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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is Atheism a Spiritual Orientation?

The Atheist Spy has taken on an interesting task- he's decided to inflitrate a church in the guise of a Christian to try to understand the Christian mindset. From his initial post:
If you "suspend disbelief" for just one second and suppose that the world was deliberately created by an intelligent entity, and that 2000 years ago a man lived who was morally perfect... How much of Christian theology and mythology can be derived from just these two simple propositions? In other words, if a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify, if you believe the world runs in a scientific, natural, deterministic way (no miracles or "tweaking" by God after the very start), and WITHOUT believing that Jesus had supernatural powers? The answer is; A surprising amount of Christianity follows from just that. Figuring this out is like playing with non-Euclidean geometry: Just change two basic axioms but leave the other ones the same, and explore the crazy new world you get.
It's an interesting proposition, perhaps. One could presuppose any number of weird axioms and conclude a myriad of trippy worldviews. But upon accepting the Christian axioms, the Atheist Spy has come up with a new theory to explain the reason why reasonable people can be either Christian or Atheist:
...we can basically divide people into two camps:

People who think asking "Why?" about the way the universe and life and intelligence came into existence and developed, and about accidental events, is meaningful. These people believe that the universe was created and/or is guided by a higher entity with a plan, with purpose. They will not be satisfied with a model of the universe that does not answer "Why?" - for them such a model would be incomplete.

and

People who think asking "Why?" is not meaningful, useful, or likely to lead to any relevant (or true) ideas. Rather, asking "How?" should expose the mechanisms which automatically (with no guidance or purpose) led to things being as they are.
In other words, some people just need to believe in purpose-driven natural phenomena, and others don't. The Atheist Spy goes on to explain that this fundamental distinction explains how people can be religious and scientific simultaneously, because they exist as non-overlapping magisteria.

The implication is that some people are just born religious, and others are not- the obvious analogy is that of sexual orientation, and which the Atheist Spy refers to as a "spiritual orientation." This solution he feels will promote greater understanding between theists and atheists, since it removes the decision to accept a deity from rationality. But how accurate is this? I would submit as a counter-example, evidence A: myself. I was born into a Christian home, accepted Christian theism without complaint or question for two decades, and only began to question Christian doctrine upon closer examination of the source text. My path out of Christianity was facilitated exclusively by academic means and rational appraisal of arguments. So I would argue strongly that the choice of atheism was definitely rational- but according to the Atheist Spy, I'm an atheist because I had to be- because of my "spiritual orientation." If the analogy to sexual orientation is accurate, I would think that one's orientation is something inborn or intrinsic. So that means that for two decades, I was a closeted atheist- so closeted, in fact, that I didn't even know it.

If this phenomenon of "spiritual orientation" is true, then what causes it? The Atheist Spy doesn't offer any explanation of its origin. Is it genetic, like sexual orientation? There are some possibilities, but at best they predispose individuals to hallucinogenic or spatial orientation experiences that would suggest some kind of supernatural realm, but nothing which assigns purpose.

I think that going back to the Atheist Spy's original post provides a better explanation for the difference between theists and atheists. "If a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify?" The problem is in granting those two axioms. Are the Christian axioms coherent, and are they necessary to understand the world? Obviously, they're neither. So I think that there is, in fact, a difference in rationality between theists and atheists- theists add a couple incoherent, unnecessary axioms to their worldview. That they do so because they want to believe in an intelligent purpose to the Universe may be relevant from a psychological perspective, but it doesn't set theism equal to atheism as a rational belief.

Post a Comment


16 Comments:

At 4/13/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger Simon declaimed...

I personally think the desire to find a meaning in the Universe is to some extent programmed into us by our faith-based upbringing. The seeds of a supernatural explanation are sown young.

Many athiests say they are depressed when they realise god does not exist or that there's no real meaning. But I have found people who are not brought up with any religious expectation, do not even go looking for this style of meaning. Consequently they don't have this hole to fill.

The hole needs to be put there, I believe.

 
At 4/13/2006 7:35 PM, Blogger TheJollyNihilist declaimed...

I've always believed predisposition to religiosity is in the genes, selected for by evolution. It seems that many people, realizing there is no afterlife or overall meaning to the universe, would grow depressed and aimless. By inventing a deity, afterlife and purpose, this "God Gene" gives people a will to live, prosper and reproduce. Our big brains are cognizant of our own mortality. To combat that cognizance, we invent a fiction that our mortality is illusory. To combat our understanding that we live in an unjust world, we invent a fiction of divine justice following death. People who are happy and comfortable reproduce more than those who are depressed and apathetic; thus, evolution selects for self-trickery.

 
At 4/13/2006 7:43 PM, Blogger Steve declaimed...

Answer: No.

 
At 4/13/2006 8:19 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Or, Frances, maybe people that were not prone to playing the god game were for generations burned as heretics, or generally ostracized from their communities. Control freaks, egomaniacs and con men can't stand dissent in their midst. A mere seven generations ago, people were hung up in small cages in Nashua, NH (Then known as Dunstable) for missing church on Sunday. Go back farther, and the line between church and state was often indistinguishable, as it is in places like Iran today. Wanna be an atheist in Iran?

 
At 4/14/2006 2:24 PM, Blogger Simon declaimed...

But the people I know who weren't brought up with religion are very happy and don't look for this supposed meaning in the universe.

They just accept the universe as a mysterious thing.

Religion creates the fear. It sows the seed of unhappiness.

 
At 4/14/2006 3:03 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Simon, you nincompoop. You owe Alleee a few apologies.

 
At 6/11/2006 8:55 AM, Blogger Cassandra declaimed...

See this post over at the Carnival of the Godless! Thanks for the submission!!

 
At 6/11/2006 9:49 PM, Blogger Darius declaimed...

Good reasoning, but I'd want to take a look at a couple of the assumptions.

I'd say the distinctive tenet of Christianity is that Jesus was "the Christ" - the Savior. Belief in a Creator is shared, for example, by Jews and Muslims.

I think you hit the nail right on the head in noting that science really describes how the universe works, even when it phrases questions in terms of "why."

Science can't answer why anything at all even exists. But I'm not convinced that asking "why" presumes an interest in purposive deities.

Replacing "why" with, "how is it that...," suggests what I mean. How is it that the being of anything is at all? The Fact is. Science comes along after the fact trying to sketch the pieces, describe how they fit together, and predict events.

So although science can't peer into the facticity of facts, so to speak, I'm not sure that this makes this question of, "Why facts?" meaningless or necessarily entangled with belief in supernatural entities or forces.

 
At 6/12/2006 5:42 PM, Blogger Darius declaimed...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6/14/2006 3:13 PM, Blogger Faith declaimed...

It has been my experience that many atheists do have a type of "spiritual orientation" to their "faith". While, I am beginning to see some who may genuinely not believe in a higher power, or just haven't really thought about it, I have often encountered self-professed atheists who are in reality in a war against God. For example, there are atheists who have fought not only for the right to not be coerced into praying in school or in public (which is fair), but also to remove all signs of God and/or religion from schools, public buildings, government proceedings, etc. And, not quiety, but most vehemently. If someone truly does not believe in God, why all the fuss? Why is it so important to remove all trace of religion for anyone else? There are websites dedicated to rescuing believers from their own folly, even to the point of presenting false or misleading information in the hopes that the religious person will be "saved" from his or her religious calling.

Some atheists appear to be mad at God from some perceived slight or rejection - a prayer wasn't answered in the way that they hoped, perhaps a loved one died, or the world just got a little too scary. I can't speak for all atheists, these are just some observations concerning the ones that I have encountered.

 
At 2/11/2008 4:08 PM, Blogger Stephen declaimed...

Hi. Does anyone out there know what's become of The Atheist Mama and / or Cassandra (whose website I believe it was / is)? I've been trying to find out why no-one seems to blog on The Atheist Mama site any longer. I've also tried to email Cassandra (twice) on the address given, but to no avail. Any leads or info should, please, be emailed to me directly on shjan@tiscali.co.uk Many thanks. Stephen.

 
At 2/11/2008 4:09 PM, Blogger Stephen declaimed...

Hi. This is a long-shot - an enquiry in the hope that someone out there might be able to help me. I am puzzled by the (apparent) disappearance of The Atheist Mama as a blogsite, and of Cassandra, whose blogsite I believe it was (is?). I have left messages on what remains of The Atheist Mama site, and I have twice emailed Cassandra herself on the email address given - all to no avail. Does anyone know if Cassandra is okay? Please feel free to email me, Stephen, direct, if you have any leads; shjan@tiscali.co.uk Many thanks.

 
At 2/11/2008 4:10 PM, Blogger Stephen declaimed...

Hi. This is a long-shot - an enquiry in the hope that someone out there might be able to help me. I am puzzled by the (apparent) disappearance of The Atheist Mama as a blogsite, and of Cassandra, whose blogsite I believe it was (is?). I have left messages on what remains of The Atheist Mama site, and I have twice emailed Cassandra herself on the email address given - all to no avail. Does anyone know if Cassandra is okay? Please feel free to email me, Stephen, direct, if you have any leads; shjan@tiscali.co.uk Many thanks.

 
At 2/11/2008 4:11 PM, Blogger Stephen declaimed...

Hi. This is a long-shot - an enquiry in the hope that someone out there might be able to help me. I am puzzled by the (apparent) disappearance of The Atheist Mama as a blogsite, and of Cassandra, whose blogsite I believe it was (is?). I have left messages on what remains of The Atheist Mama site, and I have twice emailed Cassandra herself on the email address given - all to no avail. Does anyone know if Cassandra is okay? Please feel free to email me, Stephen, direct, if you have any leads; shjan@tiscali.co.uk Many thanks.

 
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