WERNHER VON BRAUN:
OF MODERN SPACE
A CHRISTIAN AND A CREATIONIST
(Investigator 96, 2004 May)
The life and work of
Wernher von Braun,
the father of modern space flight, is reviewed, focusing on his
and his creationist world view. A staunch supporter of creationism, he
openly made his views known about his conclusion that the universe is
designed by an all-powerful God and that the creationist world view
be taught in the schools alongside the evolutionary world view, His
shows evolutionists that creationism is an entirely inadequate
for the reality around us, and that a theistic world view, where God is
not only the Creator but also Sustainer, is a defensible position.
In 1934 a twenty-two-year-old who was to change the world of science forever received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Berlin. For security reasons his dissertation bore the nondescript title "About Combustion Tests." This important theoretical discussion and experimental investigation of the injection, combustion, equilibrium and expansion phenomenon involved in liquid fuel rocket engines was even then recognized as critical for the future. Called the father of modern space flight, von Braun's work probably more than that of any other single scientist brought about the space age (Bergaust 1976).
An account of von
career is a history
of the American space program (von Braun 1971). His accomplishments are
legendary. The recipient of the Certificate of Merit, National Health
the State of Alabama Academy of Honor; the Order for the Merit of
and Inventions of Paris, France; American Society of Mechanical
Man of the Year Award; Associated Press Man of the Year in Science
Smithsonian Institution Langley Medal; and the Federal Cross of Merit
from the Republic of West Germany, 1972, are only a few of his
honors. His scores of honorary academic degrees include Doctorates from
Notre Dame University, Emory University in Atlanta, and the University
His Science Work
One of the first persons to describe in detail the principle of a two-stage liquid fueled rocket was German physicist Hermann Oberth. In 1930 Oberth tested a small liquid filled rocket engine – and one of his assistants was eighteen-year-old engineering student Wernher von Braun. The son of a baron, von Braun was educated in Zurich, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany (Green 1966). As an adolescent, von Braun had become interested in rocketry and in 1930, at age 17, joined a group of Germans involved in a rocket club. Included in this club was Willy Ley and other prominent rocket scientists (Asimov 1972, p. 736)
His success became widely known, and in 1932 the German Army began openly supporting the team. When Hitler came to power in 1933, the success of their rocket work was widely recognized, and by 1938 a rocket with an eleven-mile range had been developed (Asimov 1972, p. 736). Von Braun soon had 80 scientists and technicians working for him at Peenemuende, in northwest Germany (Lamont, 1994). Under his leadership, the first true rocket – a missile which carries both its own fuel and oxidant – was successfully launched in 1942. This rocket is now known as the V-2, meaning the second model of the vergeltung (German for vengeance). The V-2 was the world's first operational guided ballistic missile, a technical coup achieved under von Braun's able direction. To achieve this, his team had to make significant progress in understanding aerodynamics, rocket propulsion and guidance systems.
Although von Braun at first supported the German war effort, he soon became disenchanted with Hitler's policies and war aims. As a Christian and a creationist, he believed that all men and women were brothers and sisters who descended from Adam and Eve. Thus, he could not accept Hitler's racial theories and soon began to voice opposition against his policies, especially the war. Even before this, Hitler's suspicions of him and the German government's interference with his programs delayed the development of the V-2. Eventually Heinrich Himmler tried to take over the program, widening the gap between von Braun and his government even further.
When, beginning in
September of 1944, thousands
of V-2 rockets attacked the civilian populations of London, Paris and
von Braun objected. As a result he and his top aides were jailed near
war's end. Before the war ended, he was released because Hitler
that without him, the program could not progress. He soon fled
with his entire team and their families – some 5,000 people –
to the Americans in the spring of 1945. He was one of the 118
clip scientists" and the over 4,500 German army technicians who were
to the United States in about 1945-1946. About 90 men, "...about the
German staff at the rocket-weapon base…" were transferred in September
of 1945 alone (New York Times, Nov. 18, 1945). The story of his
escape to America is well known:
The American space program was thus largely a transplant of the German program. When von Braun arrived in America in 1945, he and his German associates continued their research on captured German V-2 rockets, first at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then at White Sands New Mexico. Once in the United States, he gained the trust and respect of his fellow scientists and is new boss, the American government, winning numerous loyalty and patriotic awards for his service to his new country (Holmes 1962).
He soon became the leader of the Huntsville, Alabama scientists that placed America's first satellite – Explorer I – into orbit on January 31, 1958 (Greene 1966). Asimov states that von Braun "...might have preceded Sputnik if he had been given the go-ahead, but he was as hindered by the American policy under Eisenhower as be bad been hampered by German policy under Hitler" (1972, p. 736). In fairness, it should be stressed that his problems in the United States were for different reasons than in Germany, and include lack of support for his space program. The Soviets' coup in achieving the first successful satellite was an enormous embarrassment to the Americans, and did much to encourage the development of von Braun's goals for the American space science program. After this, von Braun's success was phenomenal.
Also critical to von Braun's success was his enormous dedication. Holmes (1962, p. 107) concluded that von Braun "…must certainly rank among the most single-minded men in recorded history." With great devotion, he pursued for 35 years the idea of building rockets for space travel. Although he was forced in his early career to build weapons rockets, he realized that this was the only way that be was able to obtain the needed support to develop the technology and hardware for his dream, a space program Gourlay, 1962). It was only in America that he was able to fulfill his dream to use rockets for the good of humanity in space exploration by putting up satellites. The incredible importance of satellites for our way of life includes communications, weather information, scientific research, as well as military purposes. One of the major reasons for the success of the Gulf war was because of the use of space satellites.
Between 1950 and 1955,
the development of the Redstone, the first American operational
missile. A modified Redstone served as the first stage of the rocket
launched America's first artificial satellite, Explorer I, into space.
In 1959, von Braun and his team also placed Pioneer IV, the USA's first
interplanetary probe, which traveled around the Sun, in space. In 1960
he supervised the development of the Saturn liquid fuel rocket which
provided the basis for manned space flight – taking Neil Armstrong and
his crew to the on. Project Apollo was probably the peak of the
space program – and Wernher von Braun was at the center of it all.
The Scientist as Creationist
Dr. von Braun was also
a Lutheran who over the years wrote "a good deal about his Christian
and gave "a number of speeches on the subject" (Bergaust 1976, p. 109).
An open supporter of creationism, he concluded that it is "a viable
theory for the origin of the universe, life and man" (quoted in
1973 p. 7). In a letter he wrote in support of the two-model approach,
which was read to the California State Board of Education by Dr. John
on September 14, 1972, Dr. von Braun stated:
While the admission of a
design for the universe
ultimately raises the question of a Designer (a subject outside of
the scientific method does not allow us to exclude data which lead to
conclusion that the universe, life and man are based on design. To be
to believe only one conclusion – that everything in the universe
by chance – would violate the very objectivity of science itself.
there are those who argue that the universe evolved out of a random
but what random process could produce the brain of a man or the system
of the human eye? (Segraves 1973, pp. 7-8)
His beliefs regarding the importance of studying God's creation – to learn more about God the Creator – are vividly expressed in the following words:
relationship is deepened in
the devout scientist as his knowledge of the natural laws grows.
1976, p. 113)
Relative to the modem church-state conflict in America, von Braun openly stated,
He was especially impressed by Paley's watch hypothesis, and von Braun's own words vividly reveal how important the design argument was to him,
Many men who are
intelligent and of good
faith say they cannot visualize a Designer. Well, can a physicist
an electron? The electron is materially inconceivable and yet, it is so
perfectly known through its effects that we use it to illuminate our
guide our airliners...and take the most accurate measurements. What
rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electron as
while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the ground that
cannot conceive Him? I am afraid that, although they really do not
the electron either, they are ready to accept it because they managed
produce a rather clumsy mechanical model of it borrowed from rather
experience in other fields... (Segraves 1973, p. 8-9)
He believed that the two-model approach should be presented in the schools, and his own words vividly reveal the depth of his conviction (Segraves 1973, pp. 9-10). He also stated that
And von Braun added that the two major realities of human existence are
He did not argue, as many do today, that science and religion should be separate and not mixed, but on the contrary, he concluded that,
His Religious Views
In the authoritative and
of von Braun, Bergaust recorded a conversation he had with von Braun in
which the rocket scientist openly stated,
When Bergaust asked him about religion and science, specifically if "technological methods and religious beliefs are really compatible?" von Braun answered,
And, what did the Father of the American Space Program feel regarding the Bible? In his own words, he stated that the Bible was established as "The most effective bulwark ever built against the erosive effects of time... The Bible is…the revelation of God's nature and love…" (Bergaust 1976. 115-116). Prayer too was critically important to von Braun. When asked when his need to pray was particularly strong, he stated,
In summary, as Morris notes, von Braun believed that:
Von Braun died in Alexandria, Virginia on June 16, 1977, leaving the world a radically different place than existed when he was born on March 23, 1912 in Wirsitz, Germany.
A study of the history of western science has revealed that religion was the major motivation for many of the greatest scientists. A few examples are Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and George Washington Carver. They realized that God reveals Himself both in the Scriptures and in His creation, and to get closer to God, it is incumbent upon the believer to study His creation. This is clear from the writings of the aforementioned and many other scientists.
That this motivation is
also important today
for some scientists is best illustrated in the case of Wernher von
Although he is by no means the only example, he was more open about his
religious beliefs than many eminent religious scientists. Dr. von Braun
knew the consequences of speaking out publicly for what he believed –
was willing to pay the price, both in Nazi Germany and in America as
He was thus a good example of the wisdom of the Bible's words that we
obey God rather than man (Acts 4:29). Though this commandment may be
to keep in the short run, the life of Wernher von Braun proves its
Asimov, Isaac. 1972. Asimov's
encyclopedia of science and technology; the lives and achievements
great scientists from ancient times to the present chronologically
Avon Books. New York.
Bergaust, Erik. 1976. Wernher von Braun. National Space Institute. Washington, DC.
Braun, Wernher von. 1971. Space frontier. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York.
Gourlay, Walter E. 1962. Picture book of today's scientists. Sterling Publishing Company. New York.
Greene, Jay E. (Ed.) 1966. Modern men of science. McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York.
Holmes, Jay. 1962. America on the moon; the enterprise of the 60s. J.B. Lippincott Co. Philadelphia.
Lamont, Ann. 1994. Wernher von Braun, pioneer of space exploration. Creation Ex Nihilo 16(2):26-30.
Morris, Henry M. 1982. Men of science, men of God; great scientists who believed the Bible. Creation-Life Publishers. San Diego.
Segraves, Kelly. 1973. Jesus Christ Creator. Creation-Science Research Center. San Diego.
Jerry Bergman (#94) presented Wernher von Braun (the German rocket scientist employed in the US space program after World II) as a Christian creationist who in 1944 opposed Hitler:
When, beginning in September of 1944, thousands of V-2 rockets attacked the civilian populations of London, Paris and elsewhere, von Braun objected. As a result he and his top aides were jailed near the war’s end. (2004 May)
This positive view of von Braun as a Nazi victim became the normal perception of him in post-WWII USA.
In The Dark Side of the Moon (2009) Wayne Biddle reveals that von Braun was a member of the SS, made no objection to using slave labour in Hitler’s V-2 rocket program, and never expressed public regret for his past.
It was only in America that von Braun became a Christian and a creationist:
Under the Third Reich, he had been a good German, and in the United States he would be an exemplary American. On first entering the country, he became a born again Christian, joining the Church of the Nazarene, and on April 14, 1955, forty-one members of the German rocket team, including Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, were sworn in as citizens of the United States (Nelson, 2009, p. 110).
Thus what he did in Germany was as the unregenerate man.
Furthermore Von Braun became an SS officer in order to achieve his life goal: "For his entire life Wernher von Braun had one aim: to go to Mars" (Nelson, 2009, p. 110).
He was never involved in
concentration camp activities or killing supposed inferior races as
were other SS men. He did use concentration camp inmates to work on his
missile projects, but this may have saved many lives as Oskar Schindler
did. German businessman Oskar Schindler saved hundreds of Polish and
Czechoslovakian Jews from death in Nazi concentration camps by
employing them as "slave labor" in his factory, protecting them from
the wrath of the Nazi.
Reference: Nelson, Craig. 2009. Rocket Men. New York: Viking