The Measure of a Man

Jean-Luc Picard’s consistent defense of Data’s “humanity” is centered around a materialist perspective, which claims that the mind and body are wholly incorporative in the person.[1] Because Picard believes this, and that “the human brain is a self operating computer,”[2] then by default, Data’s brain fits into this philosophical paradigm. He is a wholly and individual person, regardless of his actual makeup, robot or not. He asserts that humans, like Data, “too are machines, just machines of a different type.”[3] Ting Guo states, “In order to design and build intelligent entities like ‘us’ (Homo sapiens), ‘we’ must first be treated not as emotionally embodied ‘superior’ beings, but rather, as mechanical beings, so that we may be studied and modelled.”[4] “This presents a problem, because without a mental state, decisions and actions pertinent to beings like Data are simply results of a computer-based program that is connected to a variety of outcomes depending on the situation in question. Even though humans are capable of the same variables, the difference is humans and robots do not share a mental state that is influenced by reason, feelings and emotions, but rather robots are specifically inclined toward superficial, rational and non-emotive programs.

Captain Bruce Maddox on the other hand is a dualist, who believes that the mind and body are separate, yet in a relationship toward each other, and that “human beings have both physical properties and mental properties.”[5] Biblically speaking[6], this is the most sound attribute in which people were created, with the disposition of free will that enables human beings to make decisions that is intricately woven into their nature and is directly tied to the image of God, although marred by sin, yet still abides in the ability to make libertarian decisions.

One day, Artificial Intelligence will be a reality, and because the naturalist worldview is rapidly advancing into most civilizations, and in some, clashing with various theistic philosophies, it is very possible for this type of discussion to take place. If naturalism is valid and true, then whatever process that generates a soul in people might also become generated in an artificial being. Even if soul-installation or spirit download requires the miraculous touch of God, per se, people are inclined to think that a god who cares enough about human consciousness, freedom, and insight to imbue them with souls might imbue the right sort of artificial entity with one also.[7]

Maddox’s assessment of Picard’s irrationality is not unfounded, but at the same time it isn’t empathetic to his worldview. Even though people may not share the same beliefs as others, utilizing ad hominem as support, is not the right way to present a case for any argument. 

Although the ruling on the case cannot be compromised with dualism, it also needs to be respected in light of the culture in which Star Trek finds itself in. If Data is able to perform the same duties as any other officer in Starfleet, then the dualist should submit to the authority of the ruling even though this council does not share the same philosophies dualists often claim. The Apostle Peter asked Christians under extreme persecution from Nero to submit themselves “for the Lord’s sake to every human authority; whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who are wrong and to commend those who do right,” (1 Peter 2:13-14, NIV). This calling, although may seem to be hard at times, but praying for leaders is pertinent (1 Timothy 2:13), and regardless of their belief systems, they were fundamentally chosen by God (or the current climate of culture, people’s choice, force, etc.) to be in the position they hold. This is not to say that people shouldn’t address injustice by any means, but rather carefully choosing battle for battle and peace for peace is paramount, requiring a well-thought distinction on whether a revolution is called for, or engaging in dialogue centered around a matured peace.

If Artificial Intelligence becomes possible, it is important to take these distinctions into account when appropriating ethical standards. Even though Data, or beings like it that are computer-based machines, any property or person fundamentally deserves a level of respect. Does this mean that robots deserve the same rights as human? In one sense yes, and the other sense, no, because as a dualist and libertarian, man made machines do not share the image of God or an inherent conscious imprint in which all human beings are individually endowed with, but they also are to be merited with the same level of appreciation than any other being, whether sentient or not.


[1] Hasker, William, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View, (Downers Grove, IVP, 1983), 70.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] Synopsis: Star Trek Episode, The Measure of a Man, pg. 2.

[4]Ting Guo, “Alan Turin: Artificial Intelligence as human self knowledge,” Anthropology Today, Vol. 31, Issue 6, (December 2015), 3.

[5] Ibid., 65.

[6] Genesis 1:26-27.

[7] Eric Schwitzgebel and Mara Garza, A Defense of the Rights of Artificial Intelligences, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 39, Issue 1, (September 2015), 105.