The Awe of Nature

While gathered around our dining table last night, Gabe, Danielle and I talked about the possibilities of the nature of the universe. We pulled out a pad of graph paper and sketched out the various theoretical shapes of the flow of time, the warp of the universe, and the theories that have been proposed because of such things: wormholes, faster-than-light travel, out-of-time experiences, multiple quantum dimensions. The more we talked and sketched, the more Gabe’s eyes reflected a glowing sense of amazement at the possible answers to the question: “How does our universe work?”. Never once did our nine-year old son feel discouraged, lonely, estranged, or depressed about the universe, the world, or his place in it.

There is a frightening tendency to paint atheists as cold, calculating, science worshipers: a group of people who eschew the spiritual for the logical. Some people believe that raising a child in an atheist household is akin to stamping out imagination and murdering the soul. I’ve heard the argument stated that if we use science, philosophy, and logic to find the answer to “How”, we remove our capacity for wonder and awe at the answers we may find. All of these statements are absurd.

Atheism is simply a word that defines us as living without a need for gods to help us feel a sense of wonder and awe. Atheists understand that the way things are put together has nothing at all to do with an outside, super-human force. Rather, nature itself is awe-inspiring and fills us with wonder. Atheism — and science in general — is not capable of providing us answers for the most burning question humans have: why.

Gabe left that discussion last night with a head filled with the possibilities that logic, philosophy, and science offer. Never, however, did he feel as though they were providing him with the reason for existence. And that’s okay. Finding our purpose, we told him, the answer to “Why?” is not something science will provide. The only way to find that answer is by working at it ourselves. That journey to find the answer provides the joy of living.

Our family has tended to eschew the label of atheist because of the vast amount of misunderstanding around what it means. For us, though, being atheist simply means that the human journey is experienced without any assistance from one, three, or multiple “gods”. So far, this has done nothing to diminish our excitement for life, joy of the journey, or wonderment at the universe around us.