Darwin Is My Hero: Craig Gosling

By Craig Gosling

I may be a born skeptic. As a three-year-old perched on my father’s shoulders at the 1938 NYC World’s Fair, I had a confirming experience. Superman, played by famous body builder Charles Atlas, stood atop a white obelisk and in a puff of smoke he disappeared into the sky. The reason I did not see it, I was told, was that he was faster than a speeding bullet. Even at that tender age I rejected the explanation because I knew people could not fly. The next day I figured it out. Superman must have dropped through a trap door in the pedestal under cover of the smoke.

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, ghosts, and goblins soon followed Superman down superstition’s drain.

As a seven-year-old, my skepticism was tested again. My Grandma, a hardline fundamentalist, took every opportunity to indoctrinate me. I often sat at her side and listened to her read bible stories. The Garden of Eden story really troubled me. I had a hard time believing it, but listened politely. I told Grandma that I did not think that snakes were evil, and they can’t talk. My dad and I often caught small garden snakes and let them slither in my shirt. I loved snakes but she insisted that they were evil and ugly. I collected several beautiful snake pictures from Life magazine and laid them on her bed in an effort to change her beliefs. I got in big trouble for that innocent attempt to help her understand the real world.

My dad seldom went to church but my mother always took me to Sunday School at New York City’s prestigious Riverside Church. The famous liberal minister, Harry Emerson Fosdick, was experimenting with religious education at that time (1940s and early 1950s). Our Sunday school teachers, enlisted from the nearby Union Theological Seminary, taught “Unitarian style” Sunday school. We learned about the world’s major religions and cultures, and were not brainwashed, as are most kids. We were not threatened with damnation or bribed with everlasting life. Most surprisingly, we learned about evolution, how humans evolved from primordial soup. I was immediately hooked on evolution and science, and by the seventh grade was spending much time in the public library, the Museum of Natural History, and the Bronx Zoo.

My last Sunday School meeting, at age 16, was a winner. We sat in a circle and testified concerning our religious beliefs. A classmate admitted he was an atheist, another was a true believer, the rest of us were sprinkled in-between. We elected the atheist to “preach” the final sermon in our little chapel, to the astonishment of many attending parents. His bravery and honesty, and the daring of church policy makers to allow it to happen impressed me immensely.

Despite Grandma and Mom, my religious beliefs withered on the vine and followed Superman down the drain. A belief in a traditional God and his Divine Son morphed into a non-personal power and a wise man named Jesus. My god concept gradually changed its residence from the universe to its last refuge in the human brain (not mine).

College science courses in zoology, embryology, genetics, anthropology, comparative anatomy, etc., prepared me to defend my atheism against the world. Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley, Charles Darwin, Thomas Paine, and Joseph Lewis were my first heroes, but on a person level, I was alone. Until recently, when I discovered Center For Inquiry Community of Indiana and Indy Atheists, I felt I was living in enemy territory.


Darwin in progress

After a stint in the Army as a surgical technician after college, I took graduate training in medical illustration and found my first and only job at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Besides creating medical and natural science illustrations for doctors and researchers for 37 years, I was especially interested in three-dimensional models that replicated patients. These functional, life-like simulators are excellent teaching tools for medical students, residents, nurses, and physicians in continuing education. My first four simulators were controversial: a pelvic exam simulator, a breast exam simulator, a prostate exam simulator, and a testicular exam simulator. Pharmaceutical companies sold them worldwide to hospitals, medical and nursing schools, and they saved many lives. About 40 other simulators and anatomical models followed. Their effective use in the health professions has given me great satisfaction.

I recently submitted an application concerning a sculpture contest of a Mount Rushmore-style sculpture with six faces of freethinker/secular humanists. I sculpted ten well-known freethinkers to be used in the mock-up. To my embarrassment, I belatedly realized that I had included no women. There were many candidates: Clara Barton, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony were the first to come to mind, but one modern woman’s efforts for women’s rights blew me away: Anne Nicol Gaylor now stands proudly in my studio in the midst of my heroes. Other outstanding women will follow. Someday I hope to make the whole collection of freethinkers available to the secular community.

“Darwin is My Hero” is my collection of poems about science and superstition.

Foundation member Craig Gosling lives in Indiana.

Freedom From Religion Foundation