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a g-g-g-g-ghost! (and a QOD*)

Very busy at work today, but still finding time to write a paragraph here and there on my great work on religion and atheism entitled I Do Believe in Ghosts! So help me out here while I have no time for lengthy blogging. I've got a question of the day for you. Actually, a multi-part question. Do you believe in spirits, the paranormal or otherworldy entities? Can one believe in those things and still be an atheist? Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Share please. *I used to have a QOD section and I let it go. I think I may bring it back, in the form of a message board. Yah?


And I think it's totally compatible to believe in another plane of existence or surviving beyond death and being an atheist. Just because you don't believe that there's a Big Guy running things doesn't mean that you think there's nothing else out there. There doesn't have to be a deity (or deities).

*I used to have a QOD section and I let it go. I think I may bring it back, in the form of a message board. Yah?

Do you believe in spirits, the paranormal or otherworldy entities? Can one believe in those things and still be an atheist? Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Share please.

In order. "Yah". Yeah. I suppose. No. Did.

I suppose one could believe in spirits, but not in a supreme being. ...however, I think that there is virtually no possibility that either exists.

Nope. Don't believe in it, never had one, and yes, there is a disconnect in being an atheist and believing in paranormal activity.

Go to skeptic.com and read up on things. You won't believe in anything at all after that.

It depends on your reasons for being an atheist. I know people who are atheists because they can't believe in a God that has allowed various horrible occurances in history; that's being an atheist from an emotional point-of-view, not from a skeptic's point-of-view. It's similar to vegetarians who wear leather -- if you don't eat animal products because of health reasons, that doesn't preclude you from wearing their skins.

I am not an atheist, and I've never had a paranormal experience. My grandmother has told me some interesting tales of demonic possession to me, but they sounded more like severe mental illness.

I don't believe in the paranormal. I just believe in the hasn't-been-explained-yet. And I'm an apatheist, if that helps.

Yes, I've had a paranormal experience. My grandfather passed in 1969 when I was 15; I was lying on my bed the night after the funeral, enjoying the spring breeze that was coming through the window. I was not asleep, but listening to the night sounds, when out of the darkness I heard a male voice say, "Don't worry, Charlie's here." My grandfather's name was Charles Raymond, but he despised Charles and wouldn't use it. I was the only one whom he allowed to tease him about it, and I used to call him Charlie. That still gives me a great deal of comfort.

Imperial Keeper

I have not seen persuasive evidence that any of these things exist or happen, nor have I seen plausible explanations for how they would work.

Now, let me answer the unasked question: Do I WANT any of this to be true?

Certainly, it would be comforting to believe that the righteous are always rewarded and the wicked punished, at the will of a infinitely benevolent, infinitely wise and infinitely powerful being. Certainly, it would be nice if somehow we could continue to experience and grow after our physical bodies died. But given the lack of evidence, I can't bring myself to believe anything of the sort actually happens.

As to the Folk--the modern impression is that they are at least inhumanly cute and beautiful, at best fit rulers of the human race (a supernatural extension of what I call the Regal Fallacy, neatly expressed by Terry Pratchett in a story about golems: It's as if humans had a piece of paper in their heads written with the words, "Kings! What a good idea!") But many old traditions seem to hold that they are at best tricksy wights, and at worst malevolent fiends; the respect shown them is the respect shown a Mafia Don, rather than a saint or loving parent. Even their good deeds are capricious and self-aggrandizing.

Given the behavior of the aforementioned Dons, who only aspire to be above human law, I'm not at all sure I'd want to share the universe with creatures who could violate thermodynamic law at will, and consequently might have no sympathy or respect for mortals. Fortunately, again, there isn't any good evidence that I do.


ps: Oh, and about that "piece of paper". It appears that there's an area of our brains that causes us to have religious experiences when stimulated.

I've heard stories of atheists and agnostics converting to their local religion after being stimulated for medical or research purposes.

Now, I think this is evidence that religious experience is an result of evolution and neurology. Like the appreciation of music being an outgrowth of speech, it's a side effect of circuitry that arose for something else entirely.

But say it's not. Say it's there ON PURPOSE.

That means we come equipped with a slave circuit.

And if that turns out to be the case, I'm gonna be really, really pissed.

Until God pushes the training button, anyway....

I was standing up with my sister at her wedding. As we turned for the recessional, I saw my grandmother among the family, a year after her death. Other people have seen her at other times. But none of us have seen my grandfather, who died several years earlier.

I'm an atheist. I believe in spirits and have had experiences with them. I believe I'm here through my own free will, and my purpose is to learn as much as I can, including how to become a better person. I believe any rewards or punishments happen in this life (ie karma or "what goes around comes around"). I just don't believe in a director/CEO of this activity called a god.

I'm not an athiest; I'm a very traditional Christian, but like Meryl Yourish, I'm also a skeptic. I used to believe in aliens and poltergeists and chupacabras, and read and speculate about them endlessly. About seven years ago, I read Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World," and started reading www.csicop.org and www.skepdic.com and after that, there was just no way I could honestly believe that stuff anymore. After reading case after case that had been debunked, and starting to understand how coincidence, imagination and human error build upon each other, I began to understand how paranormal occurances are born, and why they are so convincing. It was a reluctant conversion, believe me, because believing in the paranormal is fun.
Even as a skeptic, I'm still a fanatic about victorian and edwardian ghost stories.

What is interesting about that place in the brain is that no one considers that the experiment isn't 'simulating' anything--what if, under the proper circumstances, we all are easily able to percieve the divine?

There is clearly an area of the brain that percieves---something--- when it's poked at. Why is that perception immediately discarded as erroneous?

"Do you believe in spirits, the paranormal or otherworldy entities?"


"Can one believe in those things and still be an atheist?"

I don't see why not, so long as you aren't thinking of them as creative deities.

"Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Share please."

Nope, not a one that I can't explain by seeing things out the corner of my eye, being woken from a dream by some noise, or the like.

Ditto what Meryl said...in order to maintain a truly consistent worldview, both "supreme being" and paranormal stuff (ghosts, etc) must either be accepted or rejected as part of one package.

I, naturally, reject both.

I believe in... something. I think there is some sort of plane of existence we can't perceive, a dimension that includes all of the things we think of as "paranormal" and the things that some people call "souls" and "spirits." But I don't believe in God as one specific entity defined by any faith I've found so far.

David, I disagree. I believe in a supreme being, but I don't believe that spirits wander the earth, haunting houses and hitchhiking and whatnot. The crux of the matter is that I don't demand proof that God exists, because he exists outside of the universe--it's a philosophical matter. Whereas if ghosts are really chucking china at people and lowering the temperature of the rooms they inhabit, and appearing mysteriously in photographs, and scratching messages on the walls, it ought to be easily proven empirically.

Jack, good old Occam's Razor should keep us from assuming that the areas of the brain that evoke religious experiences when stimulated are tuned to perceive the divine.

Assuming that the divine is in fact being perceived begs the question of what the divine is and how the brain perceives it. A very great deal is known about the physics, chemistry, and neurology of the other senses--nothing at all is known about a sense of the divine. In particular, note that the other senses derive from specialized organs that act as energy transducers, and then feed data to brain areas responsible for processing it and integrating it into the overall experience of consciousness. The brain itself receives no sense data directly--it doesn't even sense pain when it is damaged. Where is the sense organ, the transducer, for the divine? Energy is mass times velocity squared. How much mass does divine energy move how fast?

I must grant that relatively little is known about the way consciousness itself arises in the brain. It's very dangerous to make definite statements about the mechanisms of specific aspects of consciousness, for instance our appreciation of music. Nevertheless, it seems safer by far to assume that something as nebulous as a sense of the divine arises as an artifact of a mechanism evolved to accomplish some other task, than to assume the divine, particularly given the absence of any other repeatable supporting evidence. (A likely candidate mechanism is the one that recognizes, from indirect evidence such as a footprint or an abandoned tool, that other humans have been present. See Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained.)

Oh, and I see that in addition to talking about stuff in my first post that wasn't asked, I also failed to answer things that were; my apologies.

First: the only difference between believing in a god, and believing in any other supernatural entity, is one of scale. You might believe in small supernaturals, but be unwilling to accept one so large and powerful as to be able to create the universe itself. In principle, though, they're the same thing: self-aware entities that apparently evade at least the laws of thermodynamics. Or, in the case of a god, establish those laws.

Second: I have had several experiences that could be explained through supernatural means, although none strikingly so. For instance, not long after learning to drive I had a dream that I would die in a fiery car crash if I drove to work. So I didn't drive that day, and had no crash. Was I warned? Would I have crashed had I driven?

How should I know? How could I tell?

I'll say this: I had a couple of accidents during the same time period, and no dreams warned me about them. I have a recurring dream about being stopped by the police under various unpleasant (and grossly unlikely) circumstances; none of those have ever come to pass, even though I drove those days. No dream warned me of the speeding ticket I did get.

No one publicly claimed beforehand to have received a psychic warning about 9-11. There may be some who now claim they were warned, but to my knowledge no one came forward prior to the event.

Finally, I have to mention David Brin's beautiful definition of magic: "The persuasive telling of untruths." Note the un-pejorative word "untruths", and keep in mind that essentially everything we perceive is an illusion. Magic, in this sense, then becomes very real and very powerful; if someone controls your perceptions, they control you. Actors, politicians, artists, musicians, lawyers, priests: magicians all. Have a care.