Solar Particles Survive Genesis Crash
Scientists are relieved that they have been able to recover enough pieces from the crashed Genesis spacecraft to pursue the science objectives. JPL Director Charles Elachi said they have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and are bouncing back from a hard landing. The highest-priority science goals may still be attainable, at least partially, despite Wednesday’s 192-mph crash in Utah when the craft’s parachute did not deploy.
The mission had been touted as a search for our origins: where we come from, where stars and planets come from, and how the earth got here.
Why the name Genesis? Mission designers must surely have been keenly aware of the Biblical connotation when they selected the name. Either to stave off speculations or to answer concerns, the mission FAQ page addressed the concern as follows:
Since this mission is named Genesis and will tell us about the beginning of the solar system, will it try to prove or disprove the Bible?
The Genesis mission will collect samples of the solar wind, material flowing outward from the Sun, and return these samples to Earth. Scientists will be able to compare the compositions of these samples with known compositions of the planets and help in the effort to understand how our solar system and its planets formed. It is not NASA’s role to address theological questions or interpretations, and Genesis’ investigation will be studied as a scientific question, not a theological one.
Yet to suggest that the formation of earth can be approached strictly through natural science without reference to a Creator is not a theologically neutral position. It is clearly an alternative philosophy to the famous declaration of Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God.” To NASA, the religious text is, “in the beginning were the particles.”
Please understand that we are all in favor of collecting data. We love data. We love solar wind particles and eagerly await what they might tell us about what the sun is doing now. But to suggest that a mission like this can speak to origins is to embrace a theological or philosophical position. The “origins” spin on this and other missions assumes an either-or dichotomy, the belief that there are strictly theological positions as opposed to scientific ones, as if these are non-overlapping, watertight classes of explanation, with the clear implication that scientific explanations are better: they are more objective, neutral, unbiased and true. But it is naive to assume that science has no philosophical baggage, or that a “theological” explanation like Genesis 1 could never have any observable effects accessible to natural science.
Some scientists treat words like Genesis flippantly because, to them, the Biblical texts are ancient myths no different than those of Greek accounts of warring gods and goddesses. They ignore or don’t care that millions of Jews and Christians still believe the Bible and the Creator of which it speaks. Dodging this concern with statements that the Genesis investigation “will be studied as a scientific question, not a theological one,” does nothing to assuage the insensitivity of usurping the Biblical name: first, because (as just stated) treating the Biblical account as a myth is a slap in the face to the sincerely-held beliefs of many people (including many scientists), and secondly, they suggest that “science” can offer a strictly naturalistic, unguided, purposeless explanation in the place of the teleological, purposeful, personal explanation in the Biblical account.
Imagine the furor if NASA absconded with a name from some other religious persuasion – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, native American – with the implication that their goal was to investigate a scientific alternative to those beliefs. Such an act would be denounced for its insensitivity. The ACLU and other groups would demand an apology, and the NASA director would be called before a Congressional hearing to explain. Would those groups be appeased by a response like “we’re only looking for scientific explanations, not theological ones”? This is another example of how the sensitivity and tolerance of “political correctness” (an oxymoron) is asymmetrically applied when it comes to Jews and Christians.
Despite all that, we offer best wishes to the mission and science teams. Exploration and discovery are important values of the Judeo-Christian worldview. We hope many solar wind particles survived intact. They might shed light on many current solar and interplanetary processes, and that is very worthwhile. Incidentally, many Jews, Christians and creationists work on missions such as Genesis, some of them in high places. Most of them do their work quietly with excellence, professionalism and teamwork. The hype in the press releases is written by a politically-correct few who don’t have to actually build and fly these amazing spacecraft.