Global Atheist Convention – Sunday, 15 April (Part Three)

Sam Harris

I have always been interested in spirituality (see my blog post Fashion Faux Pas and Literary Lunacies: How Dawkins and Harris overhauled my intellectual wardrobe). Like many of my generation, I stopped off in ‘New Age Spiritualism’ on my journey towards atheism.

I found Sam Harris just as I was on the outskirts of Atheistville. I still had some souvenirs of “New Age Spiritualism” hanging around my neck, but I’d divested myself of most of the  ‘woo’ before I bought End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation – ironically with some ‘Christmas’ money given to me by a crystal-gazing aunt.

It was after reading Letter to a Christian Nation that a little light bulb went on in my head. I remember thinking, with some surprise, “Oh! I’m an atheist!”

As a new ‘gnu’ atheist, I found The End of Faith incredibly confronting with its negative portrayal of Islam – I was, and still am, far more concerned about fundamentalist Christianity.  Islam is dangerous but it’s out in the open and easy to spot.  The encroachment of fundamentalist Christianity is insidious, often silent and invisible.  We don’t recognise its stranglehold on our secular institutions until it’s happened.

Having been introduced by Harris to the ‘new atheist’ genre, I moved on to read Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Hitchens’ God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Like Harris, they didn’t make me an atheist, they just made me realize I was one. More importantly, they politicized me and made me realise I should get off my arse and do something about the religious assault on secularism, human rights and individual autonomy.

Sam Harris took to the GAC 2012 stage and immediately acknowledged the late, great Christopher Hitchens.

Hitch, said Harris, “had more wit, style and substance than a few civilisations I could name.”

Fittingly, perhaps, Harris then went on to talk about death.

“The ‘good news’ of atheism,” said Harris, “is that nothing happens after death. We return to nothingness; so there’s nothing to worry about.  If we’re right, death is not a problem; life is the problem.”

“To not believe in God,” he said, “is to know that it falls to us to make the world a better place.”

Harris spoke of how religion makes the world  worse, not better.

Because of the interference of the Catholic Church, they are still arguing in the US about whether women should have access to contraception. This,  he said, “while the church nurtures ‘an army of child rapists’!

Harris also spoke of religion’s ‘misuse of human energy’ and its ‘manufacturing of human unhappiness’.

Harris accepts that we can’t make the world a paradise – and who would want one?

At university, when I studied utopian thought, I quickly realised that one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia.  Harris is not concerned with creating a ‘perfect’ world or a ‘perfect society’, but he is concerned with the human condition – with making lives happier, more meaningful, more productive and, surprisingly, more ‘spiritual’.  More ‘gross national happiness’, perhaps.

And then, the important question, “What does atheism have to offer?”

If we are to argue for an ‘End of Faith’ what do we propose to put in its place?

Harris accepts that as ‘mere disbelief in god’ atheism doesn’t have much to offer. But, he said, “Atheism clears the space for better conversation.”

But can atheism do what religion does?

Harris acknowledged, for example, that religion can help people make sense of tragedy. It provides the answer that most people think they need.

“If your child dies in a car accident,” said Harris, “believing she’s in heaven with Jesus has to be consoling.”

So, we have to ask, “What is lost when we jettison religion?”

And, at least part of the answer is, “Total consolation in the face of death.”

If we are to argue for a world without religion, said Harris, “we have to build a bridge to deal with this fact.”

“We spend most of our lives tacitly assuming we’ll live forever,” he said. “There’d better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time!”

Accepting that we have one life, and that is all we get, is a great motivation to make the most of our time.

But, if you don’t believe in God, “What is the point?”

It’s a sensible question, said Harris, and there is an answer. But, the answer requires a change of attitude towards life.

We need to learn to live in the present moment, he said,  reminding us that  “It is always ‘now‘.”

It is a ‘liberating truth about the nature of the human mind’, he said, “that the past is a memory; the future is merely a thought arising now”.

“We need to attend to the present moment. We need to consciously experience ‘now’; “because consciousness is everything”.

“How can we truly be fulfilled in life?”

“How can we make our lives worth living?”

The answer, said Harris, is that how we think about an experience determines how we feel about it.

It was at about this time that I felt I’d tumbled down some GAC rabbit hole and ended up in at an Eckhart Tolle lecture.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, was Oprah Winfrey’s poster boy for a while.  He was a bit too full of ‘woo’ for my taste but he did have a lot of good ideas if you stripped away the woo.

At 29, according to Tolle, he underwent an ‘inner transformation’ that led him to experience a constant ‘state of bliss’.

To his credit, Tolle says that religions “have become so overlaid with extraneous matter that their spiritual substance has become almost completely obscured”, that they have become “to a large extent … divisive rather than unifying forces” and become “themselves part of the insanity”.

To me, Harris’ message seemed to echo Tolles words’:   “the most significant thing that can happen to a human being [is] the separation process of thinking and awareness”. He says that awareness is “the space in which thoughts exist” and that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it”.

Harris confirmed that he was speaking about ‘secular spiritualism’ and that meditation was one method to help achieve the ‘mindfulness’ he was speaking of.

“The antidote to  fear of death is to live life in the present,” he said.

“We have to create a world we want to live in; and religion is a bad way to do that.”

What happened next was, to many bizarre – to others, the highlight of the convention.  Harris took us through a guided meditation.

I had sat through many guided meditations during my stay in ‘New Age Spiritualism’, but I hadn’t expected to experience it in downtown ‘Atheistville’.  I admit some discomfort at being thrust into it unexpectedly. It’s not that I objected, or that I was offended. I guess I see meditation as a rather personal thing, something I’d like to be prepared for rather than having it ‘sprung on me’ .  But, I was up for any experience, so I closed my eyes and listened to the admittedly relaxing tones of Sam’s voice.

I was speaking to my friend Anthony, at the Sunshine Coast Atheists meeting tonight. He attended the convention and said he was quite moved by the experience of Harris’ meditation.

Me? Not so much.  Three late nights in a row, no breakfast, and the soporific sound of Sam’s voice soon had me nodding off.  I was putting too much effort into staying awake to really concentrate on anything else.

For me – and this is entirely subjective – the session would have been better in the first session of the day or after morning tea or lunch when we were a bit refreshed.  This isn’t a criticism of the organisers at all. I’m not sure that they knew what Harris planned to do and it’s difficult to shuffle speakers around because one of them might happen to put the whole audience to sleep!

I know that opinion was divided on the meditation. I’m perfectly willing to take the blame for the fact it didn’t do much for me, and I’m happy for those who found it a deep and meaningful experience.

Harris was aware that what he’d done might be thought strange or controversial.

“I’ve smuggled mindfulness meditation into this talk and foisted it on 4,000 atheists!” he laughed.

But, he explained, it’s important to know how to clear your mind and focus on ‘the now’.

“It takes a long time to realise how much thought is clouding our present experience.”

He felt that mindfulness and meditation can be useful in moments of crisis.

“Relief can be gained by bearing down on the present moment; it erodes the pain.”

I think there’s a lot of value to be had in Harris’ pursuit of ‘secular spirituality’.  I also think that living in the ‘now’ is good advice for those who want to maximise their happiness (and who doesn’t?).

What Harris didn’t talk about, but Eckhart Tolle does, is monitoring your ‘self-talk’; listening to and taking note of the silent conversations you constantly have with yourself and working to expunge negative feedback.  If you actually listen to your self-talk you’ll often find yourself saying some pretty hurtful and irrational stuff about yourself!  The ‘trick’ is not to accept the truth of what you tell yourself, but to challenge it and try to change the negative thoughts ‘looping’ through your head to something more positive.

Something else Harris didn’t discuss, but which I practice in my own life , is living in gratitude – trying to be constantly aware of how lucky I am to be alive and enjoying a life of such comparative luxury that many people in the world could not even imagine such good fortune.  I know that Dawkins often touches on this.  I find this an excellent way to put life’s small tragedies into perspective.   I’m not always ‘zen’ in the moment of crisis, but I think it helps me recover more quickly and move on. Not always, but mostly.

So, is meditation and mindfulness enough to fill the ‘void’ left by religious belief?

I doubt it. People are lazy and meditating effectively takes time and dedication.

“Jesus loves me, God will fix it,” is much easier.

I don’t think meditation is a discipline most people will practice; unless of course there’s a huge culture change and meditation is taught in schools and encouraged in the workplace.

And, is  it even necessary or desirable  to fill the religious ‘void’?  I think we need to have a conversation about that!

Is there even a ‘void’ to fill?

I can only speak for myself. Certainly my ‘New Age’ belief in an afterlife helped enormously to ease my grief when my father died. In fact, I think it may have eased it too much.  I loved him deeply but, to this day, I’ve never shed a tear at his passing.  I regret that.

When I realised – after reading Harris – that I was ‘an atheist’, I thought, “Oh dear, I guess I’m going to have to give up this idea of life after death!”

But, at the time, that idea was painful. I liked to believe my Dad was watching over me;  it gave me comfort and did no-one any harm. I knew it was irrational – I half knew it was fantasy – but it was a security blanket I wasn’t prepared to part with …. yet.

So, I didn’t push myself.  I just let it sit there, completely out of place with my other beliefs, until one day I thought, “Oh, it’s gone!”

And it didn’t hurt at all.

Speaking for myself, I’m not afraid of death. I see death as exactly the same as ‘before birth’. I don’t spend a moment regretting the years I missed before I was born, and I’m quite sure I won’t spend a moment regretting the years I missed after I’ve died.  The two states are the same – nothing/non-existence.

Pain is another matter, I’m quite afraid of pain.  If there’s going to be a lot of pain, let me die quickly!

I don’t know if it’s a good thing to ease the pain of a death of a loved one. Perhaps it’s a right of passage – something we just have to work our way through. Certainly I now regret that my grief at my Dad’s death was numbed by an irrational belief that he wasn’t ‘really’ dead.

I’ve given it quite a lot of thought over the past week and I think building strong, supportive communities is more important than encouraging atheists to take up meditation to fill the alleged ‘god shaped hole’.  My friends who have left religion behind often say the biggest loss was the support of a close, co-operative community.  Of course, when my friends admitted their atheism, those loving Christian communities pulled down their shutters and put out their ‘closed for business’ signs. Share the delusion or share nothing seems to be their credo.

I draw great strength and inspiration from the atheist ‘community’ – both real life and online.  Here I’ve found friendship, laughter, emotional support and (even more important) IT support!

Personally, I don’t feel a ‘god shaped hole’ in my life at all. I know how to meditate but I don’t find it particularly helpful.  That’s not to say, of course, that others won’t.  My sense of  ‘spirituality’ comes from love and service and laughter and gratefulness.

I think Sam Harris had some important things to say. I’d like to read more. But on the strength of his GAC 2012 speech, I can’t say I’m completely buying the whole package.

Chrys Stevenson

If you’re interested in meditation, you might like to read Sam Harris’ “How to Meditate”.

27 thoughts on “Global Atheist Convention – Sunday, 15 April (Part Three)

  1. Andrew Finden

    The ‘good news’ of atheism,” said Harris, “is that nothing happens after death.

    The gospel according to Harris!
    Perhaps it’s worth asking what some of my atheist friends, insisting that we should only make claims that we can know (empirically), ask me: how does Harris know this? Or is he willing to admit that this a statement of faith? If it’s faith, is it blind faith, or reasonable faith?

    Reply
    1. Graeme Hanigan

      Harris goes on to say “If we’re right, death is not the problem” which introduces doubt about the statement and would suggest he was expressing an opinion.

      Reply
  2. Andrew Finden

    One the one hand I do admire Harris’ attempt at avoiding the Nihilism that the “old” Atheists like Nietzsche saw as the inevitable outcome of Atheism, but on the other hand, I can’t help but think that most of it is the use of kinds of philosophical ‘skyhooks’, ideas with no real connection to the foundations they are actually drawn from. Harris seems to me to want to spend a kind of left-over ‘christian’ credit in talking about things like meaning.

    Have found your write ups on GAC rather interesting, in any case.

    Reply
  3. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

    Oh, come on, Andrew! The science of neurology shows us that the brain controls our consciousness and our personalities. Body chemicals govern our emotions. What we ‘are’ exists within brain matter. When we die, the brain dies and rots, is burned or is dissected for medical research. WE are no more. This is measurable and observable. It is rooted in evidence.

    You would have us believe that there is some invisible ‘soul’ which nobody can see, nobody can measure, and which (because we now know so much about how the brain works) has no practical function. When we die this invisible ‘thing’ floats on out of us and somehow reconstitutes itself into the body it left behind and goes to live in an invisible place, for which there is no evidence, to live with an invisible deity, for which there is also no evidence.

    You may as well tell me that all crocodiles have invisible alarm clocks inside them. We can’t see them or hear them, but when crocodiles die the invisible alarm clock floats on out of them all the way to Neverland and reconstitutes again as a rapscallion reptile to live through eternity with Captain Hook.

    As for ‘meaning’ – are you honestly suggesting that meaning can only exist within Christian theology?

    Reply
    1. Andrew Finden

      Chrys, if you weren’t so dismissive, you might not have missed my point.

      But first a detour to your response..
      It doesn’t appear that the mind-brain issue is as clear cut as you would have us believe. While it is certainly the case that the physical brain effects the mind, the reductionist view that the mind is nothing but the brain is by no means the consensus view. Indeed, such materialist reductionism is itself a presupposition which you can’t defend empirically either (you could try, but it would be a circular argument).

      You would have us believe that there is some invisible ‘soul’ which nobody can see, nobody can measure, and which (because we now know so much about how the brain works) has no practical function.

      Again, it appears you’re well overstating what we ‘know’, and moreover, what we can ‘know’. It’s worth paying heed to the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington and his fishing net analogy: If you have a net with three-inch holes, you shouldn’t be surprised that you never catch a fish smaller than three-inches. To conclude that no fish under three-inches exist would be silly. So too, he says, why ought we expect to catch evidence of the spirit via a net of physical science? It is fallaciously circular to claim that only what science can measure exists.
      And that brings me back to my point.
      If Harris, and yourself want to hold to reductionistic philosophical naturalism, and claim that when our physical existence ends, that’s it, fine, go for it, but recognise that such a claim (and he is making a positive claim) is not something that is, or can be known in any empirical sense. It is a statement of faith. Now it appears you feel it to be a well reasoned, evidenced (but again, it cannot be known) position. Whether we agree on the soundness of that reasoning or the extent of that evidence is well beside the point – faith is sometimes, as you show, based on reason and evidence. Perhaps you already agree with that?

      How does Harris know what he claims? He doesn’t, but he appears to have reasons which make him believe it to be true.

      As for ‘meaning’ – are you honestly suggesting that meaning can only exist within Christian theology?

      No. I’m not really ‘suggesting’ anything, so much as noting my observation.
      I’m saying that any meaning in Atheism is, if not illusory, then a construct with no basis in anything. I’m also suggesting that the things like Harris seems to be talking about, such as meaning, morality, justice and purpose etc. are kind of Christian left-overs which are still part of the culture. It’s a case of having discarded Christianity, wanting to somehow find a way to deal with them still. They’re now skyhooks – ideas no longer grounded in the foundations from which they grew. Or perhaps a bit like cutting of the branch one is sitting on, and hoping it stays up.

      For example, you wrote:

      It’s a sensible question, said Harris, and there is an answer. But, the answer requires a change of attitude towards life.

      We need to learn to live in the present moment, he said, reminding us that ”It is always ‘now‘.”

      But how is that an answer? Why should I change my attitude? He’s just restated the problem.
      Perhaps I’m missing something, but this doesn’t really make much sense:
      Q. What’s the point?
      A. You have to change your attitude.

      Reply
      1. tamlyn123

        Andrew, you state:
        (quote)”I’m saying that any meaning in Atheism is, if not illusory, then a construct with no basis in anything. I’m also suggesting that the things like Harris seems to be talking about, such as meaning, morality, justice and purpose etc. are kind of Christian left-overs which are still part of the culture. It’s a case of having discarded Christianity, wanting to somehow find a way to deal with them still. They’re now skyhooks – ideas no longer grounded in the foundations from which they grew. Or perhaps a bit like cutting of the branch one is sitting on, and hoping it stays up.” (end quote)

        This is a very broad, and incidentally, very shaky suggestion. If I read your “meaning” aright, you’re claiming Christianity has exclusive rights to philosophical meaning, to morality, to justice and to the purpose-filled life. That without Christian faith to anchor them in the individual, they are baseless intellectual concepts.
        What nonsense. Indeed, what hubris, to suggest that Christianity, and Christianity alone, has some kind of monopolistic rights over the basic principles whereby humans establish themselves as thinking, reasoning, ethical beings. Or to infer that these principles didn’t exist in human culture prior to the appearance of Christianity a few short centuries ago.
        Your assumption is that “meaning” implies faith in some form of divine “plan” or objective, from which morality, justice and life’s purpose derive; but that is a very narrow view of the well-lived life. The riches life offers derive from LIFE itself, not the promise of bliss in the hereafter. The morality of the individual derives from self-imposed ethical principles based on those same precepts that governed the moral, just, purposive individual for millenia before the Christian era. In fact, many of the ethical principles claimed to have been taught by Jesus had been expounded by others long before his birth. We – human beings – have made our civilisations through our own endeavours, and the principles whereby we live in them have been worked out by thinking people over many centuries of trial and error. That Christianity falsely claims these principles as its own makes no difference to their origins in evolving human society.
        Morality, Justice, purpose – and the meaning with which our understanding imbues these concepts, are the foundations upon which the thinking Atheist builds his or her life – they are not some flaccid left-over dictum from a discredited religious faith in which they do not believe.

        Cushla Geary

      2. Andrew Finden

        Hi Cushla,

        If I read your “meaning” aright, you’re claiming Christianity has exclusive rights to philosophical meaning, to morality, to justice and to the purpose-filled life.

        No, I’m not claiming that at all; you’ve misread me I’m afraid.
        While it is true that I think the Christian worldview does provide a good basis for things like meaning and justice and objective moral values and duties, I did not mean to imply that it has exclusive claim to it, nor that they originated in 30 A.D. I’m sure there are other worldviews which might well lay claim to solid bases too (indeed, in the Christian worldview we should expect that non-believers also have things like a moral compass innate). My point was more specifically that Atheistic naturalism doesn’t have any solid, objective basis for them. It was Dawkins who wrote that in his naturalistic view, there is at bottom, no meaning or justice or right and wrong, and I think he’s right about the outcome of that view.

        Morality, Justice, purpose – and the meaning with which our understanding imbues these concepts, are the foundations upon which the thinking Atheist builds his or her life – they are not some flaccid left-over dictum from a discredited religious faith in which they do not believe.

        I’m not denying that most Atheists hold to ideals regarding justice and purpose and morality, and I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t! I just don’t think philosophical naturalism gives any real basis for doing so – if the universe has, at bottom, no meaning, no right and wrong, as Dawkins says, and which Nietzsche saw, then logically, any meaning or morality is going to be either illusory or a subjective construct.

        And Harris here seems to be explicitly trying to salvage such ideals while jettisoning the faith from which our culture has drawn them. Alain de Botton is another who’s trying to keep the good bits, so to speak.

      3. Graeme Hanigan

        Andrew you said “I’m saying that any meaning in Atheism is, if not illusory, then a construct with no basis in anything” isn’t that theism your talking about?

        ‘Atheism’ is simply a lack of theistic belief, ‘Atheism’ makes no claims about anything, there is no atheist creed.

        Atheists, on the other hand, do make claims based on their personal opinions, but there is no such thing as an ‘atheism’ representing the opinions of all atheists.

        Getting consensus from atheists is as successful as herding cats.

      4. Andrew Finden

        HI Graeme,

        Andrew you said “I’m saying that any meaning in Atheism is, if not illusory, then a construct with no basis in anything” isn’t that theism your talking about?

        If Theism is false, then yes, any meaning drawn from such a worldview would be illusory. Of course, this just reinforces my point that any meaning in an Atheistic worldview is illusory or a subjective construct!

        ‘Atheism’ is simply a lack of theistic belief, ‘Atheism’ makes no claims about anything, there is no atheist creed.

        No historically. The word ‘Atheism’ comes from Athe-ism (No God-ism). The view you put forth, that it’s A-theism (Not theism), was actually argued for by Antony Flew in his book ‘The Assumption of Atheism’ (an interesting read if you can get hold of it). Nowdays it’s normally described as either weak / negative atheism, while the original meaning is referred to as strong / positive atheism. Positive atheism does indeed make the positive claim that there is no God, while negative atheism hold the negative view of lacking belief in gods.

        Atheists, on the other hand, do make claims based on their personal opinions, but there is no such thing as an ‘atheism’ representing the opinions of all atheists.

        Getting consensus from atheists is as successful as herding cats.

        GAC seemed to do a pretty decent job of herding them, wouldn’t you say?
        Btw, watch out, I’ve seen Chrys tear someone a new one for pulling out that old chestnut!😉

        Seriously though, that’s a cop-out (or just hand-waving to avoid the point?). You know as well as I do that there are a whole bunch of ideologies and isms that are commonly brought under the heading of Atheism – after all, that is exactly what GAC does. If the conference was going by your strict (negative) definition, then it really would be a conference about nothing. How many of the Atheists at GAC would I have to ask before I found one who didn’t think that Theism was false? I think it’s pretty safe to assume that not being a theist is something that could be assumed about most Atheists. Moreover, I think I made it pretty clear that I’ve been talking about atheistic naturalism, and the point remains that Dawkins is right, that under such a view, there is no meaning or right and wrong etc. Logically, this means it is either illusory or a subjective construct.

      5. Graeme Hanigan

        “The word ‘Atheism’ comes from Athe-ism (No God-ism)” you are unbelievable rewriting the history of the Greek language to suit your own needs?

        I have just finished reading Stephen Laws book ‘Believing Bullshit’ and I must say Andrew you tick all the boxes. No offence intended however as I have observed on earlier occasions, it is impossible to have a rational discussion with you. Your goal posts are as rubbery as your ideas.

      6. Andrew Finden

        @Graeme

        “The word ‘Atheism’ comes from Athe-ism (No God-ism)” you are unbelievable rewriting the history of the Greek language to suit your own needs?

        Nope, the etymology is from the greek athe(os). You’re arguing with the dictionary:

        Origin:
        1580–90; < Greek áthe ( os ) godless + -ism

        And here is Flew (I got the title wrong, his book is called ‘The Presumption of Atheism’, my bad):

        the usual meaning of ‘atheist’ in English is ‘someone who asserts that there is no such being as God’, I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix ‘a’ to be read in the same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as ‘amoral’, ‘atypical’, and ‘asymmetrical’. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels ‘positive atheist’ for the former and ‘negative atheist’ for the latter.

        The introduction of this new interpretation of the word ‘atheism’ may appear to be a piece of perverse Humpty-Dumptyism, going arbitrarily against established common usage.[2] ‘Whyever’, it could be asked, ‘don’t you make it not the presumption of atheism but the presumption of agnosticism?’ It is too soon to attempt a full answer to this challenge and this suggestion. My justification for introducing the notion of negative atheism will be found in the whole development of the present chapter. Then in Chapter Two I intend to argue for a return to the original usage of the word ‘agnosticism’, as first introduced by Thomas Henry Huxley. In the meantime it should be sufficient to point out that, following the present degenerate usage, an agnostic is one who, having entertained the proposition that God exists, now claims not to know either that it is or that it is not true. To be in this ordinary sense an agnostic you have already to have conceded that there is, and that you have, a legitimate concept of God; such that, whether or not this concept does in fact have application, it theoretically could. But the atheist in my peculiar interpretation, unlike the atheist in the usual sense, has not as yet and as such conceded even this.

        This point is important, though the question whether the word ‘agnosticism’ could bear the meaning which I want now to give to the word ‘atheism’ is not. What the protagonist of my presumption of atheism wants to show is that the debate about the existence of God ought to be conducted in a particular way, and that the issue should be seen in a certain perspective.

        So not only can you see that the greek is athe, you can see that Flew was the one who argued for the atheism to be understood as a-theism. His push was clearly effective!

        No offence intended however as I have observed on earlier occasions, it is impossible to have a rational discussion with you. Your goal posts are as rubbery as your ideas.

        I was tempted to point out why it is rather ironic for you to accuse me of goal-shifting, but really, if you’re just going to cry “irrational!” as an attempt to shut down the discussion whenever I offer some pushback on your comments, then I probably agree that rational discussion is rather difficult in such a case. If you’re not open to discussing anything with me, fine, no skin off my back. No one is forcing you to comment.

  4. Margaret Morgan

    Andrew, the only way that there can be an afterlife is through a Cartesian dualism. Despite centuries of research, such dualism has not been shown to exist. On the contrary, neuroscience has demonstrated that every aspect of the mind and consciousness is dependent on brain function. To suggest that some aspect of the mind transcends death is purely wishful thinking, entirely devoid of theoretic underpinning or practical evidence.

    Given that, stating that the death of the person is also the death of the mind is scarcely a matter of “faith”. It’s simply obvious.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Finden

      Even if (and that is an if – I’m not convinced by the materialist reductionist view of equating the mind and brain) our self (or even spirit) is tied up inextricably with our physicality, I’m not sure that is necessarily the problem you suggest – the Christian theology of afterlife is, after all, an earthly, physical one: new creation, resurrection etc. The romantic idea of disembodied spirits floating about on clouds for eternity is not actually the orthodox view (see Tom Wright’s excellent piece on how most contemporary Christians have a distorted view).

      Reply
      1. Graeme Hanigan

        Andrew there is nothing wrong with reducing a dualistic belief down to an understanding that it’s all just neurology where there is good evidence to support it. Science says well we have no evidence to support good old Renee Descartes’ ideas so what else could it be, and goes looking? Science does not hang on to redundant ideas for ideological reasons.

      2. Andrew Finden

        Science says well we have no evidence to support good old Renee Descartes’ ideas

        Where did I promote Cartesian dualism? If you read the comment above you’ll see that I made the point that even a physicalist viewpoint is not necessarily a fatal problem for orthodox theism. It’s all rather a red herring, mind.
        I did make a point that science, being a discipline that deals with the physical universe is only ever going to find evidence of physical things. To argue from this that only the physical exists is begging the question.

    2. Andrew Finden

      or another way – the software is not the hardware.

      To borrow John Polkinghorne’s analogy somewhat, if the hardware breaks, the software is not necessarily gone, but we lose access to it until the hardware is repaired.

      Reply
      1. Andrew Finden

        Sorry – false analogy. Humans are not computers.

        Of course we’re not – which is why it is an analogy and not a description. That it is an analogy does not mean it is automatically a false one.

      2. Andrew Finden

        to suggest that software exists without hardware is nonsense

        I made no such suggestion. I said that we lose access to the software if the hardware breaks. Software is a kind of emergent from the hardware, but it is not the hardware.

      3. Graeme Hanigan

        What is the point of quoting an analogy then backing away from it as soon as its shown to be nonsense. Please show me an instance where software can exist without hardware? You cant because the software is a scalable physical manifestation contained in a scalable physical environment.

      4. Andrew Finden

        What is the point of quoting an analogy then backing away from it as soon as its shown to be nonsense. Please show me an instance where software can exist without hardware?

        I’m not backing away from my analogy, but I did not make it in the way you seem to have understood it. Again, where did I say anything about software existing without hardware? Again, and please pay attention this time – I simply said that we lose access to the software until the hardware is repaired.

  5. dandare2050

    I have meditated and practice awareness of now for years. I learned it initially from an Indian friend and had it reinforced by a Buddhist friend. I have always found it very useful. I like to lead as good a life as I can. I study philosophical thought and think about life constantly.

    I don’t do this because I’m an atheist but because I’m a human being. I think that religion is an obstacle to getting this right and so atheism helps me in that regard.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The Bear Necessities « Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  7. Day Dream Non Believer

    I don’t see that meditation necessarily has anything to do with spirituality or the supernatural. In psychology, there is a lot of evidence to show that meditation, along with sleep, good diet, a positive mindset and a good sense of perspective, are part of building your personal resilience and happiness. I would hope that atheists would not object to something like meditation, the usefulness of which can be considered part of mainstream science.

    Reply

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