January 12, 2015
DENNIS SADOWSKI
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – How people value space exploration may depend on their particular faith.

An analysis of several national surveys by a University of Dayton political science professor found that Catholics are more supportive of the U.S. maintaining a leading role in exploring space and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence than members of evangelical churches.

Political scientist Joshua Ambrosius told Catholic News Service evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, are significantly less likely than people of other churches and faiths to see the value of the nation's space endeavours.

Evangelicals also tended to have less knowledge about space, he said.

Why evangelicals are less supportive of the various facets of space exploration is uncertain, but having grown up in an evangelical family, Ambrosius said he could offer some possible reasons.

"In my family, I had influences that would question the findings and contributions of modern science, particularly the view of evolutionary origins (of humans).

"I grew up in a church and a tradition very oriented around creation science. It wasn't until I was an older teenager and in college (that) I turned to accept the scientific explanation of evolution," he said.

Ambrosius studied various factors outlined in four surveys, including knowledge of space, interest in space, support for funding of space exploration, views on the benefits of space exploration, space optimism and whether the U.S. should be a leader in space exploration.

He analyzed data from four major surveys conducted between the spring of 2009 and June 2011. He broke down responses from Catholics, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Jews, Eastern religions and people with no religion.

His report is entitled Separation of Church and Space: Religious Influences on Support for Space Exploration Policy

"Evangelicals express significantly higher expectations that an asteroid will hit earth, but significantly lower expectations of the discovery of life off the earth," he said.

JEWS, EASTERN RELIGIONS

Ambrosius found evangelicals are the least knowledgeable, interested and supportive of space exploration. He also learned that Jews and members of Eastern religions were most knowledgeable and supportive.

Evangelicals are more certain that Jesus will return in the next 40 years than they are that humans will make significant progress in space exploration during that time, he wrote.

For Catholics, the depth of the practice of their faith does not seem to matter when it comes to supporting the country's space program.

Ambrosius' analysis found that there was no difference in the support of space exploration between Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those who attend less often.

EFFECT ON POLICY

The findings are significant, he said, because evangelical Christians could influence policymaking when it comes to funding space exploration.

Evangelicals comprise about 26 per cent of the U.S. population. If they are elected to policymaking positions, they could affect U.S. government spending on space exploration and research into the possibility of colonizing other planets, Ambrosius said.