Neuroscientists think that our brains are wired to have a sense of belief, and this sense crosses cultures and continents to be something deeply human. I have no problem with that. As creatures of intellect, everything is perceived through our brain. Consider for example that the emotion of love is a pattern of neuronal impulses in my brain. But that I can explain it this way, doesn't in any way change the transcendent feeling I have, in loving and being loved, The biological explanation really doesn't matter to me, compared to my own experience. Thus, whether you believe God is literally all in our heads, or whether you believe God put your awareness of Him there, doesn't really matter: your brain is parsing your experience and interpreting it as belief. And I have no business telling YOU what you perceive; no more than you have any business telling ME how I experience love.
So if we are actually evolved towards belief, if it's another complex behavioral trait, perhaps it isn't surprising that some people are missing that sense-- just as some people are left handed when most are not, or some are gay where most are straight.
Therefore I suggest that the non-angry atheist, the subtype that includes accommodating non-believers like me, are simply missing The God Gene. So to speak. (Aside: THis is only a term of speech; complex behaviors are far too complicated to ascribe to A Single Gene, as I have discussed at length elsewhere.)
But back to this conflict in making science religion, and religion, science. The philosopher John Gray said in an interview,
"I'm very opposed to investing science with the needs and requirements of religion. I'm equally opposed to the tendency within religion, which exists in things like creationism and intelligent design, to turn religion into a kind of pseudo-science. If you go back to St. Augustine or before, to the Jewish scholars who talk about these issues, they never regard the Genesis story as a theory. Augustine says explicitly that it should not be interpreted explicitly, that it's a way of accessing truths which can't really be formulated by the human mind in any rational way. It's a way of accessing mysterious features which will remain mysterious. So it was always seen right up to the rise of modern science—as a myth, not a theory. What these creationists are doing is retreating, they're accepting the view of religion promoted by scientific enemies of religion, and saying, no, we have got science and it's better than your science. Complete error."I agree.
Interestingly, it's largely (though not exclusively) the conservative fundamentalists who attack science and see it as a threat, not the more intellectually grounded mainline. And it's these fundamentalists against whom the Dawkins school is reacting, by themselves going fundamentalist.
Believe it or not, most non-believers really don't care if you believe. We aren't making a religion out of our faithlessness, because we just don't get it. When people ask me if I "worship" Darwin, I am really puzzled. They are projecting their need to believe in Something, and assuming that someone who doesn't believe in God has replaced Him. But this concept is completely alien to me. Darwin was just a scientist, who like all of us got some things right, and some things wrong. I don't "worship" him or anyone else. I really don't have that wiring.
Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, made news this week by saying he doesn't believe in an afterlife and called such a belief a "fairy tale." While this was rude, what got lost in the fallout was what else he said:
In the interview, Hawking rejected the notion of life beyond death and emphasised the need to fulfill our potential on Earth by making good use of our lives. In answer to a question on how we should live, he said, simply: "We should seek the greatest value of our action."Gray went in the same direction:
"Without spurning any of the advances of science, we could be friendlier to our mortality. The transience of our lives is one of the things that makes it valuable."We pass this way but once. Those of faith may see it as a step on a journey, those without may see it as all there is. But surely what we have in common is that we are all here. Life is transient. We need to be conscious in giving it value.
Now is all we know and all we can affect -- "after" will take care of itself IMO. Interesting that today in Bible study (mostly old people - older than I am) we talked about life after death (the Sunday readings lend themselves to this discussion this week) and all of them were not worried about it and did not know what happened - some hoped they would see loved ones but no on was upset that there might be nothing. They also said we should do our best here and now - that was what was important.
Therefore I suggest that the non-angry atheist, the subtype that includes accommodating non-believers like me
Believe it or not, most non-believers really don't care if you believe.
Sorry, IT, not yet convinced. There are absolutely degrees of anger ("rudeness"), degrees of "caring" re the persistence of religion (per se), absolutely.
But there's a Cart/Horse question at work here.
[I got into the following over at Doug's]
Isn't it conspicuous how many "atheists" (of any flavor) are LGBT/ally? Unless we're to believe that the absence of the "God Gene" came w/ the presence of the "Gay Gene" (apostrophes for both!), it suggests something more's at work here. That the baby of ... the Eternal Loving Transcendent (see re "the transcendent feeling I have, in loving and being loved") has been thrown out w/ the (most foul!) bathwater of homophobic religion? [And that---once thrown out---it's very difficult to get that baby (born 12/25/0000? ;-p) back?]
Just my hypothesis...
Splendid pair of essays. I may make a blog post out of both.
A little note to Professor Hawkings, not all religions believe in an afterlife. Most ancient religions, including some forms of early Judaism, did not (referred to as the Saducees in the Gospels). The Greeks of Homer's time certainly didn't. Many of the Mesopotamian religions did not. The Egyptians were exceptional.
Those religions who do believe in some form of afterlife run a whole variety from the ancient Egyptians who believed that the afterlife was a mirror image of this life, to the final assignment to either eternal heaven or eternal hell in much Western religion, to religions of the East like Hinduism and Buddhism proclaiming that neither heaven nor hell are eternal, but only stages in a long journey over many lifetimes.
"The problem with Dawkins and the so called "new atheists" is that they really set science up as an alternative religion,..."
I think you are being a bit loose with your terminology here - specifically the term "religion". I think people like Dawkins are advocating for a more rational world view, which is an appropriate argument to make.
"...non-angry atheist" - There is a certain stereotype and I want to be sure we are talking about the same. Are we talking about vocal atheists being typecast as angry? Should they be "angry" about the lack of family planning in developing countries due to the churches interference and outright dishonesty (this is going on in the Phillipines as we speak)? Especially when the ability to control our reproductive cycle has been linked as one of the best factors that can raise a population out of poverty?
"...(atheists) by themselves going fundamentalist" - again I think we are playing a bit with the word funamentalist. If we look up the term fundamentalism - "connotes an attachment to a set of irreducable beliefs", which is the exact opposite of what science does - it allows for change via the production of observable evidence.
Interesting post - thanks
As a friend of mine once pointed out, a decision to approach an issue without philosophical presuppositions is itself a philosophical presupposition.
I dunno, I've met some angry atheists whose feelings about religious pluralism are identical to those of the most hard-shell fundamentalist Christians (and Muslims).
Good post. My only comment is on Stephen Hawking's statement. I don't find his choice to refer to belief in an afterlife rude. What I found rude was his presumption in definitively declaring the "one and only reason" (fear of death) why anyone anywhere would believe that "fairy tale." I take deep issue with anyone who claims he knows my mind and motives better than I do. ;)
Should they be "angry" about the lack of family planning in developing countries due to the churches interference...
OF COURSE you should, Dennis K. Just as LGBT/Allies (I trust you're one of the above!) should be ANGRY!!! re homophobic religion.
But it does beg the question of whether the anger at certain religions, has been transferred to anger at all . . . faith (trust) in the possibility of the non-empirical.
In my (attempts at) dialogue w/ angry anti-theists, again and again I run into the statement "IF there's a [non-loathsome] religion, why don't we ever hear from them? Why aren't they LOUDER????"
As if perhaps the din of The Certain (Fundy Theists vs Anti-Theists) doesn't have something to do w/ why they can't hear (won't) us?
Whether you believe God is literally all in our heads, or whether you believe God put your awareness of Him there, doesn't really matter: your brain is parsing your experience and interpreting it as belief. And I have no business telling YOU what you perceive; no more than you have any business telling ME how I experience love. So if we are actually evolved towards belief, if it's another complex behavioral trait, perhaps it isn't surprising that some people are missing that sense -- just as some people are left handed when most are not, or some are gay where most are straight.
I've tried on several blogs and at excessive length to say this, but IT says it better. I'm still frustrated by believers who won't consider that their intuitions may be psychological, rather than metaphysical. I don't see the signs of central direction I'd expect if one voice were speaking to all those believers.
I'm still frustrated by believers who won't consider that their intuitions may be psychological, rather than metaphysical.
As I'm frustrated by those who insist there's no "may" about it---that divine intuitions are DEFINITELY psychological.
As long as we're talking "may" or "might" ("may not" or "might not"), I've got no problems!
Excuse me, I meant to say "frustrated by those who say they're definitely ONLY psychological" (And pathological at that ;-X)
Well, I have my suspicions, but no one can speak to another's intuitions or feelings. As I used to tell my Baptist mother, "I believe in your experience -- explanations may differ."
word verification: mantra
you say that Dawkins is advocating a more rational world view and that new atheists aren't fundamentally following another religion because, unlike religious fundamentalists, rational atheists allow their views to be changed by new emerging evidence.
In the absence of any real evidence, either for or against God, is is not rational to claim that he definitely does not exist. The only rational position is agnosticism.
As there has yet been no scientific evidence at all, either for or against, it remains to be seen whether people would allow genuine evidence to change their minds.
The only thing we have so far at either end of the fundamentalist spectrum are those who believe they know that there will eventually be evidence (even if only after death), and those who believe they know that there will never be evidence because there is nothing there.
Saint Augustine said that a God whose existence can be proven and demonstrated is no God at all.
Doubt is part of the contract of faith. If you want certainty, then you're out of luck because there's none to be found.
A few comments.
First, @Dennis: your error is assuming that "angry atheists" are the only ones upset with conservative religionists acting against the interests of women or LGBT.
My post is directed at "angry atheists" who are angry about religion and attack it, regardless. Not the same thing. Indeed, many people of faith are active voices against the injustice you point out.
@Jarred: Stephen Hawking was not even addressing religionists. he thinks religion is a fairy tail. At some level so do I. But since many of my friends are religionists, I see no reason to say so. It's rude, for one, and for two, how can I tell other people what to believe?
It is a principle of science (Occam's razor) not to invoke explanations that are unnecessary. I do not to invoke God to explain science. It is therefore perfectly consistent for a scientist to say that there is no evidence FOR God, and therefore no need to invoke God as an explanation.
Your mileage, as they say, may vary. If you perceive a God, great for you. But to tell me I need to "leave room" for something that I neither experience nor have any evidence for, is one of the things that frustrate non-believers.
Is "leave room for" any different than "don't be certain of" (which when I'm dropping grad school words we called epistemological humility)?
I'm just asking. I want your perspective, IT, because I could see it either way (then again, I usually do! ;-/)
Happy 5-22-11 everybody! 5 Easter, and Christ is still Risen, Alleluia!
You know that I have absolutely no problem with people who do not have a personal faith. Most of my friends and family haven't, and as you say, it's not a big deal to them or to me. They find my faith quaint and inexplicable, I find their non-faith completely normal and reasonable.
And I can see that it is hugely frustrating to a non believer to be asked to leave room for something they're not experiencing.
But, yes, that is what logic asks. Just as logic asks that believers leave room for the possibility that their experience is a fallacy and that they're building their spiritual house on sand.
Scientists don't need God to explain the world. That says a lot about the world and very little, if anything, about God. All it says is that the two are in entirely different categories that may, potentially, be exclusive of each other, but may, just as potentially, run parallel.
What I do have an intellectual problem with is people who cannot find an argument FOR something and therefore equate that with an argument AGAINST it. It isn’t.
One of the problems in this is that believers really really want to persuade non-believers to leave room for evidence that challenges a non-belief. This is so frustrating.
first, if faith were proveable, it wouldn't be FAITH, now would it? It would be rational evidence based thought which is something really different.
second, I have already explained to you that some of us simply do not perceive God, working on exactly the same evidence that you do. Why is that so challenging to you? yes, I know that some non-believers accuse you of fairies and spaghetti monsters, but as Richard Feynman famously said, Why do YOU care what other people think?
third, while I agree that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, science suggests that we do not infer more than is called for. If I hear hooves in the street, I assume a horse, not a zebra.... or a centaur. The likelihood of a zebra in the street is minimal. The likelihood of a centaur is, I am confident, nil.
Look, I'm happy to live and let live. But part of that is its reciprocity: arguing that I can't prove there is no God, is like saying to me that I can't prove there are no centaurs. I'm trying to present a modus vivendi here but all I here is the same "but you can't be SURE" which is very tiresome.
By demanding that people like me leave "room" for evidence of God, you are venturing into the realm of science,and moreover trying to put God in a box that people like me can define and perceive. But really, why? wouldn't that destroy the concept of faith? And it's actually quite disrespectful.
Perhaps you should ask is that people leave room in their lives for something transcendent. And even secularists have felt that---if not God, than love, or beauty, or passion. Shouldn't that be enough?
I don't understand what has happened here.
I am not challenged, I don't want to push my view on anyone, I don't see myself in any of what you're saying.
My initial comment was aimed not at you, because I agree with every word you say, but at Dennis who claims that atheists are following a more rational word view than believers. And if you don't like it when people say that you might have to leave room for the possibility of faith, then I don't like it when I'm told that I'm not being rational. Not by you, but by Dennis at whom my reply was clearly aimed.
What are we arguing about?
I keep wondering why we seem to talk cross purposes and the only reason I can come up with is that we hear different things by different words.
When I say that I believe atheist must leave room for faith, I am not saying that there is a God out there that atheists are not perceiving, that they’re lacking anything.
I’m simply saying that we don’t know whether there is a God out there or not.
When people say that atheism is more rational, I tend to hear that they criticise me as irrational, whereas they’re probably saying that, using the human reason we cannot detect a God, therefore the current state of science means that belief is outside reason.
If that were the case, I must apologise because “outside reason” is clearly not the same as “irrational”.
For me, who is not a trained scientist but an enthusiastic follower, it’s simply a case of two different disciplines. Using science to approach God is, to me and to me only, as helpful as using contemplative prayer to get my car started. And to me, and to me only, this is entirely logical.
Maybe that’s why I don’t at the core, understand the whole science vs. religion debate.
And maybe that’s why I say things without realising what buttons I press in other people.
Apologise for pressing the wrong buttons. I think I’d better stay out of these kinds of conversation from now on, I really don’t understand them enough.
I don't, personally, try to persuade non-Christians that God exists. I have no proof and I think it is bad-mannered. However, from observation it appears that those who do tend to do so by trying to demonstrate the positive in their beliefs rather than concentrating on dissing the other person's pre-existing beliefs. Psychologically this is the best way to sell something, to do otherwise insults the person you are trying to sell to and makes the chances of a sale very slim indeed. Most Christians, especially in the developed nations, are like Erika and do not insult the beliefs and non-beliefs of others.
At this moment in time, Christians feel that atheists, especially those who validate their non-belief with reference to science, are constantly belittling our beliefs and implying that we are less intelligent than they are for having them (brights versus dims for example). The history of religion shows that this is not a good way of making friends and influencing people. For many years mainstream Western Christians were Christian about these constant attacks and excused them. I'm glad to see that we are now beginning to fight back. But, I would prefer it if "angry" atheists stopped their bitching and we worked together to save the world and make it a better place to live.
And another thing. That our brains are hardwired for belief in the divine is not proof that the divine is an invention. For those of us who believe in a creator god it is just another indication that the creator god knew how to create properly. Or, from a scientific point of view, you could posit that our brains evolved to deal more effectively with the reality of the divine, in the same way aquatic mammals evolved to deal more effectively with life in the sea.
Erika I think you are right, we hear things differently. I don't see science in opposition to religion, I see them as different things.
When people say atheists need to leave "room for God" i hear them as saying "leave room for actual evidence for God." Apologies if I misheard you in this way.
As I hope I've made clear, I (and most nonbelievers I know) am not calling you stupid.
Of course, many Christians spend a lot of effort telling non-believers that they are deficient or inerror. Neither is a way to persuade but what I'm trying to tell you is that i'm not trying to persuade you. I don't care if you believe in God as long as you don't try to make me join you.
As for our brains, That's what I said: Thus, whether you believe God is literally all in our heads, or whether you believe God put your awareness of Him there, doesn't really matter: your brain is parsing your experience and interpreting it as belief. And I have no business telling YOU what you perceive; no more than you have any business telling ME how I experience love.
No. I think we said different things about the same thing. I didn't include interpretation or perception in my statement. I think our brains may be hardwired to believe in god either divinely or as an evolutionary adaptation that has social benefits. I don't believe our brains are hardwired to interpret events as divine. I think we just use ordinary logic to do that which may or may not be delusional.
I'm so glad we're sorted that misunderstanding! We're definitely talking about the same thing!
When people say atheists need to leave "room for God" i hear them as saying "leave room for actual evidence for God."
Oh, not at all!
Not any kind of "evidence".
Room as, room in another part of one's brain. The parts of one's brain that aren't interested in evidence. [The "I like this piece of music but not that one" part, for example. Or, why you fell in love w/ BP, and not, say, a better-on-paper "CQ". Stuff like that.]
The world is filled w/ facts. I may live my day by them . . . but I don't live my life by them---that is, the part of my brain that determines the "live my life by" isn't turned on by them. The Gospel---the Good News, Love Conquers All---does turn on that part of my brain. Not (necessarily) in an MRI sense, but in an actually live-my-life-by way. HTH.
JCF, I tried to explain, I won't tell you that your perceptions are in error--believe as you want-- but please don't tell ME to "leave room". That comes across to me as very condescending, as though you think I'm a willful child, or simply too foolish to "get it".
In danger of getting it wrong again, I still want to dig a little deeper.
Isn't the real underlying problem that people with faith believe or at least hope it to be true? Not just true for themselves, but actually true. We don't believe or hope that individual people may or may not have a personal God, but that there is one overarching God for the world and the universe.
We know it cannot be proven. We're not interested in proof. We accept we may well be wrong and discover at the end that we were mistaken.
But in the meantime, we believe that this God we stake our life on is real.
So, yes, we probably are saying that, in the absence of evidence, room has to be left for the possibility that one of us is right and the other isn't.
After all, however we don't want to push our view on others and however we don't want their view to be pushed on us, there either is a God or there isn't.
How do we get round this fundamental logical problem without hurting each other's feelings and without being disrespectful?
My answer has always been that intellectual agnosticism is the ground in the middle that we can all share. Emotionally, we are either atheists or believers, but intellectually, we can agree on "I don't know".
It’s emphatically not a “you’re a wilful child too stupid to get it”, nor is it “you’ll find out that it was all in the mind, silly woman”, but a “we’re both adults, each with our own perceptions, we acknowledge that we’re only human and that our perceptions may be wrong.” We’re completely equal in this, because we’re both faced with the same possibility that we’re wrong. We both have to “leave room”.
If that doesn't work, what do we do?
Sorry, that last comment was from me, Erika. I can't post with my Google account at the moment and I just tried the "anonymous" route but forgot to sign my post.
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