Response to Creationist 5

5. “How do you explain a sunset if their is no God?”

This is the one which inspired me to respond to any of these at all. At first I laughed at 5 like everyone else, but later I convinced myself that she couldn’t possibly be as stupid as her question seems to be. I simply refuse to believe that she’s asking a question to which the answer, “the rotation of the earth relative to the sun,” would make her go, “oh, yeah, that makes sense, thanks.”

Instead, I think 5 must be asking something like, “what is the source of the beauty which imbues all of nature?” She may not be able to frame it in her mind in those terms, but nevertheless I think that’s what she’s getting at. She may have had transcendental experiences of beauty while looking at sunsets, and cannot imagine how such experiences could occur in a world without god. And I can kind of understand why she might struggle with that, when her experience of science will have been dry, boring school lessons explaining physical laws and cellular functions, while her experience of religion will have been big, dramatic stories, sunlight shining into church through stained glass windows and ecstatic singing with groups of people she loves.

You could try to make her read Richard Dawkins‘s Unweaving the Rainbow, in which he argues that understanding something scientifically needn’t dispel your wonder for it.

You could try to make her read Sam Harris‘s various writings (currently only in individual articles or chapters, but due to be published in 2014 inĀ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion) about how it’s possible, valid and important for atheists to have spiritual experiences too.

You could try to make her read reams of neuroscience textbooks and papers explaining the neural and biochemical mechanics of transcendental and religious experiences.

But none of that’s going to get you anywhere while she’s still happy having all of those experiences with her family and friends in church, and ignoring all of the science which contradicts the associated dogma.

The bottom line is, secularism and science have already won the battle in the arena of facts and theory, but they’re still being outflanked by religion in its ability to put on a good show. Religion is extremely adept (since it has thousands of years of experience) at inducing people into having awe-inspiring, group-ecstatic transcendental experiences, precisely when and where it wants them to, so that it can feed them messages about god at the same time.

If you want to persuade 5 to accept a scientific view of the world, you’re going to have to do a lot better than simply explaining the mechanics of a sunset. Perhaps the Sunday Assembly is a start.

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