I had come to the national park for the fossils. Dinosaur fanatic that I am, I couldn’t step foot in Utah without taking a direct route to one of the most glorious Jurassic bonebeds of all time, where a chaotic jumble of giant bones conjures up visions of life and death 150 million years ago. The quarry wall was closed for repairs, and so I happily settled to see a Brigham Young University excavation of a geologically-younger long-necked herbivore that would later be named Abydosaurus.
Such magnificent, long-lost creatures kept stomping through my imagination as I stared at the Milky Way. I’ve never been drawn into astronomy or physics, but I recalled that even light takes time to travel. There was no way to be sure, but maybe some of the ancient lights I was looking at originally left their incomprehensibly distant stars whenAbydosaurus and the monument’s other dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Seeing the illuminated points scattered over the park’s gorgeously-exposed geologic formations – the rocks little more than inky outlines in the dark – I felt like a time traveler standing between Earth and sky. There are few moments in my life when I have been as overtaken by sheer wonder and joy at the universe we live in.
Yet, despite how enraptured I felt by Deep Time, the horror novelist Stephen King thinks that I was missing out on the true wonder of existence. That’s because I’m an atheist, and, on NPR’s Fresh Air, King delivered this condescending quote about those who don’t see divinity in nature:
If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design.
I really don’t care about Stephen King’s views on the existence or non-existence of deities. That’s very, very far down on my list of issues worth worrying about. But King’s quote represents a snobbish and pervasive belief that those who see no evidence of gods are somehow impoverished in their lives. Creationists have been peddling this arrogant argument for quite some time – that without a god, the universe is purposeless and we are trapped in a nihilistic march towards oblivion.