Sunday, November 25, 2007

An atheist’s renewed respect for nature

Last weekend a group of us went on a two day hike in Suikerbosrand nature reserve. It was really enjoyable: we hiked over 30 kilometres through grassland and forest, and one night we stayed in a rustic cottage, cooking food over a camp fire and enjoying each other's company. We saw plenty of wildlife: herds of Hartebeest, Wildebeest, and Zebra, as well as various interesting insects and birds.

The hike got me thinking about my current views regarding nature. As a budding metaphysical naturalist, I currently hold the view that it is quite likely that the universe is not divided into supernatural and natural parts, but is a wholly natural unit. This means there is no supernatural element in humans that separates us from the rest of nature; we are completely natural beings, without immaterial souls.

While we were hiking, I sometimes took time out to stand in humble quietness, taking in the beautiful surroundings. I gained a renewed respect for nature as I did this, as I suddenly realised that all that I was seeing and experiencing – the cool breeze on my face, the graceful movements of a dancing Widowbird, the beautiful flower growing nearby – was made out of the same quarks, atoms and molecules of which I’m also completely composed. Everything that is me, my body as well as my mind, is constructed from the same natural material that formed the surrounding landscape, as well as the fauna and flora.

At one point an Eland, a large antelope, stood close by our party and simply looked upon us with curiosity as we passed by. I looked at it, and wanted to say: "Hey there, Eland! You and I have an important thing in common: we are made of the same stuff. Both you and I are fully part of this world in which we find ourselves. Because of this, we are kindred."

When I was a Christian, I held the view that humans were somehow set apart from nature because we possess immaterial souls. The natural was always seen as somehow less important than the supernatural. The material was an inconvenient but transitory phase for those who would one day live an eternity in paradise.

But as an atheist, I’ve gained a renewed respect and fascination for the material. Realising that every part of us might be connected to everything else in a natural state of cause and effect, I suddenly realised how important it is for us to preserve and protect the environment. If we are fully part of nature, then we are fully dependent on nature to survive and prosper; if we don’t have immaterial souls, then there is no part of us that is immune from good or bad things that happen to nature. If we harm nature, we will harm ourselves. So in order to prosper, we need to protect and respect the natural.

What are your thoughts?


Cori said...

Interestingly, while on the hike, a friend of ours, Jono, was telling us about research he is doing around Christian dualism. He was saying that there is a shift in this paradigm from viewing the material and the immaterial as dualistic to seeing the world more holistically. One example he gave is that instead of saying,'Open the eyes of my heart Lord", as one Christian worship song saus, it should just say, "Open my eyes". This is a topic worth thinking more about!

CyberKitten said...

Nice post. Well said.

The latest scientific findinds show that all life on Earth is related - just as the Ancient philosophers thought. When we harm life we inevitably harm ourselves.

I do my best these days not to kill anything - not even the 'pests' in my garden. They have as much right to life as I do. Imagine a world in which the wholesale slaughter of other lifeforms didn't take place.... Sounds like Heaven to me [grin].

Anonymous said...

I would respect your views, even as a practicing Christian, I would like to point out one thing. If we read in Genesis, man was made to rule over the earth. Ironically not rule over other men, but rule over the earth. This also implies a taking care of, not a destruction. No ruler destructs his own people, well no sane one in any case. So I understand your feeling of being part of this world, it is in my believe what God intended man to do in the first place that you are now experiencing a lot stronger than a lot of others on this earth.

Jason Hughes said...

Why does man need to "rule" nature, Anon? What is it that so needs man that it doesn't do sufficiently well without any interference form us?

CyberKitten said...

jason said: Why does man need to "rule" nature, Anon? What is it that so needs man that it doesn't do sufficiently well without any interference form us?

It seemed to manage well enough before we evolved (and started trashing the place) and it will certainly manage (much better undoubtedly) after we become extinct. Nature doesn't need a 'steward' - of if it does it's only because it "needs" managing (baddly) whilst we exploit it...

JP said...

I agree.

Considering this is the only life we have, we should feel a "spiritual" connection with the natural beauty this life offers. since de-converting, I do have a renewed awe of the world we occupy.

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, I pretty much felt forced to praise God for the beauty of nature. I believe that this requirement stopped me from fully enjoying my experiences with the natural world.

Now, I can just look around me, feel part of it all, and enjoy the "high" it gives me to realize that I am a tiny part of this beautiful universe.

Anonymous said...

Many times in the Bible it says things like the whole earth is full of Gods glory and the earth shouts his glory. If you look at the complexity of nature there's no way it wasn't created. The intricate detail could never have happened randomly and the order you see was put in place by God.

Jason Hughes said...

Kind of like my Appendix (YHWH rest it's soul), which was SO well designed, it leapt up in a fit of anger and poisoned my body to the point of near death!

Gotta admire a creator that creates an appendix that is so clever, so smart, so perfect, that it can decide to rupture. Hell, it's so well-designed, we don't even NEED it! Thank YHWH he gave us extra parts that are unneeded just so they could almost kill us! What would we do without them?

Now THAT'S perfection!

Question: If everything we see is SO "perfectly designed" and "so intricate" that NONE of it could have happened by accident, then who created your god? If he is so perfectly designed, so intricate and so clever, hge couldn't have just BEEN. He needed to have been created using your logic....

FightingIllini said...

Kevin, I share similar thoughts about nature and it makes me want to be a vegitarian. After all, if no supernatural variables separate humans from non-human animals, it doesn't seem fair that I be responsible for the planned killing of non-human animals merely to satiate my hunger.

Then I think about the Wonder Burger and quickly lose the thought.

Markii said...

i shared a similar ephinany while on a hike with my brother. in my journal i wrote:

"I do not need to believe in a divine creator to take in this marvelous creation. This world. As amazing as it is.

I have so much awe and respect for this world! I had just gone on a hike today up Big Cottonwood canyon. I told my family about the gophers and squirrels we saw on the trails. I told them how I had been contemplating how 99% of the history of the world’s species have gone extinct and how we have this “small” selection of animals left- a mere thirteen million (or potentially 30 million one day if we were to discover everything out there). I told them how so many animals have gone extinct and how when I see even a simple gopher, that creature is precious to me- it is a gift even. The Dodo bird very recently went extinct. It was a big dumb bird that would not run away from men with big sticks and very quickly and sure enough- *poof* extinct. How easily could that gopher be something only of the past- only in history books- it could be extinct right now. But it’s not. A couple were right there in front of me today, their chubby bodies running back and forth in and out of their holes in the ground. Our not-so-distant cousins, actually. I told my parents how yesterday I went to a local pet store and just stared at the small animals for over an hour. It was more interesting than the zoo! I told them how I saw some absolutely incredible little birds. One which was so white and pure with a light hue of blue towards the bottom part of its body. Absolutely gorgeous. I must have stared at him for twenty minutes just taking in the pureness of his coat of feathers. Next to him I marveled at the Love Birds who I found out yesterday are extremely social animals. With three or four vacant branches available, the Love Birds like to cozy up next to one another on the same branch, nesting a head in the shoulder of another, kissing occasionally. This was so intriguing to see in contrast to another cage of smaller birds who were crowded fighting and chirping loudly at one another.

I took in the other incredible creatures there like the snakes and amphibians, and puppies. I came out of the pet store with such admiration for animal life. Such amazement. But not once did I need to suppose that these were “God’s creations”. I understand how evolution works and can therefore understand where these creatures came from. But even with all of this awe and wonder, I still see the world as a natural place and there’s no evidence for me to see it otherwise."

I want to add that i love your thoughts on this blog. thank you very much for your posts.