It is nearly impossible for an atheist to exist… or science writers for that matter. #science

Atheism (Photo credit: boynumber1)

So sayeth science. Well, actually, a “science writer.” I’ve scanned the article and could not find much in collaborative evidence. Don’t get me wrong. I want to believe that science says our metaphysical urges are hardwired and part of our evolutionary tract and thus suggest atheism is not tenable, or even human; however, to write as the author did with only bit quotes — no footnotes or the internet equivalent, links — is to seriously undermine his thesis:

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.

Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke.

For instance, when I google the quotes here,

This line of thought has led to some scientists claiming that “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, an avowed atheist himself, writing in the New Scientist. “They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.”

I get articles quoting the original piece. However, I suspect that the quote comes from this article. If it does, and it does, the “science writer” misquotes Lawton who is paraphrasing Boyer. The context is this:

Some scientists – notably Pascal Boyer at Washington University in St Louis – have even claimed that atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think. They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.

Atheism (Photo credit: atheism) – because that is what you think, don’t you?

Indeed, the conclusions in Lawton’s original piece may in fact surprise the “science writer.” Basically, his assumptions go like this. Atheists can’t exist because humans are hardwired to express/desire the common elements found in religion. You should be able to see through that pretty easily.

But, I want to add another wrinkle, if I may. What if there are no believers or atheists? If free will is an illusion, then we are but what we are meant to be in some fashion. This doesn’t mean I am in favor of determinism, but if our “choices'” are shaped by external influences, then our choices are chained to that which surrounds us. Thus, if one is an atheist or a believer, then it has something to do with an outside influence and cannot be the individual’s choice. Thus, there is no conscious effort to believe in God (thus, no believers) and there is no free will analysis capable of producing an unbelief in God (thus, no atheists) because we follow the path laid out before us and can only work within those influences.


Anyway, the article is slightly better than what Jim West writes regarding evolution.


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5 Replies to “It is nearly impossible for an atheist to exist… or science writers for that matter. #science”

  1. Much of the difficulty comes from how one defines god, atheism, or even agnosticism.

    While a number of America’s Founding Fathers would be classified infidels by more straitlaced Christian sects, several were Deists. They believed in a god; they believed that god was worthy of worship. However, they didn’t believe was that he (the deity) interfered in the affairs of mankind. Humans had to take responsibility for their own affairs. In other words, they needed to grow up! In a nutshell that’s how the United States wound up with a secular constitution that specifically forbade religious tests for public office.

    Then as now, the seminal question isn’t so much whether there is a supreme being as it is whether he/she/it is the petty Middle Eastern petty Bronze Age tribal deity described in the Bible.

    One way or another, pulpiteers claiming to speak for this god of murder, pillage, rape, and war have turned a lot of people off over the years. So have crappy Christian parents. It has been less than respectfully suggested that Christianity is little more than a stepping stone to atheism.

    Still, most people who’ve carefully examined the cosmos quickly realize something is going on that humankind does not fully comprehend. One thing’s for sure; humankind didn’t create the vast expanse of space that he or she is only now beginning to explore.

    Likewise, there are any number of things on this earth that humans don’t understand. In fact, they’re not even aware of their existence until making some chance discovery. Never mind Big Foot, humans don’t even know how many insects share their living spaces!

    By nature, science is pure agnosticism. After all, if one knows all the answers, why ask any questions?!!!

    On the other hand, religion is infamous for claiming to know from whence mankind came, why his is here, and were he’s going. This is one factor separating science from religion. While religion is famous for knowing all of the answers and none of the questions, science is at once more skeptical and decidedly more inquisitive. This threatens any know-it-all religion.

    A second great divide is that science is amoral. It knows neither good nor evil. The same mind that launched V2 rockets on London during World War II put a man on the moon a quarter century later! This is a story at least as old as Ancient Greek mythology.

    Currently, the trend in science is to explore the possibility that many human behaviors are genetic predispositions. Arenas of exploration include addiction, behavior, and disease. Research into faith may be an extension of these.

  2. The quote (what ever its source) is interesting. To summarize: we are hardwired to believe therefore no matter what is said, belief exists. That makes no sense. For example the quote cites an example that committed atheists retain a belief in an immortal soul. I’d attack the conclusion in this manner. What is “religion”? I’ll concede that a religion is an organization either in thought or actual social organization but what specific proprieties does “religion” contain that allow us to say “… that is a religion…” or “… that is a nation state …”. Once we settle that definition then we need to ask what is a “soul, heaven, permanence,etc”. The whole situation usually grinds to a full stop because of semantics.

    There are things we see that we cannot deny. An example is optical illusions. Near where I live is a grave marker, seen from the local street, that has a image of the face of Jesus. As you drive by it appears that the image tracks your passage! Is it real? Of course not! But no matter how I try I cannot deny what I see. So how would I demonstrate otherwise? The only way to answer that question is design an experiment (a set of observations) to determine what is happening.

    Two points need to be stated: (1) the persistence of the illusion is a strong indication of how our brains operate. Since I view the scene repeatedly that suggests my brain is hardwired to see the illusion. (2) I must resort to the methods of science to ascertain what is happening, ie, I need to gather data to separate “fact from fiction”.

    In the context of my analog, the quote means nothing. Even if the avowed atheists retain some aspects of religious belief that is no more relevant then the fact I still see the eyes of the tombstone Jesus follow me as I pass by knowing that it is an illusion. I’d like to ask those who attache any importance to the quote what does that say about religious belief? Is religious belief is a product of our wiring and therefore has no basis in reality? Like the tombstone Jesus, religious belief is an illusion, a conn produced by the hardwiring in our brain? Then what is the status of “free will”, self determination, etc? If you are a believer you are in deep s***.

    It comes back to the religious. They are the ones that produce claims for their beliefs but offer little or no data to support their claims. The atheist only states “I choose not to believe in some deity because the evidence to support the belief is non existent.” If religious belief is a product of hardwiring in our brains then the weight of veracity for the claim of belief falls upon the believer. Since Mr. Watts is on his way to obtain his PhD(?), I’d be inclined to claim his blog is an example of “self confining bias” one of the traits Daniel Kahneman (along with the late Amos Tversky) documented. An effort which brought Prof Kahneman a Nobel Prize. I think what I am trying to say is I don’t care about Mr. Watts credentials, his contentions still require hard data. Otherwise he speaks philosophy or opinion or pretty words and ” …have not [data] …, it profiteth … nothing.”

    In passing: Yes I exalt science. Nothing has brought the mass of humanity such expectations, hope and blessings over the entire span of human history. It is only science that allows the religious to hold views that border on insanity and yet walk the streets freely. At times science is amoral but no other activity a human being can practice, leads to a profound understanding of the universe we live in then science.

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