Can Science And Religion Coexist? Astronaut John Glenn Thought So
John Glenn was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life and his early, often risky, space endeavors allowed man to visit the moon. Yesterday, Glenn, the last surviving member of the original Astronaut Corps passed away at the grand old age of 95.
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His early work in the 1960’s paved the way for future space missions. So much of what they did back then was completely unknown, and extraordinarily brave and risky. They hardly knew what effects space would have on the body, and whether or not humanity could even reach for the stars.
“It was a new step forward, and we were proud to be representing our country there. And so … you made it as safe as you possibly could, and what little bit of risk was left, we accepted that.”
But one thing that surprised me was Glenn’s devotion to religion. I have always considered science and religion at war, with competing claims and clichéd answers. For me, arguing over which tribe had the coolest book 2000 years ago seems irrelevant and pointless. But, I do understand that religion exists and I make no effort to offend or ridicule anyone who does follow a belief. But they can’t all be right. With such a diverse and indifferent planet, with so many theories and beliefs, they can’t all be correct.
“To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
It is said that he would pray every day, even in space, and back home he was a devout Presbyterian. He visited the National Presbyterian Church regularly whilst serving in Congress. I soon found that Glenn was not alone in his faith. Other astronauts have returned from space with their belief intact, even strengthened by the whole experience. James Irwin walked on the Moon and then devoted his life to religion once back on Earth. He founded a religious organization before he passed away in 1991. Buzz Aldrin even served himself Communion In the one-sixth gravity of the moon.
Carl Sagan described astronomy as a humbling experience:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
I have to agree with Carl on this one. But that is not to say that I know it all. I know what I was taught at school and what I read online. I also know that the Norse gods were no more real that the Roman gods, except Thor maybe, Thor was awesome. In any case, I can’t wholeheartedly deny a greater power exists. I have, however, served in the military and seen men do things ungodly. I have seen children
Glenn did receive criticism from some of his faithful brethren after promoting the teaching of evolution is American schools. He explained that things change over time and that doesn’t disprove a greater power.
“I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact. It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.”
John Glenn will be fondly remembered as a hero of early spaceflight:
“Senator Glenn’s legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship.” – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.