Many years ago, a group of friends and I came across one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. It was early morning in a school yard, and we stood in awe before a tree that was completely covered and surrounded by long fingers of ice that reached out in delicate and beautiful curves. The sight was enhanced by the early sunrise; the ice almost glowed in the orange light. One my friends looked in wonder at the tree and said: "God worked here last night".
I fully appreciate my friend’s sentiment. In my Christian years, it was hard to stand before such natural beauty and not ascribe it in some way to the workings of a higher power. But now, many years later, I realise how much my thinking has changed.
Was god involved in creating that ice tree, somehow? It was winter, and the temperature the night before had dropped below freezing. Under that specific tree, the school groundswoman had left the water sprayer on for a couple of hours during the night by accident. The conditions were just right for the spraying water to pattern itself as layers of ice onto the tree's leaves and branches. When you analyse the chain of cause and effect, when you connect the dots from 'tree with no ice' to 'tree with ice', there only seems to be natural processes involved.
Rainbows, waterfalls, sunsets, snowflakes. We know, without having to appeal to the supernatural, how these things arise in nature. What reason would there be to invoke a god, then?
Often, when eager Christians learn that I'm an atheist, one of the first things they often do - in some attempt to win me over - is to appeal to beautiful vistas in nature as evidence for god. They assert a dot called god, a supernatural link that somehow enables a 'tree with no ice' to turn into a 'tree with ice'. I'm often perplexed when I listen to them, left wondering if there is something that I'm constantly missing. How can I accept that a supernatural force is the cause of a rainbow when a person making that claim cannot demonstrate or tell me where in the process of 'rainbow formation' the supernatural is involved. Can you see why this seems like such a silly argument to me?
I also stood in awe in front of that beautiful ice tree. But for me natural beauty is enhanced by understanding how something like that really comes into being. The god answer only cheapens the experience because with the god answer I learn nothing new; it doesn't act as a springboard for further understanding. Instead, I prefer to take the time and effort to connect the dots. The answers I arrive at are far more satisfying that way; the universe far more interesting.