Misconception #6: Science Takes the Beauty Out of the Universe

Misconception #6: Science Takes the Beauty Out of the Universe

Author: Jim Etchison
Published: May 10, 2010 at 1:02am PDT
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 be
Science for the De-Converted – Part VI

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.

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