Monday, March 23, 2009

Once in a while I get drawn into those debates...

As I said on Facebook and Twitter, I had an argument about atheism at the Ethical Society gathering. The other person said every atheist will experience God during their lifetime, just like everybody experiences love, even the people who say they don't believe in it.

Contrary to what some people said on Facebook, this guy was not at all an idiot; he seemed quite smart. But his argument was not very well thought out, even if it was superficially based on the latest neurological discoveries. Basically he said that God, like love, is one of those things human brains are hardwired to experience. I know God belief is not hardwired into everybody's brains, and I'm not even sure love is. There is a minority of people who never fall in love, much as they would like to. The same way, even as neuroscientists have found some evidence that many (if not most) people's brain have a "God module", there is a sizeable minority who do not "experience" God. It's possible that it comes down to differences in brain wiring, though I don't know how that would explain all the deconverted former theists (of which I met many). Maybe their former religious beliefs came from social conditioning, not from a direct, mystical experience of the ineffable. :-)

So I asked the guy to clarify in what sense does everyone "experiences God". Maybe he meant it in a primarily secular sense, such as "awe at the beauty and mystery of the natural world". Most people, including atheists, get that feeling that at some point. Some choose to call that God, but in reality that's a perfectly secular experience. But the guy declined to clarify. He said, how would you explain to a deaf person what music is? It's something that you know when you find it. I said, if you start from a position that experience of God can't be explained in rational words, then this argument is meaningless. If we don't have the language to talk about it, you can't present any arguments supporting your opinion, nor can I present arguments supporting mine. And so the topic was exhausted. We were too nice to ruin the afternoon going at each other's throats. :-)

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1 comment:

swifty32661 said...

I beg to differ, the guy was an idiot. I think you can very easily explain music to a deaf person. You can explain sound waves, different frequencies, explain how different notes refer to different frequencies, etc.

I think you can also explain the experience as well.

The reason you can do this is you have a frame of reference that anyone can refer to.

Relating explaining "god" to an atheist the same as explaining to music to a deaf person is ridiculous.

If the guy could define specifically what he meant by "experiencing god" then maybe you could have a conversation and have it explained to you :)