Why Such Outrage Over Star Trek Actor’s Geocentrism?

The documentary The Principle, scheduled for release this spring, attempts to prove scientifically that the sun revolves around the Earth. In fact, the film claims that all stars revolve around the Earth because the Earth is the center of the entire universe. But advocates of science seem less shocked by the film’s absurd claims and even its inclusion of Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss than by the fact that it’s narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager from 1995 to 2001.

Outrage over Mulgrew’s involvement demonstrates the ongoing legacy of Star Trek. By valorizing science and enlightenment values, Captain Janeway and the rest of the Star Trek pantheon function as a shared mythology for those who value science over supernaturalism. Recruiting a Star Trek actor for an anti-science film smacks of sacrilege.

The Principle is the brainchild of Robert Sugenis of State Line, Pennsylvania. Sugenis is a traditionalist Catholic whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has called, “one of the most rabid and open anti-Semites in the entire radical traditionalist movement.” Sugenis founded Catholics Apologetics International in 1993. His organization has published literature denying the holocaust and promoting conspiracy theories about Zionist plots to usher in a Satanic New World Order. His local bishop, Kevin Rhoades, demanded that Sugenis stop writing about Jews and stop using the world “Catholic” in his organization’s name.

More recently, Sugenis has created the blog “Galileo Was Wrong” to support his theory of geocentrism. Ignorance of the solar system is sadly quite common. A recent poll demonstrated that 1 in 4 Americans is unaware that the Earth revolves around the sun. But Sugenis has followed the lead of Ken Ham in boldly challenging the scientific establishment using rhetoric and conspiracy theories rather than facts (and his org offered a $1000 reward to anyone who can prove heliocentrism and disprove geocentrism).

While Creationists like Ham are concerned with proving Genesis is literally true, Sugenis’ geocentrism appears to be motivated by a desire to avenge the seventeenth-century Church by debunking Galileo. Sugenis claims that if the church had had access to the data that he does, they could have proved Galileo wrong. Thus geocentrism could exonerate the Church and show that that the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church really was an infallible institution.

The Principle uses footage of scientific authorities taken out of context to create a false narrative that there isn’t actually a scientific consensus about heliocentrism. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss claims he was baffled to learn he appears in the film, having no recollection of being interviewed for it. Krauss is not only a cosmologist, but an activist for atheism. Significantly, he is also the author of The Physics of Star Trek. Mulgrew was likely recruited to further lend an air of scientific legitimacy. She too has released a statement explaining that she was only a “voice for hire,” was unaware of the film’s argument, and disagrees with Sugenis’ claims.

For all of its outrageous claims and rhetoric, it’s Mulgrew’s involvement that’s garnered the most headlines. The legacy of Star Trek appears to be just the right cultural nerve for a troll like Sugenis to poke. Atheists and science advocates seem almost as upset over the Sugenis’s attempt to appropriate Star Trek as bishop Rhoades did over his use of the term “Catholic.” Émile Durkheim’s chief criterion of the sacred is that sacred things can be profaned. By profaning the Star Trek brand, Sugenis may have proved what scholars of religion and pop culture have long claimed—that Star Trek is not just entertaining but a sacred text.

Joseph Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. His forthcoming books include The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholic Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Religion, Play, and Imagined Worlds (University of California Press, 2015).

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