Monday, 23 July 2012

Atheism Goes Pantheist

People often ask where the line between technology and magic lies. Let's stretch this just a little further: Where is the line between atheism and cosmic humanism/pantheism?

If atheism is defined solely as the lack of belief in a personal God, that is, in a God-being, then there's nothing confusing. But atheism usually entails so much more than that. Typically atheists also rule out anything "supernatural" as an extension of their no-god belief. Spirits, psychics, prayer, miracles, etc. are all rejected out-of-hand. On occasion you may meet atheists who believe in ghosts or positive energies or something like that, but so far as I can gather, they're abnormal, and will probably be considered weirdos and not true atheists by anti-supernatural atheists. Only science reigns supreme.

But then we hit the quantum realm, and suddenly science is positing some really strange supernatural ideas. Not supernatural in the sense of "we can't explain this, therefore, God" but in the sense of "this seems to function kind of like religion has always supposed". Like psychic phenomena and vibes. Like prayer, multiple dimensions and reverse causality. Little, if not nothing, is proven, and in some cases these ideas and theories are relegated to the realm of fringe pseudo-science, but many of them are gaining ground and moving in from the fringes.

Technically, an atheist shouldn't have any trouble with the idea of these phenomena since they're being described as science, not magic. And yet, I wouldn't be surprised if most atheists scoff at these ideas without even checking to see how credible the research might be. Why? Because science or not, accepting these ideas would be like saying the primitive superstitious people may have been right about some things.

On the other hand, if they don't scoff at them, and believe that the research is credible, then they start sounding less like atheists and more like pantheists or cosmic humanists. I guess the issue here is could an atheist believe in a Star Wars-type Force without engaging in doublethink?

If, and it is a large if, the supposed science behind these theories is demonstrated to be mostly correct, then it'll be one of those really weird paradoxical cases where two completely opposing points of view amount to basically the same thing.

So, is there a line between atheism and pantheism? Or are they the same, differing only in the angle with which a person views the world? How strangely relativistic.

Calvin seems to have forgotten that atheists generally love math...

Calvin: You know, I don't think math is a science. I think it's a religion.
Hobbes: A religion?
Calvin: Yeah. All these equations are like miracles. You take two numbers and when you add them, they magically become one new number! No one can say how it happens. You either believe it or you don't. This whole book is full of things that have to be accepted on faith! It's a religion!
Hobbes: And in the public schools no less. Call a lawyer.
Calvin: As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.

ETA: As an aside, now having done two seconds of research, it appears that Richard Dawkins states that pantheism is just "sexed-up atheism". I wonder if he would be able to swallow a revelation of a capital F "Force", or if he's just referring to a respect for all nature.

3 comments:

Aimee said...

Just because quantum mechanics is non-intuitive to previous physical models and regimes does not immediately lend itself to a supernatural interpretation and labelling as a so-called "religion". Can you define this supernatural fringe quantum regime and clarify how it differs from widely accepted quantum mechanics?

My point: just because quantum mechanics is strange and confusing does not immediately point to the existence of God.

On the otherhand, you would enjoy the book, "How the hippies saved physics".

Carla said...

I agree with your point. How does that relate to my post?

MY point was that science is beginning to describe effects that were earlier considered supernatural and therefore impossible. As a result, the natural universe itself could be said to be "supernatural" - a sort of pantheist view. Which in this case is the same as the atheist view.

Art said...

I think many people fail to appreciate that they or we do not have complete information or understanding. If something happens outside our realm of limited understanding, people will consider it a miracle or a coincidence or even deny it happened.

I wonder if atheists can believe in extra-terrestrials? If an advanced space being visited earth with super knowledge of physics and could do whatever he wanted and no one could successfully oppose him - would that make the being a "God"? If no one can oppose the being, doesn't that make him supreme?