Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wehrner von Braun - "Why I Believe"

If you are like me, you have heard people imply or even state outright that you can be either a person of science or a person of faith, but not both.  I don't believe that you have to choose between science and religion.  I believe that it is not only possible, but essential to be a person of both science and faith in this modern world, because only science and religion together can help us fully answer life's questions and obtain truth.

FYI, I am a scientist (PhD Biology - UC Santa Cruz) and a person of faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).  My training as a scientist together with my ongoing life-long activity in my religion has led me to conclude that I am obligated to accept only that which is true, because if something really is true it will not inherently contradict or conflict with any other real truth.

A few years ago my father sent me a newspaper article that he thought I would appreciate.  It appeared in 1965, and he clipped it and saved for over 40 years!  What a guy!  It's a true gem written by Wehrner von Braun, the rocket scientist and NASA administrator.  In it he comments on why he believes, and if you are struggling with the relationship between science and religion it may provide some insights helpful to you.  

Wehrner von Braun (Photograph:

The entire text of his article is included below: 


Why I believe: Werhner von Braun talks about science and God

Werhner von Braun, Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in: The National Sunday Magazine For A Better America, July 18, 1965. (An enclosure in the New Orleans, La., Times‐ Picayune Newspaper.)

Science and faith are the two dominant forces in this century. We must try to understand their nature if we are to comprehend some of the most serious problems of the era in which we live.

The mainspring of science is curiosity. Since time immemorial, there have always been men and women who desire to know what was under the rock, beyond the hills, across the oceans. This restless breed now wants to know what makes an atom work, through what process life reproduces itself, or what is on the far side of the moon.

But, also, there would not be a single great accomplishment in the history of mankind without faith. Any man who strives to accomplish something needs a degree of faith in himself. And whenever he takes on a challenge that requires more moral strength than he can muster with his own limited mental and spiritual resources, he needs faith in God.

One of the most crucial issues of our time lies in the fact that modern science, along with miracle drugs and communications satellites, has also produced nuclear bombs. It cannot be denied that science has failed to provide a practical answer on how to cope with them. As a result, science and scientists have often been blamed for the desperate dilemma in which man finds himself today.

Science, by itself, has no moral dimension. The drug which cures when taken in small doses may kill when taken in excess. The nuclear energies that produce cheap electrical power when harnessed in a nuclear reactor may kill when abruptly released in a bomb. Thus, it does not make sense to ask a scientist whether his poison or his nuclear energy is “good” or “bad” for mankind.

And, so, the realization that science is unable to control the possible abuse of the forces it has made available, has led hundreds of millions in the world to a new interest in religion. This religious revival shows that there is a widespread realization that in the nuclear age man has a desperate need for stronger ethical control of the immeasurable physical forces he has unleashed.

Our battered churches

But many people find the churches, those old ramparts of faith, badly battered by the onslaught of three hundred years of scientific skepticism. This has led many to believe that science and religion are not compatible, that “knowing” and “believing” cannot live side by side.Nothing could be farther from the truth. Science and religion are not antagonists. On the contrary, they are sisters. While science tries to learn more about the creation, religion tries to better understand the Creator. While, through science man tries to harness the forces of nature around him, through religion he tries to harness the forces of nature within him.

Science may not have a moral dimension. But I am certain that science, in its search for new insights into the nature of the creation, has produced new ethical values of its own. Most certainly science has fostered veracity and humility. Again, it is a mark of all true science that its findings are valid and objective for all times and all peoples; that these findings demand unconditional acceptance and that once proved correct, they are universally embraced. If a man has ever come close to finding an answer to Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”, science has shown the way. Personally, I believe in the ultimate victory of truth. I am confident that to the extent that we shall learn more about nature, we shall not only arrive at universally accepted scientific findings, but also at a set of universally accepted rules and standards of human behavior.

The materialists of the nineteenth century and their Marxist heirs of the twentieth, tried to tell us that, as science gives us more knowledge about creation, we could live without faith in a Creator. Yet, so far, with every new answer, we have discovered new questions. The better we understand the intricacies of the atomic structure, the nature of life, or the master plan for the galaxies, the more reason we have found to marvel at the wonder of God’s creation.
But our need for God is not based on awe alone. Man needs faith just as he needs food, water, or air.

With all the science in the world, we need faith in God, whenever faith in ourselves has reached its limit.

(Note: Italics included in the original text)

No comments:

Post a Comment