Recent developments in astronautics are affecting many areas of human thought and action. The Christian may well ask how it affects his faith.
Consider the attention now focused on a shot to the moon. Is there a moral, even a spiritual side, from which this concentration of interest may be viewed? What may be said to be the religious and ethical implications of a successful shot to the moon (or even an unsuccessful attempt)? What does it indicate about man as created? As fallen? Where may it lead us? Away from God? Nearer to God?
For a religious assessment of lunar exploration, Christianity Todayput these questions to Protestantism’s foremost theologians and philosophers. Most of the 25 distinguished leaders quoted herewith are evangelicals, but not all.
KARL BARTH, professor, University of Basel: “What about the prospect of a shot to the moon? See Psalms 139:7–10. (‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there: If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me’ [AV]). For the rest: take it easy!”
ANDREW W. BLACKWOOD, professor emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary: “The shot to the moon calls attention to Psalm 8, which sings about man’s insignificance compared with the moon, and his majesty as ‘little less than God’ [RSV]. Once I preached about the hydrogen bomb. Now I think a minister should preach from the Bible, as an expert, and not preach science, as an amateur.”
F. F. BRUCE, professor, The University, Sheffield: “ ‘The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’ (Ps. 111:2, AV). The more that men discover about the universe of God, the more cause they have for admiring his wisdom and power. National prestige and the like, however, are unworthy motives for exploring creation, as compared with doing it to the glory of the Creator.”
EMIL BRUNNER, professor, University of Zurich: “A shot to the moon has significance only as the latest achievement of science. The improportionate interest in it shows mankind confusing means and ends and overrating the importance of technological achievement. While science manifests men’s God-given dominance over nature, the course of its development shows its incapability of integrating it into the oneness of human life according to its divine destiny.”
GORDON H. CLARK, professor, Butler University: “The attempt to shoot the moon has no more religious significance than any other great scientific advance. To suppose so is on a level with interpreting the Apocalypse by the morning newspaper. God’s first command to Adam contained the injunction to subdue nature. Shooting the moon, therefore, is a divinely appointed task. Unfortunately, however, the ungodly are generally reputed to have obeyed this commandment more successfully than devout Christians have.”
OSCAR CULLMANN, professor at the Sorbonne: “The scientific attempt, as such, a legitimate means of exploration, will neither remove us from nor will it draw us nearer to God. But it will remind the Christian of the cosmic reach of his faith: the work of Christ, mediator of all creation, concerns the entire universe. That faith will inspire the solution of the ethical problems.”
FRANK E. GAEBELEIN, headmaster, The Stony Brook School: “Exploration of space should lead man closer to the only true God, who created not only this planet but also the whole universe. But it cannot do this unless man remains humble before the living God. If man, who brought ruin to the earth through the rebellion of sin, makes such achievements as lunar exploration and space travel an occasion for self-exaltation, he will inevitably be subject to God’s greater judgment upon his pride. The redeeming work of Christ has infinite and universal implications. Because it reveals the very heart of God, it stands above the material universe. God’s love for man through Christ, who upholds all things by the word of his power, is eternal and therefore beyond revision through any kind of scientific advance.”
JOHN H. GERSTNER, professor, Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary: “I cannot become excited theologically about a landing on the moon, but I am quite interested in it as a possible relief for the earth’s population, weather observatory, missile base, and so forth. It seems to me that its exploration draws us neither closer nor further from God and has no implication for the state of man’s depravity, except that it illustrates once again that fallen men can be very able scientists. I see nothing more sinister in the discovery of the moon than in the discovery of America.”
CARL F. H. HENRY, professor (on leave), Fuller Theological Seminary, and editor of this magazine: “Fallen man vaunts his genius and power to disguise his moral nakedness and spiritual bankruptcy. He shoots to the moon much in the spirit of proud Lucifer exalting himself against God. In fact, in the Bible, Satan is prince of the power of the air. To bend the universe to God’s purpose is man’s divinely-given task. As sinner he exploits the universe instead; he reaches for infinity to vaunt his own glory.”
W. BOYD HUNT, professor, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Man is not to fear science (Matt. 10:28). Rather, science under God, is man’s (Gen. 1:26–28), to use or to abuse. Something would be wrong with Christians if professing atheists were to permanently out-think and out-invent them. If man can get to the moon, reverent faith says that time is wasting. And it also says, let the glory be God’s, who made man, and who made him hungry to know truth, and who made truth so vast and all-challenging.”
DIRK JELLEMA, professor, Case Institute of Technology: “The success or failure of current moon shots has no religious implication. Man’s coming conquest of space (and note that God made him to ‘have dominion’—Ps. 8:6 [AV]) will have no effect on his basic problems, his religious problems, which are unaffected by his space-time location. Man may someday rule the galaxy; if so, he will still need a Saviour.”
W. HARRY JELLEMA, professor, Calvin College: “Always the problem for the Christian moralist has been to lead men in the path of wisdom; and wisdom for man is to know and to use himself and his world so as to grow in knowledge and love of God in Christ. For Christian ethics and theology, therefore, I see no more of a problem in current researches in outer space than was occasioned by invention and use of the telescope. No more of a problem; essentially no new problem; very much the same problem as always.”
CLYDE S. KILBY, professor, Wheaton College: “Christians can rest in the perfect assurance that planetary or even interstellar exploration will make no essential difference in the rationale of their position. Since the Creator is of necessity larger than his creation, and since he sovereignly occupies all space and all time, Christians should joyfully encourage every honest investigation of the universe. They should be of all people the least provincial.”
HAROLD B. KUHN, professor, Asbury Theological Seminary: “The results of space explorations may be largely in one of two directions. They may lead men again to ponder the words of the Psalmist, ‘When I consider … the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?’ (Ps. 8:3–4, AV). In other words, today’s explorations could point the way to a new recognition of both the majesty and the condescension of God. Or, such achievements could serve to bolster man’s pride in his own wisdom and ability, and to revive Swinburne’s superficial, ‘Glory to man in the highest!’ ”
C. S. LEWIS, professor, Cambridge University: “I … fear the practical, not the theoretical, problems which will arise if ever we meet rational creatures which are not human. Against them we shall, if we can, commit all the crimes we have already committed against creatures certainly human but differing from us in features and pigmentation; and the starry heavens will become an object to which good men can look up only with feelings of intolerable guilt, agonized pity and burning shame.”
J. THEODORE MUELLER, professor, Concordia Seminary: “So far as our modern helpful and terrifying inventions are concerned, the Christian believer views them all as made by God’s gracious permission and according to his direction, ‘replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Gen. 1:28, AV), in order ultimately to serve his glory, the spread of his gospel to bring in the elect, and the proclamation of his second coming as our Lord foretold this (Matt. 24). To the unrighteous, who glory in their pride, they are tokens of divine wrath, but to the believers in Christ they are both a comfort and an admonition to trust in the divine Word and to submit themselves absolutely to their loving father in heaven, who makes all things work together for good to those who in Christ Jesus love and serve him.”
REINHOLD NIEBUHR, professor, Union Theological Seminary: “I am baffled by the concern about the theological significance of a shot to the moon, particularly when we are living in the nuclear age and the conscience of the whole world is troubled about another aspect of modern technical achievements, namely, the destructive possibility of nuclear weapons.”
(Readers will recall the editorial “Christ and the Atom Bomb” [Sept. 2, 1957 issue]. The current issue [page six] carries a relevant article by Dr. William G. Pollard of Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies.—ED.)
HAROLD JOHN OCKENGA, president of the board of directors, Fuller Theological Seminary: “Nothing in Scripture precludes the possibility of interplanetary space travel. Let us evangelicals not be provincial. But should fallen man succeed in projecting himself to the moon or to any other planet, he will inject his sin, his hate, his violence, into the new sphere. This only intensifies the Gospel task and Christian responsibility. Space travel may well be a fulfillment of Acts 2:19 and Luke 21:25, which prophesy recognizable signs in the sun, moon and stars before the second coming of the Lord. For the first time in history, these may be fulfilled.”
BERNARD RAMM, professor, Baylor University: “Man is man wherever he is. The meaning of his life is know only through revelation; and the conditions of life with reference to God remain unchanged wherever man is. Extensions through time do not change man’s God-created nature, nor do extensions in space change any of the conditions under which he lives before God. The Spirit of God can just as aptly regenerate somebody on the moon as he can in the submarine. Man’s dominion concerns the totality of created reality so I do not feel that he must of necessity be earth-bound. Therefore, any trip to the moon changes nothing in the Christian scheme of things for that scheme of things pertains to man wherever and whenever he is.”
W. STANFORD REID, professor, McGill University: “I do not feel that a landing on the moon constitutes, as some seem to think, a violation of the divine order. On the other hand, there is no doubt that if man does succeed, he will take with him his sinful heart so that he will attempt to use any success in this venture for his own selfish purposes, unless restrained by the grace of God.”
WILLIAM CHILDS ROBINSON, professor, Columbia Theological Seminary: “ ‘Seventy-seven Seconds—Multi-million Dollar Failure.’ That is the record of the first U. S. effort to fire a rocket to the moon. This multi-million dollar experiment is, of course, paid for by increasing the debt limit and cheapening the dollar. That is, everyone in the country paid for the expensive failure. At about the same time two submarines cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic under the polar ice-cap. God gave the earth to man, but He did not give man dominion over the moon. Why not use the marvelous skills of science for this world and leave the sun and the moon and the stars to the fingers of the Almighty?”
NED B. STONEHOUSE, professor, Westminster Theological Seminary: “Is man, in trying a shot to the moon, forgetting his destined sphere and perhaps arrogantly and irreverently stepping out of bounds? No, at least not necessarily so. For man, though a creature of the earth, has by reason of being a creature of God a far wider horizon. Such an increase of knowledge as travel into outer space may afford, like other advances of human learning, leads to conceit when men suppose that by searching they can find out God or that they have no need of him. Such self-exaltation is, however, not inherent in man’s increase of knowledge of and power over the forces of nature. On the contrary, one may advance in humility and readiness to serve God as one stands more and more amazed at what the heavens are telling us of the glory and power of God and the scope of his rule and saving purposes.”
PAUL TILLICH, professor, Harvard University: “There is no direct religious significance in the penetration of man into outer space—including the moon and planets. The divine ground of everything is equally near to and equally removed from the grain of sand as from the farthest galaxies. And the divine self-manifestation in human history is valid for all phases of man’s history, past and future. But there are indirect religious effects of these developments comparable to those which occurred with the victory of Copemican astronomy. They can immensely increase man’s awareness of himself as free, namely free from bondage to any encountered situation, including bondage to the power-field of the earth. But they also can greatly increase man’s temptation to confuse his power to progress endlessly into world space with the inner infinity of his spiritual nature and, hence, to lose the vertical line by surrendering to the horizontal one. Finally, the opening of outer space can overcome our terrestial provincialism and produce a new vision of the greatness of the creation of which earth and mankind, their space and their time, are only a part.”
FARIS D. WHITESELL, professor, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The attempted moon shot reveals modern man’s prowess, pride and fear—his prowess in scientific achievement because bearing the image and likeness of the Creator—his pride in racing to be first in this venture—his fear that his enemies may get to the moon first and use the accomplishment in some way to destroy those they hate.”
WARREN C. YOUNG, professor, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Man’s ingenuity in mastering his environment is evident by his determination to penetrate outer space. While the effort in itself has no new moral nor spiritual significance, it demonstrates all too well man’s selfish determination to achieve personal supremacy and to proclaim his self-sufficiency. No new theological issue is involved since man has always been a creature in revolt against his Creator.”
The statement by Professor Lewis originally appeared in Christian Herald and is reprinted by permission.
All other comments were written especially for Christianity Today.
Sources of pictures are as follows: Professor Barth, Religious News Service Photo; Professor Brunner, Religious News Service Photo; Professor Lewis, Religious News Service Photo; Professor Niebuhr, Religious News Service Photo; Dr. Ockenga, Fabian Bachrach; Professor Reid, Garcia Studio; Professor Tillich, Religious News Service Photo.