No to God; Yes to Souls

From a reader:

… I don’t believe there’s a god. I believe it’s all of us. I believe in souls, that when we die, we just go somewhere else. no judgement, no tradition, just chaos, but life and consciousness nonetheless, continuing for who-knows how long.

I know no one’s into labels, but would i still be an Atheist, considering the belief in the soul? Or is Atheism at its core simply the non-belief in god, and everything after that is just a personal tweak? Can there BE a personal tweak to Atheism or would that just seep over to “Spirituality”? Are the two related, if so, how?

How do you answer?

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    Atheism is the lack of belief in a god. It’s not contradictory to be an atheist and a supernaturalist, but it is uncommon. The same kind of skepticism that leads people into atheism usually leads them away from other supernatural beliefs.

    That said, this:

    I don’t believe there’s a god. I believe it’s all of us

    sounds more like pantheism than atheism. The idea that the essence of the divine exists in all things. It’s not a personal or personified deity, but the idea of a divine essence remains.

  • Josh Spinks

    I think it’s clear that when most people say they’re an atheist, they mean to indicate that they don’t believe in the supernatural at all. Etymologies and dictionaries are largely tangential.

    People often mention that a lot of Buddhists don’t believe in gods. Does it really seem appropriate to call them atheists? Would you ever do that when you were not just trying to make a rhetorical point?

  • showtime

    I don’t know if you could call yourself an atheist, because you do believe there is a god, just taht it is “all of us”.

  • WetMogwai

    I agree with t3knomanser. It sounds like this person is a pantheist. It probably wouldn’t take much to get this person to claim to believe in gods just by proposing a definition of the word god that would fit. If “god” is a divine essence that provides for the existence of souls and an afterlife, this person is a theist. If “god” is a personal, interventionist being, this person is an atheist.

  • Marc

    What t3knomanser said: clearly, this reader of yours is some form of pantheist.

    Among the supernatural worviews, pantheism is the one closest to atheism – some have described it as two sides of the same coin, along the lines of “if god is in everything, then he is nothing special”

    On a purely emotional level I don’t realy have a problem with it if people want to imbue the word around them, trees, animals, the sky, the earth, whatever… with special, quasi-mythical meaning.
    Since pantheism generally doesn’t include any personalized supernatural entities or conscious agents there is relatively little room there for magical thinking and “miracles” – a point in its favor, I guess.

    Still, I can’t see anything particularly appealing or compelling in it for me.

  • http://aigbusted.blogspot.com Ryan

    I’d say she or he is an atheist, but perhaps not a materialistic atheist. He believes in more than just matter in motion, but not a supreme being.

    BTW, check out my blog, “Answers in Genesis Busted”:

    http://aigbusted.blogspot.com

    -Ryan

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    If they truly believe in no god they’re atheist (though clearly an atheist with woo, if they believe in such things as spirits).

    However, I’m inclined to agree with t3knomanser – their claim of not believing in god is belied by the “I believe it’s all of us”. What is the ‘it” of that sentence? Plainly the sentence refers to god, so they do seem to be some kind of theist, and pantheism looks like the right kind of area.

    I think this sort of muddled thinking is fairly typical of people who don’t think about their belief a lot – it’s hard to say much of anything when the entity you deny in one sentence is the subject of a sentence about what you do believe in the next.

  • Sascha

    Atheism is not beliving in a greater being. Pantheism is believing that a greater being encompasses everything. From the sounds of it, this person doesn’t believe in any greater being, only in human souls. That would place him or her squarely into the Atheism category. What I don’t understand, is why people ascribe so much more to atheism than what it is.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis Epistaxis

    In the literal sense, of course you’re an atheist if you don’t believe in a god. But the literal sense isn’t the only one that matters. Since you’re apparently not a practicing religious believer, “atheist” is still a pretty good word, but you might want to qualify it for clarity: a “spiritual atheist.” Or “spiritual but nonreligious.” It depends as much on the role your beliefs play in your everyday life as what they actually are; there are nonpracticing believers and radical atheists.

    It’s good that you more or less decided what you believe before you started looking for the right label. Too many people decide on their identity first and then fit a worldview around it.

  • Darryl

    Since pantheism generally doesn’t include any personalized supernatural entities or conscious agents there is relatively little room there for magical thinking and “miracles”

    You know, for me, my rejection of faith was primarily a rejection of the God with which I was familiar. I felt right in extending that rejection to all others gods, spirits, and miracles, for I found no more evidence for them than for my own. I recognized the same kind of mind at work in all the religions with which I was familiar.

    While not a pantheist or spiritualist, I do recognize the self-organizing nature of the Universe that brings about complexities like life and intelligence, but I don’t believe it to be some kind of god, certainly not a spirit, and certainly not something beyond the scrutiny and understanding of science.

    I have no problem with someone metaphorizing such an idea as ‘god’ and even developing a certain reverence for the unknown source of life in the Universe. Hence, one may be an atheist and also be somewhat agnostic and ‘spiritual’ in this sense.

  • http://johnmoeller.wordpress.com/ John Moeller

    I would say the reader is of course an atheist, since he or she does not believe in god. Pretty simple. Dualism isn’t incompatible with atheism.

    I would agree with Epistaxis in saying that “spiritual atheist” is an accurate description. I think I went through a time like this myself. Not that I’m labeling it a “phase,” mind you, it was just part of my journey in figuring out what I believe.

    Today I’m a monist; a physicalist to be more precise. I don’t believe in a soul or a mind separate from body. So I guess I’d be a “material atheist”? (Not to hijack the thread.)

  • John

    Definitely an atheist if you don’t believe in god. Also, I wouldn’t be too quick to brush him into any particular category, or even to label him as “spiritual”.

    It’s possible for souls or afterlife to exist without any sort of god or supernatural influence. There may yet be some physical phenomenon that could preserve part or all of a brain pattern when the version we know of dies. We just have no proof or scientific experimentation that even begins to support the idea. Calling it spiritual or pantheistic would be kind of like labeling someone spiritual for believing that aliens from space have come to earth during human history. Not quite the right label for something that doesn’t contradict science; it’s just completely unproven and seems very unlikely.

  • Stephen M.

    It is still believing in something supernatural with absolutely no evidence to support it. It you are going to believe in some sort of life after death then what is to stop you from believing in a supernatural being that rules over your soul alive or dead?

  • llewelly

    Like others in this thread, I agree this character is an atheist, or possibly a pantheist. ‘Spiritual’ also fits. However – for a different notion of ‘spiritual atheist’ – a kind that doesn’t believe in souls – one should read up on Paul Kurtz. I think Kurtz’s Point of Inquiry podcasts also refer this notion.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I would answer in two ways. (First, in my normal voice, and second, in a sort of silly, high pitched whine…)

    1. Yes, IMO, you could call yourself an atheist. As t3knomanser said and others have echoed, I think the “God is all of us” thing is more properly pantheistic than atheistic… but I’m also not into nitpicking over labels, and I think people have the right to give themselves more or less whatever label/ identity/ name they want, as long as it’s not grossly misleading.

    2. But I would also ask you the same question I’d ask any theist who asked my opinion on the matter:

    Why do you believe in the soul?

    What evidence do you have for it, other than just a feeling or a subjective experience?

    The evidence at this point is pretty overwhelming that pretty much everything we think of as “the soul” — consciousness, personality, the sense of selfhood and identity, etc. — come from our brains, and the rest of our bodies, and the interactions of our brains and our bodies with the world around us. If you make even small changes in the brain — through drugs, injury, illness, etc. — these things can change radically or even disappear entirely. And there is absolutely zero evidence that any of it survives death. (I don’t mean “I was dead on the operating table for two minutes!” death, btw: I mean “rotting in your grave” death. Just so we’re clear.)

    I don’t think a belief in the soul is necessarily contradictory to atheism. But I do think it’s contradictory to reality and reason and evidence… in pretty much exactly the same ways that theism is contradictory to reality and reason and evidence.

  • chancelikely

    That individual is an atheist.

    Atheism doesn’t mean rationalism, skepticism, humanism, logical reasoning, requiring evidence, or consistency. It’s nice that it’s getting associated with all those ideas, but it’s not a requirement. Hell, the Raelians are atheists, and they deny evolution!

  • Daktar

    I think it depends how far you go with the statement “I believe it’s all of us.” If the writer is just using that to say that souls are similar to a god and have no power other than the carrying of human consciousness, then yes, they are an atheist. Not a physicalist or materialist (I’ve never been too certain about the difference between those two), but an atheist none the less, as atheism explicitly refers to nonbelief in gods and only gods. If they believe that souls can exert some influence over the natural order of things, then I would say that they are, as other commenters have said much more eloquently than I, a pantheist of some sort.

    One thing I would like to ask this writer though would be how do they square their disbelief in a god with belief in souls as a carrier of human consciousness. Clearly they are rational enough to examine the theory that powerful supernatural beings exist and reject it as lacking in reason, but are perfectly okay with the existence of less powerful supernatural beings. It doesn’t seem to make much sense, particularly since I would say that it’s easier to disprove the existence of souls than to disprove the existence of god. I can think of an example right now – the phenomenon of the sensation flying up a tunnel with light at the end, commonly believed to be the soul approaching the afterlife, could easily be attributed to tunnel vision from a lack of oxygen to the brain while undergoing stress and panic. As Greta Christina above me said, all the evidence points towards consciousness arising from the brain.

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    ‘It’s been suggested that religious moderates betray faith and reason. Whereas religious fundamentalists betray only reason.”
    - Richard Dawkins

    I have more respect for the fundy.

  • Tao Jones

    Personally I wouldn’t worry to much about labels. I’m not sure there’s much benefit in trying to figure out if what you are can be called an atheist.

    I’d spend some time trying to write a concise description of what you are — without using labels. Take a long and hard look at what you write and ask yourself, “Is this a statement of belief or values?”

    For example, one part of my own description is, “everything is sacred.” When I say that, I don’t mean everything has been blessed by some higher power or even that anything is more than what it is (ie, physicalism). I simply have a deep respect for everything in this wondrous universe of ours. I don’t need to believe that everything is sacred the same way I don’t need to believe that my favourite colour is blue. Both are value statements.

    If your own description reads more like a statement of belief, I’d wager that you are not an atheist. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. :) Just be sure that your description is as accurate and concise as possible. Shoot for the lowest common denominator.

    Also, what exactly do you mean by the word soul? Do you really mean something metaphysical, or do you simply mean the essence of life? Do you mean something supernatural or are you referring to something akin to the way a child’s smile can lift everyone’s spirits?

    For another label you may find suits you better, do some reading on the Animism of Daniel Quinn.

  • http://blog.crispen.org/ Rev. Bob

    Dear reader,

    Whatever you think, and wherever your thinking takes you.

  • bernarda

    There is no more evidence for the soul than there is for a god, a leprechaun, or treasure at the end of the rainbow. Belief in the soul is qualitatively no different than belief in a god.

    James Frazer a century ago described it in his book “The Golden Bough”. Early peoples didn’t understand what moved or motivated individuals, or even other animals and plants. They hypothesized a “little man” inside the real individual that was the mover.

    You can also read Stephen J. Gould on such things and consciousness. There is the evolutionary question also of when did the “soul”, if it were to exist, appear in the history of life? Since human beings have evolved from earlier life forms, was the “soul” always there, or at what moment did evolution develop it?

    If there were a “soul”, it would seem that plants and animals would have it too.

  • http://www.acosmopolitan.blogspot.com Anatoly

    My answer is that it’s extremely silly – I find that an incorporeal soul is even less likely to exist than a god.

    But that aside, since atheism simply means “lack of belief in god,” then the term will apply.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Most atheists prefer the binary “lack of belief” definition of atheism. (You either have the belief, or you don’t.) So by that, the reader is an atheist.

    Maybe you could call an atheist who believes in souls a atheistic non-materialist. Feel free to coin a more succinct label for yourself.

    However, I would say he/she is not a skeptic. Not all atheists are skeptics. Supposedly some skeptics are theists, but they probably have colorless green dreams sleeping furiously.

  • Ron in Houston

    This person is the type who I could later see going back to religion. The plain fact is that religion and God are used as a tranquilizer for basic existential angst. We’re not very comfortable with our death and with the realization that it’s most likely all over at death.

    I can’t disprove a transcendent soul. Then again I can’t disprove there’s a God either. I can give in to my existential angst and hope for it; however, I have to admit that I’m giving in to my fear.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Atheism = Lack of belief in gods so the reader is an atheist as he or she meets this criteria. It’s very broad.

    I believe in souls, that when we die, we just go somewhere else. no judgement, no tradition, just chaos, but life and consciousness nonetheless, continuing for who-knows how long.

    I’d be interested in learning what this belief is based on. I’d guess it’s been picked up from Christianity but it might be independent. Either way my assumption would be that it comes from a fear of death.

  • http://mcdevzone.com/ Mike Cohen

    Why is it necessary to label? I simply don’t think about religion. It’s just not a part of my life. I also don’t care what anyone else believes, as long as they don’t tell me what to believe.

  • Josh Spinks

    If the word christ means “the anointed”, does that mean you are a Christian if you follow an anointed person? Nope, not if that anointed person is not named Jesus. In my experience, atheism usually carries the implication of not believing in the supernatural at all; etymological arguments are irrelevant. The question is, how is atheism actually, normally used, not what does the dictionary say it means.

    As I said before, does it seem appropriate to call a Buddhist who doesn’t believe in gods an atheist? Do you say, “I’m an atheist, but not a Buddhist”? If asked about their religion, if someone replies “I’m an atheist”, isn’t the default assumption that that person has no religion? If someone says they are an atheist, would you ask them if they’re a Buddhist?

    I think the most common usage of atheism entails a rejection of all supernatural claims, not just gods.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Buddhists don’t believe in gods and are therefore atheists. The reverse isn’t necessarily true though. That’s because the definition for what an atheist is is so broad that it encompasses anybody who has no god belief. The definition for Buddhist is much narrower. Buddhism is effectively a subset of atheism although I’m sure that many Buddhists wouldn’t appreciate that label.

    Similarly all Christians are theists but not all theists are Christians. The Westboro Baptists are Christians but all Christians aren’t crazy bigots. I hope.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Josh said,

    As I said before, does it seem appropriate to call a Buddhist who doesn’t believe in gods an atheist? Do you say, “I’m an atheist, but not a Buddhist”? If asked about their religion, if someone replies “I’m an atheist”, isn’t the default assumption that that person has no religion? If someone says they are an atheist, would you ask them if they’re a Buddhist?

    A person could have more than one label. Some Buddhists might be atheists, others might not be. If someone asks me, I say I’m an atheist, but I could also be an agnostic, or humanist, or Bright, etc. I’m sure you could draw Venn diagrams for all these things.

    Here’s some info about one famous Buddhist:
    http://www.celebatheists.com/?title=Dalai_Lama

    I think the most common usage of atheism entails a rejection of all supernatural claims, not just gods.

    Why couldn’t an atheist believe in ESP or homeopathy? Most, but not all atheists are skeptics. From my interactions with the “man on the street” the common usage of “atheist” in fact is “a person who hates or rejects God”, so they aren’t even close to the dictionary definition (which many atheists don’t like either.)

    Mike said,

    Why is it necessary to label? I simply don’t think about religion. It’s just not a part of my life. I also don’t care what anyone else believes, as long as they don’t tell me what to believe.

    If you read this blog I suspect you care at least a little bit about religion. As for labels, there are some drawbacks to labeling people (such as stereotypes) but how else can we talk about groups? One important function of labels is to give power to voting blocks. If atheists (people lacking belief) all refuse to go under one label, then politicians won’t listen to them.

    We just have to be careful and clear in how we use labels to avoid misunderstanding.

  • Chion

    Wow, my post is getting a lot of interesting answers! One that really struck me was that this belief in souls must come from my fear of death. Which is interesting because every since i was little, i’ve been really fascinated with death, and am sure that we continue on. That’s the “gut feeling” that might rub you the wrong way, as the belief in god is a “gut feeling”. So it is, no denying it here! Where he/she’s coming from, they think that death is POOF – the end of everything for that person. So of course it makes sense from their angle that i’m afraid of death, because i’m trying to avoid the POOF! Very interesting stuff.

    In response to he/she who thought that that i just hadn’t thought it through… I assure you, i’ve thought it through and will continue to for the rest of my life – just like you! Just because i have these opinions at this point in my life and those opinions are different than yours, doesn’t mean anything other than we’ve got two different brains and life experiences.

    To clarify the “i believe it’s all of us” is just simply that – we all exist, we are all accountable for our actions. God didn’t help me score that touchdown, and the devil didn’t make me steal that cookie. Which brings up a point that was echoed – that belief in souls is as silly as a belief in god. And i can’t say they’re wrong – a soul cannot be proved or disproved in the same way that the idea of a god can. i have no response to that other than, i guess we’ll all find out, one way or another.

    One thought that i like to play with is that we all go to where we expect to go when we die. If you think it’s POOF, then you’re done for! If someone thinks they’re going to Lightning Land at Zeusville, there they go. Again, i guess we’ll find out.

    More than anything, i’m really impressed with how respectful everyone is of these questions. Imagine raising a question in a Friendly Christian website? Or is that an oxymoron? Anyway, thank you to everyone for their thoughts and reading recommendations! You’ve all made my day. :)

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    HoverFrog said,

    Buddhists don’t believe in gods and are therefore atheists.

    I think that is true for Zen Buddhists, but not all Buddhists. They might not have an equivalent to Yahweh, but things like the following are hard to label “atheistic”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adi-Buddha

    I’m not sure it is valid to call the Japanese I see burning incense and praying at a Buddhist alter “atheists”. After someone dies a Buddhist monk/priest comes to the house and performs a ceremony with a lot of chanting. Is that atheistic?

    I guess a lot depends on what “god” means in “lack a belief in a god or gods”. When you see those giant gold Buddhas in Thailand it’s hard not to label that a worship of a god. Can we really say those statues are there just to “focus” an atheistic meditation? Are they just honoring some historical figure like a statue of Abraham Lincoln?

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Well I’m generalising somewhat but the Buddhist belief system is not based on a god or gods but on raising the consciousness of human beings. Even the “enlightened” are a higher form of human being and not gods.

    As for the big statues I would say they are honouring a man and seeking enlightenment. I’m assuming enlightenment is a kind of personal growth over several lifetimes but I honestly don’t know. I do know I have a small clay Buddha in my garden and two wooden ones in the house as ornaments. I just think they look good.

  • Darryl

    The plain fact is that religion and God are used as a tranquilizer for basic existential angst. We’re not very comfortable with our death and with the realization that it’s most likely all over at death.

    I can’t disprove a transcendent soul. Then again I can’t disprove there’s a God either. I can give in to my existential angst and hope for it

    Ron, don’t you think that people (children) are taught to have this angst, that it doesn’t come naturally? There was a saying in the Baptist church (I’m sure it was in others) about preaching the Gospel that alluded to the metaphors in the parable of the lost sheep: “You have to get them lost before you can get them found,” meaning that you have to preach on sin to a non-Christian so that they come to realize their true state (lost, in need of redemption), because without that they will see no reason to come to Jesus.

    I think it’s entirely possible that someone can grow up in a religious home and never really feel this angst. Perhaps this makes it easier to let go of the faith later on.

  • http://joenothinmac.com jonathan

    My answer: Yeah, people can believe literally crap they want so long as they don’t need evidence to support it. For instance, I believe I’m funny.

  • Darryl

    When I was transitioning out of belief I did have a concern about the meaning of people’s lives and the threat to it by death. As I experienced life in all its small moments, and reflected on the lives of others, I thought to myself that it would be a great tragedy if all of that would be erased and gone forever, as if it had never occurred–ultimately meaningless in itself.

    When I was still holding on to a last vestige of belief I thought that everything, every experience, would be retained somehow, somewhere, so that nothing was lost. It seemed only just and right to me at the time. Subsequently, I could see that this was a hope in me that sprang out of my familiarity and comfort with a world with eternity and God in it.

    I came to realize that life has some tragedies in it of a different kind than the physical ones. There is an existential tragedy, felt by some people who think deeply about the meaning of life, or have been taught to feel a religion’s imagined heaven, only to mourn its loss. Being an atheist does not mitigate the tragedy for me, rather, it intensifies it. This life is all I have, and I will lose it all when I die. I have no hope of a hereafter, or that anything of what I have come to know will remain.

    For me, there remains an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of our existence: how is it that such a wonder as our world has come to be, that it sustains us each day, and gives us inexpressible joy, and yet all of it will be nullified as if it never meant anything? How can it be that the justice we long for in this life has no reflection in the space beyond our small planet and the time after? All of our greatest works gone and not remembered?

    If those who criticize the atheist could understand this, perhaps they might give us the respect we deserve, without self-serving pity.

  • Ron in Houston

    Darryl

    No doubt religion helps foster the feelings of existential angst. However in the back of everyone’s head is the knowledge that we’re all going to die someday. I think that’s the cause of a lot of people turning to religion to ease their discomforts about life.

    NYCatheist

    Technically Buddhist teaching is atheistic. However many practicing Buddhists believe in some sort of God. It’s amazing that even though the Buddha specifically disclaimed that he was some sort of God many of his followers have tried to give him God like traits.

  • Josh Spinks

    I suppose I’m in the minority, but I tend to think the “atheists have nothing common” line is a bit disingenuous. It’s my impression that what term people choose for non-theism (ie between atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, or whatever else) has partially to do with the extra-definitional connotations of the terms. For instance, do they’re not appear to be a lot more libertarian skeptics than libertarian atheists? Atheists seem to be more to the left on average.

    I think it would be misleading to call yourself an atheist if you believe in souls. Sure, you could point to a dictionary and say that atheism doesn’t absolutely preclude believing in souls, but don’t you think it’s generally assumed to be the case that someone who is an atheist doesn’t believe in souls? If you’re going to call yourself something, why not choose a term that most effectively evokes the ideas you hold to?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    how is it that such a wonder as our world has come to be, that it sustains us each day, and gives us inexpressible joy, and yet all of it will be nullified as if it never meant anything?

    Darryl,

    You are a passionate person, and your words touch me. Stepping away from the talk about spirituality for a moment… I don’t think that all of our experiences are nullified.

    I think we pass on whatever we can to the people that we touch throughout our lives, including our family, friends, and everyone we come in contact with. Who we are and the how we express ourselves become a part of the next person and how they express themselves, and so on. People in my life have already heard of you and others here, and the words expressed transform the way I think. And it will be passed on.

  • Darryl

    I think we pass on whatever we can to the people that we touch throughout our lives, including our family, friends, and everyone we come in contact with.

    Linda, I take your point, but I was also thinking of the experiences and knowledges that are private to each of us that cannot be shared, and I was thinking in the longer term, like when we are gone, our solar system is no more, etc.

  • Tao Jones

    Chion,

    Thanks for clarifying your position and sharing your thoughts.

    To say that death is POOF is really an oversimplification but I can see where you’re coming from and I struggled with many of the same things.

    What I came to realize was that no matter how you cut it, death is not POOF.

    First there is the body. For all that we take from the earth in life, in death we fully repay the loan. For example, all the food we eat (essentially lives we are taking, even if it is vegetable-based) comes full circle into us being food for something else.

    There is also the mind or spirit. All our lives are shared. Don’t you think that in some way, a grandmother who passes away leaves a bit of herself with her children and grandchildren? They may not realize it, but who the grandchildren are has been shaped by the grandmother to a certain degree… whether it’s that cookie recipe she leaves behind or in the way her love was an example to follow. It’s easy enough to come up with countless examples of how a person’s “spirit” may live on without passing into supernatural (or religious) territory.

    Again, I think it boils down to a question of beliefs versus values.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    @Josh, the word atheist is just the opposite of theist. All it says is that we don’t believe in gods, nothing else. It doesn’t say that we’re skeptics, science geeks, incredibly sexy individuals or prolific readers. Many atheists also self identify as Buddhists, secular humanists, football fans or disco divas. It may be assumed that atheists don’t believe in souls, I know that I don’t. It may also be assumed that atheists eat babies, hate God and dance with the devil by the pale moonlight. I’m sure you know what they say about assumptions…

  • Darryl

    Tao, I don’t know who “Chion” is; neither do I know what you mean by “POOF.” Your conception of how we live on is like Linda’s, and I take your point, as I already said above, but I don’t think that once the body disintegrates there could possibly be anything left of who we were and what we knew and experienced–we’re just fertilizer then. Sad, but true. Oh, and how is that an oversimplification?

  • Josh Spinks

    the word atheist is just the opposite of theist

    But I don’t think that it is. How the word is used is more important than how it’s defined. A handful is not necessarily the amount that fits in your hand.

    If you want to be literal about the word, you could say that everyone is an atheist (without god) because there aren’t any gods (or at least, no reason to think there are), but clearly it would not be appropriate to speak this way just because of etymology.

    I believe that in the past, atheism was an accusation of deviating from orthodoxy, rather than an accusation of not believing in a god (see Christopher Marlowe, for instance). I could insist that this is what the word means, since this is what it came into the language meaning, but again, this is clearly not correct.

    So, I still feel that atheism carries with it the assumption of naturalism.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Linda, I take your point, but I was also thinking of the experiences and knowledges that are private to each of us that cannot be shared, and I was thinking in the longer term, like when we are gone, our solar system is no more, etc.

    Good point, Darryl. I think we all ponder this from time to time, regardless of our religious beliefs. It is mind-boggling to realize just how insignificant each of us are in the whole scheme of things, isn’t it?

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda said,

    I think we pass on whatever we can to the people that we touch throughout our lives, including our family, friends, and everyone we come in contact with.

    Reminded me of this Woody Allen quote:
    “I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

  • Emily

    The $64,000 question is–unless there is a “soul” in all living organisms, even bacteria–when in our evolutionary history did the “soul” come into existence?

  • Tao Jones

    Darryl,

    Based on Chion’s comment above, it’s safe to say he is the one Hemant quoted in his post. Perhaps you missed his post as he’s the one who used “POOF.”

    My own comments were not directed at you at all. When I started my comment yours hadn’t been posted yet and neither had Linda’s for that matter.

    we’re just fertilizer then. Sad, but true.

    Well, that’s the oversimplification as it is neither sad nor completely true.

    Unless of course you’re not just referring to a generation or two from now, but thousands or millions of years from now. In a cosmic sense, we’re all completely insignificant. Really coming to terms with our insignificance is what can enable us to realize the limited extent we can be significant. This is largely where my worldview comes from and part of the reason why the “irreconcilable contradiction” you alluded to earlier isn’t an issue for me.

    Of course, I’m not saying that I am right or that you are wrong. All I am saying is that in the absence of beliefs, values are what shapes a worldview. In the context of this discussion, I’m trying to see if Chion’s worldview is based on his beliefs or his values as I think that will help him answer his own questions.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    OK Josh, if you want to use words that don’t fit the definition then that’s fine. People who believe in God or gods are theists and people who don’t are atheists. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The other stuff like belief in aliens, souls, the perfect cup of tea and the infallibility of the Pope is secondary and unrelated.

    I believe that in the past, atheism was an accusation of deviating from orthodoxy, rather than an accusation of not believing in a god

    Very true. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was once accused of (and burned to death for) atheism for not accepting the divinity of the Roman Emperor. Then again “gay” used to mean “happy”.

    I still feel that atheism carries with it the assumption of naturalism.

    That’s fine, your assumptions should be challenged. If someone wants to call themselves an atheist and believe in ghosts, souls, cosmic teapots and all sorts of stuff that I think are silly then they aren’t wrong to do so. They’re not right either but I’m not going to take away their atheist membership card and free hat because I disagree with a secondary issue. The free hat is awesome.

  • Chion

    What i had intended in asking all of these questions was to understand what Atheism is – if it is as black and white as god/no god, or if other beliefs can participate, while maintaining disbelief in god.

    Something Jonathan said i think really summed it up:
    My answer: Yeah, people can believe literally crap they want so long as they don’t need evidence to support it. For instance, I believe I’m funny.

    Here’s my thought – i can believe in souls, something that is, just like the idea of god, impossible to prove or disprove. Just like i can believe in any idea or opinion that is similarly moot. But maintaining my disbelief in god, after reading all these great replies, i believe still fits into the definition, simple as it is, of Atheism. It’s not what ELSE i believe in that matters in this question, it’s what i DON’T believe in.

    As for POOF…. Sure, evidence of our actions here and genetics (if we reproduce) will last for a while, but i was also thinking long-term, when this solar system burns away into nothing, i believe that we’ll just be somewhere else, still evolving. That’s just the idea i’ve got in my head that feels right. My belief in the soul is because i feel i have a soul to question if i have a soul or not. Kind of like an orgasm – you know if you’re having one, and if you don’t, then you’re not. I do recognize that believers in god can argue the same exact thing – they “feel” that god exists, so god exists. But Atheism doesn’t talk about belief in souls, or the easter bunny, or an honest government – it’s about belief in God.

    Thanks again to everyone for twisting my mind on this, and adding their voices to the discussion! We’re all lucky to have such a great place to compare and contrast ideas. Thanks, Hemant!

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    But Atheism doesn’t talk about belief in souls, or the easter bunny, or an honest government – it’s about belief in God.

    Or gods. It’s also unnecessary to capitalize “atheism”. Yeah, I keep harping on that, but someone’s got to.

  • chion

    NYCatheist – I appreciate the harping. Thanks for the head’s up!

  • Darryl

    Tao, Oops, sorry for the misunderstanding.

  • Darryl

    . . .i believe that we’ll just be somewhere else, still evolving. That’s just the idea i’ve got in my head that feels right. My belief in the soul is because i feel i have a soul to question if i have a soul or not.

    I think some atheists don’t necessarily help themselves when they give the impression that being an atheist is only about logic and reason and science. How and how deeply one feels, and encounters life in terms of feeling and desire, may channel one’s views in directions that are not stereotypically ‘atheist.’

    For better or worse, we have feelings, we imagine, we inquire about what life means. Logic and reason are of limited meaning, are they not? They serve us, yet they may mean nothing else. Still, we don’t denigrate them for this reason. Isn’t it a denial of our own nature to subordinate feeling to reason, as if it were something of which we ought to be ashamed? We act as much by irrational directives as by rational ones. Sometimes our feelings are true and our reason is not. If the intuitions of our ancestors often led them astray because they were lacking, should we never trust our own? I can recognize the desire for truth, even when one has gone hunting for it in the wrong forest.

    Can we not admit that sometimes it is difficult to recognize when we have subordinated our reason to our desire and our feeling? Desire has often triumphed over reason. This is not an indictment of desire, or of reason, but of nature. Even so, such an indictment is meaningless, for who will judge it?

  • http://none Conudrum

    If you want an answer read Handbook of the Soul- (Of Technologies of the Soul) by Ken Evans ISBN 978-1-4490-2636-3 , He is a twenty-first century urban Shaman, and he is very old and very wise ! Great thoughts for thinkers !


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