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Atheist Arrogance?

June 1, 2009

In our galaxy alone there are over a hundred-billion stars. There are over a hundred-billion galaxies in the known universe. In comparison to the grand scheme of things, I can’t even begin to comprehend exactly how small I am. Anytime I think about these things, I am put into a state of awe. I am impassioned by the majesty of the natural world. The Earth itself is so diverse and amazing that it can keep me up at night thinking about how ecosystems and genetic diversity play out and have played out for the last three or four billion years.

Our universe is 13.7 billion years old, which is another number so large the human mind can’t comprehend it. What’s more interesting to me is that Sol, our local star, is only 4.57 billion years old. It’s a third generation star, which means that it and the rest of our solar system is made up of material from a star that sat in this same spot and then died, twice. I often wonder if life had managed to evolve on a planet rotating around the first or second generation Sol. Maybe that life had reached the stars and colonized this whole galaxy, only to eventually die out in the billions of years that have passed since their first sentient thought.

This seems like a lot of rambling but my point is this: the universe is exorbitantly large and remarkably old. Our entire civilization, whether we leave Earth or not, will be more than lucky to even last a blinks worth of time to this universe. I think that one of the most repugnant things about most organized religion is the kind of self centered id they have about our place in this world. The whole universe was created so that our puny planet could come forth nine billion years later, and we puny humans could come about in another four billion years after that? That is a kind of egocentrism and arrogance that even an atheist could never have. I find all of that incredibly unlikely. However, I do feel fortunate to have been able to witness as much as I have so far, and I can only hope to see more of the wonders the natural world has to offer.

  1. Pierre permalink
    June 1, 2009 1:41 pm

    Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. _One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought.

    Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral sense (1873)

    • June 1, 2009 7:52 pm

      I need to get around to reading Nietzsche’s work.

  2. June 1, 2009 3:49 pm

    You embrace the wonder of it all…they are in a state of fear and trembling…

    It definitely puts life and everything else into proper perspective. Nice post!

  3. June 1, 2009 4:40 pm

    Very interesting post….

  4. June 1, 2009 4:51 pm

    Seems like you and Notorious G.O.T. would get along!

  5. Publius permalink
    June 1, 2009 6:46 pm

    Good post. You would like The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, I think.

    • June 1, 2009 7:50 pm

      I do enjoy that podcast, and I highly recommend it to anyone reading this comment.

    • June 7, 2009 7:43 am

      Adding that podcast to my list. Thanks.

  6. docflamingo permalink
    June 1, 2009 7:30 pm

    You have to remember that, as a species, we’re barely out of the trees. People had their way with the Earth for a long time and don’t want to give that up. It’s childish narcissism, plain and simple. We are a species of offended, howling infants that can’t see past their own solipsism.

    All things die in the end and are ultimately of no consequence, that’s what makes the whole thing worthwhile. However long we might last, it will be an insignificant blip viewed from afar, as small and inconsequential as the life of a mayfly. On the upside you needn’t worry about doing any real harm or good. That’s freedom, which, sadly, can be scary.

  7. thevangelisthug permalink
    June 1, 2009 11:55 pm

    It’s universe is amazing. the thing I just don’t get is how you believe all that happened from nothing to something.

    • June 2, 2009 12:13 am

      Hug, I value the opinion of the men in the white lab coats over the man in the tallest hat.

      Science continually improves our understanding of the world, it has most certainly advanced in the last 2000 years. I trust the opinion of the men who have split the atom and built space crafts. While I myself am not a physicist, those who are physicists on the whole seem to think the world works in a manner that is not in accordance with religious texts.

      There is no prevailing theory yet on the full origin of the universe, but we are most certainly working on it. I would rather put my trust in science than make assumptions based on the opinions of men who didn’t even understand what illnesses were or that the Earth was a sphere.

      • thevangelisthug permalink
        June 2, 2009 12:52 am

        There is no TRUE scientist or physicists who can claim there is no God.
        Think about it though, look at the human eye it’s so complex how can that be made by accident?

        • June 2, 2009 3:19 am

          Let me guess.. You’re a big fan of Answers In Genesis?

          Have you ever read any material by a real scientist about evolution?

          To show you how simple these kinds of arguments are I will give you this link, which I found by Googling “evolution of the eye”, it was the first link.

          If this is the level of debate you’re going to bring here then you might as well stop before I get tired of googling things for you.

        • June 2, 2009 3:19 am

          Do you really honestly think I’ve never asked myself these kinds of questions? I’ve obviously looked around and tried to make sure I’m in the right boat, hug. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the arguments presented by every faith, not just the one I was born into, as well as those of no faith. I’m an atheist not out of choice but because when you actually look at the evidence you have no other choice.

        • docflamingo permalink
          June 2, 2009 1:25 pm

          What are you talking about? I can’t think of a single scientist who DOES think there’s a god. Those who profess any belief in an omniscient “higher-power” are very nebular about it and certainly don’t think whatever it is can be meaningfully called a deity.

          As to the eye:
          1) A light sensitive area of skin appears. It helps orient the creature and thus feed better.
          2) The light sensitive area becomes concave, allowing it to judge direction and movement.
          3) A coating appears over said light sensitive patch of skin to protect it.
          4) The covering becomes convex and you have a proper lense. Sight as we know it.
          5) The space between the inner eye and lense fills with fluid, increasing its efficiency and: Ta Da! You have a modern eye.

        • thevangelisthug permalink
          June 2, 2009 4:05 pm

          never trust wikipedia that’s a site you cannot trust because of the edit on almost every page.

  8. yahookid permalink
    June 2, 2009 1:21 am

    This is a very interesting, though intriguing post. But I found it very good!

  9. aforcier permalink
    June 2, 2009 12:41 pm

    it is a very good post.

    the way i see it, you, all human beings, every “gnat”, or blades of grass… is a (the) center from where all that is, exists – unfolds and folds. you are not small, you are creation.

  10. June 2, 2009 3:03 pm

    One of the things I’ve never really *gotten* is how scared people are of this perspective. I mean, intellectually I do, but not in my gut. The humbling nature of reality is something that awes me and fulfills me. Sure, we’re small — but that means there is so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn. The end result is I don’t feel that small, really. I don’t feel existential angst. I don’t ponder the absurdity of caring in a universe that doesn’t actively care about me. I’m enjoying the ride too much, and hope to go out still learning and seeking until the final breath. (Honestly, I hope my last words are something like “Quick! Tell me something I don’t know! Just one more thing before I go, please!”)

    Wanting more seems, well, a bit greedy, like a child demanding more and more cake at their birthday party, more presents, more attention.

  11. Nick permalink
    June 5, 2009 8:56 am

    “never trust wikipedia that’s a site you cannot trust because of the edit on almost every page.”

    Hm, yeah, but you can trust the Bible. It’s never been editted…

    But really, Wikipedia isn’t something I’d use in my Master’s thesis, but in GENERAL, it’s a great site to get INTO knowing something.

    And besides, the article on the eye looks legit to me. I don’t see anything about irreducible complexity, so it can’t be bad.

    • June 7, 2009 8:52 pm

      In that search there were plenty of non-wiki articles about the evolution of the eye. I’m not going to waste my time teaching Hug how to use the internets.

      • thevangelisthug permalink
        June 9, 2009 8:42 pm

        To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess,absurd in the highest degree. -Charles Darwin in his book The Orgin of Species. Check it out.

        • June 9, 2009 9:33 pm

          There have been 150 years of work piled onto evolutionary theory since Origin of Species was produced. Once again, you fail.

        • thevangelisthug permalink
          June 11, 2009 7:14 pm

          Why do you have a picture of Darwin like he’s your savior or something?
          I would think you support everything he says and he’s right.

        • June 11, 2009 10:54 pm

          Well you’d be wrong. Without Charles Darwin there’s no telling how long it would have taken for evolutionary theory to have been understood. However, Darwin wasn’t completely right, it’s taken 150+ years of scientific research to perfect our understanding of evolution, and we’re still learning more about it everyday. Darwin was the first step in the right direction.

          I’m interested in biology and the universe in general, thus the pictures above.

        • Chris permalink
          August 31, 2009 5:51 pm

          You might try posting a fuller quote of Charles Darwin pondering the eye. Darwin was not nearly so skeptical as you seem to wish he was.

          “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of Spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei [“the voice of the people = the voice of God “], as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.”

        • September 1, 2009 1:51 am

          It’s no use, Chris, this guy closed up shop months ago. He even closed down his blog. Which if my memory serves me correctly, this is the second time he’s done that. For some reason he thinks discrediting Darwin would tear the atheist community apart, which is laughable.

  12. June 7, 2009 6:24 pm

    Great post.

    Have you read “God: the Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger? This post reminded me of that. Especially when [Stenger] is describing that no human being can travel to the nearest star and back (even at light speed) and not return without thirty-thousand-some-odd years passing.

    • June 7, 2009 8:53 pm

      Thanks, Larro, I haven’t read that book but it is on my list.

  13. June 8, 2009 11:07 am

    Although I am not atheist, I am completely amused at this thought – “The whole universe was created so that our puny planet could come forth nine billion years later” And even more amusing is when its okay to eat Eggs or grains(both holding potential to individual life) or for that matter cut down Trees but its wrong to have an abortion – so, somehow one life has greater value than another? (Not arguing just giving a point of view)

  14. Mr. K permalink
    June 16, 2009 5:22 pm

    Fantastic post. I remember the first time I looked up at a really clear night’s sky, I was afraid. I was afraid that there was all that stuff out there, and that I couldn’t imagine it. I could see it, but somehow I wasn’t perceiving it. It was too much. I saw a spot, somewhere in the distance. I couldn’t know how far away it was. I couldn’t even know how large the spot was.

    Sure, we assign values like ‘light-year’ to say how far away they are, but there numbers don’t mean anything; they’re just numbers we punch into machines to get more numbers that are ultimately used for something useful, which is useful to us for some vague reason we barely comprehend. Some people reach happiness punching these numbers into machines and trying to give meaning to them (surprisingly enough, they sometimes succeed!). These people are called scientists, and I would very much like to be one of them as I age.

    I am not so arrogant that I believe that the universe can be explained in its entirety; but I believe science is so arrogant that it believes some of it can be explained. That is arrogance, and because of that I would proudly call myself arrogant.

    Said arrogance can’t be compared to that of the man with the tall hat, though. And I’m not going to defend that guy.


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