As a skeptic and an atheist, I don’t believe that God or Zeus or even the flying spaghetti monster (I know, I know… call me a heretic) created the world. I believe that the world was created through a series of random events that were constrained by the fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, weak force, strong force, and any others we haven’t yet discovered) as well as by a few scientific processes (evolution, erosion, plate tectonics) that work to maximize survival and minimize energy. I have a very scientific world view. Yet, there are still times when I feel awe-inspired and feel almost spiritual. For instance, when I am sitting on top of a beautiful mountain at sunset. Sitting there watching the light change minute by minute, I am amazed that our world, created through chances molded by science, can be often be so breathtakingly beautiful.
As a scientist and skeptic, I wonder at times how my own sense of beauty evolved. Perhaps I only consider Earth beautiful because I live here. Â Just as my primordial ancestors evolved to breathe oxygen because they lived in an oxygen-rich environment, perhaps they also evolved to appreciate the splendor of the seas and then grew legs and evolved to appreciate the magnificence of the mountains. Perhaps there is some real evolutionary advantage to being able to look out at a beautiful landscape and feel happy, peaceful, awe-inspired. Perhaps the future survivors of nuclear holocaust will find beauty in the burnt-out shells of building, and the survivors of global warming flooding will find endless stretches of water more beautiful than land.
At times, though, I abandon my sense of science and skepticism when looking out at a beautiful sunset . I just enjoy, trying to take everything in before the light fades. For a few minutes, perhaps, I can empty my mind, thinking of nothing. As the light fades, however, I inevitably remember that my time on this planet is very insignificant compared with the overall history of the Earth and of the universe… and then feel guilty, perhaps, for not taking time to watch more sunsets. When darkness falls I am brought back completely into the scientific realm and start pondering, perhaps, why humans did not evolve to become nocturnal…. because night vision would certainly be useful for navigating down a mountain in the dark!