If you are a Trek nerd like me then you already know the “prime directive” by heart. But for those who are normal citizens or have social lives, I’ll give it to you straight from wikipedia:
“In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s General Order #1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets; The Prime Directive dictates that there be no interference with the natural development of any primitive society, chiefly meaning that no primitive culture can be given or exposed to any information regarding advanced technology or alien races. It also forbids any effort to improve or change in any way the natural course of such a society, even if that change is well-intentioned and kept completely secret. ’Primitive’ is defined as any culture which has not yet attained warp drive. Starfleet allows scientific missions to investigate and move amongst pre-warp civilizations as long as no advanced technology is left behind, and there is no interference with events or no revelation of their identity.”
Now take off your pointy ears for a second and put down your tri-corder. If you look at the “prime directive” from the perspective of a philosopher, you will recognize it instantly as a souped up version of cultural relativism. Nothing new here, but the reason I bring it up is because of how it relates to the problem of evil. The biggest stumbling block for many a non-believer is how a God could possibly exist, and yet let so much evil happen in the world. But these same people will frequently nod there head in agreement with something like the “prime directive” where the more advanced society is obligated to stay out of the affairs of developing societies at all costs. Indeed, some of the Star Trek writers themselves would probably quote the problem of evil to you in support of their atheism.
See the problem? You can’t hold to cultural relativism, and at the same time put forth the problem of evil. It’s a hypocrisy. But there is also something else. You could say that the “prime directive” is a nod to a sort of anthropological natural selection. It’s a recognition of a perceieved force at work in social development, and that force is reckoned to ultimately be a good thing. In a more general sense, it’s the thought that what’s best for a society comes from a pattern of non-interferance by outside forces. For example, Soviet Russia collapsed mainly from the inside – the result of much pain and hardship on the part of it’s people. And this was almost universally accepted as a good thing.
So silently, the fact that suffering, pain, hardship, etc. produces a unique fruit in the character of men and nations has been accepted in the minds of those that would hinge non-belief on the existance of evil. The fruit is sometimes bad but often times it is a more good fruit than what comes from those societies that don’t suffer hardship. It is a fact for instance that the Christian church expands and grows rapidly in those regions where it is most persecuted. I’m not saying that this is the way I would argue against the problem of evil as a rule. I’m just saying that this is one way it could be done in a society that has detente as one of it’s most noble ethics.
*Note: Greg Koukl has another take on the prime directive in his article found here.