Reexamining the “Separation of Church and Space”: Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration in the Trump–Pence Age
“No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.”—President Donald Trump’s inaugural address, 20 January 2017 (Malik 2017)
1. Introduction: Space and Religion in the Trump Age
And as we renew our commitment to lead, let’s go with confidence and let’s go with faith—the faith that we do not go alone. For as millions of Americans have believed throughout the long and storied history of this nation of pioneers, I believe, as well, there is nowhere we can go from His spirit; that if we rise on the wings of the dawn, settle on the far side of the sea, even if we go up to the heavens, even there His hand will guide us, and His right hand will hold us fast. It’s an honor to be with you today. I leave here today with renewed confidence that with your support, with the efforts of the National Space Council, with the hard work of all who labor across the nation to forge America’s future in space, with the strong leadership of President Donald Trump, the courage of a new generation of explorers, and with God’s help, I know America will once again astonish the world with the heights that we reach and the wonders we achieve, and we will lead the world into space once again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
2. Theoretical Framework: Evangelical Protestantism and U.S. Politics/Policy
2.1. Religion and Politics Theory
2.2. Religion and Space Attitudes
3. Research Questions and Hypotheses
- Do Evangelical Protestants continue to rank below non-Evangelicals in space knowledge, interest, and support for space funding following the narrow cross-section of time analyzed by Ambrosius?
- Do Evangelical Protestants in the Trump age express greater space knowledge, interest, or support than Evangelicals during previous presidential administrations?
- Evangelical Protestants continue to rank below non-Evangelicals in space knowledge, interest, and support for space funding during the latter years of the Obama presidency and the beginning period of the Trump presidency.
- Evangelical Protestants in the Trump age express greater space knowledge, interest, and support than Evangelicals during the Bush (43) and Obama eras.
4. Data and Methods
5.1. Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration Compared with Non-Evangelical Support
5.2. Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration during the Trump Presidency Compared with Evangelical Support Prior to the Trump Presidency
6. Discussion and Implications
Because of this [mistrust of science], making explicit connections between science and space exploration may be problematic at the current time. Associating space with the military is one way to downplay the scientific aspects. Military technology, for instance, is rarely seen as having a liberal bias. Another way to reduce this problematic association is to link space with religion. When we think about the early days of the American space program and the way that American religious practice was contrasted with the atheism of the Soviet Union, it is easy to see why tying religious language and imagery with the United States Space Force is the approach being taken in this recruitment video. New Space Force recruits aren’t being asked to be academic elites or rocket scientists, they’re being asked instead to fulfill a celestial destiny.
Conflicts of Interest
“I would like to talk with you about some things people think about today. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I’m going to name some of these problems, and for each one I’d like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount.”
- Too much
- Too little
- About right
- Very interested
- Moderately interested
- Not at all interested
- (Earth around sun
- Sun around earth
- One day
- One month
- One year
y = Xβ2 + ε,
(ESS1 + ESS2)/(n − 2k),
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Ambrosius (2015) was labeled by another article in the journal Space Policy as “an exemplary model of quantitative analysis” that “serves as a good model for future quantitative space policy studies because the analysis is theoretically motivated, the methods and data are appropriate to the questions at hand, and the study’s implications are clearly discussed with reference to theory and policy” (Pomeroy 2019, p. 16).
Some commentators misunderstood the meaning of “negative” effects. For example, Answers in Genesis (the operator of the Creation Museum) astronomer Dr. Danny Faulkner (2014) wrote that, “This report at least implies that these once-respected practices and beliefs [church attendance and high view of scripture] are harmful to society. While not as hostile as the attitudes of Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye, it is condescending.” Ambrosius’ (2015) findings claim an inverse relationship between variables, not a negative effect on society.
President Bush drew significant support from Evangelicals but did not directly connect his space policy goals to religion as much as Vice President Pence. For example: one prominent space speech delivered at NASA headquarters included the phrase “god willing” (quoting astronaut Eugene Cernan) and referred to outer space as the “heavens,” but did not develop the connection further (Bush 2004). Evangelical support during the Bush administration is included in this paper to serve as a baseline and to broaden the scope of the analysis.
The GSS is weighted using the weight WTSS, which takes into consideration the sub-sampling of non-respondents and the number of adults per household. Because only GSS iterations since 2004 are included in this analysis, the weight WTSS is the same as if the weight WTSSALL were applied.
The only variable included in this study that was measured differently during these years is income. There are three income measures used across the survey years: income98, income06, and income16. These were combined into a single variable with 11 consistent categories. The highest category begins at the 1998 amount.
|Year||Total N||Evangelical N||Evangelical %||Presidency|
|Name||Years Available||Original Variable(s)||Questions||Range|
|Space Knowledge||2006–2018||bigbang||The universe began with a huge explosion. Is that true or false?||0–1|
|earthsun||Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?||0–1|
|solarrev||How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year?||0–1|
|-Score correct out of three||0–3|
|Space Interest||2008–2018||intspace||Issues about space exploration: are you very interested (3), moderately interested (2), or not at all interested (1)?||1–3|
|Space Policy Support||2004–2018||natspac, natspacy||[The] space exploration [program]: are we spending too much (1), too little (3), or about the right amount (2) on [the] space exploration [program]?||1–3|
|-Dummy variable: right amount + too little||0–1|
|Variable (range)||Non-Evang., 04–08||Evang., 04–08||Sig. level||Non-Evang., 10–16||Evang., 10–16||Sig. level||Non-Evang., 18||Evang., 18||Sig. level|
|Space knowledge (0–3)||1.71||1.32||0.001||1.64||1.29||0.001||1.47||1.20||0.001|
|natspac/y combined (1–3)||1.79||1.66||0.001||1.96||1.80||0.001||2.03||1.85||0.001|
|Categories (intspace)||Full Sample, 08||Evang., 08||Full Sample, 10–16||Evang., 10–16||Full Sample, 18||Evang., 18|
|Change from previous:||–||–||+3.5||−4.4||+2.0||+4.6|
|Change from previous:||–||–||+0.6||+1.9||−1.0||−4.9|
|Not at all interested||32.8%||35.7%||28.7%||38.0%||27.7%||38.3%|
|Change from previous:||–||–||−4.1||+2.3||−1.0||+0.3|
|Categories (natspac/y variables combined)||Full Sample, 04–08||Evang., 04–08||Full Sample, 10–16||Evang., 10–16||Full Sample, 18||Evang., 18|
|Increase funding (“too little”)||15.7%||10.7%||24.4%||17.5%||26.3%||17.2%|
|Maintain funding (“just right amount”)||47.5%||44.4%||47.0%||44.5%||50.3%||50.9%|
|Change from previous:||–||–||+8.2||+6.9||+5.2||+6.1|
|Less funding (“too much”)||36.8%||44.9%||28.6%||38.0%||23.4%||31.9%|
|Model 1||Model 2||Model 3||Model 4|
|2018/Trump era (year recode, 0–1 dummy)||0.334 **||0.358 *||0.455 ***||0.301 **|
|Male (sex recoded, 0–1 dummy)||0.299 ***||−0.071||0.195 ***||−0.260 **|
|Black (race recoded, 0–1 dummy)||−0.312 ***||0.025||−0.821 ***||−0.659 ***|
|Hispanic (hispanic recoded, 0–1 dummy)||−0.311 *||−0.282||−0.320 ***||−0.045|
|Pre–1946 birth (age recoded, 0–1 dummy)||0.224 *||0.148||−0.095||−0.125|
|Post–1965 birth (age recoded, 0–1 dummy)||0.296 ***||0.253 ‡||0.196 ***||0.115|
|Education (degree, 0–4)||0.238 ***||0.171 **||0.237***||0.211 ***|
|Income (income98/06/16 recoded, 1–8)||0.060 ***||0.066 *||0.037 **||0.052 **|
|Conservativism (polviews recoded, 1–5)||0.023||0.070||−0.046 ‡||−0.032|
|Republican (partyid recoded, 0–1)||0.285 **||0.427 *||0.281 ***||0.427 **|
|Independent (partyid recoded, 0–1)||0.094||0.063||0.035||−0.067|
|Church attendance (attend recoded, 1–6)||−0.081 ***||−0.061 ‡||−0.017||−0.021|
|Space interest (intspace recode, 1–3)||–||1.280 ***||–||1.230 ***|
|Space knowledge (summative score, 0–3)||–||0.115 ‡||–||0.027|
|Intercept||−0.528 **||−2.938 ***||0.050||−2.123 ***|
|χ2||264.713 ***||339.200 ***||549.887 ***||738.074 ***|
|(degrees of freedom)||(12)||(14)||(12)||(14)|
|Nagelkerke Pseudo R2||0.081||0.253||0.076||0.250|
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Ambrosius, J.D. Reexamining the “Separation of Church and Space”: Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration in the Trump–Pence Age. Religions 2020, 11, 590. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110590
Ambrosius JD. Reexamining the “Separation of Church and Space”: Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration in the Trump–Pence Age. Religions. 2020; 11(11):590. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110590Chicago/Turabian Style
Ambrosius, Joshua D. 2020. "Reexamining the “Separation of Church and Space”: Evangelical Protestant Support for Space Exploration in the Trump–Pence Age" Religions 11, no. 11: 590. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110590