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A More Interesting World

A funny thing’s happened now I’ve joined an atheist blog network: I rarely blog about atheism. There are reasons for that. My fellow FtBers usually have said all I need to say, better than I could have said it. That’s one of the main reasons.

But I think the main one is this: religion bores me. Atheism doesn’t, but as I said, my fellow atheists have that beat covered. I’d rather spend time with my rocks and my homicidal felid, who is currently leaning against my arm giving me looks of utter devotion. She’s either cold, or her food bowl is empty. From the charm she’s unleashing, possibly both.

See? I wandered away again. There’s so much more interesting stuff in the world than religion. There’s le chaton, warm and snuggly and impossibly adorable, a combination rare enough it must be savored while its brief moments last (oh, look, it’s over. Sigh). There’s Doctor Who. There are friends, with adventures in the making. There’s a Kindle full of books, so many and so varied I often have trouble deciding what to read next. There are cherry blossoms, which I’ll photograph against the sky when it stops raining.

And there’s science.

“The world,” Libby Anne wrote recently, “got so much bigger.” She’d discovered science. From a tiny span of less than ten thousand years to billions. From “God created them” to evolution. I loved reading her post about discovering the immensity of the world. I’ve learned to view several million years as an eyeblink, much less ten thousand. I never had time constrained to a fraction of human civilization – my parents weren’t young earth creationists. So stepping into her shoes, watching the universe expand from the size of small-minded dogma to an immensity of time and space, was a joy.

I have a hard time imagining the allure of the fundamentalist worldview. It’s so tiny. It feels chained, constrained, contrived and choked. It lacks imagination. It’s bloody boring.

Every other religion has achieved that status for me: boring. I’m bored. People talk about their faith, and I’m bored. Some religious stories (what Christians call “myths”) are mildly interesting. Some of them are quite a lot of fun, woven into stories. Some of them make great metaphors. But too many of those stories are painfully limited, dull, nonsensical. Nonsense can be immensely entertaining, mind, but not as employed by most religions. And when people try to elevate their nonsense and their myths to the status of a truth claim, what mild interest I may have felt flees.

Sorry, religious folks, but science makes the world much more interesting.

I spent too much time in my younger days looking for magic. A world without magic, I thought, would be boring. I wanted elves and faeries and mystic powers and possibly even gods. They just had to be real. Otherwise, what was the point? Science took all of the magic out of things. Sure, astronomy was pretty, and geology was fun, and physics could get pretty wild, but it wasn’t supernatural. It didn’t have elves in.

But as I got older, and could find no evidence for gods and elves and faeries and magic, I gradually stopped looking. Then I realized I’d need science in order to write better SF. Then I discovered science bloggers, and fell under a spell. Not a magic spell, a science spell, which is quite a lot more powerful.

I’d known space was enormous. Now I began feeling it. Every other cosmology pales in comparison to the Big Bang. You can keep your dude speaking the Word or a giant getting hacked in half or some dude masturbating the universe into existence. I’ll take the Planck Epoch and inflation and these mind-boggling speeds and energies that took the universe from a singularity to a nearly fourteen billion light-year behemoth, cooking elements and stars and eventually life along the way. That cosmology’s so huge I could spend a lifetime studying it, and still just barely grasp a corner.

If I want a mindtrip, I don’t need to drink some peyote and have psychedelic visions. I can just dip up a bit of quantum physics. There’s stuff in there even an acid trip can’t match for sheer weirdness.

No creation story ever told by a religion can even approach the elegance of evolution: simple chemical self-replicators exploding in diversity and complexity as the eons pass.

And as for how the world got to be the way it is, even gods working forges inside mountains can’t compete with geology. Worldwide floods laying down everything at once is just laughable. Give me stories of plate tectonics, of wind and weather and eruptions and earthquakes and shifting seas. Give me the language of a little brown rock, so I can hear its tales, and discover how very much it’s got to say.

Give me reality. Give me science. It’s all the magic I ever wanted. I just didn’t realize that, when I was haring off after the supernatural. The natural is as super as I’ll ever need. It’s more interesting because it’s real.

I still find fiction fun, of course. There’s a place for stories, stuff we just make up for various reasons and enjoy losing ourselves in for a time. I sometimes still do love to immerse myself in imagination and, just for a while, believe impossible things. But I spend most of my time these days delving into books on science, and scientific papers, and teasing out the details of the true history of the universe. Mystery and magic, awe and wonder, a sense of something immensely larger than myself, the delight that comes from knowing I’m part of that – I find it in science.

The world’s a far more interesting place without all those gods and so forth cluttering it up. I’ve discovered a universe far beyond our imagination, but the most amazing thing is, we’re figuring it out. Little old imperfect us. We’ve learned how to speak to the universe. We’re not fluent in all its languages yet, but we’re getting there. And now I’ve had discussions with even the smallest slivers of this wild, wonderful, real world, it’s impossible to even imagine religion. The world is far more than any of them ever dreamt.

Comments

  1. Tomaz says

    Science, is that the point of your religion? I know many people considering themselfs atheist, but they are first class science believers. It’s wrong, I belive:)

    • Sparks says

      Epic FAIL. Science is a process that does not involve belief of any sort. And atheism is to religion as abstinence is to a new sexual position.

      • says

        Actually, this is a falsehood promoted by many science enthusiasts, and without being rude, I’ll take a moment to squash it.

        *Science believes that, in principle at least, the universe is understandable and comprehensible, without resorting to supernatural causes.

        *Science believes that observation, in hand with conjecture and speculation, and subject to logic and rationality, are the key to making progress in the previously mentioned understanding.

        *Science believes individuals are biased toward their own ideas, and that criticism from others is crucial to weeding out flawed observations and conjectures.

        *Science believes the clearest and simplest explanation that adequately addresses all known aspects of a problem or phenomenon is the one most likely to be true. (AKA “principle of parsimony” or “Occam’s Razor”)

        *Science believes that no explanation, theory or law should be accepted as absolutely true; if new observations come along that make a previously accepted idea unworkable, it may need to be reworked or even entirely scrapped.

        This is only a partial list of the top of my head, but the fact is, “Science,” the people who do it, and the institutions who support and employ those people have plenty of beliefs. What we don’t have is faith, except a faith in the fallibility of human nature. It is at all times a work in progress, and much of what we accept as likely to be true at any given time may eventually be discarded.

        • Sparks says

          Interesting, but I still can’t see it. Science is a process, not a person. Scientists can hold beliefs, not science as a process. In order to do science, we have to have a starting set of assumptions, I call them just that. Assumptions, not beliefs.

          Maybe I’m knit picking here. Thanks for the response in any event.

          • says

            The result- i.e. knowledge claims- of the process is also called science. And you’re right in that the above “beliefs” are perhaps more accurately called assumptions of the practice of science. However, I’d be hard pressed to explain how an “a priori assumption” is different from a “belief.”

      • says

        Belief simply means you think something is true. It can be founded on evidence, on faith, on intuition, or on simple preference. Various combinations are possible though the first one, when available, tends to crowd out the others.

        • says

          That would make the word ‘belief’ rather pointless, wouldn’t it? Having so many sources………

          @ Lockwood: And a priori assumption is defined this way…”an assumption that is true without further proof or need to prove.” This supports your position, yet…..

          Science, as you know, is a self correcting process. Shit which seems apparent nevertheless gets tested. Over and over and over and over again. There is never enough proof and always a need to prove again. Nothing is ever completely and totally accepted as fact/reality. This would suggest that belief and/or a priori assumptions have no place in the scientific process. Yet, in order to do science, we need a starting place.

          Scientists think that all of the Cosmos is knowable. But the jury is still out on that one and always will be for that matter.

          IOW–replace the word believe with the word think in your list above and it works a lot better I think.

          Of course, I could be wrong. :-)

          • Tomaz says

            Think/beleive. Perhaps we just use different words for similar thoughts. Thanks for replies!

    • says

      Much as I hate to dignify that with an answer, I owe this to everyone who discovers this blog and might mistake what you said for something even slightly valid.

      Science begins with a few axioms, which are assumed a priori to be true.

      * Comprehensibility: Everything that happens in the Universe is understandable in terms of intrinsic properties and behaviours of matter (sometimes anthropomorphised as “laws of nature”).

      * Universality: These intrinsic properties and behaviours apply to all matter.

      * Immutability: The intrinsic properties and behaviours of matter have never changed and never will change.

      None of these can be proved to be true; but if any of them turned out to be false, then the consequences would be much, much worse than just the scientific method not working; because these fundamental, intrinsic behaviours have wide-reaching effects that manifest in multiple domains (and therefore can be proved by many different experiments). Light travelling in straight lines gives us distant objects appearing smaller than nearby ones, as well as the Inverse Square Law. The pressure in a fluid acting equally in all directions explains why soap bubbles are round, as well as why vacuum cleaners appear to suck up dirt (actually, atmospheric pressure is blowing the dirt up the nozzle) and part of how aeroplanes fly (Newton’s third law also comes into it: the air changed direction, meaning the wing must have exerted a force on it, and so in turn feels an equal and opposite reaction from the air).

      Basically, anytime you expect something to happen the way it always has happened before, you’re using exactly the same assumptions on which the scientific method is based.

      • Tomaz says

        Before buying that point of view we should agree what the intrinsic properties and behaviours of matter are. And that would be hard from my point of view. I think we don’t know them (intristic properties) and it is hard to talk about something you don’t know. The statement “a priori to be true” seems bold and courageous when speaking about nature (outside math).

        And also about the scientific method: if we acccept the scientific method something as “anytime you expect something to happen the way it always has happened before, you’re using exactly the same assumptions on which the scientific method is based” we would only do pussyfooting. Scientific method is developing construction. As geologist I am fan of K. Popper, but I belive that his theory of falsification, despite its present clearness, won’t surrive. Is the world really thrue/false or black/white, even if you break it to elementary parts?

        (I apologize my English is not as good as perhaps should be for that discussion)

        • says

          Before buying that point of view we should agree what the intrinsic properties and behaviours of matter are.

          Er — no. That’s the whole point. Matter observably has intrinsic properties and behaviours that are universal, immutable and comprehensible. Science is the ongoing process of discovering and cataloguing these phenomena. In other words, we know they exist; we don’t know what they are. And that is a good enough reason to find out.

          The statement “a priori to be true” seems bold and courageous when speaking about nature (outside math).

          There is no “outside of maths”. Mathematics is an emergent property of existence. In other words, as soon as you have things, you can start counting them.

          Also, if any of these axioms turned out to be false, we’d know about it pretty sharpish; because other things beside the scientific method depend on their truth.

          Is the world really thrue/false or black/white, even if you break it to elementary parts?

          Not sure what you mean by this. A proposition cannot by definition be simultaneously true and false. Sometimes it’s possible to prove that a statement is false, but not that it is true; sometimes it’s possible to prove that a statement is true, but not that it is false. At any rate, it’s possible to infer how likely an unprovable condition is based on how hard you have looked in vain for the (dis)proof.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’ll take the Planck Epoch and inflation and these mind-boggling speeds and energies that took the universe from a singularity to a nearly fourteen billion light-year behemoth, cooking elements and stars and eventually life along the way. That cosmology’s so huge I could spend a lifetime studying it, and still just barely grasp a corner.

    Yes!

    I have the Hubble Ultra Deep Field as my desktop at work.* The universe is much more interesting and exciting than The Big Guy In The Sky who worries about my sex life.

    *This is my present desktop on this computer. It’s a volcanic eruption in Chile a couple of years ago. Yeah, I’m weird.

    • says

      I’ve got my favorite background up now. I’ve been trying to find the source, but it’s an astrounaut’s hand reaching out to touch a robonaut’s hand in the style of The Creation of Adam. I’ll attach it if I can find it.

  3. Syl says

    Amen and hallelujah, sister! This is my kind of Sunday sermon.

    I have a religious background similar to Libby Anne’s (though not quite as insular). It was science that broke the spell. Once I began reading books on biology and astronomy and cosmology and geology and physics and chemistry I just couldn’t get enough of this fascinating stuff – and best of all, it was REAL. The natural world is far grander than any mystical tale or religious doctrine. To paraphrase Richard Feynman, this god that people worship is just too small and provincial – nature, as she is, is far grander and bigger than any religion.

  4. Sercee says

    This.

    You, my Lady, are wonderful and bring great justice to the awe and grandeur that is real.

  5. speedwell says

    When someone comes in the atheist chat room I help moderate, and we’re talking about sports, gaming, food, cats, current events, or sex (the six perennial topics of all chats), they sometimes express disappointment that we’re not all atheisty and stuff. To these people I often say, “If you want to talk about atheist atheology, fine with me, but we’re just sitting around being godless.” So please, carry on, continue being godless. :)

  6. says

    I wish I couldn’t find something more interesting to comment, but I can’t. Clap, clap, clap! Dammed well done. I need to go read more of your recent posts that I haven’t gotten to now…

    (BTW, Tomaz — care to actually *explain* your claim that “It’s wrong”? Preferably with quotations from Dana’s post, and actual logic…)

  7. says

    Someone named J.B. Philips wrote a book titled “Your God is Too Small” wherein he proceeded to prove otherwise…to his satisfaction, not to mine. The biblical god is tiny and, to quote Heinlein, “has the manners and morals of a spoiled child”.

    I think what religionists dislike most about science is that it has proved we are not the center of the universe, in fact there is no center. We live in a universe consisting of 100 billion to one trillion galaxies each with billions of stars with countless planets orbiting those stars. We are unimportant in the grand scheme of things and that’s what galls them. But to look up at the night sky and see the immensity is to me more mindblowing than any manmade theology. In fact there was talk of building an atheist church – for me a planetarium with a terrific program is the place for me to revel in existence and feel to a small degree one with the universe. That’s my church.

  8. Achrachno says

    Religion may be boring, theology certainly is, but it’s also terrifying. Especially here in the USA. There is a serious chance we could be converted to a theocracy, even within a few years. Therefore, it’s probably good that we talk about it once in a while. That way maybe we won’t all have to flee to who knows where.

  9. says

    Tomaz says:
    March 19, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Think/beleive. Perhaps we just use different words for similar thoughts. Thanks for replies!

    Perhaps we do Tomaz, but this would put us in error. Think is a different word than believe and for good reason. They do not mean the same thing. They do not represent similar thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Sparks

  10. says

    Thank you for this.

    I remember an argument some years ago with a Christian. My point was that a non-God-requiring universe was inherently more wondrous than a God-requiring one would be; since the latter would necessarily be limited by God’s imagination. (Also, any God who managed to design a universe that so strongly resembles a non-God-requiring universe would be the worst kind of charlatan.)

    Just from watching water boil in a glass-lidded saucepan, it ought to be obvious how water evaporates from oceans, rivers and lakes and forms clouds — and that is a vastly more satisfying explanation for the water cycle than what Genesis has to offer.

  11. says

    I’m late to the game, but I’ll add my voice to the choir and thank you for this. This is a beautiful post and sums up the real world quite well. It also sums up why I don’t blog about atheism much. (Granted, my blog is only about two weeks old, so it’s still rather limited.)

    I believe I’ll be linking to this. Maybe hell will freeze over and I can send a few readers your way. :)