When having honest discussions with Christians, I’ve heard many times that they feel the universe is a more beautiful place because God is in it. What we deem as beautiful is often a result of what we’ve been conditioned to think is beautiful. When we were children, we were given these messages by our parents and society at large. We often classify things that contradict these pre-packaged signals as “less beautiful.”
A challenge for each of us is to transcend these messages and see beauty in new ways.
John Keats first accused Isaac Newton of destroying the beauty of the rainbow by explaining it. Perhaps the poet preferred to think the rainbow was something magical. Richard Dawkins deftly explored all the reasons why Keats was wrong in his book “Unweaving the Rainbow.”
Even if a godless universe were less beautiful, that is no argument whatsoever for the existence of god unless you can proof that beauty = truth. And we’re back to Keats again.
The Truth: You can see beauty in the universe if you look honestly and selflessly upon it.
The idea that a godless universe is less beautiful is, of course, entirely subjective. It also contradicts my own experience. When I was a Christian I would look at the clouds, mountains, the stars, etc. and find them profoundly beautiful. I would think about God, and how he created all of it just for us.
But after becoming an atheist, and learning the truth about the formation of the universe, I look at the clouds, mountains, stars, etc. and still found them profoundly beautiful. In fact, I’m more in awe now than I was then, because now I realize it all happened by chance. We are each made of seven billion billion billion atoms that are all 14 billion years old, which have each been a part of countless other entities and have been temporarily organized to form me.
As Carl Sagan puts it, “We are a way for the cosmos to perceive itself.” This does not imply that the universe willfully created us, but simply states that the universe produced us, and we have a will. These are humbling and awesome words. I find the truth to always be more beautiful than anything else. Not a day goes by when I don’t find myself in awe of the universe around me.
The Truth: Many of the virtues that people ascribe to God can be accurately ascribed to the universe.
The universe is everywhere, it is everything, it produced you, and you will return to it after you die. It is (for all practical purposes from our perspective) eternal. The universe is in control. The universe is great. So it might help you see the beauty in it if you look at it in these terms.
I’m not suggesting we worship the universe. After all, it doesn’t care about us and isn’t looking out for our best interest. That lack of care might be why some people see a godless universe as less beautiful. But it is also precisely why I see our existence as completely precious and something to be treated respectfully.
In that I find beauty.
The Truth: You don't have to be a scientist to learn about the universe.
Contrary to what one might call good sense, I obtained a college degree in English. Even without any formal scientific education, I have come to understand and appreciate the basic fundamentals of science. Science can be very intimidating, but there are so many great books written for the non-scientist, that no one should feel excluded from learning about the universe. It’s just not that hard.
In my opinion, to observe the universe honestly and curiously is one of the most worthwhile activities we can embark upon.
Hopefully this series of articles has helped burgeoning non-theists to eschew the misconceptions about science they may have received while under the tutelage of a religion. There are undoubtedly more.
My stance toward science may seem defensive, but I also do not think science is the solution to everything. Science is not going to solve all the world’s problems. However, if you cling to an idea that science clearly contradicts, my hope is that after reading these articles, you might realign your thinking so that scientific concepts are given greater weight than anything else that contradicts it.
It is also vitally important to realize that religious leaders are aware that the religious community is shrinking in large part due to religion’s wholly unscientific world view. So many of the messages you’ve received—while they may have been delivered sincerely—were a result of a base fear of truth. Organized religion's aversion to science is strikingly similar to how oppressive regimes block or twist the news and information from the outside world. They fear that truth will influence people away from their ideas and edicts, and weaken their regime.
On that point, they are correct. The truth will weaken their regime. So the truth should not be feared.
Recent Posts 10
Homosexuality and Christianity: Unnatural?December 8, 2009 at 5:15pm UTC
I recently became involved in an ongoing email conversation regarding homosexuality and religion with the Assistant Superintendent of the Christian High School I attended. Is homosexuality a choice? Does it occur in nature? It can't lead to procreation
Homosexuality and Christianity: The Cost of CondemnationDecember 8, 2009 at 5:30pm UTC
Much of Christianity condemns homosexuality. Is this righteous stand bearing the fruit of good works? Sure. If you cons.
No Transitional Fossils?December 8, 2009 at 9:56am UTC
Homosexuality and Christianity: The Theology of HypocrisyDecember 12, 2009 at 9:28am UTC
Most modern Christians allow women to speak in church. Some of them even go out to Red Lobster for Sunday dinner! Isn't it about time we got back to Biblical principles... like punishing this abomination by death?
What I Was Taught In Science ClassDecember 12, 2009 at 10:36am UTC
I went to a Christian High School where I was taught young-earth creationism in science class. Here's what I learned then and what I know now
The wordDecember 20, 2009 at 1:40pm UTC
In January of 1954, the following letter was written by Albert Einstein to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, 'Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt'.
Do scientists pray, and if so what they pray for?December 21, 2009 at 2:20am UTC
A child in the sixth grade in a Sunday School in New York City, with the encouragement of her teacher, wrote to this question to Einstein in Princeton on 19 January I936.
A Student Seeks the Meaning of LifeDecember 21, 2009 at 2:30am UTC
This excerpt is a letter written by Einstein in response to a 19-year-old Rutger's University student, who had written to Einstein of his despair at seeing no visible purpose to life and no help from religion.
Science and ReligionDecember 21, 2009 at 7:50am UTC
Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their
Science and Religion, Part IDecember 21, 2009 at 8:01am UTC
During the last century, and part of the one before, it was widely held that there was an unreconcilable conflict between knowledge and belief. The opinion prevailed among advanced minds that it was time that belief should be replaced