Out of Curiosity

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Someone recently asked why the U.S. government is spending more than $2,500,000,000.00 on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission now in progress. Out of curiosity the person was asking about Curiosity, the robotic land rover now crawling across the surface of Mars collecting data and analyzing our neighboring planet. The general tone of the question can only be understood in light of the massive government debt being continuously accumulated by the United States, in addition to the increased levels of poverty throughout our nation.

The question is a good one on many fronts, but I would like to briefly focus on the humanistic nature of this mission as opposed to criticizing our federal government. It’s not that criticism isn’t warranted, but that I prefer to expend my energies elsewhere.

It is also important to understand that NASA has canceled other space exploration programs due to a lack of funding. With no manned space flight capabilities since the retirement of the shuttle program, we are currently paying Russia–the ultimate in outsourcing–to send our people into space. All of this means that the MSL mission is hugely important in the eyes of those making high level decisions.

Photo by penywise – morgueFile

According to NASA, the primary mission of Curiosity is to “investigate the past or present potential of Mars to support microbial life.”[1] Essentially we are spending 2.5 billion dollars in an attempt to prove that life had once existed on Mars. Why does this matter? To fully grasp the importance, one needs to delve into the mind of a philosophical naturalist—that is an atheist or agnostic who believes that this world came into existence apart from the influence of God.

In his classic defense of Darwin’s theory of evolution, leading scientific naturalist Richard Dawkins writes:

I predict that, if a form of life is ever discovered in another part of the universe, however outlandish and weirdly alien that form of life may be in detail, it will be found to resemble life on Earth in one key respect: it will have evolved by some kind of Darwinian natural selection.[2]

Do you see it? People such as Dawkins strongly believe that the existence of life on Mars will somehow prove the viability of naturalistic evolution apart from Divine influence. It is not, therefore, unreasonable to deduce that an integral part of the MSL mission is to provide support for Darwin’s theory of evolution.

We have not strayed much from our origins as humankind continues to seek to be like God apart from God. If astrobiologists (that this field of study even exists speaks volumes within itself) can prove that life evolved on another planet apart from Divine influence, we can freely exalt humankind to the highest order of life, casting aside all Divine accountability in the process. What some call objective science is actually constructed upon a foundation of philosophical naturalism.

To get a sense of how much this quest means to those in positions of power, simply consider the amount of effort expended, the massive diversion of limited resources from other programs, and the overall price tag of more than 2.5 billion dollars.

Photo by wintersixfour – morgueFile

What matters more than the poor, more than sound fiscal government policies, more than the future of our children and grandchildren, is our quest for total independence from God. The exhilaration coming out of Curiosity’s successful landing is about much more than the completion of an extremely challenging task; it is about the glory of humankind, which is, unfortunately, the downfall of a nation.

In closing, I would like to remind the reader that the primary purpose of this post is not to criticize the U.S. government, but to illustrate how deeply ingrained is our humanistic drive for self-exaltation–as evidenced through our quest for independence from our Creator. May God graciously refuse to grant this request or it will mean the death of us all.

[2] The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996, p. 288


9 thoughts on “Out of Curiosity

  1. I don’t really think the MSL has anything to do scientific naturalism. It seems the reason lies with the US government’s prime objective-making money. The scrapping of other NASA plans to focus on Curiosity and outsourcing with Russia (which I think are actually two separate projects-unmanned Mars exploration and manned research on the International Space Station) were probably changes made to decrease the money the US government has to spend upfront in exchange for being able to continue space research in general. By percentage, NASA funding has decreased every year since 2008.

    That being said, at the start of this blog I thought the discussion was going to be about misguided government spending. I wonder if there is any evidence supporting a scientific naturalism agenda within the government? I also wonder how much influence Richard Dawkins really has? I’ve always thought of him as someone who writes and speaks controversially in order to get attention and sell more books.

    1. Jason, I think your questions are reasonable. Before I give a more involved response, I do have a question for you. Why so you think finding life on Mars the primary mission of the MSL?

  2. Note: Maybe I missed the point of this blog. I did read it at 3am.
    But I think the point is: The MSL is merely another way for humanity to glorify itself instead of God. Is that correct?

    I think finding life on Mars is the primary mission of the MSL because that’s what you said the official reason is in this blog:

    “According to NASA, the primary mission of Curiosity is to “investigate the past or present potential of Mars to support microbial life.”[1] Essentially we are spending 2.5 billion dollars in an attempt to prove that life had once existed on Mars.”

    I think the reason behind that goal is to make money, which is different from, but in no way better than, wanting to find life on Mars as an argument against God. Colonizing Mars would bring in some serious cash.

    Also, I think in this blog Dawkins is getting far more attention than he deserves because he’s provoking an argument without really supporting his own.

    1. Jason, I can’t imagine I’d have anything coherent to offer at 3am!

      Ultimately I am saying that “The MSL is merely another way for humanity to glorify itself instead of God.”

      I watched a panel discussion with several NASA scientists and was amazed that the search for signs of microbial life on Mars was such an integral aspect of the MSL. The money making aspect of it honestly never entered my mind, but like you, I wouldn’t necessarily see it as a better motive.

      In Dawkins’ defense (which it pains me to provide), I was simply using a quote of one of his books to help communicate my point. It really wasn’t his primary argument in the context from which it was drawn. More than anything I was trying to communicate that I see in some parts of the scientific community, which in some aspects I believe is way out of control.

      Personally, my feelings are mixed about space exploration in general. My scientific background says we should be out there exploring. The fiscally responsible side of me questions the use of funds. But exploring the “why” behind what NASA is doing both intrigues and frustrates me.

    1. Jeff,

      I am finally getting back to your comments. I apologize for not doing so sooner, but I wanted to have the time to respond thoughtfully rather than just throwing out pat responses. I would also like to bring a little clarity about my worldview. I do my best to pursue God whole-heartedly and to maintain a Biblical perspective. Through this process I try to maintain a separation between what I would call a Biblical worldview and a modern conservative political worldview, which contains some elements that have a Biblical foundation but many that don’t. For example, one issue that stands out to is how the Republican Party is so closely aligned with corporate America.
      Most of the discrimination against Christians that I have seen has been against those with a conservative interpretation of the Scriptures—namely that the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God; that Christ alone is the way, truth and life and that there is no salvation apart from Jesus; and that any type of sexual activity outside of the boundaries of the marriage covenant of one man and one woman is considered to be immoral from a Biblical perspective. I am not sure where you stand on the first two points, but you have made your opinion of the second point clear. I agree that such a perspective should be expressed with sensitivity; however, I also believe that we should stand on these foundations without wavering. This is where the persecution most often arises.

      You may disagree with me on these three points, but that is where our constitutional freedom of religion should apply. We may try to persuade one another, but we will not (or should not) attempt to control or force one another to change our opinions.

      We do not see such freedoms of belief in many other nations. Christians are permitted to exist in some Muslim countries as long as they keep their faith to themselves, but conversion to Christianity is often illegal and met with harsh penalties. In many other nations physical persecution is happening at an increased rate and martyrdom is not uncommon.

      My primary point is that I cherish our freedoms as much as you do, but I see them being eroded for urgent, convenient and even compassionate purposes. My last two posts are built upon the foundation that I’ve just shared. I will now take a few lines to respond to your individual points. Long begets long I suppose!

      1. “For instance, since 9-11, the group percentage-wise that has seen the most violence against them are Sikhs. Since 9-11, because of their trade mark head covering, even though they are not Muslim (and that it shouldn’t matter if they were), they have been beaten, killed, and the hatred towards them has culminated so far with the shooting in the Sikh temple a few weeks ago. As a Christian in America, I have never feared that someone was going to hurt or even kill me because of my faith, yet Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists (have experienced multiple shootings) and other faiths face this every day in America.”

      I agree with your comments here, but would add that Christians have not been exempt from the shootings. Several have taken place in churches in recent years. This type of treatment towards anyone should be unacceptable. There is also a growing hatred of Christians among some atheist writings in recent years, putting the blame on Christianity for the violence and other problems in our society.

      2. “Recently a mosque in Tennessee was burnt down after an attempt a month prior had failed. Since 9-11, between 13 and 28 mosques have been set on fire or bombed in the US (depending on sources). Also, many mosques have been refused zoning rights because of this prejudice. As a Christian, I have never feared that someone was going to set my Church on fire because of my faith. Christians in other countries may face this, but here we are extremely blessed in America.”

      I have found conflicting reports regarding the leading cause of church fires, but arson is definitely in the top three. The National Fire Protection Agency says that of the 1890 church fires reported each year, 15% are the result of arson. That amounts to 284 churches per year. I’ve seen other numbers putting the percentage at around 25. Of course, there are far more churches than mosques in our nation, but if you consider an 11-year time span we are talking about close to 3,000 churches in the U.S. that have been intentionally set on fire. I don’t know the numbers for other types of vandalism but I do know that it exists. Like you said, these types of occurrences are much more common in some other nations.

      3. “I have international guest speakers come into my World Culture class that I teach every semester for my students to interview. In an average semester, I have 25 – 50 international students come into my classes and there are some standard questions that the students ask (as well as questions that they ask on their own). One question has been – have you ever experience racism / prejudice or violence against you while in the US. Over the years, I have heard hundreds of speakers talk about this and the vast majority have experienced some racism / or prejudice and many have experienced violence. This is especially true of our Muslim guest speakers – Getting yelled at to go home, called terrorists, having Homeland security harass them even though they have done nothing wrong. The violence against them has been especially disturbing – and most refuse to report it because they fear retribution or bringing more attention to themselves. This is something that as a Christian, I have never had to fear happening because of my faith in America.”

      I agree that such treatment is unacceptable. I do not agree that Christians in America do not receive similar types of treatment. I’ve known many Christian students over the years who experienced ridicule from their professors in their classrooms. Ask your sitter about the experience in her religious studies class when her gay professor suggested that they “light Sara on fire and throw her out the window.” Had the professor been Christian and the student gay, it would have been all over the news. When I was in college, a group of friends were out sharing their faith on campus and some guys from one of the frats started shooting bottle rockets at them. I commonly ask Christian students about these types of things and they often respond that they too experience harassment.

      4. “My wife (as you know), is the person that gets called in the middle of the night if one of our international students is severely hurt or in trouble with the law. While I can’t disclose too many specifics, I can say I have seen entire set of front teeth knocked out, broken bones, faces slashed, etc. And in most of those cases it was made clear that it was race or religion motivated. Now, we do live in an area where there is a lot of Klan activity, but the vast number of incidents is disturbing.

      At the same time, I have seen multiple students harassed by police and Homeland security because of their nationality or faith. For example, one student went hunting with a friend and the friend posted the picture on Facebook – the Muslim student was visited by Homeland Security, had his room torn apart (pillows / mattresses cut open), many things ruined, and has since been consistently harassed (while his Christian friend did not suffer the same indignity). Two other students were arrested for what I would say were false arrests, but at the most, trumped up charges and were not allowed to make international phone calls. Because they were new to the US and did not have connections, one sat in jail for 6 months and another for a year. Both were eventually released with all charges dropped – neither sued or took any other action for this because of fear of retribution. As a Christian in America, I have never had to experience this.”

      I don’t know of many Christians who have experienced this type of persecution (yet) here in the U.S. and I do not think any of it is right by any means. This does relate, however, to this post and my concern about some of the government laws being passed, including the National Defense Authorization Act allowing any terrorist suspects (including U.S. citizens) to be detained indefinitely without charge. This one was signed by President Obama, but I see both the Bush and Obama administrations as being responsible for the erosions of our Constitutional protections.

      5. “We also have many benefits – for instance, Churches (and other houses of worship) are tax exempt. As a Christian, I am happy about this – but why do we get this advantage that saves Christians tens of billions of dollars each year? It is only a recent exemption (I would have to double check, but I believe late 70′s).”

      Jeff, you make an excellent point here and I appreciate these tax advantages more than you know-although I don’t believe they will last much longer. I will say, however, that I believe that they have merit because the vast amount of good for the nation done by the church. You may disagree, but even in her weakened state, the western church does so much good to care for those in need. I could provide you with a VERY long list, but the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a good reminder. The government botched much of the relief effort. A few celebs helped out and got all kinds of press. Meanwhile, churches have made untold trips and poured millions of dollars into helping people rebuild. This is but one example of so, so many. Through helping the poor, the oppressed and the devastated in powerful ways, I believe that the church earns her keep.

      6. Finally, as straight Christians, the advantages that we get are tremendous. Christians or non-Christians that are not straight or are single do not get the 172 rights and privileges that our government gives straight people – including, on average, 200,000 dollars, in tax advantages on average over the course of a lifetime. As straight married people, you and I have more rights and advantages than single or gay people in most states.

      I don’t know enough to make much of a comment about the tax advantages for married people over singles (although I do have some reasonable ideas), but I believe the battle for gay rights is contributing a great deal to the erosion of our constitutional freedoms. Our forefathers wisely protected religious freedoms. They mentioned nothing about sexuality.

      A couple more key points:
      – I would never see boycotting Chik-fil-A as persecution or discrimination. What I do see as very troubling is more than one mayor of a large city boldly proclaiming to a company like Chik-fil-A that they are not welcome. I do agree with you that professing Christians have done a lot of boycotting. I’ve always disliked the tone communicated through their boycotts but more and more I’ve come to dislike the practice all together.

      – Your comments about the trends since WW2 do not take into account the rapid change of the past 10-20 years. The trends of this decade differ incredibly from the trends of the 1950’s.

      All in all, we each have a tendency to view our world based on our own personal experiences. I am in no way invalidating what you have seen with regard to racial or religious discrimination, but I am saying that I have seen various types of oppressive treatment toward conservative Christians. That’s really not what I am writing about though. My greater concern deals with the trends that I see with government laws being passed and with the effort to reinterpret the Constitution to the point that religious freedom suffers. I believe this is happening at an alarming rate and that before long the trends will be irreversible. All we need to do is to look at how people are treated in various countries around the world in order to catch a glimpse of the consequences.

  3. I concur with Jason’s final comment ‘ “well said”. Too often we get caught up in the pros and cons of the humanistic and political facets of life and never get down into the foundational “why” that underlies our actions. Thanks to Bob for calling attention to the spiritual element that underlies man’s quest in this particular matter. We would be well served to explore the “why” underllying more of the “well-intentioned” causes that mankind advances, for I suspect we would discover the prevalence of a spiritual influence that is deceptively designed to undermine and erode God’s purposes and His creation.

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