In spite of the fact that my family isn’t particularly religious, throughout my childhood religion was always around. As a student at a catholic school, the indoctrination began at a relatively young age and so by the time I was a teenager in the depths of my rebellious phase, it was no wonder I began to fully reject the idea of religion; it was also around this time that science became a more important part of my life. Around then atheism was always a sure thing for me, even up until I started my degree in chemistry. However, having finished a few months ago, I’m not sure that certainty still exists.
Certain of what?
I mean, I may as well be upfront about one thing: I don’t believe in organised religion and I don’t believe that there is an old white guy – or any other kind of deity – in the sky watching and judging our every move. I see and understand why people do, but there is no doubt in my mind that these kinds of deities do not exist; of course, everyone is free to believe as they wish, as long as their beliefs are not infringing on the rights of others. That being said, organised religion of any kind should have no place in deciding how our society functions as a whole.
Quite often nowadays I’ll see someone using science as a backup to support their strict adherence to atheism, and it always results in one of my eyebrows edging ever so slowly towards my hairline, which luckily hasn’t much during my steady approach to 30. Usually, the people I see using it are not scientists with a deep understanding of the natural world, but those who have chosen another path. However once you start to know more about the physical world we live in, like how parts of the human body work or how insignificant our planet is in the grand scheme of the universe, it becomes harder to ignore the fact that at the end of the day we are human, we do not know everything and there are still phenomena which we can’t wrap our heads around.
Though it probably seems quite ironic of me to preach this without any evidence, so I’d like to give some concrete examples of stuff that I find a little mindblowing. The simple fact that the genetic information for our growth is determined by a sequence of molecules we inherit from our parents is number one. Another would be the fact that the way atoms react in a molecule determines the properties on a large scale: salts are brittle because the bonds between the atoms can be broken quite easily; a table is not because there is a stronger kind of bonding; and diamonds are so strong because of the angle of the bonds. The fact that our bodies work like biological machines – essentially utilising a concentration gradient of protons to provide our cells with energy – also seems somewhat like science fiction to me.
This is is all my point of view and although people are welcome to disagree, but I think there is a certain level of arrogance in believing that we as humans are capable of understanding everything there is to understand. On the other hand the idea that a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient being (or beings) would be so focused on this one planet, in this one solar system, in this one galaxy in some tiny fraction of the entire universe, just really isn’t that plausible to me; even more so when the right being to worship just so happens to be the one that people worship on the piece of land on which you were born. I’m not sure what it is exactly that I believe, but I’m certainly open to the idea that there is something greater than us, that I will never have the ability to understand. While there is often a lot of butting heads between atheism and theism, both ideals cling to the idea that we’re special but in contrasting ways: the former is an overestimation of our abilities, the latter an overestimation of our importance in the universe.
Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.