Friday, December 20, 2013

An awe-ful example

First it was Oprah, and now it's Time magazine. The famous magazine has recently published a story with a dozy of a title...
Why There Are No Atheists at the Grand Canyon
All it takes is a little awe to make you feel religious
Seriously? Time just lets Jeffrey Kluger publish this crap? Where does this notion that awe requires
religion come from? It makes absolutely no sense to me, because I find much more awe and wonder in the world now that I am no longer religious.

When I was a believer, the beauty of nature was just there. There wasn't mystery to it. Things were majestic, but they were just there... left for granted. Why? Because as a Christian I was taught that everything was simply created by God. Everything was there because God willed it. Everything was as it was because God created it that was. And since God is all-powerful, he can just create whatever he wants, however he wants, whenever he wants. The only real magic is, well...magic.

But now that I'm an atheist, I see much more wonder in the world. Understanding the process of evolution, makes a tree, cat, bird, or a mantis all the more amazing. These species are the product of a long and complicated road. A road that could have led somewhere else. Something as simple as the leaf on a tree is amazing to me now. A structure that converts sunlight into energy. So elegant, so amazing. Beauty I didn't see when my explanation was simply 'God made it'.

When I look at the night sky, I now see it for so much more than I did as a believer. The stars looked nice then, but the Bible taught that the Earth was the only world of importance. Now I see the immense vastness of the cosmos. The other worlds, the other galaxies, the great expanses of wonder on mystery. The sight of the night sky truly is an awe inspiring sight.

Also with the Grand Canyon. I feel like it is even more amazing as a non-believer, than as a believer. In my youth, I was taught that God just made the canyon (and all other things) that way. A pretty unspectacular explanation. But the true origins of the canyon are so much more amazing. Erosion and time combined to take a simple river to one of the most beautiful geological formations you will ever see. How can someone not find awe in the thought of something so simple, becoming something so grand?
When the entire Judeo-Christian world is lit up — literally — with celebrations of faith, family and love, you’ve got to be awfully short of wonder not to experience at least a glimmer of spirituality.
Knowing how something works makes it no less
beautiful.
 I'm an atheist. We put up a tree, decorate it, and put up lights (solar powered lights, no less) and see
plenty of beauty in it all. Spirituality? That's sort of a meaningless word, as it can mean so many different things to so many people. But if they are referring to a religious 'feeling of a higher power' type of spirituality, then no I don't... not even close.
But as generations of campers, sailors, hikers and explorers could attest, there’s nothing quite like nature — with its ability to elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe — to make you contemplate the idea of a higher power. 
 Maybe that's the way the religious see it. But as I said before, my atheism has actually led me to a greater appreciation of nature.
The study, conducted by professor of psychology Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and psychologist Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California, was actually five studies, all of which were designed to elicit feelings of awe in subjects and see how that affected their sense of spirituality. In all of the trials, subjects were primed with one of several types of video clip: a 1959 TV interview conducted by newsman Mike Wallace; light scenes of animals behaving in funny or improbable ways; or sweeping scenes of nature — mountains, canyons, outer space — from a BBC documentary. Some of the subjects were also shown more surreal, computer-generated scenes: lions flying out of buildings, a waterfall flowing through a city street.
 I can tell you that I like funny cat videos as much as the next guy. I own Cosmos on DVD, as do i own BBC's Planet Earth. The latter contains amazing visuals. The footage is beautiful and jaw dropping. It will leave anyone amazed by the beauty and complexity of nature. But as amazing as it was, it never caused me to momentarily revert to a belief in or reconsider the existence of a higher power. What it did do is remind me of the power and amazing beauty of evolution.
Thus, the subjects who had felt more wonder or awe when they’d watched the grand or surreal videos would score higher on belief in a universe that proceeds according to a master plan than subjects who saw lighter or more prosaic clips. They would also score lower in their tolerance for uncertainty — and that was key.
'Belief in a universe that proceeds according to a master plan'... How does that conclusion lead to the absurd statement that atheists don't feel awe? Also, how does a 'master plan' equate to religious spirituality? I've heard people liken evolution to a plan. An unguided plan, but some have described it as such. I'm not sure I agree with the comparison, but it's one that's been made. What if I attribute the beauty of outer-space or a natural formation to the laws of nature? No nod to a God at all. But would they consider the laws of nature a 'plan'?

How about simply jumping to the easiest (lazy) explanation for these things (like a child does) and claim that it's the product of a God, and instead look into thing a bit closer so that we may know them as they really are. Because often times truth really can be stranger, as well as more amazing than fiction.


-Brain Hulk

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