The most common question I am asked about the Brights is, “What does a non-religious club do?” This is a response, formed from group work and discussion with friends, the Brights, Secular Society and Carl Sagan:
Life is important. Everyone wants to make the best decisions and try to understand why and how we are here. We all know there are bad people out to take advantage of our gullible selves, like textbook publishers and Scientologists. Our minds are so powerful we can believe impossible things and be completely tricked by illusions. We are familiar with being wrong. We should always be skeptical when making important decisions in life.
Consider shopping for a used car for college. You checked the maintenance log, oil quantity and quality, odometer and tire wear. If you weren’t comfortable doing this yourself, you asked qualified skeptics like your parents. It is not enough to think about how happy you will be to have car, or how nice the salesman is. It matters that the car works. All this for a temporary and cheap car. Picking an entire world view to guide our lives certainly deserves careful selection!
These past centuries have seen exponential growth in our standards of living, technology and understanding of our reality. We have climbed high and seen the surrounding vast vistas entirely by implementing the scientific method. The listing of our achievements through science swamp any other source of knowledge. New observations always trump incorrect hypotheses over time by a self-improving feedback loop of transparent peer-review and repeated experimentation. We can design solutions to our troubles through engineering the application of scientific knowledge. Most importantly, all the solutions are not truths, but temporary models which may be falsified at the next, more detailed observation. It may be the best process of humility and progress, but that could be wrong too.
We live in a beautiful universe on a wonderful water planet. It is not perfect and could be any other way, infinitely better or infinitely worse. Science has opened our eyes to evidence of who we are and how we came to be. Our Kepler mission is our first space telescope with the sensitivity to find dozens of terrestrial water worlds, hardly distinguishable from our Earth. Our Planck mission will provide the clearest data yet on the creation of our universe in an evidence-backed history where about 13.7 billion years passed before part of the universe changed into a form which can understand the cosmos and by that I mean us. This is worthy of respect.
I am a scientist because I care about finding what is true, and not just what makes me feel happy or comfortable. I am an engineer to design sustainable solutions so that the intelligence which began here may continue as long as possible. I am a skeptic to protect myself and fellow humans from bad people. I am a humanist to do no evil to others; an ethical code based on the dignity and worth of all people and not based on a mandate from authority to do good. I am an atheist by using the same thresholds of evidence needed to demonstrate the existence of Zeus and Santa Claus and applying these to the Biblical God. Once we understand the standard we apply to doubt every other possible deity that humans have created, we can understand why I doubt even the most popular deity.
Our actions are directed by our beliefs, so believe well. Take interest that others believe well, too. I encourage everyone to skeptically question reality, especially when instructed not to question reality. Remember that life is the trip. I am open to new observations so I may falsify incorrect models— please contact me with repeatable evidence and falsifiable hypotheses.
Nicholas Utschig is a computer engineering senior, a member of the Cal Poly Brights chapter and a Mustang Daily guest columnist.