On comparing space probes and hungry kids

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Last week, the big story in the news was the European Space Agency’s Philae probe landing on comet 67P. Some called the landing historic (which it is—landing a probe on a comet is pretty unprecedented). But others—notably many Christians—received the news with a fair bit more cynicism. In fact, more than a few times I read how some folks they couldn’t believe we would waste billions of dollars while millions of children around the world go hungry.

Where, oh, where are our priorities, people?!?

I get this reaction, in some ways. I mean, I work for an organization that helps these very children. I’ve met those children, and been in their homes. I actually have a half-decent sense of what their daily lives are like.

But I’ve gotta be honest: comparing space probes and the needs of hungry kids is kind of silly. And when I see it happen, especially when it’s folks who I know are actually quite intelligent and thoughtful, it’s disappointing. Here are three reasons why:

1. It’s fauxtrage. Most people who appear upset about this, and make this silly comparison, aren’t really all that upset. Remember #BringBackOurGirls? #TakeDownThatPost was more effective.

2. It’s naïvely simplistic. While lamenting the fact that billions of dollars were spent on this project, I saw many a mention of it only taking $400 million or so to eradicate world hunger. So shouldn’t that money have been used for that purpose? As if we just throw enough money at a problem and it’ll go away.

This suggestion (which tends to be most strongly advocated for in socialist-leaning nations such as mine) overlooks a significant problem: it’s not true. Without getting into a long treatise on the subject, we can’t forget that world hunger has more to do with explicit human sin (expressed in corrupt governments) and the natural outworking of the curse (work being fruitless toil) than a lack of money. Changing life for the poor starts with changing the hearts of people.

(And if you want the longer version, read Awaiting a Savior, if you’d be so kind.)

3. It’s demeaning to the people who work in that field (and the “poor” children who want to). Imagine you sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion, and that child wants to be an astronaut or an engineer when he grows up. So, he works really hard in school, and eventually, has an opportunity to go to university. There, he takes a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and graduates with honors. Finally, he gets his dream job, and starts working for a space agency, and eventually helps design a new probe or spacecraft. What would you say to him if his work were to be used in a similar scientific endeavor? Was he wrong to pursue his dream—and actually, by God’s grace, accomplish it?

What we fail to realize is that behind space exploration is not a faceless committee, but people. People who love what they do. People who are passionate about space and engineering and exploring the universe God has created and placed us in. To call their work a waste is demeaning, not only to them, but to the people who dream of doing it someday. (To say nothing of overlooking the fact that none of the money has been wasted—remember, people get paid to work in this industry, and some of them likely even give to charitable organizations!)

So how about this: when we’re concerned with what we perceive as wrong priorities in the world, we should ask ourselves two things:

1. What is it that prevents me from celebrating human achievement and marvelling at an element of God’s creation?

2. If I’m truly concerned about the needs of the poor, am I supporting organizations that are making a difference in their lives to the fullest of my desire and ability? 

When we do a little bit of heart checking, we usually find we’ve got less to be fauxtragey about.


Photo credit: ridingwithrobots via photopin cc