By Jake Atchison
As far back as I can remember, the wonders of the universe have fascinated me. Whether it was learning about dinosaurs and their ultimate but uncertain fate when I was 7-years-old. Learning about the wonders of the deep and the utterly fascinating flora and fauna that lie in the planet’s expansive oceans. Or learning about the expansive, possibly infinite universe. Gazing up at the stars and pondering how they got there. Dinosaurs, oceans and space: every single one of these vastly in-depth scientific fields interested me at various points throughout my childhood.
These days, I find the wonders of the oceans more fascinating than anything else. So much so that, on my recent trip, I spent several hours at an aquarium next to the harbor. The aquarium housed over three thousand species of fish, sea lions, a tank where you can pet sting rays and zebra sharks, four species of penguins and a large, 90-year-old sea turtle named Myrtle. What I enjoyed most at the aquarium was the film I saw at their Imax Theater about a sea turtle’s journey and the film’s explanation of sea turtles’ evolution over the course of millions of years.
When I was 10, I learned that the earth itself has been around for 4.4 billion years and the universe around for nearly 14 billion years. I grew up in the church and was told that Genesis was written 4,000 years before the birth of Jesus. I don’t know if I was disinterested or incapable of putting two and two together on the biblical literalist age of the universe, but I never made that connection.
I recall being 14-years-old when I was first confronted with someone putting forth their belief that the earth was only 6,000-years-old in a very direct manner. The person who said this was my biblical literalist, fundamentalist grandfather. He is not a man of little education or intelligence. He graduated magna cum laude with a master’s degree in mathematics. Yet, he just casually dropped this bomb of pseudoscience, declaring the earth was only 6,000 years old. 14-year-old me was absolutely flabbergasted and I had to leave the room. In retrospect, that probably should have been the first sign that I would eventually turn away from Christianity and a supernatural belief altogether. That was just the first instant and I decided to keep my mouth closed.
But, over the course of my life, I have gotten in verbal altercations with many people who held the same position as my grandfather. Recently I have come to the conclusion that creationism is not only a simplistic position to hold, but it also presents a level of cynicism in our abilities to comprehend the universe that borders on the misanthropic.
Our understanding of the universe has increased exponentially in the last 6,000 years. Many aspects in various scientific fields that were once considered mysterious are now very commonly known within the scientific community. Even when I claimed to believe in a higher power, I dismissed “God did it” as an overly simplified answer to a vastly complicated question.
Abiogenesis is not my field of expertise, not by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is a scientific field I’m very eager to learn more about. Reading articles, books and journals about macroevolution and microevolution provide information that is not only true and verifiable, but infinitely more academically engaging than an answer to an ancient question that has been entirely static for the last 6,000 years. I believe insisting that we as a species have had the answers to the universe for thousands of years is a position that is cynical beyond words. I believe in our abilities to comprehend our amazing, ancient universe and I very much look forward to learning more about it and jump at every education opportunity that I can.
I’ve found a greater sense of wonder to the universe since I turned away from superstition and cynical, static statements that I once thought of answers. This world is wondrous because we can explain the incredible phenomenon and it is not beyond our comprehension; we can understand it if we take the time to do so. An amorphous, esoteric being doesn’t make this universe beautiful; our comprehension of the universe around us is it what makes it all even more incredible than a previous version of myself ever would have considered.