This weekend, I went the Grand Canyon and Lowell Observatory to see some really big things to ask some really big questions.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY OFFEND YOU. IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED BY IDEAS OTHER THAN YOUR OWN, STOP READING NOW. IF YOU’VE EVER SAID, “BECAUSE THE BIBLE SAYS SO,” TURN AROUND RIGHT NOW OR THERE’S A GOOD CHANCE YOU’LL BE OFFENDED, AND I WOULDN’T WANT THAT. Why might you be offended? Because I’m gonna do something more atheists should be doing: I’m gonna urge you to stop believing in God.
- The Grand Canyon | www.nps.gov/grca
- Lowell Observatory | lowell.edu | 1400 W Mars Hill Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
- Sosoba | www.nonstopnoodleshop.com | 12 Historic Rte 66 #104, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
The Grand Canyon
Brian and I made a day trip out of it. A couple of bottles of water, the nice camera, some podcasts. There’s something I love about road trips.
If you’ve ever been on this drive – Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, you probably know this gas station, the Last Stop. Don’t be fooled by their name on your way out there; it is NOT the last stop. And the gas is like twice the price.
But hey, you get to marry an alien or whatever that is!
The trip from Vegas is mostly desert, but as you approach the Grand Canyon, it starts to transition a bit greener. The landscape has some interesting elevation changes, so it’s pretty scenic and interesting the whole way.
It’s pretty freaky, because you don’t really see the canyon as you drive toward it. Just trees. You could be anywhere.
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
Martin Buber, philosopher
We passed some grazing elk on the way in. They were enormous! Probably 5 feet tall at their shoulder. And they had no interest whatsoever in the humans nearby.
Then you come upon it. A giant crevice in the Earth, meticulously carved out by the Colorado River over the course of millions of years.
The Grand Canyon is a mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long. Each colored layer of rock tells the geological story of another chapter of our ancestral home, Earth. Nearly 2 billion years worth of stories are revealed on the canyon cliffs.
And you can get close – really close. You might be surprised at how many perches and cliffs there were in the park that invited tourists right out to the edge, where a 1,000-5,000 foot cliff awaited them.
It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s just that I’m not sure why I’m supposed to.
People die out there – a dozen a year or so, in fact. A woman hiker fell and died the day before we were there.
I found myself sitting along the edge of one of the perches. And there to my left just 20 feet off or so, just within earshot, there was a religious man giving a sermon, lectern and all, to a small crowd of 8 or 10 people sitting on rocks.
He was explaining how meeting here at the Grand Canyon is important, because we can look at the Grand Canyon and see the work of God. That Jesus wants us to recognize that we find God in all the beauty of the world. That the Grand Canyon is proof that God exists.
So here it is, everyone. Proof. You want to know that God exists? Come to the Grand Canyon.
Me? I was just frustrated that he was polluting my noise space while I tried to find peace in the one place it truly might exist – in my own mind.
Look, it’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s just that… I’m not sure why I’m supposed to. Atheism isn’t really about believing there is no God; it’s about not believing anything at all about the matter. Or maybe it’s about not caring.
I’m pretty sure God was supposed to be a metaphor. The Ancient Greeks understood that. Maybe polytheism was right. Those were just stories to easily convey complex moral and societal ideas in a way we could all easily digest. Of course the Gods weren’t real – that was the point. The Greek Gods were someone we still hung out with. Drank with. Had sex with.
They were the means to the end, not the end in itself.
Then centuries go by, a bunch of cultures and religions converged and meshed, and shit got all morphed and weird. And along the way, we morphed God into someone omnipotent. Something nonsensical. An idea that’s so far beyond us that we’re comfortable placing him out of distance and attributing to him so much more. We placed him up there. We made God.
So… God was a miscommunication maybe? Lost in translation?
Being an atheist puts me in a very small class of humanity (more on that in a bit). I haven’t really had any issue with that. Until recently.
Shit, I’m getting ahead of myself. Where did we leave off?
It was a weekend of science and nature – two super amazing things! The Grand Canyon made me realize that we abuse the word ‘beauty.’ Like the word ‘love,’ we use the word beauty to describe too many things.
No, the Grand Canyon isn’t beautiful. It’s awe. Yes, that’s the more appropriate word I think.
It’s in Man’s nature to explore. To risk everything just to learn something new.
Just go there. And stand there. And look at this thing. And tell me you don’t naturally start drawing yourself inward, and finding a natural peace that lives inside you.
When you do, don’t just go to Mather Point. It’s beautiful, but it’s infested with humans. Keep walking. Look for somewhere with ‘Hermit’ in the name. Find some alone time. And for God’s sake, don’t die.
The Grand Canyon offers one of the biggest views in the world. So how do you follow that act? What’s bigger than billions of years of our home’s history? …The universe! After catching the sunset at the Grand Canyon, we shot over to the small town of Flagstaff to check out the Lowell Observatory.
Lowell is home to a handful of some super-powerful, super-awesome telescopes. The observatory has played an important role in tons of studies on planets, stars, moons, and comets over the years. Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto at Lowell in 1930.
And because science is awesome, these telescopes are available to the public to come and view and enjoy. Go science!
It begins with a drive up Mars Hill, which offers a sprawling view of Flagstaff below. It was a perfect (clear) night for stargazing.
The experience is a little disorienting. The entire campus is entirely dark. You know, because you can’t have any light on the ground or else you wouldn’t be able to see the stars. So you have all these people floating around in the dark. (See images below, red light in the observatories.)
And there were a lot of people there, too! The Clark Telescope (pointed at Saturn this weekend) must have had 100 people in line. I wasn’t mad. I was proud. Here’s this small town in the middle of nowhere and there’s a line on a Saturday night? Go science!
And it was worth the wait. There it was. Saturn. Rings and all. Even little details on the planet’s surface came through. Looking at it with your own eye, magnified at 200x. Tiny little Saturn. Science.
Science is cool and it’s cool to see people interested in it. If there’s anything the world needs more of, it’s scientists. We’ve got plenty of heroizing of sports athletes, actors, politicians, and real house wives. We could use a little more heroizing of scientists. Kids could use a little more of a push to follow that thing they’re interested in. To know that it’s okay.
I learned that night that I’m one of those kids. I found myself retrieving from my brain random information from articles that I have apparently read on space and Mars colonization and the Juno Mission. I learned that I’m fascinated by space and space exploration.
It’s the real final frontier. We just collectively decided recently that going to Mars is possible. And now the race is on. Isn’t that awesome!
This must be what it felt like when European monarchs and aristocrats were sending boats across the seas in directions that weren’t yet mapped. Yep, it’s in Man’s nature to explore. To risk everything just to learn something new.
And remember The Great Filter from last weekend’s episode? Space exploration and colonization represents the end of the period where humanity can wipe itself out. We’re entering a new era – one where humankind can guarantee it’s eternal survival, and it’s gonna happen within our lifetime. These are exciting times indeed.
We caught some dinner in downtown Flagstaff. By way of asking some locals, we stumbled upon this really awesome noodle joint in this really awesome part of town.
We had to awkwardly turn down this back alley to get there, then you pop out onto this street that’s got a Hawaiian BBQ joint, some sort of outdoor nightclub dance thing happening, and this place. The food was delicious. Check it out if you ever find yourself in Flagstaff.
We used to think God lived up there. Up in space. Until we made it up there ourselves and… no God.
Over the centuries since man has created science, science has displaced certain religious beliefs, and religion has adapted and corrected, which was the right thing to do.
We no longer think the gods live at the top of the mountain, because we’ve been there. We know God and heaven isn’t in the clouds; we fly up there all the time now. Hell isn’t below us. We know this now.
But religion hasn’t really gotten the memo on a few things. Earth isn’t 20,000 years old; it’s 5 billion years old. We know this, as much as we know anything. Just go to the Grand Canyon and check it out. Like notches in a child’s doorway, the rim marks every passing era. And Earth wasn’t all created in just seven days. Life on Earth took a long time to get where it is, and that’s a beautiful thing.
So there are still some religious ideas that science has not yet replaced. But what happens if and when they do? What happens when there are no stories left? Is that the death of religion? Or is that when we become God? Maybe we already are. Maybe we are simultaneously creating ourselves from the great reversal of the Big Bang. Or maybe the entire universe just sits on the back of a giant turtle shell. Who knows.
And that’s just the point. Science isn’t trying to replace religion. Science is about only believing what makes sense to believe. What we have proof of, or what we can conclude through inductive reasoning.
I’m not stubborn. I’m just right.
Science really isn’t about believing and not believing. There are facts, like 2 + 3 = 5; there are theories, like the universe as we know it was probably once the size of a basketball; and there are unknowns.
The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.
If science can one day help wrap a theory around those unknowns, great. If not, then maybe we just let them remain unknown, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Because what’s the point in believing in something that may or may not be true? How does that make things better? Doesn’t that just make us all fools? We have a word in the English language for when someone believes something silly with no evidence. We call those people ‘gullible.’ What if I told you the Grand Canyon is made of cheese? Would you believe me?
Let’s back up for a second. How the hell did we get here anyway? How did so many people fall into this trap of believing in God? Was it peer pressure? Was it God’s awesome ZZ Top beard? I was determined to find out.
I found this site www.allaboutphilosophy.org that presents five reasons why we should believe in God. Great, here’s a start! Let’s check them out.
Their Reason #1: We can feel Him calling us
Someone get the phone; God’s calling! I hope he’s not going to try to sell me anything. Oh wait, he is. Oh crap, he wants to tell me how to run my life. Just what I needed – a second mother. I’ll let it go to voicemail…
16% of the world claims to be Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist. Another 10-20% belong to religions that consider God to be somewhat irrelevant to their spirituality, or even nonexistent. So obviously, we don’t all feel him “calling us.” In fact, some of us just don’t care. Does that mean that God just doesn’t care to acknowledge all of his children? What kind of God only reaches out to ¾ of his children? Am I deaf in my third ear or something?
If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.
Their Reason #2: The complexity of all life and of our planet
They’re blaming complexity on god? There’s another explanation that might do a better job at that. There was this guy like 800 years ago named William of Ockham who crafted (or stole, depending on who you ask) a principle that goes like this:
Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, all other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.
What’s simpler? What requires fewer assumptions? That some lonely dudes in the desert thousands of years ago guessed it right? They wrote it down, and to this day, nothing we’ve learned is better? And what they wrote down is that one omnipotent being created a random mess of animals and humans and disease and sex and killing, many times his inferior, fucked with them a few times, then disappeared forever, never to reveal himself again? That sounds more like the behavior of a child playing with clay.
Man is playing God right now. We’re crafting our own plants and animals, and eventually humans. Oh, and AI. And trust me, when we carry out our true legacy as God, we will NOT create creatures inferior to us, but quite the contrary.
Their Reason #3: Sense of right and wrong
This God is so weird. Why would he create “right” and “wrong” then create creatures that commit wrong all the fucking time? And what about God himself? Murder is bad, but he commits it sometimes and facilitates it often.
I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious ourselves.
And what of right and wrong? There is no categorical imperative. Every person and every society has found a different line in the sand. It’s called ethical relativism.
If God has one set of rules, and he created us, and he created the rules, and he wishes for us to follow his rules, then why did he botch up the communication part so much. Why are we so torn on what the rules are? Wouldn’t this be a screw up on his part? Can he screw up? Isn’t he supposed to be a perfectionist? Or is it like George Carlin said, “We created god in our own image and likeness!”
Their Reason #4: The Bible
Should we believe in Santa Claus because ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas has sold like a million copies? I’m just going to leave this one here.
Their Reason #5: Jesus Christ
What about him? You’ll need to be more specific.
Well, since I didn’t find their reasons to be very helpful, I’ve come up with 5 of my own reasons to explain why He’s so important. Here it goes.
My Reason #1: God is Like George W. Bush
There was this guy in the bible named Job. He had really bad shit happen to him and he kept his faith. I think the author of his story was trying to make just that point. That bad shit happening isn’t a time for your faith to weaken, but rather, a time for it to strengthen.
Job would say he believed in God because “he feared God and stayed away from evil.” (Job 1:1). This becomes my new reason 1.
God is… a fear monger?
Is that why we should go to church? Out of fear for evil? Fear of… ending up in hell, I suppose?
According to Dante (and a few others), we have to accept God into our lives or we never get on the list of the All-Mighty’s bouncer in the sky. So we never get to party like a heavenly rock-star. (Most of the best musicians are in hell anyway, right?)
The best that us non-God-believers can do (according to Dante) is be a REALLY good person, and then we get purgatory. Great. Just what I want. To live a good, moral life, and end up in a dentist’s waiting room with a 2006 copy of Golf Digest and an eternity to not give a shit about golf.
I’m sorry God, but trying to convince people of something by using open threats… by holding eternity hostage… seems like pretty shallow tactics.
My Reason #2: God is a Bad Story
Another good reason for keeping God(s) around all these millennia is that we needed concrete answers to how shit got created. We didn’t know where soil and crops and rain came from, so we made shit up. And it sounded good. We answered questions by telling stories.
Involving something “all-mighty” allows for more centralized, easier-to-tell stories.
So… God is a plot device?
This is also how God essentially got clumped in as a package deal with religion. You can’t buy some – you gotta buy all. And ‘all’ involves the fun stories.
What’s more fun to say: it’s thundering outside because God is bowling, or that the sound is created by the intense heating and cooling of the air during a lightning strike, creating a wave/burst of sound? Yuck! I’m so bored! Quick, where’s my Pokemon Go?
I personally find the second explanation more interesting, but that answer just wasn’t available until very recently.
And as we already talked about, science has been replacing more and more of the universe of truths once explained by religion. The Creator has been reduced to a guy who may or may not have done a thing a long time ago, and we’ve been at the yoke ever since.
My Reason #3: God is the Pituitary Gland
TIME magazine and Dean H. Hamer, author of ‘The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes,’ might say we have science to thank for inventing God.
There’s debate over whether or not believing in a higher power is written into our DNA. Their argument goes that we believe in God because we’re programmed to believe in god. The argument would follow that we’ve needed God for so long, it’s become a part of who we are.
It reduces God down to… an emotion.
Like thrill-seeking, joy, jealousy, anxiety, pleasure. All tools for survival. As Hamer puts it, this turns the age-old question from “Is there a God?” to “Why do we believe in God?”
My Reason #4: God is a Gamble
Seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal offers this about God (I’m paraphrasing):
Hey, you might as well believe in God – what the hell do you got to lose? If he’s real, you win and get eternal life with hot blonde virgins or whatever! If he’s NOT real, well, oh well. At least you played it safe.
So God is… a way to hedge your bet?
I don’t need a rebuttal to this one. It’s already a thing, called the Atheist’s Wager. And it goes like this (again, paraphrasing):
You should live a good life REGARDLESS of whether or not there’s a God. And don’t waste your time believing in him.
And if God is real, he should be a homie and do you a solid and let you in Heaven regardless of if you cared about him. You were a good person, and that’s all that matters.
Any other God is not a God I want to hang out with anyway.
My Reason #5: God is a Crutch
I think the best answer the God believers out there might have has nothing to do with God. The best answer is that God brings good to your life. And good is, well… good.
Yet, I’m not sure you need God for this. I only look inside myself for advice. I look to my the world around me for knowledge, wisdom, and contentment. I look to my ability to reason for hope, and my ability to hope for more reasons. I devote my love to the people in my life who love me back; not to someone I’ve never met, but might get to meet some day if I just keep worshipping. I’m not stubborn. I’m just right. And I’m strong-minded enough to stick to it. Not just because I’m right. But because this is important. But let me come back to that point in a minute.
Reason #5 seems like it might work for some people and not others. But I think we’re getting closer!
Can it be that so many people on Earth are weak-minded enough to need someone else to encourage them – someone else to tell them that everything’s gonna be okay? Someone to carry them on the beach?
At first, I thought no way. But then I thought about it.
According to Steve Salerno’s book ‘Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless‘ Americans spend upward of $8 billion every year on Self-Help. And if it’s not self-help, it’s some material addiction, like eating, smoking, drinking, having sex, shopping, etc. Alcoholics Anonymous now claims over 2 million active members. Tens of millions of Americans suffer with addiction of one sort or another. Psychologists, social workers & marriage counselors are a $15 billion industry. The depression drugs industry will be worth nearly $17B by 2020.
Holy shit. We’re all just sad and lonely!
That’s a lot of people turning to something else for help – something outside themselves. It started to become clear. We DO need help from the outside.
So God is… a drug?
And he’s here to stay – just like all the other drugs. Or until he’s replaced by something better.
And if you believe that, then I’ll take it a step further and say this: Like a drug, God is bad for us. I think our addiction, like any, is dangerous and harmful to our spiritual health.
We need to break our reliability on Him. It would force us to master with spirituality without Him. It would make us stronger and more self-driven. It would free up our ability to be infinitely creative and infinitely divine in our own right – without help from outside forces. Or so believed Nietzsche. It would allow us to depend on our inner spirits for guidance. Ourselves and each other for support. Our histories and our sense of reason for hope.
Believing in gods always causes confusion.
Pearl S. Buck
This is the nation that had to challenge taking Moses’ Commandments off court lawns. This country is the home of Jesus Camp. This country puts creationism in museums – MUSEUMS for God’s sake! – and sends kids there to learn about how intelligent design was responsible for the dinosaurs! The madness needs to stop.
So you see, that’s why it’s my duty to write this. I can’t be the guy standing idly by while an old lady gets mugged.
Besides, everything should be up for debate. You wouldn’t want to die only to find out that the entire universe is run by sea turtles. And since you didn’t accept those sea turtles as The Creators, you have to live in another dimension with your pants down and people laughing at you for all of eternity. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
Some myths deserve to be broken apart, out of respect for the human intellect.
Neil DeGrass Tyson
Go out and evangelize! Don’t make spirituality all about God. Tell yourself ‘Even if God exists, what’s the big deal?‘
Next time you need help with something, or times are tough, pray to… You.
Next time you want to challenge yourself, ask Yourself for help.
Next time you’re thankful for a Thanksgiving feast or are just saying grace, thank your parents, the economy, your friends and family, your boss, and most importantly, Yourself.
Next time you see something truly amazing like the Grand Canyon – next time there’s a miracle, know that You have that power too. That You are all-mighty like that.
Next time, be stronger.
Next time, be more content with what You have, regardless of what “God’s given You.”
Most importantly, spread the word. Send your kid to somewhere more like Camp Inquiry, and teach them more about turning to philosophy and science for answers, fullness, and contentment, instead of just asking God for a drip. Go to the Grand Canyon.
Educate yourself about these ideas by having thought-provoking conversations with your friends and family.
Read Richard Dawkins.
This is totally possible, people. We can do this. The Czech Republic sits at 54% anti-Godders, Japan is 64%, and Vietnam comes in at a whopping 81%!
A world without God and his funny stories IS POSSIBLE. We can enjoy a spiritual-yet-secular world! Please watch Alain de Botton’s 2011 Ted Talk, Atheism 2.0.
Freethinkers are a dying breed. We’ve got to evangelize, or we’ll go extinct. It’s important that we get The Word out there in any way we can. So no matter what you choose to do…
For God’s sake, do something.
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