On July 20, 2014, the world celebrated the 45th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first-ever human persons to set foot on the moon. Three months after that pioneering achievement, on October 16, 1969, Armstrong, Aldrin, and command module pilot Michael Collins and their wives were granted an audience with Pope Paul VI in the Vatican. In his brief address, Pope Paul lauded the three astronauts for their courage in breaking a new barrier, and for the spirit of service to humanity and the spirit of peace in which they accomplished their scientific mission. He congratulated them on behalf of the whole Church and praised the "genius, dedication and perseverance" that went into "this magnificent undertaking." He also thanked the president and people of the United States for making possible this feat of exploration, "with typical generosity of spirit, for the good of man and the world." He prayed that such exploration of God's creation would enable us to more clearly see His infinite power and perfection, and that this knowledge would draw the human family--His children--closer together "in fraternal love, in peace and in prayer." Finally, Pope Paul thanked God for the successful achievement of this space mission and for the astronauts' safe return to Earth, and invoked God's blessings on them and their families.
Forty-five years later, these noble words of Blessed Paul VI remind us of what the manned missions to the moon were really all about. God has put within human beings a natural curiosity and desire to explore and learn about His creation here on Earth and beyond. That's the whole point of the scientific adventure--it's a search for the truth about the natural world and the universe around us. The ever-accumulating treasury of scientific knowledge, gradually refined and perfected over time, is passed on from one generation to the next as a gift and a responsibility. In recent decades, the explosive development of modern technology has greatly quickened the pace of scientific discovery. The more we learn through scientific research about God's painstakingly designed, carefully ordered, and magnificently beautiful creation, the closer we are drawn to our Creator and the more clearly we perceive His infinite wisdom, power, and glory. And when used properly, scientific knowledge is of great benefit to the human family.
It was the medieval Catholic Church that gave the world the principles on which true science rests, laying the foundation for the modern scientific method with its endless cycle of observation, theory, and experiment. Thus it should be no surprise that, despite the claims of some of her detractors, the Catholic Church is and always has been supportive of genuine scientific investigation, including space exploration, so long as it is conducted in the proper spirit and oriented to the true good of the human person and society.
Sadly, the generosity of spirit, nobility of purpose, and sound scientific principles that marked the Apollo lunar explorations are largely missing in the contemporary U.S. scientific community, as our country continues to drift further away from God and thus from reality, as selfishness replaces a spirit of service, and as corruption and pseudo-scientific attitudes have diverted much of science and astronomy away from the search for truth and into the sustained defense of increasingly problematic--and often untestable and illogical--cosmological fantasies that violate known physical laws yet are widely accepted as scientific fact, such as the Big Bang, the Standard Model, the random evolution of the universe and of life on earth over billions of years, constantly accelerating expansion of the cosmos, dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and the "multiverse theory." Generally speaking, we've abandoned the scientific method and are living in a self-constructed house of mirrors, increasingly detached from reality and objective truth.
Given the abysmal state of so much of modern science, is it any wonder we haven't returned to the moon to build on the foundation courageously laid by the Apollo astronaut pioneers? It is any wonder that we have no real replacements for the Space Shuttle program or the Hubble Space Telescope? And is it any wonder that our robotic explorations of Mars are generally driven by fanciful sci-fi visions of an ancient watery planet teeming with life--purely imaginative conceptions of an inaccessible distant past that cannot even qualify as scientific hypotheses, properly understood? Meanwhile, as NASA's traditional commitment to genuine space exploration and research wanes, the domain of human space travel is increasingly dominated by a handful of wealthy private entrepreneurs and elite tourists who waste billions upon billions of dollars on their entertaining but pointless hobby.
As a nation, we're dropping the ball on scientific exploration of space in the twenty-first century because 1) we no longer believe in God the Creator, 2) we see the universe He created as merely a random product of meaningless evolutionary forces, 3) we accept the deeply flawed pseudo-scientific reigning paradigms based on dubious mathematics, computer modeling, and majority opinion as objective scientific truth, and 4) we no longer care about the common good. America needs conversion! We need to be shaken out of this radically secularist mentality and get back to the fundamentals about God and science. We need to recover the spirit of service to the common good and the genuinely scientific approach that made the Apollo missions such a remarkable success. May our recollection of those outstanding achievements and the sacrifices that went into them inspire us, as Catholics and as American citizens, to work together to support and undertake genuine scientific exploration in the footsteps of the Apollo astronauts, for the glory of God and the good of the human family.