Thursday, July 10, 2014

Atheists don't exist?

Nury Vittachi wrote a piece for science 2.0 that states that atheist's might not exist. Oh brother...
WHILE MILITANT ATHEISTS like Richard Dawkins may be convinced God doesn’t exist
Right off the bat we're met with a statement that shows a lack of understanding about atheism. Most atheists (including myself and Professor Dawkins) are not convinced that there absolutely is no God. Rather, that we are not convinced that there is a God, or find it's existence unlikely. Dawkins even said in his book The God Delusion that he would rank his atheism as a 6 out of 7 because he didn't claim to know 100% that there is no God.
Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.
So? We are deeply curious. What does any of this have to do with the claim that there are no atheists?
 While this idea may seem outlandish—after all, it seems easy to decide not to believe in God—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. 
Correct, we don't decide what we believe. But this is nowhere near a new idea. Our beliefs are dictated by a number of things. And this very fact actually proves that there are atheists. I am an atheist because I don't believe in God. I don't believe because I am not convinced by any of the God claims I have ever heard. Therefore, I am an atheist because of the very process of belief that is supposed to throw atheism into question.
This line of thought has led to some scientists claiming that “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, an avowed atheist himself, writing in the New Scientist.
Huh... How?  I've yet to see anything here that even comes close to showing that.
“They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.”
Sure, I guess there are some. I've met one or two through the years, but I'm not one of them. But wait... Why would that even matter? Belief in God, and belief in a soul are two different matters. While it doesn't make sense to me, one can be an atheists and believe in the soul.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since we are born believers, not atheists, scientists say.
Which ones? Because that is just false. When we are born we have no concept of God or religion. Due solely to this ignorance of religion, we don't believe. Therefore, we are all born without belief and are atheists by default.
Humans are pattern-seekers from birth, with a belief in karma, or cosmic justice, as our default setting.
I don't feel that's true of me (karma/cosmic justice), but even if it was, how would that in any way erase atheism from being?
Scientists have discovered that “invisible friends” are not something reserved for children.
I know this already. Adults just tend to call theirs 'God'.
We all have them, and encounter them often in the form of interior monologues. As we experience events, we mentally tell a non-present listener about it. 
Thinking to one's self is completely different than talking to an imaginary friend or deity. When you talk to yourself, you know you are talking to yourself. In the other cases,  you actually think a second party is there to listen to you.
“From childhood, people form enduring, stable and important relationships with fictional characters, imaginary friends, deceased relatives, unseen heroes and fantasized mates,” says Boyer of Washington University, himself an atheist. This feeling of having an awareness of another consciousness might simply be the way our natural operating system works.
And daydreaming, longing, and fantasies do away with atheism how exactly?
In the United States, 38% of people who identified themselves as atheist or agnostic went on to claim to believe in a God or a Higher Power
The 'atheists' that claim to believe in a God are simply proof that theists are not alone in not knowing what atheism means. But belief in a higher power is not a contradiction to an atheist that defines that higher power as an alien or some other form of being or force that's not a deity. This may also be an artifact of how the question was asked. If belief in a god or higher power were asked in the same question, what percentage believe in a god, and how many believe in some other form of higher power (whatever that may be)?
When researchers asked people whether they had taken part in esoteric spiritual practices such as having a Reiki session or having their aura read, the results were almost identical (between 38 and 40%) for people who defined themselves as religious, non-religious or atheist.
But did they do it because they believed in it? Did they change religious affiliation since then? Did they do it for a laugh? Never-the-less, none of this matters if they don't believe in God. Other supernatural beliefs are a separate question.
The implication is that we all believe in a not dissimilar range of tangible and intangible realities. Whether a particular brand of higher consciousness is included in that list (“I believe in God”, “I believe in some sort of higher force”, “I believe in no higher consciousness”) is little more than a detail.
Actually, it's much more than a detail. It's the whole conversation when the premiss of this article was to question if atheists actually exist.
If a loved one dies, even many anti-religious people usually feel a need for a farewell ritual, complete with readings from old books and intoned declarations that are not unlike prayers.
So? We miss that person and want to remember them in some way. Nothing about that is threatening to atheism.
Statistics show that the majority of people who stop being part of organized religious groups don’t become committed atheists, but retain a mental model in which “The Universe” somehow has a purpose for humanity.
Really, because of all the atheists I've met, don't feel that the universe has some grand purpose for humanity. But by 'stop being a part of organized religions', Nury is sloppily lumping all the 'nones' together with atheists. So much for relevant data...
Religious communities grow faster, since people behave better
That's an odd claim to make when Christians and other believers far outnumber atheists in US
prisons.
 There is also the notion that the presence of an invisible moralistic presence makes misdemeanors harder to commit. “People who think they are being watched tend to behave themselves and cooperate more,” says the New Scientist’s Lawton. “Societies that chanced on the idea of supernatural surveillance were likely to have been more successful than those that didn't, further spreading religious ideas.”
It's not so simple though. Studies have found that societies that believe in a unforgiving god are actually more likely to be more harmonious and peaceful that societies that believe in a forgiving god.
It’s not that a deity appears directly in tales. It is that the fundamental basis of stories appears to be the link between the moral decisions made by the protagonists and the same characters’ ultimate destiny. The payback is always appropriate to the choices made. An unnamed, unidentified mechanism ensures that this is so, and is a fundamental element of stories—perhaps the fundamental element of narratives. 
    In children’s stories, this can be very simple: the good guys win, the bad guys lose. In narratives for older readers, the ending is more complex, with some lose ends left dangling, and others ambiguous. Yet the ultimate appropriateness of the ending is rarely in doubt. If a tale ended with Harry Potter being tortured to death and the Dursley family dancing on his grave, the audience would be horrified, of course, but also puzzled: that’s not what happens in stories. Similarly, in a tragedy, we would be surprised if King Lear’s cruelty to Cordelia did not lead to his demise.
And...? This is storytelling, plain and simple. People tend to like happy endings, so that's the kind that get written most. Happy endings are financially beneficial, and more likely to get a story shared. But not all stories written end so happily. My wife and I watched the movie ATM the other day. That is an example of a film that ends with the bad guy winning. This happening is not an isolated one. All stories don't have a happy ending, and more importantly, life doesn't always go or end happily.
Indeed, it appears that stories exist to establish that there exists a mechanism or a person—cosmic destiny, karma, God, fate, Mother Nature—to make sure the right thing happens to the right person.
Even if that is the storytellers intent, this isn't a threat to atheism. We want to believe that things will turn out right, and express certain standards and ideals to pass on. This doesn't always happen in real life, but the story can be both instructional and entertaining without there actually having to be a deity.
While some bleak stories are well-received by critics, they rarely win mass popularity among readers or moviegoers. Stories without the appropriate outcome mechanism feel incomplete. The purveyor of cosmic justice is not just a cast member, but appears to be the hidden heart of the show.
Or could it be that we like to be made to feel safe and reassured. Many go to a movie for a pleasant distraction from the realities in the world. To instead have a more realistic story shown to them leaves them feeling exposed or vulnerable.
But if a belief in cosmic justice is natural and deeply rooted, the question arises: where does atheism fit in?
I for one, don't believe in some big perfect cosmic justice. But where do I think atheism fits in? As a label for those that lack belief in a god...
Of course these findings do not prove that it is impossible to stop believing in God.
Then what was the point of this word continent of an article?
What they do indicate, quite powerfully, is that we may be fooling ourselves if we think that we are making the key decisions about what we believe, and if we think we know how deeply our views pervade our consciousnesses.
Who is this news to? I've got some more breaking news that just rolled across my desk... The allies have won WW-II!
It further suggests that the difference between the atheist and the non-atheist viewpoint is much smaller than probably either side perceives.
Really? The only difference between a theist and atheist is answering just one question differently. Everything else is in flux and unique to each individual. The perceived gulf  between the two come from people like this author who tend to muddy the waters by attempting to tack on additional things that don't necessarily belong.
On a more personal level, we all have loved ones who will die, and we all have a tendency to puzzle about what consciousness is, whether it is separate from the brain, and whether it can survive.
Not all. I follow the science that suggests that consciousness is but an emergent property of the brain. Likewise, when the brain dies, so does consciousness. Until there is research that suggest otherwise, there no puzzling on my part.
When looking at trends, there’s also population growth to consider. Western countries are moving away from the standard family model, and tend to obsess over topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion on demand. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these issues, in practice they are associated with shrinking populations.  Europeans (and the Japanese) are not having enough children to replace the adult generation, and are seeing their communities shrink on a daily basis.
And in a world struggling for food and resources, what part of more responsible population figures is a bad thing?
“It’s clearly the case that the future will involve an increase in religious populations and a decrease in scepticism,” says Steve Jones
Then why is non-belief the fastest growing 'belief group' in the world?

And that's where this article ends, yet another case of much ado about nothing...


-Brain Hulk

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