Science in Christian Perspective





From: JASA 17 (December 1965): 97-99, 117.


A survey of a representative section of several groups of individuals categorized perhaps, according to their occupational activities would produce a wide disparity of opinion among scientists, theologians, agriculturists, and industrialists regarding the merits and justification for a manned landing on the Moon. From a philosophical point of view the scientist might consider that the Moon may prove to be the Rosetta stone which unlocks the secrets of the Universe. The industrialist may tend to believe that exploration of the Moon may prove to be the lodestone indicating the direction of subsequent space exploration programs and a manned landing is a first step in that direction. The agriculturist, on the other hand, may express the opinion that man has sufficient problems on Earth without seeking additional ones in space. Most theologians seem to reflect the opinion that exploration of the Moon may be necessary to convince man he has no purpose in space. At the present time no one can say with certainty which one of these philosophical viewpoints may be valid, yet most thinking individuals are convinced that when a society or culture foresakes a mode of life to pursue another, something of value must replace that element which is lost or changed.

*Dr. Rodney W. Johnson is Manager, Manned Lunar and Planetary Systems, Valley Forge Space Technology Center. Paper prepared for the 19th Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, August 1964, at John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Manned exploration of the Moon and space represents such a departure and thus must return something of value to the society which supports the program and to whom these derivitives must accrue.


Space activities have been categorized by Barrel into five groupings as shown in Table 1. These activities have been defined by degree of uniqueness to conventional human affairs or by degree of involvement with the existing social and cultural order.



Category                                     Scope and Emphasis                                          Example
I                            Activities oriented toward exis ting problems of man.  Communications, weather, geodetic and
                                                                                                              navigational satellites.   
II                           Extending man's knowledge of his surroundings and    Rocket plane, space probes.
                              relateable to known possible needs of man.

III                         Activities which utilize knowledge developed from      OSO, OAO, Ranger, 
                             Type I and II programs to extend man's knowledge    Surveyor, Mariner, Lunar Orbiter.
                             of the solar system and the universe.

IV                         Activities directed toward placing man in space for     Mercury, Gemini, Manned
                             extended periods.                                                       Orbital Laboratory.

V                          Activities oriented toward manned exploration of        Apollo, Lunar Base, Voyager.
                             other bodies such as the Moon and Mars.

Of the value and utility of the programs identified with categories I through III there is little question. Even category IV which represents a hazard to man not readily resolvable from the standpoint of direct benefit, possesses the capability of application to improved air transportation systems. It is the last category, that of manned space exploration which appears to be the most difficult facet of the national space program to defend.

The manned lunar landing project, titled Apollo by NASA, has as its goal the landing of two men on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth during the decade of the 1960's. The Apollo project, however, represents but one step or goal in man's determination to, explore space and the solar system. The ultimate objective is development of systems which will permit man to safely explore the entire universe and attain, as the late President Kennedy declared, "a position of pre-eminence" in space. Though this objective is reasonably well understood by both the scientific community and the public; the motives behind this undertaking are more obscure.


Many reasons have been advanced to explain why man, should explore space and the Moon., Some of the more logical are tabulated in Table II.



Theory                                            Motive                                       Basis

Kennedy                                    National Prestige                      This is a new ocean and we must sail in it.

Archbnede                                 Scientific                                   Advancement of science is more important
                                                                                                   than life itself.
Columbus                                   Economic                                  Economic return will be known only in
Panama                                       Military                                     Strategic value.

Barnum                                       Entertainment                            Public will support extensive
                                                                                                    entertainment expenditures.
Hillary                                         Adventure                                  It's there.

The Kennedy Theory-Former president John Kennedy made the observation after John Glenn's successful return to Earth from his three-orbit mission that this nation must sail in the new ocean of space as an obvious part of our manifest destiny. One could argue the validity of this basis, yet history has demonstrated that what man is capable of doing, he will do.

The Archimedes Theory-This theory holds that advancement of pure science is more important than life itself. The name derives from the death of Archi. medes during the capture of Syracuse, Sicily at the hand of a Roman soldier, Marcellus. Archimedes, while engaged in drawing mathematical symbols in the sand, was speared in the general massacre which followed the fall of the city.

The Columbus Theory-The true commercial value of Columbus' voyage became evident only in retrospect. Space exploration may very well be similar from a commercial standpoint. In this context, only the direct economic benefits of lunar and planetary exploitations are considered, not the indirect benefits such as the WPA effect.

The Panama Theory-Powerful military and political needs of the leading nations of the world make it imperative for them to hold dominant areas of space which, like the Panama Canal, are important to national survival. This theory has been expressed in a slightly different form by Cole2 as: "Here,.are strategic areas in space, vital to future scientific, military or space programs which must be occupied by the United States, lest their use be forever denied us through prior occupation by unfriendly powers."

The Barnum Theory-Recollection of the early Mercury flights as well as the recent very successful televised Ranger IX flight and the resulting photographs of the Moon indicate that the American public will support activities from which it receives no direct benefit providing these activities do not erode the then current standard of living or deplete the funds allocated for other socio-cultural programs having more direct application, such as public housing, medical assistance and educational programs. The popular appeal of space since earliest mankind has attracted the imagination of men; providing the achievements continue to be of a spectacular nature with little of the ho-hum or hum-drum to them, they will continue to receive public interest if not support.

The Hillary Theory-This concept considers that man will venture into space if for no other reason than the fact that, like Mt. Everest, it is there. The Hillary theory probably best justifies the attempts of man to reach the poles. In their day, the polar regions were as inaccessible and difficult of conquest as was Mt. Everest and as the Moon is proving to be.

Popular theories for manned space activities suffer from lack of rigor and thus afford only cursory interest. Recognizing this deficiency coupled with an interest in determining motivating factors supporting the space program in general led to additional surveys of more "scientific" nature.


Recently the author sent out 100 questionnaires to key individuals within the General Electric Company asking them to indicate by completing the questionnaire, their opinions regarding the purpose for exploration of the Moon and space. This questionnaire was generated by one of the field offices of a Washington based space agency, and contained several sections, each section listing a set of objectives which might constitute the basis for space exploration. The participants in the questionnaire represented individuals within the Missile and Space Division of General Electric occupying positions of considerable stature in engineering and scientific pursuits and who were considered to possess objectivity in attempting to answer the questionnaire without undue influence from their own biases regarding the space activities of G. E. All of the individuals were mature, experienced scientists or engineers, some occupying managerial positions, but none reflecting only managerial or administrative responsibilities. Fifty-one questionnaires were returned indicating a 51 percent response. The first set of objectives reflected eight elements of the Congressional Legislation of July 29, 1958, which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The re spondees were asked to rank these objectives according to their importance from a national point of view, by distributing one hundred points among them.

A group in first rank by 19 percent indicated that the United States must preserve its role as a leader in space sciences and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities inside and outside the atmosphere. Second rank by 18 percent indicated that the objective was to make available to national defense agencies those discoveries that have military value or significance. Third, fourth, and fifth ranks were devoted to the objectives of expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and benefits that would be gained from the exploration of space, together with improving the ability of space exploration vehicles. These three activities constituted an average of 14 percent each of the total. The last three objectives were devoted to the developing of improved space vehicles, utilization of space information, and scientific resources, as well as cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in the peaceful application of space activities to human affairs.

These eight objectives thus tended to group into five categories which are listed as follows:

Political value.

General welfare

Additional security.

Additional transportation capacity. 

Additional scientific knowledge.

The second section of the poll requested the individual to rank these in terms of importance, again by distribution of one hundred points among them. The results of this portion are displayed in Table III.

Objective                                Rank                          Percent
Political value                              1                                25
Additional scientific knowledge    2                                24
Additional security                       3                                23 
General welfare                           4                                20
Additional transportation
capacity                                      5                                  8

Similar data were obtained from the referenced field center and indicated that in the viewpoint of the individuals polled at that center additional security was highest priority followed by scientific knowledge. Political value and general welfare ranked next in importance with additional transportation capacity and capability least important. This result is not totally unexpected since individuals in a large diversified industrial complex might be quite convinced that political motives would be more important in the achievement of certain goals and objectives in space exploration; a situation that would obviously be denied by the government agency involved. For this reason, it appears that one must accept the fact that increased scientific knowledge probably represents the highest priority goal followed by improvement of the national security base. Moreover, achievement of security is partially a function of national politics and these political values and security values have bilateral implications on one another.

The broad scope and wide variety of the postulated objectives of manned space exploration explained in the preceding paragraphs tend to mask out a more subtle and more nebulus implication of these proposed space activities. If we explore the postulated popular opinions that are held by the average individual, we must discard the majority of them as trivial. Exploring the more relevant opinions held by the informed individual, we find that many of them are inadequate to express a fundamental reason for the exploration of space. It appears that other reasons might exist which are less readily articulated.


History and sociology demonstrate that down through the ages of time man has associated his spiritual belief with the heavens, celestial bodies and the Sun. This is quite natural perhaps, since man tends to worship that which he understands least. The age of space has thrust upon mankind the unwelcome proposition that he may be capable of exploration of not only the Solar System, but also the entire Universe! Whole new realms of scientific endeavor are visible which afford new challenges and opportunities for scientific discovery, only to be confronted by the theological viewpoint that man has no purpose in space.

There will be a critical moment in the destiny of man when he first sets foot on the surface of the Moon. This event will rank in importance and significance with the discovery of the New World by Columbus or the Polar regions. A new scientific playground will be opened up to view, the use of which must exceed our expectations. "Each space development or potentiality will inspire people or leave them indifferent, and will be understood or misunderstood, to the extent that it meshes with the prevailing world view of the spectator or participant.113 There is evidence that man is conservative when it comes to changing his personal world view, in spite of frequent claims about wanting progress. If our activities in space do come to touch directly upon a large part of our culture, they undoubtedly will affect values and attitudes, generally acting to reinforce old attitudes and values rather than stimulating new ones. Thus it is not likely that man's perspective of himself in relation to the cosmic system will be greatly affected. Most people attend carefully only to those experiences which are immediately significant to their own personal life. Yet it is in this area that space activities will probably prove most significant. Manned exploration of the Moon and the Universe represents an attempt to relate the origin of life and the Universe to, man's spiritual beliefs and aspirations.

Man's desire to reach the Moon is a symptom of his spiritual condition, his spiritual immaturity perhaps. He seeks authentication of his divine nature and origin beyond the borders of his planet. Else why look for evidence of life? Why so much stress on other forms or evidence of life on the Moon or nearby terrestrial planets? Perhaps, the theologian has failed to relate God to man and man's inner yearnings. Perhaps the astronaut/scientist must in the end provide this link.

The classic theologian states that the purpose of life on Earth is to worship God. Some who are not theologians say that man's purpose is to learn as much as he can about the Universe and to thrill to the wonders that he finds.

Man, of all the animals, is the only one who can think and admire the glories which surround him. The more man knows, the more human he becomes.. Thus for man to become more human he must constantly press forward beyond the frontiers of his knowledge. The purpose of man is to explore both himself and the physical Universe and extend his control and understanding over the forces and materials of nature.

What will evidence of life, human or otherwise, do to spiritual beliefs, and if it is not found will his spiritual beliefs be eroded or sustained? Will man retire to his laboratory to "create" his own image? Will he seek to find relevance in his technical achievements or will the theologian be able to interpret man's deepest yearnings to a culture already becoming blase about space travel. (The corned beef sandwich consumed by Grissom on a recent Gemini flight is symptomatic of the ho-hum attitude held by many, even, those very close to space activities.)

We must ask ourselves why is it that the theologians have been so reluctant to express an opinion on these matters. One heard, years ago at the beginning of manned space ventures, a modicum of verbalization by the clergy, mostly regarding man's "right" to space ventures, or lack thereof. Both the philosopher and sociologist have been strangely silent on this point. The lack of expression may represent a reluctance to express an opinion or an inability to articulate our own dissatisfactions. This is not merely an academic question, but one which is fundamental to all fields of human endeavor including the philosopher, theologian or scientist. Herein lies the great difficulty. One must first be willing to accept a divine creation of both Earth and man before one can accept a spiritual motive to man's space exploration programs.

Colonization of the Moon, or Mars for that matter, must not be just another escape valve for an exploding population. It must not be another glorification of man and his technical achievements. Nor must it be permitted to become a substitute for theological meaning and spiritual expression in our day. Rather, it must, it seems to me, be an extension of the revelation of God to man and a tribute to God's creative genius. It must cause man to ask again the question which has echoed and re-echoed down through the long corridors of time-What is man that thou art mindful of Him?

Thus man's space ventures must not result in glorification of man, but glorification of God, not in praise of man, but in praise of God who made man, not in honor to man or men involved in this venture but in honor to God who created man a little lower than the angels, made man in His own image and set him on Earth to have dominion over it. It is concluded that man will find new spiritual expression and understanding in the space age. New sensitivity to both cultural and spiritual influences may demonstrate that the greatest achievements in the space age will not be scientific but spiritual.


1. Barre, R. L., "The Human Implications of Space Activities,", Paper presented to the 1st Annual Meeting, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Washington, D.C., 1964.

2. Cole, D. M., "Have We One Good Reason to Colonize Outer Space?" Missiles and Rockets, May 24, 1961, pp. 86-91.

3. Outer Space: Prospects for Man and Society, L. Bloomfield, Editor. The American Assembly, Columbia University, Prentice Hall, 1962, pp. 60-61.