God doesn’t call us to sit on our butts. However, there are a million ways to not sit on one’s butt. Why should space exploration be one of them?
Two reasons: for the greater glory of God, and the development of our own virtue.
First, God’s glory. This almost goes without saying: the universe is amazing. God’s creation is utterly mind-boggling and humbling. Christians have historically been on the forefront of explorations both geographic and scientific, and there is good reason for this: we are called to learn more about God, and God’s creation provides a handy starting point.
For the last 2000 years Christians journeyed as missionaries to distant places and collected knowledge at home; knowledge from their journeys, from past scholars, and from current experiments and theories (I have already posted on Christian contributions to scientific method here). From Bede the Venerable and Albert the Great to Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaitre, and even more recently to the Jesuits of the Vatican Observatory, the faithful have been devoted scientists and researchers.
But what of explorers? From St. Patrick in Ireland to Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci in Asia, Jacques Marquette in North America, and countless others across the world, Christians have sought out new places, not only for the sake of evangelism and helping others but also for the sake of learning more about the world.
When we learn about God’s creation we are struck by its wondrousness. For the Christian, this glorifies God, and when we share those ideas we share God’s glory with the world.
Furthermore, to get Franciscan for a moment, St. Francis had a beautiful way of referring to all things in creation as his brothers and sisters, as in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” The above explorations have all been on earth, but I think we ought to get to know some of our more distant family a little bit better. They will have stories to tell us about God. Stories written in their rocks, and perhaps even stories of life. Just last month astronomers announced the discovery of a good candidate for an earth-like world, Kepler 22b – right size, right temperature. It would take centuries or millennia to get there, but until then we can certainly keep looking for more to add to our planet catalogue. Exploration is not only about physically going there (though I think that should be the ultimate goal), but also about mentally going there, through telescopes like Hubble and Kepler, probes like the Voyagers and Pioneers, and various planetary orbiters, rovers, and landers.
Second… why are we called to learn more about God? For our own benefit, both intellectual and moral. God doesn’t get anything from our glorification, God has no needs; this is something to help us become better people.
Explorations are always dangerous. And so we grow in courage to face the unknown, both physical and mental. Not only are lives on the line, but thoughts as well. What if a discovery overturns previous knowledge? We would have to humble ourselves before reality. Science is a religious activity and furthermore a very Christian activity because it requires not only hard work, which makes us better, more disciplined people, but also humility before creation. Humans are not smart. Individually we know next to nothing and collectively we still know very little. And yet it is miraculous that we can know anything at all. God deigns to give us brains capable of glimpsing the infinite, and he does this out of pure love. Continue reading