Sunday, 26 August 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon

The death has been announced from the complications of heart surgery at the age of 82 of Neil Armstrong who is most famous for the words ‘Its one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ spoken when he became the first man to set foot on the moon.

He was quoted on the radio this morning as having more recently said that the moon landings had shown that mankind was
'not chained forever to this earth but that our opportunities were unlimited.'

Another more realistic Armstrong quote is

"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." Apollo was looked upon at the time to be a starting point. It was proved that Man could achieve what many considered impossible, and we set our sights on greatness. Everyone fully expected that we would soon be off to Mars. The colonization was a near certainty, probably by the end of the century. Yet more than 40 years later, little of what was expected has been achieved. Yes, we have moved forward in other areas, computing being one example. But manned space exploration has proceeded at a much slower pace than expected.

Armstrong's passing may be a good time to reflect on the true value, legacy and destiny of space travel, such as it is. 

It would be churlish to diminish the rocket science and the personal courage that achieved the moon landings. But was it a good idea? Was it all about American prestige and rivalry with Russia? President Obama has said that ‘As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be in them’. I wonder how will history evaluate the space programme? Of course that will depend on who writes the history.

Nobody has been to the moon for 40 years, and nobody will go to Mars, let alone further. Yes, the moon mission was, as president Kennedy said, difficult, but it was possible to achieve it within the then known laws of physics. Those laws may now be slightly better understood, but they have not changed. They set absolute limits on what can be done. Those limits have now been tested, to the limit. They stand firm.
As every fan of science fiction knows, to travel to the stars you need some form of hyperspace drive to exceed the speed of light because of the distances. This is not possible without violating the known laws of physics. Rockets cannot do it. You then need to be able to support fragile human life in a small space. In Star Trek and various other Sci Fi fantasies, devices such as ‘inertial dampers’ are imagined in order to allow us to believe that human bodies will not be torn to shreds by the acceleration that hyperspace speeds would cause. But these are no more realistic than the flying horses and centaurs C S Lewis described in the Narnia stories or the flying broomsticks and magic wands in the Harry Potter stories. And that's before we even get to the question of whether there are other habitable planets. The conditions that allow biological life here on earth are, to say the least, rather special. Could they have occurrd by chance? I enjoy much sci-fi but am not credulous enough to believe that.

As Dr Vij Sodera writes in his magisterial demolition of every aspect of the pseudoscience of evolutionism ‘One small speck to man: the evolution myth (*)
‘some things are not possible.’
 Interstellar travel is one of them. There will be no ‘space ships flying mother nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun’ as envisaged in Neil Young’s song ‘After the Gold Rush’. This is the only earth we will ever have this side of eternity. We should use it wisely and give thanks to its Maker.

Psalm 19 tells us that

 'The heavens are telling the glory of God'

Our only hope of eternal life and a new creation is the one that is offered through Christ. Revelation 21: 1 reads

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away....’ 

The idea of humankind achieving immortality through science is false. It is a distraction from the only hope of immortality that we will ever have-new life in Jesus Christ. The idea that we can travel to other planets once we have finished wrecking this one (a theme explored in the delightful sci-fi animation ‘Wall-E’) is as fantastic as time travel. I will return to this theme later, there is a lot in C S Lewis about it, and also hope to consider the origins of our truly marvellous moon in a later post but must end there for this morning.

Again, I respect the achievements of NASA and the incredibly brave men and women who have gone into space, of course there have been 2 space shuttle explosions and other space travel related deaths. And millions of deaths from hunger and water borne diseases here on earth that could have been avoided by a fraction of the money spent by NASA. But it seems to me that the evidence is plain: science has tested the limits and pushed the envelope as far as it will go. Forget Mars and totally forget going to the stars.

Meanwhile, back on earth, the planet has indeed been visited by extra terrestrial intelligence. God has communicated with us through His prophets and His Christ, the only human leader who was authenticated by multiple fulfilments of Old Testament prophecy and by a glorious resurrection from the dead. He offers us forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to God and a New Life in the age to come. Shall we ignore him while worshiping human heroes like Neil Armstrong and holding out vain hopes that will certainly come to nothing?


(*) the first part of the title is a play on Armstrong’s famous words from the lunar surface.

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