Ethos Education

Star Trek: Into Darkness: How do people decide what to do?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.
  • Understand the Christian worldview, as it relates to making moral decisions.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the case for sometimes breaking the rules.
  • Analyse a film clip, identifying different approaches to the making of a particular decision.
  • Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of six different approaches to making moral decisions.
  • Analyse a Christian perspective on making moral decisions, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a further scene from the film, where a variety of characters seek to justify their actions with reference to different worldviews.

STARTER:

Write up the phrase ‘Rules are made to be broken’ on the board. Ask the students whether they agree or disagree with this statement. Ask them to suggest some rules which are commonly disregarded. Here are some examples:

  • Rules about speed limits on roads.
  • Rules against running in school corridors.
  • Rules against smoking in public buildings.
  • Rules against illegally downloading music or taping friends’ CDs.

Lead a discussion about whether it is right or wrong to break those rules. Under what circumstances might it be right to break a rule?

Explain that in this lesson you will be thinking about the different values that shape the way different people make moral decisions, either accepting or rejecting established rules. In particular, you are going to think about how Christians approach the subject of making moral decisions.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from Star Trek: Into Darkness (Paramount, certificate 12). Click here to buy the film online.

Explain to students that the clip comes from the beginning of the film. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are on a mission observing a primitive race and their planet. Their standing orders – the Prime Directive – prohibit them from interfering with the development of other societies, and yet things are not as straightforward as that might suggest. As he so often does, Kirk has a very loose attitude towards obeying orders and keeping to the rules. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the discussion of various difficult decisions that take place during the clip.

  • Start time:       0.00.55 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.09.29
  • Clip length:      8 minutes and 34 seconds

The clip starts at the beginning of the film, with the caption, ‘Class M planet Nibiru’. It ends after Kirk says, ‘Ah. C’mon, Spock, they saw us – big deal,’ and the scene shifts to the people of Nibiru drawing a picture of the Enterprise in the ground.

Ask the students why there were arguments about whether or not to rescue Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto). Remind them of Spock’s statement that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. Do students agree or disagree with this principle? What other ways of approaching the situation were shown by others in the clip, particularly by Captain Kirk.

Give out copies of the What Should I Do? worksheet and explain that the sheet summarises six different philosophical models of determining the right or wrong course of action when faced with a moral decision. Talk through the worksheet with the class, making sure that they understand the key factors of each approach to morality. Here are the six approaches:

Egoism
‘I will do what is right for me’.
Right and wrong is decided by working out what will give me the most good things and the least bad things.

Utilitarianism
‘I will do whatever gives the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’.
Right and wrong is decided by calculating what will give the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

Naturalism
‘I will do whatever comes naturally’.
Right and wrong is decided by working out what is natural for us as human beings; if it is natural it is right; if it is unnatural it is wrong.

Cultural Relativism
‘I will do what everyone else around me is doing’.
Right and wrong is decided by looking at the way that others in my culture are behaving and fitting in with it. This will be different for different cultures and at different times.

Emotivism
‘I will do what my emotions tell me to do’.
Right and wrong is decided by following our emotions; whatever our feelings tell us is the right thing to do.

Theism
‘I will do what God tells me to do’.
Right and wrong is decided by finding out what our creator tells us we should do.

Ask the students which of these worldviews seem to be represented in the clip. Spock is the easiest to match up, with ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ working as an alternative summary of Utilitarianism. Kirk is harder to place, but Emotivism seems the best fit for his instinct-led disregard for keeping the rules.

Ask the students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, either working together as a whole class, or discussing in small groups and reporting back to the rest of the class.

Explain that Christianity is one example of Theism (although it is worth pointing out that not all theists are Christians). Ask the students how they think a Christian would go about discovering what God wants them to do in any given situation. Draw out that two main sources of authority for many Christians are the Bible and the example and teaching of Jesus.

Ask the students to look up the following Bible passages and to write a short statement for each, suggesting what relevance the passage has to the issue of how Christians might make moral decisions.

  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • Mark 12:28-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Take feedback from the students and encourage them to discuss the positive and negative aspects of using this basis for determining right from wrong.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

In the film, Kirk’s actions cost him his position as Captain of the USS Enterprise. Ask the students to write an imagined scene from the film where Kirk, Spock and any other characters from the film that the student wishes to include are called upon to explain their actions. The discussion should include reference to some or all of the approaches summarised on the What Should I Do? worksheet, and should include reference to a Christian approach to making moral decisions.

YOU WILL NEED:

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