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January 15, 2013

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Thanks Brian.

One of the things that shocked me when I stopped believing that the Bible was the "infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God" was that I did not become an amoral person. I had thought, or was taught, that without God --MY God-- human beings are necessarily corrupt and evil. I am very happy to report that this is not true.

I find the idea that atheism is natural to be a bit of a stretch though. What do we know about our beginnings? Very little. VERY little. And that's just the origin of our physical bodies, and of all animated bodies. Making assertions about what religion was or was not like "in the beginning"...might as well go back to Genesis, for all we know about that.

And as for open-minded -- I've never met an "ism" that traded in this coin. There are many points of view between theism and atheism. I prefer to entertain the mystery underlying our lives, our consciousness, this physical universe -- of course there may be no mystery underlying anything besides our consciousness, but it doesn't seem like a healthy impulse to me to deny every possibility that you haven't seen yet. There are too many things our fragile minds cannot even perceive -- like the 95% or so of the cosmos that is comprised of "dark energy and dark matter". Whatever the hell those are.

I'll rest in the mysteriousness of it all, myself.

Scott, I agree that no possibility can be ruled out. However, we also have to consider the probability of certain possibilities being true. It makes sense to live life as closely adapted/connected to what is real as possible. Existing in an imagined supernatural realm comes disturbingly close to psychosis.

Very little sanity is apparent in the "real world" from where I sit. Perhaps atheism is a moral antidote to our massive mass psychosis? I'm skeptical.

I don't think it's necessary to posit "supernatural realms" -- there's plenty of natural mystery without invoking the supernatural.

But we all live in our imagined realms, don't we?

I've been back and forth on this and I just can't get comfortable with atheism which implies a belief that there is no god. I don't believe that there is a god, but stating a belief that there is no god leaves me on the same plane as the Pope except on the opposite side of the fence.
I have a sense that since we developed consciousness we've been asking where we came from. For me, I have no idea what triggered the big bang or whatever, but I don't think it's important to me as I go through life. Agnosticism works for me.

Scott, I largely agree with you. What we know/understand is limited by our biology. Human cognition/intelligence is a conditioned, functional, transient, evolved adaption. We see evidence of cognitive limitation in our grappling with the big questions - and also in science's attempts at understanding things at the outer edge of our practical reach (for example, the quantum and the cosmological). We rely more and more on theoretical speculation in these areas. Despite Stephen Hawking's (and others) overconfidence, existence remains largely and ultimately mysterious.

But on the question of atheism, my understanding is that atheism means the lack of a belief in deities. A denial of anthropomorphic creator gods and spirits - supernatural beings that respond to prayers and intervene in the world to perform miracles. Theism supports that such a creator god (or gods) exist.

We all come into the world as atheists. An anthropomorphic deity as described above is strictly a human construction.


If you believe in infallibility, you've fallen

Jon, you've appended a few qualifiers to the term "atheism" there, or rather to the gods that atheism lacks belief in: anthropomorphic, creator, responsive to prayers, interventionist, miracle-working -- I don't believe in any of those things, but I am not an atheist.

No doubt our beliefs, human beliefs are largely solipsistic, reflecting our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves; but I think we are too puny to hold ourselves up as the standard against which gods may or may not exist.

For example, many New Age and Pagan gardeners believe in elemental spirits -- faeries and such. I don't believe in faeries, but I am mystified and plunged into joy by the richness of microbial life, the symbiosis of root, micorrhizae, and minerals, and between microbe and macrobe, a veritable Hubble-Deep-Field cornucopia of living things. When faeries were widely believed in, these things were mostly unknown. I think the microbes are just as fantastic as faeries, just as wonderful, just as inscrutable and mysterious, and important to life.

Modern farmers kill and sweep away ALL of that ecosystem to put crops in field with dead dirt, on a diet of petroleum fertilizers and pesticides. They don't believe in faeries, and as a result seem to believe that they are superior to life itself. That food, compared to organically grown food, tastes like the shit that it is.

I don't believe that anything like a "god" has any reason even to have noticed us, in particular, among the phenomena of creation. But I think it is very premature to pronounce there is nothing like our concepts of gods.

We humans tend think it is all about us -- witness our dismantling of the entire world, or at least all we can reach of it, to fit our convenience. If that is the case, then the anthropomorphic creator exhibited uncanny patience in the myriad eras of non-human life. I don't think we are even a blip on the radar of any Creator. But I do think that life itself is miraculous...and have no conclusions to this line of thought in mind....

Scott, I resonate with most of your thoughts, but feel that you're mistaking the difference between (1) being absolutely certain God doesn't exist and (2) not seeing demonstrable evidence that God exists.

Atheists, by and large, take the second view. Which is the common sense view that people use in everyday life. We don't believe in things which aren't evident. Only in religion does this happen. Well, also in psychosis.

Brian, I see what you mean, and in Baggini's formulation, I suppose you have a point. But the word itself means "against theism". What you are talking about is commonly referred to as "agnosticism." It's fine if anyone wants to argue about definitions, and I think that's what is happening here.

Merriam-Webster definition: a : a disbelief in the existence of deity. b : the doctrine that there is no deity.

These are both much stronger than what you've stated as the definition of atheism as simply, open-mindedly, not believing in God. Atheism is in fact a "doctrine" of no God, and is not "open" on this point. Agnosticism is closer to what you are talking about.

But even if the dictionary is 'wrong' and you are 'right', I don't see what the value is, other than a mild "shock value" in moving toward a possibly literally correct meaning of a word that is, nevertheless, not the common usage. You are both redefining this word, it seems!

Sorry if I went a bit overboard on the word-wrangling. No small amount of time has been wasted by people who disagree about nothing but the words they are using.

So I want to ask a better question. Quoting your post:

Baggini writes: "Where we have a lack of absolute proof we can still have overwhelming evidence or one explanation which is far superior to the alternatives. When such grounds for belief are available we have no need for faith. It is not faith that justifies my belief that drinking fresh, clean water is good for me, but evidence."

Given that atheists embrace beliefs based upon evidence, atheism is wonderfully open-minded. If God makes an umistakable appearance, atheists would say Oops, I'm changing my mind. God is real.

I want to ask you Brian, what explanation do you have for this universe, itself, including the laws of causation that lead to "demonstrable evidence" being possible, to everything being possible? What explanation for consciousness, for the direct experience of it?

I can see, after positing our consciousness and it's location in a material universe--this one--that materialism follows nicely with little need for assistance from spiritual beings. Oh except in the nature and origin of the phenomena known as "life"...perhaps?

Do you really feel that there is a demonstrable explanation for all of this, so as to obviate the need for a "god" to act at least as prime mover? I am not trying to lead you anywhere, least of all to a concept of god. But I am surprised that you are able to dismiss it so completely.

Scott, as noted in the quotation you quoted, it's all about probabilities, not possibilities.

Sure, it is possible that God is behind the big bang, life, consciousness, etc. But since there is no evidence of such, while there is plenty of evidence supporting the natural evolution of the universe, life, speciation, and so on, it makes sense to embrace what is known over what isn't known.

Without religion, and all of its myths, where is the evidence for God? More, where is the need for God?

If something always has existed, why not assume this is existence itself, rather than God? Why posit an extra unseen entity?

I don't understand why you claim that I am dismissing a concept of god "so completely." I said in this post that atheists are more than willing to accept the existence of God, if there is demonstrable evidence for God.

So I don't dismiss the possibility of anything completely. I'm open to anything. I just don't believe in the existence of everything, real and imagined, because that way lies madness. Or at least a lot of confusion.

I'm sorry you haven't experienced God. I went from being a atheist to a discovering God, or rather God reaching out to me. If someone had told me I'd be saying these words one day, I'd be thinking 'what a load of shit, there's no evidence, etc.' As a scientist, I felt that everything had to be readily explained by physics and spacetime etc, there was no 'exotic' science, laws could not be bent, it simply could not happen because everything must be observable through measurement based on known laws. But that changed. I feel now that theism is natural, having studied scientific methodology, one can get brainwashed into thinking in a very specific way rather than 'outside the box'. I still have the little voice at the back of my head that screams 'evidence evidence!' on occasion. I don't suppress it; I show it the warmth of God's glow and it fades away.

I not very eloquent so I wouldn't be able to engage with you in very philosophical conversation like in your blog posts, but if you're really looking for answers, my advice would be to leave the option open for God existing. What do you have to lose? You were part of a cult and after decades of meditation you felt nothing inside, but don't let that put you off theist spirituality altogether. Much like the religious fundamentalists that you very much dislike for having blind unquestioned faith, perhaps by closing yourself off from the possibility of God existing, it's pretty much in the same vein, albeit at the other extreme.

Unless of course my understanding of Atheism is incorrect; I believe it to be a firm belief in there being no God or gods.

Take care.

R, do I have this correct?

You feel like you've found God. You don't have any demonstrable evidence that God exists. When you feel that evidence is needed, you allow that feeling to fade and a warm glow of "I'm right" washes over you.

Here's news for you: this is how most people, much of the time, go through life.

What you're thinking and feeling is EXACTLY how what I do when I go into Starbucks, encounter a sweet young barista smiling at me, and feel "She must be attracted to old gray-haired guys!"

Sometimes I think, "Brian, you're deluded yourself." But then I let that thought fade away and let the warm glow of a barista's forbidden love for much older men wash over me.

Feels good. I don't blame you for doing what you're doing. It's human to imagine what isn't true.

Brian,

I didn't mean to say that you are dismissing the idea of god "so completely." It reads that way, my mistake. It must have been frustrating to read that, because you are working hard to express that you are open the the idea of god, if such a being were to put in an appearance. If you had evidence.

What I think you are dismissing "so completely" is, what I see as "evidence" of something more than a material explanation of this existence. You wrote, "But since there is no evidence of such, while there is plenty of evidence supporting the natural evolution of the universe, life, speciation, and so on, it makes sense to embrace what is known over what isn't known."

There is plenty of evidence supporting the natural evolution of life? Do you believe in spontaneous generation? Because it doesn't happen, to my knowledge. Even in a mud puddle, warmed by hot springs, full of organic material -- life does not naturally evolve from such a place, even here where life is everywhere. It has to arrive there. Life does, however, evolve to adapt to such places. The universe, once set in motion, follows "natural laws." Which is more evidence of a consciousness at work, to me.

I laugh every time that you mention probabilities. The fact that we are able to calculate them, and the beauty of the order underlying such equations, points to a pervasive consciousness, underlying not only this material world, but also our comprehension of it. Comprehension itself. I can't shrug that off as a mere natural phenomenon, such as the trajectory of a planet or comet or such. Trajectories -- more mathematical understanding. Understanding that arose from "natural evolution"? I don't see how.

And finally consciousness. What probable explanation is there for that? For the collapse of the quantum wave function as influenced by observation? To me the Atman/Brahman conceptualization is a better fit for my experience than materialism is.

I feel stupid for taking the conversation this far, though. If you are able to remain a materialist after God smiles at you through the form of a sweet young barista, I'm just spinning my wheels here. Heh.

Scott, thanks for your explanation. I better understand your point of view now.

Maybe what we're talking about comes down to different comfort with, or embrace of, mystery.

In my current churchless state I feel quite comfortable with "I don't know."

I don't know how life began. I don't know the nature of consciousness. I don't know the source of the laws of nature. I don't know whether it even makes sense to speak about life beginning, consciousness' nature, or laws of nature having a source.

No one knows these things. So far as I know. Religions posit answers, but they don't know. Scientists don't know, but they are OK with saying "I don't know." Me too.

I appreciate the allure of feeling, as you do, that a universal Brahman-like consciousness is behind everything. I've got no problem with that. It's a way to deal with mystery.

Again, I just feel that some people are more comfortable with others in letting mystery be mysterious.

Excellent.

Happily I am okay with "I don't know" as well. Scientists are also okay with it, but that doesn't stop them from looking for better explanations. I love that.

If possible, it is easier to make one's way in the world by turning away from mystery and toward our best understanding, as you are doing. For me that is possible, but not fulfilling. My unknowing takes me into a quiet space of mind, which is not a particularly marketable skill. Nor is it provisional of answers to the questions I have posed to you.

It comes to this small difference between us: you are stating an affirmative disbelief in god, pending future evidence; I am stating an affirmative belief in mystery, pending better understanding. I think we are not so far apart; but the average person would be better off to emulate you, rather than me, I think.

Rationality is better than religion, where it can be applied. Because getting from "I don't know" to anywhere else requires a system of thought. Evidence trumps speculation every single time; there's no better system of thought in this sphere than the scientific one, as far as it goes.

But....

Thanks again, Brian. Your blogging and dialogue is very refreshing and thought-provoking.

No its not just a warm feeling. Thats why I feel sorry for you having spent decades doing meditation (albeit under the instruction of a hypocrite `GHIF` Guru). It is substantive in terms of ordinary direct observable experiences if you want to restrict your thinking to that. direct substantive experiences, chakra awakening, supernatural powers, foresight, deep spiritual awakening and insight into the universe, instant and scientifically impossible healing are a few inside the box examples. My point was that we are limited in terms of perception ( linear time, cause and effect, conservation of energy/mass, etc) which is why observances based on physics is flawed if it is possible for a time paradox to exist. You can experience these things if you wanted `proof `. but these are all mere side effects on the path to God. Being absorbed in the side effects , you'll never reach God. That that just needs to be experienced, I cannot explain it. Human language is too limited to describe such things.

Good luck Brian. I merely suggested that you don't give up on God just because you were mislead by a pretend Guru.

I'll go enjoy my Starbucks warmth.

R, I think it's wonderful that you feel good, and have had some experiences that mean a lot to you.

Everybody feels this way. However, you seem to consider that your experiences are special, even though you are incapable or unwilling of describing what you've experienced.

Huh? It's like a car salesman who says, "I've got the best car ever for you. You'll really like it. But I can't show it to you or say more about it. Want one?"

No thanks, dude. Sounds like a scam.

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