When I was a boy, the atheistic Soviet government put the first man into space. That was on April 12, 1961 (from here). Shortly afterwards, we received this news.
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was proclaimed by the Soviet leadership to have announced, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.” (from here)
The story was not true, but it took many decades for the truth to come out. Here is the excerpt of an interview of a friend of Yuri Gagarin, Colonel Valentin Petrov, associate professor at the Gagarin Air Force Academy.
– And what about the famous phrase ascribed to Gagarin: “I have been to space but have not seen God”?
– In fact, it was not Gagarin but Khruschev who said it. It happened during the Central Committee plenary meeting that considered anti-religious propaganda. Khruschev then gave all the Party and Komsomol organizations the task to engage in this propaganda and said: Why should you clutch at God? Here is Gagarin who flew to space but saw no God there. But some time later these words began to be presented in a different aspect. References were made not to Khruschev but to Gagarin who, indeed, was the people’s favourite and such a statement from his lips could be of tremendous importance. They said, few would believe Khruschev but everybody would certainly believe Gagarin. But Gagarin never said that, he just couldn’t utter such words. (from here)
As it happens, Gargarin was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Why bring up this story about Yuri Gargarin now? I just want to thank tildeb. and I have had a debate at this post, KILLING METAPHYSICS?. ‘s determined effort to misrepresent Galileo’s position on Heliocentrism as anti-Christian and atheistic made me think about what the Soviet leadership said about Gargarin’s trip into space. They said Gargarin had not seen God. Somehow that proved God did not exist, and ‘s proof seemed similar.
So I looked up that old story, and I was pleasantly surprised. Gargarin had never said any such thing. Just as Galileo never had any intention of proving God does not exist, neither did Gargarin, but some Atheists would like us to believe otherwise.
It is funny, actually. In Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the work that sparked the controversy, Galileo Galilei explained his purpose.
As to the discourses we have held, and especially this last one concerning the reasons for the ebbing and flowing of the ocean, I am really not entirely convinced; but from such feeble ideas of the matter as I have formed, I admit that your thoughts seem to me more ingenious than many others I have heard. I do not therefore consider them true and conclusive; indeed, keeping always before my mind’s eye a most solid doctrine that I once heard from a most eminent and learned person, and before which one must fall silent, I know that if asked whether God in His infinite power and wisdom could have conferred upon the watery element its observed reciprocating motion using some other means than moving its containing vessels, both of you would reply that He could have, and that He would have known how to do this in many ways which are unthinkable to our minds. From this I forthwith conclude that, this being so, it would be excessive boldness for anyone to limit and restrict the Divine power and wisdom to some particular fancy of his own. (from here)
In Galileo’s dialogue, the words above belong to the character named Simplicio. That dedicated follower of Ptolemy and Aristotle presents the traditional views and the arguments against the Copernican position. Galileo intended Salviati, the character reflecting his own position, to be the wiser. Nevertheless, it is Simplicio who presents the final lesson in their discourse; it is the lesson Galileo hoped his opponents would learn.
- Stargazing with Galileo (www.skyandtelescope.com)
- Galileo and the Telescope (galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu)
- Yuri Gagarin (en.wikiquote.org)
- Is God Wholly Separate from the Material Universe? (www.bigquestionsonline.com)