Atheists and Life's Foxholes

So, are you positing that there’s something specifically helpful about craving assistance from Spongebob, that you benefit from even if you don’t believe that he can help you?

I should maybe have directed that part of the answer to @LSLGuy and @panache45 (see posts #142 and #144.)

I think a lot of people believe that the existence of God is obvious, but that the instructions they think God gave them need to be taught.

The first part of that is IMO backed by the difficulty some of them have in understanding that no, atheists don’t believe in God at all; whether we’re in foxholes or otherwise. Some really seem to think that we must either be deliberately refusing to worship despite the obvious existence of god, or else be substituting something else into the space labelled “God” – setting up humanity in general or ourselves as individuals as god, or worshipping science as if it were a god, for instance. It seems to come across to some (not all) religious people as if we were saying that the sun doesn’t exist.

It could also serve a social purpose. While religion can certainly tear communities apart, it can also hold them together. Maybe in our original smaller groups the religious impulse worked more towards the holding together than towards the tearing apart, in part by providing a sense that the whole community was part of something larger.

That reaching might also make it possible for them to help themselves; if only by putting themselves into a frame of mind in which it’s possible to think of something other than panic.

See above, about talking to the cats or the fields. (Post #137.)

Thanks for a most thoughtful answer gdave. It’s true that I am grieving something lost.

I often cross my fingers, pray to god, blow on dice, yearn for eternal life and so on. But I am an atheist and the logical part of my brain knows none of it is real. Praying and wishing are quite similar, if not the same thing. Just something humans do.

The last thing in Pandora’s box was hope.

Yes, if they are also not taught how the natural world works. People do invent gods to explain stuff they don’t understand. But without books and traditions, each person’s god will look a lot different from every other person - just like the gods of various cultures look a lot different. You might get a common pantheistic kind of god, but that’s about it.

I’m not sure it’s a bug, more of a side effect. Understanding causality is very useful - the cause of that stirring in the reeds may be a tiger. Finding causes everywhere leads us to imagine causes for stuff not so obvious, like rain, lightning, and death. Thus the big man who makes these things happen.
Pretty much all gods are gods of the gap when you get down to it.

Explaining how things happen isn’t all of it, though. There’s also that emotional level of feeling connected with the universe. It’s possible to separate that from anything defined as theism, and many atheists are quite capable of it, just as some religious people probably aren’t; but what I might call the religious impulse is something going on in the head that’s entirely separate from ‘I need an explanation for why it rained today and not last week’ or even from ‘I need an explanation of why my cousin got struck by lightning.’

The explanations are certainly a useful add on, just like it’s a useful add on to make rhythmic noisemaking a means of communication; but in both cases it’s not the only, and I suspect not the main, reason humans do such things.

Personally I would think it is the opposite way round: that anthropomorphizing everything we can’t explain is likely the primary psychological cause of religion.
After all, the idea of a single, personal god who cares about every individual human (and by “cares” here I do not mean necessarily has benevolent intentions, I just mean takes notice of all human events) is not a feature of all, or even most, religions. ISTM most ancient religions were polytheist and most gods of those religions either don’t care about humans at all, or have a narrow focus.
Such religions don’t promise any benefit to the believer (hence why they ultimately got out-competed by the monotheistic personal god religions), you believe them because, well, Why else does it rain?

But…it’s not something worth arguing over. We can just agree that anthropomorphizing and search for connection / meaning are both key reasons for belief.

Not sure how to phrase this, but –

For one: A strong sense of connecting with the universe doesn’t require thinking that the universe is paying any attention to you in particular.

For two: not everybody has such experiences. Maybe you don’t, in which case it’s going to be hard for you to understand the strength of them.

I think that most people are basically pre-Copernican. Sure everyone, except flat earthers, accept that the universe is really big and we’re just a speck in it. But if someone feels that God created the universe for us (which makes more sense in a geocentric universe) they think we’re still the center of it in some fundamental sense. That’s a universe easier to feel connected to than one with regions we can’t see even in principle.
I’m in awe of the universe, but I don’t feel connected to it - except in the trivial sense that I’m a (miniscule) part of it.

It depends what exactly we mean by a strong sense of connecting. For sure many people who believe in a personal god would consider that integral.
And if we’re watering down “connection” to just feeling like a miniscule and unimportant part of it, why would you need religion for that? Our ancestors still needed to hunt, pick seasonal fruits, drink from the lake that just got replenished from the rain…we had good reason to feel “connected”, always. More so than the modern world in fact.
What personal gods bring, is the idea that the great forces of nature actually care about you and I. That’s a powerful thing, but, as I say, not all religions have that, so that can’t be mandatory.

Firstly, I don’t need to experience feelings first hand to understand claims being made about them.
But secondly, this point is irrelevant to what we were just talking about. So what if I am incapable of understanding the strength of a feeling – we were discussing why humans have a tendency towards religion and whether anthropomorphizing or connectedness is the central reason.

I think in this case you do. Maybe in the others also – it’s hard to understand what you’re not understanding.

It’s not the strength, or not only the strength; it seems to me that what’s not being understood is the nature of the experience.

But in any case, I don’t see why the strength would be irrelevant to which the central reason is. I’m not sure it’s something we can know, however, at our current state of understanding how human brains work.

The concept of agent detection is relevant:

As the article says, agent detection is suspected of playing a role in belief in the supernatural.

No, I don’t.

The nature of the feeling is not what we were discussing. You made the claim that a feeling of connectedness is the main reason why humans create religions.
I have not disputed that it is one of the key reasons (in fact, I said exactly that), but I don’t think it is the reason for religion as many religions don’t include this at all; their gods (which often represent elements of nature) are a bunch of bickering dudes who don’t give a shitino about humans.

It doesn’t matter a damn whether the feeling of connectedness is good, bad, transcendent, like totes awesome or rather ticklish. It’s irrelevant to what we were discussing and the point being put to you.

By analogy, consider the claim “The main reason women get pregnant is because they’re masochists and want to enjoy the pain of childbirth”. I don’t need to have given birth, or be a woman, to evaluate that claim as false.

A feeling of connectedness doesn’t so much cause one to feel like “the universe cares about my individual self” as it shifts what one regards as the self. Think about it.

Or maybe start with a sense of interconnectedness with all humankind. A sense of “we’re all in this together” and “I can get some pleasure and happiness from my connections with other people — a lot of it, in fact” bring more than a sense of one’s miniscule unimportance in a flock of billions of other people. It changes the answer to the question “Who are you” because now you can answer in the plural, you can answer “We are…” not just “I am…”. It’s not supernatural, it’s not mythological, and it also doesn’t erase the single individual sense of self. It also doesn’t intrinsically require that one begin using a lot of lofty Capitalized Words and can be described and discussed with people who don’t go all Hallmark Cards about the phenomenon.

Well, all of that is true for being connected with the universe as a whole, too. We don’t have an article for an all-inclusive sense of self the way “we” relates to “I”, so years ago I invented one, WEME3. I don’t regard WEME3 as “a personal God external to me who takes care of me” and yet the connection itself brings me happiness. I wouldn’t so much say that it “gives life meaning” as that it helps clarify meaning. I do regard myself as theistic but at the same time I acknowledge the many people who have told me “I don’t think you belong in this discussion, you can’t take the word ‘God’ and use it for something that is that far away from what other people mean by ‘God’, you aren’t debating in good faith”. I’m not a “WEME3 worshipper”. But a valid answer to “Who are you?” is, for my experience, “WEME3 art that which is”.

Sometimes people in their individual lives find comfort in sensing and knowing that life will continue after they individually are gone, that “my people” will live on. And sometimes an individual person has done so much for their people that after they are gone individually, people say they “live on”. And that the “spirit” of them lives in the continued work that others do and inspires them.

I have felt similar comfort when I have on occasion despaired about the species human and reached out for the connection and came back with the reassurance that “Even if the human species fails to get its collective act together, there will be life forms where there are both individual intelligences and social interconnections and shared culture and collective thoughts, and if the ideal outcomes don’t manifest themselves here on earth, they’ll still happen, don’t worry, the universe is very large”.

Indeed it is, and you are a part of it. Your consciousness as an individual is a part of it, a subset of it. WEME3 did not “create you” as a separate entity conjuring you into existence, so much as some twelve billion years ago you became, with no prior causation (indeed, with no prior anything not even prior time) and absolutely everything subsequent to that is a subset of that. Quite literally. Go ask any skeptical atheist scientist.

Whether realizing that as a sense of self brings you a sense of connection and happiness is not something I can know, of course; your mileage may vary.

I didn’t say it was ‘the reason’ for religion. There may well be multiple reasons for religion. And all we now have access to are later forms, from which we can’t deduce the origins: one of the things we do know is that religion that starts in one form is very likely to turn into another; the specific beliefs mutate, invert, and/or drop their essence and leave only the shell of what was built around it.

– think I’ll proceed to quote Pratchett:

Around the Godde there forms a Shelle of prayers and Ceremonies and Buildings and Priestes and Authority, until at Last the Godde Dies. Ande this maye notte be noticed

But what interests me is the question of what the religious impulse is doing in humans, in multiple senses of ‘doing’: how did it get there, what function(s) did it originally fill, what function(s) is it filling now? And how does it work with, and sometimes against, the explanatory impulse you’re talking about?

Because the religious impulse I’m talking about isn’t the impulse to explain why it is or isn’t raining. It’s a different impulse altogether; and in many humans it’s very strong.

The impulse to explain things is also very strong in humans, and winds up building a lot of that outer shell. But it comes from a different part of the mind – it’s a rational impulse, a scientific one, at the heart of it; even if it’s used in an unscientific manner, even when it’s used to quash scientific learning. It’s an attempt to explain the universe to the rational mind, the part that’s using language. The religious impulse or experience that I and I’m pretty sure AHunter3 are talking about is arational. It doesn’t really translate well to the rational mind: hence, I suspect, the frequency of that shell developing.

This. Very much this.

:slight_smile: I often say that organized / institutionalized religion is to spirituality what taxidermy is to wildlife.

Or you could just read the articles. Both were well worth my time.

What makes you think I haven’t? As a matter of fact I stumbled on them independently of this thread before I ever saw them linked here.

Seeing parallels between game development and conspiracy “development” is hardly blaming anything on gaming. I do not know how that was your take away from those articles. It suggested to me you only read the titles.

This passage made impression with me:

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical .