Fight for the Heavens: The Role of Religion in Shaping Attitudes toward Space Policy

By Gu, Nini | Chicago Policy Review (Online), April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Fight for the Heavens: The Role of Religion in Shaping Attitudes toward Space Policy


Gu, Nini, Chicago Policy Review (Online)


In recent years, NASA has increasingly focused its programs on space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life. This is a shift from the Cold War era, when space policy was primarily driven by military and technological imperatives. In a 2015 paper published in the journal Space Policy, Joshua D. Ambrosius investigates whether this change in intent affects support for space policy, which ultimately impacts funding for future space exploration. Specifically, he examines the role of religion and other socio-demographics on space exploration policy in the United States.

Ambrosius approaches his research with a general question: "How does religion, variously defined, affect attitudes toward space and space policy in the general public, if at all?" To understand the various facets of this question, Ambrosius makes use of data from the General Social Survey, conducted by independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, and the Pew Research Center's Political Survey, Political and Future Survey, and General Public Science Survey. All of these surveys contain questions related to both space and religion, and are administered to nationally representative random samples of adults. Religious questions measure factors including affiliation and worship attendance, and space questions cover several aspects of space policy. While the scope of this study covers a range of religious affiliations, the author hypothesizes that Evangelicals deviate most from the general public in space knowledge, interest, policy support, and expectations for the future of the space program. This hypothesis is based on research from other science policy scholars, who find that Evangelicals are most opposed to the scientific basis of issues, such as climate change and stem cell research, and widely hold a belief that Creationism and extraterrestrial life are incompatible.

The study evaluates responses in seven areas: space knowledge, space interest, space policy support, space benefits (general and national), space nationalism, and space optimism. Space knowledge is measured by three questions about the Big Bang and the relationship between the sun and Earth. Space policy support is based on opinions about spending. Space nationalism is the belief that the US should be the world leader in space exploration. Space optimism is the belief that the space program will find extraterrestrial life or land a man on Mars.

With the exception of space nationalism, Evangelicals score significantly lower in space knowledge, policy support, benefits, and optimism compared to the general public and other religious groups. Protestants, Jews, Eastern traditions, and those not religiously affiliated rank significantly higher on knowledge, with Jews and religious non-affiliates giving the most policy support. …

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