The strange thing about this was Oprah Winfrey’s rather strange stance that the ability to swim massive distances was somehow less impressive than the notion that Diana Nyad doesn’t believe in a god. The imaginary friend for adults.
How strange is it that really? Well I suppose considering the majority of the world believes in a god, the person who doesn’t believe can be an oddity. Some may go so far as to call ourselves delusional but frankly there is no evidence running for any gods and atheism is a pretty valid and logical point to stand on.
The thing was that Oprah believes that atheists cannot feel any awe or anything about the world and it’s people.
That’s simply not true. If anything, atheists feel more awe. Just because you know Penn and Teller’s bullet catching trick is a trick doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive and our understanding that there is a trick to how it’s done that we are not privy to does not somehow diminish the trick. I think it enhances it.
Oprah’s argument boils down to “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then! I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is!”
This argument is “What about Beauty” as if beautiful things are brought into existence solely for our benefit. A rainbow is beautiful. It is not beautiful because it was created to be beautiful. To the Christian who blindly follows faith, the rainbow is a divinely ordained message of peace. To us? It’s the product of refraction on raindrops. Now here is the thing, which do you think is more impressive? A just so story about how the Hyena got it’s laugh or how the Rainbow was made or the reality of split light?
Only a fool thinks that the Giant’s Causeway is more wonderful if you believe the story about the Giants rather than the one about volcanic rock. About pressure and temperature that is strong enough to melt rock forcing basalt pillars up into a vast plateau that was eroded by simple water and wind to the causeway.
The beautiful world of the religious is rather tame compared to reality.
It’s a stab in the back for those who do find beauty in the natural world. Or indeed in art and music. Does Oprah think the only beauty is in mathematics?
Just because you don’t believe in magic doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy Harry Potter. The universe is pretty wonderful without having to invoke magic to make it more unbelievable. When people derisively say “from goo to you” they don’t quite understand the mechanism and the beauty and the diversity of life. When they say “it’s just rocks” they don’t understand the forces of geology that make mountains and oceans. The beauty of music isn’t spoiled by knowing it’s due to the vibrations transmitted through the air into our ears and converted to chemistry.
It is a damn sight more wonderful than “magic” as an explanation of how things work.
The reason we don’t find religion as engaging is that realising our natural world and how it works makes us think that the world is not small but massive. The universe is enormous and the idea of religion and that the gods we have come up with and invented simply do not do justice to the world we live in let alone the Universe.
Nyad simply fell in love with one part of the world. The ocean and the ultimate joke is that no religious text, no god can ever transmit an understanding of that ocean like science can. Nyad (amusing name considering what a Naiad is and how good she is at swimming) probably has a deeper understanding of the ocean than any religion can lay claim to. For her it is not mere water but water containing life and plate tectonics and currents and eco-systems and weather systems.
To look at the world through the eyes of religion is to be blinkered and focussed and not realise how much more there really is. Oprah Winfrey did us a great disservice but we can do better.