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!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 41-60 of 224

shanrickv - Jan 12, 2008 10:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Start

Jim, you got it!!! So be it (Amen), He is risen (Hallelujah)!!!
Sorry, I could not resist.
Climb On!

Mountain Jim

Mountain Jim - Jan 12, 2008 9:39 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Good Start

Besides believing in religion, you've also apparently deluded yourself into believing you're clever & funny.
Better luck next time ... Peace, Jim


MoapaPk - Jan 15, 2008 10:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Good Start

"religion is slowly on its way out."
Could you talk to Osama bin Laden about this?

"It took about 400 years for christianity to replace Paganism...and that was at the point of a sword"

Wow, Constantine was converted at the point of a sword?

"The inexorable appeal of science, logic, putting an end to religion."

DesCartes and Pascal -- those illogical dumbasses!

Again, I'm not religious. I'm just inclined to play the Devil's advovate.


Charles - Jan 7, 2008 9:56 am - Voted 10/10

Well put

You make your point well - God = mumbojumbo. It doesn´t matter how quietly you move, you´ll never creep up on "Him" doing his work. :o))



BobSmith - Jan 7, 2008 10:40 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Well put

Thanks. For mumbo-jumbo religion certainly is!


drjohnso1182 - Jan 7, 2008 2:28 pm - Hasn't voted

I agree, but... is clear from your opening anecdote onward that tactfulness is not your strongest quality...or maybe I'm just upset because I read the title and was looking forward to an article about scientific research being performed in the mountains.


BobSmith - Jan 7, 2008 2:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: I agree, but...


No, tact is not my strong suit.


MountainHikerCO - Jan 8, 2008 12:44 am - Voted 10/10


What's funny is I didn't bother to read: Finding God in High Places until after reading this article. It doesn't bother or offend me to see religious material, I usually just ignore it. Or I just accept that it is part of our cultural heritage. Although I'm an athiest I have a Christmas tree with several nativity scene ornaments.

It does bother me that our political leadership is so confused on this issue. On one hand they reassure voters they are God fearing Christians to get elected, and on the other hand we have fights over Christmas decorations on government property! What would Jesus do?!

I like this article not for any slam it may have for religion. I like it because it is as blatantly athiest as people have taken for granted they can be blatantly religious. So please people, continue to proclaim you're love of God. I thought Finding God in High Places was well done. When I'm in the mountains however and any kind of situation starts to develop, I'll know it's up to us mortals to handle it.


BobSmith - Jan 11, 2008 7:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Funny


Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Jan 8, 2008 12:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Sad that you missed glaciology

I am sure it is the fav part for many of us. Living at the base of a rugged range which grows higher by a centimeter a year, I never cease to be amazed about the Nature's power manifested by these mountains. It just takes one peek out of the window!

Not sure if it was such a great idea to continue the controversy here on SP, but, folks, science is truly non-denominational, and nobody can blame the author for pushing one faith at the expense another. So here's my vote.


BobSmith - Jan 8, 2008 5:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Sad that you missed glaciology

I'd love to add glaciology. However, I've never seen an active galcier and have hiked only two mountains with signs of glaciation: Washington (NH) and Katahdin(ME). I reckon I could have shown some glacial cirques and tarns.

brecon35 - Jan 9, 2008 1:45 am - Voted 9/10

worship not faith

I applaud Bob Smith's article and I would go further. The religions of 'faith' have subverted the potential of humanity down the ages. They have made our eyes blind, our ears deaf, our touch uncertain, and have made our other senses mundane and irrelevant. Religions make a big thing about 'miracles' do they not? And the miracles used as exemplars are all fictional (ie anyone could have made them up and we could all invent a few more quite easily). There is a miracle. A real miracle which nobody has invented. It's called 'Life on Earth' and it is inextricably bound up with the one called 'Life of Earth'. If anything is worth worshiping in true sincerity, humility and with great exultation it is this living planet Earth. It is but a wonderful accident, as indeed we all are. And it is not eternal, as indeed neither are we. But, briefly, we are one with the other. On yer knees! Give thanks to Gaia, and cherish her. She does not hide her secrets from us.


BobSmith - Jan 9, 2008 7:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: worship not faith



kamil - Jan 9, 2008 10:43 am - Voted 10/10

Science and God don't exclude each other :)

One must be either a hardcore religious fanatic or a hardcore atheist to say they do.

Actually none of the points you brought can prove that God doesn't exist. Simply because you can't prove it. Just like you can't prove that God exists. Just a matter of faith, you believe one or the other way or you admit you don't know.

Bob, I don't agree with most of your points but I respect your view. I also understand the purposefully provocative style of your article. All in all an interesting, well written voice in the discussion that started with the 'Finding God...' article (I gave my comment there too).

On the other hand I wonder how many of us had some traumatic experiences with religion. The best way to deter people from religion (not only Chiristianity) is the 'Bible-banging' attitude that tries to ram it down the throat. Very sad.

Happy climbing!


BobSmith - Jan 9, 2008 7:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Science and God don't exclude each other :)



awagher - Jan 10, 2008 2:03 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Science and God don't exclude each other :)

I have heard people argue against the ability to prove that gods do or don't exist in a similar way before. To me it is a rediculous undertaking. What we learn in logic classes, ethics classes and simple thinking is that we may consider the nature of god and come up with some things that are highly probable. Concerning the comment on believing one way or the other...this is silly. We don't choose to believe in math any more than we choose to believe we all die. It is. Science and god definately exclude each other. The whole inteligent design thing is misunderstood by most people and is usually taken up by believers in god that get tire of feeling silly in college biology classes. I do agree however that a great deal of folks get turned off further by over zealous believers in anything thumping heads...


kamil - Jan 10, 2008 9:59 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Science and God don't exclude each other :)

There's still a possibility that evolution, all the laws of physics we already know and yet don't know, and science as a whole are parts of some intelligent design. You can't logically disprove it.


AJones - Jan 10, 2008 11:35 am - Voted 10/10

You got balls!

Thanks for the great post. I had followed the other SP article and posts about finding god in high places, and had made a comment something along the lines of it would be interesting to see an article written by an atheist about his/her experience in high places. I myself, would have loved to write the article, but frankly wasn't brave enough. Thanks for doing so, I would give you an 11 out of 10 if I could. I've read the book by Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" and he makes the point that it takes a very brave person these days (especially in the US) to admit that he/she doesn't believe in God (ever hear a politician admit he's an atheist). I'm also pleased that the majority of the posts from people who do believe in god are respectful (I wasn't entirely sure which way that would go, as religion can be an awfully hot topic?). I do hope that now that we have both points of view on SP, we can get onto articles that don't deal with religion.


BobSmith - Jan 11, 2008 7:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: You got balls!


Yes, THE GOD DELUSION is a fine book. Yes, it's frightening to be sane in the USA.


BobSmith - Jan 11, 2008 7:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: You got balls!


Viewing: 41-60 of 224