The 1990s TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9 for short) is a favorite of the Graney family. DS9 featured lots of those extraterrestrial non-human intelligent life forms so common to Science Fiction: Cardassians, Klingons, Bajorans. But these extraterrestrials were just humans in make-up. By this I don’t just mean that the Klingon or Bajoran characters were played by human actors wearing rubber “ears” or “brow ridges”; I mean that these characters were essentially human. Their cultures might have been different, but they acted like human beings.
DS9 did attempt to develop extraterrestrials that were less “human” and more “alien”. They did this via “The Dominion”, the overwhelmingly powerful kingdom of a race of fluid creatures called “Founders”. The Founders manufactured two races to serve them: the “Vorta”, who were managers and diplomats; and the “Jem’Hadar”, who were soldiers. The Jem’Hadar were “hatched out of a vat”, fed intravenously, grew to maturity within days, and lived only a few years. They were fighters by instinct. They neither ate, nor drank, nor begat children. By genetically programmed instinct they obeyed the Vorta, and venerated the Founders as gods. The Jem’Hadar were the soulless minions of the Founders—manufactured, instinct-driven, utterly disposable killers. They were perhaps DS9’s most convincing effort at inventing truly non-human extraterrestrials.
And yet, that effort was not so convincing. Once DS9 began to feature episodes with one-on-one interactions with the Jem’Hadar, they started to seem less soulless. They understood the world around them. They were aware, for example, about what their Vorta superiors were up to, even though the Vorta dismissed them as non-persons. They could control their instinct to fight, and could even work with adversaries, if their mission required them to do so. They accepted their role in “the order of things”, and did the jobs they were created to do. The lead character in DS9, Captain Benjamin Sisko, ended up describing them as “professionals”. When he had a platoon of Jem’Hadar surrounded, he called for a truce and tried to negotiate a surrender so as to avoid massacring them. The Jem’Hadar leader respectfully declined—it was not in the “order of things” for them to surrender—and, when the truce was over, led a final, hopeless charge against Sisko’s forces. And so DS9’s Jem’Hadar ended up being rather human; not soulless minions after all.
This focus on being human is a theme in the long-lived Star Trek franchise. One of its most famous characters, Mr. Spock, was a Vulcan who often disdained human emotions and ideas. In the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, he gives his life to save the starship Enterprise, because “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. His Captain, Kirk, eulogies him by saying, “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.”
Likewise, consider the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy, and the character of Groot. Groot is truly a non-human alien, a walking plant who can say little more than “I am Groot”. But Groot, like Spock, sacrifices himself to save his Guardians teammates because, as he so eloquently puts it, “We are Groot”. In the world of Science Fiction, even a plant seems to have a human soul.
Then consider all the Science Fiction replicants, droids, artificial intelligences, clones, and whatnot who all manage to have souls, or appearances thereof. We humans have been most willing to grant, through Science Fiction, souls or humanity to non-humans. Thus it may surprise readers of Sacred Space Astronomy to learn that we humans have been very willing to deny, through Science itself, souls or humanity to actual human beings.
The story of Science’s role in denying humanity to human beings is told in the book Adam’s Ancestors, by David N. Livingstone (an entry on the V.O. Faith and Science pages—click here for it). The book is about the idea of “pre-Adamites”: “people” postulated to have existed prior to Adam. I use quotation marks here because usually the pre-Adamites were assumed to be not truly human—not “true men”, to use the language of the time. The true men were the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve (to borrow the phrasing of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). The others were sort of like Vulcans, or even the Jem’Hadar—aliens who might have no souls.
The idea of the pre-Adamite is an old one. Livingstone describes it as having been fed through two principle roots. One of those roots is the diversity and wide distribution of people in the world. Originally that diversity was the stuff of legend. The ancient author Pliny the Elder had written about all sorts of strange “people”—people with one leg and a giant foot, people with a single eye, people with dog heads, people with no heads at all and faces in their chests, and so forth. Scholars for centuries took Pliny at his word.
Pliny’s strange people even appear in Shakespeare:
It was my hint to speak—such was my process—
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.
[Othello, Act I, scene iii]
Scholars wondered whether creatures such as these, who were certainly as weird as any Klingon, could be Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.
Then, as the world was more widely explored, people were found living in lands that were far separated from the world of Europe-Asia-Africa by vast spans of water. How could such widely dispersed peoples, speaking widely differing languages, all have come from the one family line of Adam? And what of people who claimed long histories, like the Egyptians or the Chinese? Surely all this could be explained more easily by having some other beginning to at least some of humanity than just Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The second root feeding the pre-Adamite idea was a discomfort with difficult passages in Genesis. Consider Genesis 4, for example. Cain, upon being sent away to the land of Nod by God for the murder of Abel, expresses fear that anyone who saw him would kill him:
Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”
Since only Adam, Eve, Cain, and the now-dead Abel had been mentioned thus far, whom did Cain fear? And then Genesis mentions Cain’s wife. Where did she come from? Surely all this could be explained more easily by having some other beginning to at least some of humanity than just Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
But when it is assumed that there is some other beginning to at least some of humanity, the idea that all people are Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve—all of one family—is lost. And when that is lost, then we can start making the claim that this group of people are “true men”, while that group of people are just soulless animals—just sorts of apes who happen to have a more human-like shape—like Jem’Hadar (as DS9 originally envisioned them).
Usually the groups being labelled as soulless have been those with darker skins; usually, but not always. The Irish, for example, were often included as being among the “lesser races”. As Thomas Cahill pointed out in his How the Irish Saved Civilization, they were the “white chimpanzees”, “incapable of civilization”.
Adam’s Ancestors documents lots of comparisons of people to apes, and lots of scientific efforts to quantify to what extent different groups of people differed from “true men”. Social scientists went about quantifying humans with measurements of differing cranial capacities, differing language structures, and the differing distributions of people and of apes. They insisted that these different groups that they saw were different species. This was illustrated by the supposed infertility of (at least over a number of generations), and weakness of, “hybrid” offspring of “mixed race” couples. These scientists experienced resistance from those who insisted for religious reasons that all peoples were brothers and sisters in the family of Adam—all Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.
An article from the May 1865 issue of The Anthropological Review provides an illustration of all this (as there is a “faith versus science” element in this, Sacred Space Astronomy readers will not be surprised to find a Galileo reference here):
Everywhere the supremacy of facts is now recognised, and the only loyalty even professed by the more advanced minds is not a faithful adherence to tradition, but unswerving fealty to the truth. The battle fought and won by astronomy in the days of Galileo, was in truth but the beginning of the war, and alone would have proved utterly inadequate to teach men of science their strength, or theologians their weakness. This was shown in the reception accorded to geology, whose stupendous revelations from the page of nature were long expected to bend to a written record. It is still shown in the criticisms provoked in certain quarters by anthropological investigations. We are free to speculate on the age of rocks, and even to inquire into the succession of plants and animals; but man is a sacred, and, therefore, a forbidden subject. His origin, antiquity, and special relationships have all been settled by a tribunal that laughs at induction, and treats opposing facts with derision…. Till very recently, even the greatest minds bowed in submissive silence to this unreasoning despotism. However free and untrammeled in other provinces of investigation, they paused upon the threshold of man. He was an exceptional instance in the grand scheme of creation, an isolated phenomenon in the great plan of nature, to make free with whom, after the ordinary fashion of inductive inquiry, was little other than an act of open and scandalous impiety…. On special difference as attaching to brown and white bears, and of organic diversity in relation to African and Asiatic elephants, it was quite lawful to dilate, but an Esquimaux and a European, a Negro and a Persian, were to be invariably treated as of one species. Freedom of inquiry ceased with man….
It is in relation to this most important question, freedom of inquiry, and we may add, liberty of speech, on the part of men of science, that the anthropological societies now rising in various parts of Europe are doing such good service to the cause of truth. Composed of the most advanced minds in the countries where they are respectively organised, these bodies present a barrier to fanaticism, and ensure freedom of inquiry and discussion, at least within the limits of their own meetings, and in the pages of their own publications…. For let us not deceive ourselves; the public, even the educated public, are still unprepared for the full reception of the truth as it is in nature, on the subject of man. They want our statements to be toned down, and our conclusions to be modified into accordance with their limited ideas, ere they will give us a favourable or even an unprejudiced hearing. They have not yet given up their idols. They are still under the dominion of traditional ideas, and in plain language, are too much the slaves of authority to listen without fear to the echoes of a freeman’s voice…. Hence, then, the necessity for effective organisation on the part of anthropological inquirers, not merely for the purpose of ensuring freedom of discussion among themselves, but also with the equally important object of supporting a literature devoted to the statement of facts, and the utterance of conclusions too far in advance of existing opinion for their easy reception by the general public, and yet eminently calculated to promote the cause of anthropological inquiry….
[The theory of development of man is] purely a question of science, and as such its decision must be left to those who are prepared to investigate the subject through the evidence of fact rather than the authority of dogma. Once for all, then, let us clearly understand that theologians as such, have nothing to do with this great controversy; their attempted meddling with which is an impertinence that the dignity of science can afford to treat with the silent contempt it so richly deserves.
The same article includes references to the superiority of Caucasians, such as—
man, even in his highest existent form, the Caucasian, is still but an initial type, only in the process of emergence… while the inferior races, more especially the negroid, are still absolutely embryonic.
—as well as this reference to—
the true man, by which we mean the large-brained and small-mouthed Caucasian.
And there is this, on “hybrids”—
When we consider that in this way every healthy and rightly-constituted organism, when of pure type and on its own site, is in perfect harmony with itself, that all its powers and functions are perfectly balanced, and that the whole is in due relationship to the atmospheric and telluric forces by which it is surrounded, we shall cease to wonder at the unhealthiness and ultimate infertility of most hybrids, in whom this fine balance is lost, and who are in a sense the product of a generative chaos, that is, of conflicting forces, not constituted by Nature for harmonious conjunction.
In the October issue of this journal for that same year we find a writer declaring that Egypt was not an “African” civilization, on the basis of certain people being supposedly incapable of civilization—
And let it also be fearlessly announced by anthropologists, that a purely Negroid type, though they had possessed twenty Egypts for twice ten thousand years, would never have raised the magnificent piles of Luxor and Carnac…. The time has now assuredly come, when the accepted fallacies of a learned barbarism should succumb to the clear demonstrations of inductive science, and racial facts be championed to their appropriate place, as among the most important and reliable data upon which history, more especially that of the earlier ages, can be based.
Meanwhile, in the February issue we find a description of the “true Celt”, noting that—
it has been generally assumed that one well defined form of head is recognisable as characteristic of the true Celt. Dr. Morton, in defining the Celtic family, says: “They have the head rather elongated, and the forehead narrow and but slightly arched. The brow is low, straight and bushy; the eyes and hair are light, the nose and mouth large, and the cheek-bones high. The general contour of the face is angular and the expression harsh.” Dr. J. Aitken Meigs… remarks: “No. 1356—a cast of the skull of one of the ancient Celtic race of Ireland—appears to me the most typical in the Irish group. This head, the largest in the group, is very long, clumsy, and massive in its general appearance. The forehead is low, broad, and ponderous; the occiput heavy and very protuberant.”
Of course, today’s science has completely overthrown this nineteenth-century science and the idea of pre-Adamites, much as today’s science has completely overthrown the Aristotelian theory that said that the Earth lies at rest in the center of the universe because gravity is the tendency of certain materials toward the center of the universe. Indeed, the material quoted above is today viewed as utterly disgraceful. Today science tells us that all human beings appear to be descended from one common origin. Scientists now speak, for example, of DNA evidence pointing to the existence of a “mitochondrial Eve” for all humanity. The idea that there are different species of human beings—some of which are “true men”, and others of which are distinctly not—and that “hybrids” of these differing “species” are unhealthy and ultimately infertile—is now scientifically unsupportable, to put it mildly. Science tells us now that there is one human race; we are all one family. But that is not what science said in 1865.
Science of course changes. But wrongness about the nature of gravity is a much different thing from wrongness about person X and person Y being of two species, one superior, one inferior—one perhaps with a soul, the other perhaps not—the marital union of which will yield unhealthy and ultimately infertile offspring. And science was not just wrong here, but obstinately wrong. People have long recognized what it means to be human. The writers of Star Trek or Guardians of the Galaxy were hardly the first to be unable to envision any sort of true gradations of humanity:
I think the king is but a man, as I
am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me: the
element shows to him as it doth to me; all his
senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies
laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and
though his affections are higher mounted than ours,
yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we
do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish
as ours are.
[Henry V, Act IV, scene i]
And let us not forget those theologians whose impertinent meddling science supposedly could afford to treat with silent contempt. Nor let us forget those people who might not have been “theologians”, but who adhered to the traditional reading of Genesis, rejected the idea of pre-Adamites, and thus maintained that all people were of one family: Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. They may have kept in mind Revelation 7—
After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands…. Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In other words, some people knew, on faith, and perhaps on the same common sense that Shakespeare and Star Trek seem to share, what “the most advanced minds of science” failed to grasp via the “evidence of fact” and “demonstrations of inductive science”: that people who looked different were still “men and brothers”. These people knew that man is indeed a sacred subject, and that to forget that is to head toward very dark places. It does not require the most advanced mind to know this. No doubt that is why even Groot and the Jem’Hadar seem to be simply human souls in heavy make-up.