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?