Fifty years ago, NASA sent Apollo 8 to the moon on December 21, 1968. The flight crew included Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. They achieved many firsts in human history, including becoming the first humans to leave Earth and orbit around the moon, taking the first pictures of the Earth from deep space, and broadcasting the first live television coverage from lunar orbit.
Who could have imagined that it was only in August 1968 that NASA decided to send astronauts to the moon in four months? Timing was of the essence because the United States wanted to beat the Soviets in the space race and pave the way for moon landings to come. It was a gutsy move. Even under the best scenario, NASA decision makers thought the Apollo 8 mission had a 50 percent chance of succeeding.
Apollo 8’s marvelous historic journey took place way before I was born. Looking back on the footage, the most memorable moment for me was that on Christmas Eve, the three crew members took turns reading the first 10 verses of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth…” According to Commander Borman’s account, prior to Apollo 8’s take off, he tried to find something to say to the large broadcast audience––all people on earth who could hear the crew when the time came. But everything he and his crew tried “came up trite or foolish.” Eventually, a friend of a friend’s wife recommended reading the verses of Genesis.
At the peak of human achievement, some people could easily become arrogant and foolish, as in “look what we can do.” But these American astronauts humbly turned to the almighty God. When they looked at the beautiful and fragile earth from a distance, when they were awed by God’s creation. They were right that only the words of God were appropriate.
These Weren’t Lucky Coincidences
I don’t believe it is pure coincidence that the first human journey away from our planet Earth took place on Christmas Eve. I don’t believe that it’s sheer luck the that first humans to speak to us from outer space were Americans. I don’t believe it’s accidental that the first words that people on earth heard from the outer space for the first time in human history were the words of God.
Just imagine had the Soviet astronauts beat the American and reached outer space first. What would they have said, since communists don’t believe in God? Thanks to comrade Stalin for his wisdom and guidance? Or would they have read something from Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”: “Down with Capitalism,” or “abolish private property rights”?
Thank God that didn’t happen. The Almighty has an interesting way to reveal his plan. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Fifty years have passed since this historic journey, and we humans have made great strides in scientific discovery and technology development: smart phones, driverless cars, artificial intelligence (AI), to name a few. Many of these represent the best of human creativity and ingenuity. However, some of the scientific research and experiments are deeply troubling.
For example, scientists around the world have been experimenting with gene-editing in livestock animals in order to fight certain disease and enhance features we desire, such as meatier hogs. But scientists in China have gone much further, and the outcomes are troubling. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Wall Street Journal article: “When Chinese researchers deleted a gene that limits muscle growth in mammals so that rabbits would grow leaner, their creations exhibited an unusual characteristic: enlarged tongues. Similar experiments on Chinese pigs led some to develop an additional vertebrae.”
Such gene-editing in livestock is dangerous because it “could introduce unwanted mutations that pose a threat to human health when consumed, and they fear that mutated genes may spread unchecked as animals breed.”
Chinese Scientists Are Pushing the Envelope
Although there are still so many unknowns and uncertainties, an ambitious Chinese scientist has already taken gene-editing from animals to humans. Right after this Thanksgiving, the world woke up to the shocking news that He Jiankui, a scientist of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, claimed that he had modified human embryos with the gene-editing technology to create twin girls.
He claimed he did so to prevent the twins from developing HIV. But many scientists condemn his approach as unethical and say it could affect the twins in other areas and even introduce new diseases that would be passed down through generations. He so far has been very defiant towards all the criticism. That’snot surprising from a person who only a year ago proudly claimed in a state TV interview that “Some people said we shook the global gene-sequencing industry. Right. It’s me. He Jiankui. I did it.” These are not the kind of words that would be uttered by a humble person.
While one Chinese scientist is determined to play God in the process of human creation, others are reaching for the sky. Back in June this year, China joined Russia in carrying out five experiments that have modified a layer of the atmosphere, about the half the size of Britain, above Vasilsursk, a small Russian town in Eastern Europe.
These controversial experiments involved “firing up an array of high-power antennas and injected a large amount of microwaves into the high atmosphere. The peak power of the high frequency radio waves could reach 260 megawatts, enough to light up a small city.” Data collected afterwards show the modified atmosphere above Vasilsursk “experienced an electric spike with 10 times more negatively charged subatomic particles than surrounding regions.” Chinese scientists told reporters “Such international cooperation is very rare for China. The technology involved is too sensitive.“
The layer of the atmosphere the experiments tries to modify is called the ionosphere, where radio signals can travel long distances for communication. Part of the space race is to gain control of the ionosphere so military can “manipulate the sky as an instrument for military operations, such as submarine communication.” Also,“Changing the ionosphere over enemy territory can also disrupt or cut off their communication with satellites.”
Both Russia and the United States have built military bases for these purposes. China announced it is in the process of building the biggest and most advanced facility in Sanya, Hainan, “with capability to manipulate the ionosphere over the entire South China Sea.” Scientists from other nations warned such attempts to manipulate the atmosphere is dangerous because they may end up changing weather patterns and causing “natural disasters including hurricanes, cyclones and earthquakes.”
Chinese scientists pushed back on such criticism by saying, “We are not playing God. We are not the only country teaming up with the Russians.” While it may be true, and the Russians’ behavior is just as questionable as the Chinese’s, Chinese scientists uniquely stand out in such controversies because they have the full backing of the Chinese government, which is determined to turn China into a global technology leader no matter what it takes. He Jiankui, for example, received “41.5 million yuan (US$5.96 million) in government funding for his research on genome sequencing – a required technology for gene-editing research” in 2015.
While China eagerly provides state funding to advance scientific discovery and technology advancement, the country employs few rules and ethical standards on what is appropriate. Even those rules and ethical standards on books are rarely enforced. International rules and standards are often ignored to make way for national interests.
In other countries, besides enforcing rules and standards, religious beliefs often play an important role, serving as a moral compass to guide people on right and wrong. But for scientists brought up in an atheist regime, since they don’t believe in God, they are guided only by personal ambition and national pride. More often than not, ambition and pride can and will lead people down a dangerous path. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” says Proverbs 11:2.
Another Christmas is nearly here. As we commemorate the anniversary of Apollo 8, celebrating human achievement and the birth of our savior at the same time, it’s a good time to remind ourselves and fellow human beings: be humble. Approach the unknown with care and humility.
Understand no matter how much we have accomplished, our accomplishments are a small drop compared to God’s infinite wisdom. Don’t try to play God, but pray for God’s guidance to show us the way. As Isaac Newton said, “He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient. He endures from eternity to eternity and he is present from infinity to infinity.”