Why Christians should get on board with space exploration


hen a European spacecraft executed the first successful landing on a comet last week, much of the world celebrated. But many Christians yawned. Christians are less interested in space and less supportive of exploring it than the general population, according to a paper presented by University of Dayton professor Joshua Ambrosius at this year's gathering of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Drawing data from the General Social Survey and three Pew studies comparing attitudes among various religious traditions, Ambrosius found that church attendance actually decreases a person's support for space exploration. (Among Christians, Roman Catholics were most open and evangelical Protestants were most resistant.)

But Christians have no cause for resisting space exploration. Here are three bad reasons why Christians oppose space exploration — and one good reason they should get on board.

1. A knee-jerk reaction to science 

One impetus for Christian resistance is that many believers see science as antagonistic toward religion.

"Space policy is a segment of science policy, and certain segments of Christianity — most notably evangelical Protestants — are apprehensive when it comes to science," Ambrosius told me. "This includes evolution and climate change and can extend into space policy."

Unsurprisingly, those who believe in evolution are more likely to also believe that space exploration is good for society. But don't draw too broad of a conclusion from that association.

Knee-jerk disdain for scientific conclusions is rooted in a uniquely American mindset that has been shaped by historical events such as the Scopes trial and rise of the Religious Right. Believers in other parts of the world and even in other Western countries are often far less skeptical of science.

It's notable that Christian resistance to science is applied inconsistently. Apprehensions don't carry over into the oncologist's office or when purchasing multi-vitamins. Christians don't have any special opposition to pharmaceutical development or deep-sea exploration. Instead, these attitudes concentrate around politically contentious issues.