From the Archbishop

Moon landing links faith, quest for knowledge


One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” were Neil Armstrong’s well-remembered words when he landed on the moon 50 years ago. I recall watching the Apollo 11 team successfully complete their mission on a black and white television set while I was at high school. This event seemed to epitomise the triumph of science and technology and the proposition that humans could succeed in whatever we put our minds to. New developments in science and technology in the 50 years since have transformed many aspects of our daily lives. Who would have imagined smartphones in 1969?

Over the same period, the failure of nuclear power plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima, along with climate change and pollution, have led us to question our confidence in science and technology. Many of us have been brought up in a culture optimistic about the trajectory of scientific research and its technological application, but that optimism can’t be taken for granted. It was often said that science was ethically neutral, and it was only its application that was likely to run the risk of causing harm.

At the same time we seem to lag in science education and certainly in the ability of the general public to understand the principles of much scientific research. If scientific literacy is not high among Australians, the general knowledge of Christianity fares no better. It is no surprise to me that we struggle as a community to make sense of the often difficult decisions about how science and technology shape our lives.

Armstrong’s lunar landing colleague, Buzz Aldrin, took the Eucharistic elements to the moon and, after reading from John 15, received them. He brought the bread and the wine from the Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston where he was a church member and elder. NASA was engaged at the time in a conflict about giving any prominence to religion and suppressed the story and the broadcast of Aldrin’s act of Christian devotion. The Apollo 8 crew – Borman, Lovell and Anders – had earlier read the creation story from Genesis as they orbited the earth on Christmas Eve, 1968, and pronounced a Christmas blessing to all on the earth beneath them. The greatness of God and the finitude of humanity were their themes.

Christians need not fear the expansion of human knowledge and understanding of the world around us. This is, after all, the vocation of science. If we hold that the world is the good creation of our loving Father, greater understanding of the world and its ways is in no way antithetical to faith and belief. Yet we do live in a society where it is easy to think that science and faith are mutually hostile or even incompatible.

I suspect that the kind of devotion and use of the Christian Scriptures in the way that we saw in the various Apollo missions would be much less likely in our own day. They might seem to some as anachronistic as the use of “man” and “mankind” in Armstrong’s celebrated first words on the moon. I don’t believe that we should concede this dichotomy and am grateful that we have good thinkers among us who are working to integrate faith and science.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at