Atheism And The Supernatural - A Question For The Community

So the other day I got into a debate with one of my coworkers that was fairly interesting and left me kind of wondering myself. I make no attempt to hide my nonbelief, most people in my office know that I'm fiercely atheist. Even those that make every attempt to convert whoever they can tend to leave me alone bacause I'm also known as a fiercely effective debator. There have been a few situations where someone attempting to convert me wound up getting converted themselves. Most theists don't like having their beliefs called into question or being asked things that their bible can't provide answers to so they avoid debate with me. Occassionally someone steps up to the plate though and sometimes they even leave me thinking about things.

A couple days ago exactly that happened. I was speaking to a friend who, in addition to knowning I am an atheist, knew that I am a huge fan of ghost shows such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, etc. The conversation eventually went on to how I, as an atheist who claims not to believe in supernatural things, could hold such a firm belief that ghosts or spirits of some kind are present around us. It was an interesting question and one that's never been posed to me before. It really made me think. Is it possible to be an atheist AND believe in the existance of the supernatural or are the two things mutually exclusive?

For me, lack of belief in god does not automatically mean you can not believe in things that are currently beyond the means of science to explain. To me, that is what any supposedly "supernatural" event is - something that modern science does not yet have the ability to explain. Throughout human history there have been plenty of events and occurances once thought to be supernatural that were later discovered to be completely natural events. My non-belief in God comes from a complete lack of evidence that he exists. There is more evidence to prove the existance of Bigfoot than there is for God. (NOTE: since it's bound to come up - no, I don't believe in Bigfoot personally, though I believe it's very likely a similar creature did exist at one time, perhaps even recently. We've studied the earth's surface pretty thoroughly at this point, if this animal still existed we would have found one. Ocean "monsters" on the other hand, that's a different story...)

Ghosts are a different story, paranormal investigators have come up with an astounding amount of evidence that there is SOMETHING happening that we can't explain. Does that mean there are intelligent, post-mortum spirits wandering around trying to communicate with us? Well... no. But I feel there's sufficient evidence that SOMETHING is out there. Now, there are certain "paranormal" shows that are obscenely staged (I'm looking at YOU "Most Haunted") but there are others out there, such as Ghost Hunters, that take a very scientific approach to everything and go at it from the angle of trying to DISPROVE rather than prove the existance of ghosts. These shows have come up with many compelling pieces of evidence that there is something out there that we, as humans, are not yet capable of explaining. Perhaps we will one day find the answer, we've done it before. One example would be reported poltergeists, once thought to be supernatural. Since then science has found that certain minerals (namely quartz and limestone) can actually store energy which is then released by later human activity, science has even gone so far as to be able to link this type of activity with the presence of children and especially teenagers. It is a positively fascinating subject to me. It is also something that not too long ago was considered to be a supernatural occurance, one which we now have an explanation for.

So what are ghosts? What are the possible scientific explanation for these occurances? There are quite a few possibilities. Humans are basically just a bag of meat and bones charged by energy. Perhaps it is possible during times of strong emotion that some of that energy is released and remains in the place it happens? Reported ghost activity typical happens in places where people died under a great deal of emotional strain - murders, suicides, accidental death, etc. Maybe when a person dies under these types of extreme circumstances some of that energy that makes us tick escapes into the environment and remains there. Sometimes it's just a small amount, as in the case of what are commonly called residual hauntings where a past event just replays itself over and over again. In extreme cases, it's a larger enough amount that a piece of a persons personality could be attached such as seen with reported "intelligent" hauntings that appear capable of interacting or communicating with us.

It could be some more extreme situation, one our minds can't even begin to grasp right now. Perhaps a parrallel or alternate dimension that we're somehow able to see, hear, or sense due to a temporary or permanent rift in the space-time continuum? Perhaps in this parallel universe the deceased is still very much alive and their violent death in OUR version ripped open a hole in space-time that has given us view into this alternate universe where they are still living life just as they had in our plane of existance? Perhaps we all become ghosts when we die? Maybe we're surrounded by them all day, every day but only in places of extreme energy (again created by these horrific events of the past) are we able detect their presence or them ours? There are any number of possible scientific explanations for their presence.

So, now my question to the community. Actually there are two:

1) Do you believe in the supernatural/paranormal?
2) Is it possible to be a true atheist and still believe in the paranormal?

Views: 91

Comment by a7 on April 15, 2009 at 6:08pm
Good post man

answer 1, in my opinion

I personally don't believe in the supernatural, however I don't class the supernatural with sea monster, loch ness monster being an example and big foot. I am also of the opinion that they could have a existed.
My reasons for this view is that of evolution, and that the great mass of the oceans and deep lochs ( scots for lakes ), we have not explored all. It does look increasingly that no such beast like Nessie exists now , there have been plenty scientific survey done with a variety of different technologies.

At present the evidence says no and that will do for me.

answer 2

that's a tough one to call, what ever I say someone will be upset, we cant please all the people all of the time. my personal view is again one of evidence. I believe that until evidence proves otherwise we should do a good atheist do and look at the evidence and decide from there. my view would be then no, to be a true atheist , again in my opinion would not believe.

george

x
Comment by Marie-Louise Gariépy on April 15, 2009 at 8:25pm
As a fierce atheist, I would fight you on your "ridiculous" belief in ghost any time. If you do believe the so called evidences for the occurrence of ghost... or let me put it in a another framework, if you make the leap of faith to believe that some unexplained phenomena might be a proof of ghost, I would not consider you an atheist.

However, you don't have to dismiss myths, legend, stories, product of man imaginations. This is part of the human experience, it is part of our biology to have strong emotions through irrational process - take listening to music for example. To enjoy your imagination, you don't need to make it true and scientific proven.

I would not tag the word scientific to paranormal "expert'. Look further, under the varnish of investigation what you will find is deception. I suggest you start with James Randi and Derren Brown.

Sorry if I sound harsh - I am to busy right now to polish my thoughts.

I did work hard to become an atheist - I really went face to face with my fears. I do think it is the path one choose when he abandon god and the supernatural. Now it is up to you to decide if you want to follow that path up to the end. In the mean time don't assume you are an atheist because if you turn theist you will utter that very annoying sentence "I was an atheist and I found god".
Comment by SabreNation on April 15, 2009 at 11:15pm
Marie - I, personally, find your response to be insulting. I don't appreciate being talked down to. In fact, your response displays the same type of bullheaded "I'm right, you're wrong, and that's that so fuck off" mentality that has led me to utterly despise religion the way I do.

I'm actually quite a big fan of James Randi and agree with what he says about most "ghost hunters," which is why I'm such a fan of the show Ghost Hunters. What he's said about the field doesn't apply to them. He points to the fact that anything electric will cause high EMF readings - the first thing the GH team does if they find a high EMF rating is look around for anything that might be projecting it. If there is anything that even MIGHT be producing a high electromagnetic field the evidence is thrown out. As are any reported paranormal experiences the property owner has reported anywhere in the immediate area of the high reading. He often speaks about his experience debunking supposed hauntings, I imagine GH's Jay and Grant could exchange quite a few stories with him as they do this same thing on a near weekly basis.

If you manage to find a website debunking the more compelling evidence that the GH team has found (such as the video footage from Eastern State Penetentiary or St. Augustine Lighthouse) please direct me there. I'd love to take a look at it. I place stock in these things because I've yet to see someone disprove them, if you find something showing a NATURAL explanation of them or proving they are fake, go ahead and link me up, I'd love to see it. From my end there is some extremely compelling evidence that there is something unexplainable going on in these places. It's not a leap of faith - I've been shown evidence that these things exist, I've yet to be shown anything that can truly refute that evidence. If you have something to show me that will refute it then, please, enlighten me.

Until then I'd like to point out that your stance of "science has no explanation for these things, therefor the MUST be false" is just as damaging to scientific progress as theists "my holy book says something different than your science, therefor your science MUST be wrong" stance. Refusing to believe that there may be some things in our world that science can not yet explain displays just as must ignorance as insisting that you have a book that knows everything.

20 years ago, before we have the scientific explanation we now have for poltergeists you would've told me I was an idiot for believing in poltergeists. It was only because there were people willing to stand up and say - "hold on a second, this might be really happening, maybe we should try to find out why" that we now know that there is such a thing as poltergeists and there is a totally reasonable and natural scientific reason behind it.

To me your view that science knows everything already and if science doesn't have an answer for something then that thing may not exist is equally ignorant as theists who believe that their god knows and controls everything. It's the same close-minded refusal to accept that there may be things we can't hope to understand yet that theists have used to hold back the field of science for centuries now.

a⋅the⋅ist [ey-thee-ist]–noun
a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

I fail to see where my belief that ghosts MIGHT, POSSIBLY exist disqualifies me from falling under that definition.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 15, 2009 at 11:32pm
I think being atheist first and foremost means accepting that we do not understand everything about the universe around us. I could be open to the idea of black matter, energies, ect if given enough proof. (as of yet, I've not encountered it)
I love ghost hunter type shows, but I don't believe they are real. I've seen/heard/felt things I can't explain in the world around me, and as much as I sooooo want to jump to some creepy explanation, I play with the idea, not adhere to it.
Science as we know it is still incredibly young. Who isn't to say that there are different levels of energy we can't record yet? Hell, how do you think they must have felt the first time studying 'different types of air?' All these guys had to work with were a few glass jars, some cork toppers and a couple of poor rats. They knew Co2 and Co smelled the same, tasted the same.. there was no way to see it. When you look back through the history of mixed gas diving, nitrox and other scentless, tasteless gasses were literally called voodoo gas!
So yeah. I'm more open to the possibility of strong emotions putting off some trace energy that can linger or a possibility similar (though not really dead folks talking or haunting)
My ideas of the world around us are based on evidence. After study and research, it is very easy for me to say that there is no god or gods, especially the omnipotent, omnipresent man with a beard in the sky type that we've structured society around.
As for something beyond what our five senses tell us? I'm open to it. I just want to see something conclusive first.

Now, about cryptozoology, I must say that there are some weird, wonderful and outright scary-ass monsters in the depths of the ocean today. Things that don't exist now used to. We don't have a black and white timescale for anything. On a case by case basis, I feel it's safe to come to some conclusions, though I put that in the realm of things we can see, not ghosts or spirits.
Comment by CJoe on April 16, 2009 at 1:30am
By definition, you are not "atheist"; no one is "atheist" because Atheism isn't a system of belief. There are no rules. You're right; when people start saying "oh noooo you're not truly atheist because you don't believe bleh bleh bleh", it makes it a religion. The trouble with atheism IS the fact that it can't be classified; it's hard to rally all of them around one cause (like herding cats). Atheists come from all walks of life and all areas of interest... including trying to figure out the paranormal.

We don't know how to explain "paranormal" events. The beauty of atheism is that it DOES leave the conversation open. There are scientists who focus on different events because they're trying to figure it out. We're allowed to have differing opinions. Hopefully, ANY person investigating something would be object, and I think of atheism AS objectivism.

I personally think the likelihood of actual ghosts is low, but that's just me. However, I think you're allowed to call yourself an atheist because... it's not a religion and it doesn't have rules. People really shouldn't get too defensive of the title (and I'm talking to myself) because it really says very little about us individually. People tend to misunderstand atheism, but we can't necessarily change their perception. I honestly think the only people whose opinions matter are those that are willing to join the discussion... not ones who have cemented judgments.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 16, 2009 at 7:30am
Sabre-
Wait, what??!!
Since when were poltergeists found, proved, classified, accepted by the scientific community?

Seriously. I'm on your side here. I think the only thing that makes you an atheist or not is a belief or disbelief in a supreme being. Ok. I don't THINK that.. that's the definition.. so someone else calling you out based on a triviality seems pretty hypocritical.

But anyway.. back to poltergeists??
Wha-?
Comment by Pam on April 16, 2009 at 7:57am
1) Do you believe in the supernatural/paranormal?

No. I don't feel the need to adopt supernatural explanations for unexplained events for the same reason I don't adopt a deistic explanation for the existence of the universe. I'm certainly open to the possibility that "supernatural" elements may exist, but because I have no evidence, I have no reason to believe in them.

Anything "supernatural" by definition exists outside of the observable universe, so I'm not even certain science could empirically determine whether or not supernatural things exist. Anything we find through science can't be super-natural because it would be within the observable, natural world, and would therefore have a natural explanation. Immaterial pink unicorns might be exerting a "supernatural" force to keep your desk together. Nobody can prove that they aren't. However, because we know that other physical forces are keeping your desk together, the "supernatural" force of the unicorns is irrelevant, and it doesn't matter whether they are there or not.


2) Is it possible to be a true atheist and still believe in the paranormal?

Sure. You don't believe in god(s). Though, you might not make a very convincing secular humanist. ;-)
Comment by SabreNation on April 16, 2009 at 8:25am
Regarding poltergeists, stating it the way I did may have been OVERstating a bit. There's no widely regarded scientific law saying poltergeists are real but there is growing acceptance of a theory on what causes them.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13563-theyre-here-the-mechanism-of-poltergeist-activity.html
http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.0382

Those are two articles I found pretty quickly, a Google search would certainly find more. I admit I overstated the belief since Marie whipped me into such a furor with the general ignorance of her response. However, it is becoming more and more accepted that there is a legitimate, natural explanation for supposed "poltergeist" activity and it's got nothing to do with angry spirits.

Anyway, I thank everyone here for your opinions on the subject and for not being as insulting as Marie - whether you agree or not.

Oh, Misty and a7 mentioned Cryptozoology, another subject that I find fascinating. As I said I don't think, at this point, that it is possible there are any land animals that we haven't found. While I believe there was a "bigfoot" like creature - perhaps even one that lived within the last 100 years - I don't think they're around any more. The same may be true for giant snakes or any number of other reported animals. I *DO* believe there are probably dozens of amazing, never-before-seen creatures in the world's oceans. We know more about outer space than we do about the oceans on our own planet. It wasn't long ago that giant squid fell into the realm of crypozoology. Now we know that not only do they really exist but there are multiple types of varying size and subspecies (and that's not overstating it, it's fact.) I think as we explore the depths of the ocean more and more we will find more creatures like the giant squid that shock and amaze us.
Comment by a7 on April 16, 2009 at 6:51pm
Marie

no matter how busy. I am sure you could have put your fierce atheist opinions in a better way. Without taking away your ferocity.

a7
Comment by Andrew on April 16, 2009 at 10:49pm
To be honest, Sabre, I agree with Marie. That said, I'll address your questions.

I do not beleive in anything supernatural or paranormal. I think people who think there is evidence for ghosts find it in the same place creationists find their evidence. That is in their imagination. I've only watched ghost huneters once or twice, and was sorely unimpressed. All these dudes did was complain thier equipment wasn't working, or wasn't setup right, or whatever. I never saw a ghost; at most I saw really bad camera work. You claim there is "convincing" evidence on this show somewhere. I highly doubt that evidence could prove the existance of a ghost, let alone prove the existance of a specific ghost. I would expect all you would see is "unexplained" stuff. If you can't explain it, I don't see why I have to.

I've seen no evidence fot the loc ness monster any more than the flying spaghetti monster. Bigfoot is usually some dude in a gorilla suit, or just a really ugly dude. Crytozooology is as rediculous as looking for fossils of the whale that swallowed Jonah.

I'm certain there are spicies yet to be discovered, but not through crypto-zoology, but real zoology and biology. I'm certain there are things we do not understand but will discover one day. I am also certain the discovery will NEVER be that we have identified a ghost, a parallel universe, or anything supernatural.

I'm not going to say what a "true" atheist can or cannot believe anymore than I would expect a Christian to tell me what a "true" chirstian beleives. However, with respect to ghosts, the prospect of an afterlife is part of what compeled me to leave religion behind. The idea that there is anything, I mean, ANYTHING after death really bothers me. It seems to cheapen this life in ways I just cannot describe. This life is what should matter, not any possible existance in heaven, hell, or some spooky basement making floorboards creak.

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