A Question I Was Asked:

Is 'Cosmism' a Cult?

The Question:

I saw a recent TV programme in the UK which seemed to claim that 'Cosmism' - rather than solid science - was behind the former USSR space race and that 'Cosmism' was a mystic movement. Is this a Russian cult?

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935).

UK Apologetics Reply:

'Cosmism' is not a cult in the sense that adherents go out and attempt to recruit new members. Rather, it is indeed a sort of mystic scientific, or quasi-scientific, movement and it did indeed lead to the old Russian, or USSR, space race back in the 1950s/1960s.

The people who led this movement mostly had Christian-related sentiments. They worked to achieve 'eternal life' for the human race and passionately believed in the concept of 'resurrection,' but they felt that it was scientifically-achievable. They mostly believed that it was Mankind's destiny to colonize space because this earth was doomed. Leading figures in the movement include Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov (1829-1903), who was a scientist and philosopher. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes him as,

"...founder of an immortalist (anti-death) philosophy emphasizing “the common task” of resurrecting the dead through scientific means."

He supported,

"the universal physical resurrection of the dead by future advances in science and technology. He was highly praised by such people as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy (literature), Afanasi Fet (poetry), and Konstantin Tsiolkowsky (astronautics), yet he is not well known in the West." (Source: http://www.iep.utm.edu/fedorov/).

The works of Fedorov, published posthumously, were apparently available (in accordance with the Christian spirit of Fedorov’s philosophy), free of charge from the publisher, who renounced all rights. The latter-named Tsiolkovsky was a pupil of Fedorov and it was he (Tsiolkovsky), who was especially interested in developing early rocket technology. Again, these people not only believed that science should work towards resurrecting the dead, but that space travel was the only future for the human race. Some areas of this movement (but not all) also supported eugenics, that is (in the 'Cosmist' form), the principle that human genetics should be controlled in order to only produce intelligent and morally-decent human beings.

It was Tsiolkowsky (the disciple of Fedorov, and the man who developed early rocket technology), who stated,

"The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but we cannot live forever in a cradle."

He is said to have theorized many aspects of human space travel and rocket propulsion decades before others, and he played an important role in the development of the Soviet and Russian space programmes of the past. But he supported a mystic philosophy, Christian-related, but certainly not amounting to biblical Christianity. He stated,

"Men are weak now, and yet they transform the Earth's surface. In millions of years their might will increase to the extent that they will change the surface of the Earth, its oceans, the atmosphere, and themselves. They will control the climate and the Solar System just as they control the Earth. They will travel beyond the limits of our planetary system; they will reach other Suns, and use their fresh energy instead of the energy of their dying luminary."

So the mystic philosophy of these people supported evolution. More on the life and work of Tsiolkovsky can be found here. Interestingly, it has been claimed that Yuri Gargarin himself (1934-1968), who, in 1961, was the first man to go into space, was descended from keen supporters of 'Cosmism.'

'Cosmism' continues to survive in modern Russia but the movement is small. One 'cosmist' group believe in - and practice - the freezing of the brains of certain deceased individuals, believing that - in the future - science will be able to use these brains again for the benefit of Mankind.

So the group are not really a cult as such, but they certainly hold a rather strange quasi-scientific/mystic amalgamation of concepts.
Robin A. Brace. April 15th, 2011.