ADAMS: The moon landing, science and faith

July 9, 2019

  • Editor's Note: This story is part of The Texas Catholic Herald's July issue marking Apollo 11's 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Click here to check out the rest of the issue.

Each generation has a special event or moment which can shape its understanding of their world. For me, one of those events is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary!

On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 Saturn rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on its mission to be the first humans to land on the moon. To witness this achievement, my dad went out and bought our first color television.

We invited our neighbors over to watch the moon landing unfold. Then, on July 21, while wearing my space helmet and holding my toy lunar landing module, I saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Later I remember hearing the comment either on the news or from a neighbor, that man and science have now surpassed God. At the time, I really didn’t know what that meant.

As a native Houstonian who grew up less than 15 miles from the Johnson Space Center (JSC), I have always been fascinated by science, especially anything to do with space. I never saw a conflict between my faith and the accomplishments of science.

In fact, it wasn’t until college that I began to hear the debate. I was even challenged by one of my evangelical friends one night as I was studying for my paleontology test regarding the Cretaceous period.

My friend asked how I could believe in that garbage regarding dinosaurs. He then informed me that as a member of the Catholic Church, I should not be following science but faith.

He even thought that the popes and Church officials basically outlawed science, putting many scientists in prison. It was here that I had to take the time to educate my friend on how science and faith can coexist together.

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has sponsored and fostered some of the most well respected and distinguished scientists, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Astronomer who developed the theory of the Earth rotating around the sun.
Father Gregor Mendel, Augustinian Friar, founder of modern science of genetics, Louis Pasteur, biologist and father of microbiology, who developed the first vaccines and, Father George Lemaitre, S.J., who helped develop the Big Bang Theory with the universe expanding from one initial point.

Although the current Big Bang Theory differs from his original plan, it still is one of the principles that the current theory is based on.

Despite their scientific learning and discoveries, all these men still believed that God was the man in control. St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Fides et Ratio, “On the Relationship between Faith and Reason” outlines faith and reason as “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, stated in his March 24, 2010 address that “between science and faith there is a friendship, and that all men of science can undertake, through their vocation to the study of nature, a genuine fascinating journey of sanctity.”

Pope Francis continues to promote the idea of science and faith working together: “The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love. The Big Bang that today is considered to be the origin of the world does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary, it requires it.” (October 28, 2014).

Science can help lead us to the truth and can coexist with God, as our Creator. Science has order, and God creates that order. It is from him that The Big Bang came into being, which brings me back to where I started, man landing on the moon.

In 1989, I was an employee of one of the contractors building the International Space Station celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission at JSC. I was so amazed to be a part of this event. In my three years of working at JSC, I never met such dedicated scientists, engineers and administrators who were so committed to their vocation. These men and women had a strong sense of faith and how their faith guided them in their work.

As one engineer told me as the space shuttle program returned to space, “We can make sure all the hardware and software, mechanics, personnel and training are working to the best of their ability, but when it comes down to it, we have to rely on God, because without Him, this wouldn’t be possible.”

So as we celebrate this 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing, let us toast the accomplishments of all who made this event a reality and as we move forward to explore beyond the moon, let us remember that “for God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Randy Adams is the director of Camp Kappe and an associate director of the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.