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: 141-160 of 224

brecon35 - Jan 15, 2008 1:26 am - Voted 9/10


Why is it that Scandinavians are without doubt the most intelligent people on the Planet? This is not irony! The most incisive, allegorical, - devastating and funny - comment on the human condition I've ever read was by Jostein Gaarder in his book 'The Solitaire Mystery'. Genius. Tells it like it is.

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 15, 2008 1:42 am - Hasn't voted

Re: People

Too true! Who else could produce this:


brecon35 - Jan 16, 2008 1:30 am - Voted 9/10

people photo

Yep. These are the San Francisco Vikings. Proof that the Vikings got to America way before God sailed with the Spaniards.

brecon35 - Jan 16, 2008 1:40 am - Voted 9/10

The parable of the innocent child

There was once a child, still at an age of innocence, who saw two apparitions in a street.
One said to him “I will promise you a life of paradise if you surrender your soul to me in the afterlife.”
“Thank you, I’ll think about it.” said the child.
Then the other one said to him “I will Promise you an Afterlife in Paradise if you Surrender your Soul to me while you Live.”
“Thank you, I’ll think about it.” said the child.

The child thought about it and being of above average intelligence, even though being still at an age of innocence, he soon realised that one of these dudes, and only one, could be taking him for a sucker.

So the child, being of above average intelligence, and no longer at an age of innocence, quickly rejected both propositions and said,
“I’d really prefer to plot my own route through the high sierras of life, thanks, and my afterlife I’m content to bequeath to others.”

Strange to say, both the apparitions vanished instantly.

The boy lived a very full and happy life, became old and wise and was remembered with pleasure by all who knew him.

Moral: Don't leave trash behind you in the high sierras.


rhyang - Jan 16, 2008 12:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Read Joseph Campbell ?

... particularly the Masks of God series. He examines primitive mythology, eastern religions, western religions, on up to the modern era, within the framework of culture, archaeology, etc. As a result I tend to look at religion / mysticism these days as a cultural artifact, as inseparable from human experience as anything else.

On the one hand, wouldn't it be great to live in a Star Trek: The Next Generation world ? On the other, I seriously doubt we are anywhere close to that, and perhaps never will be ...

I guess living in northern california for ten years I am more than willing to embrace my religious friends in a big group hug :) They don't push their beliefs on me, and vice versa and they've given me a lot of help and encouragement.

But I hear you - I lived 'back east' in places like South Carolina for the first 29 years of my life... things are different there.


BobSmith - Jan 16, 2008 10:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Read Joseph Campbell ?

I don't hate relgious people. I hate their religion. I have relatives who are religious. I love them. I have friends who are religious. I love them. Their religions, however, are loathesome. And I make no bones about it. Whatever your religion is, it's a very nasty thing. (And yes, I realize I'm coining a popular xian phrase.)


rhyang - Jan 24, 2008 11:12 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Read Joseph Campbell ?

For some reason this morning that old 80's song She Blinded Me With Science came to mind - cheers :)

Brian Jenkins

Brian Jenkins - Jan 17, 2008 1:22 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice article

I wonder if the people who voted 1/10 were voting because they disagreed with the content or if they thought it was a poorly written article. Doubt it was the latter which should be the reason for a low vote and not the former.

You might like this book if you get a chance. I'm in the process of reading it and find it very interesting.

Take care,


BobSmith - Jan 17, 2008 4:54 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice article

They low-voted because they're a vengeful lot. (xians slay me.)

That's okay. It's free speech, and it doesn't bug me.

I'll nab a copy of the book. (I can't argue with 1cent prices.)

Thanks for the vote!


ktiffany22 - Jan 17, 2008 8:35 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: Nice article

I voted at "1" b/c this article was written with sarcasm purely to slam something someone else wrote. In addition, the author has been blatantly rude in his responses to people's posts. Do you think that everyone who voted a "10" gave him that vote b/c they think it was written so well? ...or b/c they agree with the content?

Brian Jenkins

Brian Jenkins - Jan 17, 2008 11:33 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice article

You're probably correct but you know, two wrongs etc. You are free to vote how you want, my point/opinion is that the article should be voted on its merits as an article, not an emotional response to its subject. Sarcasm has its place in articles sometimes. I just thought his article was put together well. Anyway, like I said, it's your vote.

Happy climbs,


BobSmith - Jan 18, 2008 1:26 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice article

Typical christer.

Indiana Mad-Man

Indiana Mad-Man - Jan 18, 2008 11:18 am - Voted 6/10

Re: Nice article

Call me a "Christer" Bob, I guess, but I certainly agree with ktiffany's analysis of the article. It is not written as a well thought out piece to give us something to ponder but rather a jabbing, cutting, "This is why I hate religion" piece. You could see the humanity and time put into Patrick's initial piece but you cannot say the same about this piece. And no Bob, because someone doesn't like your article does not make them a "Christer" just observant.

brecon35 - Jan 17, 2008 2:04 pm - Voted 9/10

from seanpeckham's earlier post

"You might read Haidt more carefully (I've read the linked Edge article several times). He is explicit in his preference for liberal secular morality. He does, however, quite reasonably, identify certain advantages that many religious moralities have in terms of binding people together (a more sophisticated form of the observation that creating an atheist community would be like herding cats), and suggests secularists (not just atheists) should consider how to incorporate such advantages, but I gather he is very cautious in this recommendation, given the correlation between those advantages and the disadvantages he cites such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and proscription of individual liberty. Basically, he wants the best of both worlds, and I agree, but he doesn't know how to get it, and neither do I."

First I'd like to say that your posts say everything I wish I could have said myself. I was particularly interested in the above comment as some years ago I decided that I would 'worship' the goddess Gaia. Don't laugh. For me it works on all counts. I have a 'deity' which I can know (prove) with all my senses, which are much keener now than they were before I had this particular focus for them. I venture to suggest that if all mankind made celebratory obeisance to that which gives life to everyone and in turn is itself made 'living' by that very life, a manifestly single truth, there could be no schisms as damaging to mankind as those we have inherited. All the disadvantages listed in the extract (racism, homophobia etc) are, I believe, offshoots of religious bigotry, which, as we know, is very virulent.

Just another fancy maybe, but could it really be a worse one as a focus for our tribal instincts?

By Gaia of course I mean 'Our Planet which Art in Space'.

2000 years too late now of course . . . . if only.


seanpeckham - Jan 17, 2008 4:52 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: from seanpeckham's earlier post

Speaking of Joseph Campbell, my reaction to your Gaia worship is not laughter, but "follow your bliss!"

Using an admittedly made-up god-concept as a metaphor for something real and good and a means to focus one's mental activities is on the most benign end of the religion/spirituality spectrum, IMO. Einstein using Spinoza's God as a metaphor for the structural elegance and harmonious regularity he saw in the universe comes to mind.

This is much different from God as a Cosmic Idiot-Savant-Designer Totalitarian Dictator who demands our blind obeisance, allegiance, sacrifice, and even love at the point of a ... not even gun, but threat of endless burning torture in hell, and leaves it up to corrupt priests, popes, prophets, ayatollahs and other such pious hypocritical self-righteous charlatans and control freaks to speak for him. Faced with earthly slavery, violence, or oppression, there is always at least one ultimate way out: suicide, but if the afterlife is inevitable there is no such dignified method of subversive protest to employ against God. And these people posit free will???

But I can't help but wonder if God the Invisible Psychopathic Abusive Father started out as innocently as this (possibly not, knowing what we know of ancient Semitic culture). Picture the evolution: Gaia morphs into an allegedly real entity instead of a metaphor, her followers who at first only idealized that if only everyone believed this look how great the world would be, now try to bring this universal agreement to reality by some means or other, but since the question of the deity's existence is not scientifically accessible, the only option as far as "persuasion" is to resort to violence, oppression, brainwashing of children, threats of unimaginably dire consequences in an invented afterlife, and so on. This can all happen even without being consciously intended, and devious motives need not be ascribed to the participants or even leaders of the movement; Daniel Dennett's phrase "free-floating rationale" comes to mind, but that makes it all the more dangerous as a natural political control structure filling a socioecological niche.

I like your idea, but hold on to spiritual anarchism for humanity's sake.

brecon35 - Jan 18, 2008 1:09 am - Voted 9/10

re-re earlier post

Of course, the insurmountable problem is the animal 'pack-leader' instinct, a natural group survival system, which in humans becomes a gratuitous lust for power and control. This is the history of religious 'faiths', and the future, - while they survive. Make Gaia available to the masses and she would eventually be deliberately violated. (She's already being violated in ignorance).
I'm thinking of returning in 2000 years time to see how things worked out.
I hope I don't mean 'who won', because in that case I think I'd be the only human on the planet. Briefly.


helmut - Jan 18, 2008 6:42 pm - Hasn't voted


I think it is funny that there is a picture with a person in it with a caption of "No People". Was that a joke or are you just overjoyed?


Greenhouseguy - Jan 18, 2008 11:53 pm - Hasn't voted


I am not a creationist, but I am utterly unimpressed by the article and the author's responses. When he mocks people for their spiritual beliefs, it makes me wonder if he mocks people for their skin color or their sexual orientation. It's possible for one to express his beliefs without belittling another's beliefs. That ability usually comes with maturity.


captainbuuda - Jan 19, 2008 3:13 am - Voted 6/10

Painful: the whole discussion

I guess it has to happen. People have to vent. People must get their emotions out. I think that this entire article and the subsequent discussion is motivated and perpetuated out of painful emotions-- very strong painful emotions. What I observe happening in our world is individuals acting based on emotions. Our actions seem erratic or illogical at times, however there is always a reason behind each action. Many times that reason is emotion. Many times our thought process is persuaded-- our reason even created by emotion.

When I see people arguing about religion it is very painful to me. When I see people arguing about religion it reminds me of the pain and the hate that pain has caused in our hearts. It makes me think of the hate that drives us to kill one another. To fly airplanes into buildings. To fly large airplanes into large buildings. To fly large airplanes filled with our mothers, brothers, fathers, sons, and daughters into buildings filled with our mothers, brothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.

When I see people arguing about religion I think of the pain in our hearts and the destruction of our world; of each other.

We have done this.

Why have we done this?

There is always a reason.


radson - Jan 19, 2008 3:56 pm - Voted 10/10

Well done

Bob and wing man Sean. Wow, incredibly articulate and comprehensive conversations. I only wish I had the depth of your intelligence and skills in logic. I have been slowly, tediously garnering information on the compilation of the bible and also the koran for my own I guess auto-didactic purposes. For me it is a way of knowing thy enemy. But having read some of your posts, i realise I am extremely far off from having an even limited knowledge of how these texts came to their present day form.

It is also interesting to note the usual feigned hurt or alternately angry label used by christians when someone has the audacity to challenge their "tooth-fairy" beliefs. I am so over that. All I wish for was that some muslims had popped up and we saw some interesting debate on the Koran.

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