Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spirituality for Atheists?

An atheist on Twitter brought this video to my attention. It's completely gorgeous and well-done. I'd like opinions from both sides on this. What do you think? Let's open the door for some constructive discussion. Tomorrow we'll look at the other point of view, from the book "The Silver Chair," by C.S. Lewis.


  1. What a beautiful video! It really does encapsulate a lot of my feelings about the world so, so much better than I could ever describe them. The spirituality that he discusses is what many atheists, including myself, refer to when we talk about our awe and fascination with life and the cosmos.

    I myself shy away from using the word spirituality, as I (and most others) tend to associate it with religious connotations. However, after watching this I would use it to describe my beliefs.
    As you know about my beliefs, I'm in awe of the fact that we're all made out of the dust from the biggest explosions in the universe - hypernovae, and that the process of evolution has shaped all life on Earth today over 3.5 billion years.
    The only point I would question in this video is that he suggests that we might be the only conscious beings in the universe. I simply cannot accept this, as by probability and the standard model of physics, it is actually almost certain that life exists outside of our planet, maybe even in our own solar system! And I'm also a proponent of the chaotic inflation theory take on the multiverse hypothesis, which would seem to make life fairly probable outside our 'bubble' of space.
    But anyway, this is a wonderful summary of much of modern atheistic and humanistic thought.

  2. Great video...I also would say, along with Christian, that spirituality as a term seems quite loaded, but the way it is described, ok, I can get behind the general concept.

    I have some caveats though. I guess I feel people get too into nature and things like that...I guess that people get too focused on the beautiful without realizing the tragic. In every photo of the stars is great and massive violence throughout other galaxies. Our sun will too run down.

    In every photograph of nature is hidden the savagery of nature. Every photo of a child being born hides the one of the child stillborn, or born with defects, or miscarried, or whatever else. And so on.

    So I'd probably skew a bit more cynical here, but nevertheless, I think the video, as it focuses on the positives, does a good job.

  3. "Something much greater than me, MUST have caused this. I know it." Hmm... Could it be that God has designed us to know He really is, but we have to take that conviction, by faith?

  4. it has gotten to the point where many atheists have convinced themselves they have no "soul," that is, something that transcends the material world. This is necessary. But it is also an article of faith. My wife (psychologist) and I have seen all the modern experiments. None of them explain the self, the specific "I am" that we all (I assume) are.

    but they can't get away from the soul, and so have to make up other constructs to make it important. this is silly. but one can't really embrace a philosophy with such a large gap in it -- no explanation of one's self as it obviously exists -- and so one has to tap-dance around it.

    if I become atheist, I'll just reject the concept and act like the self-promoting animal I would be in a materialist cosmos. I find it stupid (although, as an agnostic, somewhat telling and charming) that many atheists can't turn their backs on morality and the spirit.

  5. His "awed" description of all the stars in the cosmos is -- to me -- laughable. None of them (to the materialist in me) have any meaning, to my life and well-being. They are useless, to me (says the materialist). Further, the "awe" induced by size (either really big or really small) is far stupider -- taken by itself -- than almost any current religious construct I can think of, or even conceive. yet atheists will blithely sign on to the "awe" feelings as somehow legitimate and worthwhile.

    in a materialist cosmos, trust me: nothing -- not the furthest stars, the tiniest organisms, the self-organizing nature of some matter, the workings of evolution, you -- none of it matters. Only I do. and you will not get anywhere with me arguing otherwise.

    (caveat: of course, in YOUR materialist cosmos, only YOU matter, and you may also console yourself with false beliefs in the value of family, awe, science, etc. but that is your cosmos, and not mine)

    whew. this atheistic stuff is more complicated than I thought! I thought I was just discarding all that god shit and getting to keep the rest!

  6. ID_vs_EGO:

    I wonder to what extent atheists have "convinced themselves there is no soul" or are simply reluctant to believe there is one (there is a difference in the two statements).

    As what you say goes, it seems very much like god in the gaps. It's screaming out: "Because scientific experiments seem inadequate to me currently, let's accept a post/superscientific/supernatural explanation instead." It seems to be saying, "Any explanation is preferable to no explanation, even if we have little reason other than existential comfort to be comfortable with the little explanation"

    I can, quite frankly, see why people wouldn't fling themselves at this.

    Nevertheless, the conclusions you draw from this are frustratingly ridiculous. "If I become an atheist, I'll just reject the concept and act like a self-promoting animal I would be in a materialist cosmos."

    This is non sequitur. Subjectivity is a given. It is a constant. No one is doubting that there are minds. Just, how many there are ( ;) ) and from where they arise (e.g., tied to brain or disparate from brain). Whether it is appropriate to describe it in a disembodied way (soul) or whether we should stick to describing it in an embodied way (mind, consciousness, etc.,). In such a way, becoming atheist need not change you in any way except one: you do not believe in gods. That is *it*.

    In that way, your second comment becomes extremely smug and self-congratulatory, but it still makes no sense. I mean, I guess you preface it all with the fact that it is *your* opinion (e.g., "his awed description... is -- to me -- laughable"), but does the laughability of (insert any philosophical or religious concept here) to certain nonbelievers of that concept deprive it of power?

    Absolutely not. Our sense of subjectivity and existiantialism (even absurdism) is far stronger than that.

  7. Andrew:

    atheists think that "god-in-the-gaps" is the only belief system theists have, or are capable of having. it is as if they ignore all the science created and developed (and being developed) by theists (Christians and others) who *embrace* the gaps in scientific knowledge and fling themselves headlong at them.

    for the theist in me (now that you have met the materialist), god is not in the gaps. that is a stupid thing to say. so, gaps in knowledge do not elate me, nor do closing gaps frighten me. science is available to theist and atheist alike, and for either camp to say it is not, is so incorrect "it's not even wrong."

    but i assure you: in everything above the parenthetical "caveat," above, i am not just being cute. if and when i turn materialist/atheist, that is how i will believe.

    i will chuckle when people will speak of "living on through their kids," or in the memories of others, or in the DNA stream. i will chuckle, and i will mark those people as among the first i can fleece for the most i can get.

    it is not a non-sequitor. it has been done many times before, by many people. atheists who desperately want everyone to sign onto a materialist, evolutionary morality like to pretend such thinking is a "non-sequitor," or magically wrong somehow, but i have yet to meet anyone who could back up that pose with bare, steely reason. they appeal to my sense of fairplay, or emotion, or empathy. all of which are up for grabs if i determine i am the only one like me in the whole cosmos and i want to live and live as well and as long as possible.

    wish we didn't exist, or that if we think it through long enough, we'll become like the rest of the luke-warm, mentally dulled atheists who only want to take their faith so far and no farther. and who comically take issue with other atheists who don't believe as they do.

    the irony gets rather thick.

  8. ID_vs_EGO:

    "atheists think" -- atheists are not a monolithic group. You'll have to try harder than generalities and stereotypes to make an argument.

    Basically, you have this idea of what atheists are or must be, but you haven't established why that must be the case. I guess you say it is the kind of atheist *you* would be. I don't know how you can be so sure about that, especially given who you are now. You don't just change into a completely different person based on belief or lack of belief in one thing (namely, deities).

    Here's my problem. You say that atheists who do not do what you are doing (or would do) are "luke-warm, mentally dulled atheists who only want to take their 'faith' so far and no further."

    The problem I have with this is you haven't shown that what YOU are doing isn't what is luke-warm, mentally dull. You are acting like the Last Man, rather than the Overman. Instead of seizing for values in spite of the universe, you kinda shrug at the universe and look for warmth, personal pleasure, and so on. You mask this as your determining "you are the only one like you in the whole cosmos and you want to live and live as well and as long as possible."

    THAT is what seems mentally dulled. You say in the other thread that I just don't know you from Adam, and to be honest, I don't. But your arrogance, disdain and unjustified absolutism of your position is only matched by the arrogance, disdain and unjustified absolutism of which you decry in what the archetypical "atheist" thinks.

  9. "Instead of seizing for values in spite of the universe, you kinda shrug at the universe and look for warmth, personal pleasure, and so on. You mask this as your determining 'you are the only one like you in the whole cosmos..."

    How is this wrong? This is an important issue.

  10. How is this wrong? This is an important issue.

    It should feel inauthentic. Hollow. I obviously can't really ensure whether it does or not -- we may just be too different of people. I can't really explain it much more than that.

  11. "It should feel inauthentic."

    That's not. I don't know how to put it. It's no reason for convincing someone to consider alter a worldview. It is certainly not science. But I don't even think it is much of a philosophical defense.

    I'll let it sit there for awhile: how is it wrong to be solely self-serving in an otherwise impersonal, materialistic cosmos?

  12. It's no reason for convincing someone to consider alter a worldview.

    I disagree. I think trying to argue from someone's lack of fulfillment, lack of joy, lack of sense of authenticity is one of the *more* convincing arguments.

    I think arguments that hit at subjectivity are far more effective than trying to bludgeon people with objective facts.

    I'll let it sit there for awhile: how is it wrong to be solely self-serving in an otherwise impersonal, materialistic cosmos?

    Again, the only way I can answer is with the hunch that most people will not live easily with themselves in such a way.

    The only possible counter I can really think is that this is still solely self-serving. If one is seeking a sense of *personal* fulfillment or authenticity, then that's self-serving. I just think that this would involve certain other things. We fulfill ourselves in a community, etc.,

  13. "the only way I can answer is with the hunch "

    or perhaps the hope. Either way, I will let that speak for itself.