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  1.  (8121.1)
    I suppose I would be considered an atheist. I do not believe in gods. I do not believe that there is anything outside the explanation of science. I fully enjoy listening to Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins speak of the wonderment of science, and understand and embrace the perspective of finding the religious explanation of the universe far less awe inspiring that that of the tangible.

    However... I really dig Alan Watts, and I do not completely discard the possibility of bizarre phenomenon or spiritual experience; I find it rather likely that much of spiritualism and the "unexplained" are our attempts to make sense of things science has not yet identified. The notion of "IdeaSpace", of mental power (combined mental energy as in sigil magic, or mental connection/communication between close and attuned people, etc) these are things I do not discard as being implausible. They are not the FIRST conclusion I come to, but, for example, I will not discard the possiblity of ghosts - I will suggest that if they are indeed seen, they may be some sort of error in time; a repeat; something science can explain someday.

    I do not want to fall victim to abusing science, to spouting pseudo-science at others in my attempt to be an atheist open-minded to the notion of the unexplained. (I'd read about a book coming out about organ transplants effecting their new hosts by retaining a certain degree of memory, but can find no scientific documentation on the matter, for example.)

    So, I ask you... how do you balance the two? Are the two points of view incongruent? Am I just having problems shaking off the last vestigial remnants of religion and superstition? Are there any reputable scientific studies that might support my notions; the existence of the mind having an external influence, or of auras being a mystical interpretation of a tangible and real electrical field; of some accumulative effect of many minds focused on the same belief? Am I just batty?
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    I don't think it's batty to try and reconcile the two sides of the coin of human thought. I've long thought that harnessing both reason and faith - doesn't really matter in what - is the best way to live and to think. I believe that simply being caught up in the wonder of the observable universe can be a spiritual experience without ever mentioning gods or higher dimensions or any of that.

    I do happen to believe in god, if only as a maintaining force of balance in the universe, but I don't think it's a requirement for a healthy human mind. I say, though, if such topics interest you, then pursue them - what can it hurt?
  2.  (8121.3)
    It's an interesting question I guess I just keep the two seperate, one being study and manipulation of the imagination (magic) and the other being study and manipulation of the material world (science). So although I'm an atheist in the sense that I don't accept a creator entity that built the physical universe, I have no problem accepting gods as "real" in the same sense I accept superman or Harry Potter are "real" real as ideas, not as actualities.

    I know that ones imagination can powerfully alter the way one translates perception of the material world, the danger is when people forget or don't know that this is an internal process, not an external one.
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    There's a difference between being an Atheist and being closed off to possibilities. If anything, a rational mind is always open to new and wild possibilities, it just demands a higher standard of proof than "because I said so" or "Deux Vult".

    If anything, it's why I like speculative fiction and fringe science in general. There are some crazy cats out there speculating about everything from soap bubble universes and quantum foam to bio-electrical fields and consciousness as evolutionary adaptation. As long as they're willing to offer up their work to scientific scrutiny, or get the math to work or simply reproduce some claimed results under controlled conditions, basically, if they can DO SCIENCE, it's worth your time.

    Being wary of the guy with zero-point energy in his u-haul or the woman who can get your dead cat to tell you about stock picks is good skepticism, a healthy thing to cultivate.
    • CommentAuthorJiveKitty
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010 edited
    I find this quote a useful thought: "It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy, it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable."

    — Yama in Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

    I do not think you are batty. There is much that is unknown. And what MG said.
    • CommentAuthorsacredchao
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010 edited
    My personal view is that there probably isn't anything paranormal out there, because the preponderance of evidence currently suggests there is not. That said, if some evidence of (say) ghosts is found (ie in can be detected experimentally in a repeatable fashion by anyone using the proper methods) than I will be very excited about it. But, until that happens, I prefer to err on the side of Ocham's Razor - the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is probably correct.

    I do definitely think some kind of weirdness is going to come out of quantum mechanics and the like in the near future - but probably more like black hole/space-time/wormhole type stuff than ghosts.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    Hey Rachæl, only because you didn't mention him and it sounds like such a close match for what you're talking about, Charles Fort spent most of his life collecting "damned data" from the scientific penumbra that seem to defy rational explanations. If nothing else, it should at least help reassure you you're not batty. Lots of weird stuff happens to people everywhere and it always has.

    If you're familiar with Sagan's writing, I've always loved the Dragon in My Garage parable, preface: "For all of those making extraordinary claims." It concludes that "the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis" - I think the word tentatively is not given enough attention in that sentence. There's no need to hoot with laughter and ridicule people who say they have a dragon in their garage, partly because you're then gonna look unnecessarily stupid if a dragon shows up. I think absolute certainty about anything is simply an unfortunate failure of the imagination, but I'm not even 100% sure about that...
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    > I do not believe in gods.

    My dad was (I'm sorry to have to use the past tense; he died, only a month ago: eheu) a classist, and they say he converted to Christianity/Catholicism as a young adult, from atheist parents. Anyway, among the bed time stories which he read to me, when I was young enough to have bed-time stories read to me, were greek myths: which included gods. And, later, he (and I) enjoyed (among other things) Mary Renault: have you read any of her novels (and if not, then maybe you'd like to)? And have you read and/or enjoyed _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ (which I'll admit I enjoyed more than my father did)? One of the climaxes in ZAAOMM that is the section quoted here which includes, quoting the Iliad:

    ... His father laughed aloud, and his lady mother too. At once shining Hector took the helmet off his head and laid it on the ground, and when he had kissed his dear son and dandled him in his arms, he prayed to Zeus and to the other Gods: Zeus and ye other Gods, grant that this my son may be, as I am, most glorious among the Trojans and a man of might, and greatly rule in Ilion. And may they say, as he returns from war, "He is far better than his father."

    "What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it...duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek aretê, 'excellence' — we shall have much to say about aretê. It runs through Greek life. ..."

    Gods: virtue ... do you believe in virtue? In goodness, in quality? Do you distinguish good from bad, preferable from reprehensible? If you believe in virtue, then perhaps you can also believe in Gods: the Greek gods, I see as being symbols/exemplars/embodiments of virtue: of war (Ares), fear (Phobos), maidens, earth, song, medicine, olives, etc, etc.

    One of the Sufi parables that I read, retold by Idries Shah, was:

    Finding I could speak the language of ants, I approached one and enquired, 'What is God like? Does he resemble the ant?' He answered,'God! No indeed --we have only a single sting, but God, he has TWO!'

    > I really dig Alan Watts

    Taoism then, isn't it? I've forgotten everything I've read of him, sorry to say. Have you read the Tao Te Ching? The Tao Te Ching doesn't require a believe in God or Gods, imo (the most poetic english "translation" of the tao te ching that I know, by the way, is the one by Ursula LeGuin). Some of it is science: "to make something fall, you must first make it rise", for example, is generally applicable; one of its specific applications is Tai Chi (so if you study Tai Chi, with a master, you'll understand more of Taoism). I guess I'm saying that Alan Watts, and Taoism, isn't entirely to do with God or Gods. In fact, "god" is an English word: so when people talk about the "Taoist Gods" (for example, if a Taoist master at Wudang mountain says in Chinese that he wants to retreat to the forest and become a taoist god) you may not necessarily IMO understand what he's saying.

    > our attempts to make sense of things science has not yet identified

    My understanding of science (I have a BA in applied maths at Cambridge; and I did physics at school) is that "science" is quite limited in scope: no-one taught me this or said so explicitly, but I get the the impression science is all about shared, sharable, communicable experience: about repeatable experiments. Whereas, most of my experiences are private: and science describes a sharable part of my experience; but I've also shared religion with people: used religious language, to communicate about real-world and personal facts: to say out loud that somebody needs charity, maybe that's a kind of science (i.e. sharing knowledge) too.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    > in my attempt to be an atheist

    A-theist, without god: so you're talking specifically about belief in God, not about society and people.

    That's a big topic.

    One thing (reducing the number of gods, to talk only about Christianity) is, is it possible to be a Chistian without believing in God? Can you agree with, and maybe begin to understand, what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, irrespective of whether or God exists? I mean, look at the alternatives: Roman society and law, for example, crucifying people, taking slaves, waging war, working for money, everything they did. Maybe Christianity is better? What happens if you use a language which equates "better" with "more in accordance with God's desires"?

    > So, I ask you... how do you balance the two?

    I don't see only two points of view: I see many. I've read, you know, about Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism; and different texts within each tradition: some Quaker literature for example, within the Christian tradition. And of course there are many people in the world, each with their own points of view.

    > Are the two points of view incongruent?

    If someone chooses to talk to me about theism or about atheism, I try to understand what they're saying: to get value/meaning from what they're saying, to be able to communicate without being incompatible with them.

    In a way, maybe it's like asking whether English and French and incongruent: I think they're not, they're different sets of words and different traditions, both describing the same thing, or different things.

    > Am I just having problems shaking off the last vestigial remnants of religion and superstition?

    If you're like me, you're not simple: you're having transitory thoughts, but you're also real; and you can try to summarise yourself, but in my experience you are (or will be) beyond your ability to summarise.

    > Are there any reputable scientific studies that might support my notions; the existence of the mind having an external influence, or of auras being a mystical interpretation of a tangible and real electrical field; of some accumulative effect of many minds focused on the same belief?

    I'm wondering what it's like to live in a monastery: in somewhere like le Mont St Michel for example, in a previous century where they believed that prayer kept the demons from invading. Then I wondered about modern society: I'm in the French countryside at the moment, where I assume that 100% of the people I meet won't attack me, and with whom I share a language, and at least a secular if not also a religious education.

    FYI when I'm not being catholic I'd identify as Buddhist. Their "Sermon at Benares" has seemed to me to be self-evidently (i.e. experientially or scientifically) true and useful. It doesn't require a belief in god. The section on Right Speech, to name but one of the eight guidelines, for example seem to me a useful set of guidelines including when discussing religion. And (and here's an example of the "appeal to authority" branch of rhetoric) the Notable Scientists on Buddhism suggest that it's not incompatible with science.

    > Am I just batty?

    Long live ...?
  3.  (8121.10)
    I too have a love and joy in science that is difficult to explain. I like things to have scientific explanations. I like things that make sense in a way that I can grasp. Its very hard when you are like this to reconcile with afterlives and religion. After a great deal of struggle, I came to the realization that you do not have to fully believe to your toes to practice a ritual. Rituals are things of deep comfort to a human soul. After you begin to think of the comfort of ritual, you can realize that its no great personal loss, as in no compromise of your ideals to comfort yourself in whichever rituals you choose.

    I personally take a great deal of comfort in Paganesque rituals, particularly the ones I grew up with. When I do them, I feel better, more peaceful. I think it would be really easy to assign spiritual aspects to the ease that it gives me, and the connection I feel after-words. Perhaps being that its a 'family' time, in which I include anyone that is my family that year, it gives a sense of warmth and connection that are not 24/7 experiences for me.

    I think its something that will always be incongruent with itself tho, I'm not sure there is really any way to truly join the two points of view together. There's alot of bleed space in some senses, but if you keep headbutting it, it may just keep not making any sense at all.
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeApr 24th 2010
    My friend Pearl and I take our atheism very seriously, but she chooses to believe that life on Earth was seeded by ancient Martians, and I choose to believe in quantum immortality. Both concepts arise from real scientific study, but are as yet unprovable, therefore, they're belief systems - even though neither involves supernatural forces of any kind.

    Science wouldn't exist without people sitting around wondering whether this or that might be possible, and then trying to find out for sure. Religion is just science for lazy people.
  4.  (8121.12)
    I'm personally a secular humanist.

    I think that when people talk about rejecting religion in favor of Science, we have to keep aware that they're not equivalent concepts. Science, for all the lovely things it gives us, does not, and I believe should not, attempt to instruct morality. That's not something you can boil off in a test tube or somesuch. We have to take these things as separate issues, our god-gene need for moral structure and order and our desire for a rational world, discoverable through experimentation. Humanism is nice in that it doesn't instruct in any specific moral code, but holds out for a framework in which moral actions can be determined.
  5.  (8121.13)
    So, I ask you... how do you balance the two?

    I don't. I'm simply an atheist. I don't believe in gods, when faced with questions I answer them or speculate about them based on Science, and I see religions as primitive baseless theories regarding the way things work and the meaning of life, theories which a huge amount of people treat as fact, which tends to cause a lot of problems, death of innocents among them.

    I used to be a devout catholic, due to my parents bringing me up that way. When I was fifteen or so it began to dawn on me how God was nothing more than wishful thinking, the embodiment of convenience, and as I grew up, the world became more and more complex while Catholicism remained simplistic while hiding behind a layer of pretentious wisdom.

    Then I saw how much shit lots of religious people (LOTS OF, not ALL) shower the world in and decided that not having a religion isn't any kind of loss. People seem to have a tendency to believe what they want to instead of reality, and accuse anyone who believes only in reality to be close-minded, as though subscribing to one of the many religions (all of them right, perplexingly!) makes them superior.

    Personally, I expect and hope for religion to disappear eventually. People's knee-jerk reaction to this is "You want people to not have faith anymore?" Faith does not require religion, it's religion that requires faith. I have faith in myself, in my friends, that the food in a certain restaurant is going to be good, that I can finish this goddamn story before the goddamn deadline and that life is worth living.

    Bottom line: I consider religion entirely unnecessary and in fact a hugely negative thing. You don't need religion to want to do good things; if you do, you shouldn't. You don't need religion to be open-minded. You don't need religion to be a good person.

    What people might need is comfort from the harshness of reality, and religion is far from the only way to deal with that. Personally, I enjoy watching a film, or playing a game, or reading a book, or taking a nap when reality is being a bitch to me. Always helps.

    My understanding of science (I have a BA in applied maths at Cambridge; and I did physics at school) is that "science" is quite limited in scope

    I could be misinterpreting, but as opposed to religion, Science is quite limited in scope? Science starts with a question, and to come up with a question one requires imagination and then determination to pursue the answer using the tools offered by reality. Religion doesn't pursue the answer, it makes one up and starts believing it. Compared to religion, Science has a monumental scope.
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2010
    I think it's worth saying that Science is not out to replace imagination. Great artists are often inspired by science and use it to make beautiful things. I love hearing artists talk about their tools of creation, the feel of a certain brush or type of metal. All that trade craft is science, experimentation. Artist as explorer.

    But where that inspiration to create comes from is a deeply messy process. Harlan Ellison used to "intentionally mishear" people to get ideas. Drugs and drink have helped (and killed) any number of artists. Aligning the neurons through prayer or fasting, through chemical probing or over saturation, everyone has their own fuel for creativity.

    Few years back I was in a fire. The apartment building I lived in went up in the middle of the night. I lived on the 5th floor and the bottom three floors were engulfed. No way out. By the time I woke up, the hallway was filled with smoke. The fire department was trying to get ladders to our windows, but it was the middle of winter, icy and slow-going. There was a building next to mine, a couple stories shorter, but, y'know, not on fire. I could get to it by jumping out my side window. I tied bedding to my radiator and repelled about a story down. There was a pretty big gap so I kind of had to swing as I fell. I did just that, ended up knocking myself unconscious, but was no worse for wear. When I came to I saw the building I was in start to buckle. The roof, just above my apartment, had caught fire and collapsed in. I was standing on a rooftop, shivering in pajamas watching everything I owned, my cat (who had freaked out and hid when I tried to catch him) burn. When the top stories collapsed it let off the most beautiful blast of sparks and flame into the sky. In all my life I never saw anything that amazing, that huge and terrifying, just a matter of feet above me.

    I tell this long (sorry) story because I know that my monkey brain was filled with chemicals at that moment that made me very susceptible to suggestions. I was short of break, suffering a concussion, choked on smoke, flooded with adrenaline. I know why what I saw made me stand there, laughing and weeping in awe. Does it make that experience one iota less meaningful to me? Not at all.

    Sorry for rambling. Had a bit of whiskey with my whiskey this evening.
    • CommentAuthorsteve.B
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2010
    cool story either way
    • CommentAuthorIsaacSher
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2010
    I grew up raised in Reform Judaism. My parents weren't subtle about their hopes that I would be a rabbi or a scholar of jewish lore, and up until about age 12, I was VERY into my Judaism.

    But at summer camp at that age, it fell apart. I was having real difficulty making connections with other kids, moreso with girls than with boys because of the added romantic longings. Puberty was hitting me like a sledgehammer. I was desperate to make emotional connections with others rather than feeling trapped and confused in my own head, and during one sabbath services, I turned to God. God Helps Those Who Helps Themselves, we're taught, and I'd been trying and failing. So I asked God for a hint. I didn't want God to fix the problem for me, I didn't expect a hand to descend from heaven and open the way -- but I was begging for a hint, even a sliver of inspiration or instruction on what I was doing wrong, so that I could then go forth and Help Myself.

    Nothing. Not ever.

    By the end of summer, I was so angry -- I'd still been trying to figure this out on my own (and failing, I was a socially awkward kid and that's putting it kindly), and got absolutely no moment of inspiration at all. No sense of spiritual anything. And so I declared that There Was No God, and went through high school like that. It was my teenage rebellion.

    In college, that softened. I'd had a few moments of existential bliss, of just looking out at the world around me and feeling real wonder, to the point that I was finding spiritual satisfaction now in the most mundane things. A sunrise, a cute kitten, the way grass swayed in the wind, humanity's moments of kindness, things like that. And I came to the conclusion that there was more to this world than I could directly perceive -- but here's the key bit -- that I did not and could not know what it was. Some people called it Yahweh, or Jesus, or Zeus and his family once upon a time, or Brahma, or the Quaker "inner light". I didn't know what to call it, although "God" is a pleasantly generic enough label for me. I don't "believe" in it in the sense that God Judges My Sins or any crap like that. The universe putts along on its merry way, and even if there is some Omnipotent Creator Mind out there, I can't fathom that they would give a shit about what we do here. I use my Judaism as a framework, but make no claims that it has All The Answers. It doesn't. No faith does.

    So I don't know. I embrace that ignorance. I can't claim to know if there really is a god or not, but my instincts tell me that there's more going on than we can touch. And since I can't touch it, see it, smell it, etc., I won't worry about it. And if anyone tries to tell me that they do know, that they have ultimate perfect supersecret knowledge of god and the divine, then my initial instinct is to distrust them and wonder what they're really trying to sell to people. I do have friends who are deeply religous -- and I *love* talking theology and spiritual concepts with them. But just as it would be disrespectful for them to try and evangelize me, it would be rude for me to try and claim that their views are debunked. No one has the full picture, but it's fun to pick at it a little, and compare notes with others, and embrace common truths while enjoying differences.

    This does make for some moments of existential discomfort, wondering what happens when I die -- if there is no god, then the world effectively ENDS for me when I die. No more anything. And that would suck, and I can certainly understand how fear of this concept would drive people into the arms of a faith that claims to have answers and even salvation. But for me, it ends up strengthening my resolve to live in the now, and enjoy what I've got.
  6.  (8121.17)
    To Rachæl Tyrell,

    So, I ask you... how do you balance the two? You don't.

    Are the two points of view incongruent? Yes. They will always be and you're trying to reconcile two things that do not belong together.

    Am I just having problems shaking off the last vestigial remnants of religion and superstition? Yes.

    Are there any reputable scientific studies that might support my notions;
    the existence of the mind having an external influence,
    or of auras being a mystical interpretation of a tangible and real electrical field;
    of some accumulative effect of many minds focused on the same belief? No.

    Am I just batty? Yes.

    By the way, I was mostly upset with the answers to this thread.
    Its nice to ramble, but I felt all of you were having your cake and eating it, too, so to speak.
    • CommentAuthorVerissimus
    • CommentTimeApr 25th 2010
    Humans often see themselves as essentially lacking. Then they make up images of beings, entities, etc which full up that gap; either as a mystical union thing, in which something which is "more-than-us" makes us complete, or as the big sky daddy.
  7.  (8121.19)
    "Pattern-seeking mammals".

    'Nuff said.
  8.  (8121.20)
    Try Pantheism - sure it's having our cake and eating it but God's a possible to rational, scientific mind.

    "Oh, I forgot. The universe can't be that big can - "
    "Nope, but the other universes sure are."