Stories That Celebrate Life: ‘The Measure of a Man’

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits!”
on Jan 31, 2019 · Series:

While factions and nations seek out new ways to destroy life, stories that celebrate life ought to convict us.

This miniseries, Stories That Celebrate Life, will explore a few such fictional works.

I’ll start with perhaps the best season 2 story of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). In fact, it’s one of the best episodes of the series.1

In “The Measure of a Man,” written by Melinda M. Snodgrass:

[Federation starship Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc] Picard must prove [android Lt.] Data is legally a sentient being with rights and freedoms under Federation law when transfer orders demand Data’s reassignment for study and disassembly.2

Picard (Patric Stewart) legally defends Data (Brent Spiner) after another scientist, Commander Maddox (Brian Brophy), wants to deactivate and analyze the android.

Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," 1989 episode "The Measure of a Man"The captain’s impassioned argument concludes with this speech, well-known to all TNG fans:

Your honor, the courtroom is a crucible. In it, we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a purer product: the truth, for all time.

Now sooner or later, this man—or others like him—will succeed in replicating Commander Data.

The decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of people we are; what he is destined to be. It will reach far beyond this courtroom and this one android. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom: expanding them for some, savagely curtailing them for others.

Are you prepared to condemn him—and all who will come after him—to servitude and slavery?

Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits! Waiting.

Later, this prompts the judge to ponder aloud the value of presuming life and freedom.

Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We’ve all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don’t know that he has. I don’t know that I have! But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself.

This is a classical humanist philosophy. It proves that such humanism’s ethics are not so far from Christianity (and yet, Christianity came first). It also proves that Christianity is not alone in defending the value of confirmed human life, and the presumed value of life that just might be human.

Beside Biblical Christians stand honest sci-fi stories throughout ages, stalwart and sure. Even if by accident, they defend the sacred worth of the imago Dei, God’s image in human beings. Life is sacred. It is precious. We must not destroy it.

  1. Some of this content is adapted and expanded from my article “Honest Sci-Fi Honors Life,” Speculative Faith, Jan. 23, 2014.
  2. From “The Measure of a Man” episode summary at Star Trek fan site
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.

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