent, some of it appallingly bad, and some more of it rising to the heights of sci fi excellence characteristic of Star Trek at its best. One such episode had me rapt: Distant Origin. I found fascinating parallels with issues in the news today.

The episode concerns a race of reptilian beings, the Voth, who carry the conceit (they call it “Doctrine”) that they were the first sentient beings to evolve in their area of space. A professor of the Voth subscribes to the “distant origin theory,” which holds that they actually arose on a distant planet, and spread through the galaxy over millions of years, forgetting their heritage in the time. He finds evidence to support his theory, in the form of bones left by a strange creature that happens to share a large portion of its genome with the Voth. The bones, of course, belong to one of the Voyager crew.

It turns out later on that the reptilian race is descended from the dinosaurs. Supposedly a lineage of hadrosaurs evolved sophisticated intelligence, built spacecraft, and escaped the dinosaurs’ extinction. (The dinosaurs’ real descendants, birds, are not mentioned.) The episode, like much of TV and the US in general, shows a sad lack of understanding of evolution. There’s one scene on the holodeck in which the captain asks the computer to extrapolate the evolution of hadrosaurs 65 million years into the future, as if that were possible outside the context of an environment populated with other organisms, and given the random nature of mutation. Still, there was one thing the episode got right, and spectacularly.

The Voth, as I noted, believe that they arose in the section of space they now inhabit. As it turns out, they are extremely hostile to anything that challenges this ideology. They charge the professor with heresy, and refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence in support of the distant origin theory. Beginning to sound familiar? Yep, it’s a perfect vision of what would happen to science if the creationists were to gain control. All findings would be run through the filter of dogma, and those that didn’t fit would be censored and ignored. Chilling, to be sure. The selective blindness and moral cowardice of the creationist movement is perfectly captured in the opposition of the Voth’s ruling council to the obvious truth.

I amused myself with the idea of showing this episode to fundies, to give them a mirror into their own way of thinking. My amusement was curtailed when I realized that most fundies would probably just see themselves in the poor, persecuted professor, and see the evil, godless Darwinists in his oppressors. The selective reality filter of the dogmatic mind is a powerful thing.