Can an atheist be an atheist

  • #76
Danger
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zoobyshoe said:
If you have a concept of what primitive psychology was like its as much a modern concept as anyone elses and, by your own logic, just as invalid.
I have no idea of what primitive psychology was like, if you can even apply the term. It would be like 'pet psychology' today. The people of the era that I reference had a sense of self, but none of sociology. They had no idea of what they were 'supposed to think'; they just did what they wanted, and if someone objected they got whapped with a stick. After enough people got whapped with enough sticks, they started to formulate rules of interaction. The art of communication arose from that, and with it the ability to begin laying the groundwork for theology.

zoobyshoe said:
Seems to me if you're going to propose it has become a genetic memory you're going to have to completely toss the idea it's not natural.
Tameness in a cat is not 'natural', but they've been domesticated for so long that they're now born that way.

zoobyshoe said:
Obviously. So....?
So back to the first item. That would be an example of primitive psychology, or as close as any modern-born person could achieve.

zoobyshoe said:
The real question is, would it be "natural" for anyone to start supposing the "spirit" was some kind of "superior" being?
Yet again, you are the one who is supposing that the person would think in terms of a 'spirit' at all. You're essentially quoting Hypatia on something that she said the opposite of.

zoobyshoe said:
Well, of course a homonid isn't going to jump to the concept of transubstantition right off the bat. The more complex the religious concept the more time it takes to develop, and the more people that need to give imput.
That's exactly what I said in the first place, so what the hell are we arguing about?

zoobyshoe said:
But the lone wild human could easily start performing the basics of religion by him or herself.
Again, this is an unsubstantiated assumption. It's never been observed.

Hypatia's last 2 posts pretty much sum up what I would have said if I'd been here, so I'm not going to do any more quoting right now. It seems to me, Hypnogogue, that you are interchangeably using the concepts of 'god-like' and 'transcendental' which are not the same thing. I have had one or two 'peak experiences', and they were 'transcendental'. Not for the briefest moment did the concept of anything supernatural cross my mind. Feeling oneness with nature, including the whole rest of the universe, does not in any way indicate the existence of a supreme being. Someone who had never been exposed to the concept of a supreme being in the first place would be even less likely to think of it.
 
  • #77
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I think a person that had little knowledge could easily interpret these peak experiences as something supernatural. I had a friend who ate some peyote once. He told me he felt like an animal and the experience was completely believable. He had a human body but felt like a predatory animal in the desert. A person with little knowledge of the world and the function of the brain could easily assume that the visions were not transcendental, but real. In my friend's case this would probably take the form of animal spirits had he been an ancient man. He would try to duplicate that experience again and again and again until he develops a set of beliefs and practices, a religion. He would be the guy that goes out in the desert and isolates himself to experience his visions.

Is there another way to explain a peak experience besides drug use? That would be completely hilarious to me if the religions of the world formed in different regions based on the plants that grew there. I feel that peak experiences are only one way that a religion could form. I believe that religions can also be formed from a combination of a lack of understanding and a set of social practices. Making the light that burns could be a religious experience that a person's life depends on. Passing down that belief and practice would ensure survival. Keep in mind that there does not have to be only one way that every religion can form.
 
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  • #78
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yes, there are a lot of different ways to cause the human mind to hallucinate, extreme cold or heat, lack of air, head trauma, mental disorders and deep meditation come to mind.
 
  • #79
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Danger said:
That's exactly what I said in the first place, so what the hell are we arguing about?
I actually have very little idea what you are trying to say. I'm pretty certain the main point of confusion is what you consider "natural" to mean. It still strikes me as untenable to object to religion on the basis it isn't natural.

Somehow, I suspect, you haven't managed to translate the impuse behind what has come out as "Religion isn't natural" into something more to the point. Like Hypnagogue, I can't locate in your, or Hypatia's posts, the source of this unnatural concept of God. Everything you point to as the source of the concept is natural. Therefore I suspect there is some much better word than "natural" you need to express your objection to religion.
 
  • #80
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I didn't address anything having to do with a unnatural concept of God, so I'm sure you won't find it in my post.
 
  • #81
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There is something natural about the human mind that makes it inquisitive. Communication is also natural. Humans are social animals. Those are some of the best natural human traits that I can think of and they have the potential to create and spread spiritual beliefs and practices. There are other human tendencies that are not so good. Those get worked in the mix too.

We may have biological (natural) traits that make the creation of a religion a logical (natural) conclusion. But whether the spirits are themselves natural is another story. Do Gods really exist in nature? Could this be the disagreement in the definition of nature?
 
  • #82
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Huckleberry said:
I feel that peak experiences are only one way that a religion could form.
I really don't have a good idea what the term "peak experience" means, but hallucinations and sensory illusions can certainly arise completely independent of drug use. I know from reading accounts of hallucinations caused by every concievable cause that they are more often taken to be literally true by the experiencer, than questioned. The main reason for that is that they are completely convincing; they can pass every test of their reality you might want to subject them to. The fact is, people are downright resistant to the suggestion they are illusory, and often cling to the belief they're real, even when confronted by twenty other people who swear they don't see or hear them.

If I read what you said correctly the part about the fire was an illustration of the sort of ritual that may take hold because it has a practical value. Native American religions are full of that kind of thing. Agricultural based cultures have alot of rituals based around planting/harvesting cycles, and such.

There are also, though, alot of things that are hard to explain as anything but superstition. There are hunting rituals; spirits to be appeased, or attracted, or fooled, that took hold and persisted. This would be an example of the "lack of understanding" you mentioned. People have a basic grasp of the notion that a like situation should produce like results. I think superstitions arise from people trying to control the arrangement of the elements of a situation to produce the same results that happened at some previous time that were good results. They don't understand that the "lucky shirt" they were wearing actually contributed nothing to the prior success. There is some kind of basic inability to assess what's important about a situation, coupled with the need to feel you have, at least, some control, that you can do something to get the outcome you want.

Superstition seems to be a part of most religions, and there are some religions that don't seem to be anything but superstition. Take the Cargo Cults, for example.

So, yeah, there are alot of naturally occuring promptings to religion, not just the "peak experience" thingy.
 
  • #83
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That all makes perfect sense to me.

The lucky shirt may have no actual effect on a situation, but it could affect a person's confidence if they believed in the power of the shirt. A person's confidence could have an effect on some things. They may try harder just to prove to themselves the power of their shirt.

Superstitious hunting rituals and that sort of thing could be the same. They also bring a group together. If everyone participates in these rituals then it reinforces their actions as a team. It gives them comfort of strength in numbers and purpose.

Even obviously superstitious beliefs have the potential for real results by how they affect the believer.
 
  • #84
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hypatia said:
I didn't address anything having to do with a unnatural concept of God, so I'm sure you won't find it in my post.
Then maybe I misread what this is about:
hypatia said:
But would a person who has no understanding{never having met another human} spiritual world, connect this with a God/Spirt? Or would he say, "wow that was really weird". He would still half to develope his own slightly complex language, to be able to reason with himself.

I agree Danger, for a person to put unexplained events in a God like state, they must have a previous understanding of what that state is.
Aren't you saying it would be "unnatural", in the Dangerian sense, for an isolated individual to concieve of "God"?
 
  • #85
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Huckleberry said:
Even obviously superstitious beliefs have the potential for real results by how they affect the believer.
Exactly true.
 
  • #86
hypnagogue
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Danger said:
It seems to me, Hypnogogue, that you are interchangeably using the concepts of 'god-like' and 'transcendental' which are not the same thing. I have had one or two 'peak experiences', and they were 'transcendental'. Not for the briefest moment did the concept of anything supernatural cross my mind. Feeling oneness with nature, including the whole rest of the universe, does not in any way indicate the existence of a supreme being. Someone who had never been exposed to the concept of a supreme being in the first place would be even less likely to think of it.
I intended the term 'God-like' to be evocative of the sorts of experiences / emotions / values that are typical of spiritual and religious traditions. These need not explicitly entail a concept of God in order to be God-like. We can use 'transcendental' instead if you feel 'God-like' is too loaded.

Anyway, that your personal peak experiences have not been evocative of God, or spirits, or whatever is no disproof that others very well could be. For one thing, you describe yourself as being an atheist from a young age, and you've grown up in an era where religion is increasingly falling out of favor (even if it's still going strong in most parts of the world). Those factors undoubtedly had a great degree of influence on how you received your experience. Whereas perhaps you, or someone with a similar mindset, might look back on a peak experience and reason about some strange neurochemical events taking place in the brain, I submit that a naive human in the very early stages of our history would be prone to a very different sort of interpretation, likely a supernatural one. Even if a God is not explicitly conceived in a peak experience, one might be compelled to create one in order to retroactively explain the experience. This would still be a case of a primitive religion (or at least, a set of core religious concepts) coming from the mind of a single individual rather than a society.

For another thing, I do not doubt that you have had a peak experience or two, but realize that what you have experienced is not representative of all variations of such experiences. The degree to which some aspects of the experience are forced upon the experiencer may vary greatly from person to person and experience to experience, and some experiences may even contain aspects that are entirely absent from others. For instance, an aspect of the peak experience which is sometimes reported is that the world seems sacred or divine. This is a more explicit link to the value systems of religion than some of the other aspects of peak experience (eg a sense of the unity of nature), and one which you didn't report.

Thus far I've just mentioned aspects of experience which are evocative of common religious themes, and which might compel one to form a concept of God or spirits. But it is really not implausible at all to suppose that one could form a concept of God or spirits directly from an unusual experience. For instance, certain hallucinogenic drugs (at sufficiently high doses) seem to quasi-reliably induce in the user a sense of actually coming into contact with other beings. Hallucinations involving a felt presence of other beings can also occur in other contexts as well, such as sleep paralysis. And as zooby has mentioned, in still other contexts one might not sense another being's presence, but instead hear an internal voice which one attributes to another being. So it is really quite plausible that not only the recurring religious themes, but even the concept of God or spirits itself, arose directly from personal experience. To categorically deny this is to fail to grasp the range and depth of possible human experiences.
 
  • #87
loseyourname
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Many ethologist contend that the elephant's act of burying their dead ceremonially suggests belief in an afterlife. Although they are social animals, they certainly did not require a complex language to develop this belief (if they do indeed hold it).
 
  • #88
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loseyourname said:
Many ethologist contend that the elephant's act of burying their dead ceremonially suggests belief in an afterlife. Although they are social animals, they certainly did not require a complex language to develop this belief (if they do indeed hold it).
I have read that it was only recently suspected that elephants "talk" to each other. It's been proven they emit infrasonic noises that carry for miles. That being the case, there is no reason to assume their language, if it is a language, isn't complex. As with whales and birds we really don't know what they're saying to each other. Math Is Hard linked me to some stories elsewhere about some pet parrots that appear to be surprisingly intelligent.

Likewise, no one can say for sure how complex the language of Neanderthal or Homo Erectus might have been. Whatever indications we have today are sketchy, and could be overturned by tomorrows discovery. I don't think it's possible to be confident that homo sapiens are the only creatures that have a complex language.

That being said, and despite it being said, it strikes me as outlandish that anyone would suggest that the way elephant's treat their dead might have anything to do with the way humans treat their dead. We're very far from having anywhere near enough information to suggest something like that.
 
  • #89
Danger
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loseyourname said:
Many ethologist contend that the elephant's act of burying their dead ceremonially suggests belief in an afterlife.
I'm way too tired right now to get back into this thread with any vigour, but I can tell you for sure that elephants do not bury their dead. This is a long-disproven myth brought about by two facts:

1) They show a fascination with the bones and tusks of dead elephants and often play with or examine them.

2) When an older elephant is on its last set of teeth, it seeks out ever-softer foods. Marshes are a prime source thereof, and thus many elderly elephants stay in one until they die. That leads to an accumulation of remains that has nothing to do with any 'ritual'.

Ethologists are experts in the behaviour of humans, but they apparently know nothing of elephants.

I'll check back later.
 
  • #90
loseyourname
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zoobyshoe said:
I have read that it was only recently suspected that elephants "talk" to each other. It's been proven they emit infrasonic noises that carry for miles. That being the case, there is no reason to assume their language, if it is a language, isn't complex. As with whales and birds we really don't know what they're saying to each other. Math Is Hard linked me to some stories elsewhere about some pet parrots that appear to be surprisingly intelligent.
I guess it's just species bias, but I can't bring myself to believe that elephants, or any species other than humans, can communicate concepts as complex and varied as humans.

That being said, and despite it being said, it strikes me as outlandish that anyone would suggest that the way elephant's treat their dead might have anything to do with the way humans treat their dead. We're very far from having anywhere near enough information to suggest something like that.
Okay, I shouldn't have said "many." It's a fringe position and probably incorrect. I just can't think of any known instances of an animal without a language as complex as that of humans developing a religious belief, so any evidence that suggested it was possible seems the best I can offer. Forgive my zeal.
 
  • #91
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This Sunday,8:00 PM est. Discovery channel, Jane Goodall, When animals speak.
 
  • #92
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loseyourname said:
I guess it's just species bias, but I can't bring myself to believe that elephants, or any species other than humans, can communicate concepts as complex and varied as humans.
The reason I wouldn't feel comfortable closing my mind to the notion is that we don't know what, for instance, birds are saying to each other. Since we don't, and can't really form any idea of how a bird percieves the world, we don't know for sure birds aren't communicating very complex concepts to each other when they chirp back and forth. The discovery of how bees tell each other where the flowers are is a prime example of a level of complexity in communication that startled me when I first read about it. It never occured to me that something like an insect could communicate the presence of flowers at a specific remote location without physically leading the other bees there.
Okay, I shouldn't have said "many." It's a fringe position and probably incorrect. I just can't think of any known instances of an animal without a language as complex as that of humans developing a religious belief, so any evidence that suggested it was possible seems the best I can offer. Forgive my zeal.
This paper suggests that the "debunking" of elephant burrial may not be as cut and dried as was suggested. I haven't tried to research the subject myself, and I don't know how reputable anyone in the animal world is, but it seems clear from this paper that some professionals believe that the touching of bones is more than just abstract fascination with shape, and that it is a mourning procedure:

Society&Animal Forum - Society & Animals Journal
Address:http://www.psyeta.org/sa/sa12.2/bradshaw.shtml [Broken]

I can buy mourning with no trouble, but the afterlife thing is too much of a stretch without way, way more information.
 
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  • #93
Math Is Hard
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zoobyshoe said:
This paper suggests that the "debunking" of elephant burrial may not be as cut and dried as was suggested. I haven't tried to research the subject myself, and I don't know how reputable anyone in the animal world is, but it seems clear from this paper that some professionals believe that the touching of bones is more than just abstract fascination with shape, and that it is a mourning procedure:
I've been reading a little bit about elephants lately, and while I haven't found anything definitive on elephant burial procedures, there does seem to be some evidence of elephants' need for mourning their dead and it seems that touching and smelling the bones is something that puts them at ease. I wish I could locate the specific book where I read about an elephant's corpse being removed from a zoo and how the other elephants living there could not be calmed until the zoo keepers returned the bones for inspection. Unfortunately I donated a lot of my books to a local library last summer and I think the one containing this story was among them.
zoobyshoe said:
I can buy mourning with no trouble, but the afterlife thing is too much of a stretch without way, way more information.
As far as awareness or spectulation about the afterlife(or lack of it) by non-humans, the closest thing that I can recall is recounted in the stories of Koko, the famous gorilla who was taught sign language. Koko had a pet kitten (whom she had named All Ball) who died. Not long afterwards, her trainers struck up a conversation with Koko about what she thought about death.
from http://ask.yahoo.com/ask/20000905.html [Broken]

When asked, "Do you want to talk about your kitty?"
Koko signed, "Cry."
"What happened to your kitty?"
Koko answered, "Sleep cat."
When she saw a picture of a cat who looked very much like All Ball, Koko pointed to the picture and signed, "Cry, sad, frown."
 
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  • #94
Moonbear
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Danger said:
Ethologists are experts in the behaviour of humans, but they apparently know nothing of elephants.
Actually, ethologists study animal behavior. However, it is not consistent with ethological studies to attribute meaning to behaviors. Someone who is purely an ethologist records behaviors in a fairly dispassionate way, so I'd question someone who called themself an ethologist who then attributed ritualistic functions to a behavior.

Just as an example of the difference between how a casual observer might describe an event vs how an ethologist would describe it...
Casual observer: The elephant grabbed the bone with its trunk and then buried it in the mud.

Ethologist: Elephant #93283 makes contact of trunk to bone. Trunk is flexed such that it wraps around bone. Head is raised and upper portion of trunk flexed upward while bone is retained by flexed distal portion of trunk. Elephant moves head to the right. Elephant lowers head and trunk and extends trunk. Bone falls onto muddy patch of ground. Elephant contacts mud with trunk and displaces mud. The mud displacement leaves bone covered with mud.

Ethologists catalog behaviors. They'll categorize them into some functional categories, such as mating behaviors (those observed exclusively near the time of mating), or feeding behaviors (those observed only when food is placed into the mouth and swallowed). I've even seen people challenged when they say an animal is "eating" instead of "exhibiting feeding behavior" when they stuck their head into a food bin. Unless you can be certain food was swallowed every time the animal stuck its head into a food bin, you have to call it "feeding behavior," because it could have just been sniffing the food or pushing its nose through it or licking/tasting and spitting it back out. So, while the folks on National Geographic might call burying of elephant bones a sign of mourning, an ethologist ought not attribute an emotional function to a burying behavior.

Huckleberry said:
That all makes perfect sense to me.

The lucky shirt may have no actual effect on a situation, but it could affect a person's confidence if they believed in the power of the shirt. A person's confidence could have an effect on some things. They may try harder just to prove to themselves the power of their shirt.

Superstitious hunting rituals and that sort of thing could be the same. They also bring a group together. If everyone participates in these rituals then it reinforces their actions as a team. It gives them comfort of strength in numbers and purpose.

Even obviously superstitious beliefs have the potential for real results by how they affect the believer.
This sounds like the best explanation to me. What we do know from history is that rituals are borrowed from exising religions and incorporated into new religions. It seems it is the rituals that are the important component of religions (I'm referring to religion as separate from faith or belief; an organized group of people who have similar beliefs and congregate to express those beliefs), and these rituals can serve different functions. Some may stem from superstition or be perceived as a way of controlling nature or of appeasing supernatural beings that in turn control nature on behalf of the worshippers, some may simply be ways to gather people into groups where they have safety in numbers and more success in working as a team than as an individual, and the success reinforces the practice of the ritual. Rituals provide a means for people to bond in situations where teamwork is essential to their survival and don't necessarily require any belief in the supernatural to be practiced or to work.
 
  • #95
loseyourname
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Moonbear said:
Actually, ethologists study animal behavior. However, it is not consistent with ethological studies to attribute meaning to behaviors. Someone who is purely an ethologist records behaviors in a fairly dispassionate way, so I'd question someone who called themself an ethologist who then attributed ritualistic functions to a behavior.
I should be clear and say that I don't know of any instance of an ethologist in a professional aspect claiming that elephant behavior seems indicative of mourning or belief in an afterlife. I have, however, heard of ethologists that make this claim in a personal aspect, as an opinion they have that is almost certainly not scientifically testable. As long as they don't confuse the two modes of making claims, I wouldn't question them. After all, they are human. They're going to speculate about things beyond what they can get published in a journal, and I do think they should have the right to express these.

To be honest, I cannot now remember where I heard these claims, but I am certain that it was not in anything claiming to be scientifically reputable. It's meant only to suggest the possibility that non-human animals might have something akin to spiritual belief (I hesitate to call it 'religious,' with all the attendant ritualistic and organizational structure that word implies) as they do show behavior consistent with that belief. Just saying that it shouldn't be ruled out.
 
  • #96
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I saw a documentary on elephant's ancestral memory. Don't know how fact based it was. They claimed elephants were born remembering where the burial grounds were and where watering holes were. :confused:
 
  • #97
I find it funny people always confuse athiesm with nihilism.
 

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