There are some episodes of shows that I can watch over and over again. One of them is “A Distant Origin,” which is an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. In “A Distant Origin,” there are intelligent descendants of the dinosaurs in the Delta Quadrant, a far off region of space in which the the Federation vessel Voyager happens to be stranded. These creatures are called “Saurians.” According to their doctrine, they were the first race to emerge in their particular area, which gives them the right of dominance. But a Saurian scientist named Gegan holds a different view. According to him, the Saurians are not natives to their region at all but were descended from beings of another planet, namely, Earth. For him, the Saurians were originally intelligent dinosaurs who fled from Earth in a space ship in order to escape catastrophe.
Gegan discovers human bones that have an almost identical DNA makeup to that of the Saurians. In Star Trek: Voyager science, humans and dinosaurs are related because they both came from a common ancestor, so that explains the similarity. Gegan learns that there are other humans on a nearby ship, Voyager, so he kidnaps Chakotay, a scientist and the ship’s first officer. Although Chakotay doesn’t like being kidnapped, he agrees to help Gegan in his goal: to convince the doctrinal council of the distant origin theory.
Gegan has to stand before the council because of his heretical beliefs, and the hearing turns out to be a sham. The council is not interested in the truth but rather in enforcing the prevalent doctrine. Chakotay tells the council that it has revised doctrine before in light of new scientific findings, but the chair is not convinced. She says that the distant origin theory disgusts her, for it presents her race as a bunch of weak creatures crawling out of their planet in a struggle to escape. Chakotay responds that he looks at it differently. For him, the Saurians were the first intelligent life on Earth, and they survived in the midst of terrifying creatures. They managed to discover space travel, and they boldly and courageously set out into space not knowing what they would encounter. Chakotay admonishes the chair not to turn her back on her race’s true heritage of bravery and exploration.
Well, the chair is not convinced, and Gegan is forced to retract his beliefs. But Chakotay gives Gegan a globe and expresses the hope that he will one day visit Earth.
This episode makes me think about creation and evolution. For me, creation grants more dignity to humanity, whereas evolution presents a picture that (quite frankly) troubles me. In my view, the idea that God created people in his own image is a doctrine that ennobles human beings. By contrast, the notion that we are descended from pond-scum and had to fight to survive promotes meaninglessness and a “dog-eat dog” contempt for the weak. I am aware that scientists point to evidence for evolution, and what they say deserves a lot of thought and consideration. Still, even if evolution is true, I don’t know how to construct a meaningful existence on the basis of it.
But I can picture Chakotay telling me that I’m looking at it all wrong. Actually, evolution ennobles humanity. We have learned to survive, and that tells us something about our strength. And, in our struggle for survival, we have learned to embrace certain concepts that can help us on our journey. Morality ensures that a community can thrive, and a dependence on the supernatural helps us get through the problems of life. Morality and religion give us meaning in life, and that assists us in our continuing survival. Consequently, evolution can co-exist with a regard for the weak and a belief in God.
Still, even if evolution can coincide with a noble view of humanity, the picture appears to idolize human beings. It emphasizes what we have learned and accomplished, but it doesn’t necessarily glorify anyone above and beyond ourselves. Can morality be solid if it comes solely from ourselves rather than an external authority? But, then again, perhaps we can say that God has allowed us to learn, grow, and make mistakes in our pursuit of survival.