Is Atheism Unnatural

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Is Atheism Unnatural

The more I learn about the theory of evolution, and particularly human development, the more I question the validity of god belief. I say "god belief" but what I should say, to be more clear, is the urge to believe in god.

In Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, he asserts that humans have a natural defense from the terror of the world around them. That, if we were allowed to actually contemplate the day to day risk of our environment and particularly our imminent death, we would not be able to function. He suggests that our mind has a natural tendency toward putting up symbolic buffers between ourselves and what could become all consuming fears of the cold world around us. Our obsession with "purpose" and ideas like the afterlife are shining examples of this idea. They give us something to focus on; something to keep us from obsessing on the purposeless of our species existence.

The theory of evolution describes that the reason we seem to have such a strong drive to imagine our way safely through day to day life and ignore our inevitable demise is because those of us who had this drive (historically speaking) were able to survive and reproduce. So, the reason we function this way is because that's how the original survivors functioned. Maybe this is part of the reason they survived, I couldn't say, but it certainly causes me to pause on the subject.

Austin Cline wrote:
When scientific pantheists say they revere the universe, they are not talking about a supernatural being. Instead, they are referring to the way human senses and our emotions force us to respond to the overwhelming mystery and power that surrounds us. About.com/Pantheism

This statement is what got me on the topic today. This rings true to me, that we do indeed have a natural response to the unknown; we treat it with an almost fearful awe. Is it any wonder that an animal who looks at the unknown this way would create things like gods? It seems to me that this was, and even is, perfectly natural when considering our mental and hormonal set-up (limitations).

Is atheism something completely unnatural for us? That is, something which is a departure from the development of our species and potentially a driving reason *for* the development of our species?


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 Interesting

 Interesting question.

marcusfish wrote:

They give us something to focus on; something to keep us from obsessing on the purposeless of our species existence.

The theory of evolution describes that the reason we seem to have such a strong drive to imagine our way safely through day to day life and ignore our inevitable demise is because those of us who had this drive (historically speaking) were able to survive and reproduce. So, the reason we function this way is because that's how the original survivors functioned. Maybe this is part of the reason they survived, I couldn't say, but it certainly causes me to pause on the subject.

I'm not sure if I would draw the same conclusion regarding the 'purposeless' of our species.  I feel joy, sadness, awe at a deeper level now that I don't believe there is an afterlife where everything will be enhanced.  Since I've realized this is the only life I get, I try to make the most of it.  I haven't read Ernest Becker, but from what you're describing he seems to believe that without the symbolic buffer delusion (we'll call it god for the sake of the argument) I would fall into a depressing realization of our ultimate futility.  Perhaps he lacks imagination.  In this context, the 'purpose' that religion provides us with is so superficial, banal and ultimately idiotic that I choose to not exist than to exist to serve a cruel's god capricious sense of humour.  

As for this line of thinking influencing evolution, I think that this kind of depth of searching and understanding is a relatively recent development in our evolutionary timeline.  Until recently (a few millenia) humans had no time to ponder such questions to the point where it would cause them to 'not be able to function', seeming how mere survival would take up 99.99% of your time.  I believe that the inquisitive mind would search for an explanation and never even assume the option of our 'purposeless' existence.  It would not have been a major driving factor.  When considering all the contemporary knowledge and evidence, there would be a point where we sort of 'give up' and just say god( or symbolic buffer delusion) did it.  The knowledge and evidence for us to get to the point where god is not necessary hasn't been available that long.  

Of course one could have argued god out of existence by logic alone such as the ancient Greeks, but they would have had nothing to fall back on.  At this point in our social development things like natural selection don't really work the same anymore.  You can have none of the physical qualities that would give your offsprings an evolutionary advantage, yet have a lot of money and you still get to reproduce.  

I'll leave it at this for now. 

P.S. if you haven't already seen 'Science saved my soul' check this out.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6w2M50_Xdk

 

"Don't seek these laws to understand. Only the mad can comprehend..." -- George Cosbuc


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Probably.

           

 

 

                       Atheisim IS un-natural  for humans;   or so I believe.  Unfortunately has young children we do attend funerals where we hear that 'grand-someone'  IS IN a better place. We want to believe that.  Yet in adulthood we should ' put off childish things'  and accept that we all have but one life to live and we should do it in the best way possible.   THAT attitude is for the betterment of scociaty.  What do we need a religion for?

 

 

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Purpose and Fear of Death

Ktulu wrote:
I'm not sure if I would draw the same conclusion regarding the 'purposeless' of our species.  I feel joy, sadness, awe at a deeper level now that I don't believe there is an afterlife where everything will be enhanced.

Purposeless doesn't imply that it should be joyless or devoid of awe. We understand, intellectually, that the existence of our species has no purpose whatsoever, beyond existence itself. We assign purpose to our lives and to our actions because that makes us feel good and it gives us direction. We decide that our lives are meaningful because of our children, hobbies, careers, etc. But if a purpose is not arbitrarily assigned by us - none exists.

If we were to allow ourselves to obsess on this absence of "true purpose" we might have some difficulty functioning. This is why we give ourselves a purpose as well as assigning purpose to our immediate environment (whether it likes it or not).

Ktulu wrote:
I haven't read Ernest Becker, but from what you're describing he seems to believe that without the symbolic buffer delusion (we'll call it god for the sake of the argument) I would fall into a depressing realization of our ultimate futility.  Perhaps he lacks imagination.

This insistence on assigning purpose is what I would use as a form of evidence for his argument. We seem to absolutely need this buffer, whether we use god or some other social symbol which gives our lives a kind of intangible value. Some still take the extreme leap of believing in Santa Claus but even those of us who reject the obvious fantasies still need our protection. Either way, the mere assertion that our species is "purposeless" brings about strong reactions from us, and that is an interesting thing to me.

I, for one, love the idea of pantheism; I generally consider myself to be a natural pantheist in most discussions. It gives me an outlet for my awe of my surroundings and my underlying sense of longing for purpose. Perhaps this is what keeps me from being inundated with fears about my impotence to combat the fury of nature or the knowledge that my cells are slowly beginning to die and I will, soon enough, no longer be here.

Ktulu wrote:
As for this line of thinking influencing evolution, I think that this kind of depth of searching and understanding is a relatively recent development in our evolutionary time-line.  Until recently (a few millenia) humans had no time to ponder such questions to the point where it would cause them to 'not be able to function', seeming how mere survival would take up 99.99% of your time.

I can't argue that our conscious examination of this kind of philosophical topic is VERY recent. However, our ancestors needn't be aware of which traits are beneficial to their ultimate survival and which ones aren't. They didn't obsess on their fear of nature and death because they were busy with other things. I would argue that, when they stopped working long enough to consider these things that they quickly built these imaginary buffers around them. Rather, those who had a tendency to build these buffers were more successful in surviving than those who did not. After all, who could sleep if they allowed these kinds of fears to penetrate their concussions mind all of the time?

Ktulu wrote:
I believe that the inquisitive mind would search for an explanation and never even assume the option of our 'purposeless' existence.  It would not have been a major driving factor. 

It seems to me that the idea of what exactly a purpose is and which things have purposes would have come quite late in our development. Assigning this kind of label to the feelings and drives, however, would not be required for the feelings and drives to exist. We simply gave it a name and thus began contemplating it further (to whatever end).

Ktulu wrote:
You can have none of the physical qualities that would give your offspring an evolutionary advantage, yet have a lot of money and you still get to reproduce. 

Certainly an interesting predicament our species is in. We are effectively immune to natural selection at this point, at least a gigantic portion of the human population is. Now our genes are only picked by sexual selection - nothing more. Nature no longer has a vote as to whether or not we pass on our genes; only our female has that right now.

 


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One Life

Jeffrick wrote:
Yet in adulthood we should ' put off childish things'  and accept that we all have but one life to live and we should do it in the best way possible.  

Absolutely.

To be able to have a conversation like this with everyone on the entire planet... ah the perfect dream Smiling


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Well, any behavior a human

Well, any behavior a human displays is natural.  Both religion and atheism are natural, because they appear in all cultures.

 

I think the problem is using the words atheism and religion in this way...an atheist can still have that same sense of fear/awe and still be an atheist.  Rather, I think the question is, culturally, are non-religious systems able to meet the needs of this instinct?  Evidence seems to point to yes due to some cultures with mostly irreligious members.  So it is sort of mixing two things, a cause and an effect.  Religion isn't instinctual, fear/awe is instinctual and religion is a system some cultures have created to deal with that.

 

So, no, atheism is not un-natural.  Not having the emotional fear/awe response to certain concepts and ideas would be, not un-natural, but certainly less common in our species.  The way in which cultures and individuals deal with these emotions is really the issue...some resort to religion, some to science, some to apathy, some to secular philosophies, etc.

 

 

 

What has changed is we're (human civilization) now at the point where most of the phenomena that cause those responses are understood, and we have alternate secular ways of dealing with them without all the baggage religion brings, hence religious systems aren't actually relevant as anything but a relic of our cultural childhood.

The problem is you can't bring a culture out of theism until you raise them up high enough to implement those systems themselves.  For example, Iran isn't going to turn into Japan or Sweden without first having a society as harmonious and stable as those nations.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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marcusfish wrote:Is atheism

marcusfish wrote:

Is atheism something completely unnatural for us? That is, something which is a departure from the development of our species and potentially a driving reason *for* the development of our species?

What is a departure from the development of our species? How do you differentiate between a development and a departure from development?

The only meaning that you could give to "unnatural" here that might make it justifiable is if we defined it as something that would have been detrimental to our survival if we have exhibited the trait while we were still living in small hunter-gatherer groups. In that case, pondering our demise and the lack of objective purpose *might" be "unnatural."   

 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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Coping Mechanism

mellestad wrote:
Religion isn't instinctual, fear/awe is instinctual and religion is a system some cultures have created to deal with that.

Valid distinction.

Seeing that this fear/awe response is instinctual, can we deduce that this trait has likely been with us all the way back to our earliest ancestors? If it is an adaptive survival trait, that would mean that it would have developed about as far back as when our minds started becoming advanced enough to comprehend our own deaths, for example. It is at this point where I would place the beginning of what some refer to as existential angst. Once the mind could be aware (on any level) of their inevitable dimise, the mind would also need to be able to protect itself from locking down in terror.

If that's correct, this would be the origins of our mechanisms of dealing with said fear; pretty much at our beginnings. That would be a hell of a long time of building this instinct and the mechanisms of dealing with it.

That would make supernatural belief as a method of coping with this an incredibly old and deeply ingraned trait. Pretty substantial hurdle, if so.


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marcusfish wrote:The more I

marcusfish wrote:

The more I learn about the theory of evolution, and particularly human development, the more I question the validity of god belief. I say "god belief" but what I should say, to be more clear, is the urge to believe in god.

In Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, he asserts that humans have a natural defense from the terror of the world around them. That, if we were allowed to actually contemplate the day to day risk of our environment and particularly our imminent death, we would not be able to function. He suggests that our mind has a natural tendency toward putting up symbolic buffers between ourselves and what could become all consuming fears of the cold world around us. Our obsession with "purpose" and ideas like the afterlife are shining examples of this idea. They give us something to focus on; something to keep us from obsessing on the purposeless of our species existence.

The theory of evolution describes that the reason we seem to have such a strong drive to imagine our way safely through day to day life and ignore our inevitable demise is because those of us who had this drive (historically speaking) were able to survive and reproduce. So, the reason we function this way is because that's how the original survivors functioned. Maybe this is part of the reason they survived, I couldn't say, but it certainly causes me to pause on the subject.

Austin Cline wrote:
When scientific pantheists say they revere the universe, they are not talking about a supernatural being. Instead, they are referring to the way human senses and our emotions force us to respond to the overwhelming mystery and power that surrounds us. About.com/Pantheism

This statement is what got me on the topic today. This rings true to me, that we do indeed have a natural response to the unknown; we treat it with an almost fearful awe. Is it any wonder that an animal who looks at the unknown this way would create things like gods? It seems to me that this was, and even is, perfectly natural when considering our mental and hormonal set-up (limitations).

Is atheism something completely unnatural for us? That is, something which is a departure from the development of our species and potentially a driving reason *for* the development of our species?

It is not an "urge" as much as it is an evolutionary deficite. The real "urge" is to seek patterns, but far to often we don't test to see if our guesses are right and default to filling in the gaps wich is much easier than testing our guesses.
 

If you haven't read the God Delusion Dawkins discribes this deficite as the moth mistaking the lightulb for the moonlight.

We didn't evolve to want a god, we evolved to seek patterns and stuck a god in the gap. Anthropomorphism is the side effect of human evolution because we didn't have the real answers in our development. We find comfort in familure things and we falsely give human characteristics to nature and claim the super natural as a false placebo, much like the lightbulb wich is not the natural moonlight the moth seeks.

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Stages of Developement

butterbattle wrote:
The only meaning that you could give to "unnatural" here that might make it justifiable is if we defined it as something that would have been detrimental to our survival if we have exhibited the trait while we were still living in small hunter-gatherer groups. In that case, pondering our demise and the lack of objective purpose *might" be "unnatural."   

Thanks butter, that's pretty much the assumption I'm going for.

That, allowing ourselves to ponder the ever-presence of our doom would have been detrimental to the development of our species in its early stages. In order for us to have survived the rigors of our environment we could not have also been paralyzed with fear. I have been finding it difficult to get that into words. I'm pretty new to this exciting evolution madness but I'm trying!!


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marcusfish wrote:mellestad

marcusfish wrote:

mellestad wrote:
Religion isn't instinctual, fear/awe is instinctual and religion is a system some cultures have created to deal with that.

Valid distinction.

Seeing that this fear/awe response is instinctual, can we deduce that this trait has likely been with us all the way back to our earliest ancestors? If it is an adaptive survival trait, that would mean that it would have developed about as far back as when our minds started becoming advanced enough to comprehend our own deaths, for example. It is at this point where I would place the beginning of what some refer to as existential angst. Once the mind could be aware (on any level) of their inevitable dimise, the mind would also need to be able to protect itself from locking down in terror.

If that's correct, this would be the origins of our mechanisms of dealing with said fear; pretty much at our beginnings. That would be a hell of a long time of building this instinct and the mechanisms of dealing with it.

That would make supernatural belief as a method of coping with this an incredibly old and deeply ingraned trait. Pretty substantial hurdle, if so.

When it developed is interesting.  To chimps have it?  No idea.  But it would be interesting to look into...although if I had to guess you could pin it down by trying to objectively measure children at the point they become aware of and fear mortality.  That might be the lowest level of intelligence needed for the concept.

 

It is only a hurdle if you assume religion is the likely outcome of those drives.  As I pointed out, evidence shows this isn't the case.  I'd hypothesize you could take a million infants, right now, and raise them in such a way that religion never occurred to them or they rejected it in favor of secular concepts.  I think this is demonstrably true because we can point to places like Japan and Sweden where secular is the norm, not religion.

 

Now in reality it *is* a big hurdle, but the hurdle is not biological it is cultural and social.

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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Since each culture has it's

Since each culture has it's own pressures to believe in a particular deity(or at least pretend to). I think being an atheist is more about just being naturally inclined to not need a great deal of social approval. Also just being able to deal with the stress and worries of life without resorting to fantasy.

Being a theist is more about just submitting to the cultural/family norm. Most all theists can't explain what they actually believe or why the believe in religion, their so called belief is just a product of wanting to be socially accepted which is the way a lot of people are naturally inclined to be.

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Religion Explained

 

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyle touches on this subject on a whole lot deeper level than alot of the works that I have previously picked up.

He is an anthropologist and looks at the way that humans learn through memes and how ideas get caught on while others do not.

He goes a whole lot deeper than the theories about religion and god belief being an invention of man due to fear of mortality and the unknown. In effect, he challenges that theory to touch upon other reasons.

It would be hard for me to go into all the details about it in one post. But I highly reccomend anyone picking it up that has an interest in the origins of god belief.

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
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Correction

harleysportster wrote:

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyle touches on this subject on a whole lot deeper level than alot of the works that I have previously picked up.

 

That second name is Boyer - thanks for the tip. The wish list expands...

 

 

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Jeffrick wrote:Unfortunately

Jeffrick wrote:
Unfortunately has young children we do attend funerals where we hear that 'grand-someone'  IS IN a better place. We want to believe that.

Not entirely true. A week ago I attended a funeral of a very strict church. They said they had hope the person might be in heaven, but they couldn't be certain. That fear, that the other person might be in hell is pretty destructive. It also seems unnatural. They don't deny death, they say they might even go to hell if they aren't chosen by god.

On topic. I think it's unnatural for someone to not believe in god, just like it's unnatural for someone to be able to drive a car. After a long time of doing good things, we found out how to make vehicles and drive them. We also found out there's no god, or an afterlife. It's not natural. But it's a good thing.
 


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Keeping It Real

Thunderios wrote:
On topic. I think it's unnatural for someone to not believe in god, just like it's unnatural for someone to be able to drive a car. After a long time of doing good things, we found out how to make vehicles and drive them. We also found out there's no god, or an afterlife. It's not natural. But it's a good thing.
 

I am struggling with your analogy.

I do agree with you guys that religion and god specific beliefs are just an end product and are not, on their own, some specific drive built into humans. I wouldn't argue against that, but what I am currently interested in arguing is that there is an instinctive drive to put *something* there. Considering our current degree of understanding of the reality of our universe it would seem to me that our species would be served well by unlearning that mechanism, but I am curious about exactly how difficult that is going to be.

The nature of this curiosity is rooted in my examination of how I view supernatural centric world views. Historically I have had a deep resentment for god belief and other similar world views but these days I am questioning how appropriate that is. I am not suggesting that I should be more tolerant or patient, just that what I might need to do is to temper my disdain with the understanding that weaning off of these kind of traits which protect us from the harshness of reality may be more of an undertaking than I am giving it credit.

If that is indeed the case, at least I can adjust my approach so that it causes *me* less frustration!


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EXC wrote:Since each culture

EXC wrote:

Since each culture has it's own pressures to believe in a particular deity(or at least pretend to). I think being an atheist is more about just being naturally inclined to not need a great deal of social approval. Also just being able to deal with the stress and worries of life without resorting to fantasy.

Being a theist is more about just submitting to the cultural/family norm. Most all theists can't explain what they actually believe or why the believe in religion, their so called belief is just a product of wanting to be socially accepted which is the way a lot of people are naturally inclined to be.

I don't buy into this at all.

If every one of the 7 billion people on this planet were atheists, you would still have social pressures. To say that we wouldn't conform simply because we are atheists is absurd. In fact, we often hear, "If I had no god, there would be nothing to stop me from robbing and murder".

That is called anarchy, which does not sustain itself long term in our species history. Humans will organize in one form or or another to have structure.

We are social animals regardless of our label. We are as capable of setting up open societies, dictatorships, and creating social unrest.

There are atheists on this board who buy into the meme that money and class equal morality. There are others here that think we should scrap our "capitalist" system which they think is exploitation. I am for neither because one simply means "money equals power" and the other means "nanny state".  I think the founders were the closest in stating reality, "if you prevent all forms of monopolies of power, everyone has a shot at change".

The fact is any form of social structure you set up can lead to exploitation and "us vs them" "insider vs outsider". The only difference between China's wealth and America's wealth is one is monopolized by a political party, and one class buys off both political parties.

Being an atheist is not a cure all for humanity. Having an education and being exposed to all of the world outside you helps you cope better. But believe me, I have met plenty of people saying they were atheists but are as bad as the weekend worshipers who don't read their bibles and blindly buy what the pastor sells.

LABELS will never change that ALL humans are capable of the same range of human emotions and actions, both good and bad.

 

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I agree with Brian that it

I agree with Brian that it isn't all about social pressure, but anecdotally it seems like atheists tend to be less conformist, at least in America.  If this were Sweden or Japan, maybe theists would tend to be less conformist simply because they go against societal norms a bit more?  EXC's general point makes a lot of sense to me, although I think there are other reasons that go along with it.  

It is demonstrably true that culture has a heavy impact on every belief we hold, so I don't see why religion and atheism would be different.  Since atheism is outside the norm in America, it stands to reason atheists are, on average, less likely to be conformist otherwise we might succumb to social pressure and be theists, even if only to say, "we're spiritual, not religious".  I wouldn't put any money on it though, there might be more elegant explanations.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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By the way, Brian, if you

By the way, Brian, if you disagree with me you're proving that you're a contrary bastard and EXC is right Sticking out tongue

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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mellestad wrote:By the way,

mellestad wrote:

By the way, Brian, if you disagree with me you're proving that you're a contrary bastard and EXC is right Sticking out tongue

 

To quote Sergent Shultz from Hogan's Heros, "I know nothing, I hear nothing, I see nothing".

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Comes down to it, nothing

Comes down to it, nothing really has a purpose.

Purpose like nothing is something we have come up with.

You like what I did there?

Faith is the word but next to that snugged up closely "lie's" the want.
"By simple common sense I don't believe in god, in none."-Charlie Chaplin