One of the guys I work with is a Mormon, and we’ll occasionally discuss issues like science and religion because we’re both pretty confident that even though he’s a devout believer and I’m a godless heathen, it will never get too heated. He asked me once if I thought that “this was it”, and the physical universe was all there is, and felt sorry for me that I didn’t have a sense or a belief of anything greater. I told him that every day we’re discovering things about the universe – both of the very large and the very small – that give me that sense of wonder. I pointed him to NASA’s astronomy picture of the day for an example. I also told him about Nei deGrasse Tyson’s take on Sagan’s famous quote “we are starstuff”:
“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
I’m often left with the impression that when people think of atheism – and the association it has with rationalism, skepticism, scientific inquiry, and all that – they assume we must think of the world in these cold, clinical terms that leave no room for a sense of wonder or poetry to the universe that is thought to only be possible with religion or mysticism.
Even if I say all that, I’ll get people thinking this is what I believe instead.