The Theist in the Atheist

Dualism is an instinct — you are born with the feeling that a “real you” will survive death.  Indeed, the inborn nature of this idea can be a starting point of conversation between Theists and Atheists.  This link is to a Paul Bloom’s version of this illusion (with which I essentially agree), and this link is to responses to his views by other well known scientists.

Atheists don’t escape being dualists either — it is an unavoidable illusion.  This may seem contradictory, but if you understand my view of self, the apparent contradiction disappears.    My post on “Many-Selves, No-Self” explains a non-standard view of self and will help you understand the following explanation.

Your Inner Theist - many selvesLet me use this diagram to explain: Imagine an individual with 6 selves (A, B, C, D, E, F).  Now let’s look at one function in that individual — the belief/disbelief in a god.  Depending on the individual, there may be many different historically nurtured functioning contradictory beliefs.  When the individual shifts into self C, D or E, for instance, he is strongly an Atheist.  But when person F emerges, that person’s mystical side emerges.  The Mystic in him/her may not normally be as strong (represented here by a lighter smaller dot) as some other selves, but when this self takes the foreground, the atheist side is largely nonfunctional. Thus, there may even be a small Theist in the somewho who envisions themselves Atheist.

The saying “The are no atheists in foxholes” illustrates this model.    An atheist, under incredible stress of war or illness or suffering of a loved one, may find their mind shift and desire supernatural intervention.  They may be surprised by what comes over them. But their surprise is simply due to the fact that they don’t understand their own minds.  The don’t understand that their mind contains many beliefs — their mind has multi-valent or poly-valent beliefs.  We all hold beliefs that contradict each other.

The title of this post was meant to jar the reader into seeing this phenomena of mind.  I hope I have explained myself clearly.  Your thoughts and feedback on this post are deeply appreciated !

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Filed under Cognitive Science, Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion, Science

10 responses to “The Theist in the Atheist

  1. You actually believe in dualism? There are still people out there that hold to that belief? Do explain how deep personality changes occur following brain injury to the frontal lobe, or how they can result from pharmaceutical use, or even how the noncorporeal mind interacts with a physical brain. The mind is what the brain does.

    “Imagine the foxhole scenario — maybe not all foxholes bring out the theist, maybe just the foxhole of a severe illness of either themselves or a loved one.” Nope. Been in certain death situations in the mountains twice in my more adventurous youth. Not a spark of theism either time.

    “So here is another uncomfortable truth: We each hold polyvalent beliefs. We all hold beliefs that contradict each other.” Now, this I can totally agree with. Ken Miller, for instance, is a devout Catholic and a noted evolutionary biologist, for instance. I spend a great deal of time divesting myself of these incongruent beliefs. Guess some of the ones I’ve tossed…

  2. Dear Shameless,
    As I cautioned readers, you did not read my theory of mind with answers your exact puzzled questions. If you read carefully, you will see what a qualified, nuanced notion I have with the notion of “belief” and “you”. Thus I can say, of course I don’t believe in dualism, but part of me does against my will.
    Take a read and tell me what you think ! Thanks.
    Good to have you stop by. (also, did you read the Paul Bloom link?)

  3. Now it makes sense. My apologies. I read ‘dualism’ and I go nuts. And I actually have come across people lately who believe in mind/brain duality. Yeesh.

    I’m not sure it’s instinctual in the strict sense, but it is natural to draw this conclusion, since we perceive the ‘I’ as different from the physical self. But maybe I’m being pedantic.

    It is indeed an illusion, and strong illusions are hard to disspell. Stephen Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” goes into this in detail. I’m still working through that one. I’ll have to view the links later at work. What you are talking about is the ability to hold incompatible beliefs. No question. “Thou shalt not kill” except when god commands it. Obey god’s whim seems to be closer to the true maxim. Gary Marcus’ “Kluge” has some interesting examples. The brain (and hence the mind) is a conglomeration of different modules built on contingency, a reasoning brain built on a nonreasoning one. It’s amazing it works well enough to have kept our ancestors from being food.

    It’s strange discussing this stuff because while I am a neuroscientist, these ideas are outside of my realm. I am more into cerebral metabolism, neuroimaging and experimental models of stroke. Neurosciences are wide-ranging and so while it isn’t all that surprising that I’ve never been exposed to this face of neuroscience, it’s still a bit embarrassing to admit that I’m only just learning this stuff and mostly through the popular science literature.

    Free will is another fun topic. I’m writing a blog on the experimental side of the subject. Not an easy task to design experiments for – too many paths for the brain to take in calculating when to perform an action or inhibit it. But a lot of progress has been made, especially with the advent of fMRI techniques (something I am qualified to talk about).

    Interesting ideas.

  4. The illusory nature of the sense of “I” as object? This is nothing new of course.

    And reading the Paul Bloom article, along with the comments here, I wonder at the constricted application of “dualism”. So carefully groomed to serve the Godless point of view.

    But why?

    It is such a small step from that insight, to at least an intuition, of the actual non-dualistic unity of reality. Beyond time. Self included.

    Unless there is a policy against it.

  5. Sure, brmckay, if you want to use the word “God” to describe something else, that is fine. As I point out throughout this blog, definitions are important or else we talk past each other. I am an “ATHEIST” if it means a person who doesn’t believe in a Theist God — which is a good that cares for individual people, is all powerful and wroughts miracles and such.

    No define you “god”. You are not a theist either, are you? By the above definitions you are an atheist too, right? Am I wrong in guessing that your “God” is the idealistic, monism of Advaita Vedanta = “Brahaman” — a non-dualistic universal consciousness (or some such approximation). With some Westerners calling it a PanEnTheism.

    So, I am sure you are “Godless” in many ways. You are not follower of Zeus, after all, are you?

    Is my approximation correct? What American neo-Vedantic group do you follow or who inspires you the most? As you can see, I am rather familiar with this branch of Hindu philosophy too (though there are even sub-types of it — Hindus, like Jews and Christians and Muslims and Buddhists love to break into smaller and smaller sects).

  6. @brmckay,
    You may enjoy my post on the Monkey vs. Cat gods

  7. @Sabio Lantz

    Monkey vs. Cat gods? This is a description of relativity. Underlying it, the Singularity expresses as both and neither.

    And advaita? Like for Ramana Maharshi, it is a convenient catechism once one starts talking about IT. A finger pointing at the moon.

    If you find an answer to the question “Who am I”, who exactly has found it?

  8. @ brmckay,

    (1) If you are responding to the Monkey vs Cat gods post, please do it on that post.

    (2) It seems to me you are doing your “Religious Script” habit again (which I consider non-communication, and encouraged you to avoid in other places):
    — “Singularity expresses as both an neither.”
    — “once one starts talking about IT”
    — “A finger pointing at the moon”

    and of course, pretending to be the all-knowing guru who is now sharing with the readers here:

    “If you find an answer to the question “Who am I”, who exactly has found it?”

    I hear and understand your hackneyed Hindu-inspired mystical jargon (I almost wish I didn’t know these little aphorisms). Many readers here won’t understand them, of course. And I think your script is a very poor communication style. Why not create a blog, try your scripts on your very own blog and see if anyone visits — that would be the test.

  9. @Sabio Lantz

    Really?! Dictating terms of style and viewpoint? I’ll be happy to go. I obviously misunderstood, once again mistaking choir practice for an actual discussion.

    I gave you too much credit, though not near as much as you’ve given yourself.

  10. @ brmckay,

    Nope, just telling you I can’t speak that language, nor care to engage that sort of speaking. It wasn’t discussion, you are lecturing and using standard scripts. You aren’t trying to encounter, you are preaching.

    Yes, you may have given me too much credit.

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