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Born atheist? 
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Post Re: Born atheist?
Chris OConnor wrote:
As Murmur said it depends on how you define the word "atheist."


Newborn babies are implicit atheists just like they are implicit aRepublicans, aDemocrats, and aRacists. A baby cannot believe in a God, believe in Democratic values or Republican values, or be a racist. Calling a newborn baby an implied atheist isn't an attempt by atheists to build their ranks. It's just a way of driving home the point that belief in a God is learned. Before you learned about God you lacked the belief in a God. The very nature of a baby implies they cannot hold beliefs about religion, politics, etc...


This type of reasoning is problematic from the word go. Atheism is a concept just as theism is a concept. Being ignorant of that concept doesn't place you automatically in opposition to it. That's creating a false dichotomy. Being ignorant of the concept of theism is simply that: ignorance of the concept of theism. Nothing can be said of that person's belief in that concept because he or she has not yet been introduced to it. There is no way to get around the fact that atheism and theism are choices that have to be made. Until they are made, nothing can be said of that person's state of belief in those concepts.

We should also be careful about putting racism in the same set with being a republican or a democrat. The latter two are intellectual stances, racism is an emotional reaction. If I am 3 years old and I see a black person for the first time in my life and my thought is: "That person is repulsive to me. Anyone who looks like that is repulsive!" Clearly, that is not an intellectual stance. I don't care why I feel that way, I only know that that is how I feel. So to lump in racial feelings with political leanings is a false equivalency.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
DB Roy wrote:
Atheism is a concept just as theism is a concept. Being ignorant of that concept doesn't place you automatically in opposition to it.


An implied atheist is not opposed to theism. They are an atheist and don't even know it. This really is a matter of semantics. The term implied atheist was created for a very narrow subset of atheists but this subset exists and deserves to be labeled just so that we can have a proper conversation.

Would you agree that a newborn baby is not a Democrat or Republican yet? We don't have terms for people that have never been exposed to politics and therefore are not politically affiliated. Why not? Because Democrats and Republicans don't play games and try to call newborn babies Democrats or Republicans. Religious people do this all the time. A child born into a Hindu family or Muslim family is a new Hindu or Muslim. They haven't yet been exposed to the religions of Hinduism or Islam so they are actually implied atheists up until the point they have been exposed and have made a decision as to what they wish to believe in.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
Chris OConnor wrote:
This really is a matter of semantics. The term implied atheist was created for a very narrow subset of atheists but this subset exists and deserves to be labeled just so that we can have a proper conversation.


We seem to have an innate sense of a higher intelligence that we usually call "God." But as Chris says, we struggle with what "atheist" means because the word "God" is so nebulous. You would have to come up with a specific definition of "God" before we can really know what "atheist" means. Though typically an atheist refers to the "God" described in the Bible or the Torah or the Koran.

I'm reading a book about the Middle East that goes into a lot of detail about Islam. There's one passage in particular that struck me as absurd. Apparently Muslims believe an angel came to Ishmael, while Jews believe the angel came to Isaac instead. This is only one of many thousands of discrepancies in the holy texts that make up the Koran and the Bible. So no one disputes that an angel came to earth and talked to a person (prophet). The dispute focuses on which prophet the angel talked to.

Also, did you know that Muhammad declared himself to be the very last prophet of Islam. And so Muslims believe to this day that Muhammad was the last prophet. There can be no more prophets until Judgment Day, which was supposed to happen a couple of thousand years ago. Meanwhile Christians are still waiting for the Second Coming of Christ (which also was supposed to happen a couple thousand years ago). And so it goes.

And that's why a person's religion is mostly culture-dependent. If you're born in the Middle East, you are very likely going to be a Muslim or Jew. If you're born in Europe or the United States, you're going to be a Christian. Except for those who don't have a very strong innate "God" sense and are more impervious to religious indoctrination.

So are we born atheist? It's a complicated question. But just as we are not born Republican or Democrat, per se, we are probably born with a certain inclinations towards being liberal or conservative. Unfortunately our society is fairly binary and once we start a path, one way or the other, we become more entrenched in political ideology.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
Geo wrote:
So are we born atheist? It's a complicated question. But just as we are not born Republican or Democrat, per se, we are probably born with a certain inclinations towards being liberal or conservative. Unfortunately our society is fairly binary and once we start a path, one way or the other, we become more entrenched in political ideology.


Most of us seem to gravitate towards binary thinking. It's good or bad, black or white, right or wrong, etc... Life is often more nuanced and requires deep consideration. Our binary bias probably had a survival benefit long ago in our evolutionary past, but today it seems to be more of a hindrance to critical thinking.

You're probably right that we all pop out of the birth canal leaning to the left or right. Someone needs to run a study on this!



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Post Re: Born atheist?
Chris OConnor wrote:
You're probably right that we all pop out of the birth canal leaning to the left or right. Someone needs to run a study on this!

Jonathan Haidt discusses this in his book, The Righteous Mind. Also check out this TedTalk video. Pay particular attention to the segment starting at 4:49.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs41JrnGaxc

Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of Haidt's work.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
I don't think Athiests are born, I think bullies are born. It's easy to point and laugh at religion, and say; ''you actually believe in all that crap?'' I don't believe in it either, but over the years I've seen a few people turn to the church when they were at their lowest. At the time I thought they were hypocrites, using the church as a crutch when it suited them. But know I think it was better they turned to the church than to drink, drugs, or suicide. But more to the point; If it wasn't Atheism it'd be something else, the born whinger would still be whinging and attacking something or somebody else like an internet troll, ie that's what they were born to do, it's a personality trait. Most of us can catch ourselves doing it, and make an effort to control ourselves. As the saying goes: ''Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain. And most fools do''.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
First answer was right the first time: born clean slate, anything else is pushed in and learned. Sorry, kids are not born Christians, or any other religion. Religion is an invention of man.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
Sorry, it has to be said: how can people who read be so ignorant? I mean, have you heard yourselves? I just got here and I'm amazed... Haha, good luck with literature!



Sun Oct 03, 2021 12:56 am
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Post Re: Born atheist?
People need to bake complexity into the elegant to support their preferred beliefs.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
carolinedelussey wrote:
First answer was right the first time: born clean slate, anything else is pushed in and learned. Sorry, kids are not born Christians, or any other religion. Religion is an invention of man.


You might want to read through the posts here more carefully. What many of us have said is that while religion is a human invention, the minds of humans have evolved over eons of time to believe in "God" or higher being(s). Likewise, we are cognitively wired for language and social interaction and countless other traits as well, so that the concept of "blank slate"—Tabula rasas—has been shown to be more or less a myth. Stephen Pinker wrote a pretty good book on this subject: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

There's also been much said about the words "theism" and "atheism" and what those words actually mean. It's important to discuss such semantics to avoid talking past one another or coming to snap judgments. Good luck and welcome to BookTalk!


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Post Re: Born atheist?
I read the Blank Slate around 2007...so I do not remember the details, but did Pinker actually state that we are evolved to believe in "God or other higher beings' or was it more that the brain contains certain structures that promote certain types of human behaviors? I don't recall a strong statement that a belief in any supernatural being is part of the the brain. Have heard of belief engines and pattern recognition gone wrong.. Etc.

The Blank Slate as Rousseau proposed perhaps meant a total absence of anything...and I feel that is debunked. But blank slate as to specific beliefs is still valid.

My biggest takeaway from the Slate is that it's a bit of both. I have the book right on my shelf... I will brief through again at some point. It was a worthy read.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
Mr. P wrote:
I read the Blank Slate around 2007...so I do not remember the details, but did Pinker actually state that we are evolved to believe in "God or other higher beings' or was it more that the brain contains certain structures that promote certain types of human behaviors? I don't recall a strong statement that a belief in any supernatural being is part of the the brain. Have heard of belief engines and pattern recognition gone wrong.. Etc.


I didn't mean to imply that Pinker said we are primed for religious belief, per se, only to comment on his thesis about the blank slate. But it’s well known that we are primed to see agency in the world, and that this agency often manifests itself in religious beliefs.

See scholarly articles about Hyperactive Agency Detection

I think you are correct that we are blank slates in some respects. But more and more the evidence shows how heredity determines many human traits, though the environment still plays a role as well.

I found this passage on pg. 375 of Pinker's book:

Quote:
“”All traits are heritable” is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Concrete behavioral traits that patently depend on content provided by the home or culture are, of course, not heritable at all; which language you speak, which religion you worship in, which political party you belong to. But behavioral traits that reflect the underlying talents and temperaments are heritable: how proficient with language you are, how religious, how liberal or conservative. General intelligence is heritable, and so are the five major ways in which personality can vary … openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion-introversion, antagonism-agreeableness, and neuroticism. And traits that are surprisingly specific turn out to be heritable, too, such as dependence on nicotine or alcohol, number of hours of television watched, and likelihood of divorcing.”


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Post Re: Born atheist?
geo wrote:
I didn't mean to imply that Pinker said we are primed for religious belief, per se, only to comment on his thesis about the blank slate. But it’s well known that we are primed to see agency in the world, and that this agency often manifests itself in religious beliefs.


OK gotcha. Yes and I have read the same thing as well. We do see agency, because that's what we know instinctively. To put it simply: Someone creates or deigns something. So if something seems designed, and it's too big for humans... Well there's yer God!

I absolutely trust the science behind there being structure in the brain. Basic structures that give us an operating system. And systems may differ. But I do also believe that nurture can Trump nature.

Slate is a wonderful book.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
BWM wrote:
I don't think Athiests are born, I think bullies are born.
Yes, I think this is a good follow up to the distinction DB Roy makes, between concepts and emotional reactions. In practice I don't think there is a sharp divide between the two, but there do seem to be tilts to what kinds of emotional orientations will "take" with a given person. Some people are inherently suspicious, and will always pick up on threats more readily than others, for example. But the particulars of what will be considered threatening are likely to be influenced by the culture of their family and community.

Even such seemingly biologically-based characteristics as schizophrenia seem to be more likely under stressful and disorganized conditions, or dramatic lurching to extremes in home life. I suspect bullying, based in aggression but also narcissism, is similarly a mix of biological predisposition and shaping by experience. It should not be surprising if a tendency to emphasize evidence is both biological and cultural in origin.

BWM wrote:
It's easy to point and laugh at religion, and say; ''you actually believe in all that crap?'' I don't believe in it either,

I think most people operate without a carefully considered set of intellectual structures such as one would be taught in college. As a result, when they do sometimes think about big questions, like "Does the universe operate with a plan or goal?" or "Am I facing this tribulation because of something I did?" they are likely to arrive at conclusions that fit their personality using narratives that are part of their culture. And when narratives have evolved to shape practice in specific ways (no sex before marriage, couples remain faithful for the sake of the kids, or whatever) then people are likely to respond to those narratives in terms of their sense of function.

It's a relatively new phenomenon to judge the meta-narratives based on evidence. Of course such things went on with Socrates and Abelard and Confucius, but now we have large bodies of evidence that impact what narratives can be considered credible. It is difficult to get underneath the evidence and believability questions to deeper questions of how the narratives fit with personality types and what the narratives lead to as practices.

Most progressive Christians (or Theological Modernists, to be more precise in relation to the question) like myself tend to take the "implications of the narratives" much more seriously than the "believability of the narratives". So, for example, the principle that we are Children of God is not examined for evidence to support or refute it, it is evaluated based on whether it fosters a community of mutual support and whether it gives dignity to human rights. It isn't quite the same as a humanistic value system, but it is compatible with one.

BWM wrote:
but over the years I've seen a few people turn to the church when they were at their lowest. At the time I thought they were hypocrites, using the church as a crutch when it suited them. But know I think it was better they turned to the church than to drink, drugs, or suicide. But more to the point; If it wasn't Atheism it'd be something else, the born whinger would still be whinging and attacking something or somebody else like an internet troll, ie that's what they were born to do, it's a personality trait. Most of us can catch ourselves doing it, and make an effort to control ourselves. As the saying goes: ''Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain. And most fools do''.


There's an on-going examination over at the blog "Experimental Theology" as to the connections between meaning and religion. The blogger, a psych prof, has identified three dimensions (from his readings) of meaning in life, which interact and reinforce but are reasonably distinct:
1. Purpose (do we have a sense of what is important to do),
2. Coherence (can we make sense of events, feelings and decisions) and
3. Significance (do we have a sense that what we do matters).
He puts forward the thesis that a materialistic worldview tends to frame these matters empirically and to offer a minimum of guidance as to values. As a result, coherence depends on fitting whatever issue is in question into an intellectual framework based on evidence, for example, but such structures make no claims to be able to fit one's inner storm of emotions into the overall worldview. There's a lot to recommend that kind of "top down" basis for coherence, not least of which is that the people who think that way tend to be even-tempered and moderate. But if someone is trapped in whirlpools of discouragement and self-sabotage, a sense that life is coherent and intelligible because we know a lot about how it works may not be accessible. For example, it may actively trigger feelings of inferiority just to hear explanations from that outlook. So it may be very helpful to hear that "you are important because God cares about you," or even "what you choose to do matters to your eternal fate."

Religion is way better than drugs at providing purpose, in the sense of things to do that will build inner strength and provide rewards for good choices. It's way better than a lot of things people turn to for relief from the irritations and frustrations of life. I think I agree with the blogger that a lot of our modern problems, such as the enormous jump in mental illness among young people in the last 10 years, can be traced to losing the thread of a narrative that weaves together purpose, coherence and personal significance in a way that works. Since religion tends to change only very slowly, it may be too late for a Christianity that does not reject LGBTQ people, condemn divorcees, etc., to also offer a narrative that appeals to people needing structure in their lives, but we progressives are striving for just such a result.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
There is another side to this question that I didn't give thought to when I posted; that being born an Atheist in a brain chemistry sense is obviously nonsense, but what if you're born the child of a famous extremely outspoken Atheist and are brought up in a household where the subject is openly discussed and debated on a regular basis. I suppose a person with this upbringing might at some point consider themselves to have been a ''born Atheist''.


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