Thursday, July 10, 2014

Science Discovers Atheists Don't Exist

I was a little surprised to come across this link today: "Scientists Discover That Atheists Might Not Exist, and That's Not a Joke."  According to the article "cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged."  It's not new information to anyone that human beings are "hard-wired" for numinous experience - for having a specific sense or experience of something transcendent in their lives.  As a believer in spirituality I obviously have no issue with that as it would be absurd to imagine that the Creator would not have endowed us with the capability of recognizing His existence.  What I don't like so much are the "side effects" of the researchers conclusions and how they arrived at them in the first place.

The central premise of the findings is that in as much as we have no free will - we have no choice but to believe in transcendence.  As they state, "evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself.  Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone."  It's true that many atheists don't believe in free will but I would think that this is one of those areas for potential agreement between believers and non-believers.

If there's no free will, then naturally there is no morality and no reason to hold anyone accountable for their behavior.  Despite the obvious veracity of that idea we don't seem to find anyone, anywhere, embracing it or acting as if it's true.  To me that has always indicated that atheists actually do, deep down, believe in a transcendent morality (an absolute code of right and wrong) and they only pay a sort of intellectual lip service to the idea that there isn't and that we're truly not free.  As the article notes - people "are only aware of some of their religious ideas."  As I've noticed that atheists are (generally) uncomfortable with the idea that they are compelled into believing what they do (including their atheism), so am I, as it would make all of Jewish practice a ridiculous charade.  For a comprehensive take on the Jewish notion of free will have a look at Rabbi Akiva Tatz's new book on the subject "Will, Freedom and Destiny."

The piece then goes on to list many of the benefits that religion (which we have no choice but to embrace due to our lack of free will and which is programmed into us by evolution) that atheists knowingly or not participate in.  For instance:

  • Some sort of ritual when a loved one passes on
  • An abiding interest in morality 
  • Belief in some sort of  "supernatural surveillance" (Karma, the Universe, God, etc)  in keeping people on the straight and narrow
  • The recognition of an "unnamed, unidentified payback mechanism" that dispenses justice - and is frequently seen in books, films, etc.

In short, the piece, though I contest its free-will assumption, is making some good (and obvious) points:  A) Human beings need and depend on the transcendent, B) Atheists (being human) also depend on and function in the world of the numinous and C) "religion" is the best vehicle for meeting these fundamental needs.

As the piece correctly concludes "we might all be a little more spiritual than we think."

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