Experiencing The Wonders Of Nature Post De-Conversion
A few years ago, my husband and I drove from Colorado to Nevada. I was enthralled by the rock formations along the way, particularly in Utah. Yellow, red, green, and purple hues covered the mountainscape like watercolor paints gently brushed onto a canvas. The soft colors were in stark contrast to the rugged shape of the landscape. In some places, jagged cliffs predominated. In others, formations of hard rocks were balanced on top of softer stone that had eroded leaving the impression that the landscape had been chiseled away by an ancient Michelangelo. Still other sections were filled with flowing rock formations that looked like piles of sand had slowly broken off of the surface of the mountain and slipped down around its ankles like a crumpled silk robe.
The beauty of the mountains alone is enough to inspire awe, but learning about geology and understanding that millions of years of erosion have sculpted layers of sedimentary rock into the buttes, mesas, and curvaceous canyons I saw along the highway deepened my appreciation for the scenery.
When I was younger and a born again Christian, my curiosity about nature was stifled by the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that the entire universe had been created by God in six days.
Although that belief eventually made the universe seem small and claustrophobic to me, at the time, I found solace and inspiration in the idea of creation, and experienced reverie singing songs such as this:
Morning sun light of creation
Grassy fields a velvet floor
Silver clouds a shimmering curtain
He’s designed a perfect world…
Bless the Lord who reigns with beauty
Bless the Lord who reigns with wisdom and with power
Bless the Lord who reigns my life with so much love
He can make a perfect heart
— A Perfect Heart, Reba Rambo
This song has emotional impact for many people who believe in God, and the sentiment resounds for me today, even though I am no longer a believer. The birth of a baby, a pink and purple sunrise, ocean waves crashing on the shore, the mew of a tiny kitten, a butterfly lighting on a zinnia, the rings of Saturn, a grizzly catching salmon in a cold Alaskan river—all of these things truly are wondrous and astonishing. Yet Ebola virus, mile-wide tornadoes, athlete’s foot, earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, mosquito bites, and death reveal that the world is not perfect after all.
Without an understanding of the true nature of the universe and the processes by which magnificent mountains are formed, delicate flowers bloom, and frightening viruses evolve, for me the universe became a flat canvas painted by the hand of a limited, albeit talented, artist. When I left Christianity and began to view the world through the lens of scientific fact, I found that my ability to appreciate the beauty in nature was magnified and came into focus the way the moons of Jupiter appear through the lens of a powerful telescope. Learning about biology, evolution, physics, and astronomy made everything just a bit more wondrous.
As I read books about science, I began once again to experience the joy and excitement of learning that was common for me when I’d been a young child. Knowledge gave me the ability to see beneath the surface superficiality of everyday objects and look deep inside to see the molecules, atoms, and quarks as the mysterious and invisible workings of nature were revealed by the lens of a microscope. With this microscopic vision, I saw in the cells of my body not just water and salt, but pairs of tiny dancers twisted and folded into the most beautiful positions any ballerina could ever master. In the graceful double-helix of DNA, every cell of my body carries a memory of my ancestors and their ancestors before them. A reminder, not only of loved ones who have passed on, but also of the miracle that a creature such as myself would evolve to think about the question of spirituality.
Despite its imperfections, nature inspires me with its unbounded beauty. From the largest galaxy to the smallest particle, I am constantly amazed by this universe in which we find ourselves. Although I no longer look to any god to provide direction for my life, I still find myself longing to have a perfect—or at least a caring—heart.