Finding Science in the Mountains

Finding Science in the Mountains

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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!


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Viewing: 201-220 of 224

radson - Feb 2, 2008 2:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: well..

Helmut. that's fine, you can believe in whatever you wish. I am all for pluralism of thought. But for me the definition of faith is wishful thinking and you show what I think is wishful thinking. For some people the incredible diversity of the universe is not enough. As Freud says, people always want to make order out of chaos and thats what the supernatural often is, people making sense out of what is a chaotic universe.


radson - Feb 2, 2008 2:46 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: well..

outkasted. May I kindly request that you type in paragraphs, my eyes aint what they used to be.

That's cool about you wanting to believe there is a soul. One of the big reasons that there is religion is that humans have a strong survival instinct and that we are afraid of death. Humans often can't accept that we simply die. Religion often makes us feel warm and fuzzy in that we will still live on somehow rather than the more bleak reality.

"Where did that come from?" My answer, I don't know and I am fine with that answer. Answering God is just lazy and reductionist. Once again warm and fuzzy thinking.

I used Japan as a rebuttal to your premise that morals come from God. Despite your self confessed bhuddism, Bhuddism generaly speaking does not infer a central deity i.e a God. Japanese Bhuddism, Shintoism or Confucianism all are basically philosophies and not religions if one defines religion as a belief in a deity or deities.

As per the Greeks, the founders of (western?)ethics, they generally did not base their ideas on whether Zeus would be angry or not.


seanpeckham - Feb 4, 2008 2:45 pm - Voted 5/10

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."
No, those two thoughts are not equivalent. I'm not really sure what the claim that the natural and the supernatural are mutually exclusive was intended to mean, but I've certainly never met a naturalist who thinks that nothing exists besides what humans can perceive. How much thought have you given to how one should, methodologically, differentiate the natural from the supernatural? Many people argue that these definitions are mere tautologies, defined as each other's negation. My approach is to ask: given some phenomenon, what test could one perform to reliably identify something as supernatural? Merely by attempting to observe, reason, and test, it seems one will have been engaging in at least methodological naturalism. Merely attempting to explain requires one to think about contributory factors and components, and thus one is additionally operating as a reductionist. So I tend to think of naturalism and reductionism as synonyms. "Supernatural" entities are usually defined negatively: whatever they are, they are not anything that we know how to think about. They are not limited in any way (e.g. omniscient, omnipotent), they do not have a location in spacetime (omnipresent), they are not made of parts, or even of any kind of substance, they do not have contributory factors and do not have an origin, any possible observation can be consistent with their existence and nothing can falsify it, etc. So I tend to think "supernatural" should be regarded as a synonym for "unknowable."

To say I'm a naturalist, then, is not to assert that the supernatural does not exist; it is simply to decline to say anything at all about the supernatural: to recognize the absurdity of making claims about what is almost by definition unknowable. If it is ridiculous to confidently assert that nothing but what we can perceive exists, then it is at least that ridiculous to go around making claims about things we can't perceive. To make claims about God, one necessarily brings God down out of the supernatural. Philosophers and even some theologians have long known this, but most theists think of God as something much less abstract, even to the point that their beliefs about God entail (often unintentionally, but logically) scientifically testable implications, which are usually falsified (creationism/ID being an extreme example). This is where the faith vs. science dilemma comes in, and gives force to the above comment that "science and religion are mutually exclusive". To reconcile faith with science, one either needs to be extremely lucky about never having faith in something that science will falsify, or be a poor enough critical thinker to satisfy oneself with ad hoc revisions to one's faith when science does falsify it, or else confine one's faith to a realm so far removed from the natural world we inhabit as to be irrelevant to us.


helmut - Feb 7, 2008 5:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: well..

The problem is that you can't apply the scientific method to the supernatural world, as you are trying to do here. They are two different realms and their laws do not necessarily apply to one another, not yet at least.

However, I think that to describe the supernatural as "unknowable" is short sighted. I consider love to be part of the supernatural world, I feel love for my wife yet I don't go around looking for some way to verify it scientifically. Personally I don't care if it is measurable or testable, the fact that I believe it in my heart to be true makes it real and very knowable. In the same manner I have faith in God and I believe in cosmic energy and a total interconnectedness amongst all matter in the universe.

I choose to live in a world of science and faith.


seanpeckham - Feb 9, 2008 10:22 am - Voted 5/10

Re: well..

It is precisely because you can't apply the scientific method, or any legitimate epistemological method (thinking to "know" in one's heart is an emotion, not a method, and I know a lot of people here in Utah who use those very words as justification for some really bizarre beliefs that I doubt you would agree with), to the supernatural, that I said it was unknowable. You personally may not go around looking for a way to study love scientifically, but others do; in fact Wall Street Journal just yesterday had a big feature on how neuroscientists are doing just that. I think a lot of people don't want to find out there's a naturalistic explanation for their emotions such as love, for fear that this will somehow diminish them. I don't think that's a necessary problem to have.

Bouza - Jan 31, 2008 6:04 pm - Voted 10/10

Humans created god, taxes, and the ice capades

Art, science, philosophy, religion--each offers at best only a crude simplification of actual living experience.

Edward Abbey


All our science, measured against reality,
is primitive and childlike – and yet it is
the most precious thing we have.

Albert Einstein


To those that believe in a higher power, who/what created that higher power, and the higher power that created that higher power, ad nauseum. The species Homo sapiens are not infinitely intelligent, and may not be able to determine why (not how) the universe(s) exit any more than a dog can figure out how plumbing makes water come out of the back yard hose.

"Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God; this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues." - Edward Abbey


The basic question is this: Why should *anything* exist? *Nothing* would be tidier.

Edward Abbey


highsummits - Jan 31, 2008 6:39 pm - Hasn't voted


obviously a bitter man who lacks understanding of both true religion and science.


outkasted - Feb 2, 2008 12:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: sad

this guy named high summits doesn't have his own thoughts. i can quote other people too but i choose to be original


highsummits - Feb 3, 2008 12:07 pm - Hasn't voted


That is totally and completely my original thought, outkasted, so what on earth are you talking about?

By the way, I like that caption on your profile image


outkasted - Feb 3, 2008 12:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: What?!

sorry, i meant to reply to that comment before yours about being unoriginal. he quoted a couple of other people. i must have read it wrong....again i apologize. thanks for the comment about my caption.


highsummits - Feb 5, 2008 6:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: What?!

Thanks for clearing that up,man,.......welcome to SP!!

Eric Sandbo

Eric Sandbo - Feb 1, 2008 12:07 am - Voted 4/10

Jesus, Bob!

I've been a devout atheist for about 40 years, but I never considered writing a SummitPost article just to tell dozens of my friends and thousands of SP members that they have shit for brains. I don't believe God exists for the same reasons you do (don't?). But for many, belief is central to their lives, their plans, their future. What's more, it works for them. Religious people generally are at least as successful financially and emotionally as the rest of us. What possessed you to invest all this time telling them they're dumb?


outkasted - Feb 2, 2008 12:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Jesus, Bob!

Thank you, Mr. Sandbo. It's nice to know that there are atheists who are generally peaceful.


BobSmith - Feb 1, 2008 12:53 am - Hasn't voted

Hey Zeus

What does financial success have to do with being an atheist? I wrote the article in reaction to a religious sack of crap posted on summitpost.

I've received roughly 100 private emails thanking me for writing the article, and about three nastygrams from religionists.

Religionists should be told they're full of crap, and often. I don't have any close religious friends. In fact, all of my close friends are atheists. I couldn't tolerate hanging out for an extended time with an idiot who thinks there's a god controlling the universe. I have zero respect for the intellectual capacity and judgment of anyone who believes in god.

I didn't invest very much time in that article. It's quite short and to the point. Took me just a few minutes to write. But thanks for thinking that it took me a huge investment in time.


outkasted - Feb 2, 2008 12:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Hey Zeus

It's sad that you've never left the Appalachian Mountains because there are people out there who believe in God, but don't have religion and think for themselves. I can't stand people who live everyday by the bible either. You can't base your views on religious people from the southeastern United States. That is why it's called the Bible Belt. Stop thinking that you are mentally superior to everyone else. You are sorely mistaken and I feel sorry for you.


seanpeckham - Feb 4, 2008 2:55 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: Hey Zeus

Bob, I think religion is idiotic too, but human beings have a remarkable ability to be idiotic in some ways at the same time that they are brilliant in others. I know a lot of highly intelligent people who have religious beliefs that are unfathomably insane. But there are other dimensions to these people besides that, and I'm sure I'm insane in some nonreligious ways from other people's points of view as well. I'm glad that back when I had insane religious beliefs, before I got enough education to abandon them, I didn't get immediately written off as an idiot by the nonreligious people I knew.

I've been getting increasingly disappointed with your comments here, and to hear you say you couldn't tolerate hanging out with someone just because they believe in a god, has pushed me over the line. I'm dropping my vote.


summitgear - Feb 1, 2008 5:50 pm - Hasn't voted


Christians are often criticized for being intolerant.

Bob Smith uses these statments about anyone who belives in God:
"I couldn't tolerate"..."I have zero respect for the intellectual capacity"..."religious sack of crap"...etc.

Who is intolerant???


robfitz - Feb 4, 2008 12:38 am - Voted 6/10

What is is what is.

All of what is is what is. Call it whatever u want. Just dont give it moral imperatives like dancing might be sinful or eating pork will send u to hell.Belittling people who think they have a big daddy in the sky is perfectly acceptable. Awe is real. Sacred perhaps. Sure is way bigger than puny humans. Love uall........

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Apr 23, 2013 11:10 am - Hasn't voted

Faith in Science

is faith, nonetheless. -Sarah


ferdinandverboom - Apr 23, 2013 2:14 pm - Hasn't voted

nature is beauty

I see nature not as primarily functional. For me, it is primarily beautiful.
And I experience beauty as something divine. God you might call it.
It's just a feeling which comes over me when I'm out in the wild.
Often the thought comes to my mind that I see it just this way because I'm born and raised with that idea. But in spite of that, I still experience beauty.

And never think your 'opponent' is evil or dumb. As a wise teacher has learnt me. Something I could read through your lines... take their considerations serious as they ought to take yours serious as well.

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