Atheism and Belief in the Soul: At Odds with One Another?

As is often the case, I feel that I’m something of an oddity when it comes to my personal beliefs. I’m an atheist, in that I don’t believe there is/are a god, gods, or super-powerful conciousness that oversees and controls our existence. It’s not simply that I don’t subscribe to the religious aspects of specific belief systems (which I would call agnosticism), it’s that I don’t think there is a “god”-being out there at all. There may well be races that are more “powerful” or advanced than us elsewhere in the universe, but they’re not gods and they didn’t create us. I do not believe in the religious constructs of “Heaven” or “Hell” or even an “afterlife,” as it is generally thought of in religious circles. This is my belief.

And yet, among other beliefs in what I might call the supernatural (ghosts, etc.), I do believe that human beings each have an individual and unique “soul,” that is, a spiritual form of themselves that exists separately from their physical form, but linked to it. The soul survives the death of the body, and exists on planes other than the physical. However, we can’t perceive those planes while our physical body is alive because our perceptions are linked to our bodies, and can detect the physical plane only. I believe that reincarnation is at least possible, though it’s more up to the individual to decide rather than some overarching judge of a soul’s worth and conduct. I have no real “evidence” for it, but this, also, is my belief.

Most atheists I’ve talked to cannot seem to reconcile the two beliefs. In my experience, atheists I’ve known don’t believe in God or gods or whatever because there is no compelling evidence, and they don’t believe in the soul for the same reason. They believe only in what their senses can tell them is “real,” or in what science can prove. Further, many religious people I’ve talked to (mostly some flavor of Christian, but also some Buddhists and others), seem to believe that a belief in the soul goes hand-in-hand with belief in a higher power. I’ve never heard it stated directly that way, but it certainly does seem to be a general assumption that, if I believe in the soul, I must also believe in a higher power in some form or another.

So, what do the wise Dopers think? Is atheism really at odds with a belief in the soul? Does being an atheist mean that I can’t believe in anything mystical?

And, most importantly, do I have to stop believing in dragons and faeries if I’m an atheist? :smiley:

No: they are not at odds with each other. All that “atheism” means is the lack of belief in gods, not the lack of belief in bigfoot.

Atheists can even believe in an afterlife. If you don’t think a god is necessary for one life, why would it suddenly be necessary for two?

Belief in non-God and belief in the supernatural are by no means mutually exclusive. However, when you’ve done the “hard part” of disavowing the cornerstone of every world religion it may seem strange to some that you cling to those ideas which would surely have plenty of real, verifiable supporting evidence if they were true. In any case, if you already believe in supernatural beings then it is surely not much of a step further to let one of them be very powerful indeed?

Where did the Soul come from? Is it a creation/function of the body as it grows? Or is the Soul from an outside source?
If it is truly a function of the body, then it dies when the body dies.
If it is from an outside source, what placed it there? This would seem to indicate some form of religious belief.
A Soul would be an indicator of some external order, Atheism doesn’t really abide external order.

Interesting, Avalonian. So, in your mind, there’s nobody running the supernatural show. Let me ask you if the “supernatural” is a higher realm, or is it just a parallel realm, in your mind? And, is there any “supernatural” death? Or, do people live “forever.”

Many Budhists are very much atheists (don’t believe in any God) and believers in Souls (karma, reincarnation).
Atheism can and sometimes does abide external order, atheism mearly states there is no supreme God being of unlimited power whom created the universe and rules the universe. An athiest could even believe in god like beings, as in beings with tremendous power compared to our own, but would see no inherrant value in worship of such beings.
A Star Trek ‘Q’ like being would not be incompattable to atheism.

So there are even Athiestic Hinduswho believe in their pantheon of gods, but view the gods as expressions of human capacities and emotions, rather than as externally existing worshipable entities.

I disagree, because I think you create a false dichotomy here. If, as I said, souls exist separately from the body, then who’s to say they’re not some sort of product of the natural (or supernatural) world? If our physical bodies were initially created by natural progression, as I believe, then I don’t find it too much of a stretch to imagine that our spiritual bodies were created by a similar process… simply one we can’t discern yet.

Clucky, I suppose the “supernatural” realm would be considered parallel, to me… there’s no real hierarchy of existence to my mind. As to a “supernatural” death… I don’t know yet. Perhaps simply existence on different planes at different times, but not an end. That’s a big question, though, and I haven’t decided what I believe yet, for that.

SentientMeat, I see what you’re saying, but to me it’s a big difference to say that supernatural beings exist, and that one (or several) of them is instrumental in the creation and continued existence of humanity. It may seem a small step to you, but it’s a rather major distinction to me. I guess a take a more egalitarian perspective on the supernatural than that.

Apos, your perspective on it is pretty much the one I share. Others, obviously, don’t agree.

I think Ava is dead on in calling attention to the way that

smuggles in the concept of an active god (or at least some intentional subject going around “placing” things), and then acts surprised to discover it there. Begs the question it does.

I say: if you cannot give an intelligible definition of what a “supernatural” thing is, then of what use is the word? There’s no intelligible content there. To say that something both exists and is not “natural” is to foolishly assert ones own omniscience, since no one can claim to understand all of the “natural” world. But then, the same problem occurs with the word “natural.” I’ll stick to more helpful concepts like existence, non-existence, and the various mechanisms that describe how things work.

I can’t see any direct, logical connection between having a soul and the existence of an omnipotent Creator, but since this issue deals with religion and the supernatural, perhaps expecting logical connections is a bit much.

The hope that something of us lasts longer than our bodies seems to be universal, and I guess if the concept of a soul did not exist we would have to invent it. Even if souls exist, however, I see no inherent reason why such things would have to be created by a “God”, any more than that our bodies have to be created by a “God”.

So, my opinion is, no compelling reason to link the two. I’ll just have to add, though, that in my opinion there is no more evidence of the existence of a soul than there is of the existence of a supreme creator, which, sorry, is next to none.

While we’re on the subject of the supernatural, I’d like to demonstrate a clear, unimpeachable example of clairvoyance by stating that I believe lekatt will weigh in on this discussion at some point.

It depends on the atheist.

If they recognize that there is no evidence or argument that leads to the conclusion that a god or gods exist, it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to suspend the rules of evidence and rational thought to believe that souls exist.

They might acknowledge the possibility, though. (Further definition of the term ‘soul’ is required.)

If it’s an emotional reaction (or counter-reaction) to religious belief, they easily might believe in souls.

Crap… I believe you’re right. Why, oh why, do I never think these things through?

Looks like the rest of the gang has already spoken, so I guess I should weigh in as well to help “ruin” the thread.:wink:

No, Avalonian - there is nothing inherent in atheism that precludes belief in souls. It just happens that most atheists tend to be rationalists as well. And as Apos pointed out, the very idea of “supernatural” things is antithetical to a rationalist outlook. But you are obviously living proof that not all atheists are of like mind on this. Actually, this thread is a good illustration of a point that frequently comes up in other debates: Atheism is not a belief system. The word only denotes the lack of belief in god(s), nothing more.

As others have pointed out, atheism doesn’t specifically deny anything. There are quite a few credulous atheists out there, and I don’t begrudge them that. Believing in the soul is something anyone is entitled too, and definitely “fits” in with atheism (everything except believing in god does, really).

As for the soul, I don’t believe that consciousness is a tangible thing, and thus the soul is just a fantasy. What we experience is, in my opinion, a set of processes. Remove/alter those processes and the ‘mind’ ceases or changes.

I have lots of Atheist friends
…normally a nice lot, that would like religious believes to at least make sense. They make the best Christians because they are seldom given to blindly following a crowd…and want to find things out for themselves…IF they just made sense…

Fairies and Dragons aside…which by the way are cool things…you are not an Atheist…Instead, like others I know, you would like to take different concepts and fit them into a believe system that justifies whatever it is you seek out of life…

This (nor anyone else’s believe including mine for that matter) changes what is true…

Given that, there are two simple choices one can make…1) make up a believe that fits your life (The Church of the Godless Souls perhaps), or 2) Find out what is true…

Since you have said you have little foundation for your believes, I take it you have chosen the easy way out and gone with what’s behind the 1st curtain…

This is well and good, until the day comes when you really want to know…At that point, you’ll question will change…

So label yourself an “Atheist wannabe” for the time being…

Not my point at all. It is antithetical to ANY outlook, because it is unintelligible and a waste of time.

Am I nuts, or is anyone else having a hard time figuring out what Isabelle is talking about?

To me, yes, it is. But it apparently isn’t to other atheists, and I’m not really bothered by it. Not all atheists have the same opinions on these sorts of topics.

Sorry, I thought we were saying the same thing. Please ignore the part that says “As Apos pointed out…”

I had trouble with it as well.

Isabelle is saying we should look for the truth instead of making up beliefs that suit us. I agree.

Yes, El_Kabong, you are psychic.


You have to make a distinction between atheist and skeptic.I happen to be both but not all atheists are skeptics adn not all skeptics are atheists.

A skeptic is not predisposed to not believe in the supernatural either.It is just that skeptical thought processes(re:critical thinking) happen to rule out the supernatural as a rational explanation for anything given the evidence that has been presented thus far.

Not all atheists are such because of rational thought.Newborn babies are atheists as are people so mentally handicapped that they cannot comprehend the word “god”.If you lack a conviction in the existence of gods and you do not willingly worship natural things as gods(the sun, Gaius Ceaser etc.) then you are an atheist.If you rely on rationality and critical thought to come to conclusions about existential claims and such then you are a skeptic.

El_Kabong… you are correct sir!! :smiley:

Isabelle, I assure you that I haven’t taken the “easy way out”… my search for the truth has been extensive and exhaustive, and it is far from over. I have, and I will continue to read and learn from others what I can in a search for what might be. Honestly, I don’t expect that I’ll ever know the whole truth. But I am trying.

You, however, sound like you’ve made up your mind. Frankly, it’s arrogant of you to label my beliefs as “the easy way” or “wannabe,” when you do not know the proces by which I have arrived at them. There are many truths in this world, and very few of them are as simple as the black or white distinction you offer up.

So, thanks but no thanks. I may be many things, but a “wannabe atheist” is not one of them. I assure you that my beliefs are quite serious.

GodlessSkeptic (great name!), I like the distinction you make between atheist and skeptic. While I definitely consider myself an atheist, I am a skeptic only in the sense that I don’t believe everything that I’m told. I analyze, and examine information that I receive. However, as you say, I am not predisposed to not believe in the supernatural. My worldview does not rest only on the rational, so my skepticism does not rule out the supernatural as an explanation.

I guess I’m an atheist, but not entirely a skeptic. Hmm… good points. They make me think.