Finding Science in the Mountains

Finding Science in the Mountains

Page Type Page Type: Article

Spare me!

When I was sixteen years old, I was sitting on the cliff face of Charlies Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with one of my best friends, T---. We were in the midst of a two-week backpacking trip with a pair of other
Taken on Charlies Bunion two...Charlies Bunion, early 1970s.
friends from school. Part of this excursion was a series of very leisurely strolls of only a few miles from shelter to shelter along the AT before we would reach Newfound Gap and a ride from his parents to another point farther south along the Appalachian Trail.

As T--- and I surveyed the amazing topography before us, under ideal
This is one of the major...Exfoliation.
conditions of clear, blue skies and cool breezes, my friend sat up from where he was reclining on the ancient rock and exclaimed, “How can anyone look at this and not believe in God?”

And I said, as I generally do, the first thing that popped into my head. That thing was, “How can anyone look at this and not believe in Plate Tectonics and erosion?”

“You asshole,” T--- exclaimed, rising and stalking off to where our other two friends were standing, joining his Christian company. Leaving me, as usual, sane man out.

I stitched this panorama...Botany.

This has always been an amusement to me: how others see supernatural silliness in the landscapes of the mountainous terrain of this planet. I can understand how any person can be emotionally spurred by a panorama of peaks and ridges and forests and gorges and hollows and canyons and ice and rock. But to see the hand of a super-being that doesn’t exist is
I liked the colors and...Lichenomotry
laughable. I finally understood that this tendency to see this kind of thing in the workings of physical science lay not in spontaneous emotions, but in lifelong brainwashing that generally begins in very early youth.

When I look upon the mountains, I see the real world in action. I see how the movement of tectonic plates grinding one against the other can thrust the very crust of the planet skyward. I see faults in the Earth, forming commanding ranges that loom above lower terrain. I see rift valleys
created by the moving away of one plate from another. I see volcanic peaks rising high above hot spots. I see wind and rain and snow and Mr. Gravity (Ha! Let’s personify physics!) pulling and drawing inexorably on the work that opposing forces have made in molding the ranges.

LeConte from Sevierville, the...Plate tectonics.

When I was sitting there in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I knew that I was within one of the world’s great areas of floral diversity. In this park alone, there were almost three times as many species of trees than there was in the entire continent of Europe.
SmallPuny human.
Almost everywhere one looked in the forests and on the rocks and in the dark loam there were blossoms of many types. Here, there were dozens of mammal species, reptiles, amphibians; hundreds of types of birds; and as-yet uncounted kinds of insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates. From whence this dizzying array of living things?

Well, not from any god.

I have never, in all of my life, seen the hand of anything supernatural in the vast lands where I most love to hike. In fact, my longing for the solitude of the mountains comes not from seeing any weirdness such as religious origins to the Universe. The reasons that I go to walk these
Blackwater Canyon.Erosion.
ridgelines and to explore these valleys and walk among these forests is to escape from the insanity of religion, the most evil creation of Mankind. I go there to get away from your god, whichever god others may believe in and worship.

For myself, I don’t see any wacky god in the phenomenal details of a butterfly’s wings. I don’t see any god at work in the absolutely
Red newt.Biology.
astounding complexity of a red newt. When I see a newt consuming a worm, I don’t for one second think that this tiny drama was wrought by some silly god existing with his googleplex of fingers on every atom. The idea is inherently preposterous and, I would add, insane.

There is no magical power at work in the science of mountain building. There is no human incarnation of some idea in the tearing down of thrust
Wolf SpiderArachnology.
faults by wind and rain and the constant drag of gravity. There is no god in the mountains. There is no god in the valleys. There is no god on the cliffs. There is no god in the gorges. There is no god in the trees. There is no god on the forest floor. There is no god in the sky. There is no god.

However, I am there. And my companions are there, when I hike with friends.

Best of all, though, there is solitude when I go to hike alone. There is, quite often, only me and the physical world that amazes me when I go to hike and scramble and sleep among the mountain peaks in the high country that always draws me up to the highest points. Sometimes I encounter insects scrambling across the earth or up an old tree. Occasionally I spy an elk in the woods at the edge of a field. There are times when I note a raptor soaring on thermal waves that I cannot see. But the nicest thing about these times and these encounters is that none of them bring along a god; and I am content.

From a cliff near the summit...No people!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 181-200 of 224

wasatchcrack - Feb 1, 2008 2:54 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Excellent Article

outkasted, just the type of blind uneducated closed minded faith that this article was written because of. Now in order to see anything clearly we need to step back and take a perfectly nuetral point of view. learn each side of the argument, and thouroughly analyze something before we ever make a single judgment or declaration of faith. It is not enough to be analytical of anything alone, one must be constructively analytical, well armed with both fact and select opinion. Using the best of your logic. failure to employ this into any psychological or intelectual delvings ALWAYS result in a gross misrepresentation of the subject, not only to yourself but to all of those around you. And to resist temptation! Ha! well its because you only have one chance to make the best of the life you got, trust me i dont need god to not endulge in things that would harm my body. or someone else. if you need god to resist temptation, you my friend are a very weak person indeed


eric-griz - Jan 25, 2008 5:49 pm - Hasn't voted

Good Al

Thank god for Alfred Wegener!


helmut - Jan 25, 2008 5:56 pm - Hasn't voted

the real problem

The real problem is intolerance in general, whether it is a religious person intolerant of a non-believer or an atheist dismissing a person's religious beliefs as insane. They are both narrow minded fools.

It is not the tool, it is the intent.


radson - Jan 27, 2008 2:07 pm - Voted 10/10

the real problem?

how much of a problem has it been of an atheist dismissing superstition as opposed to the laws of heresy and apostasy. How often has an atheist burned a thiest at the stake or stoned them. I mean really. And before you mention Stalin or lil' Kim, whatever they do, they do not do it in the name of atheism, literally or implied.


helmut - Jan 29, 2008 6:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: the real problem?

Really, it is often enough for me to know that the real problem is anyone who judges another based upon their belief structure. It certainly doesn't have to be a violent prejudice to see that it contributes nothing to the evolution of humanity. Once you are unwilling to see that people view the world differently, you become their equal.

This debate is as old as the world itself, science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Science has done good and evil, as has religion. They are both tools of mankind that will eventually reach the same conclusion, albeit via different paths.


ruthjohn - Jan 28, 2008 10:48 am - Voted 10/10

Good stuff

I´ve been using Summit Post for a while to plan my hiking but never thought to join. However, after reading your article I decided to register just so that I could give it a 10/10! Entertaining and well-written stuff.


BobSmith - Jan 28, 2008 4:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good stuff


And welcome!


JonBradford - Jan 29, 2008 9:32 pm - Voted 10/10


Thanks for writing this. Appreciated.

I don't believe in anything. I'm autistic.


outkasted - Jan 29, 2008 10:18 pm - Hasn't voted


I just read your article and let me say that I'm very disappointed. I myself am a self proclaimed buddhist. Above that, I believe in SOMETHING. There is no way to explain anything without first beginning with a supreme being. Scientists who do not believe in a higher power are and always will be in disagreement on how earth and other planets first came in to existence. Terrible it is for you to judge anyone who wants to believe in anything. Do YOU run this website? Do YOU decide what goes on the front page of SP? I didn't think so. You do, however, subscribe to a website that allows all nature lovers alike to be free of judgement and to write whatever article they like and believe in whatever the hell they want. Your whole article was a judgement. Did you even talk about nature? How old are you anyways? Your ignorance reminds me of a twenty-something frat boy who thinks his ideals should have a bible written about them. And brainwashed? You're f#$*ing crazy. I grew up going to a Methodist Church until I was about 14 yrs old. I was taught about the bible and that God was almighty and Jesus is our savior, blah blah blah. One day I decided that I wasn't going to believe any of that crap except the part about the supreme being. To me, the bible doesn't say anything that would help anyone. And if someone walked up to another someone these days and said that God talked to them through a bush, someone number 2 would think that someone number one was crazy. So no, I'm not brainwashed at all. We all make our own decisions. I think that Charles Darwin was a genius and that all those biblethumpers on tv are probably crazy child molestors who steal money from their churches. But I believe that God is out there and he allows us free will, but helps us make the right decisions. In my eyes, nature lovers have always been and always will be the most free loving free spirited non judgemental people. Check yourself before you pass judgement on other people, you are not the man. Vanity does not look good on you.


seanpeckham - Feb 4, 2008 2:00 pm - Voted 5/10


I'm having trouble making any sense at all out of this rant. "There is no way to explain anything without first beginning with a supreme being." Huh? How about beginning with observations?

And what's with all the condemnation against judging people for their beliefs, in the same breath with which you call people "fucking crazy" and make derogatory assumptions about the age and maturity of other posters and call all the "biblethumpers" child molesters? It's bad to judge others for their beliefs, but if they don't share your beliefs, then they, unlike you apparently, are not "the most free loving free spirited non judgmental people"? Wow.


outkasted - Jan 29, 2008 10:33 pm - Hasn't voted


Holy s***, I just read some more of these comments about people talking down on creationism and other people talking down on evolution and natural processes. Is this not the whole reason that civilization is a terrible place to be. We all go to nature to get away from this, then it seems like everyone goes back to their computers to talk crap about every one they were just trying to get away from with their weekend getaway. You are all ignorant souls, just leave it the hell alone. You aren't going to change someone else's mind. GIVE IT UP! CREATIONISM AND SCIENCE BOTH HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE BEAUTY THAT YOU SEE OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR. No reason to talk all this shit................leave it.


radson - Jan 30, 2008 10:14 pm - Voted 10/10


I think judging people on their belief structures is absolutely necessary, or should we go around saying, look at those funny nazis and their quaint. Isn't it cute how those Saudi Wahabist clerics stone adulterers.. Well I know it sucks that they hanged that witch, but hey, thats their beliefs, we have to be tolerant.

Science and religion are mutually exclusive. The naturalist world versus the supernatural. It is cloudy thinking to believe otherwise.


BobSmith - Jan 31, 2008 12:15 am - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

"Science and religion are mutually exclusive."



outkasted - Jan 31, 2008 7:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

You people are so funny and closed minded. How many times have you had an atheist that you met hiking in the woods somewhere put you and your whole family in a gas chamber? I also have never met a person who practices wicca that made me think, "wow, if you don't conform to my religion or belief, then I'm going to burn you alive." Is it YOUR place to judge those people, or is it someone else's? We are not talking about humans in general, we are talking about nature lovers. There are definitely people who I think are morally wrong, but it's not my place to say what happens to them after they die or what should happen to them when they are caught. I don't think it's yours or BOB SMITH'S either. Now let's talk about what I just said. "Morally wrong", if you can't believe in God, then explain to me what is the point of resisting all that temptation that is out there. No matter what your rebuttal, there is nothing you can say that would help me see that side. Also, the phrase "mutually exclusive" sounds like something you heard, thought it sounded good, and decided to use it without really thinking about it. It makes no sense, it's an oxy moron. Don't tell me that my thinking is cloudy. It is you and BOB who would NOT congratulate me if you saw me at the summit of Everest and knew that I believed God was the origin of Everest.


radson - Jan 31, 2008 11:38 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: well..

btw, your first point, totally went over my head.

My rebuttal for starters is the 120 million people of Japan who generally live without god and manage to live longer than anyone else and do so with a very low crime rate.

Do you really think that morals come from being afraid of god. Do you really think people are that pathetic that they go about their daily lives not committing crimes because they are afraid of god's wrath. Have you ever heard of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and Greek democracy hundreds of years before JC?

ON JC, he was a bloke who hung around a bunch of guys, hardly worked, smashed up some small business traders and told people to leave their families

lastly, please tell me more about mutually exclusivity being an oxymoron? May I ask if you ever studied mathematics i.e probability, set theory or statistics.


BobSmith - Jan 31, 2008 11:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

Actually, you can't argue with a religionist. They think they don't need any answer, other than their book of fairy tales. Quite frankly, they're a very strange lot, quite happy and smug in their overwhelming ignorance.

Indiana Mad-Man

Indiana Mad-Man - Feb 1, 2008 10:19 am - Voted 6/10

Re: well..

Religion and science are certainly not mutually exclusive. They actually compliment each other quite nicely. Just because someone believes in a God doesn't mean they must reject science altogether and just because someone is a scientist doesn't mean he must swear off God. Natural processes and science are obvious, like in your examples from your article.
But so too is religion. Science claims matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This means matter must have originated with someone. You cannot create something, like the entire cosmos, out of nothing. It violates science. Religion and science must co-exist for a complete view of the world.


radson - Feb 1, 2008 5:08 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: well..

I disagree, the science of how the universe started if that is even the correct paradigm is uncertain. So it is ok to say..'We dont know' rather than say..'Oh it must have been a god". God is just lazy thinking to fill in the unknown gaps, just like there was a sun god before we knew about the sun.

Or alternately, to follow your line of reasoning, "Who created God?"


helmut - Feb 2, 2008 12:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

To think that the supernatural world and the natural world are mutually exclusive is to think that all that is is only what we can perceive. If you believe that all that we can perceive is all that there is, then that is fine. I choose to believe that there exists a world that is much greater than what we can perceive with our senses and tools, the supernatural world, God, oneness, interconnected energy, and all that wonderful stuff. I also choose to believe in the discipline of science and mathematics. Therefore, I believe in the supernatural and the natural; hence, they cannot be mutually exclusive. I'll leave the proof by contradiction as an exercise for you.


outkasted - Feb 2, 2008 12:29 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

my first point there was that i was only trying to get you and this bob smith guy to see that just because I believe in god does not mean I'm going to judge anyone who is atheist. THAT WAS MY POINT. I don't think that hitler is right, I don't believe it is right for people to do immoral things. I was initially upset that Bob just judges a religious person just because they are religious. That is irresponsible and cloudy thinking. And you obviously didn't read what I wrote in response to Bob's article. I am NOT religious. I detest organized religion. The only thing that I believe about the bible is the supreme being part, I don't even like to call it God. I believe that there may have been a man named Jesus Christ, but I don't know who he was or what he did. I don't believe in a burning bush or a huge flood or a magic man that parted the red sea. I do, however, like to think that there is something for my soul to do after my body can't handle life anymore. You can't give me tangible or intangible evidence either way. You can go back to the beginning of time asking the question, "Where did that come from?", and eventually there is something that will NEVER have an explanation and the theorists sound completely dumbfounded when they talk about it. Where did the very first molecule come from? You don't know, you don't have an explanation and you never will. I am not a lazy thinker, I think about it quite often matter of fact, and there is just no other reasonable explanation. You can't prove the beginning either way and neither can I, so why judge me or anyone else. By the way, those people in Japan don't have a longer life span because they believe in science, they live much healthier lives than americans do. And most of them practice some form of buddhism which can be considered a religion in some aspects. And Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and Greek democracy? Have you never heard of Greek mythology. Those guys had unexplained gods and goddesses coming out their asses. Mutually exclusive being an oxymoron, the two words are essentially opposites. Mutual means together, and exclusive means seperate. That's how. And yeah I've studied some mathematics. But it's not my specialty. Let me guess, you are now going to judge me because I decided not to pursue an education that helps me try to explain things that can't be explained.

Viewing: 181-200 of 224