Do creationists stand in the way of space exploration?

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Photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr Creative Commons

Steve Rainwater via Flickr creative commons

Photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr Creative Commons

Religion shapes all kinds of political views, from opinion on poverty programs to reproductive rights to foreign policy….but space policy, too? New research suggests that religion may shape how people view space exploration

New research in the journal Space Policy suggests that religion shapes views toward space. University of Dayton professor Josh Ambrosius researched the connection between religion and views of space exploration using the 2010 General Social Survey, which had a rich set of questions on space and detailed items on religion.

Even after taking into account lots of other factors, Ambrosius uncovers several important findings

  • Evangelicals aren’t as into space exploration as everyone else. Compared to other Americans, they know less about space; they care less about space exploration; and they’re less supportive of space policy.
  • People who go to church more often are less supportive of space exploration. However, if they happen to go to a church with a pastor who speaks in favor of science, then they are more likely to be supportive. This clergy influence is strongest among evangelicals.
  • Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and those with no religion were some of the most interested advocates for space exploration.

But one of the most interesting findings was the relationship between beliefs about evolution and views of space. Even after taking into account a bunch of other religious factors, people who don’t believe that evolution is true are

  • less knowledgeable about space and science,
  • less supportive of space policy,
  • less interested in space, and
  • less likely to see science as beneficial for society.

This link between views of creation/evolution and space exploration came out in the debate between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham and science education Bill Nye, who is also CEO of the Planetary Society. In July, Ham wrote a blog post for Answers in Genesis that poo-pooed the idea of finding life anywhere but on earth.

I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life. Even Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” in our recent debate, happily gloated about tax dollars being spent toward this effort. And now, secular scientists are at it again.

Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions! The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!

Because of some less-than-clear arguments in Ham’s post, some media outlets reported that Ham also said that 1) NASA should be defunded and 2) aliens, if found, would go to Hell. Ham responded to these claims. In a YouTube video, Ham encouraged NASA to continue exploration because he sees their inability to find life as proof that evolution is a false theory.

Catholics were the strongest believers in life elsewhere in the universe. If life is found through space exploration, then it will be interesting to see how Ham and other creationists respond to the news. As for Catholics, Pope Francis has already hinted that the Church should be open to anyone, including green Martians with long noses and big ears.

And, yes, Ken Ham: we know the Pope and the Catholic Church also believe in evolution.

Does religion impede space exploration? Taking into account all of the evidence, Ambrosius concludes,

No, religion does not stand in the way of serious space exploration—but the space community still has a lot of work ahead to reach skeptical Evangelicals, foster support among religious friends of space, and convince young people that our future is among the stars.

Note: The post is adapted from an a previous post published after this research was presented at the 2014 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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  • Listen, you could as easily say space exploration would be better driven by traditional religions (the one whose teachings I know best is Catholic) because traditional religions always wisely promote fertility as the gods wish, whereas secularism clearly promotes demographic brinksmanship–demographic suicide in fact– and it’s the latter that has crashed the space program and our economic security together. We need that mild pressure from population–for one thing, economics really is one giant ponzi scheme, so population gives us the money, and for another, psychological impetus: outer space: free real estate; and religious impetus: outer space, Islam’s ‘dear distance,’ because we can’t be happy with opposite cultures living too close. We need people having lots of babies to get that population swell we need to break free of Earth.

    In fact, it’s secularism, not religion, that’s killed not just outer space exploration but science, too. Evolution has simply been displaced as a viable theory, without an announcement. Let me give one example: google the most recent PBS presentation on human intelligence. They go through the whole roll-out about the incredible complexity of language, of brain function, of nervous system, of coding written in chemicals, all found in the most basic cells’ DNA, and at the end they mention in passing: “it is extremely unlikely that human intelligence evolved.” Why? Signature in the Cell — book on the human genome project–did an analysis of the probabilities of the evolution of even the most simple building block of life, and found the reliable odds were one in a trillion trillion. Because there’s not enough time. We know how old the universe is, and even if we could use all of that time to count toward the evolution of that simplest building block, there’s isn’t enough time. But we don’t have all the time to use, because life can only exist in certain temperature ranges, and we know how long the Earth has had those sweet ranges. Not enough time. Impossible to have evolved. It’s like saying the backpack that blew up Boston evolved there and detonated by chance. It’s like looking at a cell phone and attributing its clear design to an accident. Just not happening. Modern science has discredited evolution. Only dummies who are using evolution as an excuse for certain behaviors they’d rather not disclose, or certain politics, or certain lack of love for a Creator combined with a whole lot of love for self, continue to insist the rest of us are lacking in appreciation for the way things really are. And it’s hindering our achievement in science now.

    I don’t care what the survey says. People put whatever they think the surveyor wants. We could change that attitude in a heartbeat. Well, or two. Truth isn’t found by survey.

  • We agree on the evolution being discredited part. But since Catholics never believed in it in the first place–for excellent philosophical reasons–wouldn’t that put them in the smart basket?

    But we don’t agree on the value of outer space. Energy will be free there, and the heavy metals are on the surface (because the asteroids weren’t all heat-formed, or spun, like Earth, so that the heavy metals went to the center and are hard thereby to extract). Our biggest problem will be labor–and Catholics (those who have held to the real Faith over modernists like Francis) still teach the purpose of physical love is babies, and only babies, not fun, and if you don’t like that heat, back out of the kitchen, say Catholics. Which happens to be what the world needs economically and as an impetus to continue our explorations. We’re stalled. We need religion to animate us.

  • Larry

    J, Janet, you are both a bunch of religious anti-scientific liars. You have neither an honest view of religion or science.

    At no point has evolution been discredited. You are simply making crap up. If evolution is so bereft of utility in biological science, it would not be the organizing principle of the field for the last 100+ years. Creationism is not a scientific argument. It is simply avoiding doing work and saying “I don’t know, God did it”. While that works for lazy Evangelicals with no care about biology or its education, it is a poor substitute for a scientific theory.

    There is nothing scientific or honest about creationism. It is simply lying about your religious belief in public. Creationists make the claim that their religious belief can be proven through objective, rational and credible evidence. But none would ever accept denial of religious belief using the same methods. Nor do any of them actually believe because of such methods. All religious belief is based on faith. Faith is the absence of evidence. Creationism deliberately denies faith. Therefore creationists deliberately lie about their religious belief in public.

    There is no such thing as a creation scientist. Creationists haven’t put forth an original thought since the 18th century. Even those thoughts were long refuted by David Hume 100 years before Darwin’s birth.

    Ken Ham is not anti-evolution, he is anti-science. Anti-rational, anti honesty. He is not ignorant, he profits from the fanaticism, laziness and dishonesty of evangelical Christians.

  • Larry

    I must have struck a nerve.

    I can’t help it if you have to misrepresent your religious faith and lie about science. Its telling that not one professional organization for the field of biology takes any Creationist argument seriously.

    You will pretend you know about biology, but in reality you will be quoting people who are either unqualified to speak on the subject or people misrepresenting known information. All in order to push philosophical points which were ridiculous 2 centuries ago.

    There is not one honest creationist out there. The stance requires you to lie about your faith.

    Which people of authority in the field of biology have stated that evolution never happened? I am all ears. Heaven knows, even when Creationists had a chance to present their own works and cross examine evolutionary scientists in court, they came up empty.

    So you can stop lying and pretending you have some knowledge on the subject. You have religious faith and are just trying to convince others in a way reality does not allow.

  • Larry

    How David Hume destroyed Creationist arguments before Evolution was even conceived (from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion):

    The Case Against the Argument From Design

    1. We cannot validly reason from earthly parallels to the Universe as a whole.

    2. Since the creation of the universe was a unique event, we cannot say anything about it.

    3. The order in nature could equally well result from the intrinsic properties of matter itself.

    4. The existence of pain and suffering cast serious doubt on the existence of a benevolent Intelligence.

  • Fran

    As the psalmist so eloquently put it:

    “As regards the heavens, to God the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16)

    In addition to that, it is encouraging to know that:

    “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Psalm 37:29).

    The earth is evidently God’s marvelous gift of a home for mankind to live on forever, and we are meant to enjoy it and take care of it until the end of time.

    I personally have no desire to live on Mars or any other planet besides this one.

  • Doc Anthony

    So, since the big question is “Do creationists stand in the way of space exploration?”, maybe next time Tobin Grant will choose to interview the following creationist, a “less knowledgeable”, “less supportive”, “less interested”, less likely” fellow by the name of Jeffrey N. Williams.

    After all, this creationist only has a couple of masters’ degrees (aeronautical engineering and strategic studies) and only carries a colonel’s rank. He’s only flown to the International Space Station THREE times, and is getting ready for a fourth spaceflight in 2016.

    (I’m sure that the evolutionist Bill Nye has equal or superior space-exploration credentials, right? Right?)

    Anyway, here’s an fascinating interview with NASA’s Col. Williams for any interested readers:

    Meanwhile, let’s not forget the late creationist James Irwin, the eighth man to actually walk on the Moon. I wonder if Josh Ambrosius has ever heard of him. If not, here is some catch-up material:

    There are other Christians that, (although I don’t know if they are creationists or not), definitely punch a hole in Ambrosius’ general claim that “Evangelicals aren’t as into space exploration as everyone else.” This includes astronauts such as Patrick Forrester of the space shuttle Discovery, who in 2009 actually brought with him a small piece of the plane flown by famed evangelical missionaries Jim Elliot and Nate Saint.

    So let’s be honest folks: there’s far more to THIS story than what you’re seeing. This is not an attack upon Tobin Grant or anything. I’m just saying that there’s some serious stuff (past and present) that you really need to take into account, if you’re going to be asking questions like “Do creationists stand in the way of space exploration?”

    After all, we all remember what the Apollo 8 astronauts said as they orbited the moon, which had never been done before:

    “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

    “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…”

    (Sources: Institute for Creation Research, CreationScience4Kids, Wikipedia)

  • James Carr

    In these bad economic times, space exploration seems like good money thrown at unnecessary discoveries. It is fascinating, but does nothing to stem hunger, poverty, war, or crime. You are really reaching when blaming Religion for possibly standing in the way of research………is someone seeking their input?

  • karla the repentbot asked me to send a message to J, janet and stephen lewis.
    can you guess what it is

    J is a trollbot. please remove it.
    I appreciate your words and insight larry. thanks

  • Larry

    So what is your proof of the failure of evolution?

    A bunch of non-biologists making up phony arguments in a “Gish Gallop”. The lies Creationists tell and their tactics are so often used there are terms for them.

    I don’t want your sympathy or your respect. Nor can I take your POV seriously. No creationist actually believes what they say in public on the subject. It is all a means to an end to browbeat people into accepting their narrow sectarian version of Protestant Christianity. Something they believe entirely on faith, but deny doing so.

  • Larry

    Actually space exploration spurs on technological developments which help us here on Earth. It is the reason we have things like satellite based media and technology.

    Can you tell me the prevalence of civilian satellites have not improved the world as we know it?

  • Philip

    I am an evangelical and I fear nothing about God’s creation. Explore away and I hope you find some really cool stuff – stuff that even challenges us and makes us think really hard. So stop type casting all evangelicals as fearful and backwards…we are not.

  • Larry

    I would welcome comparisons to Hume.
    Thank you.

    David Hume is still being read centuries after his death.

    He is still one of the most respected and important philosophers in western civilization.

  • Creationism and science cannot contradict each other because they have the same source. GOD. So if going out into space to benefit mankind, no problem, but to spend that money just to search for life somewhere else is, excuse the phrase, a Cardinal SIN. ha.

  • @J,

    “..‘suzy spellcheck’ is ‘Atheist Max’, the crybaby homosexual..”


    I am not Suzy. And I’m not homosexual.
    Do you really think there is only one Atheist in the world? Do you think only homosexuals would be concerned about the well-being of homosexuals and others?

    Don’t tell me you are humble and don’t tell me how I need ‘god’ to be moral. You prove that a belief in god makes you neither moral nor humble.

    Your reading assignment is “Godless” by Dan Barker.
    Get back to me when you are done reading it.

  • Janet,

    The evidence is in.
    The last 30 years of Evangelical Religion in politics has destroyed science education in America.

    Your required reading assignment is “The Sixth Extinction – an Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

    You will either be stunned by how successful the clergy has been in denying you a decent science education – or your lack of that education will manifest itself as a shrug.

    Either way, our deepest responsibilities to protecting the earth and science education worldwide have been destroyed by ignorant religious Evangelical Christian politics. Shame on all of us who still choose the Jesus drug over reality.

  • Larry

    Creationism and science can’t contradict each other because they are not related in any conceivable fashion.

    Science is the gathering of knowledge in objectively credible methods and rational processes. Science is capable of revision and error correction

    Creationism is making crap up, claiming it is one’s religious belief and throwing whatever arguments one thinks might work on a given audience. It is neither an honest belief nor something which could ever contribute to the improvement of our knowledge.

    So Joseph, why would God be opposed to the expansion of our knowledge of the universe and what it holds? Why would it be a sin to learn about things beyond our world? Do you think God want people to be ignorant?

  • @J,

    “the little Fascist.. typical homo”

    Fascism was invented by the Catholic Church. It was a totalitarian concept – ‘accept the doctrine’ or be killed. It was applied by countless rulers over the centuries such as Torquemada and Franco but was adopted by the Agrarian Cults of the 20th century also.

    I don’t know whether God exists, but the one you defend appears very unlikely.

    Furthermore, the phrase “I don’t know” is not a fascist position. Nobody was ever killed for disagreeing with an Agnostic.

    Your next reading assignment is “The Diary of Anne Frank”
    It is a story about a little girl who gets killed for no reason by religious fascist zealots known as Aryan Catholics.

    Had they replaced their zealotry with “I don’t know” the little girl would never have been killed.

    Get back to me when you are done with it.

  • Josh A

    “Doc Anthony”–I’m the author of the study. I am also an Evangelical, but not a creationist. My paper doesn’t ask that exact question–although I do use Ken Ham’s disdain for space exploration as an anecdotal starting point. Thanks for pointing me to a bunch of anecdotes too. However, stringing together anecdotes does not science make. Social science work is based in the scientific method–in this case, I use reputable probability samples of the US population to make claims about my own tradition being the lowest in its support of space exploration. I’m not attempting to speak for the leadership of the tradition’s many branches or for the Christian scientists you mention. What I am saying is that, all else equal, Evangelicals are the least supportive tradition when it comes to an issue I care about, space exploration. Maybe you can do a survey of astronauts and then publish the findings? (The population of astronauts is not so great to draw many conclusions though…)

  • Josh A

    Author of the study here–I am also an Evangelical. My intention is to scientifically explain public opinion–not to discredit my own tradition. Nonetheless, I think we should do a bit more thinking before we speak…especially when it comes to science.