February 25, 2005

intellectum quaerens fidem

...in non fidem

i was beginning to think god was punishing me for not believing in him with a recent string of bad luck. i had my wisdom teeth impacted, causing constant headaches that caused a lousy midterm grade and a trip home in the middle of the term for surgery; a constantly busy and oft complaining girlfriend; the recent crapulence (yes i know it doesn't mean that...but it should) of the file-sharing program here; a week without solid food; and to cap it off, a horrifying hour-long ordeal in an mri machine (for a $40 psych experiment i had to look at rapid-fire pictures of very ugly people while the device i was in made a piercingly loud chirping noise. my heart was pounding, my eyes were under constant assault by transvestites and fatties [not that there's anything wrong with that] and all i could think about was how the magnetic field in there is on the order of the strongest produced by nature [by pulsars, freaking pulsars!]). and the kicker? yesterday i had my wallet stolen.

there i was, cursing my luck. thinking that maybe god finally caught up with my sober analytical view of the universe, premarital sex, and general dislike of george bush. when i realized i had to calm down, take a step back, and place my faith in the non-existence of a higher power. law of averages ryan. some good stuff will randomly happen sooner or later too. and as soon i "gave up my heart" (all evangelical-style) to the unlikelyness of the stories in the bible and the fact that i had never seen anything to suggest that any religion is correct, something appeared before me.

...on my computer screen. it was an email, someone had found my wallet.

and today i got my $40 for looking at ugly people, ate a bunch of non-liquid food, and a call from my dad to tell me that we might be able to get green monster seats at a fenway game.

yes, my atheism had been tested, and it survived through its darkest hour. my rabid, sometimes evangelical non-belief in anything bigger than myself had shown me the way and rewarded my lack of faith. hallelujah!

so any time i hear one of those dopey stories about someone getting over a life crisis through prayer and religion, i'll have this short tale waiting on the back burner for them. good things do happen to "bad" people, if you will. and this brings me to a bigger point; it seems that it is considered taboo to ever talk up the merits of atheism. i've seen the 'miracle of faith' described hundreds of times on tv and in movies, but never once heard a kind word towards not having any. (i'm talking about god here, not certain world-series-winning teams...much different).

but i get a lot of the same benefits as the religious do. atheism gives me strength in times of weakness, just the way everyone says faith is supposed to. i can tell them about how not believing in anything makes me feel relaxed and confident about my own life. all of the worries about morals and thorny philosophical questions and social conflict in the world today don't matter because we go away when we die (or something). and eventually the world will end and the universe will either explode or get really cold and none of today’s problems or tragedies will matter then. it might sound depressing at first, but when you give it some thought you get a wonderful feeling of freedom. daily trifles don't matter, the pressure is off. you can live in the moment, so to speak. it’s almost the kind of thing some eastern religions teach (but most of them have other parts that are phony). and if you're a scientist (or an aspiring one) you can enjoy the beauty of nature for what it really is, incredible complexity evolving out of a small number of mysterious rules. and you don't have to stop at "god made it that way," there is nothing beautiful about that. you can find out the real reasons things are the way they are, and have the joy of discovery and comprehension that go along with them. the universe is elegant and indiscriminate and completely wonderful in a way that a religious person can never truly understand.

unfortunately, nobody ever talks about that. it’s considered offensive to promote atheism publicly the way christians do, and in a way it makes it a smarter philosophy because everyone has to figure it out for themself (instead of being told exactly what to think), but clearly it's a little unfair. it gives me just as much personal satisfaction as any religion can. and a better appreciation of life, not because someone says that it's 'sacred' but because it's wonderful that a few self-reproducing molecules can multiply and change over billions of years to fill every niche and use every possible means of survival. to evolve to the level of complexity where these big heaps of atoms can marvel at the nature that created them. and fortunately, i'm a physicist in training so i get to see all the gears turning up-close, and draw assurance from how over the years science has pushed the 'god of the gaps' back further and further. seeing that at every time in histery there have been people saying "but you need religion because you can't explain how the solar system is stable!" and every time science would go to work in the back room and come out a little while later with an "I find no need of that hypothesis" just as laplace (who solved that problem) famously told napoleon. now we have pushed god all the way back to 10^-35 seconds after the big bang and it's nice, but there will always be enemies to science. and we have to collect as many of these wallet stories as we can to push them down.