Monday, February 27, 2006

Star Trek: the Nature of Evil
by William S. Kowinski

Star Trek is an adventure about exploring the future. But on television, it was also a weekly drama series that often came down to a sophisticated form of cops and robbers—good guys versus bad guys. It was an adult drama series, so the good guys weren’t all good, and the bad guys weren’t always all bad. But however Star Trek played with the basic expectation---often in a very meaningful and revelatory way-- some sense of good versus evil was nearly always present.

But in those stories, from the Original Series on, Star Trek questioned the very nature of good and evil. More than adult drama, this was drama exploring a very basic human question---and one that challenged and often flummoxed philosophers through the ages.

The nature of evil has been a knotty religious and philosophical problem for centuries, and in more recent decades, has become a psychological, biological. sociological and political conundrum as well.

Some of the oldest debates are over whether evil exists as something autonomous and powerful, something outside that affects the world, and humans in particular. Or is it human behavior with its source inside?

And if evil is within human beings, it is an inborn part of human nature? Some religions believe humans are born in a “fallen” state of “original sin.” Others believe humans are genetically “programmed” or “hard-wired” with evil instincts as a survival advantage.

Or is evil not separate, but the absence of good, or a shadow on the soul?

Early Christianity believed in both the external and internal evil: the Devil and original sin. Evil existed as a thing in itself; yet the absence of good was also involved.

To even begin to catalogue how Star Trek treated the question of evil would take a dissertation. But it’s worth looking at how evil was approached in two episodes of the original series, both dealing with the evils of war.

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