I was faced with this assertion today after revealing to an acquittance of mine that I am an atheist. The very short exchange went something like this...

acquittance: "How do you know all this, Michael?" (referring to my knowledge about Islam)

me: "Because I've studied the topics and the religions. How do you think I arrived at my position of disbelief? I didn't simply wake up one morning and not believe."

acquittance: "But Michael, there has to be something. What if something bad happens? I couldn't make it through the day..."

me: "Why? Why does there have to be something."

acquittance: "There just has to be something."

me: "Why?"

and on and on...

I'm pretty sure many of us have been faced with the "there has to be something" assertion. My usual response to this is simply, "why?"

I'm curious about anyone else who has encountered this when revealing their disbelief and how they responded.

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acquittance: "But Michael, there has to be something. What if something bad happens? I couldn't make it through the day..."

But I do... and there are no stories about atheists committing suicide because they don't have that "something", whatever you mean by it. Btw, what do you mean by it?

what do you mean by it?

In western countries, people usually mean either god or some sort of new-age spirit type thing. Either way, does it make any difference to the conversation? I suppose making them put their woo woo into words might be somewhat embarrassing (and thus amusing)...

Yeah, but it's not my intention to embarrass or laugh at them. I just want them to think more about all the crap they've been fed, and give them an opportunity to consider my alternative point of view, or other POVs. Most of them have been pressured into their woo beliefs since they were a kid.

I have my own definition of "something", spiritual, purpose, soul, and so on, and I wish everyone else could personalize those definitions for themselves instead of defaulting to their local culture's definition. YMMV.

The ideal balance to be struck is to ask them a question that forces them to think about what they're shoveling, without ridiculuing them...which makes them defensive and unwilling to think about it.

One tactic I've heard about, if it's one of those long e-mail discussions as opposed to some guy casually approaching you on a bus, is to have them write, and I do mean write, not recite verbally, an essay outlining what they believe in full.  Not just a quote of John 3:16 but the whole story.  Make them elaborate it (ask for lots of clarification), and try to make sure they're using their own words, not just copy-paste.  Don't argue against it, just ask them to clarify it.  By the time they finish fixing the grammar and vague constructions, they've thought about the whole thing in toto and sometimes a glimmer of "gee this would sound silly if I didn't believe it" can happen.  For just one moment they see clearly that what they see when they look at Thor worship is what others see when looking upon them.

Magical thinking has enabled human kind to dominate the planet, it won't be going away real soon, however it could go away eventually. It's how and why we can cooperate at unprecedented levels.

Or is it that human kind has been able to dominate the planet despite it's bad habit of taking magical thinking to psychotic extremes?

I still think that magical thinking helped, at first. Imagining what is or may be possible facilitates creative problem solving, for better and for worse. I'd also put testosterone in that category... for better and for worse.

Yes, I think religion and the afterlife, class strata, money, human rights, beauty, art, music and love are all products of "magical thinking". They do not even necessarily exist if we did not. These ideas are born of imagination and have given us motivation to cooperate. You'd have a hard time giving a gorilla a billion dollars for a banana.

Is that magical thinking or creative thinking with the extra window dressing?

Let's take love. It's a lot like god. No real definition, transcends, goes on forever, gives you that cozy feeling. Is it real?...well it's as real as you make it, just like god.

We are evolved to believe in bullshit. It's primal. 90% of my worries are about things that don't exist. Primal fears that once again force us to bond together. Without our clingy nature, we would become like lone wolves and be overcome.

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