Religion

Conversation with a Spiritualist

I am an atheist. I can say it here. I can say it to other atheists. But can I stand up for myself to a believer? Not quite yet.

I’m pretty sure PS knows I’m an atheist, but I can’t seem to admit it in conversation yet. Instead, I say, “an atheist would think…’ or “They tend to say…”

We were having a discussion about religion and spirituality. We both agreed that religion and spirituality are different things. PS claims that atheists are denying part of reality. She says that we as humans have a connection to a higher power, to something greater than ourselves, and denying God or Goddess is denying a major part of life. I believe that connection is an illusion. Just because you feel a connection doesn’t mean its there.

We managed to agree that an individual human is more valuable (for undefined values) than an individual tree, but that if we cut down all the trees it would be bad. However, PS seems to believe that there is some mystical force or energy that determines what is alive and what is not, and that being alive connects all living things and that she can feel it. I believe that she may very well feel that, but that we are only connected to other living things in the ways that we actually interact with them.

I believe that anybody can convince themselves that they feel a connection, or no connection. Senses are fallible. Optical illusions, extremes of temperature feeling opposite, feeling bugs crawling at a suggestion. I once “heard” a piano cadenza when a doctor walked into my hospital room.

For good or ill, we didn’t get much further than stating our positions. I think we were both polite as well, since we value each others friendship despite disagreeing on the spiritual aspect of life.

You may have noticed I used the words “I believe” several times. There seems to be a lack of evidence as to the connection I’ve been talking about, but it is an untestable question. If you can feel a connection, but not do anything with it or feel changes in it, its rather hard to test. I prefer to dismiss non-falsifiable feelings as tricks of the mind. PS prefers to accept this one as real.

My introspection on these questions leads me to consider the nature of reality. I believe the world I see and feel is reality and not a giant dream. I believe that I am human, self-aware and able to communicate with other humans. I believe that there is a body of scientific literature that has tested many hypotheses and theories over the years. I believe that the people I see around me have their own thoughts and feelings and that I don’t make them up. I choose to accept as real those things which I could theoretically observe, given time and equipment, in the world that perceive with my senses.

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18 Comments

  1. Its hard to argue with theist when the discussion is about how they view the world around them. It is difficult to come up with a reasonable answer to them that they are having a subjective point of view that is not testable or reliable. I find it is better to just listen to them and then if it is possible to change the focus point of the discussion to some thing that is concrete and not so subjective. I had a “discussion” with a fellow worker that I am friends with. He said that he thinks there is a god because he sees a face in the moon and every one says that they can see a face in the moon. I told him that that was subjective and was just the way humans tend to see patterns. It wasn’t until I said that it was a matter of resolution and if you look at a close up of the moon you wouldn’t see a face that he backed off a little bit. I find that people believe what they believe and it is hard to change their point of view.

  2. Shouldn’t be too difficult to test. See if she can “feel connections” with plants in closed boxes, for example, and then randomly fill boxes with plants or empty pots and have her pick out the boxes with plants. You could easily think of other possible tests as well.

    Personally, I doubt this PS person has even thought of the possibility that her claims could be tested at all.

  3. I’m with Beowulff. Also, does she think that the people Schizophrenics are conversing with are really there, in some magical realm that non-schizophrenics can’t perceive, or does she realize that it’s chemicals in their brains?

    There are people out there who think that DMT is getting them in touch with a literal other realm, rather than doing weird stuff to their brains. They think that because a lot of the hallucinations are similar in different people (like the little pixie faced elves), that this is evidence of the elves’ veracity – not evidence of the similarity of people’s brains, and that a chemical can do similar things.

    Occam’s razor, people. Sharpen it up!

  4. My introspection on these questions leads me to consider the nature of reality. I believe the world I see and feel is reality and not a giant dream.

    You, my admired fellow atheist, have it right there. We just need to tell folks that reality is a better high than bologna.

  5. Amusing to hear of a spiritualist accusing someone else of denying reality.

    “However, PS seems to believe that there is some mystical force or energy that determines what is alive and what is not, and that being alive connects all living things and that she can feel it.”

    Ask PS to define energy. It is a word new agers have hijacked and placed into their rhetoric to confuse and obfuscate. In science energy means something. In “spiritualism” it mean what? A feeling? Perhaps she has gas.

    Tell PS not to use words that PS doesn’t understand. It makes PS look stupid. I have no time for intellectually lazy people.

  6. To add onto what Mjhavok said, you could get slightly geeky and tell her that by definition, this energy would be a new, yet-to-be-discovered-force. It would be every scientist’s wet dream to prove the existence of a new force — we’re talking instant Nobel Prize for what would be the discovery of the century. But… no such thing has ever been detected. We have instruments that can measure forces many orders of magnitude less than what humans can feel, yet this powerful life force seems to hide from all sensors. PS will, of course, state that this is not anything that can be tested scientifically, which is your cue to change the topic to the most recent season of Survivor.

  7. I’m with Beowulff as well,

    In fact, I’m with anyone named after Beowulfe.

    But seriously though,

    A great idea and a great protocol.

    Your friend will fail and feel like a fool. Make sure you’re okay with that, before testing.

    Otherwise, go for it.

    rod

    Heck, I’d bet them a whole dollar, if it was me. You heard me, one week’s pay.

    rod

  8. “We managed to agree that an individual human is more valuable (for undefined values) than an individual tree, but that if we cut down all the trees it would be bad.”

    Killing all the trees would pretty well destroy the entire ecosystem of the planet. As would killing all the ants, say. But kill all the humans and just watch the Earth flourish! This “energy” your friend feels may be just a collective “Fuck off” from all the other denizens.

  9. This “energy” your friend feels may be just a collective “Fuck off” from all the other denizens.

    All around me, I can feel the energy of the entire biosphere giving me the finger.

  10. @Briarking

    Actually no. I generally think higher cognitive functions are wasted on humans, we are tribalistic and selfish but without us who would see meaning in anything, ? It would just be the propagation of nucleic acid with nothing understanding. No beauty as there would be no brain to hold that abstract concept.

    Also the Earth isn’t alive. Life on the surface of it is. The vast majority of the Earth is dead and exists with or without life. I think the crust of the Earth which we inhabit from the Marianas trench to Mount Everest is about 12 KM. The diameter of the Earth is about 6,000KM. We might be destructive to a lot of ecosystems but we have created new ecosystems. For instance rats and pigeons now inhibit anywhere humans are. I am not saying our actions are right but people are quick to say remove humans and this will happen. We wouldn’t be here without a catastrophic mass extinction event and life was just fine after that. It survived.

    People need to shrug off that terrible remake (TDTESS)with Keanu Reeves. It was full of bad science and bad philosophy.

  11. Having grown up in a country where up to 1990 religion was pers… well, re non grata, it was initially pretty hard for me to understand why someone would have trouble defending the atheistic outlook, since it’s obviously the norm and one must actually be careful not to be too condescending toward people who do go to church.

    I have a friend who ‘feels’ the ‘energy’ in things and persons. Any attempt to systematically analyze this is met by anger, since skepticism is obviously just thinly veiled cynicism, and it’s insulting, and it destroys the ‘vibe’.

  12. “…believe that there is some mystical force or energy that determines what is alive and what is not, and that being alive connects all living things and that she can feel it.” = “The Force surrounds us and binds us together, said Obi-Wan!”
    Damn. And I thought that was duct tape.

    The old “energy” dodge again. So where it this energy?

  13. It’s all quite simple to explain, really. Since we don’t live in an environment at zero kelvin, there is, quite literally, energy all around us. Of course, that doesn’t mean there is some spiritual aspect to it, only that it is there. The mind fills in the blank spaces when it cannot explain by deduction and reason – hence ghosts, monsters, spiritual energy, etc.

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