Can Atheists Believe in Ghosts?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Can atheists believe in ghosts?:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • domj

    Hmmm, you talk about beliefs in ghosts, feng shui, etc., as b.s., but you’re the friendly atheist? Oooookkkkayy. LOL. My atheist family members are much more broadminded regarding others’ beliefs and a helluva lot more friendly. Fail.

    • Kalex

      Alas, you are the unfriendly one, judging someone from afar. He makes fun of beliefs, not people.

    • momtarkle
      • 3lemenope

        Dastardly!
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        (LOL)

      • islandbrewer

        LOL!

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        LOL. I mean…oh well nevermind.

      • EdmondWherever

        I suppose we’re just SOL! Oh wait….

    • guest

      I don’t get your comment at all. how is dismissing believes unfriendly? Hermant even makes it clear that atheists can fall for the same BS as other people. As always, you can have an open mind but it shouldn’t be so open for your brain to fall out.

      • John Cook

        Is that why the Pope always wears the big pointed hat?

    • ShoeUnited

      But it is bullshit. Calling it what it is isn’t unsympathetic to people holding the beliefs. There are real life people out there who think the Earth is flat, and/or less than 6,000 years old, and/or Timecube. http://www.timecube.com/

      Those beliefs are bullshit, but genuine. Don’t confuse discrediting incredulous claims with disrespecting the people who hold them.

      • WallofSleep

        “Don’t confuse discrediting incredulous claims with disrespecting the people who hold them.”

        I fear it will take another leap up the evolutionary chain for humanity to understand this.

    • WallofSleep

      Pointing to a turd and calling it a turd is not “unfriendly”, that’s just stating a fact. Now, convincing someone to pick up said turd by the clean end…

      • John Cook

        Strange… that is surprisingly close to what my dissertation was on, and what the church does on a daily basis. I determined there is no clean end and the church determined that convincing people of the wonders of faith and belief can get people to pay money to worship turds—and have they ever been successful!

    • Carmelita Spats

      So no one in your thin-lipped family will crack a smile when a wide-eyed devotee from the Raelian cult looks them in the eye, deadpan humor at bay, arms flailing, muscle shirt pulled way way into high waist denim shorts, and declares to everyone in the room that humans came to Earth in a spaceship piloted by talking, lava-eating, sea clams and wants this broadminded belief respected in the scope and sequence of a K-12 science curriculum? Not one wry grin in beet red lipstick? Atheists-in-chains? Not much fun at parties? Baloney.

      • islandbrewer

        You have given me a visual that will haunt me for a while, now.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Why are you so unfriendly and narrowminded about belief in leprechauns? Shouldn’t you quietly respect demands for you to be silent or get the hell out while Mister O’Patrick O’McGee is verbally appeased at Thanksgiving Dinner and at the start of your city council meetings? Such hypocrisy.

    • baal

      If you’re going to hold hemant to a ‘friendly’ standard due to his nym; what do you have to say about mine? Unless I demand worship and sacrifice, I am not living up to it?

      • islandbrewer

        You have a point, there. I’ll go get the goats and the lighter fluid.

        • baal

          Thanks to the disqus bug about jumping to the right dates and getting 404′s due to the bad links, I was a little concerned about this reply. I thought, at first, you were replying to my reply to C.L. Honeycutt above.

          Also, I’m going to be very disappointed if you don’t live off the mainland or if you don’t brew stuff.

          • islandbrewer

            I am an island unto myself. *cough* Also, I’m isolated from the mainland, which I can only reach by 3, no 4 driving bridges, one foot/bicycle bridge, one tube (it’s a tube, not a tunnel!), and an otherwise shallow estuary that gets dredged for shipping. I once took my wife out on a tandem kayak (the only time) to show her what all this crazy kayaking was about, and while trying to avoid the shipping lanes, almost got run over by a coastguard patrol boat. They yelled at us through a megaphone, and then we recognized the guy doing the yelling as the parent of a kid who goes to school with our kid. It was awkward.

            From the resonance of the keg, I have about half a pint of hefeweizen and yeast dregs from the hefe I made this past spring. I have an IPA aging in an American oak whiskey barrel as an experiment. I want to serve it straight out of the barrel, but I can’t find an appropriately sized tap for my bunghole.

            Stop laughing, now.

            The winter/xmas/kwanza beer is fermenting in the garage – it’s a slightly spiced Abbey style. That gets bottled for gifts. Last year I made this thick dark doppel weizenbock modeled after Aventinus, but it wasn’t as popular as other beers I’ve given in the past.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            *reads this*

            *remembers reply above*

            *laughs hard enough to make the dogs in the next yard over start barking*

  • LesterBallard

    Yes, but it’s as irrational as believing in “god”.

  • Scibi

    Sorry, if you”re an atheist, you don”t believe all the other mumbo-jumbo, or you”re not an atheist!

    • 3lemenope

      Atheism only pertains to beliefs in a deity or deities.

    • C Peterson

      I think you are confusing “atheist” and “skeptic”. They aren’t the same thing.

    • guest

      atheist= noun- a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings (aka god/gods). (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheist?s=t)
      so yes, atheists can still fall for the rest of the mumbo-jumbo. I would call them bad skeptics/bad rationalists though.

  • primenumbers

    The same rational though processes that lead one to atheism should lead one to aghostism too. However, just because one is an atheist, it could be that you’re a ghost believer, but I’d reckon the occurrence is rare.

    • C Peterson

      Rational thinking will always lead to atheism. But it will certainly not lead to agnosticism, because the question of knowability is very dependent on philosophical viewpoint, not on matters of fact. So some atheists will be agnostic, others not. There is no clear answer to that one.

      • primenumbers

        I’m talking about aghostism not agnosticism.

        • C Peterson

          Ha! Missed that. Good one.

  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I used to believe in ghost and even as a teenager thought I had first hand experience with one but I left all that behind me as I grew older. We have all these ghost hunting shows on TV and none of them can provide any sort of real proof of anyone coming back form the dead. Less than 30 minutes away from me is a place called Fort Knox which I’ve been to many times and many people claim it is haunted.

    Even the Ghost Hunter team did an investigation. As many times as I’ve been alone in that area of the fort or any other area of the fort I’ve never once experienced anything weird, ever.

    http://www.syfy.com/ghosthunters/episodes/season/7/episode/707/residual_haunts

    This Fort Knox was built during the Revolutionary War, and is the best example of a sea coast fortification in America today. The reports include lots of claims of being touched and pushed, secured doors opening and closing, a soldier ghost that lingers about the area, odd noises and a security room where people feel a strong presence of evil.

    Jason and Grant start the night in Long Alley, where a ghost is reported to linger. The thermal imaging picked up some strange anomaly that they can’t explain, and they throw down the laser grid. Then, something breaks the beam…twice! And they hear some crazy breathing noise RIGHT NEXT to Jason. Meanwhile, in 2-step Alley, Tango and Steve grapple to understand the weird K-2 readings and noises.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Mind you, they aren’t actually “investigators” on that and similar shows. When they claim that something weird is going on, they’re making it up in order to have a show that will survive.

  • C Peterson

    There is an assumption here that people “come to atheism”. I’d suggest that most atheists are what they are simply because they never believed in any particular god. Such people are as likely to hold irrational beliefs as anybody else. Being an atheist doesn’t make you a skeptic. Often, however, being a skeptic can make you become an atheist. And skeptics don’t believe in ghosts.

    • guest

      great. the old “you were never a good christian/muslim/hindu” argument. It’s still wrong.

      • 3lemenope

        It’s the same argument through the looking glass. In many cases, people’s beliefs really don’t penetrate beyond an allegiance to community tropes. You’d be shocked how many people go to church just for the music and the coffee and do not hold anything resembling a theistic conception as being true.

        But if I’m not mistaken, also included would be apatheists, who I tend to think make up the majority of atheists. Apatheists don’t “come to atheism” either. They just don’t care enough about gods to ever form an orientation to them. So even if you object to the shades of “not-true-[whatever]“, I still think C Peterson’s statement stands.

        • C Peterson

          But if I’m not mistaken, also included would be apatheists, who I tend to think make up the majority of atheists.

          That’s my thinking, as well, although I haven’t seen anything that tries to demonstrate that rigorously. Have you? Most studies are content to simply count atheists, without narrowing things down further.

          Those of us who participate in forums like this are susceptible to a kind of selection bias, since we mainly see only “activist” atheism. What we don’t hear… can’t hear… is the thinking of the (presumably) much greater number of atheists who simply go about their lives without belief, without even thinking about the matter at all, who aren’t even really aware there is some “atheist community” out there.

          • ShoeUnited

            I know of one apatheist.

            • WallofSleep

              I have to ask, what is an “apatheist”? I’m gonna take a wild guess and say it’s not someone who denies the divinity of apes.

              • islandbrewer

                “Get your hands off me you damn dirty ape!”

                Well, that’s more an antiapatheist.

              • 3lemenope

                A person who does not care about (or never arrives at) the question of whether there is a deity.

                This group would also include a presumably very large number of people who go to church on autopilot because their family did or for aesthetic reasons but don’t really believe in the metaphysics of it.

                • WallofSleep

                  Thanks. Would that include those who attend church services strictly for networking/business opportunities?

                • 3lemenope

                  Yup.

              • C Peterson

                I’m gonna take a wild guess and say it’s not someone who denies the divinity of apes.

                Of course not. It’s somebody who denies the divinity of bees.

                • WallofSleep

                  Behead those who insult the Hive!

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  Beehead? No! Shun the unbeeliever!

              • Anat

                An apatheist is one who is apathetic about whether or not god(s)/ess(es) exist. They don’t care, just get along with life.

                • C Peterson

                  Nevertheless, they are atheists. A subcategory that perhaps describes the majority.

              • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                Apatheist — doesn’t care if there is a god.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              I know quite a few. They don’t believe but don’t care to talk about it or make any fuss about it. they don’t know if there are any gods and they don’t care one way or the other. That to me is an apatheist.

          • 3lemenope

            I’ve never seen anything rigorously done on the subject, but my thinking is along the same lines.

      • C Peterson

        Sorry, I don’t see how my comment can be construed as making any such argument. All I said was that you don’t need to be a skeptic to be an atheist.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          I’d suggest that most atheists are what they are simply because they never believed in any particular god.

          It’s the word “most” that makes it seem as if you’re making that argument. A lot of them, sure; anecdotes and testimonials will take us that far. But the implication of a solid majority isn’t firmly supported.

          • C Peterson

            Agreed. The suggestion that they represent a majority is just that… a suggestion. I think it is reasonable and likely, but I’d love to see the question addressed by some future Pew study.

            Still, I don’t see how the assertion that most atheists might be apathetic atheists implies that they aren’t “good” atheists. I don’t even know what a “good” atheist is.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I should have noted that the leap over to Scottish territory was too far to go in one bound, but it looks like it was (mistakenly) inspired by that one word if anything.

              A GOOD ATHEIST DOES NOT QUESTION. IT FOLLOWS PROTOCOL. NUANCE IS IRRELEVANT. YOU WILL BE ARSESTIMULATED.

              • baal

                I like being arsestimulated.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  I’ve been told I should try it, but everyone I like enough that I’d ask them is already in a thing or has some bizarre issues that I don’t wish to be part of. >.<

            • Reverend Ebert

              A new born is a good atheist. It doesn’t know it has original sin and hasn’t had to consume any Religious BS. And hasn’t been brainwashed by it’s loving parents into a Lemming of the Lord yet.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Right. Just because you don’t believe in one unsubstantiated assumption doesn’t mean that you can’t believe in others. There are also atheists who are anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, etc.

      • C Peterson

        Lets not forget that most theists don’t believe in thousands of unsubstantiated assumptions (gods other than their own).

    • Paula M Marshall

      The vast majority are taught a religion. Most of them believe it all their lives, or till they’re 40, or 20, or 8. So yes, I would think most of them become atheists.

      • C Peterson

        My experience, with an admittedly small sample size and not a uniform sampling, is that most of the atheists I know never had any religion. They may have been raised in mildly religious households, but they were never really indoctrinated and don’t remember ever having any real belief.

        • Docfnt

          I was raised as a very active Methodist. Even as a child, I just couldn’t swallow all the bullshit in church. “Sunday School”, the ultimate brainwashing exercise peformed on children, totally failed on me. I constantly asked questions that the “teachers” couldn’t answer, which frequently left me in a bad spot. I was considered the “demon child”.

          I didn’t, at that time, know what an atheist was. I was already one, not believing any of the BS they were forcing me to listen to in these “classes”. I was forced to read, and try to memorize certain bible passages, even though it was quite clear I did not believe any of them, nor was I interested in any way.

          It was the “Noah’s Ark” fable that immediately blew all hope for belief in me. I was already aware that people at that time still thought that the world was flat, and did not know of other continents. Therefore, they could not have known there were other animals in exsistence that would not be on the “ark”. Yet these species did not go into extintion. If I had any hope of ever believing, it all died right then! I was in 2nd or 3rd grade at the time.
          I was forced to continue going to this church untill I was 17, never believing a single word of it. I once told my folks that I couldn’t swallow any of that BS, and got a world class ass whippin for it.

          I continued to go until I hit roughly 17. By then, my parents had pretty much given up all hope. I was an avid fisherman ( of fish) and found the free time on Sunday morning could be put to a much more useful purpose. Funny, my parents wouldn’t even eat the fish I caught on Sunday mornings! ( I guess they were caught by sin, or something…)
          What I’m saying is that not all atheists are raised away from it. Even small children can easily see the BS in it all, if they dare to look.

          Real school taught me to question, and ask questions, so I did, until it became obvious that my questions were not welcome. From that point on, I simply sat quiet, rolled my eyes, and “did my time”,

        • Jim

          I see your anecdotal evidence and raise you my own. Most of the atheists that I know were Christians,including several who attended Bible college with me, and several who were pastors.

          • C Peterson

            Yeah, I expect it depends on where you live or have lived, and the sort of community you are in. I’ve never much been around religious people, so it isn’t too surprising that most of the atheists I know didn’t give up religion. Since you went to Bible college, I’m going to guess that your own community is, or was, quite different.

  • A3Kr0n

    You have a rare clarity about you Hemant. BTW: Check out the new Cult of Dusty vid if you haven’t yet. I’m still ROFLOL.

  • ShoeUnited

    To answer the question in the title: Yes, there are atheists who can and do believe in ghosts, souls, spirits, etc. They just don’t believe in god, heaven, hell, etc.

  • Tony Cummo

    I can’t believe in ghosts because of Norman, the ghost devouring Goblin. Norman devours ghosts by definition, so if a ghost appears Norman devours it. There are untold millions of Norman who are uniquely Norman but are all one Norman. wherever there is a death, Norman appears and devours any ghost that appears. Therefore, ghosts cannot exist unless, of course, Norman doesn’t exist. You can’t scientifically prove that Norman doesn’t exist…. Norman cannot be detected by any scientific, evidence based means whatsoever. He exists in the same (or a different) realm as Eric, the god eating penguin..

    • Obazervazi

      So, basically, you believe in Madoka?

  • Ida Know

    Sure, I believe in ghosts. I used to see them all the time, back when I had an analog TV and no cable.

    (for you young’uns: a ghost is a faint double image. My husband could give you the techy explanation; I can’t.)

  • WallofSleep

    The ones that I have met, that might call the bible bullshit while whole-heartedly embracing something like tarot, weren’t atheists so much as anti-theists of a specific bent.

  • warreni74

    I am an atheist and I know that all of the other nonsense is just that, nonsense. But I have a very silly fear I can’t get past. I am terrified to look in the mirror at night and to think at the same time “Bloody Mary.” I KNOW it’s bullshit, but I just can’t get past it. All it took was one stupid episode of “Supernatural” and I was terrified of the mirror.

    • WallofSleep

      Perhaps it’s just me, but I think a story about a lonely sod trying to summon Bloody Mary as a potential g/f would make for a funny script.

      • Claire

        Better get on that before Hollywood does!

        • WallofSleep

          Damn. I should have kept my mouth shut. I swear to Science, if that ends up in some goddamned Joss Whedon pilot, I’m holding everyone here responsible.

    • The Captain

      I have the same problem with Biggie Smalls

      http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/155321/biggie-smalls

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Weeping Angels, that is all…

    • Obazervazi

      Mirrors are creepy as hell. They’re scary, ghosts or no ghosts.

    • 3lemenope

      That was a good episode.

  • B Wilson

    I am an atheist because I do not believe in a conscious all-powerful being that created and manages the universe.
    However, I also think that there are forces that exist that we do not yet understand. The working of these forces may be why we do not yet understand things like the paranormal. Nothing with consciousness or intent — just something else like gravity, or fire, or nuclear energy, or time and relativity.
    So I may not ‘believe in ghosts’, but I do not discount the possibility that there may be some other kind of existence that we can not yet measure. I also would not deny the possibility of life on other planets, or mind-reading abilities, etc. But then, I read a LOT of science fiction.

    • Taz

      I suggest you watch this video by physicist Sean Carroll:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ypyVjSaj4w

      While we certainly don’t know everything, we know the pieces and the basic rules of the game. For someone to “see ghosts”, for example, implies the existence of some force or particle that interacts with ordinary matter (and quite strongly). If such a force or particle existed we would know of it.

      • Itarion

        cool vid

    • Docfnt

      The human brain is an electro/chemical computer. The mere fact that we (some of us ) can actually pick up radio stations in our head pretty much proves that we can detect things such as radio transmission.

      If you have had this experience, as I have on MANY occasions, you will better understand this. :
      You are singing along with a song in your head, or maybe just thinking about that song. You turn on your car radio, and that song is playing, practically in sinc with you, Your mind had already been programmed to pick up that radio station, since it’s the one that you always listen to in your car. Your subconcious mind followed along with the radio waves as you sang. Soon, it became able to “recognize” the songs, as radio waves, when they were playing. That’s my theory on how this happens.
      Countless studies have been preformed on couples that slept together, head beside head, for decades. In many cases, one was able to “hear” the thoughts of the other, to some extent. That’s the electrical (radio) transmission of the human mind.
      Apply this now to the ghost folklore. Say you are at gramma’s house as a child. You are blood relatives. It “could be” possible that you could pick up transmissions from “gramma’s” dream, and see your dead grandfather standing near you in your dream, or even possibly when you are awake. This would be because your gramma is transmitting that image, not because there is a ghost there. Your subconcious mind is receiving the message, and displaying it to your concious mind. Your concious mind has difficulty detecting that the image is coming from your subconcious, instead of from your eyes. Therefore, you see the “apparition” as if it were really there. Your eyes can see the room without the apparition, so you have two images, one overlapping the other. This gives the apparition a “transparent” effect, since your mind also sees the room “through” the apparition. This would be a “brain fart” similr to “Deja Vu”. Deja Vu is when your mind misfires and sends a signal to your memory, before it sends that signal to your concious mind. Therefore, when your concious mind processes the information, it is already in your memory. Thus, the “I have been here before” experience begins.

      • Jim

        “Countless studies”

        Such as?

  • JA

    I’m a nonbeliever, but I’ve had a few experiences that keep the notion of an afterlife of some kind alive in the back of my mind.

  • Anna

    I don’t see why not. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in deities. It says nothing about other supernatural beliefs, ie: ghosts, spirits, souls, afterlives, etc. Many followers of Eastern religions don’t have gods, but they do have a belief in the supernatural.

    That’s why I think “atheist” isn’t really enough to describe our worldview.
    Most people on Friendly Atheist are materialists. We don’t accept claims that anything supernatural exists. It’s not just deities. It’s the whole package.

    • Taz

      There’s just as much evidence for a deity as there is for ghosts, spirits, souls, etc. Which is to say, none.

      • Anna

        Exactly. But not all atheists disbelieve in gods because they are skeptical materialists. Some are happy to accept other supernatural things, while simultaneously lacking belief in deities.

      • C Peterson

        More than that, there is evidence of absence of all these things.

    • C Peterson

      That’s because “atheist” doesn’t define a worldview, and can’t.

      “Materialism” is such a loaded word, given its many different meanings. I’d just say that most people on this and other atheist-oriented forums are skeptics. That’s a broader, more accurate, less confusing term that also suggest we are materialists… at least, as I guess you mean the word.

      • Anna

        That would work, except there are people who identify as skeptics who also believe in gods.

        For an accurate term, maybe a-supernaturalist? Anti-supernaturalist?

        • C Peterson

          I feel quite confident asserting that no true skeptic believes in gods. There is no logical or argument fallacy there, any more than arguing that a Native American is not a true Scotsman.

          • Anna

            Sure, but they still identify that way. Don’t skeptic magazines and skeptic conferences avoid the subject of religion out of deference to their religious members? I seem to remember posts on this blog about it.

      • Docfnt

        I believe that what Anna is saying here is that we believe in things that are comprised of matter. Things that we can actually hold in our hands, seen, or felt. Things that we CAN prove exsist. To call us “skeptics” implies that we may have doubts that we are right, that a small part of our mind may still question the possiblity of this “god” exsistence. I for 1, am most certainly NOT a “skeptic”. I am certain that no gods exsist.

        • C Peterson

          I also think that’s what she meant. But I’d avoid using the word in most cases, because it is very ambiguous.

          If you’re certain there are no gods, I can’t respect your thinking. That isn’t a rational position. All we have is evidence for the lack of gods, no proof. Consequently, the only intellectually honest position is to remain open to all possibilities, even if we accept it as true beyond reasonable doubt that there are no gods.

          • Jim

            >the only intellectually honest position is to remain open to all possibilities

            How do you know that the existence of a god is even a possibility?

    • GordonHide

      I think the preferred term to replace materialist is now methodological naturalist. (I’ve no idea why).

    • baal

      When folks push me on “are you really an atheist,” I usually reply, “yes but more importantly I don’t believe in anything supernatural including magic, ghosts, souls, demons and gods.” I should probably add chi or ‘spirit energy’ to the list.

  • L Ebert

    Ghosts?, Tarot Cards?, Palm reading? Absolute Bull. But never ever put a hat on a bead or a door nob. And never pick up a penny that is not heads up. Just turn it over so it will be safe to pick up by the next guy. Ladders, Black Cats optional. lol

    • Itarion

      But if there’s a black cat ON a ladder, well, you better toss some salt over your shoulder, circle clockwise twice around a four leaf clover, and run the other way.

      • baal

        I was cruel in college once to a woo-ist. We had these little mirrors in rubber sleeves for use in the shower or something. I was annoyed at something so I smacked the sleeve and broke the mirror with the person nearby and said, “oops, bad luck”. When they got in my face, I did it again. They stormed off after that.

  • Jeff See

    Atheist, isn’t the absolute definition of skeptic. I think if you accept the supernatural on any level, however, you’re defeating your stance. How can one facet of the supernatural be ‘possible’, while another, is implausible? Who determines those parameters?

  • GordonHide

    The only qualification an atheist needs is a lack of belief in gods. Belief in all or any other supernatural entity is not relevant.

  • name

    If someone doesn’t want to wear a shirt of a killer, that’s not superstition, that’s just association. It’s not that you think there’s a ghost in it or something, its just creepy to think about a murderer as you will when you wear the shirt!

  • monyNH

    At the risk of being blasted as some kind of simpleton, I have to admit that while I am absolutely atheistic on the subject of deities, I find myself agnostic on the ghost question. Like all of you, my atheism is grounded in the lack of evidence supporting the existence of a deity (and indeed, the overwhelming evidence against the claims of every organized religion). I don’t believe in an afterlife, or a soul. Here comes the but…

    Too many people of my acquaintance–people who I know to be rational, thoughtful individuals (including the fellow I happen to sleep next to each night)–have had experiences that could be described as “ghostly” which they can’t otherwise explain. (And I think the term “ghost” is a little problematic, conjuring images of Casper or Nearly-Headless Nick, and very little like the experiences described to me.) So my dilemma is this: I’m loathe to call these people liars or gullible SOB’s, while everything I know of their character leads me to believe they are being absolutely honest in their interpretation if what happened to them; at the same time, I can find no logical or scientific reason to support their claim–and there are so damn many of them! What’s a skeptic to do? So I remain agnostic on the ghost thing. Maybe I’m the gullible SOB. :)

    • C Peterson

      “Agnostic” doesn’t mean “uncertain”. It doesn’t mean “open to the possibility”.

    • Anat

      So people experienced something they couldn’t interpret. That’s fine. Going from there to concluding these experiences mean the dead can interact with matter and communicate with us requires breaking the known laws of physics. That would require mountains more of evidence to accept, even as a possibility.

  • John Cook

    As a psychologist, I am aware that people can develop fears and anxieties as well as belief systems based on childhood experiences. These, of course, can apply as easily to atheists as anyone. With the proper cognitive behavioral training, much of what we hold as unsubstantiated but fearful truths can be corrected to a better form of positive reality. However correction is not enough as the vital premise as to how we see the world is based on our inherent methods of thinking and reacting to new considerations. Foremost is our ability to retain a confident enough sense of individualism that we can react negatively (quietly anyway) to many social expectations where belief systems are concerned until they can be researched. This is time consuming, so those who are less interested in finding reality will generally accept the popular ideals, thoughts, beliefs, etc.

    Critical thinking is a state that cannot be modified by peer pressure, social ideals, or current trends. It’s probably best called a state of comfortable independence. Difficult to achieve, but possible with conscious effort. Regretfully however, achievement may leave you in the position as an outcast or you may be seen as so deeply on the periphery of the herd that you are considered weird. To many that is the most frightening social experience possible.

    Some of us prefer that position, and I certainly do. The social herd is a bit straining for those who find delight in critical thinking and hard science.

  • julie kowalski

    I am curious about ghosts n aliens…I actually think there’s more reason to consider those things than any supposed ‘god’. I know that makes people question my skeptic card or want to rip it out of my hands but I think ghosts n aliens could exist separately from any god myths. They aren’t, necessarily, supernatural. I reject gods more on the basis of evil existing in the world than on anything else. Sure, there’s also no evidence nor good reason to believe in any gods but gods don’t make appearances to people, at least not present day,…and we don’t have photos and videos that cannot be debunked of any ‘gods’. Also, ghosts n aliens don’t claim to be all knowing or all good. An open mind is what got be to become an atheist…why shut it now?

    • Kodie

      Aliens can exist but ghosts cannot.

  • julie kowalski

    We know that religion indoctrinates people and does so to make money….religion is and has been historically used to control people. I don’t see this happening with the ghost or alien phenomenon. Surely, even with massive amounts of eye witness sightings, photographs and video that cannot or has not yet been debunked, we still don’t have enough evidence to say these things are true or do exist but we do have far more reason to consider them as possibilities.

  • Mackinz

    I’m an atheist who goes by evidence, but I think that there might be “ghosts” in some fashion.

    It could be metaphorical, or it could be physical… I like to think that there are some things we have yet to understand about the human mind and its capabilities to influence the world we see.

    • baal

      “Ghosts” as presented in books, movies, TV and by the various psychics on TV aren’t consistent with a materialistic world view. Said differently, if ghosts are real, they have -0- identifiable impact. All the impacts they do have are mediated by individuals holding certain beliefs and having spooky notions.

      • Mackinz

        Believe me, I know that. What you said in no way contradicts what I said. I specifically brought up the human minds capability to delude itself… I did not say that I think people could have intelligent conversations with the ghosts or that they were materialistic.

        You’re slipping, Baal.

        • baal

          I don’t see why you tacked on a gratuitous insult.

          ” I specifically brought up the human minds capability to delude itself”

          You did not. You said that you think it’s possible for there to be physical ghosts in some fashion. Your last sentence sounds like Elfen Lied (which is also not going to happen).

          • Mackinz

            Actually, given your second response, I probably could have gone farther because you are slipping… Perhaps I could have phrased it better, but the last sentence in my first comment should have tipped you off. Personally, I don’t physical ghosts exist, but that there are such things as “hauntings” which change how we humans react.

            “I like to think that there are some things we have yet to understand about the human mind and its capabilities to influence the world we see.”

            • baal

              Ok, I’ll bite. How does a “haunting” impact a person’s reactions? What kind of energy or particles come from a ‘haunt’ that does anything to a human’s reactions? Keep in mind the video from Sean Carroll below (Taz is the poster).

              • Mackinz

                It’s something we’ve been discussing in Literature Class recently (regarding Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her). One can be “haunted” but it has nothing to do with supernatural forces… it’s the influences in our lives. For example, I could say my mother haunts me to this day (she died in June of ’08) but I would be talking about how she influenced my opinions and helpede develop into the person I am today… not that I see ethereal arms floating towards me out of the large portrait of her we have in the hallway.

                In another way,I was referring to how we humans can convince ourselves that we saw or heard something that did not happen. This could also be construed as a “haunting” of sorts…

      • TychaBrahe

        Just because a person is an atheist does not mean that they have a strictly materialistic worldview.

        Just because we don’t observe an impact doesn’t mean that something isn’t there. Cosmic background radiation and neutrinos existed long before we had the technology to perceive them.

        Not that I believe in ghosts, but your arguments are insufficient to demonstrate that they do not exist.

        • baal

          He’s an atheist who goes by evidence who sounded like he was into wooo. In his last comment below, I find myself agreeing with him as to his definition of ‘haunting’. He didn’t sound like that in his original comment.

          I was counter asserting and not making a case. yes.


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