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: 101-120 of 224

BobSmith - Jan 13, 2008 9:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome article


Well, religion won't vanish overnight. It took christianity about 400 years--and that was at the point of a sword--to supplant the traditional religions of Europe. In less than 200 years, Darwin's work has pretty much eliminated religion in Europe, and that was merely through force of logic. And face it--Europe is about to be the new seat of power on Earth. Unless we get our stuff together in the USA, we're just going to be considered a bunch of backward, stupid, religious, fairy-believing idiots.

Yeah, the South is filled with religious morons. Even more so than the rest of the USA. You have to be very careful what you say, and where.

Grab a copy of THE FLOCK. My agent is now closing a movie deal. I'll post details at my blog when the ink is dry on the contracts. Big studio, big name producers.

Tim Geerlings

Tim Geerlings - Jan 13, 2008 10:31 pm - Voted 8/10

Re: Awesome article

Yes, Christianity is not nearly as strong as it was in Europe. Yet if you look at history, it was still strong as late as WW2, a full 80 years after Darwin. While Darwin's work and the decline of Christianity in Europe did coincide, that does not mean that one caused the other. Specifically, I doubt that evolutionism was the cause of the secularization of Europe.
And for every part of Europe that is losing Christianity, it is growing rapidly in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Don't worry, Christianity is not on it's way out any time soon.


BobSmith - Jan 13, 2008 10:33 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome article

"...Latin America, Africa, and Asia."

Yes, in quite primitive, backward, rotten places. Disease does well in such spots.

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 14, 2008 12:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome article

Bob, you have referred to Christianity being spread at the point of a sword over the course of 400 years a few times and I am not sure what you are referring to.

It seems you refer to the Christianization of the Roman Empire. The 400 years roughly corresponds to the time elapsed between beginning of the church and approximate end of the dominance of paganism in the Empire. If this is the time you are referring to, then I think I can clarify a little.

If you examine the historical record (and I am glad to offer an exhaustive bibliography if you want one) you will note that for the first 300 years of the church’s history the Romans persecuted them. This obviously began with the troubles with Nero, but they were localized in the vicinity of Rome. There were certainly laws against being a Christian in the Roman Empire, but they were not actively enforced. The letters exchanged between the emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger, who was the governor of Bithynia at the time offer a good deal of insight into the imperial attitude towards Christians. Widespread persecution did not begin until AD 250 during the reign of Decius. These continued unabated through the reigns of Aemilius Aemilianus, Trebonianus Gallus and Valerianus, when they abated somewhat. (They all met bad ends, as can be read in Lactantius’ work “De Mortibus Persecutorum”.) Diocletian and the other Tetrarchs revived the persecutions AD 303. These officially came to an end in AD 311 when Galerius issued the Edict of Toleration, although they continued in the east under Maximinus Daia. Meanwhile, Constantine and Licinius affirmed the Edict of Toleration, thus making it legal to practice any kind of religion within the Empire, including being a Christian. This is not exactly at the point of the sword.

Once Constantine began his affiliation with the church, it gained popularity and converts. This continued apace until, by the end of the 4th century, there was a majority population of Christians in the Roman Empire. Paganism was not wholly displaced in the east until the sixth century when Justinian closed the last few pagan shrines and schools still open. This was unfortunate, but hardly violent.

In the west things took on a different appearance. During the mid-4th century, a man named Ulfilas traveled beyond the Danube river and proselytized the barbarian tribes there. He successfully converted them to Arian Christianity. When these tribes later invaded the Roman Empire, they were no longer pagan! They were Arian Christians invading orthodox Christian lands. It was largely missionary work that converted places that were not originally within the bounds of the Roman Empire like Ireland and Denmark. The only part of Europe that was effectively converted by the sword was when Charlemagne defeated Windukind and “converted” the Saxons. Not even Russia was converted by the sword. Rather, this was the work of the emperor Basil II and his alliance with Vladimir of the Rus.

If you were referring to a different 400 years, please clarify.


BobSmith - Jan 14, 2008 12:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome article

boo hoo

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Apr 19, 2013 12:30 am - Voted 1/10

Re: UnAwesome article

"Disease does well in such spots." -Bob

That's a pretty sick thing to say. Does this mean you support genocide too?


BobSmith - Apr 19, 2013 5:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome article

What the fuck are you talking about fuckface?

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Apr 19, 2013 11:00 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: UnAwesome article

Please see your own comment. Your reply to my post is not putting out a good impression.


BobSmith - Apr 20, 2013 7:12 am - Hasn't voted

Re: UnAwesome article

"Disease" as in religion is a disease you religionist fuckwit.

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Apr 20, 2013 3:13 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: UnAwesome article

You sure made it sound like actual disease. Regarding calling me "wit" one of the definitions said "understanding, intelligence". So then your acknowledging that. ;-)


BobSmith - Apr 23, 2013 10:39 am - Hasn't voted

Re: UnAwesome article

I think you mean "you're", fuckwit.

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Apr 23, 2013 11:09 am - Hasn't voted

Re: UnAwesome article

Bob: Has someone hacked your account? I've always known you to be friendly, courteous and ELOQUENT in your discourse. The tone of your comments do not reflect well on you and seem far out of character for a member I like and respect.


Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Apr 23, 2013 1:26 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: UnAwesome article

I admit I'm not that great on understanding when to use "your" and "you're". However you choose the wrong word all together. Before I thought you made a simple mistake, but now it's obvious that you probably don't mean to call me "wit". The first definition of wit is "The natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence". So before you go to insult someone, you better know what your saying. (not trying to encourage insults, but it's embarrassing to be the insulter and wrong at the same time)

brecon35 - Jan 14, 2008 12:33 am - Voted 9/10


Religion will hopefully diminish quickly as more people realise the need to focus on the health of the planet. It is not a matter of 'saving the planet' it is a matter of maintaining it in a state that generously supports life. God won't provide an answer or even help. To think, as God worshipers seem to do, that 'He' favours humanity above all his 'works' is obscene, and is clear 'PROOF' the the god in question has been constructed by man in his own self-regarding image. Amen.

brecon35 - Jan 14, 2008 1:53 am - Voted 9/10

re- Wow

Incidentally is Bob Smith really Richard Dawkins? There is a nice video-clip on the website of Neil deGrasse Tyson where, in front of a conference-room full of delegates he suggests to Richard Dawkins that his 'message' would reach out to more people if he would only think about becoming a perceptibly nicer guy! I can't remember what Dawkins replied - but it raised a laugh.


BobSmith - Jan 14, 2008 12:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: re- Wow

One thing that I like about Dawkins is that he rejects the ridiculous idea that you have to be "nice" to religionists.

Indiana Mad-Man

Indiana Mad-Man - Jan 15, 2008 2:13 pm - Voted 6/10

Re: re- Wow

Okay then let's all just be angry at each other. Fantastic solution. I respect writers like Sam Harris who use logic and try to increase discussion by being approachable, but you sir are angry and bitter. Your point seems to be, "I hate Christians because they only ever produce hate, so I will hate everyone that disagrees with me." Flawed logic my friend.


seanpeckham - Jan 15, 2008 5:32 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: re- Wow

Huh? Dawkins always strikes me as uncommonly civil and mild-mannered. Though he doesn't hide his views.

He was best in The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The Extended Phenotype, and The Ancestor's Tale. He's not too great a philosopher, sociologist, or historian, as per The God Delusion, which I never finished, but that's kind of his point. When freshmen in Philosophy 101 can readily identify the fatal flaws in the "proofs" of the existence of God that some of the greatest minds in the past 2500 years came up with, then why should one have to be a great philosopher to be an atheist?


txmountaineer - Jan 14, 2008 2:13 pm - Voted 9/10

Righteous Indignation

At the risk of being flamed, I feel compelled to step up to make another post. Although I originally wrote a response commenting on Bob's article, I'm sad to see so many Christians posting such sharp criticism of Bob's views.

God is love. It hurts me to see posts flaming Bob and others simply because they hold different beliefs! All Christians are called to love all of humanity as people made in the image and likeness of God. I know that many feel they are simply defending their faith, however, the moment that one makes a comment that does not come from a spirit of love, one treads onto shaky ground.

My personal faith is based greatly on the fact that I am infinitely fallible; if there is a way to mess something up, I guarantee that I'll find it. This is why I find solace in my faith! I realize though, that not everyone may have had the same experiences as I have, nor are they probably as big of a sinner as I am.

To the Christians out there:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." - Matthew 7:7-8

Our job is to seek and it is God's job to find. I applaud Bob and everyone who is out there looking truth wherever they may try to find it!

My only request would be that any Christian, or anyone else for that matter, who would like to respond to this thread would stop and ask themselves if they are motivated by love when they write such a response. Not doing so can only cause more pain and anger for all involved.


txmountaineer - Jan 14, 2008 2:23 pm - Voted 9/10

Post # 100

Woo hoo!

Viewing: 101-120 of 224