mojo - Have you been following the leading atheists on the Internet, and seen the videos on YouTube?
I'm not sure what your exposure is yet. I don't even know where to start with your topic. TheThinkingAtheist on YT is always fun. Here's a video by him about "giving credit". The answer to your topic is complex. We'll have fun with it!
Wow, that's a big topic that I won't do justice to after a few glasses of wine. But there are a couple of books that really shaped my thinking on related topics.
In 2001, Pascal Boyer published Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. It explains how people acquire and why they hold on to superstitious ideas. His frame of reference is cultural anthropology. It's a long, hard read -- pretty heady stuff -- but worth the effort.
In 2002, Michael Shermer, published Why People Believe Weird Things. He touches on religious belief in that book and has a brand new book which I haven't read yet. He's the editor of Skeptic magazine, and his writing is very accessible.
I also have a collection of DVDs of Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campell in the late 80's called The Power of Myth. He understands why folklore is so impactful in capturing the hearts and stirring the imagination of people. As an atheist, he just doesn't take the stories literally. He really understands the metaphors. That man is deep.
In my experience, fundamentalists/creationists put more emphasis on feeling (vs. thinking), in faith (vs. reason), in religion (vs. science), in the Bible (vs. evidence), in obedience (vs. freethought), etc. It seems that you are asking the million dollar question, "but why?"
I think they're hard wired that way, just like the difference between extrovert/introvert. I think there was an evolutionary advantage to primitive man that supported his superstition. Man has been around for tens of thousands of years, but scientific thinking is a relative new comer, and frankly really hard, and still pretty rare. Wishful thinking happens all the time.
Someone once described being an atheist like being the only sober person in the car, but no one will give you the keys. I sometimes feel that way. My preferences are for all the other things -- reason, science, etc. -- but then I remember that my Myers-Briggs scores and worldview is shared by very few people.
Mark: Your statement about the subjective nature of religious experience (feeling vs thinking) is an important one to examine. Faith is a kind of wishful thinking and must function to provide a sense of emotional security and control perhaps?
Scientists cannot study Supernatural events....outside of the material, physical, natural realm. Neurologists can, however, study what the human brain does during 'spiritual experiences' like meditation ....and, from what I've learned....the parts of the brain that 'light up' are near the areas that light up in addicts...pleasure centers that also get activated listening to music.
Religion still provides something people seem to need. Physically and emotionally need. I no longer needed religion at the same age I no longer needed authority figures (age 23 or so, I started seriously questioning my beliefs.) I could understand why religion was both useful and harmful on the individual and group level. And I also could understand how once faith/superstition is gone, it's not just going to magically reappear by attending religious services or 'going through the motions'. At this time, at age 48, I am not spiritual at all. And it is a relief to me.
Like you, I also feel like my worldview is rare and I'm certainly in the minority opinion in my daily life! That's why I'm grateful for this forum.
I agree with your comments completely. I wonder if I was ever a moral absolutist. But certainly wouldn't describe myself that way today.
My Myers-Briggs scores are over the top "thinker" so my wife has to constantly remind me that the human condition isn't all about black and white hard science (although I certainly think that can explain it). I too would never consider myself "spiritual" but have been told that multiple times throughout my life.
My wife has to remind me of why "spiritual" makes sense to others even on a poetic or metaphorical level. I tend to get very literal, because having been brought up Catholic, educated by Jesuits, etc., I know how loaded the language is when you say "spirit," "soul," etc.
I LOVE music. Your point about music is really interesting to me. When I want to not think, when I want to just relax, I am, in fact, addicted to music. Apparently my "Holy Trinity" is John Lennon, Paul Weller, and Morrissey.
I recently read a tweet where someone was saying that going back to beleiving in god was about as likely as the person they were talking to going back to believing in Santa. I too can't imagine it. I'm 46, don't consider myself spiritual, and yes, it's a relief to me too.
Mark: Are you familiar with Oliver Sacks? If you're interested in a great book or haven't already read it, read "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain". After I heard Sacks' NPR interview I pretty much went out and bought the book immediately! I also enjoyed his book, "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat"..great title, huh?
I guess I think of 'spiritual' in strictly religious terms. I certainly hope not being spiritual doesn't make me less 'human' or less emotionally attached to people and the world around me. I often wonder, however, if my lack of religious connection makes me a kind of outsider and a spectator rather than a participant!
Although sociology is not considered a 'hard' science, I can definitely point to the social sciences as the basis for my atheism in my 20's. Studying religion as a social phenomenon helped me to see it as a universal human behavior. But being universal doesn't make it fact-based! Hearing all the similar 'creation stories' across cultures opened my mind to the fact that early humans seemed to have a strong desire to understand their origins and did so with story telling. Humans still love a good story!
Religious fundamentalists seem to believe DESPITE a lack of evidence. They can always use the phrase "beyond all human understanding", right? People who believe in the 'literal truth' of the bible tend to fill all gaps in knowledge with 'god's divine plan'...
Science and Religion seem like polar opposites in my way of thinking. I have a hard time understanding how a scientist can be deeply religious. But, I guess I have a hard time understanding how ANYBODY can be deeply religious...ha. Blind faith appears to fly in the face of rational behavior!
No, I've never heard of Oliver Sacks, but I am intrigued!
I think of "spiritual" in strictly religious terms too, but I find that not all atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/skeptics do. I, personally, can completely relate to your comments.
Agree with you on the social sciences vs. hard sciences. I see the value of understanding why people are religious from both perspectives. I found the recent clash of Eller and Harris interesting.
Agree with you on storytelling too. Joseph Cambell really opend my eyes to that. At first it seemed so soft that I wondered where he was going. Then it clicked.
Religious scientists seem like an oxymoron to me too. The more you know, the more you realize you don't know. But I would think a scientific mind would want to find out, rather than just "believe."
I recently finished reading J. Anderson Thomson Jr., Why we believe in god(s),in it he makes a compelling case for why people believe in supernatural agents. I agree with you, wishful thinking has a very powerful effect in the minds of believers.
Thanks for the book suggestion...I'll try to locate that one. I also wonder how many scientists are atheists...breaking down between the physical and social scientists and seeing if there's a common thread there.
There's also a growing number of people who don't attend church or religious services to worship but that still believe in 'Mr Deity' (my new codeword for god, now, since I've been introduced to it by a fellow forum member). They would call themselves 'spiritual' anyway...even without actively worshiping in any public way. It's a private conviction. Similar to people who decide to use self help books instead of visiting a therapist! ha
Mark - Yes it's a big topic. I remember reading Joesph Campbell's book after seeing a long video series WHA put on during a pledge campaign. Michael Shermer has a pretty good YouTube channel. He does an excellent job in Mr. Deity and the Skeptic comedy video too. As to why people believe in the unbelievable from a scientific point of view, Andy Thompson has an excellent talk called Why we believe in gods. A lot of new information is coming out of scientific research today. It's 54 minutes, but I was so engaged the whole time I've gone back and seen it two more times already.
I've you've had some wine I'd start with the Mr Deity link for sure!