Sunday Sacrilege: That other thing we don't believe in

Atheists don't believe in God. We deny the Holy Spirit. Jesus was just a man, at best, as were Buddha, Mohammed, and every other prophet and religious figure in history. That much everyone seems to be able to pick up on, but I think there's something even more important that we reject.

We don't believe in souls.

Now that's a heresy, and should be even more distressing to people than our denial of gods. There is no immortal, constant part of any of us that will survive after death — our minds are the product of a material brain. We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution. And so is everyone else.

When we die, there is no paradise, no hell, not even a grim gray afterlife of darkness and regret…we are just gone. Everyone who has ever lived has or will simply end, and become nonexistent.

i-d2592a4ec523d3262e15d11a21f93ea8-legos.jpeg

That should be the scariest, most depressing part about being an atheist. No future? How awful.

But it isn't.

I have several replies to believers who think we should be miserable because we don't have an afterlife to look forward to; they usually can't comprehend any one of them, which is far more depressing than mere death.

One answer is that a lie is not reassuring at all — telling me that I'll get to go to heaven when I die is about as believable as telling me that I'll be rewarded with beer volcanoes and strippers for my irreverence. I'd rather be honest and aware then deluded and oblivious.

Another answer is that we are alive right now — I simply do not worry about what will happen after I'm dead. Life is for the living of it, it's wasteful to spend it fretting over what you'll do when it's gone. One reasonable response to mortality is to enjoy life now.

We do have hope for the future, too. Think for a moment about your community a century from now. Does it make you feel good to think that there will still be people living there then? That they will be talking about things that you find interesting, that they will be doing activities you also enjoy? Do you hope that life will be better for them? Even though we will be gone, we can still aspire to perpetuate our culture, and find satisfaction while we are alive in advancing that cause.

The hardest explanation for theists to grasp, though, is the understanding that none of us have ever had this unlikely clot of vapor called a soul. If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart's music, Michaelangelo's sculptures, Picasso's paintings, the Wright brothers' plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.

We do not have immortality, but that also means we can throw away the irrelevant crutches of god-belief. We've walked successfully without them — cast them away, stand as a proud human being and meet fate without the wishful delusions of faith. That's why this thought is a sacrilege — it says that we have no need of priests or gods or persistent ghosthood, ideas that have only hobbled us.

More like this

Afterlife? What afterlife? Religion has always fluorished in ignorance. What is it but a collection of stories and claims to explain the mysteries of life — wherever there is something we don't understand, that we lack real knowledge about, there is a priest ready to rush in and fill the gap with a…
Religion has a real problem with incentives. As long as they're all in an invisible afterlife, it's hard to take them seriously. The religion I grew up in was rather vague about the consequences — there was a Hell which was not discussed in polite company, and Heaven was a place brought up at…
Jesse Bering has an interesting article on why many people have so much difficulty holding a realistic view of death — why they imagine immortal souls wafting off to heaven, and why they can't imagine their consciousness ceasing to exist. He's trying to argue that these kinds of beliefs are more…
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Thank you, John (#649).
About what I said in (#648):

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Maybe I should add a qualifier there: âAs long as people are relying solely on faithâ¦â I think I addressed that farther down when I said it was
Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

The argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I test it? I donât think so. But if the soul supposedly serves a purpose, I cannot bring myself to call it otiose.
And if that makes you feel better, Iâm fatuous and pompous. Go for it.
And yes, when I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development, I am indeed talking of testable theories. Because Iâm not a theologian of some sort, I cannot (will not?) dabble in fields I havenât studied at any length, even if it is because I prefer to stick to falsifiable information.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Do check the popular science sites for these and related stories:
Does dark matter really exist
Galaxy study hints at cracks in dark matter theoriesâ
John Moffat says dark matter does not existâ

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Abhay Ashtekar: From the Big Bang to a Big Bounce

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

True. But my argument is that given my knowledge I amnât qualified to reject or accept data that purportedly lies outside my field of knowledge and/or experience. Because I donât accept it does not automatically invalid, other than, perhaps, in an area where I have some knowledge. Then, too, I may have erred.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

I was unwilling to stop anyone from thinking that I âwas not full of shitâ and that I âmight as well masturbate than talk about it.â Nor was I willing not to indulge in âphilosophical games.â While I thought the posting disjointed (to be fair, an accusation he has made of me, too), I had also decided that, at best, I would argue only for the right to speak of people who have a completely different worldview from mine. I may hold out but I try not to do the machismo thing.
About macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, you said you doubt if there are ill-defined and untestable propositions, except from cranks.
In economics, perhaps the trickle-down effect, the Laffer curve and the Phillips curve qualify as such concepts.
In anthropology, there have been arguments over Margaret Meadâs depiction of a sexually free Samoa, the spread of an epidemic among the Yanomami, and the early descriptions by many Western anthropologists of a variety of tribes as primitive and savage based on their experiences in their own civilizations.
Paleontology has had its own difficulty placing humans in a timeline, including the âhobbitsâ and with the recent flap over Australopithecus sediba.
In science, it is easier to settle an issue, though in some cases it can take a few decades. But the process is generally slower than the average in the âsoftâ sciences.

Thank you, John (#649).
About what I said in (#648):

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Maybe I should add a qualifier there: âAs long as people are relying solely on faithâ¦â I think I addressed that farther down when I said it was
Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

The argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I test it? I donât think so. But if the soul supposedly serves a purpose, I cannot bring myself to call it otiose.
And if that makes you feel better, Iâm fatuous and pompous. Go for it.
And yes, when I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development, I am indeed talking of testable theories. Because Iâm not a theologian of some sort, I cannot (will not?) dabble in fields I havenât studied at any length, even if it is because I prefer to stick to falsifiable information.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Do check the popular science sites for these and related stories:
Does dark matter really exist
Galaxy study hints at cracks in dark matter theoriesâ
John Moffat says dark matter does not existâ

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Abhay Ashtekar: From the Big Bang to a Big Bounce

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

True. But my argument is that given my knowledge I amnât qualified to reject or accept data that purportedly lies outside my field of knowledge and/or experience. Because I donât accept it does not automatically invalid, other than, perhaps, in an area where I have some knowledge. Then, too, I may have erred.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

I was unwilling to stop anyone from thinking that I âwas not full of shitâ and that I âmight as well masturbate than talk about it.â Nor was I willing not to indulge in âphilosophical games.â While I thought the posting disjointed (to be fair, an accusation he has made of me, too), I had also decided that, at best, I would argue only for the right to speak of people who have a completely different worldview from mine. I may hold out but I try not to do the machismo thing.
About macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, you said you doubt if there are ill-defined and untestable propositions, except from cranks.
In economics, perhaps the trickle-down effect, the Laffer curve and the Phillips curve qualify as such concepts.
In anthropology, there have been arguments over Margaret Meadâs depiction of a sexually free Samoa, the spread of an epidemic among the Yanomami, and the early descriptions by many Western anthropologists of a variety of tribes as primitive and savage based on their experiences in their own civilizations.
Paleontology has had its own difficulty placing humans in a timeline, including the âhobbitsâ and with the recent flap over Australopithecus sediba.
In science, it is easier to settle an issue, though in some cases it can take a few decades. But the process is generally slower than the average in the âsoftâ sciences.

Thank you, John (#649).
About what I said in (#648):

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Maybe I should add a qualifier there: âAs long as people are relying solely on faithâ¦â I think I addressed that farther down when I said it was
Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

The argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I test it? I donât think so. But if the soul supposedly serves a purpose, I cannot bring myself to call it otiose.
And if that makes you feel better, Iâm fatuous and pompous. Go for it.
And yes, when I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development, I am indeed talking of testable theories. Because Iâm not a theologian of some sort, I cannot (will not?) dabble in fields I havenât studied at any length, even if it is because I prefer to stick to falsifiable information.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Do check the popular science sites for these and related stories:
Does dark matter really exist
Galaxy study hints at cracks in dark matter theoriesâ
John Moffat says dark matter does not existâ

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Abhay Ashtekar: From the Big Bang to a Big Bounce

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

True. But my argument is that given my knowledge I amnât qualified to reject or accept data that purportedly lies outside my field of knowledge and/or experience. Because I donât accept it does not automatically invalid, other than, perhaps, in an area where I have some knowledge. Then, too, I may have erred.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

I was unwilling to stop anyone from thinking that I âwas not full of shitâ and that I âmight as well masturbate than talk about it.â Nor was I willing not to indulge in âphilosophical games.â While I thought the posting disjointed (to be fair, an accusation he has made of me, too), I had also decided that, at best, I would argue only for the right to speak of people who have a completely different worldview from mine. I may hold out but I try not to do the machismo thing.
About macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, you said you doubt if there are ill-defined and untestable propositions, except from cranks.
In economics, perhaps the trickle-down effect, the Laffer curve and the Phillips curve qualify as such concepts.
In anthropology, there have been arguments over Margaret Meadâs depiction of a sexually free Samoa, the spread of an epidemic among the Yanomami, and the early descriptions by many Western anthropologists of a variety of tribes as primitive and savage based on their experiences in their own civilizations.
Paleontology has had its own difficulty placing humans in a timeline, including the âhobbitsâ and with the recent flap over Australopithecus sediba.
In science, it is easier to settle an issue, though in some cases it can take a few decades. But the process is generally slower than the average in the âsoftâ sciences.

One other thing--we can strive for actual understanding sans soul. The soul is vaporware that prevents understanding us, our fates, and how we think well or poorly.

The soul is just a piece of incomprehension that people place their meaningless hopes into.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

By Glen Davidson (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think part of it is that we're often taught to look to the future to justify being robbed in the present, and the whole, "Sure it sucks for you serfs now, but just wait 'till you get to heaven, which, incidentally, you only get to go to if you're good, obedient little serfs" ties right into that.

Of course, now I sound like Marx. Which I guess isn't such a bad thing.

By BinJabreel (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart's music, Michaelangelo's sculptures, Picasso's paintings, the Wright brothers' plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.

It's quotes like the above that make me so grateful to be a human being. Thanks from rain-soaked NorCal.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I just finished reading Lucretius, and he spends quite a lot of time talking about this very subject. We shouldn't be afraid of our end, it is inevitable, and everyone has to meet it someday. And while Lucretius does believe in a soul, it is in no way supernatural. It is made up of atoms, the same as all other matter, and when we die, it too disperses. Giving control of your life to superstition and religion, he claims, is wasting it. We ought to live our lives happily to the best of our ability, no more, no less.

Of course, about a hundred years after Lucretius, Jesus had to come around, and everyone sort of forgo about humanism for the next 1500 years.

By ildinia121 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I agree that we don't need souls or a God to be happy. Nevertheless I'm fascinated by after-death and reincarnation research.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Even as an atheist, that's the kind of things I like to hear from time to time, especially when feeling a bit gloomy.
Just as the xkcd comic, just stating those simple things about how the world is, and what that means for us humans, not as a fairy tale one could be inclined to believe in.
And I find that comforting.
Thanks PZ!

By tristan.cragnolini (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The fact that we have no souls and are not immortal also means it is down to us to enjoy this life, and to avoid the life-denying rule-bound ugliness that is so apparent in many Christians and other theists.

By Joe Fogey (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

#3, we need that rain still - and at least here in Davis, it's never snow...

I'm part of a couple of projects that I hope will still be around a hundred years from now, and that's what life should be about.

This whole afterlife thing is just not really thought through.

What the heck will you be doing for the first 10 million years? And the eternity afterwards? Living in either heaven, hell or hades or any place for that matter forever is just non-sensical. You will be bored to death, but you can't die. Great!

And this soul thing: Do I really want a part of me, the essence of me to survive? Do I want to be a shadow of my former self? How would possibly want an (after)life like that?

What will survive is the impression you made on your fellow beings. If you find comfort in being remembered, make sure it is something worthy to be remembered of.

One thing I've always noted especially to those who proscribe to a religion is that regardless of what religion or lack of religion you proscribe to, no matter what you believe about how we end up, we've got one shot at this life on this planet in this personality.

Oh, the buddhists believe we end up back on Earth, sure, but you're someone else. The Christians believe in Heaven (from which you can never come back to Earth ever again). The Scientologists believe you become Gods of separate planets (again, never back on Earth).

This life, this consciousness, this us on this world, no matter how airy fairy fantasy the other tales try and make it, is all we've really got. The realest most non-negotiable bit we have. And it's sick that people will actively make their lives miserable or make the lives of other people miserable because they are hoping for an extra ride in some bonus world or new consciousness that they are throwing out the one unique thing we all have.

Cause this particular life is all we have. Atheists may state that bluntly, but it's just as true for even the "rest your mind" "beneficial lies" of any religion.

And it's an important note to make. This one life is all we have and we need to live that and try not to ruin it for some lottery-esque long-shot or ruin the one-lives of others. We should all just enjoy it and try and do right by each other so we can all enjoy it best we can.

And seeing Scandanavia from the inside, I don't think that's a far-fetched notion.

But a dickhead like me can still type £ when I meant ". Bah.

To live in the moment is the most rewarding result of loosing the concept of the soul. To be more involved with those people and situations you are experiencing right here and right now is the true reward in life...not what might or maybe be in the minds of others in relation to their imaginings. The mere ability to apprehend what we do know of this world is true joy.

By Caddisfly (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I tell people your soul is simply the memory of you left behind in the thoughts of your family and friends.

Very nice Post PZ.

By alopiasmag (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I feel like one place I differ from many atheists is that I genuinely wish there was a heaven I could go to. Unfortunately my wishes don't affect the reality that there isn't, and I'd rather live the only life I've got as best as I can than aim for some delusional fantasy.

By tdcourtney (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The Scientologists believe you become Gods of separate planets (again, never back on Earth).
You're thinking of the Mormons. The Scientologists believe in reincarnation. Really, really, weird reincarnation.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#16

Really, really, weird reincarnation

As opposed to what other kind of reincarnation? ;-)

One bizarre notion I've run across more than once is the conflation of atheism and nihilism: the idea that unbelievers "hate life" so much we'd rather believe we cease to exist than believe in eternal tedium life in some heaven. (The phrase "worm food" often turns up in such discussions.) I've even been asked why I don't commit suicide, since there is no "point" or "purpose" to life if it is not eternal. Example:

Why do you live?
For what reason?
Why do you continue to live in a world with zero purpose?
I can't understand that.
Atheists (if truely thinking there is no god) should feel like trash.
If you don't feel that way, you must feel you have purpose.
What is this purpose?
Telling "theists" there is no god?
Man, what a purpose.
Is your purpose surfing the net all day?
Is your purpose learning as much as possible about everything?
only to die...and be dead...and that's all...?

What's most entertaining about such assertions is the insight they give into this particular theistic mentality. The individual who posted this has, for all intents and purposes, conceded that he believes the world to revolve around him: that if he is going to "die...and be dead...and that's all," there is no point in existing in the first place. That without his continued existence, the world has "zero purpose." That he can see no point in enjoying his life unless he can go on doing so forever. That without a god promising him eternal life, he would "feel like trash." He has, in fact, admitted that the world and all the beings in it are worthless, trash, without purpose ... unless HE exists.

By Cactus Wren (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@tdcourtney #15
I don't know about that, I'm sure there are many of us who would like there to be something afterwards just in the same way that we'd probably like there to be a Father Christmas (I might be alone with that one!)... but we are just realists who know there isn't

googlename @16

You're probably right. My larger point still stands. Even the fairy tales believe we've got one shot in this body, this consciousness, this world.

And yet atheists and semi-mellow religionists like the UU or the pagans seem to be the only ones who believe in valuing it and trying to make it easier to live through for all.

Absolute madness.

There is only the present moment.

"Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid 
that it will never begin."


-Grace Hansen


By Patrick McC (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Another cracking Sunday post, PZ. You've summed it up really well.

I was thinking about this the other day - technically, I don't think atheists automatically don't believe in souls. Of course for Christians and Muslims and all the rest it's the same, but conceptually, they don't have to be linked. Most atheists don't believe in souls because atheists are more likely to be rationalists.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's not just the lack of afterlife that people find to be a scary implication of not having a soul. Notions of a soul also underlie a lot of people's ideas of mind/body dualism-- they think there's something separate and intangible which inhabits their bodies and is the real "I." The "I" is what is morally responsible for their behavior. It can be pure or impure, and has an essential quality to it that makes it both unique and part of a larger body of people-- fellow Christians, for example, or fellow white people, or fellow women. Take away the soul, and the notion of committing "crimes against nature" (i.e. sodomy) seems bizarre and silly. If there is no invisible essence inside each of us that determines our identity and behavior, then reductionistic explanations about those things actually start to make sense. Invoking the soul is a good way of unconsciously but deliberately obscuring the reasons for why people do and say things, or why their membership in a certain group is meaningful, and putting those things in the mysterious category of the supernatural.

Really, it does just boil down to the "eternity" thing as beders mentions - would you really want an undying conscious part of you held hostage for so long as to make (after)life meaningless?

I guess that's why I never understood the appeal of being a vampire...

By Sir Craig (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

What the heck will you be doing for the first 10 million years? And the eternity afterwards? Living in either heaven, hell or hades or any place for that matter forever is just non-sensical. You will be bored to death, but you can't die. Great!

This explains the remarkably lousy aim (temporal and spatial) of the various disasters. Teh Eternal Woos are so fecking bored they've either retreated into extreme perfectionism and won't throw a thunderbolt until everything is exactly right (so they wind up never tossing one at all), or else just don't give a flying feck anymore, and figure if it hits some planet, any planet, that's good enough.

No soul here. Despite that, I am enjoying life, taking specific pleasure in the small signs of life now popping up here in ND, signifying Spring is on its way. Life is good. I think I'll grab the dogs and go enjoy it some more. :D

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Belief in the soul has some nasty implications. For example, it implies that many of our emotions, such as lust, aren't part of us at all, but are merely the body exerting some control over the soul. IMO rejecting dualism is essential for any sort of sanity.

The Scientologists believe you become Gods of separate planets (again, never back on Earth).

You're thinking of the Mormons. The Scientologists believe in reincarnation.

Not quite for the Scientologists. They believe you can progress to "Operating Theta Clear" status. At that point, you control MEST, Matter, Energy, Space, and Time. Among other things, you can create your own universe.

Universe > planet.

You can see how the religions keep upping the ante on the afterlife. The ancient Greeks had some ill defined afterlife that wasn't much fun. The xians promised heaven. The mormons promised godhood and your own planet. The scientologists promised godhood and your own universe.

Hades - heaven - planet - universe.

The problem and solution is obvious. The next religion will have to keep upping the ante. But the bar is set high now. I suppose the next afterlife will be your own Multiverse, you create the gods, and then what?

No soul?

Thank goodness, I was afraid PZ'd say we don't believe in astrology. That would leave my world spinning.

By MultiTool (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've had a few discussions with my girlfriend about this sorta thing, she says she believes in reincarnation just because she can't deal with the thought that after she dies, that that is it.

She doesn't believe in a God - she just can't deal with it, same with space. She gets upset when I go on about how vast it is because she's afraid of how "empty" it is.

I really does get to her, so I tend to leave the subject well enough alone. Shame though :(

It's not as though common ideas of the afterlife are really all that appealing if you really think about them. As Bertrand Russell put it, the popular conception of Heaven (gaudy with jewels, everyone dancing and singing to flatter God's ego) is a place no cultured person could endure for more than 10 minutes.

I tell people that atheism is tremndously liberating; religions like Christianity, although claiming to "free" people from imaginary bonds, instead tell you that your own efforts are ultimately futile: God has a plan for the future of everyone and everything, and it's unalterably mapped out. Nothing you do will really affect the universe because Sky Daddy has already decreed how everything will go. Atheism puts the responsibility in our hands.

By Antiochus Epimanes (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think one of the biggest advantages of facing the truth of the finality of death as well as the fact of a godless universe is that you get to have reasonable expectations about it all.

Unreasonable expectations are often the root of personal dissatisfaction with life. From the banal expectation of expecting better service than can be delivered from a business to the religious idea of divine intervention, if such expectations are outside reasonable bounds you will get greater than your fair share of disappointment and ruin of plans.

Having no expectation of existing eternally, nor one of being cared for by some invisible patron, I am rarely disappointed when life doesn't hand me what I'd like it to, and am in turn driven to make the best of what I can manage. I find life as an atheist/materialist/skeptic a great deal more satisfying than the life I lead as a believer.

(And friends and family say I'm far less of a bitch to be around, too.)

By Jillian Swift (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

One bizarre notion I've run across more than once is the conflation of atheism and nihilism: the idea that unbelievers "hate life" so much we'd rather believe we cease to exist than believe in eternal tedium life in some heaven.

The real champs for Nihilism are the fundies, the Rapture Monkeys. One of the most amoral and malignant of their myths.

They sit around hoping and praying that god will show up any minute now and destroy the earth and kill 6.7 billion people. The only way to top that is if we discover UFO aliens. Then they can hope god kills them too.

Some of them really are that pathetic, to sit around with their empty, miserable lives and babble constantly about how god will kill them and everyone else any happy day now.

One wonders sometimes why they don't just get a head start and have a Jonestown koolaide party.

One of the nicer parts about becoming an atheist was realizing that this one life that I'm living is the only one that I get. It makes life so much more precious, it made me want to live life to the fullest. The whole concept of life after death cheapens the one life you do have to live. It also makes you want to have as much of a positive impact on others as possible; the only way you will live on after death is in the memories of others.

"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal."
-Albert Pine

technically, I don't think atheists automatically don't believe in souls. -jr0 #23

It's the certain type of atheist who packages up all supernatural beliefs, including those about gods, into the same box and labels it "poppycock", the kind of atheist who interrupts wooists citing their own delusions as evidence with, "What evidence? Are you kidding me?"

Once you dump the big fish back into the pond, why keep the pond scum or the water it was swimming around in?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yeah, you've read it before, but it's one of my favorites...

When we are dead, we’ll feed the worms
And other stuff that writhes and squirms
And if you cannot come to terms
With that—well, use your head!
There are no ifs nor ands nor buts:
Bacteria within our guts
Will start to eat us; that is what’s
In store, once we are dead.

[continues: http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2009/01/worms-go-in.html ]

By Cuttlefish, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Antiochus Epimanes:

It's not as though common ideas of the afterlife are really all that appealing if you really think about them.

So true. Now, if I got another life on Discworld after this one, I could get behind that. But only if I had a Sapient Pearwood trunk. The essentials count.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I can't find the quote, but I've always liked what Rand said about dying--something to the effect that, when she died she would cease to exist to the world and the world would cease to exist for her.

You've given me an idea for this week's blog tag line.

By Givesgoodemail (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"I'd rather be honest and aware then deluded and oblivious."

Me too!

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I like this article, but it is to depressing for me to belive. To accept the fact that humans are marionettes being controlled by the hands of "fate" and descended from primitive animals that were fond of throwing feces is very questionable. I'm not to familiar with Evolution despite being a High School Ap Biology student, but I believe that we as people do have a purpose. I am raised under a Christan household and I do believe in Christian principles, but I cannot tolerate hypocritical Christians themselves. I sometimes believe that life at some times is meaningless, but I still think that there is more to it than living a hedonistic lifestyle. If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

BinJabreel #2

I think part of it is that we're often taught to look to the future to justify being robbed in the present, and the whole, "Sure it sucks for you serfs now, but just wait 'till you get to heaven, which, incidentally, you only get to go to if you're good, obedient little serfs" ties right into that.

I read this and was reminded of the chorus of the old Joe Hill Wobbly song "The Preacher and the Slave":

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

Here's the whole song.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

It seems to me that this post is really about the idea of an afterlife, not about souls. Many protestants see the idea of a soul as foreign to the Bible, which instead talks about people being recreated with new bodies quite unlike the old ones, and I'm sure there are plenty of other belief systems with "soulless" afterlife theories.

The real question is whether:

1. Denying an afterlife drains this life of meaning/significance.

2. Belief in an afterlife drains this life of meaning/significance.

There's of course a lot to unpack there, but I doubt either point is necessarily true.

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

where did you get the impression that we aren't?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't think that there is a true sense of life. We are just one of countless organisms, like machines we just work/live and we don't even have a choice. There is no free will, it doesn't matter whether you are a serial killer or some guy who helps older people cross the street.
-----------------------
Most people seem to like joy so they do whatever it needs to seek that state because that's how they work. Atheists like reason, theists prefer to limit their thoughts so they fit into a book, there is no higher right or wrong.

I would imagine that most of us regulars here have the desire to leave the world a better place than it would've been without us. And that this desire is high amongst our priorities. In other words, we're mostly Humanists.

I wonder how we compare with the general populace in that regard? Of course, they'd all claim that they, too, want to leave the world a better place. My cynicism says that they would, in reality, put that objective firmly behind making money, fooling around, & satiating their animal desires.

By vanharris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks PZ. That is an important point.
The other important point, I think, is that scientifically, we cannot exclude god(s). But we CAN exculde mind-body dualism. And that is the beauty of it: even if some kind of god exists, he (obviously never a she) cannot reward or punish you once you're dead as christianity and islam insist.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

To accept the fact that humans are marionettes being controlled by the hands of "fate" and descended from primitive animals that were fond of throwing feces is very questionable.-#eo6dc #42

All you need to do is open up an electronic newspaper to lose all doubt about that, although I wouldn't say that humans are marionettes controlled by "fate" any more than I would say that humans are controlled by God.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Many protestants see the idea of a soul as foreign to the Bible, which instead talks about people being recreated with new bodies quite unlike the old ones, and I'm sure there are plenty of other belief systems with "soulless" afterlife theories.

that doesn't work. even in the "new bodies" version, it's basically about housing yourself in those new bodies... without the "desires of the flesh", as if those were somehow separate from who they are. Once you're getting a new body, with a new, sin-less brain, you're no longer you.

this thread is about the denial of the religious that the mind IS the body, and when the body dies, so does the person in that body.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thought a lot about all this on losing my father a couple of years back.

What's immortal is how you affect the world around you, and how people remember that.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Raven said @30

The problem and solution is obvious. The next religion will have to keep upping the ante. But the bar is set high now. I suppose the next afterlife will be your own Multiverse, you create the gods, and then what?

If that's what people want they should learn C++ and buy a video game construction set. Cheaper and easier than Scientology and a surefire way to whittle away an eternity of time.

By Scott Cunningham (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I enjoy your posts but would - truly respectfully - disagree.
I have my own problems with invisible wisps of non-matter defining human essence but cannot claim something does not exist, however improbable the chances. Of course, this is not a spiritual argument, just one based on reason.
Given the paucity of empirical evidence for the soul, it is likely that the first person who came up with the concept (perhaps as a result of a stroke in the temporal lobe??) conjured it up without much external help. Drugs can do a good job of that, too. But, again, can we prove it wrong? Perhaps not.
In the scientific world, we could argue that the proponent have to prove that souls indeed do exist. But, more reasonably, instead of denying the possibility, we could exclude it until such time that such a claim is defensible.
We cannot prove that invisible pink unicorns from another universe will not cross a brane and invade earth, but it is impossible to deny this admittedly unlikely possibility.
In taking on the unscientific, we risk getting polarized, taking up a stronger position that is perhaps necessary. Sticking with science, we don't need to deny souls, pixies, hippogriffs, ghosts, Santa, or even pink unicorns, we just need a worldview consistent with the available evidence.
If that makes any sense...

And while Lucretius does believe in a soul, it is in no way supernatural. It is made up of atoms, the same as all other matter, and when we die, it too disperses.

This is Epicurean teaching, and, funnily enough, Paul the Apostle accepted it.

He then added the supernatural spirit in order to allow for an afterlife and other, well, spiritual affairs. This is where all the confusion about soul and spirit comes from.

Source here, but don't click on that link unless you want to stay up all night.

Belief in the soul has some nasty implications. For example, it implies that many of our emotions, such as lust, aren't part of us at all, but are merely the body exerting some control over the soul. IMO rejecting dualism is essential for any sort of sanity.

Indeed. I have long held (since the age of... maybe 6 or less) that it really is me who wants to procrastinate, not some kind of part of me that another part with better judgment could fight against or something. Without that insight I'd probably be chronically depressive.

The ancient Greeks had some ill defined afterlife that wasn't much fun.

The Sumerians had a pretty well defined afterlife: your shadow goes to the dark, depressing underworld and eats mud for all eternity. The key point is that this underworld is for everyone, even the demigods, even the two-thirds gods; only the full gods and Dumuzi are immortal.

The problem and solution is obvious. The next religion will have to keep upping the ante. But the bar is set high now. I suppose the next afterlife will be your own Multiverse, you create the gods, and then what?

Day saved.

I really does get to her, so I tend to leave the subject well enough alone. Shame though :(

Perhaps show her photos of the Hubble Deep Fields and the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field. They don't look empty (even though they're emptier than anything else ever seen).

Then maybe remind her of the way Woody Allen did not want to achieve immortality – because it works. I can be found in Google Scholar, I'm all set :-)

As Bertrand Russell put it, the popular conception of Heaven (gaudy with jewels, everyone dancing and singing to flatter God's ego) is a place no cultured person could endure for more than 10 minutes.

The more vague way I was taught it is more like an eternal state of utter bliss. That should be easier to stand for longer, shouldn't it.

Atheism puts the responsibility in our hands.

It does no such thing.

It says that the responsibility is in our hands, and that it is in our hands completely regardless of whether anyone knows this or not.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

This is one of those times when I feel like there's a third option-- I'm gonna frakkin' live forever if I can. Every time I run into one of those stories where the main character ends up living forever, and just expresses his/her terrible boredom, I'm like-- "whatever, try me!"

There's a zillion things I would never get tired of doing, and surely more than enough knowledge to keep me happily learning new things for zillions of years. I'm waiting for the day when I can upload the chem-set that is my brain into a mist of nanobots, and just start exploring the galaxy. I've got a plan to try out some sort of gentle parasitism, maybe hitch a ride in a fish for vacation, or send a few of me into an ant colony and just hang out. It would be great if all of me could communicate with each other. There'd be no day, and no night, just endlessly different experiences. Seriously, how far off technologically could this really be?

Ya'll can go the worm food route if you want-- and that's cool if you're okay with it-- but I'm holding out for something better.

By startlingmoniker (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Everyone, please don't take #42's comment as an indication of what all high school AP biology students are like. u_u

My high school actually teaches evolution and I pay attenton in class so I actually do have some understanding of how evolution works.

I've never thought about the concept of "soul" that much, and when I did I have to admit my mind turned towards more woo-ful beliefs, something like reincarnation or whatnot. I am an atheist but for some reason I find woo very alluring. Thankfully I try to express my woo only in the fantasy fiction I write and not in the real world.

So I was a bit shocked when PZ flat-out said "there is no soul," but I read on and found myself agreeing. And what he describes is much more beautiful than any promise of an afterlife or reincarnation.

#42: and how much do you know about primate behavior? Have you stuied the behavior of primates? Have you read the works of primatologists? Based on the views you are expressing I strongly suspect the answer is no. Let me just tell you this: you'll be surprised.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've always taken the philosophical view that the soul was the same as our psyche, that essence that makes us unique and individual from each other. When we die the soul dies with us.
Is the belief in a soul exclusive to theism?

Greg

I enjoy your posts but would - truly respectfully - disagree.
I have my own problems with invisible wisps of non-matter defining human essence but cannot claim something does not exist, however improbable the chance. Of course, this is not a spiritual argument, just one based on reason.
Given the paucity of empirical evidence for the soul, it is likely that the first person who came up with the concept (perhaps as a result of a stroke in the temporal lobe??) conjured it up without much external help. Drugs can do a good job of that, too. But, again, can we prove it wrong? Perhaps not.
In the scientific world, we could argue that the proponent have to prove that souls indeed do exist. But, more reasonably, instead of denying the yet unprovable possibility, we could exclude it until such time that such a claim is defensible.
We cannot prove that invisible pink unicorns from another universe will not cross a brane and invade earth, but it is impossible to deny this admittedly unlikely possibility.
In opposing the unscientific, we risk polarization, taking up a stronger position than perhaps necessary. Sticking with science, we don't need to deny souls, pixies, hippogriffs, ghosts, Santa, or even pink unicorns, we only need a worldview consistent with the measurable evidence.

Yahoo @ 42:

I'm not to familiar with Evolution despite being a High School Ap Biology student,

Perhaps you should do some actual learning then. You would have both understanding and a basis for actual discussion.

but I believe that we as people do have a purpose. I am raised under a Christan household and I do believe in Christian principles, but I cannot tolerate hypocritical Christians themselves.

So, you can't handle (or accept) the notion that people are somehow the marionettes of "Fate" yet you have no problem at all with people being marionettes of a psychopathic sky daddy god? By the way, Fate is also a god in many traditions, just not your particular god.

The only purpose in your life is the one you assign yourself or allow other people to assign for you. There's no magic involved.

I sometimes believe that life at some times is meaningless, but I still think that there is more to it than living a hedonistic lifestyle.

I'm trying to be nice here, but I get so tired of all the idiots who parrot the "hedonistic lifestyle" bullshit. What in the fuck makes you think any atheist's life is more hedonistic than yours or anyone elses? Getting enjoyment out of life does not equal 'morally bankrupt'. I'm involved with charities, I'm a good neighbour, a good friend and a good partner. How does injecting your particular nasty ass god into my life make me better? How does a belief in some sort of vaporous soul make me better? I live without fear of a god, I live without shame inspired by a god, I live without being enslaved to a god. I do not have a soul. I know this life is all I get, and I make the most of it I can, in every possible way. That includes a multitude of small kindnesses, because I know I won't get another chance. However, since I am supposed to be leading this hedonistic lifestyle, I had better put a baby in to roast, and organize the orgy.

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

Because we evolved. Evolution. Learn it.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

If that makes any sense...-listener

No, it surely doesn't. Would you care to back up your delusion with more clarity of thought? How does a soul figure into birth, unconsciousness, Alzheimer's, and death for starters? In other words, where does it come in, where does it go when you fall unconscious, does permanent loss of memory affect it, and what is it after death?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm sorry for not being specific Insightful Ape. Believe me, I am only a naive 17 year-old boy attending a silly Christian High School. I know nothing about apes except what I see on television. What I actually meant was the general view of apes as violent, barbaric, and unintelligent when this is actually false. I know apes are quite intelligent, unfortunately I am not very familiar with their behavior. Forgive me for my ignorance.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I like this article, but it is to depressing for me to belive. To accept the fact that humans are marionettes being controlled by the hands of "fate" and descended from primitive animals that were fond of throwing feces is very questionable.

What you want to believe and what is real are two different things.

Who says humans are puppets controlled by fate? We have free will. The puppet idea is more a religious one, god running the universe and knowing everything that can and will happen.

That we evolved is indisputable. Accepted by 99% of all relevant scientists in the USA except a few religious fanatics. Most of those scientists describe themselves as...xians.

but I still think that there is more to it than living a hedonistic lifestyle.

Who says atheists are all hedonists? The No Religions are 24% of the population, 72 million people and they tend to be more educated than the fundies. The vast majority are just normal people with families, jobs, kids, and pets.

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

We are descended from fish, to monkeys through apes and are still primates. That doesn't mean we behave like fish, amoebas, monkeys, or nonhuman apes. We are humans, no more and no less.

Being xian doesn't mean not behaving like an ape. Fundie xians score higher than the general population on all measure of social dysfunction, teen pregnancy, abortion, STDS, alcoholism, ignorance, you name it. Social primates divide up into tribes and occasionally have intertribal conflicts. There are now 38,000 xian sects. They are all the One True Cult, they all hate each other, and historically they have killed each other by the millions.

Just who is behaving like an ape here?

#60: sorry but you are wrong. Essentially all the functions that have been traditionally attributed to "souls" are in fact functions of specific parts of brain. What is more, our "intentions" are firings of neurons-and knowledge of those intentions is a secondary phenomenon. Further, the behavior of brain when you cut off the communicating fibers is like separated islands-each of them is totally unaware of what others "know". This contradicts the idea of "soul" which should transcend space, if it exists.
The body-mind duality is a scientific hypothesis. As far as neuroscience is concerned it is also a rejected hypothesis.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.
-- Mark Twain

"We are descended from fish, to monkeys through apes and are still primates."

(Sorry for the quote marks, haven't figured out how to blockquote yet)

I agree with everything you said, but just one quibble--we didn't descend directly from fish; it' be more accurate to say that we share a common ancestor with fish and monkeys and so on, wouldn't it?

Ahh, sorry for being pedantic. I'll retreat back into my hole now.

We don't believe in souls.

Nor the devil.

When we die, there is no paradise, no hell, not even a grim gray afterlife of darkness and regret…we are just gone. Everyone who has ever lived has or will simply end, and become nonexistent.

Reminds me of this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okd3hLlvvLw

By jcmartz.myopenid.com (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

David Marjanović | April 11, 2010 4:58 PM:

The key point is that this underworld is for everyone, even the demigods, even the two-thirds gods; only the full gods and Dumuzi are immortal.

Sumerians had 3 genders? I learn something new with every David Marjanović comment.

Yahoo @ 63:

Believe me, I am only a naive 17 year-old boy attending a silly Christian High School.

What, exactly, is preventing you from learning on your own? Some reason you can't hit a library or a bookstore? Something preventing you from reading ScienceBlogs, where you can find a wealth of information about all types of science. Something stopping you from Reading Seed or Science Daily?

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I agree with everything you said, but just one quibble--we didn't descend directly from fish

Yes, we did. Not today's fish, of course, but from organisms that very readily fit the definition of "fish," and that are taxonomically considered to be fish.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

By Glen Davidson (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

Quite simply, because we don't behave quite like that anymore. We have a different set of circumstances, a differently-evolved brain, why should we expect to see the same behaviour?

I don't see other apes posting on the internet, why should I stop just because I believe in the non-existence of an immaterial soul.

I like this article, but it is to depressing for me to belive.

That, frankly, is not an argument.

To accept the fact that humans are marionettes being controlled by the hands of "fate"

Oooooh no. Fate is a supernatural concept.

You probably think you can get around this by assuming physical determinism, but you can't, because determinism is wrong (it would contradict quantum physics, including observed facts like the Casimir Effect).

and descended from primitive animals that were fond of throwing feces is very questionable.

Why?

I'm not to familiar with Evolution despite being a High School Ap Biology student, but I believe that we as people do have a purpose.

You mean you actually want to be a robot that was produced for carrying out a task? Is "task" what you mean by "purpose"?

Now that would be depressing.

But this, too, is an argument from consequences, so ignore it. Let's take the scientific angle instead: what evidence is there for your belief that there's a purpose?

I sometimes believe that life at some times is meaningless, but I still think that there is more to it than living a hedonistic lifestyle.

I am a hedonist. I do what I like – writing manuscripts that get published as scientific papers! :-)

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

It seems you need to learn a lot more about our closest relatives. A lot.

Most people seem to like joy so they do whatever it needs to seek that state because that's how they work.

"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion."
– Abraham Lincoln

It's innate. Those in whom it isn't innate tend to die out.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

To accept the fact that humans are marionettes being controlled by the hands of "fate" and descended from primitive animals that were fond of throwing feces is very questionable.

Have you watched the US Congress, or Fox News? We're still pretty fond of throwing feces.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Yes, we did. Not today's fish, of course, but from organisms that very readily fit the definition of "fish," and that are taxonomically considered to be fish."

Oh, my bad. Thanks for correcting me.

Mormons at least make explicit what is implicit in most Christianity, that after death the individual undertakes some kind of apotheosis, much like in ancient polytheism. My theory is that the Christian eternal life in heaven scheme is really just transformed version of apotheosis -- another reason why the Protestant afterlife with perfect flesh bodies and mansion houses on real streets is so bizarre. For that kind of conception it really is hard to imagine what one would do with eternity.

By thehuntbox (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think I need a crash course on reality. Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method? I take back my silly statements from earlier because I realized how stupid I was for saying them, but I am still confused with what is absolute truth. Growing up as a Christian has distorted my beliefs with what is true. I fear that I could be chastised by my family and friends for refuting the existence of God. I do ask myself whether an afterlife exists because the Bible is just not enough to support its existence. My Christian schoolteachers constantly refer to archaeological evidence to support the existence of supernatural events of the Old Testament. The evidence at first appears very convincing yet my faith quickly turns to doubt. I want to know what is true!

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sumerians had 3 genders? I learn something new with every David Marjanović comment.

huh? how do you get 3 genders out of a mythological being that's 2/3 god, 1/3 human?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I got to be in the room when my brother died and my atheism (and his) was a HUGE comfort to me. I didn't have to waste the last few moments of his life wondering where his "soul" would go or bargaining with a god. I was able to be present. People assume I have no hope because I don't believe in a soul or the afterlife, but I have so much MORE hope and appreciate for life.

By lisathoughts (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

#63, look, I know this is frustrating for you. But anyone saying something along the lines of "if we are animals why not act the part" simply has no clue about animal behavior.
Apes can be extremely violent. But they can also be kind and empathetic. I have a suggestion for you: look up Frans de Waal. He is a famous primatologist. Take a look at his books.
Again, you'll be surprised.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution. And so is everyone else. - PZ [emphasis added]

Fine post, the only words I disagree with are those I've emphasised: evolution is no more ruthless or pitiless than gravitational attraction. It's no more ruthless and pitiless than it is warm and cuddly!

By knockgoats.myo… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The body-mind duality is a scientific hypothesis. As far as neuroscience is concerned it is also a rejected hypothesis.

...and this is a very important point. Because, while the philosophers, faithful, and wishful thinkers hypothesize to their hearts' content -- the only people in the game who are bringing it with evidence are the neuroscientists. A mountain of hypothesis weighs nothing compared to a grain of evidence.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's bothersome enough that people think that the matter of whether to believe evolutionary theory or not depends on whether they like the ramifications, but it's even worse when they get those ramifications wrong. Evolution does not entail the following:

1. That we should act like any animal other than what we are-- humans.
2. That we do not have what could be legitimately described as free will (read Dennett's Freedom Evolves for a good dissection of the subject)
3. That there is no purpose to our lives.
4. That we are somehow less dignified than if we hadn't evolved.

Evolution does entail the following:

1. That the behavior of non-human animals, especially those closely related to us, can give some clues about why we think and behave the way we do.
2. That explanations of human thought and behavior should take into consideration the conditions under which the human brain evolved.

Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method?

well, without it being verifiable by science, how could you tell if it's true or false?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

In reference to SteveV #10,

"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind."

-Johannes Brahms

well, without it being verifiable by science, how could you tell if it's true or false?

Well there's always logic. "All bachelors are unmarried" is true, but it's not a scientific truth. It's not like one has made a study of bachelors and saw that they are all unmarried (and even then, there's the problem of induction), but we know such a statement is true by definition. Just as 2+2=4 is a truth that can't be attested to through science. We can observe that 2+2=4, but we don't need to see whether two and two apples will be four apples or that two and two bananas will be four bananas. 2+2=4 is surely true, yet not a scientific truth.

... unaided by angels or spirits ...

Bravo, sir. Simply bravo.

Vicar's Daughter

#78 so what kind of a christian school do you go to?
Doesn't sound like a catholic one, they are not so obsessed with the OT.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

bickazer, look below the comment box for a few helpful html hints, including how to blockquote.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

bickazer, look below the comment box for a few helpful html hints, including how to blockquote.

Thank you very much. ^^ I've been lurking here for a year and I can't believe I never noticed that.

I'm starting to think that the need to believe in a soul that persists beyond death is simply a sign of immaturity in the adult brain. I've noticed that my six-year-old has a desperate desire for permanence in all things -- for example, she wants picked flowers or hand-painted boiled eggs to last forever, and becomes petulant when told they will wither or go rotten. When an adult needs to believe that a part of the self, i.e. the "soul," goes on forever, it seems like the same kind of childish thinking. Understanding and accepting the transient nature of things is a part of growing up.

The concentration here is way too much on belief to be scientific.

liar

To be scientific the concentration ought to be on the scientific method.

it is, you numbnut. neurology says there's no mind-body dualism. therefore, there are no souls.

This is an incredible idea. That Myers affects to be able to read the minds of anonymous others. And that he gives a damn as to what they believe, rather than the argument at hand.

mindreading is unnecessary. usually a concern troll slips up sooner or later and reveals their true anti-scientific, anti-evolution face. Identifying them early saves everyone time dealing with a dishonest liar though, so it's entirely in everyone's benefit.

WTF is your point, anyway?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method?

Reverse the question. How can you tell anything you believe by "revelation" is anything other that your wishes? Science requires evidence. Revelation requires fast talking/rationalization (a famous line from the movie The Big Chill, is that "we can go a day without sex, but not a day without a rationalization". Guess which one is favored by realists, like scientists, and which is favored by wooists, like New Agers and theists.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've always taken the philosophical view that the soul was the same as our psyche, that essence that makes us unique and individual from each other.

That's not an essence, that's a brain. "Soul Made Flesh", as a book title puts it.

Sorry for the quote marks, haven't figured out how to blockquote yet

<blockquote>quoted text here</blockquote>

Sumerians had 3 genders? I learn something new with every David Marjanović comment.

LOL! Well, "two-thirds god, one-third man" is what is written about Gilgames"h". Presumably that's an approximation that sums over a long family history of... introgression, with repeated crossings of gods and mortals.

and that are taxonomically considered to be fish

...or rather were so considered when taxonomists still used the word "fish". They've stopped.

Similarly, either we're monkeys, or the term "monkey" is misleading and should be dropped. The exact same thing holds for "ape". Here's why:

,----------------------------lemurs
|
--+ ,-----------------------tarsiers
| |
`--+ ,--------------------New World monkeys
| |
`--+ ,-----------------Old World monkeys
| |
`--+ ,--------------gibbons
| |
`--+ ,-----------orang-utans
| |
`--+ ,--------gorillas
| |
`--+ ,-----humans
| |
`--+ ,--chimpanzee
| |
`--+
|
`--bonobo

This is a family tree that covers about 50 million years. Time proceeds from left to right, every + is a point where a population split in two, and the vertical axis is completely meaningless (every branch could be rotated around itself without changing anything). Any more questions?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Zxg #87,

What the...? What was that?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Similarly, either we're monkeys, or the term "monkey" is misleading and should be dropped.

I said the same thing in a thread yesterday and was taken to the proverbial sword.

Thank you very much. ^^ I've been lurking here for a year and I can't believe I never noticed that.

It is a new feature, that appeared around the time of the banned words a few weeks ago.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

[RANT]
I am probably the odd one out on this, but non-existence is a lot more comforting to me than being forever in some high celestial plane.

Any concept of an afterlife just scares the freaking shit out of me. For me it's non-existence (no happiness, joy, sadness, pain, or loss ever again); or watching close relatives/friends die from a place in heaven, burn in hell, or go back into the world and experience the same joys/pain I did in this life.

Sorry if I sound like a whiny kid- I'm just a wee bit overly annoyed at the whole argument that boils down to "OMG ATHEISTS ARE SUUU SAD AND DOWN BECUZ THEY HAVE NO AFTERLIFES".

GAH!
[/END RANT]

But yea, I love the comic- it's the one that I always show to everyone when they pester me about donating my body to science after I die.

By Rev. Pyramid Head (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jadehawk, OM | April 11, 2010 5:27 PM:

how do you get 3 genders out of a mythological being that's 2/3 god, 1/3 human?

It is impossible to construct 2/3 from sums of powers of 2. If there are two genders, an individual can be 1/2 god, 1/4 god, 1/8 god, 3/4 god, 7/8 god, or any portion god that can be constructed from sums of powers of two. But 2/3 cannot be constructed that way. 2/3 god requires 3 genders.

Are you nuts? I don't know what Ray Charles's religious views were, but he definitely had soul. Case closed.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yahoo @ 78:

Growing up as a Christian has distorted my beliefs with what is true. I fear that I could be chastised by my family and friends for refuting the existence of God.

A whole lot of people here have been in your exact situation. Some of them still are in them, they've managed to learn, and come to their own conclusions. Whether or not to come out as an atheist (or agnostic) can be a very difficult situation. Some people do, some people don't.

I do ask myself whether an afterlife exists because the Bible is just not enough to support its existence. My Christian schoolteachers constantly refer to archaeological evidence to support the existence of supernatural events of the Old Testament. The evidence at first appears very convincing yet my faith quickly turns to doubt.

Doubt is a good thing, it means you're using your brain. One thing, no matter how unpalatable it may be, is that theists do lie and they will lie. Perhaps they don't consider it lying, however, all it amounts to are stories which are told in order to shore up belief. Religious belief must be propped up constantly, it must be reinforced constantly. This is necessary, because without it, thought, learning and reality will erode those beliefs.

I want to know what is true!

Good for you! Remember that, and keep telling yourself that. Knowledge is the best thing you can feed yourself right now. Stick around here, do a of reading. Ask questions.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method?

Short answer; yes. If by 'truth' you mean a quantifiable measure of objective reality, then the scientific method is the only credible way to falsify any given hypothesis. The only alternative is to accept a parity of meaning between reality and fantasy, and that way lies, if not madness, then certainly ignorance.

... I am still confused with what is absolute truth.

There is no such thing as eternal, 'absolute truth'. There is only the best available explanation for observed phenomena that conforms with the currently available evidence. As the evidence changes and new data is found, then the theories may have to be revised to fit the new evidence. Nothing is carved in stone. From my perspective as a scientific layman, I would say that the pursuit of such explanations and their constant refinement in the face of new evidence is the very purpose of science.

I fear that I could be chastised by my family and friends for refuting the existence of God.

You are almost certainly right on this point. If you genuinely wish to replace religion with reason, then the road ahead of you will be rocky indeed. Many of your theist friends and family will be horrified by your decision. Some will disown you, others will deploy emotional blackmail to try to prevent you from pursuing the life of a rationalist. The price will likely be high, but the rewards of a life free from pernicious mythology making all your decisions for you is, in my opinion, more than worth it.

I do ask myself whether an afterlife exists because the Bible is just not enough to support its existence. My Christian schoolteachers constantly refer to archaeological evidence to support the existence of supernatural events of the Old Testament. The evidence at first appears very convincing yet my faith quickly turns to doubt. I want to know what is true!

Congratulations, you have taken the first steps toward rational skepticism, toward 'wisdom', if I can use that term without a terminal excess of pomposity.

Doubt is not a bad thing. It is vital to be prepared to re-examine any of your beliefs, however hard held they may be, in the light of the evidence. You are right to say that the bible is not evidence supporting the Christrian world view any more than The Lord of the Rings is evidence of Middle Earth. I wish you well with your bid to break free of dogma. You may never find the singular 'truth' you aspire to (The Truth(tm) is itself a very theistic concept). What you hopefully will develop is the ability to think for yourself, free of the constraints of scripture or the pre-packaged opinions of a priesthood.

By Gregory Greenwood (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#42 Ouch, you might be smarting a bit after being sliced up by some of the responders above. I would not presume to apologize for that but I do think that, considering your age, it got a little over the top in some cases. That aside, I can only say that if you have somehow managed to come through High School AP Biology with this abject level of knowledge of the defining theory of modern biology, then you have been very badly served indeed by your local school board and I would encourage you to make some noise about it! Good luck and don't be hesitant to stay in the discussion.

It is impossible to construct 2/3 from sums of powers of 2.

right... but since when should we be taking such things literally? the 2/3 more likely had a symbolic meaning, rather than a biological one :-p

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

http://suntzusaid.blogspot.com/2010/04/deliberate-attempt-to-become-off…

I was very much annoyed with this same concept last week. I find theists have a harder time somehow explaining how their actual lives have meaning or utility when they spend all this energy and concern wishing away their mortality and pretending to know things with certainty from a metaphysical (ie, subjective) point of view. Why worry about it at all? Life has enough problems of its own worth examining and resolving without trudging through this nonsense about afterlives and souls.

Still, it's an even worse problem that they don't even bother to take those views seriously and thus never have to presume that those souls they supposedly have will be lost or punished. It's one thing to make something up and maybe it makes you feel "better" to believe in it. I don't know. It's another thing entirely to make something up and then not bother to attend to its rigorous "logic" when it has make-believe implications that you may not like.

By suntzusays (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I am an atheist, do not believe in a soul (what I've read of neuroscience and psychology has convinced me of that), and the like. I suppose there is no rational reason to fear death - we won't exactly know that we're dead, just like we had no experience of life before we were born.

That said, I will be honest and say that death fills me with regret and sorrow. Barring the development of either major life extension technology and/or the ability to upload ourselves into computers, I will likely never live long enough to see the end of the 21st century, never walk under the light of an alien sun, never watch humanity become something so much greater than itself as technology progresses, and so forth. I feel like I just missed the lottery somehow - that I was born just barely too early to live to see a radical transformation in humanity.

By Wise Bass (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

thehuntbox | April 11, 2010 5:26 PM:

Mormons at least make explicit what is implicit in most Christianity, that after death the individual undertakes some kind of apotheosis, much like in ancient polytheism.

Mormon eschatology also has a convenient* out for the problem of evil: God is teaching faithful Mormons what not to do when they become gods themselves.

*Well. Maybe not that convenient. It requires god be unable to teach the lesson in a nicer way. That's a limit on god's power.

The future is in the hands of our children, much as it was once in ours.

I talked to my daughter today. The one that got pregnant at 18 and was well served by the services available to find capable parents for my grandson. The one that found out about addictive drugs. The one that came so close to ending her life before it had fully begun.

She told me today that she is continuing pursuit of an associate degree in education and that she is looking forward to her history class being seated tomorrow after spring break.

She told me how important is was to her to teach, to pass knowledge and insight on to the youngsters. She told me how she recalled how I used to read aloud to her, often while she cleaned up from a meal that I prepared. Lewis Thomas, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov. She didn't understand why I did so back then but she was fascinated by the subjects and the trail of science that made them comprehensible. The fascination has grown into a deeper appreciation and she wants to do for today's children more of what I was able to do for her.

Today is my 59th birthday. No sweeter present could I receive.

If you are concerned about the future, about the role of science and the level of general understanding of science there is no better way than to engage the young at every opportunity. Show them how to watch, to observe. Teach them about the continuity of life. Inform them that they live in a world so full of mystery and riddle that we might be occupied for millennia. Let them know that there are serious problems for which workable answers are not at hand. Provide examples from history of how intractable problems are solved, usually by brute force but sometimes by serendipity. Empower them with skills to research and collate information. Teach them how to learn.

My admiration of PZ is primarily that he teaches at a high level. That he is a heathen atheist is just the fun part. Learning is often fun but it is also necessarily hard when assumptions and convention are taken to task. That constitutes another important lesson that needs teaching; don't fear changing your mind when reality demands it.

If I do have anything like faith it is that I am trusting the new generation to succeed, to survive, to thrive. It is what I put my energy into while I was in a new generation. Talking to my daughter today I realized that not only did I do something right while raising her, she has done more things right on her own account. I see that I was part of that even as I recall my own teachers, my uncles, old men in bib overalls, kind men and women I knew while young who each taught me something and who I recall even today.

The inheritance we leave to our children becomes more fraught with risk as time passes. It is incumbent upon us to provide them with the best of our knowledge, seeing as how they're going to need it. We cannot give them wisdom, that only comes with time; we can give them thinking skills, knowledge and the benefit of our understanding. Then we can only trust them.

If anyone out there was born on April 11, a very happy birthday to you and many pleasant returns.

By Crudely Wrott (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Gah! Blockquote fail! Apologies all.

By Gregory Greenwood (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Givesgoddemail

I can't find the quote, but I've always liked what Rand said about dying--something to the effect that, when she died she would cease to exist to the world and the world would cease to exist for her.

But years after her death there are still a lot of Randroids running around living their lives like zombies. Why can't they just follow her (pretty please) and cease to exist to the world as well. I mean, that would at least make the world a much better place to live in. :)

By Teddydeedodu (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Monism forever. The most important bit. I was a monist before I dropped religion, and right after I ever considered the question. The only argument my parents had against monism was the wish-thoughtful, "is that all there really is?"

By kilternkafuffle (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

meh. The Lego pieces is a bad analogy. Our bodies don't retain the same molecules our whole entire lives, but we can remember things that happened in our 1st 5 years. Its that sense of self (soul?) that's a mystery, and we can't pretend to know all there is about it. Can it survive death? Probably not, but what about resurrection? Not this body or bones getting up out of the ground and boogie-ing Ezekiel-fashion; look at it this way: if Evolution is real & true (I refuse to say I 'believe' in it), then the chances of me existing at all are so many trillion to 1 against, yet here I am with a brain the size of New Mexico. Now, if there's enough stuff to collapse the universe in a Big Crunch, and if that results in another Big Bang (and a resultant New Universe), what are the chances of me existing again in that New Universe? I'd say about the same as me existing in this one.

By Al B. Quirky (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oops, I miscounted. The lemurs are not yet in the future. :-)

PZ! You forgot the alt-text of the picture!

It's "Dad, where is Grandpa now?"

Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method? [...] I am still confused with what is absolute truth. [...] I want to know what is true!

I have to disappoint you. Science cannot prove, only disprove. If an idea contradicts reality, we can find out by deriving predictions from it and comparing them to reality; if the predictions don't agree with reality, the idea is false. If they do agree, the idea could still be false.

Suppose we discover the truth. How can we find out that what we've discovered is indeed the truth? By comparing it to the truth, which we don't have?

Worse yet, there's no way to disprove ideas like solipsism (which says that nothing exists except me or rather my mind, and that everything else is a figment of my imagination). I need to go to bed soon, so I won't go into my usual discussion of truth and reality; I'll just refer you to the principle of parsimony for the moment – when several ideas explain the evidence equally well, those ideas that require the fewest extra assumptions must be preferred.

Science is a humbling experience.

evolution is no more ruthless or pitiless than gravitational attraction. It's no more ruthless and pitiless than it is warm and cuddly!

Bingo.

the only people in the game who are bringing it with evidence are the neuroscientists.

Though some philosophers suspected that right from the start. From the left sidebar...

"A blow to the head will confuse a man's thinking, a blow to the foot has no such effect, this cannot be the result of an immaterial soul."
– Heraclitus, 500 BC.

That Myers affects to be able to read the minds of anonymous others.

He's not reading minds, he's making and testing a scientific hypothesis. It's easy, see comment 94.

Similarly, either we're monkeys, or the term "monkey" is misleading and should be dropped.

I said the same thing in a thread yesterday and was taken to the proverbial sword.

Which thread?

There is no such thing as eternal, 'absolute truth'.

There may well be, but we can't find out.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

#108: but maybe you and I will just barely escape the full devastation of anthropogenic climate change. Isn't that akin to winning the lottery?

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

(I refuse to say I 'believe' in it)

Why? Are you ignorant of the scientific support for the concept, or do you buy into the equivocation between the words belief and faith?

We don't believe in souls.

Speak for yourself! I don't believe that souls have any objective existence, in the same sense that feet or hair exist. But I think a person does have a soul in the sense of, a kind of core essence of who they are, what they care about, what they mean to other people, etc.

According to a speaker at a skeptic meeting that I once attended, whose name escapes me, the whole idea of a separate soul that flutters away to heaven after you die isn't even Biblical. You can't have a soul without a body.

If there was an after life then you could only characterize it as hell. Endless consciousness! Most people are traumatized when they can't find anything good on TV on a rainy evening.

but we can remember things that happened in our 1st 5 years.

um that's no mystery at all. our fingerprints don't change either, even though the skin on your fingertips is made of ever-changing cells.

look at it this way: if Evolution is real & true (I refuse to say I 'believe' in it), then the chances of me existing at all are so many trillion to 1 against, yet here I am

and if it weren't you, it would be someone else, or no one else, and it wouldn't matter.

there's nothing mysterious or miraculous about looking at the history of the universe backwards. it's only egocentric, assuming that what we got was what we were "supposed" to get. which isn't true. you're no more important for the universe than the uncountably many genetic/developmental combinations that never happened.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I pity the fools that would slave away for the promise of an afterlife. Even the Medicis could never appreciate the beauty of their grand tombs. That sounds just like the sort of scam a church would pull though: give me your money, god will reward you when you're dead (sucker!)

By MadScientist (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Our bodies don't retain the same molecules our whole entire lives, but we can remember things that happened in our 1st 5 years. Its that sense of self (soul?) that's a mystery, and we can't pretend to know all there is about it.

Ehm... the arrangement stays the same enough for memories to survive. Molecules can be exchanged within that arrangement without problem, like pieces in a Lego house.

Now, if there's enough stuff to collapse the universe in a Big Crunch, and if that results in another Big Bang (and a resultant New Universe), what are the chances of me existing again in that New Universe? I'd say about the same as me existing in this one.

Fine, except there won't be a Big Crunch. The expansion of the universe is not only not slowing down, it's speeding up, as you would know if you hadn't been sleeping for the last 10 or more years. You're on the Internet, for crying out loud. Just yesterday Starts With A Bang had a post about this right here on ScienceBlogs.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@InsightApe. The school I go to is part of the Christian Reformed Church sect which shares the beliefs establish by a Christian named John Calvin. Some of the teachers there are quite present while the student body is on the mehh side (Meaning they are quite spiritual and "pious"). The place was founded by a bunch of tall Dutch guys and that are believed to by a direct beneficiary by members of the Dutch mafia. I have hated my 4 years at the school especially because I was expecting my transition from public school to a private Christian High school to be a good one. Unfortunately I was dead wrong. The people there can be pigheaded and I especially hate it when they constantly mention how God is basically responsible for everything that happens, as if we are so helpless and pathetic.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

or, to put it more concisely... it's only impressive to hit a particular "target" if you were aiming for it... otherwise it unimpressive and meaningless; after all, every thrown dart hits something eventually.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink
(I refuse to say I 'believe' in it)

Why? Are you ignorant of the scientific support for the concept, or do you buy into the equivocation between the words belief and faith?

If you believe in a scientific theory, you're doing it wrong.

I think a person does have a soul in the sense of, a kind of core essence of who they are, what they care about, what they mean to other people, etc.

As I just said, that's your three-pound monkey brain.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#78
I am still confused with what is absolute truth.

There probably is no such thing. Would "absolute truth" require knowing everything that there is to know about whatever it is? And wouldn't that be at least somewhat affected by the tempo at which we live and the scale at which we operate?

There are many things that are true; which one dominates the landscape as "absolute" would be tricky to determine. The following are true:
- you are a human
- you are a mass of meat and bone and assorted glop
- you are a large number of cells
- you are a huge number of molecules
- seen from the perspective of our sun, you're an unnoticeable particle
- seen from the perspective of one of the phosphorus molecules in your brain, you're a whirling cloud of atoms
- frozen in time it becomes hard to recognize you as a living being without close examination
- seen from the time-scale of a mountain, you're like an eddy in a vast current of compost
etc. I could go on and on but I'll spare you.

Everything we see is filtered through our eyes, then post-processed by our brains, and then "understood" by other processes in our brains that we don't understand, yet. Some philosophers like the extreme skeptics point out that we can hardly (or not even) claim to "know" anything, really, because our perceptions could be wrong, our perspective might be inappropriate, or we could simply be crazy. So the skeptics say that if there's an "absolute truth" we cannot know it (indeed, "absolute truth" about anything might require more knowledge than we could integrate, because is not the "absolute truth" about any molecule dependent on the universe?)

So some of us adopt evidence as the only way of making claims about knowledge. That's why "what's your evidence?" is shorthand for "how do you claim to know X for any given X?" Evidence is never treated as completely conclusive, but unless we base our understanding in common experiences (evidence = shared experience) then we're up against the isolation boundary between every human. Evidence is the bridge across our ignorance.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

WiseBass:

I feel like I just missed the lottery somehow - that I was born just barely too early to live to see a radical transformation in humanity.

Why so gloomy! This year already we know more about human and tetrapod ancestors. Just recently we left the planet! There's so much to live for and we're so incredibly lucky to live in a century of immense possibilities. Our parents' generation couldn't dream of what we have!

We already live in a fascinating world, with humanity transforming as radically as it has ever been!
Here is a dose of comical and brilliant optimism about our world by Louis CK!

By kilternkafuffle (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

A concern troll complaining about the concept of concern trolling? You see something new every day I suppose.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Would "absolute truth" require knowing everything that there is to know about whatever it is?

That isn't even possible.

It would contradict Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relation.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Right here

Feynmaniac says the same thing as I there, only in different words and from a different perspective.

:-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

One thing I've always noted especially to those who proscribe to a religion is that regardless of what religion or lack of religion you proscribe to, no matter what you believe about how we end up, we've got one shot at this life on this planet in this personality.

That's because to make any other assertion would subject their religious faith to falsifiable predictions. Which they won't do.

Whereas the claim "the soul is just an illusionary epiphenomenon of the brain running mental processs" makes the predicition that when the brain messes up, people's experience of their "soul" will change. Which it does.

By phoenicianromans (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The ancient dualism of soul/body from which western culture derives its notions depends on the definition of psyche, spiritus: breathe. The classical distinction: breathe was the characteristic that defined a sleeping person from a dead one. The sleeping person had 'spiritus' while the dead one did not. (Death and sleep were very interconnected in the ancient world). This also curiously led to a visual concept in western culture of a soul being made of "air" (ever wonder why we consider ghosts to be air-like?) This "air" supposedly inhabits the body, adhering to its shape. The greeks/romans had another bodiless concept of soul which we don't see much of today: a shade or a dark reflection of the body

David Marjanović writes:
That isn't even possible.

It would contradict Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relation.

Exactly. But to know the "absolute truth" about something wouldn't you have to both know where it was and how fast it was moving in any particular direction? Those are important properties of the truth of a thing.

I think the notion of "absolute truth" is incoherent; that was my point. Anyone who knew the "absolute truth" about anything would explode like the wafer theen guy in the Monty Python sketch. :)

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

kilternkafuffle @ 128:

We already live in a fascinating world, with humanity transforming as radically as it has ever been!

Yep. Amen, even! ;D If I make to 80 years old, I'll live until 2038. That's pretty damn exciting all by itself. I love living in the future. ;p

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Whereas the claim "the soul is just an illusionary epiphenomenon of the brain running mental processs" makes the predicition that when the brain messes up, people's experience of their "soul" will change. Which it does.

A fun question to ask the faithful (or those who believe in "souls") is whether taking antidepressants affects the soul.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Come from nothing and go back to nothing"
co-sign

Death doesn't frighten but there's one thing which bugs me and that is that our lives are way too short.. I'd settle for 5000 years and then re-incarnation :)

This concept is also, incidentally, from where the custom of saying "God Bless you" when we sneeze derives. Your "soul/air/breathe" is somehow leaving you hence you need a blessing to keep it inside.

Dark age superstition is wonderfully crazy.

It always strikes me as odd that creationists like to ask, "If we're descended from apes, why don't you act like an ape?" Evolution aside, I'm quite sure that a large number of my medieval ancestors were illiterate peasants and serfs who spent their lives grubbing in the dirt because that's the only way they could earn a living. Or soldiers who happily butchered people who looked different from themselves, or who spoke a different language.

Why would I want to act like my medieval ancestors, let alone my prehistoric ones?

By NitricAcid (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#132 To what does the text in italics refer? Are you quoting #11? If so, please put @#11 before your post and put the text in quotes so we don't have to hunt through 131 comments to find the one you're referencing.

And #11, how does one "proscribe to" a religion?

And, both of you, I have no idea what you're talking about so I am doubly pissed at having wasted my time!

@David Marjanović 96:
Why does that mean the terms should be dropped? There's more to the world than just phylogeny. Although tetrapods evolved from fish, fish have a number of positive characters they lack, like gills. You wouldn't want to use them as a taxon, perhaps, but it makes perfect sense to say our ancestors were fish but we aren't.

In the same way, "monkey" means "primate with a tail". So long as you don't assume that means they form a single evolutionary group, what's misleading about that?

I lost an uncle last Fall to a rare type of stroke. It happened at a wake for his step-father, so a lot of family were around when he had his seizure. It was a couple days later when he died in the hospital. I remember my devout Southern Baptist family members being so concerned over his soul and wanting to be at the hospital if and when he regained consciousness so they could make sure he was "saved." I know it was out of concern for him, but I still couldn't help the feeling that they were vultures circling a wounded prey and waiting for the chance to swoop in. The soul concept was getting in the way of the things that were really important at the time, and causing unnecessary concern when there was plenty else to think about.

And with that, I'm going to go put on my "Smile, there's no Hell" t-shirt and go visit some friends from the freethinkers group at my alma mater.

Very well put. Awesome, thanks!

"We don't know what happens when we die
We only know we die too soon
But we have to try or else our world becomes
A waiting room"

Joe Jackson - The Verdict

By mrcreosote (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Well said.

BTW, I had a dream last night that I was kicked off this blog for putting my real name in a comment.

Luckily, I can tell the difference between dreams, fantasy and reality, unlike theists. See ya all around!

Dan Hansen

@17 Year-old X-ian AP Bio guy

It's encouraging to see you're not afraid to state your opinions, have them challenged, and respond without losing courage or getting angry. It's doubly encouraging that you're going outside your usual comfort zone for other opinions and information.

It's less encouraging that at the AP bio level you don't have a solid grasp of evolution, but hopefully that's what college is for.

If you want to take a "crash course in reality" as you put it, I'd highly suggest you look into an introductory course in philosophy. While knowledge of philosophy doesn't get you a job at the Philosophy Factory, it will give you the basic mechanics of how to evaluate an argument and work it through from first principles. Philosophy doesn't teach you what to think, but it can give you some pointers on how to think more effectively, and how to test hypotheses in the absence of material evidence.

Just a warning, though: learning the difference between good philosophy and bullshit pseudo-reasoning WILL make you an atheist.

By Crommunist (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

To startlingmonika #56;
Got room on that bus for me?

To the confused 17yr old #78;
Please take the advice offered by others; stick around, ask questions, read and don't be afraid to learn.
Aside from this excellent site, may I recommend you visit www.richarddawkins.net and look through some articles there. Better still, grab yourself a copy of Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' and read it from cover to cover. Once you've done that, read it again; you'll be amazed at how much you either missed or misunderstood on the first reading. Don't just read the book though, make sure that you properly understand what is being said, keep a dictionary and thesaurus at hand as academics do have a tendency to use 10-syllable words where 3 would suffice (I'll probably be accused of advocating 'dumbing-down' for saying that but in reality isn't this how we all learn? Einstein; Hawkins; Dawkins; Myers; You; Me; Everybody; We all had to learn ABC... and 1+1=2 before we could understand more complex matters), and don't give up.
Both of these sites are goldmines for clearly written, informative and rational articles on atheism, evolution and understanding our place in the Universe, and all you need do is suspend your religious beliefs for just long enough to begin to comprehend and the chances are that, in no time at all, you'll have no need of (or fear of) the superstitious hoodoo that has no place in the 21st Century.
Good luck!

By GodlessNot Clueless (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's an irony in xtianity.
Is jeebus (according to the four most popular gospels, anyway) the prince of peace/love or the prince of war/hate? He preached both. Judged by today's better moral standards : Fail.

Modern xtians support war/hate in American culture.
War, the environment, none of it matters to them because life is unimportant compared to the (pick one) imaginary soul.

But to a non-theist, life is too valuable. The here and now matters. Non-theism teaches better values. When you drop yr indoctrinated superstition of choice, life and your fellow man takes on greater importance for now and the future.

By TimKO,,.,, (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is, of course, an aspect of this which is horrible. It is unsettling to think that Hitler met the same end as all of his victims. The flipside is that this also reveals the tragedy of such actions; the atheistic context makes life all the more valuable.

#124,
I hope it cheers you up to learn, many of us here have had to deal with such challenges in the past.
Either way, while a number of people (including me) have already given you recommendations on literature, I'll still take the liberty to make a suggestion: since you seem to be particularly irritated by the repeat suggestions that archaeology bears out the Old Testament (and rightfully so), there is a book you can take a look at: The End of Biblical Studies, by University of Iowa professor Hector Avalos. He takes on the claims of historicity of the bible head on. It is a great read.
Stick by and we can exchange notes.

By Insightful Ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I am totally crushed.

By tresameht (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think a person does have a soul in the sense of, a kind of core essence of who they are, what they care about, what they mean to other people, etc. (#118)

I think that's sort of the same thing PZ was getting at in his post, with the continuation of our cares and efforts and all we care about in society, etc. It's sort of a grander "immortality," if you ask me. Our works don't get written off as attributable to God. Our ourselves live on.

I just think that everyone in our society (regardless of belief) is so conditioned to think of "soul" to mean a God-ghost resident in our brains that it's problematic to call it that, even if "soul" means something else to you. But I agree with you, in essence.

By AZ Writer (Kim… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The Wild Honeysuckle

FAIR flower, that dost so comely grow,
Hid in this silent, dull retreat,
Untouched thy honied blossoms blow,
Unseen thy little branches greet:
No roving foot shall crush thee here,
No busy hand provoke a tear.

By Nature’s self in white arrayed,
She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,
And planted here the guardian shade,
And sent soft waters murmuring by;
Thus quietly thy summer goes,
Thy days declining to repose.

Smit with those charms, that must decay,
I grieve to see your future doom;
They died--nor were those flowers more gay,
The flowers that did in Eden bloom;
Unpitying frosts and Autumn’s power
Shall leave no vestige of this flower.

From morning suns and evening dews
At first thy little being came;
If nothing once, you nothing lose,
For when you die you are the same;
The space between is but an hour,
The frail duration of a flower.

Philip J. Freneau

Of course that should be Philip M. Freneau. My bad Phil.

If you believe in a scientific theory, you're doing it wrong.

Now you're just playing word games.

I like to remind Christians that they are greedy and cowardly to believe in heaven, and that they should be grateful for the one life they have.

PZ's brilliant post reminded me of this song by Iris Dement. Her song is more agnostic than atheist but I like her philosophy.

Off topic but this is her best song.

By a.human.ape (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Right on, Mr. Myers--what a funny coincidence, I was just musing on this subject this weekend!
Frankly, I pray to the Christian God (actually I mostly shout art project ideas at him because, face it, nobody else needs to hear it.) But I agree absolutely that the afterlife is the shadiest part of religious doctrine and have shed it over time. I believe in considering what we'll leave behind us, and I hope to leave things that may delight and provoke people.

I'm new to this site and would like to offer a gift:

-----------To All The Measle-y Journos------------

Flatfooted denial's their creed.
They share a rambunctinous greed.
The fatheaded slurps.
The slim-witted twerps:
Warn children away from their mead!

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

a.human.ape @ 156:

I like to remind Christians that they are greedy and cowardly to believe in heaven, and that they should be grateful for the one life they have.

How sweet. Have you managed to get rid of your vile homophobia, which is such important part of your life, you piece of scum?

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

As much as I do not believe in a soul, or any religion, and do not adopt a faith because I know it's simply wrong and I can't knowingly believe lies, none of the familiar atheist statements about death are even remotely comforting or reassuring to me.

By Serenegoose (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#123
If I go back to sleep for another 10 years, can you guarantee that Big Crunch will still be a dead duck?

By Al B. Quirky (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'll still take the liberty to make a suggestion: since you seem to be particularly irritated by the repeat suggestions that archaeology bears out the Old Testament (and rightfully so),

The Bible Unearthed - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the ..... Finkelstein and Silberman have themselves written a provocative book that ...

Actually biblical archaeology showed that much of the bible is just made up. Finkelstein and Silberman who did much of the original digging is good. The Exodus never happened, the multiple genocides of the Canaanites never happened, the Jews were just another tribe of Canaanites anyway, David and Solomon were minor rulers, and so on. Oddly enough the later history has some truth to it, the lists of kings of Judea and Israel.

Some xians dispute the findings of archaeology though. As well as biology, geology, history, astronomy and paleontology. When you believe the earth is 6,000 years old and UFOs are piloted by demons, reality becomes a minor obstacle.

but we can remember things that happened in our 1st 5 years.

Speak for yourself.

The hardest explanation for theists to grasp, though, is the understanding that none of us have ever had this unlikely clot of vapor called a soul. If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart's music, Michaelangelo's sculptures, Picasso's paintings, the Wright brothers' plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.

I have always found this to be one of the loveliest things about atheism - it makes the world an infinitely more interesting and beautiful place.

By Dark Matter (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Like others who post here, I find Lucretius very congenial on this subject. However, when, in addition to asserting that the soul is material and mortal, he (following his idol Epicurus) also tries to argue away the fear of death, the whole project is, I think, misconceived.

The reason why is stated better by Philip Larkin than anyone else I've ever read:

Aubade
by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
-- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused -- nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear -- no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.

It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
....................

The "specious stuff" that Larkin ridicules is exactly that cache of arguments from Greek philosophy, designed to buck us up in the face of our impending extinction.

I'd take a different tack. The dread of not being isn't something you can really argue yourself or others out of. But the dread is only intermittent. At other times, the prospect of ceasing to exist can be quite welcome. I find it comforting that the world's most sadistic tyrant has no power over his victims beyond a fixed point. I find it comforting that pain, no matter how severe, quite simply ends one day, and can't recur.

So, sometimes dreading my end, and the end of others I care for, and at other times being a bit fatigued by "life's fitful fever," I find it all seems to average out in a way that, so far, is tolerable.

By Aaron Baker (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Great post PZ.

It is sad to know that so many religious people spend so much time in this life worshipping something that probably does not exist. Then when they die and there is nothing they will never ever know how wrong they were. That is truly a waste.

At least as an atheist if we are wrong and there actually is something there we will at least know we were wrong. Assuming of course that the religious are right! - and that is quite a stretch - there are so many things that you could suppose happens to us when we die - so far no evidence of anything other than simply death.

If someone could just invent email from beyond the grave maybe we could find out!

none of the familiar atheist statements about death are even remotely comforting or reassuring to me.

How many xians are reasonably sure there is an afterlife anyway? Very few seem to be in a hurry to get there. In the hospitals, the most likely to demand heroic endtime life support are the most devout ones. They don't act like they are all that sure.

Living forever could get boring although a few thousand or a million years sounds good.

What I most would miss about not having an afterlife is not seeing a few {deceased} friends, relatives, and more than a few cats.

Serenegoose #161 wrote:

As much as I do not believe in a soul, or any religion, and do not adopt a faith because I know it's simply wrong and I can't knowingly believe lies, none of the familiar atheist statements about death are even remotely comforting or reassuring to me.

And that may just be, the way it is.

In her stageplay/movie Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney talks about how the finality of death really hit her hard, when she lost her faith and began to think through all the implications. If there was no God or afterlife, this meant that everyone she loved who had died, had to die for her a second time. Before, she had always had a comforting thought that she'd see them again. Now, she knew she wouldn't. And they weren't somehow still alive. They were really, really, gone. And, thinking about it, she wondered if it was too much: was atheism -- truth -- worth it?

But, as she thought more, she realized that, every time she had ever grown as a person, it was because she was forced to accept something she didn't want to believe. And, once she accepted it, she knew it was the right thing to do. Living in denial, was no way to live.

I think the atheist reaction to death varies because atheists vary a great deal, not just in background, but in temperament. If you weren't raised with the conviction that heaven awaits (or it just never seemed reasonable), then you probably don't really miss, what you never had. If you were, then reactions run the gamut. And they can change over time. What bothers you now, may not in a few years. Or, vice versa.

Bottom line, reality isn't under an obligation to satisfy us, and give us what we want. And if you're the kind of person who thinks that Sagan's "better a hard truth, than a comforting fable" is wise -- as you apparently are -- then all you're left with is making the psychological best, with what there is.

That's really all they're doing, as well. They pick the comforting fable. What's annoying, of course, is that theists often try to re-frame this choice as courage and discipline, instead of their negation.

Mbee @ 167:

If someone could just invent email from beyond the grave maybe we could find out!

Eternal spam? Nooooooooooo!

;p

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Belief in a soul and/or resurrected body and/or reincarnation is a response to fear of death.

I don't particularly fear death. I know I'll die and that'll be that. As Shakespeare observed:

The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.

I just hope I don't leave too much evil behind.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Great post, PZ.

The idea of heaven has always struck me as kind of silly. Humans appear to need change and constant challenge in order to function so the concept of 'eternal bliss' is one that I can't see as being practical beyond a few dozen years (if that).

Which is why the Agent Smith quote from the The Matrix is a good one:

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

If I could have what I wanted, I'd go for non-linear, non-species-specific reincarnation, i.e. we could be reborn at any point in history, as any kind of organism. But I think - somewhat sadly, as per evolution; if we weren't strongly attached to life we wouldn't try so hard to prevent losing it - we just die.

Actually, it makes me think about something that Dawkins alluded to in TGD - why aren't Christians, considering that their lives are more obstacles to their goals than anything else - bigger risk-takers? It seems odd they don't want to die sooner and get to heaven.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

How I explain my atheism to evangelical christians...

"If I believe Jesus is my personal Lord and saviour, I go to heaven, right?"

"Right!"

"Well, I need to spend eternity in hell so I can comfort and minister to all the souls that ended up there. It is what God wants me to do. So I have to reject Jesus and be an atheist, otherwise I will end up in heaven."

The vacant stare I get in response is fucking awesome!

By tomrooney.phd (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Paraphrased by Iron Maiden, of course...

Circle of fire, my baptism of joy's at an end it seems
The seventh lamb slain, the book of life opened before me...
And I will pray for her!
Someday, I may return.
Don't you cry for me,
Beyond is where I learn...

Seriously great song. Not really atheistic, but awesome nonetheless.

"You shouldn't take life to seriously. You'll never get out alive." - Van Wilder

By keithaschuler (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

tomrooney.phd @ 174:

LOL. That's downright wicked, man.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

WowbaggerOM #173

why aren't Christians, considering that their lives are more obstacles to their goals than anything else - bigger risk-takers? It seems odd they don't want to die sooner and get to heaven.

"Everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody's in a hurry to get there." -Irish proverb

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution.

I wonder where Ruth is.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

While finally admiting to myself that , "no, I don't believe in god", was rather easy, the whole "And no soul, either." was a bit more tricky. The problem for me was all of the stuff I was going to lose (or thought I was going to lose, as the case may be), namely the thought of my Mother being "gone".

It took a long time to come to the conclusion that nothing was really changing except me and how I looked at the world. And once that happened, so many other things opened up for me to see. It might have been even more important than letting go of god.

By JustJoe 42 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

thehuntbox @#77: Yes, an eternity in a world modern protestants think is good. Shit.

Jadehawk, OM | April 11, 2010 6:05 PM:

[Me, llewelly:]

It is impossible to construct 2/3 from sums of powers of 2.

right... but since when should we be taking such things literally?

It made me smile to think of 3 genders among Sumerian mythological figures. I know for some people humor isn't sufficient justification for taking something literally, but for me it is more than enough.

#163 by Raven

Actually biblical archaeology showed that much of the bible is just made up. Finkelstein and Silberman who did much of the original digging is good. The Exodus never happened, the multiple genocides of the Canaanites never happened, the Jews were just another tribe of Canaanites anyway, David and Solomon were minor rulers, and so on. Oddly enough the later history has some truth to it, the lists of kings of Judea and Israel.

Rumour has it that archeologists have discovered an ancient parchment which, when translated, was found to be the original title page of the first ever written bible.
Apparently it read;
THE BIBLE
or
A COMEDY OF TERRORS.
A satirical take on the History of the World
By Riq'ad D'hakis

If only!!!!!!!!!

By GodlessNot Clueless (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Belief in a soul was the last thing vestige of faith I lost. Surely there's SOMETHING . . .

But, what would it be?
Not our thoughts, they stop when the synapses stop firing. Not emotions, they stop when the chemicals stop. Not memories, not feelings, not personality - it's all a result of brain function, and will not continue when the brain dies. If there is anything left, it won't have any of me in it, so what do I care?

I'm sad when other people die because I miss them (and I can grieve and feel sad or be angry without trying to twist it to an unnatural emotion like being glad they are in a better place or gratitude to God), but I'm not really afraid of my own death. I hope I'm not in pain for a long time, but as for actually dying - so what? I won't be here to care! I won't be around to regret what I haven't done, won't see the pain in my loved ones.

That sounds so cold when I write it; I value my life very much, everyone I care about knows it, if I knew I were going to die tomorrow I'd pretty much do the same thing I would have anyway. I'm certainly hoping to live my 80 years. I've seen enough family members die of cancer to know I would feel sorrow and pain and probably regret for the leading up part if it's dragged out like that, but dying itself - it would be sad for my girls to grow up without me, but I wouldn't know it! No point in getting upset now over something I will have no experience of then.

I'm not sure I was clear - it looks odd even to me to not care about dying. I'll have to think about this and work out ways to clarify and express this.

By marylynne7 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#124

You have a lot to learn, but don't worry. Many people here, many people you'll meet out in the real world, have had to deal with the same situation you find yourself in. You have plenty of time.

To get a hint of why us atheists encounter so much joy in our lives, take a look at here. Be sure to read the sidebar with all the information in it.

Also, check out the work of this wonderful young man, who, like you, simply wanted the truth. This is the first video of a series.

You may have trouble with your family about the things you are going to learn. I can't claim that will be easy.

But good luck. You are very welcome here. If you say something and someone snipes at you, don't take it personally. We so often have to deal with people who have no intention of actually learning anything and who make us very very tired. You have made it clear that that is not who you are, but sometimes people here commit preemptive snarking. Like I said, don't take it personally.

@#164
OK. I have definite memories from when I was 2, and possibly less than 24 months. Earliest memory is of my neighbor's 2nd birthday -we were born same year; must look him up and check which month.

By Al B. Quirky (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

First time commenter, long time lurker-- I'm mainly in to read about the latest Creationism/ID news. But this was really a beautiful post. Thanks for writing it.

By tobeobtained (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

marylynne7 @ 185:

I'm not sure I was clear - it looks odd even to me to not care about dying. I'll have to think about this and work out ways to clarify and express this.

I think you were clear. I care about living. It doesn't pay to fret about dying. There's nothing I can do about dying at some point. If I spend time fretting over that, I'm not spending time living.

I'd certainly rather live much longer than the time I'm going to get. Just more reason to enjoy it as much as possible.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The idea of heaven always makes me think of someone who's been married but their husband/wife (who they never stopped loving) has died and then they married again - what then happens in heaven? Are they spending eternity with the first spouse or the second? what happens to the other?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The Scientologists believe you become Gods of separate planets (again, never back on Earth).

You're thinking of the Mormons.

Mormonism is just 19th century Scientology.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

What! There's no beer volcano?!

By Ted Zissou (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The human concern about what happens to the "soul" after death was discussed on the Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles in the episode "Adam Raised A Cain." The character "John Henry" is an AI program running on a roomful of servers and speaking through a body of humanoid robot. The character "James Ellison" is a human who has been brought in for teaching the AI program human ethics.

John Henry: The human brain is an amazing computer. Its raw clock speed is 20 billion calculations per second. Its storage is functionally infinite. But it's flawed.

James Ellison: How's that?

John Henry: There's no way to download it when you die.

James Ellison: Not exactly, no.

John Henry: Your Bible solves this problem by introducing a concept of Heaven.

James Ellison: Yes.

John Henry: Billions of souls with no bodies.

James Ellison: Okay.

John Henry: [Gesturing towards his server farm] Yet all this required simply to process the unique entity you call John Henry.

James Ellison: Yes.

John Henry: It's possible the Heaven has a hardware problem.

And this "hardware problem" that is overlooked is why nearly all concepts of an afterlife to be nonsense (I suppose a "Caprica"-style avatar might be one way for the "soul" to survive death for a few individuals but millions of souls would need a lot of hardware to survive death).

By brotheratombom… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

For me, the best perk about being free of agonizing over that nonsense about souls and afterlives is that it frees one to concentrate on what’s really going on. And what is that? Well, even if we never figure it out, it’s the most interesting of mysteries.

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The ancients (Lucretius & Epicurus as noted above, but many others) spoke freely of the soul, but whether it exists post-mortem was a matter of debate (no doubt among the hoi polloi the opinion was that it does, but among the intelligentsia it wasn't so clear). In line with Plato and Aristotle, I find it very useful to talk about the soul - as everything about a person that is immaterial: desires, emotions, hopes, ambitions, thoughts, feelings, etc. None of these are material physical things, and unquestionably we all have them. If we lose them, we no longer exist (although our bodies may still be "alive," as with Terri Schiavo - and many other elderly and not-so-elderly people).

So: the soul IS immaterial, and it is the essence of a person - but it dies with (or before) the body. And of course the soul is, in thus far not very well understood ways, wholly dependent upon the body (especially the brain).

@Nitric Acid #138: But humans still do behave very much like other contemporary apes. You can always provoke most humans into killing you, just as a small example of how humans still exhibit other ape behavior. Hierarchy in society? Ape. Pack rape? Ape. Clans? Ape. War? Ape. Yup, still lots of ape behavior in humans. I guess the religious wouldn't have much trouble denying that though since they are accustomed to denying the goddamned obvious, like the fact that homosexuals are a normal part of any society.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

As an aside, since no one's mentioned it, if you're not already an organ donor, sign up.
http://organdonor.gov/donor/index.htm

This is the federal site, but it'll take you to your state center. Do it. Please. It's simple, and it'll help someone who needs it.

At the very least, tell your next of kin (preferably many of them) what to do with the pieces when you're done with them. Don't assume they'll realize if you've never discussed it with them specifically.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

We do have hope for the future, too. Think for a moment about your community a century from now. Does it make you feel good to think that there will still be people living there then? That they will be talking about things that you find interesting, that they will be doing activities you also enjoy? Do you hope that life will be better for them? Even though we will be gone, we can still aspire to perpetuate our culture, and find satisfaction while we are alive in advancing that cause.

If that makes me feel good, then should I feel bad that all those people, and that entire culture, all the works of human beings and all other civilizations, will inevitably perish? "perpetuate our culture" is, literally, impossible.

I don't think it makes any sense to be concerned about the future, other than in how our actions now will affect it, because we live now and are responsible for our actions. While I'm alive, I will do things like check the organ donor box, carry life insurance, provide a will, etc., because I care about the consequences of my actions. But I don't generally care about what happens after I'm gone, which is a good thing because otherwise I would find the heat death of the universe really really depressing.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

My own position on this particular issue is this: I don't know. I don't know what, if anything, may happen to any particular individual after death. I don't know if there is an afterlife, or if we all simply cease to exist upon the ending of our lives.

I hope there is life after death, and yes, I would happily take a trillion years of 'tedious paradise' over nonexistence; I love life, and I love living it, and cannot imagine thinking otherwise. But I don't have evidence of anything at all after death, one way or another. I may not have anything at all, save hope.

It will have to do.

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Here's another of my favorite poems about death: "Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb," by Wallace Stevens:

What word have you, interpreters, of men
Who in the tomb of heaven walk by night,
The darkened ghosts of our old comedy?
Do they believe they range the gusty cold,
With lanterns borne aloft to light the way,
Freemen of death, about and still about
To find whatever it is they seek? Or does
That burial, pillared up each day as porte
And spiritous passage into nothingness,
Foretell each night the one abysmal night
When the host shall no more wander, nor the light
Of the steadfast lanterns creep across the dark?
Make hue among the dark comedians,
Halloo them in the topmost distances
For answer from their icy Élysée.

By Aaron Baker (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I shared the Stevens poem on Michael Drake's excellent Strange Doctrines site (strangedoctrines.com). Along with it I posted two poems by Geoffrey Hill, so I might as well put them up here as well:

Merlin

I will consider the outnumbering dead:
For they are the husks of what was rich seed.
Now, should they come together to be fed,
They would outstrip the locusts' covering tide.

Arthur, Elaine, Mordred; they are all gone
Among the raftered galleries of bone.
By the long barrows of Logres they are made one,
And over their city stands the pinnacled corn.

In Memory of Jane Fraser

When snow like sheep lay in the fold
And winds went begging at each door,
And the far hills were blue with cold,
And a cold shroud lay on the moor,

She kept the siege. And every day
We watched her brooding over death
Like a strong bird above its prey.
The room filled with the kettle’s breath.

Damp curtains glued against the pane
Sealed time away. Her body froze
As if to freeze us all, and chain
Creation to a stunned repose.

She died before the world could stir.
In March the ice unloosed the brook
And water ruffled the sun’s hair.
Dead cones upon the alder shook.

By Aaron Baker (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't know what, if anything, may happen to any particular individual after death. I don't know if there is an afterlife, or if we all simply cease to exist upon the ending of our lives.

Do you also not know what happens to the Lego house when it is disassembled? What about the whirring of a fan when you turn it off? Do you know that Booth shot Lincoln or that Obama was born in Hawaii? It's possible those are false. People don't operate on that sort of knowledge, but rather by making inferences from evidence. The rational inference is that Booth shot Lincoln, Obama was born in Hawaii, and that the mind is something the brain does and ends when the brain stops functioning, just as the whirring of the fan ends when you kill the power.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I want to live until I'm tired of living. No more, no less.

Phiwilli @#195: Sorry, but you'll have to provide the data for the immaterial soul.

the mind is something the brain does and ends when the brain stops functioning

Maybe so. I hope not, but maybe so.

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The positive side is: "my body, my self". No more "my hormones made me do it", or my neurochemicals, or my animal nature. My hormones is me.

By paulmurray (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I find it very useful to talk about the soul - as everything about a person that is immaterial: desires, emotions, hopes, ambitions, thoughts, feelings, etc. None of these are material physical things, and unquestionably we all have them.

Would you say that good health is an immaterial thing? What about reputation? How about the browser process that is running on your computer right now?

If we lose them, we no longer exist

When Phineas Gage lost his ambition, did he cease to exist?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The positive side is: "my body, my self". No more "my hormones made me do it", or my neurochemicals, or my animal nature. My hormones is me.

Yes, even we scientifically educated people persist in using dualistic language that treats our minds as ourselves and our bodies as something else. It makes more factual sense to consider the self to be the physical person and the mind to be a part or aspect of it. When we say "I went to the store", we mean the whole person, not just, say, our feet. When we say "I like chocolate" or "I love my mother", we should mean the whole person, not just some homunculus that we imagine to be located inside our skull somewhere -- after all, it is the whole body that responds to chocolate and to its mother.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hierarchy in society? Ape. Pack rape? Ape. Clans? Ape. War? Ape.

To be fair on apes, dolphins have been known to do a lot of this too. And non-ape monkeys. And elephants. Well, maybe not the pack rape part for the elephants - the logistics boggle the mind for that - but hierarchy, clans and war - yep.

By iamjustme (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

That's the cool thing about being part of the comedy ape species, you never run out of shit to not believe in.

after all, it is the whole body that responds to chocolate and to its mother.

mmmmmm chocolate milk.

By scooterKPFT (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is more than one reason to think about humans and souls, but eternal life is the silliest. That humans can believe there is a soul, some essence of life guiding our meat robot mind and body is interesting in and of itself. It is an explanation (no matter how poor) of what it is that is happening in our brains, day in and day out. To achieve artificial intelligence, it would seem necessary to understand what we consider intelligence. Such an understanding would necessarily need to embrace all aspects of life for that which is defined as intelligent and sentient. A robotic humanoid could not be a human for a number of reasons, but lack of a soul is the worst reason ever. If we hypothesize that what is called a soul is actually a clump of neurons which control thinking of internal processes, a regulator for justification of action, then we can begin thinking of it like a hypervisor of sorts. This would be nothing like Christians claim that God creates, but it serves all the same functions, does all the same things, and has at least a minimally measurable process to it.

If we can refer to such a subsystem/process as a soul, then it can be recreated. Recreating it in hardware and software would go a long way toward getting people to see that much of their self identification is merely an artifact of sentience/intelligence: Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum

I won't call it a soul, but I believe there is something which is referred to as a soul and it is much less mystical than many believe. It's the part that runs in the background, with or without inputs, regardless of stimuli, it is just there whether we are responsive to the world or not, whether our societies are the same or not, wether we speak the same languages or not, this process is ever running until we die. The same can be said of our hearts or lungs et al, and there is no mystical bits involved.

To me, using the word soul the way Christians do is like calling your heart a psychic pump or any word the imbues mystical properties on an ordinary meat robot part. Humans are amazing enough as is, there is no need for mystical magic to be involved.

A robotic humanoid could not be a human for a number of reasons

Could not? Other than lacking human physiology, what are those reasons? Even the latter is not a "could not", since a humanoid could be grown, as in "A for Andromeda". I suppose it hinges on the definition of "robotic". But then that "could not" seems rather ad hoc.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I would happily take a trillion years of 'tedious paradise' over nonexistence;

Perhaps you should watch philhellenes' short commentary, "1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years in Heaven".

I love life, and I love living it, and cannot imagine thinking otherwise.

Argument from incredulity, if that is what I am reading into your words, will not make the soul any more real.

TM @ 208,

It makes more factual sense to consider the self to be the physical person and the mind to be a part or aspect of it.

I always wondered why that is, but I guess that brings one back to the Heraclitus quote mentioned by David @ 114.

Interesting to see that such old and forever ill-defined concepts like "essence" should still pop up in a discussion on mind and soul in 2010.

Not that "soul" isnt undefined and wishy-washy either, it seems to mean something different for everyone you ask, from just being another word for "character" to "immaterial part of a person".

By Rorschach (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ 160
Whoa, what was that? Do you think it's fair to put words into others' posts just to give us a link? Could you have handled that differently?
Causehead.
Oh I'm new here and don't know what outrageous comments a.human.ape has left before, but all the same:
Causehead.
Misser of the bigger picture.
And that's "AN important part of your life".
Don't make me do your work for you; I care about good writing too much.
Frankly, I didn't realize sentiments like yours were expressed here (thought it was one of those smart places) and I'm quitting already. Sorry, but I'm scared and bored now and not for the usual Christian reasons.
Nice to see y'all, keep up the poetry reading.
Although I can't resist writing that some of you should head back to the Classics Department's Pedant's Corner.

@166
I love that Larkin one. Thanks for the reminder.

Mr. Myers, I think yours is a lovely blog. Beautiful English.
It's been real.

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

A lovely Sunday sermon :)

Truely, best I've heard and beats all the made-up stuff out there.

By davemcrae999 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Maybe so. I hope not, but maybe so.

What part of "rational inference" don't you understand? Again, what do you think happens to the Lego house, or to the whirring of the fan? Your "hope" is stupid.

Consider this: people with ALS eventually lose the ability to communicate, resulting in "lock in". With no body, you would not only have no ability to communicate, but you would have no ability to perceive. Do you hope for that? It would be stupid to. Oh, wait ... without a brain, you would have no ability to think. With no body, no brain, you would have no ability to do anything; in fact, you wouldn't exist. Duh. Your hope is stupid. Imagine that, in a moment from now, you die from a fatal aneurysm. Right now, you think it would be terrible to end there. But suppose you do end there? Will you care then? Hint: you won't exist to care. Your whole intellectual framework around this matter is stupid. Try being smart instead.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Beer volcanoes and strippers? Count me in.

P.S.
How do I get unregistered from this blog?
There seems to be some error every time I try to view my profile. Hope that's true for other people looking too.
I want off now.
Thanks for your help.

Oh here's a bit of my Bible:
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Me'sech, that I dwell in the tents of Ke'dar.
My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

---And the villagers never liked you.

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Of course a soul exists. God also exists and I am also an atheist. Soul is a word, a concept, and useful to atheists and theists alike. Music can have soul; food can have soul and I don't mean "soul food" or "soul music". It embodies something of the creator in a metaphoric way. Everyone knows this. A person's soul can even last forever in creative works.

As for the everlasting soul that somehow continues your brain function and your concsienceness after you die. Not even theists REALLY believe in that. They hope for it, but they don't act like it really exists. Most theists are just as concerned with health and safety as atheists.

By mark.elkin.home (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ 160
Whoa, what was that? Do you think it's fair to put words into others' posts just to give us a link? Could you have handled that differently?
Causehead.
Oh I'm new here and don't know what outrageous comments a.human.ape has left before

wtf are you talking about? There was a direct quote, no words were "put ... into others' posts", and the link shows what outrageous comments a.human.ape has left before.

Misser of the bigger picture.
And that's "AN important part of your life".

Uh, hypocritical much?

Frankly, I didn't realize sentiments like yours were expressed here (thought it was one of those smart places) and I'm quitting already.

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I have to admit that death scares the crap out of me. I think it's just because absolute, total nothing with no chance of ever existing is so hard to imagine. Not darkness, not silence, because darkness and silence are something.

My hope is that I'll have a good forty or so years to come to grips with this fear, though, since I've only been a atheist for less than a decade, and only identified as such for a couple of years.

I suppose part of me is still hoping for an afterlife, despite knowing how ludicrous it is. Maybe when I can let go of that delusion once and for all, I can can start growing beyond this fear.

Strangly, there are athiests who believe in souls. They are called Jains. It's a rather ancient Eastern tradition, like Bhuddism (also athiestic), which has many spiritual/mystical tendancies.
Ironically, even Hinduism can be undersood (not in it's current polythiestic mode- which is much younger than the Vedas and Upanishads) as dealing with Brahman (or global consciousness) this isn't God, because it isn't a soul which is reincarrnated in either Bhuddism or Hinduism, but the Atman, which is just pure consciousness-and which is identical with Brahman, in being ultimately empty of objects of the mind.

Interestingly, the Jains reject even the concept of Brahman.
Just saying.

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scyldemort:

the mind is something the brain does and ends when the brain stops functioning

Maybe so. I hope not, but maybe so.

There is no reason to say "maybe". Your hope has nothing to do with it.

Since this thread is already so full of great quotes...

I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment. --Woody Allen

Great. This is just great. Let's go find something else for my entire life to be about. -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

Science cannot prove, only disprove.

This really isn't true. e.g., science proved that there are atoms and black holes, and science may prove that there's a Higgs boson. Science proves things by predicting them and then verifying the predictions. What science cannot prove is theories, which are generalizations that cannot be proved by any number of observations.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Strangly, there are athiests who believe in souls.

I know a lot of them who live in Ojai.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Your whole intellectual framework around this matter is stupid. Try being smart instead.

Why bother with all of that, knowing you'll inevitably fail in the end? With minimal effort, one can fail right from the very beginning.

I have to admit that death scares the crap out of me. I think it's just because absolute, total nothing with no chance of ever existing is so hard to imagine.

Henny Youngman: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Then don't do that!"

Just pretend that you will live forever. Keep doing that until you're dead, at which point you will be unscareable.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

mark.elkin.home #221:

I agree. Actually, people are concerned about thier "spirit" or personality, quirkiness, self-identity and ego surviving. The soul, as far as i know, is just some sort of "replenishing spirit food" lol. There isn't anything holy about it. It's just something that's supposed to exist- purportedly for forever -with no explenation as to why that would be the case.

Furthermore, it's impossible to stay the same person forever becasue no one would want to. Therefore the "soul" as they envision it, is a pure fabrication, just like the cannon of thier respective religious texts.

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I find it odd that Christians are so damned concerned with achieving eternal life, while Buddhism is concerned with getting off of the wheel of life.

=======

To die, to sleep
No more – and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
...
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

--William Shakespeare

====

To sleep without dreams sounds good to me.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

To sleep without dreams sounds good to me.

It's sleeping without ever awakening that alarms people. But sleep is no more like death than it is like not yet being conceived.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

not yet being conceived

Also, consider all the multiverses in which you never were. Are those scary? If not, how are those stretches of space-time different from the one that follows your death in this universe?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

What country Truth Machine?

And I would have to dissagree that we have proved atoms or black holes exist. We have made many models that fit the data, but do the actual technical details of the as-of-yet incomplete quantum mechanical discipline fit the idea of an Atom? Not in essence, becasue atoms are not all identical to one another (isotopes), uniform in thier structure (the whole concept of intermolecular forces denies that electrons are evenly dispersed), and there are many other contributing things to the study of periodicity itslef.

There is a whole class of materials called Superatoms, where atoms obtain the properties of others in the proper configuartion (another example of how atoms aren't universal templates which all matter is built upon). I don't doubt the reality of atoms, but the whole idea of Inductive Reasoning upon which science is based dissalows there to be absolute fact.

But, to deny that black holes or atoms exist is stupid, sheer ignorance. Or like saying that simply becasue the earth isn't a perfect sphere our science hasn't progressed beyond a flat-earth level of ignorance. Utter bullshit.

/pedant

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Inconceivable!"

Isn't sleeping without dreaming a temporary absence of being, or at least conciousness? When I sleep deeply, I simply am not for a few hours.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

David M,

Similarly, either we're monkeys, or the term "monkey" is misleading and should be dropped. The exact same thing holds for "ape". Here's why:

,----------------------------lemurs
|
--+ ,-----------------------tarsiers
| |
`--+ ,--------------------New World monkeys
| |
`--+ ,-----------------Old World monkeys
| |
`--+ ,--------------gibbons
| |
`--+ ,-----------orang-utans
| |
`--+ ,--------gorillas
| |
`--+ ,-----humans
| |
`--+ ,--chimpanzee
| |
`--+
|
`--bonobo

I couldn't help but notice that you included every major primate group except the lorisiformes. We are not amused. I may be forced to bite you with toxic saliva for this slight.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Truth Machine #233:

Also, consider all the multiverses in which you never were. Are those scary? If not, how are those stretches of space-time different from the one that follows your death in this universe?

Too bad Multiverses remain metaphyscial speculation (unless there is some really roundabout way of detecting them). :-/

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

What country Truth Machine?

Uh, if you don't know where Ojai is, it's easy enough to find out.

And I would have to dissagree that we have proved atoms or black holes exist.

Well, you're wrong and your pedantry is foolish. But, if you prefer, science has proven that Tiktaaliks existed. Again, science proves things by making predictions and then verifying the predictions.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Whoa, what was that? Do you think it's fair to put words into others' posts just to give us a link? Could you have handled that differently?
Causehead.
Oh I'm new here and don't know what outrageous comments a.human.ape has left before, but all the same:
Causehead.

concern troll.

a.human.ape is a homophobic and generally misanthropic assface, and he doesn't get to pretend like he isn't around here. So people link to the atrocious shit he says. it's a way to keep the community honest. So WTF is your problem?

Frankly, I didn't realize sentiments like yours were expressed here (thought it was one of those smart places) and I'm quitting already. Sorry, but I'm scared and bored now and not for the usual Christian reasons.

don't let the door hit ya, concern troll.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Too bad Multiverses remain metaphyscial speculation

That's all that's needed for my point, silly, especially in a discussion about souls and the afterlife. But they are more than that:

Many-worlds comprises of two assumptions and some consequences. The assumptions are quite modest:
1) The metaphysical assumption: That the wavefunction does not merely encode the all the information about an object, but has an observer-independent objective existence and actually is the object. For a non-relativistic N-particle system the wavefunction is a complex-valued field in a 3-N dimensional space.
2) The physical assumption: The wavefunction obeys the empirically derived standard linear deterministic wave equations at all times. The observer plays no special role in the theory and, consequently, there is no collapse of the wavefunction. For non-relativistic systems the Schrodinger wave equation is a good approximation to reality. (See "Is many-worlds a relativistic theory?" for how the more general case is handled with quantum field theory or third quantisation.)

The rest of the theory is just working out consequences of the above assumptions ....

There is no other quantum theory, besides many-worlds, that is scientific, in the sense of providing a reductionist model of reality, and free of internal inconsistencies, that I am aware of....

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm still trying to read this thread through, but I just wanted to say that I do find the end of my existence to be a very depressing thing. I am at the center of my existence, so it's a horrible thing to think about no longer existing. All of the talk about making the world a better place while we're here is good, and I think it's probably the most admirable goal we can have, but the sheer inconsequential nature of my existence in the grand scheme of things kinda got to me. The relatively small things I can do to make life better get lost in the noise of day to day life. What got me over this was learning about the vastness of the universe, and the vast stretch of time in front of the planet. Nothing anyone does will matter in the really grand scheme of things. Even the actions of the very powerful become unimportant from the perspective of the universe. That was a very nice revelation. I don't need to leave anything behind, or have a major impact on many lives to feel like my life is worthwhile. I just need to make myself and the people around me happy more often than sad. For me, it's just that simple.

Sorry that this is rambling, but I just had to get this out of my head.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I recently came to realise that my fear of dying was, in fact, the fear of actually having an afterlife.

The thought that, with my death, there would be nothing - not 'nothing' as in 'I'll be stuck with nothing' but 'nothing' (no 'me' to do any experiencing, just as there was nothing to remember from before this life) - has released me from that fear.

I too, would like a longer life if it could be lived as a healthy (young-ish?) person.

I have done a complete 180º turn in my attitude to euthenasia since (a) I wriggled out of my religious straight-jacket and (b) I got a taste of true suffering. I now believe that, in the absence of effective painkillers, it is unhuman cruelty to prolong dying.

I nearly killed myself last year (I was in hospital, an operation had gone wrong and I was in frequent (though, fortunately, intermittent) increasing agony over a few days waiting for a second op) and the realisation that death would end it was very enticing. How anyone can put forward the idea of hell, an eternity of such horror, shows the depths to which people will sink in order to control others and accrue (and hold on to) earthly power.

My mother asked me whether I was glad I didn't die. I do admit that I feel ambivalent towards it. The second operation was a (qualified) success (I still had to return to hospital a few days later for emergency treatment) and the subsequent pain was within manageable proportions once I was given appropriate medication. I try to make the most of the extra time I have (within my health constraints; I can no longer do most of the things that I particularly loved about being alive) and I acknowledge that (I hope!) my friends and family are happier that I am still around.

But, if I had ended it there and then, there would be no 'me' to regret not existing any more.

By tiggerthewing#8a4e4 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Your whole intellectual framework around this matter is stupid. Try being smart instead.

Being smart, of course, means agreeing with you and seeing your conclusion as the only possible rational one given the existing evidence? I suppose it doesn't help that I don't necessarily disagree with your take on what happens when we die (since I don't necessarily agree, either)?

Actually, come to think of it, I have thought of a scenario in which I'd prefer to not exist than to have any kind of afterlife: an afterlife consisting of nothing but hovering around obsessing over my remaining living relatives and having nobody but douchebags like John Edward of 'Crossing Over' fame to talk to. Or worse: Sylvia Brown. O_O

John Edward and Sylvia Brown: not preferable to oblivion.

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Isn't sleeping without dreaming a temporary absence of being, or at least conciousness? When I sleep deeply, I simply am not for a few hours.

See my comment at #208.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S. When you sleep deeply for a few hours, you do dream. One reason to treat the self as the whole body is that neuroscience is showing that the division between "conscious" and "unconscious" is not well defined.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Isn't sleeping without dreaming a temporary absence of being, or at least conciousness? When I sleep deeply, I simply am not for a few hours.

You as a living person still exist while this happens. It is an absence of consciousness or awareness, but certainly not an "absence of being". It sounds a bit strange to put it this way, but your consciousness is just one aspect of your being.

In fact, lots of things we attribute to ourselves as conscious thoughts, emotions and behaviors are actually unconscious brain processes that we rationalize after the fact.

The "soul" idea is quite worthless in my opinion, and it's a bit disappointing to see so many atheist commenters finding some justification for it. Even if intended metaphorically, I don't see how it could be useful in describing life, or conscious experience, or anything else in reality.

TM: "look it up"
fair enough :p

"Again, science proves things by making predictions and then verifying the predictions."

You have only verified a prediction, not made something a necessary truth. Fundamentally, all knowledge claims are not 100% veriviable. there is always, always a non-zero error introduced vis the inherant imperfection of reality

We would get nowhere in science by one-time "proving" a theory and never re-testing it. In fact, theories are designed to be run under a battery of tests- Einstien's Special and General Reletivity are still being tested and re-confirmed. If something is found to be incongruent with the data, we alter the theory.

Are you wiling to accept Bhor's theory of the Atom as both true and false? (being that the predictions only fit for the spectrum of hydrogen, even though the general principle of energy levels is accurate for all elements on the periodic table). We have just then disproven the truth, by your logic. That is why i don't say we ever "prove anything. In fact, i beleive PZ has made this point elsewhere on this blog. We increasinly approximate the truth. eventually, it virtuallt IS the truth, just as there is no disproving a round earth, plate tectonics, or a heliocentric solar system at this point.

I know you're famous for your attitude, but there is no real reason to be surly. And i know you are a Positivist, but that doesn't make your interpretation of scientific endevour more "true" as science doesn't deal in absolutes (only religion does).

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh, I forgot to add this to my post:

I want to know what happens tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that forever. Knowing that one day I will cease to exist and not only will I not know what happens the next day, there will be no me. GAH! See, that's what was attractive to me about a nice, happy afterlife especially when I decided (during my deconversion from being a Baptist) that everyone would eventually get there. I wouldn't find that kind of place boring because you'd always have tomorrow, but you also wouldn't have to worry about bills and food and how you're going to make everything work. It would be great, but I'm rational enough to realize that such a place simply doesn't exist and what makes me me is a function of my brain. Once the brain shuts down, I'm gone. Just as long as it doesn't happen before the last book in The Wheel of Time gets published ;)

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Being smart, of course, means agreeing with you and seeing your conclusion as the only possible rational one given the existing evidence?

No, fool, being smart is not simply ignoring all evidence and logic, as you are doing. If you have some reason to disagree with me you haven't provided it. Rather, all you seem to have is "hope" -- a faith in something for which there is no evidence, and much reason to believe is false.

I have thought of a scenario in which I'd prefer to not exist than to have any kind of afterlife

Bully for you. There are an infinity of such scenarios and I already gave you one: an eternity of being unable to perceive or communicate.

If you're going to "hope" for something that there is no reason to expect and many reasons not to, you might as well hope that, say, in the afterlife you have a billion ectoplasmic sexual organs and are able to pleasure yourself and all the other zombies in myriad mindblowing (despite not having a brain) ways. I'm sure that even with your minuscule imagination you can find other absurdities to hope for.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

You have only verified a prediction, not made something a necessary truth. Fundamentally, all knowledge claims are not 100% veriviable. there is always, always a non-zero error introduced vis the inherant imperfection of reality

As I said, this sort of pedantry is foolish, and simply isn't what people mean when they say they know something. If it were, we couldn't even know our own names. And consider the philosopher's definition: true justified belief -- something does not have to be 100% verifiable to be known.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sorry for the blockquote fail on my part....

Scyldemort:

Other than stating your disagreement (and for whatever reason, making fun of psychics), do you have anything that actually supports your crazy-ass belief in an afterlife? Anything whatsoever?

No? Alright. It's settled then.

oh, maybe I should finally contribute to the actual topic of this thread.

see, in my saner moments, I find death actually rather scary. but the nice thing about atheism is that mostly, I have the luxury of not having to think about it, because death won't have any consequences to me and therefore I don't really have to spend my life preparing for it. whereas if I believed in an afterlife, I'd have to worry about that one in addition to this life.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

TM @ 240:

damn you, quantum mechanical jargon! >_<

Any chance of returning this to english? Are they saying they maye be able to account for the interaction of other quantum states upon the system that come from other parallel universes?

On a not totally not unrelated note, i read an article in Discover about the chance or reverse quantum causality, in that when experiments were designed to only weakly perturb the wavefunctions of the systems they studied, they found that thier future measurments affected thier past measurments. Only by enough, however, to be dismissed as rather large error. hopefully someone else has read it and can help out on this (i will have to look it up if i am going to talk in depth about it)

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

monad

In the same way, "monkey" means "primate with a tail". So long as you don't assume that means they form a single evolutionary group, what's misleading about that?

Ring-tailed lemurs (among others) would disagree. Monkey means anthropoid primate that has not lost the tail. The strepsirrhines and tarsiers are primates with tails (most of 'em anyway), but are not monkeys. Just sayin'.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I am at the center of my existence, so it's a horrible thing to think about no longer existing

As I suggested in #229, then stop thinking about it. If you do so for long enough, if you just forget to think about it, then eventually you'll be dead and you won't miss existing because you won't exist.

I want to know what happens tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that forever.

But you can't possibly -- your brain isn't big enough. And heck, you don't even know what happened today -- your knowledge is minuscule. You're fooling yourself if you think you want to know all that, in such detail. Here's the short version: entropy claims everything.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yahoo@48,
You say you don't know a lot about evolution. You may not realise it quite yet, but what you learn in school is only a tiny part of what you need to know. Even if you get to learn the facts, you still need to make the connections and develop a deeper understanding, and that is more than you will be able to do in a classroom with people of varying readiness to learn.

As others have said, there is lots of reading material on science blogs, books and so on.

You might like this:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/home.php

Spend some time looking at wildlife too, observing the beaks, claws, teeth, muscles, proportions and other features of the animals, and find out how and what they eat, and are eaten by.

I'm not sure I've ever experienced a truly dreamless sleep. Even if one does not remember dreaming, I've always had a feeling of time having elapsed upon awakening. I attribute this to unremembered dreams. I compare this to experiences of general anesthesia which truly are dreamless. Awakening from that feels like no time at all has elapsed.

lol8ta_120 @ 215:

@ 160
Whoa, what was that? Do you think it's fair to put words into others' posts just to give us a link? Could you have handled that differently?
Causehead.
Oh I'm new here and don't know what outrageous comments a.human.ape has left before, but all the same:
Causehead.

I see you're an idiot. I didn't put any words in anyone's mouth. There was a direct link to a.human.ape's recent vile comments here - you could have read them yourself if you weren't such an idiot.

a.human.ape has been called out here more than once for his/her vile, disgusting, sociopathic viewpoints. As we don't need more idiots here, I'll say don't let the door hit ya on the way out. Bye now.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

No, fool, being smart is not simply ignoring all evidence and logic, as you are doing. If you have some reason to disagree with me you haven't provided it.

Actually, I already said that I don't necessarily disagree with you. I acknowledge that it is likely that existence ends when the body dies. Would you be less grumpy if I substituted the word 'hope' for 'wish?' Or does even the thought that a human animal's desire to continue living might lead it to say that it wishes for what may very well be impossible fill you with uncontrollably internet rage?

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ugh, blockquote fail @ 258. My bad. Sorry.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

truthmachine,

If that makes me feel good, then should I feel bad that all those people, and that entire culture, all the works of human beings and all other civilizations, will inevitably perish? "perpetuate our culture" is, literally, impossible.

I don't think it makes any sense to be concerned about the future, other than in how our actions now will affect it, because we live now and are responsible for our actions. While I'm alive, I will do things like check the organ donor box, carry life insurance, provide a will, etc., because I care about the consequences of my actions. But I don't generally care about what happens after I'm gone, which is a good thing because otherwise I would find the heat death of the universe really really depressing.

Oh yes, that's what I think too, especially the perpetuating our culture and heat death of the universe parts.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

*uncontrollable, rather

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@tiggerthewing#8a4e4 #242

Yes. Yes yes yes.

@The Laughing Man #247

Are you wiling to accept Bhor's theory of the Atom as both true and false? .... We increasinly approximate the truth.

As I said previously, science cannot prove theories, which are generalizations that cannot be proved by any number of observations. But science has proved the existence of atoms and black holes, even if we don't have, or can't know that we have, a completely accurate theory of their properties. And you ignore my example of Tikaliik -- we've got the frigging bones; they are proven to have existed just as dinosaurs have been proven to have existed. To deny this is simply perverse.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Would you be less grumpy

What makes me grumpy is idiots like you who refuse to engage arguments that have been made. You wrote

Being smart, of course, means agreeing with you and seeing your conclusion as the only possible rational one given the existing evidence?

but that's a stupid characterization, as I've explained. If you think that some other conclusion is rational and consistent with the evidence, then justify that. But you haven't.

Would you be less grumpy if I substituted the word 'hope' for 'wish?'

They aren't at all the same. Wishing that you could wake up tomorrow and there would be no war or disease is reasonable, but hoping that happens is stupid.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine,

But you can't possibly -- your brain isn't big enough. And heck, you don't even know what happened today -- your knowledge is minuscule. You're fooling yourself if you think you want to know all that, in such detail. Here's the short version: entropy claims everything.

Well, yeah, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to know. That was what I used to think heaven was like. A person would be able to learn anything and everything about any and all universes that might exist. It would be awesome! Oh well.

BTW This reminds me of the episode of Married With Children where Kelly is on some game show and her brain can only hold so many facts. Each new bit of knowledge they cram in replaces one that was already there.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

There's an old Yorkshire folksong to the same effect - On Ilkley Moor Bar t'at

Wheear 'ast ta bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?

On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at

Wheear 'ast ta bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
Wheear 'ast ta bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Tha's been a cooartin' Mary Jane
Tha's bahn' to catch thy deeath o` cowd
Then us'll ha' to bury thee
Then t'worms'll come an` eyt thee up
Then t'ducks'll come an` eyt up t'worms
Then us'll go an` eyt up t'ducks
Then us'll all ha' etten thee
That's wheear we get us ooan back

Roughly translated the subject of the song has been up on Ilkley Moor wooing Mary Jane but he has not been wearing a hat. The prognostication is that the subject will die of the cold, be eaten by worms, which in turn will be et eaten by ducks, who in turn will be eaten by the singer. The singer will then have got his own back on the person courting Mary Jane =D.

By Thrutch Grenadine (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The next time you see atheists being treated and/or derided as religious fundamentalists, look no further than this article for the basis of that view. I am all for genuine scepticism (i.e. open-minded inquiry) and scathing iconoclasm (à la the holy cracker or those Danish Mohammed cartoons), but when atheists cross the line from agnosticism to dogmatic disbelief, you lose me and huge portion of other non-religious people.

The fact is there is no evidence to support the claim that the soul does not exist. If there were, you would be quick to cite it. A huge portion of the strident critics of the concept of the soul are simply arguing from an at times fervent a priori belief in materialism. That is not intellectually supportable and it is the exact mindset that creates a reflexive, even angry rejection of any claim of immaterial phenomena without real consideration of the evidence.

I must say too I see a very narrow concept of the soul being pilloried here, one tied to the Abrahamic faiths. Again really critically minded people consider their own biases and preconceptions in the course of contemplating an issue.

By evergreenotter (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sven DiMilo:

honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution.

I wonder where Ruth is.

How do you make your voice do that?

I compare this to experiences of general anesthesia which truly are dreamless. Awakening from that feels like no time at all has elapsed.

That's not my experience from the three occasions I've undergone it, and I doubt that it really is yours, as you know that time did elapse, and the brain constantly spins mini-theories to fit against its perceptions. On top of the prior knowledge, there is the shift in location and circumstance upon awakening, and numerous differing somatic states. Even people who awake from comas are aware that time has elapsed, but they are shocked at how much has elapsed.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ truth machine #242

Thank you. I wasted far too much of my time in the past worrying about things that I could not control and concerned about things which I now appreciate were totally irrelevent.

[sarcasm]
Thank you, RCC, for messing with my head for all those decades!
[/sarcasm]

Genuine, heartfelt thanks to all the men and women of science who actually have dedicated their/your lives over the years to improving the lot of the average human, unlike the priesthood who, well, haven't, whatever they may say. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Thanks to them/you, I have doctors to save my life, medication to keep me functioning and wonderful gadgets to keep me amused and mobile.

Thanks to them/you, I have the internet so that, despite being on the wrong side of the planet and unable to travel, I saw and heard my eldest son and his bride exchanging their vows last week within hours of it happening. A beautiful, secular wedding that gives me hope that Ireland is not going to be dragged back down into the middle ages.

If I look back at what the church gave me, it amounts to mental anguish and a pile of unwarranted guilt.

P.S. 'Tigger_The_Wing', 'tiggerthewing' or (especially) 'Tig' will do - I don't know why Yahoo insists on strings of numbers in usernames, they were not put in by me. Blech.

By tiggerthewing#8a4e4 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

believers who think we should be miserable because we don't have an afterlife to look forward to<\blockquote>

It must be awful to go to a really nice restaurant with these people - they'd be constantly spoiling the meal by loudly complaining at each course that you couldn't possibly enjoy the food, because once you're done eating, it's gone forever, and so instead of enjoying a magnificient but finite meal you should instead be miserable that you won't be chained to that table for eternity, eating a meal over and over for unending eons of time.

They also must *hate* planting annual flowers. I mean, sure, it might be pretty, but you can't *enjoy* it, because the garden only lasts a season. If you plant one you *have* to be miserable instead that it won't be some eternally unchanging row of marigolds.

Stop enjoying life! You're doing it wrong! Be miserable!

but that's a stupid characterization, as I've explained. If you think that some other conclusion is rational and consistent with the evidence, then justify that. But you haven't.

I was in that statement mostly just being unfair and making an overly broad generalization. Those are fun.

They aren't at all the same. Wishing that you could wake up tomorrow and there would be no war or disease is reasonable, but hoping that happens is stupid.

I think we're functioning with different meanings (or at least connotations) for the word 'hope.' Oh well. Despite this being the internet, the specific shades of meaning possible to the word 'hope' are probably not worth arguing about.

By Scyldemort (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Dammit, didn't close the blockquote correctly.

The fact is there is no evidence to support the claim that the soul does not exist. If there were, you would be quick to cite it. A huge portion of the strident critics of the concept of the soul are simply arguing from an at times fervent a priori belief in materialism.

evidence does not work that way.

there's no evidence for the soul, and wherever we do know the direct source of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, experiences etc. they are always simply brain functions.

Therefore, the skeptical, scientific, and parsimonious conslusion is that there is no soul.

it's a conclusion, not an assumption, live with it. not our fault reality offends you.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The next time you see atheists being treated and/or derided as religious fundamentalists, look no further than this article for the basis of that view.

Your concern is noted, troll.

dogmatic disbelief

It's not dogmatic, it's reasoned.

The fact is there is no evidence to support the claim that the soul does not exist.

Misplaced burden of proof. And there is plenty of evidence to support that -- read the neuroscientific literature. Nothing we see requires souls to explain it, so they are as likely to exist as ectoplasmic angels dancing on pinheads.

A huge portion of the strident critics of the concept of the soul are simply arguing from an at times fervent a priori belief in materialism. That is not intellectually supportable

Yes, actually, it is -- it rests on Ockham's Razor.

Again really critically minded people consider their own biases and preconceptions in the course of contemplating an issue.

If only you would.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Well, yeah, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to know. That was what I used to think heaven was like. A person would be able to learn anything and everything about any and all universes that might exist. It would be awesome! Oh well.

It's hard to get rid of all that religious nonsense they infected you with when you were young. Sometimes you think it's all gone...

Rationally it's easy to see that hoping for immortality is pretty much in the same category as hoping to be bitten by a radioactive spider and developing superpowers. Psychologically however, the former is treated as more reasonable than the latter. The best you can do is to recognize these absurdities and try to get past them.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage (#62), I am making no argument for the existence of the soul, just the impossibility of denying what is claimed to be beyond the senses or instruments. The argument was one of logic, not a renunciation of empirical data.
And, Insightful ape (#66), I was not arguing that a soul exists, or that one has anything to do with behavior, just that science does not claim it can disprove information that cannot be calibrated in some fashion.
Some may assume this is a polite way to reject a fantastic solution. But even though there is no evidence that such supernatural is required to explain most well-studied phenomena, the scientific method does not allow us to deny something it cannot measure.
Yet again, this is no argument for the existence of a soul, just one about how science accepts or rejects information, in this case the concept of a soul. I hope that helps...

evergreenotter:

That is not intellectually supportable and it is the exact mindset that creates a reflexive, even angry rejection of any claim of immaterial phenomena without real consideration of the evidence.

What evidence is there which suggests that (something even remotely resembling) a soul exists?

As I understand it, this particular God-of-the-Gaps has been almost entirely closed. But I wouldn't want to be closed-minded and dogmatic.

Whatever it may be, it needs to be consistent with our understanding of neurology. Agreed? Then what could a soul possibly be or do? If there is nothing to observe and nothing left for it to do, then the concept is meaningless. It doesn't require dogmatism to hold that meaningless concepts are false.

Please describe your super-sophisticated and intellectually-defensible idea of a "soul", so we may proceed from there.

I must say too I see a very narrow concept of the soul being pilloried here, one tied to the Abrahamic faiths.

If you have any other concepts of the soul we'll be happy to shoot those down as well.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter,

Since Jadehawk, truth machine, and Mr T have already explained that the burden of proof is on those positing a soul and that neuroscience has shown that the things we attribute to the "soul" are actually functions of the brain, I don't have much to add except that dogmatic agnosticsm is stupid and intellectually indefensible. We do know lots of things, and everything we do know points to there being no god/s and no soul. Deal with it.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think we're functioning with different meanings (or at least connotations) for the word 'hope.'

If so then yours is wrong. But in fact we aren't -- it's clear enough from #199 what you mean, and as I said it's stupid to hope that, just as it's stupid to hope, rather than wish, that you will see your deceased loved ones again.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Feynmaniac,

Rationally it's easy to see that hoping for immortality is pretty much in the same category as hoping to be bitten by a radioactive spider and developing superpowers.

I used to hope for just such an event. Being a superhero would be almost as cool as gaining unlimited knowledge. Come to think of it, the latter would be a sort of super-power like Magician Humphrey in the Xanth series.

Yes, I read a lot of soft sci-fi and fantasy. When I was younger I really did wish such things were real and/or possible. The mundane world was just so freaking plain. Now, it's a bit better. I have new fantasies about universal health-care and real banking regulation to keep me going. :)

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't have much to add except that dogmatic agnosticsm is stupid and intellectually indefensible

Indeed. It applies a very different epistemological standard to certain things, like god and souls, than it does to others like ghosts, angels, Asgard, Cerberus, WMDs in Iraq, someone other than John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln, etc.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

As I said previously, science cannot prove theories, which are generalizations that cannot be proved by any number of observations

Such as Atomic Theory. However, it can be said that phenomenon exist for which there is no formal theory elucidating the mechanism or the explanation for thier existence. So we can agree that Science can prove phenomenon exist. But, are atoms and species phenomenon? I'm curious as to whether if i were to have a gold bar, i could prove it's existence. Well, in the sense that the wieght density and qualities of gold are phenomenon, i would have to finally agree on this. In fact, that is how science goes about proving things exist. by their phenomenon.

Tiktaalik, being a specific hypothesis, and a very direct observation, doesn't apply in the same way.

There is a difference in observing an electron shell and veryfying that the atom has the properties we think it does (there is continual research into this, as we both know). But i think we have been talking past each other, in that atoms don't unequivicably prove atomic theory, but they are observed. However, we are obsorving something and putting it in this catagory of theoretical objects. Consider the Megallenic cloud being reclasified from stars to galaxies. I think there is a similar problem of scale in terms of steller mass and supermassive black holes.

Species aren't theoretical physics concepts. As much more simplistic things (existing as a whole, and having a much more limited range of possible attributes than steller or quantum objects), they can be said to be directly observed as factual with little to no real dispute about this -the bones are the bones. this is not to say that Life is like this, as we all know it is diversified to fill every niche and exploit every bizzare and unusual ecosystem.

you ignored also my point that we have observed superatoms. But we have been discussing the object and it's qualities, respectively, and which is why we have reached this impass. I made a bit of a hasty statement, despite having qualified in the very beginning that:

But, to deny that black holes or atoms exist is stupid, sheer ignorance. Or like saying that simply becasue the earth isn't a perfect sphere our science hasn't progressed beyond a flat-earth level of ignorance. Utter bullshit.

I think your reverse pedantry is as foolish as my own, in that what i am saying is not incongruous with reality or logic but you take time out to attack it as if it were. I never said we should make mountains of these molecule-sized issues, but you delight in that it would seem.

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

just the impossibility of denying what is claimed to be beyond the senses or instruments.

It's not impossible -- I deny the existence of six undetectable things before breakfast.

The argument was one of logic, not a renunciation of empirical data.

People use that word without seeming to have the faintest idea what logic is.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

People can be separated into the physical matter they are made out of, and the information controlling its organisation. It is the information contained in a person which is the most important. For example, their genetic information, but also their memories and ideas embodied in the way their neurons are connected.

Given that the information stored in a person is synonymous with one's identity, it is quite reassuring to know that some of this information can continue to evolve indefinitely. Our unique genes and memes / ideas can continue to exist if they are passed on prior to death.

By https://openid… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Tiktaalik, being a specific hypothesis, and a very direct observation, doesn't apply in the same way.

Tiktaalik is enough to make my point, sily. And atoms have been observed via instruments. They are as real as the galaxies seen in Hubble's Deep Field images.

you ignored also my point that we have observed superatoms

Because I don't give a flying fuck about your diversions. My response to David Marjanović stands -- science does prove things.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Indeed. It applies a very different epistemological standard to certain things, like god and souls, than it does to others like ghosts, angels, Asgard, Cerberus, WMDs in Iraq, someone other than John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln, etc.

I have a theory:

John Wilkes Booth is in Asgard. I spoke with him not long ago. He monitors the WMD stockpiles there and keeps Cerberus as a pet/bomb-sniffing dog. I thought it was awfully strange that Cerberus would be there, rather than in Hades, but Booth has assured me that this is correct. I have since done the calculations proving that this is True. By the way, Booth sends his warmest regards.

However, angels and ghosts are totally made-up. I see what you did there, and I do not appreciate it. That's really just a cheap shot, trying to use those to discredit my super-sciencey Theory.

Prove me wrong, you filthy dogmatic materialists, or give me my Nobel Prize in Metaphysics!

#286:

I thought Quantum mechanics was the study of infromation. After all, the whole concept of "messenger" particles is that they carry information, particlarly those relating to force. I don't make the distinction between material and immaterial information. It is all information to me.

Also, the idea of storying or re-creating a person as a mere program on a computer should be both funny and unusual, but not strike one as unlikely given the current progress of computer science. A probable solution to overpopulation? no...no, no one will go for it :-/ despite the glory of indefinite lifespan and all that jazz.

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

the scientific method does not allow us to deny something it cannot measure.

erm... actually, the scientific method requires you to discard any and all superfluous explanations. and something you cannot measure is indeed entirely superfluous, since being un-measurable means it doesn't have any noticeable effect on the world.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Rationally it's easy to see that hoping for immortality is pretty much in the same category as hoping to be bitten by a radioactive spider and developing superpowers.

I think not; the latter does not require the properties of a thing to be independent of it and to outlast it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

startlingmoniker, GodlessNotClueless: If that's how you feel, have you looked into cryonics? The scientific case against it is much, much weaker than most people would guess, see my blog: http://blog.ciphergoth.org/blog/2010/02/07/survey-anti-cryonics-writing/

Religion promises things like flight or healing the sick, but science actually delivers those things. Cheating death also sounds like a religious idea, but there's no reason to assume in advance that science can't deliver that too.

You should make a decision on whether or not you're going to sign up for cryonics. I use that turn of phrase because what people often get no further than vaguely thinking it might be a good idea right until they die and are cremated. Actually look into it until either you are signed up or you have actually made a decision not to sign up.

By ciphergoth (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Also, the idea of storying or re-creating a person as a mere program on a computer should be both funny and unusual, but not strike one as unlikely given the current progress of computer science.

What if we "re-create" you while you are still alive?

Another reason to consider the self to be the whole person, a specific object, not some property of the person such as its mind.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I realise I'm a little late to the party, but I can confirm what Caine and Jadehawk said above. a.human.ape is a misanthropic asshole, with a history of advocating violence and torture against religious people. He has also made openly homophobic comments towards one of the regulars.

the scientific method does not allow us to deny something it cannot measure

Oh yeah? How's it gonna stop us?

What allows me to deny such things is a sensible ontology that is causally closed.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine #269

Actually, having been under general anaesthetic a number of times, my experience is on first waking generally more consistent with no perception of time passing, until I get my bearings and think on it a while. I suspect my brain adjusts its conclusions after the fact.

Indeed, on one occasion, the perception of no time passing was so strong I badgered a nurse about why they had just wheeled me out to recovery without doing the procedure. Once she'd assured me they'd actually done it and I started to become aware of some mild discomfort, I was clearer about something having gone on, but when I first awoke, I would have sworn I had only been out for a few seconds.

"And atoms have been observed via instruments. They are as real as the galaxies seen in Hubble's Deep Field images"- granted many of those galaxeis don't exist anymore, we're seeing the very distant past

An Atom is a quantum mechanical entity. A glaxy is not. The whole "superposition" and all that kinda ruins the boundries of what an "atom" is, most of the time. But on larger scales, things decohere into the classical mechanical (or General reletavistic) entites. So you observed that there is both no atom and an atom. Therefore there is an atom. You are forgetting there is an inherrent wave/particle duality. Tiktaalik i doubt has the ability to be in many places and times at once, with the probability of finding him on the ground at point A at 40% and points B and C at 10% That wouldn't be much of a tiktaalik. In Quantum mechanics there is either a "no-clouds" or "lots-of-clouds" way of viewing matter, individual particles only being something convenient to focus on. Oh dear, the lateness is getting to me

Also Bose-einstien condensates seem to make mockery of the idea that we have observed "atoms" when in fact the entire matierial behaves as it if were one atom. All these things have been observed as well, but you are ignoring the fact that the theory and the actual thing are both very unlike our normal conceptions. Tiktaalik we can leave alone. He is a prediction. We would be stupid to disbelieve he isn't a historical fact, but there is no way short of sending a time-travel envoy out to capture one of actually proving the beast (assuming we would be staying within the same space-time). I don't care. Let us say he was proven and drop it. David Marjanović i'm sure will continue this tomorrow. I will await the verdict, as he is much more intelligent than I and much more knowledgeable. And he has a Molly! :D

"What if we 're-create' you while you are still alive?"

I want a hard copy as well.

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Another reason to consider the self to be the whole person, a specific object, not some property of the person such as its mind."

Think Blue Brain project...

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

If a soul exists, what is it comprised of, how is it propagated, how is it modulated, controlled or otherwise manipulated ?
how much does one weigh ? Come on, don't hand-wave or blather, give me some evidence!

Mr. T, I will respond to you since you delivered the least angry/belittling response to my post.

As I understand it, this particular God-of-the-Gaps has been almost entirely closed. But I wouldn't want to be closed-minded and dogmatic

An sincere scientist or thinker never takes a case-closed attitude towards complex phenomenon and sentient consciousness may be the most complex subject of all. Neuroscientists themselves debate whether a materialist explanation of consciousness is ever going to be sufficient. Some of your fellow disbelievers try, however, to dishonestly suggest that neuroscience research is uniform in its explanations of human consciousness as a justification for their anti-soul belief.

Whatever it may be, it needs to be consistent with our understanding of neurology. Agreed?

No, if the soul is real it would be immaterial and thus not necessarily require any physical manifestation. The fact such a simple distinction escapes you demonstrates my point about objections being based on unquestioned materialist beliefs/biases.

Then what could a soul possibly be or do?

This is why I pointed out the narrow Abrahamic mindset on what the soul is. Go read about early Buddhism or Hinduism for an alternative perspective on what the soul could potentially be.

If there is nothing to observe and nothing left for it to do, then the concept is meaningless.

"Nothing to observe " rests again on an a priori assertion of pure materialism. "Nothing left for it to do" is claiming knowledge that neither you or I possess. This is is exactly why I label positions like yours intellectually insupportable.

It doesn't require dogmatism to hold that meaningless concepts are false.

No, but "meaningless" is entirely subjective in this case because the existence of the soul cannot be disproven by logic or math where one could in fact objectively say a statement was "meaningless". The existence of the soul likely cannot be proven true or false. But dogmatism about the later position is not intellectual superior to the former.

Please describe your super-sophisticated and intellectually-defensible idea of a 'soul', so we may proceed from there.

You almost sound like "truth machine" lashing out at me as a "troll" because I questioned the most popular view on this thread. I never said I believed in a soul. I am merely pointing out that dogmatic disbelief in an immaterial phenomenon (key qualifier) is as intellectually indefensible as blind belief. That observation obviously really upsets some atheists who do not like being reminded how much they resemble religious people at times.

By evergreenotter (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"the scientific method does not allow us to deny something it cannot measure"--???

It doesn't allow it either. And why would we say that Russel's Teapot actually Is orbiting Jupiter? we can't deny it, but it would be the epitome or arrogance to embrace it as Absolute Truth...or even something other than a delusion that is best left ignored.
Oh wait, i got my fictitious entities crossed. I meant Yehweh, I swear!

By The Laughing Man (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

he is much more intelligent than I and much more knowledgeable. And he has a Molly! :D

That makes two of us.

I want a hard copy as well.

Uh, the point is that a copy is a copy, not the original. It's a bit like the unix "fork" system call -- the child process is a copy of the parent, but it's a different process. If we make a virtual copy of you in some digital virtual universe, the two immediately diverge; the copy isn't you.

Think Blue Brain project...

Non sequitur. And the brain isn't the whole person either.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

their anti-soul belief.

there's no such thing as anti-soul belief. there's disbelief in its existence, and rejection of it as an unneeded and unsupported hypothesis. but nice strawman, anyway.

No, if the soul is real it would be immaterial and thus not necessarily require any physical manifestation.

if it doesn't interact with physical matter (because if it did, it would be measurable, i.e. it would manifest physically), it's a useless and superfluous hypothesis. Plus, if it doesn't interact with physical matter, it can't be the solution-of-the-gaps your non-materialist neuroscientists would like it to be, because the brain is physical, and therefore a soul as you've just defined it wouldn't interact with it.

do try to be at least consistent with yourself.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Neuroscientists themselves debate whether a materialist explanation of consciousness is ever going to be sufficient.

Uh, no. You seem to have confused neuroscientists with philosophers of mind.

You almost sound like "truth machine" lashing out at me as a "troll" because I questioned the most popular view on this thread.

You didn't "question" it, troll.

I am merely pointing out that dogmatic disbelief in an immaterial phenomenon (key qualifier) is as intellectually indefensible as blind belief.

See, not questioning, asserting. What you are doing is repeating a strawman -- it isn't dogmatic -- and employing some intellectually indefensible drivel in your attempt to counter the arguments made.

That observation obviously really upsets some atheists who do not like being reminded how much they resemble religious people at times.

Not questioning, asserting, you trolling ass.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

There's a very specific reason why many people believe in an afterlife. It's because they think that, after their death, they won't be much different. Their "soul" will still be almost the same thing as their mind is today, retaining memories, affections, personality, etc. Which of course, even in the hypothesis of an afterlife, is absurd.

It would mean that you are reunited with your spouse in the happy hereafter. But what if, like people I know, you were married several times, were very much in love each time, and widowed each time ?

It would mean that, if you die with Alzheimer's, then you spend the eternity wandering the celestial fields and being unable to remember how to find the way back to your favorite cloud. Or does it mean that you regain your best and fittest personality, from the time before you got ill? But where do you get it back from?

I seem to remember that Jesus himself answered the first question. His answer was basically that "in heaven there's no husband or wife". The idea was that the thing that survives has no personality and is not really "you" in any human sense. Seems to me that if most believers were aware of this, they would feel disgust and dispair, and they would think that it's not very different from no afterlife at all.

And after this realization, Occam's razor might spring into action...

By christophe-thi… (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Neuroscientists themselves debate whether a materialist explanation of consciousness is ever going to be sufficient."

Uh, no. You seem to have confused neuroscientists with philosophers of mind.

Or maybe not, but it's like saying that biologists themselves debate whether evolution is sufficient to explain biodiversity:

http://centerfornaturalism.blogspot.com/2009/01/science-wars-dualism-vs…

The intelligent design controversy is perhaps the biggest front on the science wars, followed by disputes over the paranormal, but a new front is opening up around the issue of materialism or physicalism. Is science biased in favor of the materialist-physicalist assumption, the idea that nature fundamentally contains only material things? A small but vocal group of self-styled anti-materialist and dualist neuroscientists held a mind-body symposium at the UN last year, arguing that science has indeed been hijacked by dogmatic materialists, who wrongly discount evidence for categorically non-physical phenomena. New Scientist ran a good article about it, quoting some well-respected mainstream scientists and philosophers who, unsurprisingly, see the anti-materialists as the dogmatists, intent on warping science to serve their agenda.

These opposed positions are mirrored in two responses to the 2009 Edge question, What will change everything?. One is by biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who says materialism’s days are numbered: certain questions, for instance about the nature of consciousness, will never be answered unless science is liberated from its assumption that the physical world is all there is. He says “Confidence in materialism is draining away. Its leaders, like central bankers, keep printing promissory notes, but it has lost its credibility as the central dogma of science.” The other is by biologist P. Z. Myers, who says that materialism rules, and that eventually people will adjust to the idea they don’t have souls, widely believed to be the precious immaterial essence of our being: “Mind is clearly a product of the brain, and the old notions of souls and spirits are looking increasingly ludicrous…yet these are nearly universal ideas, all tangled up in people's rationalizations for an afterlife, for ultimate reward and punishment, and their concept of self.” Science writers John Horgan and George Johnson discuss Sheldrake, Myers and the materialism/anti-materialism conflict at Bloggingheads, and there’s been a protracted debate between materialist Steven Novella and dualist Michael Egnor, both neuroscientists, at their respective blogs here and here.

Rupert Sheldrake, the promoter of "morphogenetic fields"? And Michael Egnor the creationist brain surgeon? Uh, yeah.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@"truth machine" a sample of your responses:
"I don't give a flying fuck about your diversions"
"Oh yeah? How's it gonna stop us?"
"Your 'hope' is stupid."
"What makes me grumpy is idiots like you..."
"Not questioning, asserting, you trolling ass."

First of all the internal hypocrisy in the last comment, one directed at me, is simply marvellous to behold. Mazel tov.

I clicked on your userlink only to find the almost cliché picture of Einstein with his tongue out. The sad irony lost on you is that with your tone of constant angry condescension and personal insults, you appear to be the exact opposite of Einstein in personality. In fact, you (and I would very surprised if you are a woman) appear to fall somewhere in the men's rights activists / 'Nice Guy™' range of Internet social grace.

By evergreenotter (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

First of all the internal hypocrisy in the last comment, one directed at me, is simply marvellous to behold. Mazel tov.

I didn't claim that I was questioning when I was in fact asserting, you dishonest trolling git.

In fact, you (and I would very surprised if you are a woman) appear to fall somewhere in the men's rights activists / 'Nice Guy™' range of Internet social grace.

You are new here. And you are very very stupid.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter, are you going to address the substance of responses to you, or just whine about tone? And throw out red herrings about TM's presumed personality?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Oh yeah? How's it gonna stop us?"

Good grief but this twit is clueless. Refer to the context of that statement to see how so.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter:

Whatever it may be, it needs to be consistent with our understanding of neurology. Agreed?

No, if the soul is real it would be immaterial and thus not necessarily require any physical manifestation. The fact such a simple distinction escapes you demonstrates my point about objections being based on unquestioned materialist beliefs/biases.

I'm not saying that if a soul exists, it must be material or physical. I'm saying that it has to be consistent with empirical observations. Nothing can exist AND at the same time be inconsistent with the physical world. This is only based on the assumption that the physical world is real. If you can't agree with this, I can't help you.

Then what could a soul possibly be or do?

This is why I pointed out the narrow Abrahamic mindset on what the soul is. Go read about early Buddhism or Hinduism for an alternative perspective on what the soul could potentially be.

No. I've read my share of Buddhist and Hindu texts, and I've also read about Buddhism and Hinduism. What isn't helpful is you making some vague gesture in the general direction of Eastern mysticism.

Please just don't be so coy. So far, you've given me very little to think about or discuss. Explain your idea, maybe define a couple of terms, or perhaps link to a book or article that you think does the subject justice. It doesn't really matter if you believe any of it or not, because I'm more interested in the science behind this question than reading even more reams of bad philosophy.

If you want to continue to evade the question, that's fine too. If you don't believe in souls, then perhaps instead you could explain why not. That might be an interesting exercise. I'm just feeling generous, and open to dismantling whichever whacky idea you might throw at me.

evergreenotter:

@"truth machine" a sample of your responses:

You're being a concern troll, someone who is much more concerned with tone and style over substance. Pearl Clutchers&trade don't do well here, because they do what you are doing - whining about tone and style because you can't actually argue your case. I suggest you go over to the Intersection. They'll love you.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Steve M:

Even if one does not remember dreaming, I've always had a feeling of time having elapsed upon awakening. I attribute this to unremembered dreams.

Just a couple of times in my life I've experienced waking (refreshed by a good long sleep) without the feeling of time having elapsed. The first time I was definitely less than seven and more than three years old (sorry, I didn't make a note of the date), and it struck me at the time as a much better arrangement than the usual rigmarole of lying awake or half-awake in the dark, or experiencing dreams that made no sense, were sometimes frightening and usually difficult to recall anyway. I assume that any intervening dreams being unremembered at the time of waking is a necessary condition for this kind of 'instant sleep', but neither sufficient nor implying that no dreams took place.

I just made up the phrase 'instant sleep', but what it really feels like is time travel.

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Mr. T, please preview your posts, 'cause your blockquote errors make them hard to parse.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

it struck me at the time as a much better arrangement than the usual rigmarole of lying awake or half-awake in the dark, or experiencing dreams that made no sense, were sometimes frightening and usually difficult to recall anyway.

interesting, I always remember feeling exactly the opposite about it. Basically I was being cheated out of the fun part of the day and was instantly propelled to the part where I had to get up and be productive :-p

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Pastor Deacon Fred of the Landover Baptist Church has asked about the case of someone who has Multiple Personality Disorder. One of the personalities has deeply and sincerely accepted christ into his heart and has given his life wholly to god and lives a pure, clean and holy life BUT the other is a raving, rampant atheist. If he dies while the atheist personality is manifesting, is he Saved? Or not? Does he go to heaven? Or to hell? Does his soul live forever or die forever? Or half and half? How does that work? Instead of putting him in the eternal burning fiery furnace does god put him on the backburner while he thinks about it for a bit?

Someone said about George W's adventure in Iraq,
“Maybe a President who didn’t believe our soldiers were going to heaven might be a little less willing to get them killed.”

And now to dog the farter, rod the bum and sod the sunday roast be all horror and gory, world without them, Ramen.

By Roger Migently (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The existence of the soul likely cannot be proven true or false. But dogmatism about the later position is not intellectual superior to the former.

The same can be said about all things with zero evidence:

pink unicorns
green genie of the bottle
leprechauns
teapot orbiting the sun
flying spaghetti monster
etc...

Do you consider that someone who doesn't believe in pink unicorns is being dogmatic about it?

Give me ONE reason why it is different with the soul?

Keep thinking, you won't find any.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

This is where the concept of a soul falls apart, mental illnesses, neurodegenerative siseases etc.

Seems to me that "soul" is just the little cousin of religion, gives one the warm and fuzzies, but in the end is a concept that explains nothing.

By Rorschach (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I am merely pointing out that dogmatic disbelief in an immaterial phenomenon (key qualifier) is as intellectually indefensible as blind belief. That observation obviously really upsets some atheists who do not like being reminded how much they resemble religious people at times.

Aside from the fact that claiming on this blog that atheists are dogmatic and resemble the religious is always trolling, a sure sign of a troll is repeating the exact same claim after it has already been rebutted, and ignoring the rebuttal:

A huge portion of the strident critics of the concept of the soul are simply arguing from an at times fervent a priori belief in materialism. That is not intellectually supportable

Yes, actually, it is -- it rests on Ockham's Razor.

Ockham's Razor slices away immaterial epiphenomena like "souls".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I apologize for yet another blockquote error. I've gotten lazy about previewing since using Firefox's text formatting toolbar.

It should be fairly obvious (and should look just like the second nested-blockquote), but let me try that first part again:

evergreenotter:

Whatever it may be, it needs to be consistent with our understanding of neurology. Agreed? [me]

No, if the soul is real it would be immaterial and thus not necessarily require any physical manifestation. The fact such a simple distinction escapes you demonstrates my point about objections being based on unquestioned materialist beliefs/biases. [evergreenotter]

I'm not saying that if a soul exists, it must be material or physical. I'm saying that it has to be consistent with empirical observations. Nothing can exist AND at the same time be inconsistent with the physical world. This is only based on the assumption that the physical world is real. If you can't agree with this, I can't help you.

...

I'd like to go further with this line of thought, but it would be nice if we could first agree on this very minimal assumption. It would be a problem if a soul is supposed to act in a way contrary to how humans actually think or behave.

I should add that general anaesthesia, in my experience, is totally unlike what I'm talking about: it's associated with a period of fever-like delirium before proper waking. I went under for an eye op at the age of five, and neither experience reminded me of the other.

Also that the first time I had one of these 'instant' sleeps was a far more profound and instructive experience than anything I was ever told by parents, priests or teachers (at least prior to university). Got me thinking about thinking...

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

The existence of the soul likely cannot be proven true or false. But dogmatism about the later position is not intellectual superior to the former.

The same can be said about all things with zero evidence

Indeed. evergreenotter's claim that disbelieving that for which there is no evidence is not intellectually superior to believing that for which there is no evidence is just plain fucking stupid.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Seems to me that "soul" is just the little cousin of religion, gives one the warm and fuzzies, but in the end is a concept that explains nothing.

Souls aren't meant to explain anything, but to comfort those who are afraid of death. Souls, or more generally spirits, were probably invented from the moment humans became conscious of death. Those are not the little cousins of religion, but their earliest common ancestor, where religions started.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine, Fleur du mal wrote:

I suggest you go over to The Intersection. They'll love you.

You beat me to it.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter,

No, if the soul is real it would be immaterial and thus not necessarily require any physical manifestation. The fact such a simple distinction escapes you demonstrates my point about objections being based on unquestioned materialist beliefs/biases.

Say I postulate there exists a parrallel universe that has no physical manifestation in ours.

Say I believe that in this parrallel universe the President of the United States of the planet greenotter of the otter galaxy is called evergreenotter.

Please don't object to this because otherwise I'm going to accuse of objecting to it based on biased materialist beliefs.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Aside from the fact that claiming on this blog that atheists are dogmatic and resemble the religious is always trolling, a sure sign of a troll is repeating the exact same claim after it has already been rebutted, and ignoring the rebuttal:

"Always trolling"? Talk about setting up a perpetual rationalisation for your tone and behaviour. That attitude just exudes insecurity.

Most importantly you did not rebut anything. Ockham's Razor is a worthwhile method of considering many issues but does not offer irrefutable logic. The fact you invoke it twice as an ipso facto justification of your position only elucidates your dogmatism further.

People like you just replace spiritual religion with materialist religion and then spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative.

By evergreenotter (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

David Marjanovic wrote:

This is Epicurean teaching, and, funnily enough, Paul the Apostle accepted it.
He then added the supernatural spirit in order to allow for an afterlife and other, well, spiritual affairs. This is where all the confusion about soul and spirit comes from.
Source here, but don't click on that link unless you want to stay up all night.

It's not trivial to be unprejudiced against an author who makes preliminary remarks like this one:

These two ideals are still competitors in our modern world. The open type of society which was sponsored by Epicurus has allied itself with Christianity. The closed type of society which was sponsored by Plato has taken its stand against religion.

I may read the rest of it as time and interest permits, but the introduction and beginning of the first chapter mostly left me suspicious of the author's objectivity. (Another thing that rang a warning bell is the notion that Paul "had no alternative but to adopt" Epicurus' teachings. Science when do sect-founders find it necessary to adopt ethical positions just because they're meritorious or widely acknowledged?)

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter wrote:

People like you just replace spiritual religion with materialist religion and then spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative.

Yeah, except for the 'religion' part, since it's nothing of the sort. Oh, and the 'spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative' part - because, you know, science being about a continual search for knowledge and incorporating new evidence and all.

Take your 'alternative soul concept' and cram it up your pissant concern-trolling ass - with walnuts.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter,

Ockham's Razor is a worthwhile method of considering many issues but does not offer irrefutable logic. The fact you invoke it twice as an ipso facto justification of your position only elucidates your dogmatism further.

Correct, Ockham's razor is just an important heuristic but it does not offer an absolute proof, an irrefutable justification. But you can never prove the inexistence of things for which there is no evidence. You cannot prove there doesn't exist a parrallel universe with no physical manifestation in ours in which evergreenotter is the president of the United States of the planet greenotter of the otter galaxy.

But would you accuse someone who doesn't believe in this evergreenotter president of dogmatism?

Please give me ONE reason why it is different with the soul?

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter:

People like you just replace spiritual religion knowing everything with materialist religion knowing nothing and then spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative.

I'm willing to grant that I can't prove with Absolute Certainty™ that Russell's Teapot isn't orbiting the sun. Likewise I can't prove there is no FSM, or whatever brand of Buddhist/Hindu soul most handily evades empirical investigation. That's just fine with me.

There's no good reason why we should be expected to prove or disprove claims which are not supported by any kind of evidence, and terms which have no coherent meaning. If they are not supported, they are discarded. If someone comes along and finds evidence in support of the exact same claim, then what was discarded can finally be evaluated properly. Hopefully you can tell how this is fundamentally different from dogmatism and closed-mindedness.

So far, you've provided nothing in the way of evidence. You apparently don't even necessarily believe that there is any to be found. Instead, you wish to retain some kind of intellectual purity by characterizing us as religious dogmatists. Fine -- go ahead and waste your time evaluating the infinite amount of meaningless crap people can conjure up.

phoenixwoman #220, thank you for linking to that. The song is so powerful on its own and Johnny only adds to it.

---

As for the everlasting soul that somehow continues your brain function and your concsienceness after you die. Not even theists REALLY believe in that. -mark.elkin.home #221

From my experience, you are certainly wrong about many theists. Except for the few theists in this thread who have said otherwise, I have not had much privilege of hearing theists say that corporeal life is all there is—which implies that they do believe in a soul, and many theists have made it clear to me that they do believe in a soul, especially the ones who believe in the power of baptism and being saved (and I wouldn't doubt if Risen Cracker Crunchers thought that chomping on bits of Jebus had some significance for their eternal souls, either).

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

negentropyeater wrote:

Please give me ONE reason why it is different with the soul?

Oh neg, that's such a closed-minded, dogmatist response - typical of an adherent of a materialist religion who's spinning things to fit their preconceived narrative.

Isn't it obvious that the soul exists?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@aratina cage: It's probably unsafe to assume that theists saying they believe in an afterlife means that they "REALLY believe" in such, if "REALLY believe" means something more than verbal affirmation. Taking myself as an example, I certainly claimed to believe in an afterlife, but I dunno if I ever acted as if death was not the end.

Further, I've often heard theists, who if asked if they believe in the afterlife would unhesitantly affirm, speak as if this life is all there is when the topic is not doctrine. They compartmentalize between their "official" faith and how they think in "secular" contexts.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Please give me ONE reason why it is different with the soul?"

The soul is something humans have been contemplating since recorded history and likely before it. Before you reject that as subjective, consider how much of medical and psychological research relies on people's reported experiences that cannot be physically measured but inform our understanding of a related issue.

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration. Claims of near death experiences would be a prime example of an issue that may have a purely materialistic explanation but to date has not allowed researchers to utterly dismiss an immaterial one as some people here would have them do.

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

By evergreenotter (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter wrote:

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

Why?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

People have been asking you for evidence for 300 posts now, and all we get is assertions and woo.What evidence for a soul are you talking about? Show it already or shut up, man.

By Rorschach (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Go read about early Buddhism or Hinduism for an alternative perspective on what the soul could potentially be.

Shouldn't that be perspectives since they contradict each other?

Rorschach wrote:

Show it already or shut up, man.

Materialist! Materialist! Materialist!

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter @ 335:

Claims of near death experiences would be a prime example of an issue that may have a purely materialistic explanation

We are all having a near death experience. It's called life. I'll hazard a guess here that you don't know much neuroscience. I'd suggest looking into it, except you don't seem to want to learn, you simply want to argue that souls exist because you want them to exist.

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

Wrong. It's definitely not proof, and it is not a strong basis for taking a lack of evidence seriously. You're the one indulging in made-up random hyperbole, trying to stuff your "alternate soul" into any tiny crack you think you've found.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Andreas Johansson, did you notice the publication date? - 1954. The author was born in 1876, so he's not talking about today's Christianity in any of its forms but, in passing and with a hint of irony, comparing the ideal Christian nation in his head (not 1950's USA, obviously, which was practically fascist) with Stalin's USSR. Give him a fair go. Here's that link again (thanks David).

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What if we "re-create" you while you are still alive?

That would certainly improve my sexlife tremendously.

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration.

Evolution is worthy of serious consideration.

Would you care to explain how humans could possibly evolved to have souls?

Do only humans have souls, or primates, or vertebrates, or perhaps all living things? Are they not something that evolved but happened by some other means? Does reality matter to you in the least when deciding whether souls are worthy of serious consideration? Do Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins have souls?

The soul is something humans have been contemplating since recorded history and likely before it.

True. As I said earlier, it appears as if it is something humans invented from the moment we became conscious of death. A by-product of our over active imaginative brain.

Before you reject that as subjective, consider how much of medical and psychological research relies on people's reported experiences that cannot be physically measured but inform our understanding of a related issue.

You seem to confuse two things:
People's reported experiences, which is something that is clearly physical. It can be measured, analysed, interpreted, etc...
The things people believe in such as the soul which has no physical manifestation in reality.

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

The only difference between the soul and the evergreenotter president is that the former is something many people want to believe in because many people are afraid of death, the latter not because not many people find it wishful to believe in an evergreenotter president. But it doesn't change the fact that both are simply products of our imagination for which there is no evidence, they are both the result of wishful thinking.
If you want to believe in either, fine, nobody can stop you. But it is a travesty to accuse someone of dogmatism for pointing out that they are both the results of wishful thinking with no justification for the belief in their existence.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Epicurus has been referred to, but this quote is worthy of repeating:

Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.

(Letter to Menoeceus)

--

[Pedantic minutiae 1.]

Gilgamesh: He was endowed with beauty by the sun god Shamash and with strength and courage by the storm god Adad, making him two-thirds god and one-third man.

--

[Pedantic minutiae2.]

Imagine a god mates with a human; the issue is half-god, half-human.

If that issue then mates with another god, the issue would be two-thirds god, one-third human (in a naive mathematical sense).

By John Morales (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage (#62), I am making no argument for the existence of the soul, just the impossibility of denying what is claimed to be beyond the senses or instruments. The argument was one of logic, not a renunciation of empirical data.-listener #277

But souls are not beyond the senses or instruments. You are playing the same game with souls that sophisticated theologians do with gods when asked to provide evidence for their god and suddenly we find that God is indescribable, immeasurable, beyond the senses. No doubt your ideal definition of a soul has now morphed to elude being torn apart by empirical evidence like watching a person's mind deteriorate and eventually disappear with the onslaught of Alzheimer's, or by the innumerable cases of debunking of paranormal and psychic claims, or by the logical difficulty in explaining how a soul plays any part in the mechanics of our bodies. I shall now swim further down the thread and I suspect I will find you have turned into a bubbling cauldron of quantum stone soup by the time I reach the end.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@John Scanlon: No, I didn't notice the date, but I'm not sure it matters very much. "Closed" Christian societies were, if anything, commoner then than now. If there was a hint of irony in his statement, it went clear over my head.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh, BTW
Google CO2+NDE
FTW

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution.

Yes evolution is ruthless and pitiless, note the grammatical form, we are describing two qualities which are absent. Ruth and pity. Evolution has neither, it is ruthless and pitiless. Ruth meant "friend" in the original Hebrew and in archaic English meant compassion or pity, so really 'ruthless' and 'pitiless' mean the same thing. Clearly evolution cannot have such qualities and is without them.

By Janet Holmes (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

a bubbling cauldron of quantum stone soup

With bacon. Right?

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Google CO2+NDE

On the other hand, instead of a naturalistic explanation, we could just ignore everything else that we know about the world and go with evergreenotter's vague soul concept... which may or may not be borrowed from some kind of Eastern-woo (I'm still not sure exactly what it's even supposed to be, but I guess that part doesn't really matter). Since we apparently can't deny it with Irrefutable Logic, we may as well go hog-wild. This soul shit sounds just crazy enough to work.

John Scanlong @ 348:

Google CO2+NDE

Just read about it at Science Daily. Very interesting stuff. Ain't science grand?

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yahoo @ 78,

The evidence at first appears very convincing yet my faith quickly turns to doubt. I want to know what is true!

Sounds like you might already have taken the first steps down the path to rationalism.

Don't let the curmudgeons of Pharyngula fool you, most of them are damn smart, have a bark that is much worse than their bite, have pretty soft hearts and will most definitely answer your questions if you pose them in such a way that you indicate a true willingness to learn.

Good luck in your quest for the truth!

By Fred The Hun (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@aratina cage: It's probably unsafe to assume that theists saying they believe in an afterlife means that they "REALLY believe" in such, if "REALLY believe" means something more than verbal affirmation. -Andreas Johansson #334

I don't agree. They do believe there is something more to it, they really do.

Taking myself as an example, I certainly claimed to believe in an afterlife, but I dunno if I ever acted as if death was not the end.

You mean the end of life or the end of life as you know it? Of course very few people who believe in an afterlife, save for Matricites and reincarnationists, would think that an afterlife would look anything like the one they are currently living, and in that sense death is an end to participation in the world and a loss of interaction with people and things they love and enjoy.

Further, I've often heard theists, who if asked if they believe in the afterlife would unhesitantly affirm, speak as if this life is all there is when the topic is not doctrine. They compartmentalize between their "official" faith and how they think in "secular" contexts.

Again, I think you could be equating what for them is the ending of the here and now with their idea of a continued existence.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I pointed out to my believing co-workers thateven though we start from very different places, we came to the same conclusion: that "life is precious." They belive that it's precious because it's a gift from God. I believe it's precious becuase it's so short.

By simonator (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine,

With bacon. Right?

:D Yes, of course. How could I forget such an important ingredient? And as expected, now that I have arrived at the end, listener has not reappeared so I can only agree with Chopra about listener's state of existence.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

so I can only agree with Chopra about listener's state of existence.

LOL. One thing about woospeak, you can twist it all up to make it mean whatever you want.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I like it when Chopra here defines consciouness as a "superimposition of possilbilites" and the physicsist responds: "Alright, I know what each of those words mean...."

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter #327 wrote:

People like you just replace spiritual religion with materialist religion and then spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative.

When you get right down to it, the "dogmatic" stance which the naturalists are defending is the belief that supernatural assumptions should be considered to be hypotheses, and treated like hypotheses. They are reasonable inferences made from evidence, and might be true, or might be false. We need to approach them then as clearly and objectively as possible, with due consideration made for our tendency to make errors, and always hold in mind that, because we might be wrong, we need to be able to say what would change our minds.

This is supposed to be the dogmatic stance. So, what then would it look like when this 'dogmatism' is rejected?

The alternative, non-dogmatic, religious stance is to approach supernatural assumptions not like hypotheses, but like certainties of the heart, or direct personal experiences. What if you were right, but couldn't prove it to others? Wouldn't you still be right? Yes, yes you would. And don't you have a right, to believe you're right, when you are right? Yes, yes you do.

How dare other people dogmatically reject this ability to be able to know, what you know.

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration. Claims of near death experiences would be a prime example of an issue that may have a purely materialistic explanation but to date has not allowed researchers to utterly dismiss an immaterial one as some people here would have them do.

You need to take account of the fact that the evidence has indeed been carefully examined, and successfully incorporated into a coherent materialist explanation involving human cognitive errors of bias, interpretation, recall, and normative heuristic shortcuts; this explanation is consistent with the way the brain works in other, similar situations, and is testable. Materialist researchers do not "dismiss" the evidence for paranormal phenomenon: they explain it otherwise -- and do this so well, that once again, you're left with the Argument from Maybe.

Link fail @ 358. That should be here at 'Scientist Takes on Deepak's Science'.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

I don't agree. They do believe there is something more to it, they really do.

Some do, unquestionably, but I don't think it's safe to assume anyone is in that group merely because they say they are.

You mean the end of life or the end of life as you know it? Of course very few people who believe in an afterlife, save for Matricites and reincarnationists, would think that an afterlife would look anything like the one they are currently living, and in that sense death is an end to participation in the world and a loss of interaction with people and things they love and enjoy.

I mean that, for example, when my grandfather died, I didn't seek solace in the thought I'd see him again in Heaven, nor find worry in the idea he might not have gone there. Abandoning faith in the afterlife hasn't had any identifiable effect on how I react to the death of a loved one.

Again, I think you could be equating what for them is the ending of the here and now with their idea of a continued existence.

Perhaps, but if so they compartmentalize between two different sorts of belief in the afterlife rather than between belief and non-belief, which still supports the notion that self-conscious declarations of belief do not necessarily reflect the assumptions they apply unconsciously in everyday speech and behaviour.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Evergreenotter @ 335;

Lets try a different tack. You wrote;

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration. Claims of near death experiences would be a prime example of an issue that may have a purely materialistic explanation but to date has not allowed researchers to utterly dismiss an immaterial one as some people here would have them do.
The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

On this basis one might point out that most cultures have within their mythology a belief in a creature that sustains its existence by, through one means or another, stealing the 'life force' of human beings. In most cases these creatures receive enhanced capability or 'supernatural' powers as a side effect of this process.

Such myths are incredibly widespread, having been present in almost every major historial civilisation (including those that never had any contact with one another, such as the Ancient Egyptians and the Maya). One need look no further than the similarity in the mythology surrounding the Middle Eastern desert Djinn, the Hyena riding witches of North African mythology, and the mittel-European Strigoi for a demonstration.

Since;

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration.

Does your logic not imply that we should afford the possible existence of vampires 'serious consideration'. There is no scientific paper that conclusively disproves their existence to the standard of proof that you seem to require in relation to the soul.

Or, if the fang brigade does not float your boat, what about ghosts? Wraiths and phantasms are also found in a great many different cultures and in many different historical contexts. Belief in this particular manifestation of the post-death vapour-ware soul is almost ubiquitous throughout human history in one form or another (especially if we expand the definition to include the 'shades' of the pre-christian world)

Perhaps you should invest in a little garlic, a few wooden stakes, and maybe a cute, Buffy-esque crossbow. Or perhaps a Proton Pack. You know, just in case.

By Gregory Greenwood (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

To live in the moment is the most rewarding result of loosing the concept of the soul. To be more involved with those people and situations you are experiencing right here and right now is the true reward in life...not what might or maybe be in the minds of others in relation to their imaginings. The mere ability to apprehend what we do know of this world is true joy.

Well said. Also, the few, precious moments I've spent truly in the moment (during extremely intense activities such as sex, technical climbing, steep skiing, white water kayaking at my limits (and I'm told but never experienced, combat)) have been some of the most interested, arresting, special, rewarding times of my life. If only we could hold that level of focus and mental participation all the time.

Probably the cortisol would kill us in a matter of months. We evolved to have significant rest periods, seems to me.

Oh here's a bit of my Bible:
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Me'sech, that I dwell in the tents of Ke'dar.
My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

And here are some quotes from Star Trek:
"It has always been easier to destroy that to create" -- Spock
"I have been, and ever shall be, your friend. Live long, and prosper." -- Spock
"Seize the time, Meribor. Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again" -- Picard
"Thank you for the advice, but I am trying to find two individuals with a snake." -- Data

(It annoys me that blockquote strips line breaks.)

a little advice that I didn't notice anyone give for our AP student upthread:

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN USE YOUR AP CREDITS TO DO SO, DO NOT SKIP FRESHMAN YEAR BIOLOGY.

Your AP class managed to leave out the most fundamental concept of modern biology and replaced it with nonsense. Guaranteed. I don't know how they got certified to give you college credit, but you didn't earn it (by no fault of your own).

Don't do the usual teenage thing and get by with as little work as possible. I used my AP credits to skip calculus and I never looked back, but I also had a good calculus teacher in high school. There's a lot of awesome in the world, don't just rely on teachers to provide you with information. In the most ideal circumstance, a great teacher gives you a good jumping off point and the skills with which to learn MORE. Don't stop with the question or skip over answers you don't like. Look for EVIDENCE and learn statistics. Our inability to understand numbers leads us to irrational beliefs.

By mikerattlesnake (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Phoenixwoman:

Johnny saved the best for last

He sure did. I have both versions of that song and listen to them often.

Have y'all ever heard of Andy Kaufman?
Some of you are brilliant at helping me reinvent his routine.
I'm off to wrestle some women now.
Enjoy your tight-knit community, your cliched slang, and remember that man can never be too surly or turf-obsessed.

Kisses!

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

How dare other people dogmatically reject this ability to be able to know, what you know.

Sums it up.

By Rorschach (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Right on, Mr. Myers--what a funny coincidence, I was just musing on this subject this weekend!... I agree absolutely that the afterlife is the shadiest part of religious doctrine and have shed it over time. I believe in considering what we'll leave behind us, and I hope to leave things that may delight and provoke people.

...hours later...

Enjoy your tight-knit community, your cliched slang, and remember that man can never be too surly or turf-obsessed.Kisses!

Someone grab that loose thread and tie it down! It seems to be unraveling.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

In fact, you (and I would very surprised if you are a woman) appear to fall somewhere in the men's rights activists / 'Nice Guy™' range of Internet social grace.

This had me laughing. :-)
Thank you for brightening up my Monday morning.

@aratina cage: Also, I forgot to ask - who or what are Matricites? Can't find an online definition.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ aratina cage and KOPD

Ow, what fun! Monday is such crud, sometimes I have to do something.

I contend that anyone new looking at that post at 160, which quoted something that made no mention of homophobia, might've concluded that a.human.ape was the more peaceable one, and would not even have bothered with the link. Personally, if someone wants to sell me on something, he/she needs to mind his articles.

It's like some people don't know that the world may be watching them.

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I contend that anyone new looking at that post at 160, which quoted something that made no mention of homophobia, might've concluded that a.human.ape was the more peaceable one, and would not even have bothered with the link.

Well, considering that the quote was "Have you managed to get rid of your vile homophobia..." with "vile homophobia" being the link text, it's pretty obvious that it was a link to an example of said commenter's previous displays of vile homophobia. Therefore your contention must be that some people are fucking morons. I happen to agree with you on that. I am glad we have some common ground.

Andreas Johansson,

I was attempting to coin a term for people who think that life could be all part of a program like it is in the Matrix because their reality could seemingly go on unending from program to program, but it differs from the afterlife posited by people who believe in reincarnation to human form because there is no guarantee of life being cyclic in the Matrix despite the lack of finality.

#361 gets me thinking: the thing about beliefs is that they are modifiable, replaceable, and deletable; you can even question them on the spot and still hold them later. So when someone tells me directly or indirectly that they believe in an afterlife, I tend to not doubt their sincerity, but I don't imagine them incapable of changing that belief.

I understand that getting past the thought of an afterlife did not affect you, but unlike how it happened with you, I remember that I did find solace in the thought of an afterlife (not souls in Heaven, though—I was always heterodox) after several deaths of people I was close to, and since I have abandoned that erroneous belief, I do react differently to death. I see it as much more of a closure now, I think.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

lol8ta_120 @ 372:

I contend that anyone new looking at that post at 160, which quoted something that made no mention of homophobia, might've concluded that a.human.ape was the more peaceable one, and would not even have bothered with the link.

Your contention is wrong, lolidiot. a.human.ape's comment in this thread was he liked to point out greed and nastiness in christians' belief. As a.human.ape was making a value judgement on others, I asked if he had managed to rid himself of his vile homophobia. The link was provided for those who had not encountered a.human.ape's misanthropic crap before.

a.human.ape has said vile things about gay people (and there are quite a lot of gay people among the regulars here); has voiced the viewpoint that the poor in Haiti should be left to die, because they are poor and has gleefully advocated torturing people.

You have extremely poor reading skills, lolidiot, and even worse comprehension skills.

Personally, if someone wants to sell me on something, he/she needs to mind his articles.

I'm not trying to sell you anything, you ignorant dipshit. It was typo, try to deal. For someone who plans to hang on to such a pathetic line as a shield to hide their stupidity, it's interesting you simply cannot manage to call me by my name, even when it's right in front of you.

By the way, what happened to that classic flounce out of here, where you declared you weren't coming back? Seems you lied. Trolls generally do.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

LaughingMan,

Sorry, but I find your comments incredibly irritating. I regularly trap and observe single ions (atoms) in my quantum computing lab. If I didn't have an extremely precise model of exactly how these atoms behave, this wouldn't be possible. Same goes for Bose-Einstein condensates, which I have also worked with.

Unfortunately, popular science magazines are completely incapable of educating anyone about quantum mechanics to the point that they can speak sensibly about it.

By dave.kielpinski (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

You're not dead until you're forgotten.

The only thing I need to give my life purpose is children. And I mean all children. I don't even have any myself, I'm 45 and don't expect to have any. But my reason for doing good, and leaving the world a better place than when I came into it, is the existence of future generations.

By A Facebook User (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

#361 gets me thinking: the thing about beliefs is that they are modifiable, replaceable, and deletable; you can even question them on the spot and still hold them later. So when someone tells me directly or indirectly that they believe in an afterlife, I tend to not doubt their sincerity, but I don't imagine them incapable of changing that belief.

I don't think I was insincere - as in consciously telling an untruth - when I claimed to believe in an afterlife. I do think the compartment that did wasn't the one in charge of practical matters. To be said to "REALLY believe" in something could, I think very reasonably, be considered to require letting that belief govern practical behaviour.

But the semantics of that phrase aren't very important. To put it into your terms, what I'm saying is that beliefs aren't merely modifiable, replaceable and deletable - they're also context-dependent. (Compare, perhaps, Greta Christina's story about thinking her magic symbolic when with skeptics, but real when with fellow believers.)

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What's the difference between dying and being dead? Plenty. Theists talk of the the fear of dying, when what they really mean is the fear of being dead. Of course dying is scary---the pain, the loss, the sorrow of loved ones. But, being dead is easy! Its just nothing.
Theists deliberately confound these two to exploit peoples fears (what's new).
To an atheist, being dead is just like not being born, the nothing that sandwiches our wonderful life in the middle.

By The Naturalist (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Here's another piece of non-evidence for souls:
High levels of CO2 in the blood cause Near-death Experiences (lights, tunnels, etc.). You can't prove that something doesn't exist. However, this shows that personal experiences often cited as proof of life after death are in fact much more likely to be effects of blood chemistry on the brain.

Recommended books:

Evolution for Everybody by David Sloan Wilson

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

and perhaps Sould Made Flseh by Carl Zimmer

and of course At the Water's Edge by Carl Zimmer

That should be Soul Made Flesh by Carl Zimmer. It's about the discovery that consciousness resides in the brain—which was not intuitively obvious.

That should be Soul Made Flesh by Carl Zimmer. It's about the discovery that consciousness resides in the brain—which was not intuitively obvious.

Excellent book not only for the science, but for an insight into Civil war England.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I have always disagreed with your paradigm ever since I found your blog, but I have to say: you consistently state your perspective clearly.

I think it excellent that you are able to coherently codify so many of your thoughts in a publicly consumable manner. I certainly appreciate it.

I also wanted to thank you for giving me things to think about; even though I don't agree with most of the things you say, I do appreciate the discussion points you bring up. They are ever interesting and often important.

Thanks,
a believer in Jesus Christ

I think one of the reasons many believe in an "afterlife" is that we can't imagine NOT being conscious. What kind of experience can "Non-experience" be ?
I guess the answer would be to think about what you were conscious of BEFORE you were born (which you'd surely remember something of if you HAD been some kind of non-physical entity) - Of course, the answer is - Precisely NOTHING.
Unfortunately, I find that a little depressing.

By and7barton (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Maybe this belongs in the Endless Thread, but I think this is closer to having a relevant topic. Comic singer Roy Zimmerman is going to be here, there, and everywhere in the next few weeks, if you want an experience of skepticism and good cheer.

$15 general / $12 member of Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment / $5 students

Friday, April 23 8 PM
KENSINGTON, CA
Roy Zimmerman: Real American
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley
1 Lawson Rd
$15 general / $10 students

Friday, April 30 7:30 PM
SCHENECTADY, NY
with Anne Feeney and Evan Greer
Eighth Step at Proctor’s
432 State St
tickets and info: 518-434-1703

Saturday, May 1 1 PM
HALEDON, NJ
May Day Festival
American Labor Museum
1 Lawson Rd
83 Norwood St

Saturday, May 1 8 PM
PHILADELPHIA, PA
with Anne Feeney and Evan Greer
Crossroads Music
801 S 48th St
$10 - $30 sliding scale

Sunday, May 2 8:30 PM
NEW YORK, NY
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Cornelia Street Cafe
29 Cornelia Street
$15 at the door

Friday, May 7 8 PM
SEATTLE, WA
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Kenyon Hall
7904 35th Ave SW
$14
reserv. and info - 206-937-3613 or kenyonhall@earthlink.net

Saturday, May 8 8 PM
SEATTLE, WA
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Phinney Neighborhood Center
6532 Phinney Ave
$14
produced by the Seattle Folklore Society

Sunday, May 9 7:30 PM
BELLINGHAM, WA
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship
1708 I St
$15 suggested donation

Saturday, May 15 6 PM
MOSCOW, ID
2nd Annual Intoleristas Wingding
Kenworthy Performing Arts Center
508 S Main
admission is free!

Sunday, May 16 7:30 PM
EUGENE, OR
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene
477 E 40th Ave
$15 suggested donation

Monday, May 17 7 PM
ASHLAND, OR
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
87 4th St
$15

Monday, May 17 7 PM
ASHLAND, OR
Roy Zimmerman: Reality Show
Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
87 4th St
$15

I haven't read through all the comments (got up through about 250, though, when I was awake at 4:30 in the morning) and want to thank PZ for the original post. Even with the high cortisol anxiety thing of being awake in the middle of the night, the discussion was actually really comforting and has helped me clarify some of my thinking. I actually think that atheism is MORE about not believing in "souls" than it is about not believing in a god. The idea that some version of "me" should hang around forever is sort of weird and creepy - I would rather the pieces that went into making the "me" system go off to make other biological or non-biological systems. I remember in my early 20s (ok, under the influence of having gone on an intensive Zen retreat), realizing that the "stuff" in my television and my body were all part of the Big Bang, which is actually a more amazing idea than most of the conventional creation myth stuff that I've ever been exposed to...

Now I'm going to enjoy being this particular system at this particular point in the universe, a gorgeous spring day in the mid-Atlantic.

Onedev, thanks for dropping by. Thoughtful consideration is a gift -- to you and to us.

If anyone wants to know how to do something in HTML, find an unusual word in or near what you want to do, then press Ctrl-u to display the page source (a much longer text page). Do a text search on your unusual word. Then see what the HTML codes are around the format that you want to emulate. Close the page source window to return to the displayed web page. It often helps.

and7barton #384, if you've ever fainted or been knocked out, I think you have a good idea of what death is like--like turning off a light. If you died suddenly, you wouldn't even notice. There's nothing to fear except missing the rest of your own story. What we imagine--an experience of being dead--doesn't happen. We can't experience death because we won't be there to do so. It's like, as someone said, thinking that 70 miles per hour still exists after the car has crashed.

Feynmaniac #360

Interesting debate. Thanks for posting. (Deepok is incredibly irritating)

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener. It's one thing to concede that invisible pink unicorns are not unthinkable. It's another to decide that therefore it's sensible to live your life as if Invisible Pink Unicorns are always watching and to do only what they would approve of.

Dear KOPD:
Hi, I'm only writing to you. I think I may just stick around for you.
You're a splendid literary critic.
We may have a lot in common, really, as far as cultural influences go.
What actors do you like?
Fire me a joke sometime.
Long ago, I was taught that humor was a good indicator of reading and comprehension skills.
I was also taught to view a writer as a performer.
Has the theory changed?

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ockham's Razor is a worthwhile method of considering many issues but does not offer irrefutable logic.

It doesn't have to, you intellectually dishonest git; the opposite of "unsupportable" is not "irrefutable".

The fact you invoke it twice as an ipso facto justification of your position only elucidates your dogmatism further.

Oh, right, pointing out the justification for my position elucidates my dogmatism! That I have justifications proves that my view is unsupportable!

Fucking dishonest moron.

People like you just replace spiritual religion with materialist religion and then spin everything to fit your preconceived narrative.

This is not only ad hominem, it is retarded.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration.

Strawman; it's been given serious consideration.

Claims of near death experiences would be a prime example of an issue that may have a purely materialistic explanation but to date has not allowed researchers to utterly dismiss an immaterial one as some people here would have them do.

Your intellectual dishonesty is showing. We also cannot utterly dismiss the possibility that invisible fairies guide evolution ... but science isn't in the business of "utterly" dismissing anything, and can't, because you can't prove a universal empirical negative.

The breadth of a phenomenon is not proof of the claim but it certainly a strong basis for taking the evidence more seriously than some random hyperbole you deliberately made up.

Idiotic strawman. First there is no "phenomenon", only belief in the phenomenon. And there is no evidence. But the issue of souls has been taken quite seriously and has received deep scrutiny throughout human intellectual history -- and has been rejected as mistaken and misguided by the rational community, you intellectually dishonest git.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration.

The only "phenomenon" we have evidence of is the psychological phenomenon of people's belief in such things souls and ghosts -- and that phenomenon is worthy of very serious consideration and has received it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@lol8ta_120

I am a fan of actors such an Michael Shanks, Nathan Fillion, Amanda Tapping and Russell Crowe. Mary Lynn Ryjskub has her moments, but she seems to only have one facial expression and it's one that makes her look constipated. But she is pretty good at delivering witty lines with a nice sharp barb to them. I'm a fan of sci-fi shows such as Star Trek and Stargate, though each has spin-offs that I think should have been brutally executed immediately. I do not like long walks on the beach, because I don't like long walks of any kind. Maybe a nice bicycle ride along the boardwalk would be pleasant, but walking bothers my knee. Oh, and I'm an Ares.

Dear Caine:
Please don't take it so personally. I seized on your post because I thought I could fit it into my funny-man, song and dance number.
I came on here to boldly shill for everything I believe in: literacy, living language, reason, ok, ok, ok, poetry.
I furthermore decided to come here to get help with my dilemma: I pray to the Christian God.
Yet I agree with the general tide of the atheist/rationalist movement, love the empirical stuff in so far as I am able to understand it, support their moral reasoning all the way when it comes to the Catholic Church, for example.
It's a collective, let's work together movement, isn't it? I couldn't care less what people here are individually trying to do: I want scientists to sell their stuff.
In case you haven't noticed, people aren't buying.
Why??? I get exercised about it. I hate having boring discussions with people who confuse atheism with a new form of fundamentalism; it's so obviously free-thinking. Fortunately I have a comeback...I usually do.
I think it's laudable to point out instances of other people's confusion, but do it like it counts! And then do it again! Details, I think. Love 'em. They'll make or break a good limerick.

Sigh.
Flowers of Evil...was that Baudelaire? And are you a flaneur?

By lol8ta_120 (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

lol8ta:

Flowers of Evil...was that Baudelaire?

Yes.

And are you a flaneur?

Can't say I am, I don't live urban. I'm also not male.

Off topic posts belong in the endless thread.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

You're not dead until you're forgotten.

Then I guess we should let all the murderers out of prison.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@David Marjanović 96:
Why does that mean the terms should be dropped? There's more to the world than just phylogeny. Although tetrapods evolved from fish, fish have a number of positive characters they lack, like gills. You wouldn't want to use them as a taxon, perhaps, but it makes perfect sense to say our ancestors were fish but we aren't.

In the same way, "monkey" means "primate with a tail". So long as you don't assume that means they form a single evolutionary group, what's misleading about that?

Using a taxon name of course implies that the taxon is monophyletic. That's how we end up with studies of biodiversity that consist of counting genera or families or orders.

"Positive characters"? It's normal for vertebrates to have gills. Only the tetrapods and a few others have lost them. Similarly, it's normal for vertebrates to have a tail; lack of a tail is what's special.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Dobzhansky). "Nothing in evolution makes sense without a good phylogeny" (G. C. Gould & McFadden). You can't make sense of phylogeny if you can't talk about it, and naming paraphyletic taxa is actively misleading in that respect.

If you believe in a scientific theory, you're doing it wrong.

Now you're just playing word games.

What? I consider this an important point; if you take a scientific theory on faith, you're doing it wrong.

Now watch me playing a word game:

I like to remind Christians that they are greedy and cowardly to believe in heaven, and that they should be grateful for the one life they have.

"Grateful"? How, when there's nobody to give thanks to? I'd have said "happy with" instead of "grateful for".

If I go back to sleep for another 10 years, can you guarantee that Big Crunch will still be a dead duck?

It's only science, so I can't guarantee anything – but I hereby bet 10 € on it. :-)

However, when, in addition to asserting that the soul is material and mortal, he (following his idol Epicurus) also tries to argue away the fear of death, the whole project is, I think, misconceived.

The reason why is stated better by Philip Larkin than anyone else I've ever read:

Aubade
by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four

I think you can stop right here. :-)

How I explain my atheism to evangelical christians...

"If I believe Jesus is my personal Lord and saviour, I go to heaven, right?"

"Right!"

"Well, I need to spend eternity in hell so I can comfort and minister to all the souls that ended up there. It is what God wants me to do. So I have to reject Jesus and be an atheist, otherwise I will end up in heaven."

The vacant stare I get in response is fucking awesome!

LOL! Day saved. :-)

To be fair on apes, dolphins have been known to do a lot of this too. And non-ape monkeys. And elephants. Well, maybe not the pack rape part for the elephants - the logistics boggle the mind for that -

LOL! X-D

but hierarchy, clans and war - yep.

War? Among elephants? Reference, please.

How do I get unregistered from this blog?

WTF? You aren't registered at any blog. You have a Movable Type identity.

Also, follow the link in comment 160.

even Hinduism can be undersood (not in it's current polythiestic mode- which is much younger than the Vedas and Upanishads)

The oldest Vedas have gods much like the Greek ones.

Science cannot prove, only disprove.

This really isn't true. e.g., science proved that there are atoms and black holes, and science may prove that there's a Higgs boson.

I wouldn't use the word "prove" about facts, I use it for ideas. Facts aren't proven, they're discovered, I'd say... they're observed, complete with error margins...

I should have been clearer, however.

Just pretend that you will live forever. Keep doing that until you're dead, at which point you will be unscareable.

Brilliant. :-)

the whole idea of Inductive Reasoning upon which science is based

...er, what? Science deducts predictions from ideas and then looks if the predictions can be shown to be wrong. Where the ideas come from – throwing dice, induction, dreaming – doesn't matter.

I couldn't help but notice that you included every major primate group except the lorisiformes. We are not amused. I may be forced to bite you with toxic saliva for this slight.

ARGH! I hate it when I confuse Lemuriformes and Strepsirhini. But, anyway, you'll notice how simplified the entire tree is – lots and lots of extinct clades are omitted. Also, I may be forced to bite back; I have thicker enamel than thou.

I deny the existence of six undetectable things before breakfast.

:-D

Win!

Science is based on inference to the best explanation.

How does this differ from falsification + parsimony?

Neuroscientists themselves debate whether a materialist explanation of consciousness is ever going to be sufficient.

[citation needed]

"Always trolling"? Talk about setting up a perpetual rationalisation for your tone and behaviour. That attitude just exudes insecurity.

What does it matter if truth machine is an annoying asshole? What does it matter if he's scared shitless, as long as he's not scared witless?

What matters is whether he's wrong. As far as I can see, he's not wrong.

Do try to distinguish what people say from how they say it.

If that issue then mates with another god, the issue would be two-thirds god, one-third human

Well, no – three quarters...

It annoys me that blockquote strips line breaks

Write them back in: <br>

Also, this only happens in the first quoted paragraph. Somehow, the ScienceBorg Overlords don't seem to have imagined that anyone would ever quote more than one paragraph at once, it seems...

who or what are Matricites?

Matrix. That's the stem matric- followed by the nominative singular ending -s.

lolidiot

<snort>

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yahoo @ 78 -

"I think I need a crash course on reality. Must everything that we as humans consider truth be verifiable by the scientific method? I take back my silly statements from earlier because I realized how stupid I was for saying them, but I am still confused with what is absolute truth. Growing up as a Christian has distorted my beliefs with what is true. I fear that I could be chastised by my family and friends for refuting the existence of God. I do ask myself whether an afterlife exists because the Bible is just not enough to support its existence. My Christian schoolteachers constantly refer to archaeological evidence to support the existence of supernatural events of the Old Testament. The evidence at first appears very convincing yet my faith quickly turns to doubt. I want to know what is true!"

Kiddo, here's a recommendation:

You'll probably be chastised by your family and friends for it. If your friends chastise you for it, get new ones that are tolerant. If your family chastises you for it, brush it off - your beliefs are your business, not theirs. (For what it's worth, my mother is a christian and my father is kind of quakery; I'm an atheist and the three of us get along fine.)

Yes, everything that posits the existence of something must be verifiable by the scientific method. It occurs to me that if you do not think this is the case, there is a great deal you do not yet know about science. In this case, start getting comfortable with the unknown; don't fear it, embrace it and answer the questions it raises by seeking out knowledge.

By the way, a good deal of archaeology, it turns out, refutes a good deal of biblical stuff - for example, some of the cultural particulars of crucifixion in Roman times (it is unlikely the christians' supposed deity-manifest had nails driven through his palms or through the front of his feet, if he had nails driven through them at all - also, it's doubtful he even existed, and whether or not he did I of course don't think he was anything other than an ordinary old crazy. Also, the word 'chrestos' in those ages meant both 'good' and 'simple-minded', so you can sort of get an idea of what christianity actually thinks about smart people.)

Truth is that which is borne out by evidence. You seek it out and find it out for yourself. You may be let down by those who you thought would support you; you may pick up new allies.

There is nothing depressing about not having an afterlife; after all, we won't be conscious to figure out what happens after we die, and frankly, I'd say your supposed 'heaven' sounds really boring (if it existed, I'd rather go to hell). Plus the purpose we have for our lives is what we give to it. Make your own purpose. Don't be lazy. Living without making a purpose for yourself is laziness.

Oh, and by the way, creationism is bullshit - genetic, molecular, embryological, and fossil evidence prove that we evolve. Apes are far nobler animals than many think, too. Marvel at the beauty of the world around you. If you take a biology class in college, you will learn how beautiful the world is and how much more beautiful it looks through a clear lens. And we're not controlled by 'fate' so much as our brains interacting with the environment and our past experiences. 'Free will' is a bit of an illusion. It's complex, though.

By Katharine (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

re 269:

That's not my experience from the three occasions I've undergone it, and I doubt that it really is yours, as you know that time did elapse, and the brain constantly spins mini-theories to fit against its perceptions. On top of the prior knowledge, there is the shift in location and circumstance upon awakening, and numerous differing somatic states. Even people who awake from comas are aware that time has elapsed, but they are shocked at how much has elapsed.

No, it really was my experience. Opening my eyes seemed to me to occur "instantly" after closing them. Yes, it does then become apparent that time has elapsed, but the experience of awakening seems to have occured almost instantly after becoming unconscious. Of course that is a poor way of saying it, since there is no sensation of unconscious (or becoming unconscious). What I have experience the several times I have had general anesthesia is being awake, then instantly waking up somewhere else. This has never happened to me in sleep, even those times when I'd wake up with no memory of dreaming.

Okay, I do admit I'm talking about "normal" sleep. I have experienced these "micro sleeps" or "instant sleeps" when very sleep deprived and the brain just "shuts off" for a few moments. Those seem to occur with no feeling of time elapsing.

re 253:

On a not totally not unrelated note, i read an article in Discover about the chance or reverse quantum causality, in that when experiments were designed to only weakly perturb the wavefunctions of the systems they studied, they found that thier future measurments affected thier past measurments. Only by enough, however, to be dismissed as rather large error. hopefully someone else has read it and can help out on this (i will have to look it up if i am going to talk in depth about it)

Yes, I read that article, and no I'm not going to help you out. It was a profoundly stupid article only redeemed by the fact that the last few paragraphs said that it is not just dismissed as large error bars but that if they refine the experiment to reduce the error bars the "effect" vanishes. This is just peridaelia (or however it is spelled) they are finding patterns in noise that aren't "really" there. There is still no evidence of "backwards" causality.

Also, the word 'chrestos' in those ages meant both 'good' and 'simple-minded', so you can sort of get an idea of what christianity actually thinks about smart people.

Not sure of the relevance of this. Greek "Christ" is a translation of Semitic "Mesiach" (Messiah) meaning, lit., "annointed". Chrestus/Chrestos was a common given name in the Greek-speaking world at the time, which was taken to mean "good" (hard to see why parents would frequently name their children "simple minded" so I'm going to call [citation needed] on that one, though a conflation of the two concepts is not unheard of: see the etymology of English "silly").

So a certain amount of confusion about the term "Christ" used as a name should be expected on the part of cultural Greeks otherwise unfamiliar with Christianity, but I'm not sure why a corruption of the name should be illustrative of the anti-intellectual streak in Christianity, as much as it certainly was and is a reality.

It annoys me that blockquote strips line breaks

Write them back in: <br>

I tried that. Well, actually what I tried was <br/>. I see what it is now. For some reason <br> and <br /> work, but not <br/>. Strange. Well, thank you for that. Now I know what to do. :-)

"Grateful"? How, when there's nobody to give thanks to? I'd have said "happy with" instead of "grateful for".

David, did you watch the ABC clip of Dawkins' talk at the GAC (first link in the post)? Excerpt:

I'm suggesting we have a similar lust to calculate debt... it's such a powerful lust that it goes off in a vacuum...

Overall, I really like his idea about the instinct to calculate debt/gratitude. He continues:

So that's a possible evolutionary reason why we feel an urge to give thanks even when we know that there is nobody to thank.
By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What? I consider this an important point; if you take a scientific theory on faith, you're doing it wrong.

"believe in" does not imply faith; it just doesn't. Belief is merely assent to a proposition; that assent may be based on reason, or not. For instance, I believe that you are able to comprehend basic English -- I believe that based on evidence. This can be rephrased as "I believe in your ability to comprehend basic English". Of your ability to understand more complicated semantics, such as "believe in" or "prove" or "fact" ...

I wouldn't use the word "prove" about facts. Facts aren't proven, they're discovered, I'd say...

... I'm not so sure. It's a fact that there is no greatest prime, and I can prove it. It's also a fact that I know pi to more than 10 decimals and I can prove it: 3.14159265358979...

How you wouldn't use these words is an irrelevant idiosyncrasy and what you would say about them is mistaken.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

SteveM #402,

I've had a similar experience (or rather an appalling lack of experience). The countdown to unconsciousness was still fresh in my mind even when I bolted awake (I had only made it from "ten" to "nine" before slipping away). It was very disconcerting. Yes, I do think that total cessation of thought under anesthesia is a reasonable comparison to "what it is like to be dead" and the only thing scary about it is the reawakening.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sorry, due to an editing error I omitted some text from a quote above; it wasn't intentional or significant:

I wouldn't use the word "prove" about facts[, I use it for ideas].

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Enjoy your tight-knit community, your cliched slang, and remember that man can never be too surly or turf-obsessed.

this is the third time you've flounced. it's getting boring. make up your mind, are you staying or leaving?

I contend that anyone new looking at that post at 160, which quoted something that made no mention of homophobia, might've concluded that a.human.ape was the more peaceable one, and would not even have bothered with the link.

I'd really love to know why the opinion of a new reader who can't be bothered to follow a single link should matter. it's not good skeptical practice to not follow the given evidence/check footnotes.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jadehawk, see #397 for lolidiot's latest.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Talking about sleep as temporary non-existence, I didn't mean to imply that I completely ceased to exist, I meant that my mind, what I think with and that I recursively think of as "me", shut off and ceased to be self-aware when I slept. I do still say that while sleeping, I cease to be me for a while. I cease to be.

It is sometimes instant and not even noticed, like SteveM on anesthesia. For example, I keep audiobooks on an old speaker cellphone under my pillow for squirrelly nights (seriously, it helps--Frederick Davidson reading PG Wodehouse is my favorite). Some nights when I can't sleep, and am prepared to swear that I never slept a wink, I will notice that the book that I was listening to had apparently "jumped" a chapter or so, instantly.

It isn't the phone malfunctioning, it is me dropping in and out, without even noticing a damned thing. Without the book serving as a timekeeper, I would swear I never slept.

Where was I while Bertie and Bingo consulted Jeeves? I wasn't anywhere. I simply was not. Or not was.

This body continued breathing and storing away the fat, but I wasn't in it. The program to reboot me was there, and I think it worked. After death, I will no longer be, and the reboot program will deteriorate, and this body will continue getting even more disgusting.

I say that what many call the "soul" is "me", the part of this body that notices the itchy feet and slipping glasses. If the soul is something else, I don't give a tuppenny damn what happens to it. And if the "me" ceases to exist after death, I won't be around to notice. And if I continue to exist after death as a disembodied soul, I won't know where to put my hands. And if I wind up in Heaven I will be bored spitless.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jadehawk, see #397 for lolidiot's latest.

saw it, couldn't be bothered with it, since it makes no bloody sense. I hate it when people use "poetical" or stream-of-consciousness writing in information-exchanges. the two forms don't mix well (unless you're Cuttlefish, that is)

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

wow this discussion blew up! 400+ comments!

I agree that fear is what pushes the best person to become spiritual. And I totally understand. The point of life is to live. Yes, that's the whole complicated purpose of life, to survive.

We, just like any other living thing, have programmed deep into our DNA the code to NOT DIE! If you see something bad, defend yourself, run, hide, do something, anything to keep alive! Because that's the goal. Don't die.

But, as self-aware beings, we have observed and understand that we all age and then die. No one can argue that point. Eventually, you WILL die.

Well, dammit, now what do you do?? You freak. Your mind starts blowing through ways to keep alive and then... you're told that you have a soul, and there's an afterlife awaiting your soul on the other end! Yeah! Awesome!

Good job. You've now satisfied your mind into thinking that you won't ever really die. And now you can choose whatever religion satisfies this need the best to your preferred lifestyle. The fear is covered over with prayer to whatever mystical being strikes your fancy.

By anotherhuman (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

it is unlikely the christians' supposed deity-manifest had nails driven through his palms or through the front of his feet, if he had nails driven through them at all -

Are these details even in the Bible to start with?

Also, the word 'chrestos' in those ages meant both 'good' and 'simple-minded'

Well, yes, and plenty of Romans noticed. However, the word you need is "christos", with iota rather than eta; it means "anointed", compare chrisam oil.

peridaelia (or however it is spelled)

Pareidolia.

So that's a possible evolutionary reason why we feel an urge to give thanks even when we know that there is nobody to thank.

Thanks, but... as far as I can tell, I don't feel any such urge. :-)

How you wouldn't use these words is an irrelevant idiosyncrasy and what you would say about them is mistaken.

Right back at you. :-)

... I'm not so sure. It's a fact that there is no greatest prime, and I can prove it. It's also a fact that I know pi to more than 10 decimals and I can prove it: 3.14159265358979...

By "fact" I mean "piece of physical reality", not "piece of math". Math is different – it can prove.

Here is the definition of "fact" I use. (The page is good in general, except for getting the definition of "principle or law" completely wrong.)

saw it, couldn't be bothered with it, since it makes no bloody sense. I hate it when people use "poetical" or stream-of-consciousness writing in information-exchanges. the two forms don't mix well (unless you're Cuttlefish, that is)

Seconded.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jadehawk:

I hate it when people use "poetical" or stream-of-consciousness writing in information-exchanges. the two forms don't mix well

Same here. Yeah, some people can do it well, but lolidiot is not one of them.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What? I consider this an important point; if you take a scientific theory on faith, you're doing it wrong.

Of course, but the issue is the conflation of the word belief to mean faith. I'd argue that it doesn't. To say one "believes" evolution to be true or "believes in" evolution doesn't necessarily imply a faith position.

"We, just like any other living thing, have programmed deep into our DNA the code to NOT DIE! If you see something bad, defend yourself, run, hide, do something, anything to keep alive! Because that's the goal. Don't die."

Technically, if you think about it, it's not so much 'not die' as in 'live long enough to reproduce'.

Some of us don't want to reproduce anyway.

By Katharine (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Are these details even in the Bible to start with?

No. All four gospels have just "they crucified him." John gets into the most detail, reporting that they didn't break his legs because he was already dead (unblemished sacrifice per Exodus 12) and that they pierced his side with a spear, from which blood and water flowed (eucharistic/baptismal imagery).

The later specificity of being nailed to the cross probably arose from the passages in the prophetic literature and the Psalter about the righteous one being pierced. And it makes better torture-porn.

re 419:

No. All four gospels have just "they crucified him." John gets into the most detail, reporting that they didn't break his legs because he was already dead

Gospel of John:

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Katharine @ 418:

Technically, if you think about it, it's not so much 'not die' as in 'live long enough to reproduce'.

Right. The drive is to be healthy enough and live long enough to breed, and to continue living long enough to ensure the safety of your offspring.

Some of us don't want to reproduce anyway.

Yep. I'm childfree, never wanted them. Even so, the basic drive to continue existing is still there, and when you basically derive joy out of your life, you continue to have an incentive to stay alive which goes further than the simple drive to breed.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

re 420:

oops, that was John, chapter 20.

By "fact" I mean "piece of physical reality"

That I know something is a "piece of physical reality" -- it's a fact about the physical states of my brain; sheesh. And again, your restrictions on the use of these words are irrelevant idiosyncrasies -- a "fact" is something that is true; "there is no greatest prime" is a fact, as is "all bachelors are unmarried".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ah, that's right. I'd forgotten that John's post-resurrection Jesus bore the marks of the nails in his hands.

Thanks Steve.

Technically, if you think about it, it's not so much 'not die' as in 'live long enough to reproduce'.

Some of us don't want to reproduce anyway.

Well yeah, that's very true. It's very curious how not everyone wants to reproduce, since that's how our DNA survives. I mean it seems like you give anyone long enough and they'll have a deep desire to have kids.

But then there are a lot of emotionally self-destructive actions we can take upon ourselves. Such as eating poorly, or suicidal depressiveness.

By anotherhuman (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

and that they pierced his side with a spear, from which blood and water flowed (eucharistic/baptismal imagery).

Also a sign that heartbeat had ceased quite some time earlier. The story puts a lot of emphasis on Jesus really dying.

It's very curious how not everyone wants to reproduce, since that's how our DNA survives. I mean it seems like you give anyone long enough and they'll have a deep desire to have kids.

But kids don't come from wanting to have kids. They come from fucking.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

anotherhuman:

I mean it seems like you give anyone long enough and they'll have a deep desire to have kids.

It doesn't work that way. I knew I didn't want kids before I was 10 years old. Some people want them, some don't, some will go either way.

But then there are a lot of emotionally self-destructive actions we can take upon ourselves. Such as eating poorly, or suicidal depressiveness.

Please tell me you aren't being an assclown here and suggesting that not wanting to have kids is an emotionally self-destructive action.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

But kids don't come from wanting to have kids. They come from fucking.

yeah, the whole concept of "wanting kids" has only really become meaningful with the advent of reliable contraception. previously, the only alternative was a convent.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks, but... as far as I can tell, I don't feel any such urge. :-)

It doesn't need to be said that you are an exceptional human being. ;)

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

Here is the definition of "fact" I use.

FACT It is very difficult to define exactly what a fact is. Many popular dictionaries try very hard to define a fact, and most still get it wrong.

This is stupid and arrogant; the dictionary definitions of "fact" are considerably more accurate in their description of linguistic usage than are you and Poling.

But this is a silly sidetrack; you introduced the word "fact" to refer to my examples of " there are atoms and black holes" and "there's a Higgs boson"; those are facts by the definition you offer. And the existence of atoms has been proven by science, as I said. See #376 for how irritating it can be to deny it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

evergreenotter,

So wishful thinking and projection is common across cultures. That's nice, but it really doesn't provide any evidence for the existence of a soul.

Of course, but the issue is the conflation of the word belief to mean faith. I'd argue that it doesn't. To say one "believes" evolution to be true or "believes in" evolution doesn't necessarily imply a faith position.

Correct, as was your previous accusation of word games. Belief does not imply faith and its downright illiterate to claim it does. And we've had this discussion here before ... this would be a good place for SC to step in and note that we should not yield the perfectly good word "believe" to the faithheads, has she has done before.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

KOPD #396

I'm a fan of sci-fi shows such as Star Trek and Stargate, though each has spin-offs that I think should have been brutally executed immediately. I do not like long walks on the beach, because I don't like long walks of any kind. Maybe a nice bicycle ride along the boardwalk would be pleasant, but walking bothers my knee.

Do you like pina coladas?
Getting caught in the rain?
And the feel of the ocean?
And the taste of champagne?
Do you like making love at midnight
In the dunes of the Cape?

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

yeah, the whole concept of "wanting kids" has only really become meaningful with the advent of reliable contraception.

This goes both ways. Every once in a while, it happens that a couple wants to have children but doesn't have any for years, and then it turns out both partners come from so religious families they don't know how to make children. Not everyone finds that out on their own.

A few decades ago, the Yanomami in the Amazon rainforest knew full well about sex, and had lots of it (plenty of rape included), but had no idea it was the cause of pregnancy.

And the existence of atoms has been proven by science, as I said.

It happens that an idea turns out to be a fact. This applies to the Earth being (approximately) spherical, which was a hypothesis in antiquity but is a trivially observed fact nowadays, and to the former hypothesis that atoms exist.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

this would be a good place for SC to step in and note that we should not yield the perfectly good word "believe" to the faithheads, has she has done before.

I don't yield it. I distinguish believe from believe in, and I'm surprised you don't seem to have noticed.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Please tell me you aren't being an assclown here and suggesting that not wanting to have kids is an emotionally self-destructive action.

I figured that comment would strike a nerve. Well forget how I worded it, and just focus on the question of: if we are made to reproduce, why do some of us avoid it? Your answer would be: because I enjoy my life the way it is and don't want/need kids.

Well, ok. Good. Don't do something you don't want to. There are plenty of parents out there, who should not be parents and are raising horrible kids because they didn't want kids to begin with. So it's not whats right or wrong with your decision. I'm just saying you're emotions are taking the lead on that decision, the same way the person who is depressed goes against the almighty desire to live because they are following their emotions, and not their animal instincts.

You want sex because your animal instincts wants to make kids. Even if you think you don't, your body is still trying to make babies every time you get turned on.

By anotherhuman (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

And we've had this discussion here before ... this would be a good place for SC to step in and note that we should not yield the perfectly good word "believe" to the faithheads, has she has done before.

Huh. I thought that was your argument. I was just talking about evidence-based and non-evidenced-based belief on that irritating thread at Thoughts from Kansas and I felt like some of the points were yours. It's been so long I'm confused... Could we (and Knockgoats) really be one another's sockpuppets and just not realize it?

:)

evergreenotter #335

The soul is something humans have been contemplating since recorded history and likely before it. Before you reject that as subjective, consider how much of medical and psychological research relies on people's reported experiences that cannot be physically measured but inform our understanding of a related issue.

When a seemingly immaterial phenomenon occurs in multiple cultural and historical contexts it is worthy of serious consideration.

Intelligent, diligent people have searched for evidence of the soul for millennia. While there's been plenty of wishful thinking, "well, everyone knows...", and dogmatic utterances, actual evidence for souls' existence has been lacking. This doesn't mean souls are absolutely disproved, but it does indicate the probability of souls is vanishingly small.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

A few decades ago, the Yanomami in the Amazon rainforest knew full well about sex, and had lots of it (plenty of rape included), but had no idea it was the cause of pregnancy.

Really?! Are we sure some bad ethnography wasn't involved here? There have certainly been instances in which the subjects of study were found to be having a spot of fun with their observers.

It happens that an idea turns out to be a fact.

Uh, is that supposed to contradict what I said? because it doesn't. Again, science proves things by predicting them and then verifying the predictions.

was a hypothesis in antiquity

Uh, by science predicting atoms I'm talking about Dalton et. al., not Democritus. And again I offer Tiktaalik -- the idea came from science and that it "turned out" to be a fact isn't some random coincidence but rather was a result of valid theory. You can insist that science doesn't prove anything, but you can only support that by playing word games or worse.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

anotherhuman:

I'm just saying you're emotions are taking the lead on that decision, the same way the person who is depressed goes against the almighty desire to live because they are following their emotions, and not their animal instincts.

You're indulging in a lot of wrong here. "Animal instincts" aren't all that great. As for my emotions "taking the lead" in my decision to be childfree? Wrong. It was something I thought about rationally. I do not have an "animal" maternal instinct. I thought about the possibility of breeding anyway, I considered all my options. That's hardly an emotionally led decision. As I said, I knew from a young age I did not want children. I'm now 52. I have never once regretted not breeding.

You want sex because your animal instincts wants to make kids. Even if you think you don't, your body is still trying to make babies every time you get turned on.

Wrong again. I enjoy sex because it's pleasurable. I also enjoy it as another form of intimacy with my partner, whether that partner has been male or female. And wrong on the "my body wants to make babies!" front too. I was sterilized before I was 20, I went through menopause at 36. Before I was sterilized, the thought of possibly becoming pregnant was a *huge* turnoff for me. Always has been.

Anyway, the bottom line is: yes, you are an assclown. You could have said that with way fewer words.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

CJO #439

A few decades ago, the Yanomami in the Amazon rainforest knew full well about sex, and had lots of it (plenty of rape included), but had no idea it was the cause of pregnancy.

Really?! Are we sure some bad ethnography wasn't involved here?

Just another example of anti-storkist dogma.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is no "have kids" instinct. There isn't even a "have sex" instinct. There is a pretty good hardwired stimulus/response pathway between your genitals and your brain. That's been good enough for our evolution.

Long ago, I was taught that humor was a good indicator of reading and comprehension skills.

As recently as post 397, I was reminded of how often a poor, inexperienced, or otherwise-having-a-bad-day comic will resort to inchoate audience-baiting to cover for a routine that's failing.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's methodological anti-storkism.

You want sex because your animal instincts wants to make kids.

The evidence makes it pretty clear that my neighbour's dog's instincts wants it to make baby shins.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I distinguish believe from believe in, and I'm surprised you don't seem to have noticed.

Sorry David, but you are the one who is not noticing . Kel rightly pointed out that you were "playing word games", since you wrote "believe in" in response to Kel's point against conflating belief with faith, which was a response to Al B. Quirky, who only put 'believe' in quotes, not 'believe in'. But go ahead, keep playing if it amuses you.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Another example is "I believe in the efficacy of the scientific method", which means the same thing as "I believe that the scientific method is efficacious", but the latter is a lot more awkward. Both are based on reason and evidence. "believe in" often involves faith but it doesn't necessarily involve faith. To insist that someone who says that they "believe in" a scientific theory is "doing it wrong" based on a restricted interpretation of the words "believe in" rather than on whether they actually have rational reasons to accept the theory is to play word games.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

The cases where "believe in" involve faith are usually statements of existence, since as "I believe in God" or "I believe in the afterlife". But clearly "I believe in the theory of evolution" is not a merely claim that the theory of evolution exists, it's claim that the theory is valid -- a belief that is usually evidnce-based. "I believe in evolution" is an existence claim of sorts, but means something like "I believe that evolution occurs" -- a belief that is usually evidence-based.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm just saying you're emotions are taking the lead on that decision, the same way the person who is depressed goes against the almighty desire to live because they are following their emotions, and not their animal instincts.

Uh, you are aware that emotions are a product of evolution, aren't you? I've seen plenty of people denigrate emotions versus "logic", but this is the first time I've ever seen anyone denigrate them versus "animal instincts".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Huh. I thought that was your argument.

My argument is primarily that belief doesn't imply faith; I seem to recall that you introduced the idea that we were giving in to the faithheads by refusing to use the word, but I could well be mistaken -- I can't find the thread I was thinking of.

I was just talking about evidence-based and non-evidenced-based belief on that irritating thread at Thoughts from Kansas and I felt like some of the points were yours. It's been so long I'm confused... Could we (and Knockgoats) really be one another's sockpuppets and just not realize it?
:)

If so, you have some retracting to do over at Deltoid. :-)

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I figured that comment would strike a nerve.

Pat yourself on the back, then.

Well forget how I worded it,

Fuck you.

if we are made to reproduce,

There's your problem, or one of them. We aren't "made to reproduce." We aren't made to do anything. Purposes do not exist, except in the imagination.

I'm just saying you're emotions are taking the lead on that decision, the same way the person who is depressed goes against the almighty desire to live because they are following their emotions, and not their animal instincts.

Emotions plus rational decision-making are taking the lead, you mean. And there's nothing wrong with that, nothing that qualifies to be equated with poor dietary habits.

Animal instinct in many cases is mediated by emotion, so can hardly be superior to emotion.

The tendency to do whatever one's emotions suggest is so powerful among mammals that it doesn't even need to be transmitted as instinct. Instinct is necessary only for those behaviors that animals would be too fucking stupid to figure out on their own; this does not exactly suggest that instinct is the ultimate purity by which all impure human motivations should be measured.

You want sex because your animal instincts wants to make kids. Even if you think you don't, your body is still trying to make babies every time you get turned on.

PZ beat me to this, but your instincts do not even know what "making babies" entails. Instincts do not know anything, or desire anything. There are not two separate sets of desires, one based in emotion and one based in instinct.

On the contrary, humans have very few instincts. Infants root for a nipple instinctively. That's the only one I can recall, and perhaps an ethologist could list a few more for us, but the list would demonstrate that instincts among humans are few and rarely exhibited.

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

You want sex because your animal instincts wants to make kids.

Have you ever masturbated? Did you do it because your animal instincts want to make kids? How can animal instincts even want anything? That's a category mistake.

Even if you think you don't, your body is still trying to make babies every time you get turned on.

Category mistake, misattributed teleology, and dualistic division between self and body.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM:

Category mistake, misattributed teleology, and dualistic division between self and body.

Yes, yes, yes. Apparently, what I wanted when it came breeding didn't matter. Guess it's a good thing I fought it out with my so-called instincts, eh? Geez.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Though he is right to say that having no soul is not a depressing thing, it is hard to take someone seriously on a discussion of this nature when half his discussion consists of emotive language. It sounds more like an angry rant than like a reasoned discourse.

Regardless, religion is not irrelevant; research shows that it has useful societal and psychological functions. Psychologically, religion reduces stress and helps people deal with emotional trauma and decision making. Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms, promotes societal solidarity, and provides a basis for morality.

I don't really want to dig through my lecture notes to find references right now, but if you search APA and ASA publications, you'll find studies on it.

Also, going by the principle's in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life", atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

By matthewpopester (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

[Yay! strange gods is back! (Got your email btw, but have been incommunicative for a while now for a number of reasons. Plan to write soon.)]

My argument is primarily that belief doesn't imply faith; I seem to recall that you introduced the idea that we were giving in to the faithheads by refusing to use the word, but I could well be mistaken -- I can't find the thread I was thinking of.

Ah, now that I think about it, I believe (:P) you're right. I do recall making that argument.

If so, you have some retracting to do over at Deltoid. :-)

I may well. You pretty much took the words out of my fingertips in your comment to Lee this afternoon.

:)

it is hard to take someone seriously on a discussion of this nature when half his discussion consists of emotive language.

You poor thing. Want me to kiss it and make it better?

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Regardless, religion is not irrelevant;

Irrelevant, illogical, and unnecessary. Sounds like religion. Not needed buy intelligent rational folks.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks, SC! Feels good to be noticed. :)

Yay! strange gods is back!

Intermittently, and still busy as hell.

(Got your email btw, but have been incommunicative for a while now for a number of reasons. Plan to write soon.)

No problem!

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

matthewpopester @ 455:

provides a basis for morality.

You think so, do you? Tell me, how do you feel about the standards of morality the catholic religion lays down? Child abuse, child rape, aiding, abetting and covering up criminal actions, spending obscene amounts of money to tell people that condoms are not effective in HIV prevention, leading to a consistent stream of deaths, channeling money into making sure gay marriage won't happen, refusing shelter, food and medical aid to the ill and dying unless they accept god according to catholicism and so on?

Yeah, that's a fine basis for morality, you dimwitted apologist.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Matthewpopester said:

Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms, promotes societal solidarity, and provides a basis for morality.

Oh, that's a good joke. The social norm that priests and bishops, cardinals and popes are holy men, who are irreproachable.

Psychologically, religion reduces stress and helps people deal with emotional trauma and decision making.-matthewpopester

You cannot generalize that from one possibly true case to all religions for all people.

Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms, promotes societal solidarity, and provides a basis for morality.

OK, now you are just lying.

atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

Typical theist fumble. By putting it that way, by using the equation of atheism with religion to denigrate atheism, you cheapen your own religion.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

It sounds more like an angry rant than like a reasoned discourse.

"Air is mainly composed of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, which together constitute the major gases of the atmosphere."

"Fucking air is mainly composed of nitrogen, that shit-fucking gas oxygen, and argon, which together constitute the major motherfucking gases of the atmosphere, assholes!"

By gum, the first is truer than the second! Thanks, Dr. Tone!

Regardless, religion is not irrelevant; research shows that it has useful societal and psychological functions. Psychologically, religion reduces stress and helps people deal with emotional trauma and decision making.

Slavery helps everyone take a load off (well, not the slaves). Are people in error when they argue against it?

Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms, promotes societal solidarity, and provides a basis for morality.

So does racism and genocide. Nothing says societal solidarity like ethnic homogeneity.

Also, going by the principle's in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life", atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

Did Durkheim call atheism a religion that worships science and reason, or are you making an appeal to authority? If not, then please describe how atheism fits Durkheim's criteria, paying attention to explaining the existence atheists who care not a fig for science and reason.

For someone who places so much primacy on religious belief and then goes on to call us believers, you certainly aren't very accommodating of our rituals.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

Typical theist fumble.

Yes. I've come to loathe the atheists worship
parroting line as much as the atheists=hedonistic lifestyle parroting line.

Both of them are cop-outs as well as being stupid. I don't worship anything. If I felt I needed to worship, I'd be a theist.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't worship anything. If I felt I needed to worship, I'd be a theist.

It's pretty damning of theist's beliefs, if they'd ever stop quoting others long enough to think on it.

See, what "atheism is just another religion" means is that they think deep down everybody needs to worship something, and thus it hardly matters what that something is.

It places one's religious beliefs on par with where somebody was born. "Hell, as long as I was gonna believe in something (I mean, everybody's got a religion, even those atheists) it might as well b—hey, that's not fair; my religion is true!"

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

matthewpopester wrote:

It sounds more like an angry rant than like a reasoned discourse.

Funny, it looks like both to me. The two aren't mutually exclusive to the intellectually honest.

Regardless, religion is not irrelevant; research shows that it has useful societal and psychological functions.

Do these studies you allude to specify why such benefits can only be achieved via religion and that the same 'useful functions' could not be achieved by other, secular means?

Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms and promotes societal solidarity..

Are all societal norms good things? Racism was a 'societal norm' in a 'solid society', after all; homophobia and sexism, sadly, still are in many places - mostly because of religion.

...and provides a basis for morality.

Wrong. Religion has simply taken credit for the morality resulting from human social evolution and given it to gods - much like the gods were once also responsible for thunder, lightning and rainbows. Now that we understand nature better we can stop giving credit where it isn't due, and put it back where it belongs - with evolution.

atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

A stone may 'seem' to keep away tigers* - to someone lacking in critical thinking skills. And, as others have noted, by making such a statement you're criticising in atheism something you consider a virtue in religion - why?

*Hat-tip to The Simpsons for that particular analogy. I don't want to pay the Bear Tax, either.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine,

Yeah. It is almost like they know that we have something better (evidence to point to for our beliefs [see the discussion about beliefs above] and liberation from the Irate Sky Ape perhaps?) and they are jealous of it. I wonder what it means to "worship something" to people like matthewpopster.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

For someone who places so much primacy on religious belief and then goes on to call us believers, you certainly aren't very accommodating of our rituals.

Lol!

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Brownian, OM @ 466:

It places one's religious beliefs on par with where somebody was born. "Hell, as long as I was gonna believe in something (I mean, everybody's got a religion, even those atheists) it might as well b—hey, that's not fair; my religion is true!"

Amen. I'm always struck by just how weak they always make their "great faith" out to be.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Complaining about my "emotive language," too. Fuck you very much, Mr Spock, another of my least favorite stereotypes.

it is hard to take someone seriously on a discussion of this nature when half his discussion consists of emotive language. It sounds more like an angry rant than like a reasoned discourse

Emotion is not antithetical to reason. And in re this specific article, the denial that it is reasoned is intellectually dishonest, and simply looks like a rationalization for dismissal as not serious.

atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason

You seem not to know the meanings of most of those words. Atheism is the disbelief in gods (and, often, souls), not a form of totemism, and valuing or appreciating something, or even taking it as a principle, is not the same as worshipping it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What am I, PZ's sockpuppet?

:-)

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

matthewpopester #455

Also, going by the principle's [sic] in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life", atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

Émile Durkheim's essence of religion is the concept of the sacred, that being the only phenomenon which unites all religions.¹ Sacred can be defined as "considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspiring awe or reverence among believers in a given set of spiritual ideas."²

"'A religion', writes Durkheim, 'is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.'"³

I have never read Durkheim, only Pals' commentary on him. However, it appears to me atheism fails to meet Durkheim's definition of religion. I can intellectually understand the concept of sacred but I, personally, don't find anything to be sacred. As for "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things," I don't have one. "There's no evidence for deities" is too simple a belief to have any practices relative to it.

There's the further point that not all atheists are rational materialists who "worship science and reason." In fact, I don't know of anyone who "worships science and reason." Nope, we don't pass muster for a Durkheimian religion.

¹Daniel Pals, Seven Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Page 54.

²Ibid.

³Op cit, page 58.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

I wonder what it means to "worship something" to people like matthewpopster.

I don't know. I do know that people who go through life feeling as though every tiny action must be given up to a god, in order to glorify said god are beyond sad and pathetic.

It's a real shame to live life like that; never being responsible for a single thing, running under the assumption that every iota of daily minutiae is all god god god god god god god god.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, in the matrix, you're everyone's sockpuppet!

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Googling for "bear tax" reveals the damage this unnecessary tax is wreaking upon small businesses.

"bear tax compliance costs"

"bear tax service"

"bear tax burdens"

"bear tax amnesty plan"

Amnesty or no, this bear tax is fundamentally an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment. I'm angry enough to become a teabagger.

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine @460:

Tell me, how do you feel about the standards of morality the catholic religion lays down?

Oh, all those little children tempting those innocent priests into raping them were weapons of the Devil, who, along with those Christ-killing Jewish folk are trying to take down the One True Church™. The OTC's morality and standards are pure and superior, what with being God-given and all, but ever since that Eve woman and the pomegranate apple, life has been soooo hard for priests righteous men who are constantly being lured, seduced, bewitched and otherwise forced into violating their Very Good and Moral beliefs.

[I have this bridge, goes both ways, Brooklyn/Manhattan..]

By DominEditrix (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine, Fleur du mal #475

It's a real shame to live life like that; never being responsible for a single thing, running under the assumption that every iota of daily minutiae is all god god god god god god god god.

matthewpopester's god is likely to be an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being who's deeply concerned about matthewpopester's sex life.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

What am I, PZ's sockpuppet?

Brilliant. Still laughing.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I mean it seems like you give anyone long enough and they'll have a deep desire to have kids.

It seems like you abandoned this silly claim.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Psychologically, religion reduces stress and helps people deal with emotional trauma and decision making.

Speak for yourself and yourself alone.

Because it was not so for me. In fact reducing stress and healing from severe trauma was not helped in any way by religion for me, and in fact getting away from religion helped me tremendously.

I really learned to value my life more, and recognize how I had not taken control of my own life. Powerlessness, learned helplessness, dependence on men, all these things I had to learn to conquer. Religion didn't help me make a single good decision in my life. It just didn't.

Recognizing how and why I was in so much pain, and then figuring out what to try and do about it has taken a lot of time.

Realizing that I have one shot at life to try and take care of myself meant a lot more, realizing that I don't inherently have less potential or less intrinsic worth than some people helped a lot, and realizing I could act to try and control at least some of my life helped a lot. Not to mention that, also recognizing that other people all around me are reacting and changing due to their own life experience helped me to forgive, and forgiveness (although not in a mistake-repeating way) is important because it hurts to carry around too much anger.

Dunno about the rest of that junk but I think religion gets way too much credit for psychological healing. It takes real work that you do yourself and no amount of self-delusion will help you when you really have to face your own problems honestly.

DominEditrix @ 478:

ever since that Eve woman and the pomegranate apple, life has been soooo hard for priests righteous men who are constantly being lured, seduced, bewitched and otherwise forced into violating their Very Good and Moral beliefs.

Oh, that's right. Thank you for reminding me, it's all our fault, having the nerve to exist with girly bits. I don't know what old El Shaddai was thinking, he should have done the smart thing and blitzed the evil of female right off the planet, and set up half the men with handy birthin' bits. Then there would be no problems at all. Yep.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

'Tis Himself, OM:

matthewpopester's god is likely to be an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being who's deeply concerned about matthewpopester's sex life.

You're probably right. To me, that's an excellent reason to drop the god myth.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

If we had no true purpose than why isn't everybody behaving like the primates we evolved from?

My mom makes this argument some times but not about evolution, she's ok with that. Just about needing there to be a reason, a point, and for her she can't accept most reasons (heck she's not even happy with God wants it).

I'm not sure how to approach those kinds of questions because there's always just "been" for me, and that's meant a lot. I mean there are lots of reasons so I have trouble understanding why there has to be some supreme reason and why all the little reasons can't matter enough for some.

But I'd ask you, if you're still around, what a "true purpose" is anyway? And why you assume other primates wouldn't have one if there was one?

This goes both ways. Every once in a while, it happens that a couple wants to have children but doesn't have any for years, and then it turns out both partners come from so religious families they don't know how to make children. Not everyone finds that out on their own.

just how sexually repressed (or repulsed by your spouse, i suppose) do you have to be to not accidentally figure this out?

rubbing against each other is fun; rubbing against each other naked is even more fun. and once you get there, sex sooner or later just happens.

do they just refuse to ever get naked, thus never get to the rubbing genitals part?

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ol'Greg, the 17 year old who made the primate comment did come back and confess to a great deal of doubt in regard to his christian beliefs. A lot of people offered help and suggestions; he/she hasn't been back since.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jadehawk, remember the 'Secret Garden' post? The nun or whatever explained that you get babies by embracing your lawfully wedded husband? If people have been brought up sufficiently smothered sheltered, they can literally think it's all about the huggin'.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

If people have been brought up sufficiently smothered sheltered, they can literally think it's all about the huggin'

Yeah, but such beliefs can come about quite innocuously.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Though he is right to say that having no soul is not a depressing thing, it is hard to take someone seriously on a discussion of this nature when half his discussion consists of emotive language. It sounds more like an angry rant than like a reasoned discourse.

tone-troll

Regardless, religion is not irrelevant; research shows that it has useful societal and psychological functions. Psychologically, religion reduces stress and helps people deal with emotional trauma and decision making. Sociologically, it reinforces societal norms, promotes societal solidarity, and provides a basis for morality.

um... no. community has useful sociological and psychological functions. And in a society otherwise as fractured and enamored with the myth of individualism, religion is one of the last existing communities.

I don't really want to dig through my lecture notes to find references right now, but if you search APA and ASA publications, you'll find studies on it.

do those notes of yours mention the difference between toxic (exclusive) community, and healthy (inclusive) community? because in many cases, religion tends towards the former more than the latter, especially in the USA.

Also, going by the principle's in Durkheim's "Elementary Forms of the Religious Life", atheism seems to be a religion that worships science and reason.

projection. nobody is worshiping anything. there's nothing "sacred", no unified (or otherwise) system of beliefs,and there's no unifying moral guidelines of atheism. you totally fail on this one.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ol'Greg, the 17 year old who made the primate comment did come back and confess to a great deal of doubt in regard to his christian beliefs. A lot of people offered help and suggestions; he/she hasn't been back since.

Oh well. Sorry for skimming. I wish him well.

Jadehawk, remember the 'Secret Garden' post? The nun or whatever explained that you get babies by embracing your lawfully wedded husband? If people have been brought up sufficiently smothered sheltered, they can literally think it's all about the huggin'.

no amount of facepalming can do justice here

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

just how sexually repressed (or repulsed by your spouse, i suppose) do you have to be to not accidentally figure this out?

I don't know about contemporary examples that don't involve mental impairment, but supposedly (and this could be one of history's great fables) Anne of Cleaves truly did not understand that she could not get pregnant from being held or kissed by Henry VIII, which probably helped her ego a bit considering Henry apparently found her completely unattractive.

It's not unthinkable that some one who isn't that sexual by nature could be raised also with so little understanding of it that they don't notice.

PZ Myers #471 :

". . .Mr Spock, another of my least favorite stereotypes."

I know what you mean -- Spock was too often McCoy or Kirk's whipping boy "Damn you and your Logic, Spock!" -- but he was one of my favorite characters, insisting on a logical reason for any belief, and always cool under the worst of circumstances. Perhaps my fondness for the Mr Spock character is Illogical, but I always liked him.

truth machine:

Yeah, but such beliefs can come about quite innocuously.

Oh yes, they can. In cases like that though, it's not a deliberate smothering, it's more a case of convenience until a child is older.

There were girls I went to catholic school with who were subject to intense conditioning and sheltering on the sex front. The only thing these girls knew, upon becoming women and getting married was that now, somehow or another, a baby would happen. They had no knowledge whatsoever in regard to the act of sexual intercourse.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Every once in a while, it happens that a couple wants to have children but doesn't have any for years, and then it turns out both partners come from so religious families they don't know how to make children. Not everyone finds that out on their own.

Sometimes even turning to the web doesn't help.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Had to check out that dogpile on a.human.ape. I totally skipped the whole "I wouldn't miss it if there were no gay men in the world" flame war from the link @160. Guess ape didn't make the dungeon yet. That whole thing was a trip down the rabbit hole of severe emotional disorder. This homo's totally signing up for Josh's Fightin' Faggots™ Brigade [NorCal Troop Nº42.]

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink