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Born atheist? 
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Post Born atheist?
I've run into quite a number of so-called atheists who actually believe that we are born atheists. Where does this nonsense come from? When I said that nobody can be born an atheist because babies haven't the ability to process the god concept and hence cannot reject it, I got a bunch of these laughing face emojis meaning "Haha! We're laughing at you!"

Their line runs that babies have no belief in god and are therefore atheists until brainwashed out of it. I asked for evidence. In fact, here is the explanation verbatim:

"A baby has no notion of any religion until it is BRAIN WASHED into beleif.....is that not enough evidence? Which means that a baby IS an atheist until the brainwashing occur!"

It seems to me if we are born as atheists and have no notion of the god concept then who was the first theist? And how did this theist convince 93% of the world's population, of all people who have ever lived, to believe it? That's the stat I found--only 7% of the world's population is atheist. That less than half a billion out of 7 billion total. Half of that 7% live in China. With numbers like that, I would say that they human race is wired for theism or polytheism. If we were all born atheists, then it should be the default condition of the human race but it is not.

If atheism is an exercise in intellect then why would babies, with no intellectual development, be atheists only to lose it as they grow older and more intellectually intact?

What I am saying is that just because we are born holding no belief in gods doesn't mean we are atheists. We are, in fact, wired to be theists, and it kicks in as we grow older and more cognizant of things. Only a small portion reject theism at a young age. Most who kick it did so when they were much older and able to think things through. Some, like me, had no religious upbringing to speak of so as I aged, I saw no reason to believe--I had no emotional attachment to it. But was I born an atheist? I don't think so. I could have as easily become a fervent believer if my parents raised me that way.

We're not brainwashed out of our atheism as children--that's a silly idea. We're brainwashed into theism because we have no convictions whatever at such an early age. We are not born atheists or theists but we are wired towards theism. We want to believe that some benevolent, powerful entity is watching over us. It's comforting in a world where it is clear there is no such benevolent, powerful entity.

Do you think that humans are born as atheists?



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Harry Marks
Tue Jan 05, 2021 8:44 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
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...nobody can be born an atheist because babies haven't the ability to process the god concept and hence cannot reject it...
...We're not brainwashed out of our atheism as children--that's a silly idea. We're brainwashed into theism because we have no convictions whatever at such an early age.

You admit babies are born agnostic then claim humans are not brainwashed out of agnosticism but are brainwashed into theism even though we are hardwired for theism. Your own experience indicates if one is not indoctrinated, atheism is a possible or likely outcome. I don't quite get what you're gettin' at...

I doubt we are hard wired for theism. Religious beliefs vary widely and are taught by parents and culture. In ancient times a prominent reason for this was to find order and explain a random violent universe. I doubt a small clan of humans separated from others would come up with deities beyond thunder gods and moss fairies. Put them in contact with other humans and suddenly you need omnipotent gods and powerful priests to vanquish mortal enemies. We're hard wired to find order, explanations, and to kill enemies; Gods not so much.



Tue Jan 05, 2021 10:18 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
I'm going to excuse your response as perhaps you just had your mind somewhere else when you wrote this

Being wired for theism doesn't mean we're exactly the same. That is a denial of evolution as it disallows differences due to random mutation. You need to think about this a bit more before answering.



Wed Jan 06, 2021 8:35 am
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Post Re: Born atheist?
DB Roy wrote:
What I am saying is that just because we are born holding no belief in gods doesn't mean we are atheists. We are, in fact, wired to be theists, and it kicks in as we grow older and more cognizant of things. Only a small portion reject theism at a young age. Most who kick it did so when they were much older and able to think things through. Some, like me, had no religious upbringing to speak of so as I aged, I saw no reason to believe--I had no emotional attachment to it. But was I born an atheist? I don't think so. I could have as easily become a fervent believer if my parents raised me that way.


(this post was edited)

I think this is fairly accurate, though I would hesitate to say we are wired to be theists, per se. We seem to be wired to see agency or supernatural order in the universe. Studies show that children have an innate teleological tendency to anthropomorphize and to see things, such as mountains, trees, and rivers, as having intelligent design and purpose.

So those who advocate that people are born atheists seem to have it backwards.

Our ancestors were polytheists and that was fairly compatible with our instincts of order and agency. Even now our monotheist religions still have minor gods and saints and such. What is Satan, but a fallen god?

All this explains why "God" is such a nebulous term. It means different things to different people, depending almost entirely on one's cultural background.

As Voltaire said (and I may be quoting him out of context), if God did not exist, we would have to invent him.


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Wed Jan 06, 2021 2:59 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
DB Roy wrote:
I'm going to excuse your response as perhaps you just had your mind somewhere else when you wrote this.

Funny, that was my reaction to your original post. No need to engage further.



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Wed Jan 06, 2021 7:41 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
geo wrote:
.
I think this is fairly accurate, though I would hesitate to say we are wired to be theists, per se. We seem to be wired to see agency or supernatural order in the universe. Studies show that children have an innate teleological tendency to anthropomorphize and to see things, such as mountains, trees, and rivers, as having intelligent design and purpose.

So those who advocate that people are born atheists seem to have it backwards.


As a child, I thought of all non-living things as having thoughts and feelings. I outgrew it as I aged. So, it's easy to imagine an angry power up in the sky during a thunderstorm. Certainly seems like someone up there is pissed off about something. I can imagine that someone would have experienced a flood and saw his village and neighbors carried off in the waters and imagining someone up there sent down this torrential rain to get rid of us because It must have been furious with us and decided to eradicate us. We did something wrong somewhere along the line. So, we think of this sky daddy as violently vengeful and easily angered. He may give us blue skies and warmth and gentle winds but do one little thing wrong and--BAM!!--He's on a warpath! So, I think that was how theism (and I'm including polytheism here) got started.

To say we knew nothing of gods as infants and so did not believe in them and hence were atheists or agnostics is plain ridiculous. In that case, the chair I'm sitting in is an atheist. It has no belief in gods. Maybe 97% of the population may be theistic, but when we count all the animals and plants--well, we see that most life on earth is atheist. But why stop there? Add in the rocks, the clouds, all the water and air, the wind, the land, the mountains--they're all atheist too. I think it is a fallacious way to characterize atheism and I think atheists do themselves and their atheism a disservice resorting to it. Frankly, it just makes us look silly.

As for being wired for theism, the proof is right in front of us. We like to believe in gods. Atheism is not a default state. That doesn't mean theism is right. We believe in Santa Claus up to a certain age but we shed that belief because we realize it is patently absurd as we age. But then Santa doesn't have powerful, ruthless institutions to push his existence on our society, history and culture until he permeates both our lives and our deaths. But these institutions exist, I believe, because we made it easy for them. They peddled their god and we were eager to believe in it.

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Our ancestors were polytheists and that was fairly compatible with our instincts of order and agency. Even now our monotheist religions still have minor gods and saints and such. What is Satan, but a fallen god?

All this explains why "God" is such a nebulous term. It means different things to different people, depending almost entirely on one's cultural background.

As Voltaire said (and I may be quoting him out of context), if God did not exist, we would have to invent him.


I agree with this. We are like children who have grown too old for the fairytale stories but we don't know what to read in lieu of them. We don't need the imaginary friend anymore but we don't know how to do away with it. I think we created gods to give us hope and inspiration and it worked for a while but now we have progressed beyond that stage and don't know how to ditch the sky daddy.



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Sun Jan 10, 2021 11:35 am
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Post Re: Born atheist?
geo wrote:
All this explains why "God" is such a nebulous term. It means different things to different people, depending almost entirely on one's cultural background.
That's the sense in which I think we need to be taught concepts of God. The stuff we generalize from our subconscious can give us a version of punitive, demanding parents, or of loving, supportive parents who want us to become who we are meant to be. It can give us superstition to manipulate luck, or clever, elusive Volk who hide in the grottos and forests and like to play tricks on us.

Alternate realities are mostly species of what Jung called "synchronicity" (e.g. I had a feeling my mother was feeling ill just before she called to tell me so, etc.) which functions on "acausal significance" or meaning without any causal link to create the meaning.

geo wrote:
As Voltaire said (and I may be quoting him out of context), if God did not exist, we would have to invent him.

One might argue that religion was actually taming the rapacious behavior of the warrior classes. But Genghis Khan settled for a few strategic demonstrations of ruthlessness and then, as long as he could win battles, cities came to sensible agreements with him rather than endure a siege with a massacre waiting at the end. He was "civilized" by the lack of need to repeat his dramatics at every new city. So I don't give a whole lot of credence to the civilizing effect of God. In today's world it can be argued that atomic weapons have more of a civilizing influence than religion does.



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Wed Jan 13, 2021 11:54 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
geo wrote:
All this explains why "God" is such a nebulous term. It means different things to different people, depending almost entirely on one's cultural background.

Speaking of nebulous Gods, I recall seeing a video of a conversation between Richard Dawkins and someone whose name I forget. This guy was explaining to Dawkins how he viewed God, which was not at all like the authoritarian law-making God of the Bible. Dawkins was politely quizzical. As a scientist, he seemed to have trouble understanding why, if one rejected the God Dawkins had lambasted as a delusion, one needed to maintain what appeared to be more of a notion or concept, given the honorific "God." Fuzzy and vague are words also sometimes used to describe people's feelings of God-ness.

I can think of several reasons for the persistence of God-concepts, but I'll skip them because there'd be some overlap with what's already been said. As for DB Roy's argument, I agree with him, and I see the "born atheist" claim as a kind of appeal to originalism. If you want to make your position unassailable, claim that in the beginning, this is the way it was, that before any monkeying-around with our ideas happened, we lacked any idea of God. Even if that were true (and it doesn't appear to be), it doesn't mean the born-atheists win the argument. We learn lots of true things as we mature; God could be one thing we come to know about.

I find myself to be more in the apatheist category. That's as regards my personal outlook. I'm actually quite interested in others' belief in the supernatural, and even glad that everyone doesn't think as I do. I had a conversation with a woman who had smoked for 40 years and had tried everything to quit. One day she got on her knees and asked God "to take this [addiction] from me." She never smoked again.



Last edited by DWill on Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:38 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
Harry Marks wrote:
So I don't give a whole lot of credence to the civilizing effect of God. In today's world it can be argued that atomic weapons have more of a civilizing influence than religion does.

I hope you didn't expect not to be asked to expand on that provocative thought! Please do.



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Post Re: Born atheist?
DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
So I don't give a whole lot of credence to the civilizing effect of God. In today's world it can be argued that atomic weapons have more of a civilizing influence than religion does.

I hope you didn't expect not to be asked to expand on that provocative thought! Please do.

As you may recall, I think of God as a spirit that works among and between people. Everybody's conscience is a part or an agent of God, in that sense. I think of God as an emergent quality of social interaction between minds.

When I made the above statement (the quoted one you responded to) I had in mind the social phenomenon, the sense that there is a strict judge waiting for us after we die, which I think is what people had in mind when they said "if God didn't exist we would have to invent Him[sic]". I would make more of an argument for a civilizing effect of the Spirit of Caring.

But honestly, despite all the arguments of Stephen Pinker, with which I sympathize, I am not convinced. I have some faith (arc of history bends toward justice, that sort of thing) but watching "Christians" work themselves into an utterly un-Christian frenzy to the point of believing piles of lies even after piles have been shown to be lies, I find myself questioning whether a self-conscious effort to be "godly" does not get captured far too easily by power and status and its attractions, leaving the hope of reform by peaceability to stand naked and exposed.

So I am moving more toward faith as "faithfulness", which one holds to for the sake of its rightness rather than out of expectation that it will triumph. I already know that I am easily swayed by practicalities, but I also have enough experience to know that if one consistently aims for the general good the time of trial, the moments when one is tempted to do things that one might have trouble living with afterward, is not really that likely. Because it is not so difficult to steer away from trouble while it is still at a distance.

In much the same way, I tend to think that a longing for truth and quest for honesty is part of the Spirit of Caring, and that enlightenment really has made some difference in a civilizing direction. What most people want, most of the time, is actually fairly gentle and supportive. So when people are generally more capable they are more likely to be able to be good friends, neighbors, parents and children of aging parents. Enlightenment, by bringing more capability within reach, helps us not to get into horrible traps forcing a choice between harsh mistreatment of others and our own self-interest. It has also taught us to create more durable institutions that help to protect that ordinary goodness.

And yet. Enlightenment has brought us nuclear weapons, with an Islamic bomb looking fairly likely in the near future, and countries go on trying to carry on warfare by cyber means. Added capability has given us the capacity to extinguish most species on earth, and to wreck the climate beyond repair, but our institutions have failed utterly to cope with and respond to that awareness. So if the civilizing effect of added capacity comes at a cost of bringing self-destruction within reach of our customary folly, is it really such a good thing?

I suppose the Trump years have soured me quite a bit, in the same way that WWI demolished the self-confidence of belief in Progress. My gut feeling is still optimistic, but it is much less optimistic than it was 6 or 7 years ago.



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Fri Jan 15, 2021 11:15 pm
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Post Re: Born atheist?
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
So I don't give a whole lot of credence to the civilizing effect of God. In today's world it can be argued that atomic weapons have more of a civilizing influence than religion does.

I hope you didn't expect not to be asked to expand on that provocative thought! Please do.

As you may recall, I think of God as a spirit that works among and between people. Everybody's conscience is a part or an agent of God, in that sense. I think of God as an emergent quality of social interaction between minds.

When I made the above statement (the quoted one you responded to) I had in mind the social phenomenon, the sense that there is a strict judge waiting for us after we die, which I think is what people had in mind when they said "if God didn't exist we would have to invent Him[sic]". I would make more of an argument for a civilizing effect of the Spirit of Caring.

First, thanks for this reply. You're likely to take more a comprehensive view than I usually do, which is helpful. I think I can assume now that you appreciate nuclear weapons as peacekeepers but only compared to the worse record of religion, which makes a show of humans living in peace but appears to fail to deliver. I read some of Pinker's Better Angels book, but I don't recall if he gave atomic bombs any credit for the lessening violence of civilization that he documents. Likely, he would attribute the bombs not being used for the past 75 years mostly to moral progress, not the fact that they're just too horrifying to contemplate using. Maybe the ability to appreciate the horror, having a deterrent effect, is itself a sign of moral progress. One thing we can be sure of is that Pinker, like you, doesn't give religion credit for the increase in civilization. I'm never sure that any blanket statement about religion can be true or false, though.
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But honestly, despite all the arguments of Stephen Pinker, with which I sympathize, I am not convinced. I have some faith (arc of history bends toward justice, that sort of thing) but watching "Christians" work themselves into an utterly un-Christian frenzy to the point of believing piles of lies even after piles have been shown to be lies, I find myself questioning whether a self-conscious effort to be "godly" does not get captured far too easily by power and status and its attractions, leaving the hope of reform by peaceability to stand naked and exposed.

Just what bearing does their religion have on the beliefs they show to us in the public sphere? I can't figure that out. What strand of Christianity are they fingering? They seem more similar to ethnic groups that claim superiority over other groups, for no discernible reason in the view of outsiders. Atheists have never been wrong to seize on the ability of religion to divide and make "others," on the way to arguing that it needs to wither.
Quote:
So I am moving more toward faith as "faithfulness", which one holds to for the sake of its rightness rather than out of expectation that it will triumph. I already know that I am easily swayed by practicalities, but I also have enough experience to know that if one consistently aims for the general good the time of trial, the moments when one is tempted to do things that one might have trouble living with afterward, is not really that likely. Because it is not so difficult to steer away from trouble while it is still at a distance.

You can avoid being presented with novel challenges, because in a sense you've prepared yourself for what might be ahead, by choosing consciously and constantly, and with regard only to rightness. Has a Kantian flavor to it, perhaps.
Quote:
In much the same way, I tend to think that a longing for truth and quest for honesty is part of the Spirit of Caring, and that enlightenment really has made some difference in a civilizing direction. What most people want, most of the time, is actually fairly gentle and supportive. So when people are generally more capable they are more likely to be able to be good friends, neighbors, parents and children of aging parents. Enlightenment, by bringing more capability within reach, helps us not to get into horrible traps forcing a choice between harsh mistreatment of others and our own self-interest. It has also taught us to create more durable institutions that help to protect that ordinary goodness.

And yet. Enlightenment has brought us nuclear weapons, with an Islamic bomb looking fairly likely in the near future, and countries go on trying to carry on warfare by cyber means. Added capability has given us the capacity to extinguish most species on earth, and to wreck the climate beyond repair, but our institutions have failed utterly to cope with and respond to that awareness. So if the civilizing effect of added capacity comes at a cost of bringing self-destruction within reach of our customary folly, is it really such a good thing?

Who decides whether the added capacity has been good, on balance? I don't think anyone can decide, but people in Guatemala living in fear of gang violence will have a much darker view than I would. By the accident of being well taken-care-of, a different prospect opens to me. The badness of the world is almost all hearsay to me. I've just defined privilege.
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I suppose the Trump years have soured me quite a bit, in the same way that WWI demolished the self-confidence of belief in Progress. My gut feeling is still optimistic, but it is much less optimistic than it was 6 or 7 years ago.

Speaking of WW 1, on my list in The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell. The book may say a lot about loss of faith in progress. But I suppose it could be argued that we got over that loss of faith--or did we? Sometimes I wonder whether we magnify the importance of changes we think we see in our own brief span of life. When I think of some distant period of history, say 1480-85, I think that nothing of lasting importance could have happened; it was only 5 years, a blink in time. Yet in my own time I'm ready to say that paradigms can be shifting all over the place, revolutions in thought occurring, when maybe I'm just viewing the up-and-down wave motion of history.



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