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: 81-100 of 224

BobSmith - Jan 12, 2008 4:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: oldest manuscript of Homers Iliad

The Book of Mormonn is just a fairy tale that you don't want to believe in. But you've chosen to believe in other fairy tales.

Here's some variations of quotations from another mythical cat:

"All you have to do, is to decide what you are going to do in the time that has been given to you..."

"All you have to decide is what you're going to do with the time you are given."

"All that is for you to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you."

"all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

"All you have to do is to decide what you are going to do with the time that is given to you."

The mythical dude? Gandalf, from LORD OF THE RINGS.


shknbke - Jan 12, 2008 12:01 am - Voted 1/10

A Christian's point of view


Your article has brought forth some interesting responses and it has been fun following them. I have no problem with this being on the front page of sp, even though I don't agree with one iota of it. That's your freedom of speech and you have every right to exercise it! My hat's off to you for standing up for what you believe in.

I know my beliefs as a conservative Christian are in the minority here (great posts, Big Shoes). I would assert that it takes much more faith to be an atheist than to believe in a universe created by the God of the Bible. Darwinism is not a science, it is nothing but a theory. Lee Strobel's "The Case for a Creator" sums up an atheist's beliefs in the origin of life well:

-Nothing produces everything
-Non-life produces life
-Randomness produces fine-tuning
-Chaos produces information
-Non-reason produces reason

That just doesn't make sense to me. Does Darwinism explain the origin of the universe? Does it explain the astonomical odds of this amazing place called Earth being at the exact distance from the sun to sustain life? Does it explain the complex, unique DNA structure of each of us? Does it explain the human consciousness and its origin? Does it explain the complexities of the human body? Those are questions that Darwinism cannot answer.

Somebody said in this thread that religion is on the way out. If that is the case, then why is the Holy Bible the all time best seller and the name Jesus Christ still the most powerful name on earth some 2,000 years after he left this world as a man? If Jesus is a hoax, then why did many of his disciples die as a martyr proclaiming the Gospel? They were with him after his resurrection, so if it didn't happen then why die for a myth? How could Christianity explode following his resurection and ascencion to heaven if his resurrection was a myth? Just some food for thought from a blind Christian who doesn't know anything!


BobSmith - Jan 12, 2008 7:32 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A Christian's point of view

"a blind Christian"



seanpeckham - Jan 14, 2008 12:30 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

Try reading Strobel's critics, not just blindly believing the inane intellectual contortions of an apologist. "Just a theory" - the single phrase most indicative of absolute ignorance (combined with arrogance of equal magnitude) about how science works.

Your summing up of atheists' beliefs clearly demonstrates you have absolutely no clue what atheism is, and are just spouting second-hand creationist boilerplate. Those are all complete straw man misrepresentations not only of atheism but of scientific theories accepted by most educated theists as well.

Even were it the case that modern scientific theories had poor explanatory value as to questions about life and the universe (which is really what you're getting at when you ridiculously expect theories about the origin of species to explain the Big Bang), Bronze-Age myths mixed with medieval theology and modern scientific illiteracy do not exactly win by default.

God-did-it explains nothing. The answer to any question is "because God decided to do it that way" and the next question is "why should God have done it that way" and we're left with just as much mystery as before, only now the subject of inquiry is an unobservable supernatural being, rather than observable natural phenomena. This is a scientific dead end that can only be satisfying to a small and intellectually cowardly mind. Just a cheap and delusionary substitute for real understanding, a strange thing for a person with the ambition and self-mastery necessary for successful mountaineering to settle for.


HokieJim - Jan 14, 2008 11:57 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

Man, that was intense! Let's take the edge off a bit.

So, if you don't believe that God created mankind, then based on the "obervable natural phenomena," this must your theory: Evolution


seanpeckham - Jan 15, 2008 11:01 am - Voted 5/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

All right, the intensity is probably not appropriate for SummitPost. You gotta admit, though, the post I responded to was one big steaming pile of second-hand disinformation, and deserved my response, IMO. But the poster probably does not realize what intellectually dishonest crackpots the people he's getting his information from (possibly indirectly) are, so my intensity was probably misdirected. Unfortunately, representatives of Answers in Genesis or the Discovery Institute are not readily available for getting slapped upside the head.

Your link points to a non-HTTP-1.1-compliant server. In any case, what does the theory of evolution (one of the greatest ideas of all time) have to do with the universe? Here we go again, combating disinformation instead of having a reasonable discussion about an honest difference of opinion. This is why I hate creationism. But by way of explanation, I turn to cosmology, not biology, when I'm feeling curious about the universe. And just because cosmology doesn't have all the answers, doesn't mean creationists do. What's wrong with saying "I don't know"? What other choice does an honest seeker of truth have?


HokieJim - Jan 15, 2008 12:33 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

Okay, relax, I'll edit my previous post to say "mankind" instead of "the universe" so I'm not spreading disinformation. Yikes! I don't mean to get drawn in to this circus!

I honestly have absolutely no desire to participate in any kind of serious discussion or debate about religion (or politics!) on the internet. People just end up getting all fired up, start taking cheap shots at one another, and try to insult a complete stranger's intelligence in some sort of an "I'm smarter than you contest." Funny. The comments on this article are a great example. No thanks, I'll pass! :-) Although, it can be entertaining to watch sometimes. I just decided to put down my popcorn and submit something that might encourage people to lighten up a bit. Or is laughing not allowed?

If the hyperlink didn't work for you, try pasting this in your browser:

Or go to YouTube and search "Evolution + South Park". Or don't do either, I really don't care. Hopefully somebody out there got a laugh.


seanpeckham - Jan 15, 2008 3:45 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

It's been pointed out to me by PM the obvious: that my comment above is pretty vitriolic and quite possibly insulting to lots of people that I really don't want to insult. SP is full of great people, with far more courage in the mountains than I will ever muster. shknbke, I apologize for implying (accidentally, I think -- I sort of aimed wide) that you are small-minded.

Let me rephrase. I don't think it is small-minded to believe in God. I do think it is myopic to be satisified with God as "The Answer." I also think it is small-minded to need to misrepresent scientific theories ("evolution = blind chance" etc.) in order to support one's view. But I am well aware most theists are not that way, and I didn't mean to lump you all together. Whether you believe in a god or not, we are all in the same boat as far as experiencing wonder, mystery, having deep questions, and desiring to understand the universe and ourselves. And we can all live meaningful and fulfilling lives regardless of whether we believe in any kind of ultimate being or purpose -- after all, there are mountains to be climbed!!


shknbke - Jan 15, 2008 7:00 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

Thanks for the apology, Sean. I usually do not participate in debate on the existence of God over the Internet because it is a lost cause, but I couldn't resist with this article. The main point of my post is that atheism requires just as much faith if not more than Christianity IMHO. I'm sure you disagree with that but it is not a proven science. My faith is based largely on my relationship with Jesus Christ and the way I have seen a relationship with him changes lives. My grandparents were missionaries in Central America and can give you many stories of miracles that occurred through prayer and petition. My faith is also based on the inspired word of God and the many prophecies that were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ. That's great that you're digging deeper into this, Sean. Peace be with you.


seanpeckham - Jan 16, 2008 12:26 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: A Christian's point of view

I'm glad we're on good terms now, but I can't resist asking: wouldn't it be nice if when someone says they reject faith as a basis for valid belief, they did not get told that this rejection in fact requires more faith than a rival position that is explicitly admitted to be faith-based? I would rather be told that I'm biased and my reasoning is flawed, than that I use faith. I spent my youth trying to have faith in a god. When I stopped this effort, my belief evaporated. And you're telling me my position is faith-based? I could choose to have faith in the myriad missionary miracle stories from Central America that I got told in my youth, which proved the Mormon church true, but I don't.

Atheists go out on a limb, do they not?, claiming to have rational or scientific justification (not proof, of course) for their position? Doesn't that open the door for someone to demand they present such justification, or if they present it, pick it apart to find flaws? There is no faith or subjective mystical experience, inaccessible to analysis by others, that I, for one, am hiding behind to shield myself from this criticism (I'm not saying that's what you're doing when you bring up your faith). Ironically, this is a backwards burden of proof. Since, as we all seem to agree, God as a subject is not amenable to the scientific method, since we can't observe or infer him empirically, he is a priori a hypothetical being, and therefore the burden of proof as to his existence lies with those making the assertion: that he exists. It has to be this way for the sake of consistency: there are infinite such unobserved hypothetical beings, from Russell's teapot to Wittgenstein's elephant to the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is crazy to assume all these exist until proven otherwise. So, atheism does not need to be a "proven science" as you say. It is simply the null hypothesis, innocent until proven guilty.


Holsti97 - Jan 12, 2008 7:33 am - Hasn't voted

Psalm 104

1Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
3Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
4Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
5Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
6Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.
7At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
8They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
9Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
10He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
11They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
12By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
13He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
14He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
15And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.
16The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
17Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
18The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
19He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
20Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
22The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
23Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
24O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
25So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
26There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
29Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
31The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.
32He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
33I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.
35Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul. Praise ye the LORD.


BobSmith - Jan 12, 2008 1:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Psalm 104



shanrickv - Jan 12, 2008 8:04 pm - Hasn't voted

Finding God in High Places

Life has been busy for me since the first of the year, so I have only lurked while watching the discussion our articles have stimulated. I definitely have wanted to respond and add “my 2 cents” for what it is worth. That being the case, I promise that my contribution to the discussion will be more than just saying, “What a load,” as you did to mine.
I wish I had the patience and wisdom to respond as thoughtfully as the likes of Bob Sihler, txmountaineer, The Lower Marmot, Bob Adams, dwhike, Puma concolor, kamil, Big Shoes, Michiganmountainman and shknbke. Unfortunately, I don’t.
As you also stated, my goal is not to sway anyone. I believe in God and you don’t. You can’t prove that God does not exist and I can’t prove that he does. Debating it on the internet is a dicey endeavor at best, but can be done if done so with a little class and respect. Telling a fellow SP member that their article is nothing but a “load” is lacking in both, in addition to tactless. That being said, rest easy Bob, my feelings were not hurt and I don’t need to forgive you 70 x 7.
You and I most certainly have the right to post our articles on this incredible site. Though we come from entirely different perspectives and I agree with next to nothing of what you wrote regarding religion, both of our articles ultimately have to do with our personal experiences in the mountains and nature. That being said, your article was educating regarding tectonic plates and the different sciences we experience in the wild. Beyond that, it essentially degenerated into little more than a rant against religion. Your personal experience of walking through the woods and not coming upon a burning bush talking to you does not disprove the existence of God in your life or mine. It just means that you are not Moses. Big surprise!
Bob, there is really a part of me that would love to dialogue with you about this in a meaningful way, but the skeptic in me is not optimistic about it happening. Why? Perhaps it is because of the utterly condescending and sarcastic tone that you take with anyone who has an ounce of faith in God … or a different belief than you. It is the definition of intolerance.
If you read through all the posts in response to my article you will notice that there were numerous responses from members (see Nyle Walton, drjohnso1182, theronmoon, Kamil, and Charles) who have different religious beliefs than me or are even atheists. None of them told me I was “bizarre, crazy, weird” or wrote nothing but a “load.” They were the picture of class.
I also found it interesting that none of us “crazy” believers started clamoring about how “inappropriate” and “offensive” it was to put an article dealing with atheism on the front page. Perhaps it’s because they are confident enough in their beliefs that they don’t feel threatened by a person with a different opinion. That would be called tolerance. This stands in contrast to the many cynical, paranoid, knee-jerk and PC reactions from those who got their shorts in a bunch over my article being placed on the front page.
I’ll end my rant here. As I said, I think we go down a slippery slope debating the existence of God on the internet. I’ll leave that to the brighter minds of history and their writings, like C.S. Lewis and Carl Sagan, and live in happy disagreement with you … and not call you an A*****E in the process! :)
Climb On!
Phillipians 4:13


BobSmith - Jan 12, 2008 9:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Finding God in High Places

It was your religious/supernatural gobbledegook on the front page of summitpost that spurred me to write my piece.

As I've said before, it's not my job to disprove something as totally ridiculous as a god. It's yours to prove it, which, of course, you can't because no god exists.

In addition, religion is slowly on its way out. It will burst and bubble and run like the slowly healing pus-filled infection that it is, but go away it will. You and your running dog fellows in the various god communities (christian, muslim, etc.) are going to be relegated to the nastier pages of history.

Religionists are very strange. You guys seem to enjoy wallowing in your own ignorance and slavish devotion to an insane creed that demands such slave-like reactions. No thanks.


shanrickv - Jan 12, 2008 9:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Finding God in High Places

You just reinforced everything I wrote above.
Climb On!

Big Shoes

Big Shoes - Jan 13, 2008 12:12 am - Hasn't voted

Gandalf was right about something!

I'm sorry to say Bob, you just don't listen, you are not that kind of human being. You will never open your mind up to any idea other than your own. It doesn't matter whether it's a Christian idea or scientific idea, you have decided in your mind you will decide what is right and what is wrong. None of us need you to judge us, and I for one am sorry to have ever come across your post. You turned out to be a disappointment, I thought you really might have some skill to get into a debate with. I was wrong, I will now take Gandalf's advice and do something else with my time. Out!

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 13, 2008 12:53 am - Hasn't voted

A Probably Pointless Post

Bob, I am sure it matters not to you, but I am very disappointed in your behavior in this whole affair. Shanrickv was quietly expressing his personal beliefs and it was not his choice to have it posted on the front page of Summitpost. Yet you felt that a response was necessary. It may be that this was true but what you wrote failed to offer a counter weight to his article. As you know, you simply castigated him and all who think and believe as he does, rather than doing anything productive. Disparaging what someone else finds in the wilderness is not at all the mission of Summitpost and is a far cry from elaborating on what you yourself find there.

In effect, you did exactly as the friend on Charles Bunion did to you back in the ‘70s. It was understandably hurtful and it is lamentable that someone did that to you, violating the precepts of their belief system in the process.

This should give you insight into how many of the “religionists” on Summitpost react to what you wrote.

Your writing reveals a good deal of hate ( oriented towards religion. If your attitude is the alternative to Shanrickv, then I think it is easy to choose which attitude is more attractive.


seanpeckham - Jan 15, 2008 4:15 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: A Probably Pointless Post

I agree, shanrickv's attitude is far more attractive (than mine as well, I'm afraid). I just wonder, what are we supposed to do, those of us who simply can't honestly bring ourselves to believe in certain things which are constantly asserted to be the ultimate source of truth and morals? You have to admit, it's a hard position to be in, and it's hard for an atheist with, say, my lack of diplomatic skills, to avoid making enemies when the stakes are made this way.

Fortunately, this difference in attitudes is a false dichotomy. Some of us have had very nasty experiences with being raised religious or otherwise affected negatively by religion, but plenty of people haven't much personal feeling on the issue, and while not believing in God pretty much go about a normal life.

There is no such thing as a belief system that doesn't make enemies. No matter what you believe or don't believe, there's someone whose hell you're going to. I wish atheism were the way out of this absurd scenario, and in a way it kind of is, but not really. I find that frustrating.

Indiana Mad-Man

Indiana Mad-Man - Jan 13, 2008 1:16 am - Voted 6/10


From any objective point of view Bob your comments on this page are hate-filled, cruel, and vengeful. While Patrick meant to post his point of view in an article and merely comment on his right to do so, your comments are meant to hurt. Hey, I guess its free speech and that´s cool, but from any angle you look pretty foolish and angry.

mblight - Jan 13, 2008 8:42 pm - Hasn't voted

Awesome article

I loved this. Bob, I've been reading some of your blog entries, and have really found them enjoyable. Have yet to read "The Flock," though.
Anyway, I moved to the Bible Belt a few years ago (Nashville), and have been hiking with the Jesus Freaks for a long time. I didn't know there were any sane, anti-religion folks anywhere near here. My favorite is when I go off on a solo hike and a Christian acquaintance says, "I'll pray for you." Right. That's the ticket. Pray for me. Set up a prayer shield, that'll keep the lightning bolts away.
When I moved to this Christ-infested part of the country, I wasn't too surprised to discover that most people's head were still clouded in religion: the South is pretty backward, after all. I mean, not that long ago they still had slaves. Soon they won't have any gods, either. Rational, and truly moral people, are taking away their candy.
But anyway, I hope you're correct when you claim that religion is probably on the way out. For my part, I'm not so optimistic. Religion has a disturbing way of accommodating itself to various inconsistencies that truth might present.

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