Yesterday, Ellen, Brett and I took the afternoon off and went down to Disneyland. Ellen's annual pass is expiring in the next few months, and this year they've had passholder events every three months for the people who's passes are expiring that season. The reason is pretty obvious - getting annual passholders into the park so they'll renew their passes - but it's still a great excuse to head down there and spend an afternoon goofing off.
One of the rides that we always ride a lot is the roller coaster in California Adventure, California Screamin'. It's probably Brett's favorite ride, and I have to admit that it's become mine as well. Most who knew me when I was young find this weird, for a very simple reason: I used to be terrified of roller coasters.
And I don't just mean terrified. I mean I generally refused to ride them. There were only a few roller coasters I'd go on regularly. Shivering Timbers, the old wooden roller coaster at Michigan's Adventures was one of them, and it's about the slowest, tamest roller coaster I've ever experienced.
As you can see, not much to it, just a bunch of hills. And yet it terrified me. Granted, looking back on it, that might have been a reasonable fear, given how old and rickety that thing is, but it was still the only roller coaster I would ride every time I had a chance. Most other roller coasters, I wouldn't get anywhere near. If it had a loop, or any portion that was upside-down, that was absolutely out. If it looked too tall, it was absolutely out. Let's face it, I was absolutely terrified of most roller coasters.
And yet, I absolutely love California Screamin' now. In fact, when I think about it, I absolutely love a lot of the rides that I would not have ridden when I was younger. California Screamin', Tower of Terror... all rides that I probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as a child. Now I'll do them four or five times in a row without a thought.
Yesterday while I was riding California Screamin' right before the park closed, I had a thought: I'm not afraid of roller coasters anymore, because I know how they work now.
Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not an engineer who could walk you through the ins and outs of building a roller coaster. I'm not a physicist who could explain to you exactly what forces are being applied when you go whirling through the loop. I'm certainly not a mechanic who could tell you what type of maintenance work goes into keeping it in working order every day. But, I am someone with a keen interest in physics and engineering, and thus, I have a better working knowledge of what the roller coaster I'm getting on is doing. I have a better understanding of the education that engineers and physicists get in order to build that roller coaster in the first place. I have a much better appreciation for the statistical unlikeliness of getting injured or killed on a roller coaster.
The rest of the night after I got off the coaster, I found myself wondering what the change was. Obviously, I've gotten older, and thus more able to understand this information, but I've been around roller coasters as an adult and still been too terrified to get on them. It was then that I realized, even as an adult, I might have been able to understand roller coasters better, but I never made an effort to. Not until the first time I went to Disney with Ellen and Brett in October. On that trip, rather than being afraid of rides, I found myself looking at them with curiosity. I would ride them and wonder about the mechanics behind it. I'd marvel at the amount of work that went into planning and building these magnificent feats of engineering. It excited me.
So what changed? Well, the answer is simple: I became an atheist.
When I was a Christian, I didn't try to have an understanding of sciences like physics and engineering. I'm not sure why that is, because I've always been a curious person, but somewhere around high school, I decided I wasn't curious about science, or the way the world worked. I suspect there's a very simple reason for that: I already knew how the world worked. God made it that way.
Once I became an atheist, I no longer had that easy, catch-all answer, and things began to bother me. Part of what lead me to become an atheist was my husband's love of astronomy and astrophysics. I realized that science provided much better, and more reassuring answers than God. I started studying the various branches of science that held the answers to all my questions. In evolutionary biology, I found a beautiful explanation for how mankind got here. In physics, I found an answer for why things work the way they do. In neuroscience, I found explanations for why my brain does the things that it does sometimes. I found answers to all the questions that I had (somewhat uneasily, albeit) shrugged off as "God."
All of this brings me back to that damn roller coaster. Yes, I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not a physicist or an engineer, and I've got a lot to learn. But, I have a better understanding of the world around me than I used to, and that understanding extends to how roller coasters work. I also have a drive to find out the things I don't understand, instead of just sitting back and convincing myself I'm satisfied with God as an answer. These days, it seems like the more I learn, the more I begin to enjoy things I never enjoyed before, roller coasters included.