A Repeated Line
I was speaking with a friend of mine at the college I attend, about the reason he holds onto the simple tag, "Agnostic." His father he tells me, does as well. The reasoning went a bit along these lines, "I want there to still be some mystery in the world, and wonder. I don't like this constant pursuit of the answer to everything because it takes the beauty out of wondrous sights."
The implication here is that having knowledge or knowing too much about phenomena or nature causes it to lose whatever wonder or beauty it has. This of course defines wonder as being what you do not know. This is not a definition that only corresponds to atheists, but any and all who seek answers "too much."
This is not the first time I have heard similar arguments. That for there to be beauty in the world, there must also be a god, or at least the possibility of one. It really gets me going because I still get that, "shock and awe" feeling, almost every day. There's such a plethora of knowledge to be had, sights to see, and conclusions to come upon, that I can hardly see their point. However, just for the sake of argument, I will now explain what causes me to feel "wonder" and "beauty."
That big glowing ball of doom above this paragraph, that happens to be the only reason we are alive. Furthermore, this planet happens to be within the right distance to support life in our solar system. I find this to be wondrous. Why? Happenstance. It did not have to be like this. Is there a habitable zone around every star? To my knowledge. Is there always a planet within that zone? No. Wonder for me is in the fact that it all just happened. There is no wonder in some omnipotent being wishing it to be, creating it so it works. That's like being amazed at my ability to solve a Rubik's cube, or win against someone in a game of chess. If said being knew beforehand that everything would work as he created it, there was never a chance of failure, and thus no sense of wonder. Considering almost all monotheistic religions mark their god as not only omnipotent but also omniscient, this is the case. Now that we have established I feel wonder, let's get down to beauty.
What is Beautiful?
Above is the Aurora Borealis, and it is something that I personally find very beautiful. I'm talking about the purely aesthetic beauty of a natural phenomena. This aurora is nothing more than the visual effect given off as electrons move from a higher energy orbit to a lower energy orbit, yet I still find it beautiful. Why? Well, just because it is. It glows and is bountiful in color, entertaining my human eyes to a high degree. Knowing why it exists does not take away from that, nor the wonder that it happens. But apart from aesthetic beauty, what is beautiful? Well I believe this is beautiful:
Yes I picked a video of a baby on purpose, no it is not less great to see older individuals hearing for the first time. Babies just have adorable reactions. This is beautiful for so many reasons. The most basic reason being a child who gets to hear the voices of his parents and others for the first time. That is not to bash the communication and collaboration within deaf communities, simply an acknowledgement that I truly love my own sense of hearing, and am happy someone else gets to indulge. For perspective past adorable babies however, here is another video:
Here is a woman who was born deaf, and remained so for forty years, obviously making it an integral part of her life. In this video you witness her having only just gotten a cochlear implant, with a nurse administering the simple test of saying the days of the week. This test however, renders her into tears, it appears to bring her great joy. This is what I call beauty, this is human ingenuity. This is a group of people sitting down and saying, "I want to help others hear." Then proceeding to do it. Their hard work and perseverance brings about heart rending moments like this that make it all worth it.
This sort of beauty does not exclusively belong to scientific achievement however. I would relate this to any social movement for equality or freedom world wide, historically and currently. It is the struggle of every day individuals to simply be treated equally with dignity and respect that I find truly and inspiring, and indeed beautiful. The long term effects on generations to come due to struggles such as these can be just as heart rending as the previous videos.
The Beauty of Possibilities
Does anybody else geek out over what we truly do not know? Is anyone else filled with energy and excitement over the possible truths we have yet to uncover? I do. For example, the possibility that our universe is just a reiteration of a cyclical universe with recurrent big bangs. Perhaps we are not the first we, nor the last, or perhaps we never were before this. Perhaps we currently aren't. This is all mystery, and it is exciting. I find the story of some thing simply creating the universe on a whim to be boring and seemingly written by unimaginative authors. It sounds like somebody really wanted to know how the universe was created, and came to the most mundane conclusion based on their limited knowledge. That lacks beauty.
To me, and perhaps a number of others, there is a sort of excitement in the mystery of the universe that must be uncovered. There is nothing boring or lacking in wonder about this quest for knowledge. To the contrary to have even begun this journey implies one did wonder, and sought to find more to wonder about.
It is often implied, unfortunately, in media and in real life, that atheists lack a sort of depth other individuals have. I have seen atheists displayed as being robotic, emotionally inept, making blunt observations on a constant basis. While this lends a sort of comical humor in many shows, and I enjoy watching it, it is also casts a very poor light on the actual people that are atheists. So, while I do not like my friend any less for what he said, I am not pleased by what the statement implies. Atheists I have come in contact with are some of the most imaginative, intellectual, and creative individuals I have ever met. They see beauty and depth where others see none and tend to see through this sort of false religious sense of shock and awe, as I perceive it. They are in a word, insightful people.