Credulity is an odd mix with atheism.
After all, the atheist has had to wade through a large network of theological ideas, parse them, critique them, and reject them. This requires incredulity to begin with and it enlarges incredulity along the way. The labor is tantamount to a seminary of impiety, multi-year courses involving skeptical intellectual work.
And so it shocks sensibility to discover that rare atheist who believes in ghosts.
Ghost belief is older than belief in Gods and is likely traced to the dream life of prehistoric peoples, all of whom saw dead relatives and dead neighbors in their nighttime slumbers and reasoned therefore that the dead were still alive. Acts propitiating ghosts, like leaving little offerings of foodstuffs here and there, eventually became elaborate theistic liturgies appeasing the Gods.
Why would an atheist consider a God to be as fantastic as a Phoenix bird, as unbelievable as a one-horned horse, and yet find a ghost credible?
Perhaps it’s that ghosts have not had enormous libraries assembled on their behalf, or that ghosts have not had immense buildings erected for their worship, or that ghosts have not had venerable hymns choired in their names. Maybe it’s this underdog status that makes the credulous atheist sympathetic to the lowly ghost.
Or maybe the atheist permits himself one lone mental vice, since he otherwise practices an almost ascetic intellectual morality. This is not unlike the single and celibate cleric who allows himself good alcohol and fine tobacco as compensation for doing without.
Here is a proof of ghosts I heard recently: ‘I felt an eerie presence and my dog was barking wildly at thin air in the corner of my den.’
Really, that’s a proof of ghosts?
One might respond, ‘Dogs have noses that smell things we cannot smell and dogs have ears that hear things we cannot hear. Might your dog have smelled and heard a mouse inside the wall of your den? As the your eerie feelings, don’t you suppose your dog barking at apparent thin air created those feelings in you?’
A few ancient Greek thinkers saw that everything about a human personality was assembled within the human body, and no continuation of personality could exist after the demise of a body. They saw that a ghost was an impossible idea and indeed that immortality was an impossible idea.
With what does a ghost see, lacking the body’s eyes? With what does a ghost hear, without the body’s apparatus for hearing? With what does a ghost speak, lacking a mouth and tongue? With what does a ghost feel, without the brain’s chemistry?
If an incorporeal God is incredible, why isn’t an incorporeal ghost equally so?
Featured image ‘Ghostly Frangipani’ by Sarah Horrigan via Flickr