It may seem odd, but the perceived conflict between science and faith is most often remarked on by ordinary folks who aren’t formally specialists in either art.
Scientists and clergy are much less likely to see a problem in reconciling the two disparate disciplines.
Our case in point is retired astronaut Clayton Anderson who recently preached at Webster Presbyterian’s 50th annual Lunar Communion. Anderson had a 30-year NASA career and was selected as an astronaut in 1998. He conducted six spacewalks and logged more than 167 days off planet.
Our Faith asked him how it all comes together between rockets and religion.
“I truly believe, with all of my heart and soul, that science and religion can coexist — they are not mutually exclusive,” Anderson said. “When I spent 152 days in space, during my first mission, I was never alone spiritually. I always knew that God was present, and that whatever I needed from a faith perspective, I could turn to him.”
Space travel has reinforced the beliefs of others, like moonwalker Buzz Aldrin who instituted the Lunar Communion still celebrated at this Webster church (Our Faith July 18).
The Catholic Philly website reported, “The 29 astronauts who visited the moon during the Apollo program were a generally religious cohort. According to NASA, 23 were Protestant and six Catholic, with a high proportion of them serving as church leaders in their congregations.”
So Anderson’s view fits in with the majority of American spacefarers, but with one distinctive.
“While I did see — and marvel at — the beauty of our home planet, my perspective was changed in ways that I don’t hear many colleagues speak of,” he said. “You see, I saw it as a strengthening of my faith, and my belief in a higher power who placed all of this in motion. As I watched the Earth roll by below me in my private moments, it dawned on me how perfectly everything fit together. The Earth has an order, and that order — in my opinion — came from God. And God has given us a constantly developing brain, one that allows us to learn, to grow and to change our paths for the better.”
In saying this, he echoes another former Webster Presbyterian lay leader, the deceased John Glenn.
That first American to orbit the Earth said in a Washington Post interview, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
Of course, God can not be substantially closer when you are circling just 200 miles above this world, but the view from low orbit does seem to inspire many travelers — changing or reinforcing their perspectives on the eternal.
In his book, “The Ordinary Spaceman,” Anderson said, “I have often been asked about whether my time in space did anything to change me or my spirituality. Each time my answer is the same. My time in space was truly spiritual, and it did nothing but strengthen my faith in God. Sailing around planet Earth at 17,500 miles per hour and watching her beauty unfold with every passing second was inspiring, moving and surreal. The time spent gazing earthward through an ISS (International Space Station) window, multiple panes of glass the only thing separating me from the deadly vacuum of outer space, was an honor and a privilege. It was a time of reflection, a time to turn to God and thank him for the tremendous blessings he has provided me throughout my lifetime.”
During his many days in space, Anderson enjoyed recordings of sermons from his home church here in Webster. Friends of astronauts may already know sending sermons to orbit for private listening is a common practice at the Johnson Space Center.
Next week in Our Faith: Meet the two new heads of faith-based schools in Galveston County.