Third place (tie) — BIPOC essay contest: Everett Viego 

Takes my breath away

FFRF awarded Everett $2,500.

By Everett Viego

Everett Viego

“BOOM!” 

A streak of lightning cut through the sky. The storm was closing in on us. “Quick, Dad!” I remember shouting. “We better take cover!” We scampered off the hiking trail and took refuge under a giant oak tree, its gnarled arms shaking violently as hail and icy rain pelted down. Then, something caught your eye. “Breathtaking.” You gasped, pointing at the sky. “A symbol of God’s promise.” I looked up, mesmerized. But I saw something entirely different. I saw an optical illusion, the refraction and dispersion of light through a million water droplets. 

I saw a rainbow. 

That was a memory from when we hiked Lady Bird trail, and I’ll never forget it. The experience instilled within me the haunting realization that, despite inheriting your bright, hazel eyes, I perceive the world through a completely different lens. You heard the wrath of God; I heard the discharge of electrons. You felt the tears of angels; I felt the surface tension of water droplets as they became unbalanced and burst. You saw a spiritual covenant; I saw a rainbow. 

My perceptions are rooted in research. And it is for this reason that I choose to be atheist: God — unlike mathematics — follows no proof. 

Years before that fateful day at Lady Bird, you attempted to unify our very different perspectives on nature. “What comes next, kiddo?” I remember you asking me as I peered at a burnt orange leaf in your hand. “More cells, Dad?” I mumbled. “Scientists have no idea what comes after atoms, Everett. That’s how complex a leaf is — something only God could have created,” you responded. I stared at the blackened, ravaged trees along the trail. “What causes the leaves to fall?” I inquired. “A force, Everett, a force caused by the Big Bang. And do scientists know what caused the Big Bang?” 

During that autumn stroll, you tried to use gaps in our current understanding of natural phenomena to prove intelligent design and the “first cause” argument. However, this goes against the scientific method, which requires all hypotheses to be validated through observable experimentation. The result is an argument which forms the logical crux of my atheism: God as a spiritual construct cannot be measured within the physical bounds of science; thus, God cannot be treated as a scientific hypothesis in explaining the complexities and origin of the universe. 

While we may perceive nature through two very different lenses, I believe it is our inherent, human awe toward the beauty and mysterious inner workings of the universe that unites us. I hope to one day join the theoretical physicists daring to squeeze our entire mathematical description of the universe into a single equation — a “theory of everything,” as it has been called. 

As I spend my final summer nights before heading off to college stargazing while discussing the future of quantum computing with my newfound friends at the Secular Student Alliance, I cannot help but smile. You were right, Dad. Our universe is complex. But, together, scientists are finding ways to make sense of it all, one terabyte at a time. And that takes my breath away. 

Everett, 20, is from New Braunfels, Texas, and attends the University of Texas.

“While I have undertaken years of extensive, outside-the-classroom research with dual credit professors, I am most fascinated with the light and ultrasonic wave interaction research I conducted while utilizing my university’s Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) program,” Everett writes.