During lecture today in Anatomy class, the teacher told us a horrible story from when his mother used to work as a nurse in the part of the hospital where babies were born.

We were discussing the brain and the nervous system in general, and somehow this led to Phineas Gage and other such related topics. Then one student, by the name of Ryan, wanted to know why it was possible to live with only half a brain (either the results of a birth defect or a hemispherectomy). Mr. Myers explained that it was possible to live with nothing more than a medulla oblongata if one were supplied with nutrients and hydrated regularly. Not much of a life, if a life at all, but possible.

He went on to explain about how his mother had been a nurse while she was pregnant with him back in the 60s. She was working in the birthing section of the hospital, as said earlier. She was helping a doctor deliver a baby one day – nothing unusual. The baby came out face-up, which isn’t too common, but no big deal. He looked like a normal, healthy baby boy. Then the doctor turned him over.

The back of its head was missing.

The baby had a brain, but only the most primitive parts were developed. The rest (cerebral cortex, frontal lobe, etc.) just weren’t there. The back of the baby’s head had formed to fit the small portion of brain it had, which was just a partial brain stem and a cerebellum. There was no skull to protect it. The baby was breathing on its own, and could have lived if hooked up to machines to nourish it. Not for long, but it would have lived.

The doctor made a fist, and crushed the tiny brain easily, killing the baby instantly.

He told the mother of the child that she had had a stillbirth from numerous complications during pregnancy and delivery.

If that’s not playing god, I don’t know what is.

Star Trek Episodes: Deep Space Nine Episodes - Season 2: Episode 17

Initial Airdate: 1994-02-27
Director: David Livingston
Written by: Jim Trombetta and Michael Piller

A Dax-centred episode.

The episode begins with Trill initiate Arjin (Geoffrey Blake) arriving on Deep Space Nine with Dr. Julian Bashir. Arjin is here to being training with Lieutenant Jadzia Dax, something that makes him very nervous. Dax under Curzon was notorious for 'breaking' initiates. Julian assures Arjin that Jadzia's actually quite nice, but Arjin remains quite nervous.

Arjin finds Dax a somewhat overwhelming personality, first meeting her as she plays Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi at Quark's Bar, and the next morning wrestling in her quarters with an alien. Shortly afterwards, the arrive at ops where O'Brien and Kira are trying to capture some Cardassian Voles. Jadzia jumps in the help, stuns a vole, and hands the large lizardy rat to Arjin, who is slightly less enthusiastic about such creatures than Jadzia. A meal in a Klingon restaurant where the food crawls around the plate does little to improve his day.

Arjin and Jadzia take the runabout Mekong through the wormhole and run into an interphase pocket in the Gamma Quadrant. After returning to the station with a strange object embedded in their starboard nacelle, it's transferred into a holding container in the science lab. After studying the object for a while, they determine that it's a tiny proto-universe, and that it's expanding periodically, and displacing the current universe in the process. They device a way of destroying it by surrounding it with a strong forcefield, but before enacting the plan they discover life--possibly intelligent--evolving in the mini-universe.

Meanwhile, Dax, on Sisko's urging, confronts Arjin about his apparently lack of direction. During their Klingon meal, she had asked him about his ambitions, and he had merely recanted the story of how his father's one goal was for his children to be joined. Beyond that, he hadn't really thought about what he wanted to do. When Jadzia expresses that she's 'concerned' about him, however, Arjin gets upset. After her repeatedly telling him he didn't have to 'impress' her an that she's not Curzon, he feels she's now judging him unfit after knowing him for less than two days.

Meanwhile, Sisko must decide whether to destroy the proto-universe--and all life within it--or to risk it destroying his universe. Eventually, he decides they'd be like the Borg if they indifferently destroyed these lives simply to save their own, and so he allows it to expand.

The first expansion destroys the science lab, and the next one is expected to destroy an entire section of the station. It's decided that it must be flown through the wormhole and released there, far from the station. Jadzia and Arjin fly it through the wormhole weith some precision piloting to avoid hitting the nodes in the wormhole. If they proto-universe were to hit one of the nodes, it would cause a cataclysmic explosion that would be 'felt on the Cardassian homeworld'. Luckily, Arjin is a Level 5 pilot (Jadzia is only level 3) and makes it through safely.

Afterwards, Arjin leaves, but not with the bad recommended from Dax that he had feared.

Now...let's think about this. The mini-universe is expanding at a rapid rate, and displacing the current universe. Did they come up with the technobabble solution of making it out of phase so the universes could exist in parallel? No. Instead they sent it out in space to continue to grow. Either this universe will be destroyed (maybe the Dominion will find it and be cleverer than the Federation) or it will continue to grow and eventually destroy the entire universe. Yes as far as the writers are concerned, the problem was nicely wrapped up simply by flinging the universe out into space. Nope, sorry. That doesn't work.

"Playing God" is a very common English phrase, meaning "getting to decide issues of life and death", or getting to decide issues of great import. It is a strange term, and shows the mixed conceptions of divinity that exist in popular religion. In the phrase, (often applied to issues such as the death penalty, abortion, war, distribution of scarce resources, and all the other issues we live with), it is suggested that by deciding other people's fate, people are trying to "play God".

The God here is much the same God of "acts of God", a folk religious idiom having little to do with the revealed and rationalized history of theism we have inherited. Among the many terms for God we have gotten, "Providence" is perhaps the word that would best fit the "God" of "playing God". It is the idea of an impersonal fate that is actively interfering in our destines.

This is quite the opposite of the way "God" is pictured in the mainstream theology of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Although all of these religions acknowledge a caring God who does help his creation, including with acts of the supernatural, all of these religions also acknowledge that God does not interfere in his creation. These religions maintain that God gave people free will, and beyond that, the simple fact that God does not appear as a ball of fire to stop every act of evil, is all the proof that anyone needs that God does not, in fact, "play God".

God seems to be rather passive. It is humans who can not stop themselves from judging, meddling, interfering. If a person ever did control themselves enough to pass out tools, uncaring as to what use they would be put, that person would actually be acting the way God does. I can think of few groups of people with this level of self-control: The Debian project is one. The Debian Social Contract states:

# No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
. In much the same way that God gives us our hands and minds to either make beautiful works of art, or to kill each other, Debian gives us computers that can either produce a cure for cancer, or run a ponzi scheme. The Debian project thus plays God. Another example of a group that plays God is the designers of the Grand Theft Auto series. The goal of the games is not to kill and maim. There is actually many things to do in the game, and that is just one. The designers of the game truly "played God", giving people a world to live in, and the ability to act as morally, immorally or amorally as they like.

"Playing God" is also the answer to the question "What do George Burns and Alanis Morissette have in common?": Burns portrayed the deity in a series of three films starting with Oh, God!, and Morissette took on the divine role in Dogma.

Actually, playing God is what quite a lot of actors have in common, as I discovered when I decided to delve into what the Internet Movie Database (IMDb; http://www.imdb.com/) had to say on the subject. Below are the results of my investigations: a list of actors who have played God (or supplied the Voice of God) on film, and the names and dates of the films in which they did so. From the raw IMDb results I have weeded out red herrings (characters whose names or descriptions have the string god in them but who do not appear to be "the" God) and also the video and television results, and I have grouped male and female actors together into a single chronological list. I've also noted cases in which the actor playing God also has one or more other roles in the same film, such as major prophets, the devil, or Bugs Bunny.

Because this list is based on a secondary source, I cannot vouch for its completeness, and since it contains a great many films I have not seen, I cannot be sure that all of the roles included really are "God" in the sense of "the deity" (as opposed to, say, "God" in the sense of "some guy named Godfrey who's called 'God' for short"). Still, I hope that my list will prove both amusing and informative as a picture of how cinematic protrayals of God have changed—or not—over the last six decades or so.

Actors who have played God on film:

  1. Mel Blanc in The Old Grey Hare (1944) - also supplies the voice of Bugs Bunny, of course
  2. Frantisek Smolik in Capkovy povidky (1947)
  3. Francisco López Silva in El Regreso (1950)
  4. Donald Hayne in The Ten Commandments (1956) - God as a pillar of flame
  5. Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) - Voice of God; also stars as Moses
  6. Vittorio De Sica in Ballerina e Buon Dio (1958)
  7. Artturi Laakso in Punainen viiva (1959)
  8. Bohus Záhorský in Darbujan a Pandrhola (1959)
  9. Paul Frees in Noah's Ark (1959) - also plays Noah
  10. José Luis Jiménez in Macario (1960)
  11. Aapeli in Pikku Pietarin piha (1961)
  12. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in Il giudizio universale (1961)
  13. Fernandel in Le diable et les dix commandements (1962)
  14. Valentine Dyall in Bedazzled (1967)
  15. Groucho Marx in Skidoo (1968)
  16. Graham Chapman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  17. Norman Rose in Love and Death (1975)
  18. David Bryant in Angels (1976)
  19. George Burns in Oh, God! (1977), Oh, God! Book II (1980), and Oh, God! You Devil (1984) - also plays Harry O. Tophet in the last of these
  20. Walker Edmiston in Wholly Moses (1980)
  21. Luciano De Crescenzo in Il Papocchio (1981)
  22. Red Tower in Irresistable (1982)
  23. Franciszek Piecka in Konopielka (1982) - also plays a beggar
  24. Gene Hackman in Two of a Kind (1983)
  25. Robert Morley in Second Time Lucky (1984)
  26. John Paratore in Stuck on You! (1984)
  27. Ferdy Mayne in Night Train to Terror (1985)
  28. George Liker in Hollow Venus: Diary of a Go-Go Dancer (1989)
  29. George Murdock in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - see also the node "Why does God need a starship?"
  30. George Plimpton in Religion, Inc. (1989)
  31. Tomisaburo Wakayama in Tanba Tetsuro no daireikai shindara dounaru (1989)
  32. Eric Edwards in Sweet Angel Ass (1990)
  33. Charlton Heston in Almost an Angel (1990)
  34. Lord Lively in Girlfriend from Hell (1990)
  35. Ichirô Ogura in Dokidoki Virgin mô ichido I Love You (1990)
  36. Richard Provost in Switch (1991)
  37. Linda Gary in Switch (1991)
  38. Andrea Guardiola in El juicio final (1991)
  39. Robert Mitchum in Les sept péchés capitaux (1992)
  40. Hans Paetsch in Otto - Der Liebesfilm (1992)
  41. R.C. Bates in The Making of "...And God Spoke" (1993)
  42. Stephen Fry in Sylvia Hates Sam (1993)
  43. Ashok Kumar in Yuhi Kabhi (1994)
  44. David McColskey in Come Again? (1994)
  45. Fernando Fernán Gómez in Asi en el cielo en la tierra (1995)
  46. Harry Schein in Happy Days (1995)
  47. Seth MacFarlane in The Life of Larry (1995) - also plays most of the other roles
  48. Stefan Ljungqvist in Monopol (1996)
  49. Nanni Tamma in I magi randagi (1996)
  50. Annie Sprinkle in Bubbles Galore (1996)
  51. Phillip Adams in Road to Nihil (1997)
  52. Mark DiCarlo in Three Days (1997)
  53. Wayne Grace in Under Heaven (1998)
  54. Owen Hammer in Mysteries of the Universe: Part III (1998)
  55. Dean Harris in The Week Before (1998)
  56. Todd Messegee in Vermin (1998)
  57. Dick Olsen in Enchanted (1998)
  58. Rolf Skoglund in Rymd (1998)
  59. Comfort Cardoza in Vermin (1998)
  60. Maurice Roëves in The Acid House (1998) - also plays a drunk and a priest
  61. Val Kilmer in The Prince of Egypt (1998) - also stars as Moses
  62. Amitabh Bachchan in Hello Brother (1999)
  63. Panchetta S. Barnett in Another Planet (1999)
  64. Ian Fraser in The Game of the Century (1999)
  65. Marty Hanks in Heaven Sucks! (1999)
  66. Manou Kersting in Black XXX-Mas (1999)
  67. Garrett Wang in The Auteur Theory (1999) - also plays Mike Wong
  68. John McDowell in The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (1999) - also plays Ulster Man
  69. Alanis Morissette in Dogma (1999) and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
  70. Eric Dearborn in Bedazzled (2000)
  71. Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf in Citizen Toxic: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000)
  72. Glenn Hoeffner in My Next Funeral (2000)
  73. Jacob Lewin in The Diamond Nose (2000)
  74. Ceci Stephens in Divine Intervention (2000) - also plays Satan
  75. Jens Okking in Jolly Roger (2001)
  76. Shane Walsh in D'Boyz (2001)
  77. Gina Hecht in Odessa or Bust (2001)
  78. Craig Alan Edwards in A Chubby Kid (2002)
  79. David Johansen in God is on Their Side (2002)
  80. Bostjan Romih in Na svoji vesni (2002)
  81. Juliana Gilchrist in Mockingbird (2002)
  82. Lorie Hope in Awakening Joshua (2002)
  83. Kenny Marshall in The War on the War on Drugs (2002) - also plays Kali, Officer Hummler, Sissy Boy, and Cold Sufferer
  84. Don Creech in Ultrachrist! (2003)
  85. Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty (2003)
  86. Curtis Hannum in The Real Old Testament (2003)
  87. William Byron Hillman in Quigley (2003)
  88. Ray Johnson in Limbo (2003)
  89. Krishna Narayanamurti in Long Distance (2003)
  90. Borivoj Navrátil in Trosecníci (2003)
  91. John Ford Noonan in God Has a Rap Sheet (2003)
  92. Assi Dayan in Ha-Bsora Al-Pi Elohim (2004)
  93. David Disb in God Calling Rachel (2004)
  94. Alexander Kingston in Raspberry & Lavender (2004)
  95. Paul Whitworth in Meet Your Maker (2004)
  96. Juana Mercedes Kindelán Tamayo in Le sacre du printemps (2004)
  97. Reggi Danielle Sweat in Judgement (2004)
  98. Brian Lally in Fool's Gold (2005)
  99. Ellen DeGeneres in Oh, God! (2005)
  100. Faye Dunaway in Love Hollywood Style (2005)
  101. Stephanie Braxton in Mary's Dilemma (2006)
`Playing God' is a cliched, but effective, piece of rhetorical claptrap intended to inflame feelings against certain groups of people in positions of power: in practice, scientists and doctors. It is effective as framing because it implies, without explicitly stating, a series of unjust stereotypes about these professions, and also because it makes an appeal to people's sense of religious propriety. Strangely enough, even in societies where relatively few people believe in the Old Testament God who appears in the phrase, it is still a mainstay of soapbox oratory. It neatly combines accusations of arrogance, hubris, irresponsibility, callousness, blasphemy and irreverence; a phrase tailor-made for the use of the Grand Inquisitors protecting humankind's morals against the dangers of innovation.

It is claptrap, however, because the people who are routinely accused of 'playing God' do not deserve the slanderous implications of the phrase, whilst others who show greater arrogance, irresponsibility and callousness in the use of power are ignored or excused.

The activities of God usually thought of in connection with this phrase are deliberately creating forms of animal and human life (Genesis) and arbitrarily consigning individual humans to their fates (Old Testament, passim). Genetic engineering is thus a target, although conventional animal breeding, which had already created, for example, dogs unable to breathe properly, is apparently not a problem. In vitro fertilization was also stigmatized as `playing God'; and as we see in the first writeup here, so is the midwife or doctor who decides to ends a life which could only be one of torment or oblivion. But somehow, this accusation is never made against those who consign others to the death penalty or indefinite imprisonment without trial -- however unjust and arbitrary these fates may be in individual cases.

Of course, there are many other things God got up to: perhaps most conspicuously, genocide or mass slaughter of people who happened to be on the wrong side. Or more beguilingly, some neat tricks like turning a stick into a snake and back again. Strangely, no-one accuses military commanders or dictators, illusionists, or charismatic faith healers of `playing God' -- even though the consequences of abuse of military power, or exploitation by charlatans, can be dire.

Deliberate inconsistency in application is only one aspect of this phrase's deviousness. The other is the connotations of playing. So doctors and scientists are painted as enjoying the exercise of power, as frivolous and irresponsible in using it, and therefore overweening and callous. I should not have to point out that these are unjustified accusations with no more basis in fact than racial or sexual sterotypes. (It's true that some professions do see more than their share of delusional, power-drunk behaviour -- for example, head of state, or the leader of a religious cult.)

But while Fagin and Uncle Tom have thankfully faded from public discourse, the fictive images of the medical student Frankenstein and the `mad scientist', created by the scientific illiterates Mary Shelley and Nathaniel Hawthorne among others, are alive and well and influencing opinion. (See for example Nathaniel Hawthorne: Science unrestrained.) Of course there are real examples of scientists and doctors who do misuse power or take actions without considering their moral implications. This does not justify smearing the whole of a scientific or medical endeavour with the failings of a minority of practitioners.

Perhaps the group of people who may most accurately be said to be 'playing God' are the theocrats: those who seek to determine the fates of thousands or millions of others -- in the belief that they themselves are God's representatives on Earth.

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