Posted by: NotAScientist | June 4, 2009

Fearless Atheism

I didn’t stop fearing death until I became an atheist.
grim-reaper-150x223
That sounds like an infinitely braver statement than it actually it. I have no intention of becoming a daredevil, risking my life by performing death-defying stunts. And there are many things around death that fear me. I fear pain, disfigurement, disability and any pain (emotional otherwise) I might cause to my family or friends.

But death itself? Not so much.

Why have I been thinking about this? Well, I’ll be going under the knife in a little under a week. It’s not a very dangerous surgery, but any procedure carries with it a certain amount of risk. So naturally death is on my mind a bit.

But death lost it’s power to terrify me when I realized that it was nothing. There are no demons and devil-spawn waiting to torture me in an eternal hell. There is not eternal paradise. There is no ultimate transcendence to a higher being, another planet, or reincarnation.

When I die (which hopefully won’t be happening next week) my body and brain will stop functioning and I will cease to exist in any meaningful way. Since I will be asleep under anesthesia, presumably dreamless, if I happen to die I will probably not even realize it. My mind will shut down and I will slip into nothingness, as hard as it is to wrap my still-thinking mind around such a concept.

The other place I derive comfort is from the simple fact that there will be nothing I can do once the surgery is going on to change anything. I will be unconscious, and it is up to the surgeon and doctors and nurses to see me through. Much like when I board a plane, when I know that there’s nothing I can do if the plane starts to crash.

The Christians (particularly the Christian Alcoholics Annonymous) almost got it right.  You must achieve the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. No god can give you that serenity, particularly the kind that threatens to burn you for all time if you don’t believe in it.

I think I may have achieved that serenity.  But don’t get comfy, because I still plan on being back next week.

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Responses

  1. As Betrand Russell brilliantly put it, “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is none the less true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

    For me, I still believe in a kind of eternal life — because what is life really? Only a sequence of memories kept in the minds of many. So- when I die, there will be people who remember me, only after I am forgotten will I truly cease to be.

  2. Of course you realise that simply thinking something doesn’t make it so?

  3. Of course. Which is why I don’t just think things. I follow the evidence.

  4. …and all the evidence points to a random, purposeless, disorder of extraordinary coincidences including “human” conscience, language, and that pesky DNA thingy. Dude, you have string of faith alright, no worries. Good “luck”. I love your site btw.

    serenity, serenity now! good one lol

    only after I am forgotten will I truly cease to be.

    and those crazy flat earthers talk so much about idolatry, morons they are!

  5. Morse, at least you used one english word declaring something along the lines of doubt…”if I happen to die I will probably…”
    I was getting ready to ask for your source for all the sureness for your view of death.
    Hey, I hope the surgery goes well!
    2007 was my year for 2 surgeries. Tonsils and hernia. You black out and next thing you know you’re back in your room all drugged up. If you’re lucky, family will be there to make fun of you (or to help out)!
    Get well soon!

  6. When I die (which hopefully won’t be happening next week) my body and brain will stop functioning and I will cease to exist in any meaningful way. Since I will be asleep under anesthesia, presumably dreamless, if I happen to die I will probably not even realize it. My mind will shut down and I will slip into nothingness, as hard as it is to wrap my still-thinking mind around such a concept.

    Perhaps you can tell us how you exist in any meaningful way? Afterall, your brain is simply firing off neurons which cause you to react, and fell and do all the things you do…there is nothing purposeful in this universe, and since meaning is derived from purpose there is in actuality no meaning to your existence. Just pitiful extra large blogs of meat basking in a life of pleasure. Meaningful way? You have no meaning my friend.

  7. “Perhaps you can tell us how you exist in any meaningful way?”

    Meaningful to whom?

    “there is nothing purposeful in this universe”

    Purposeful to whom?

    “You have no meaning my friend.”

    Apparently I have enough meaning, at least to you, to make you comment on my blog.

  8. I find your statements interesting if not convincing. You have no fear or anger at non-existence for the rest of the time of this universe? I never really felt atheistic, since I think of atheism as positing that God doesn’t exist, something no atheist can know or prove any more than I can truly know or prove the existence of God. I was an agnostic for many many years, shrugging my shoulders at the whole thing as basically unknowable. Now I believe. Simply because it suddenly felt right to do so. I’ve never known more happiness and joy in life, and I’m truly a better person. In any case, I believe that I will exist in some fashion as spirit with God, perhaps to return again and again, perhaps to travel to other worlds. I don’t know, and am in no hurry to get there. We are hear for a reason, and I try to work on that in this life.

    Good luck on the surgery. I’m sure it will go fine! And thanks for your thoughts on my blog post.

  9. “You have no fear or anger at non-existence for the rest of the time of this universe?”

    Nope.

    I think Mark Twain put it best…I didn’t exist for billions of years before I was born and I’m no worse the wear for it.

  10. “Probably”??

    Would you like for some of us “crazies” to pray for you?
    :)

  11. “Would you like for some of us “crazies” to pray for you?”

    Nope.

    You certainly can if it makes YOU feel better, of course.

    Maybe you should check out the studies on the efficacy of prayer. Turns out, it doesn’t work.

  12. Sometimes God says yes.
    Sometimes God says no.
    Sometimes God says not yet.

    Science studies science.
    Medicine studies medicine.
    Faith lives.

    I do hope (and pray) things go well for you!

  13. “Sometimes God says yes.
    Sometimes God says no.
    Sometimes God says not yet.”

    Then why pray for things to happen?

    “Faith lives.”

    I know. Which is too bad. We could probably get a lot more done without it.

    I appreciate the positive thoughts, though. (As that’s what they are, essentially.)

  14. “Then why pray for things to happen?”

    Because God said so.

    “I know. Which is too bad. We could probably get a lot more done without it.”

    Probably true for some. But I hope there are more that get a lot more done through it.

  15. “Because God said so.”

    Beg me to do things. I will then proceed to do whatever I want.

    Nice god, that.

  16. Meaningful to whom?

    Purposeful to whom?

    Apparently I have enough meaning, at least to you, to make you comment on my blog.

    That is exactly my point. If I have to assign purpose to you in order for you to have meaning, then I can easily remove that purpose and remove meaning. Nonetheless, ultimately speaking you have no purpose which means you have no meaning, this life is meaningless. There is no purpose, therefore no meaning. No matter who assigns it, a flaccid assignment to make on happy or keep on content doesn’t remove the fact that this existence lacks purpose and meaning.

  17. [...] http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/fearless-atheism/#comments [...]

  18. Hey we all have faith in something, it’s just that many people refuse to call it faith…it’s like a dirty word to some people or something.
    Saying you don’t have faith it like saying you have faith in the idea that there is no need for faith. Or playing devil’s advocate, having faith is like saying you don’t have faith in the idea that there is nothing to be faithful about or toward.
    I love the english language…

    To me, and biblically, it’s my opinion that prayer is truly meant for communication and not just asking for things. Since we cannot have a one on one conversation in the flesh with God, we pray and listen. It’s in the quiet times that many of us find clarity whether Christian or Atheist. It’s this time of listening that many forget about and instead they cling to asking, asking asking, which is not ALL bad, but simply only half of the equation called communication. It’s this loss of listening that gives prayer a bad rap. If we simply beg, and never listen, we don’t receive an answer. Then the result always seems arbitrary. Kind of like asking a friend for an opinion, and then running away before your hear or discern the answer. And, once everything plays out, you blame the friend for whatever happened. Duh!

    Anyway, I hope your surgery is less painful than my recent dental work!

  19. “If I have to assign purpose to you in order for you to have meaning, then I can easily remove that purpose and remove meaning”

    Yes. But that only applies to the meaning I have to you. Which doesn’t particularly bother me.

    “Nonetheless, ultimately speaking you have no purpose which means you have no meaning”

    No. Ultimately having no purpose just means that ultimately I have no meaning. I still have meaning to myself, my family, and my friends, and the people I interact with.

    I don’t see how that’s not enough for you.

    “Hey we all have faith in something”

    I’m sorry Tree, but no, we don’t.

    “Saying you don’t have faith it like saying you have faith in the idea that there is no need for faith.”

    Wrong. I see no evidence that my life (or the lives of anyone) would be improved by the existence of faith. Depending, of course, how you define it. Faith is not the same as, say, trust.

    Trust is believing in something based on the available evidence. I trust, for example, that my wife loves me and is not cheating on me.

    If I found evidence that my wife did not care for me and/or was sleeping with other men, and yet still believed she loved me and didn’t cheat, then I would have faith.

    (Oh, and I’m not married. Just using a hypothetical. :) )

  20. Morse,
    I hope the surgery went well (assuming it’s happened already).
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you saying that faith in something (spiritual or non-spiritual)requires that there be evidence to the contrary of whatever the subject of faith is regarding? In other words, are you suggesting that anyone who has faith in anything is blinding themselves to the evidence?
    I hope you just posted a badly worded, or non-universal example.

    I’m also curious what evidence you’ve “not” seen that helps you cling to the belief that having faith in something is “not” beneficial.

    To me, faith (spiritual) and trust go hand in hand. My faith is built upon evidence as well as trusting what the Bible says. Many seem to try and say faith is believing in something that is completely unknown. Sure, it can be defined as that, but without factual and perceived evidence I would not have faith (spiritual).

  21. “I hope the surgery went well (assuming it’s happened already).”

    Thank you, it did and it went well. I still have both kidneys, both are now healthy, and despite a good deal of pain I’m doing fine! :)

    “I hope you just posted a badly worded, or non-universal example.”

    A non-universal example probably best describes what I did, and for that I apologize.

    A better, more general, example might be that you believe Angelina Jolie is in love with you.

    Now, you’ve never met Angelina. But you have no evidence that she doesn’t love you. And you’re a good enough guy, so why wouldn’t she? And so you fervently believe that she loves you, even without any good evidence to back it up. That, sir, is faith.

    “I’m also curious what evidence you’ve “not” seen that helps you cling to the belief that having faith in something is “not” beneficial.”

    That is interestingly worded.

    I don’t cling to anything. I see evidence that any benefit that people get (or claim to get) from faith can be achieved without faith through some other means.

    It’s like acupuncture. There have been studies that show that actual acupuncture is no more beneficial than fake acupuncture (which would be the random placement of needles by a non-professional acupuncturist).

    Does that mean that someone who gets acupuncture gets no benefit? Nope. But the benefit you get is from the placebo affect.

    And if you can get the same benefits, or better benefits, from different techniques, what makes your way special?

    “perceived evidence”

    I’m curious to know what that is.

  22. Thanks for the clarification. Glad you are healthy!

    I still feel faith is also based on some level of good evidence and that blind faith is atypical.

    Perceived evidence with regards to why I have faith would be: any evidence that I personally feel validates reasons for faith, but would potentially be irrelevant to anyone else since they did not witness, feel or perceive it directly…Some examples may include coincidences, answered prayers, “miracles”, or unexplained changes in ones life, like a shy monotone guy turning into a bold, charismatic public speaker almost overnight (me). Hope that helps clarify.

    P.S. I think we can all just simply love Angelina and not care too much about her response – just joking…

  23. Hmmm…as one of the “faithful” I have no fear of death. I am sorry, that your prior religious experience would cause you to fear death as that is _not_ the message of the Bible. (Well, except for the arrogant, proud, wicked etc)

  24. It’s not Satan and demons who punish people in Hell. That’s medieval hype. Satan and demons will be punished in Hell too, and for the very same reasons humans are, namely, because they’re rotten lawless evil sinners compared to God’s holiness. Jesus Christ is the one punishing sinners in Hell for their lawlessness, not because they merely refused to believe in His existence. Even Satan knows God exists but will be punished too. Even people during Jesus time saw Him do miracles and didn’t believe.

    And it’s a silly thing to conclude that your consciousness will cease when you die because matter in motion can’t even account for consciousness to begin with! If it’s more rational to assume more then matter got us here and holds us together here, then we have every reason to believe so after death too!

    And most atheists want forensic proof of God’s existence. Well dying is a great experiment!

  25. “Jesus Christ is the one punishing sinners ”

    Nice to know you worship a sadist.

    “Even people during Jesus time saw Him do miracles and didn’t believe.”

    If this is true, those people are idiots.

    But I don’t think it’s true.

    “because matter in motion can’t even account for consciousness to begin with!”

    Sure it can.

    “If it’s more rational to assume more then matter got us here and holds us together here”

    It isn’t.

  26. If Jesus is a sadist then according to your logic, all earthly judges who give sentences for heinous crimes are sadists. If Christ’s punishment fits the crime, then that’s nothing then perfect justice.

    You say people who saw Jesus do miracles and denied Him were idiots based on just their reasoning powers alone. How do you know they didn’t have God-hostile hearts instead of restored hearts, and that’s why their reasoning powers were skewed?

    Further, I can use your same “did satan write the Bible” argument here. How would you know it’s Jesus and not Satan? That’s what the people then said. So you can’t use your reasoning powers alone to know God exists, because it could always be something tricking you. In fact, you can’t even know ANYTHING for certain, because it could all be an illusion and you’d have no way to know otherwise!

    So mindless matter in motion can account for abstract absolute universal concepts? In other words, the physical can account for the non-physical to you, or non-minds can account for minds.

    Once you show me where non-physical concepts are found in nature, how nature made them absolute, and how nature determines that they shouldn’t contradict, then I’ll let you say that it isn’t rational to assume more then matter got us here.

  27. Eternity isn’t befitting of a single fucking thing that any mortal could do. you know what happens when you divide a finite amount (say 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) by infinity. What’s the end result? ZERO. Mother, fucking zero. So your argument is baseless and stupid.

    God is the only thing that can “restore your heart” meaning that it is His responsibility if you are saved. Also it means it is his responsibility if you are not. Ergo, No justice becasue no one is accountable for their actions.

    You don’t even make a point in the 3rd an forth paragraghs

    non-physical concepts are found in nature? You mean that the physical universe not being a physical entity? Brilliant. You have no prooof that our minda are Not a product of the development of a frontal cortex composed of nuerons, which are cells operated by chemical reactions. None whatsoever. In fact, the operation of the mind is a 1 to one function of the operations of the different areas of the brain.

  28. I don’t know what your math problem has to do with anything. You sound mad though. Are you hostile to the Lord Jesus Christ? If your worldview were correct, then you are really just hostile with nature for causing people’s physiological makeup to cause them to believe in God, thus are contradicting yourself if you’re hostile with anything other than nature.

    God does determine who’s saved and not saved. But that doesn’t imply that we’re not accountable for our actions. That’s like a murderer standing on trial and telling the judge that the only reason he committed the crime is because he wanted to, therefore, he’s not guilty. We’re all guilty because we want to sin and therefore sin.

    My last point was that abstract (non-physical), absolute, and universal concepts which ought to not contradict can’t be accounted for by matter in motion. Neurons are what we see taking place in the physical. Absolute abstract concepts themselves, and the law of non-contradiction, is what is taking place in the non-physical. Or have you discovered these growing on trees in the lower hemisphere of Africa?

    Or do you hate the Lord Jesus Christ so much that you don’t want to admit that there is a meta-physical realm, even though our conversation is proof of it?

  29. And if Naturalism were true, then no one should be guilty of their crimes, because crimes are nothing then matter bumping into other matter! We don’t arrest other animals who bump into other animals (in the form of eating them), and we don’t arrest Pepsi for fizzing and bumping into table matter, so likewise there is no bases to have “crimes” if all is just matter in motion. Further, no one would be accountable for their actions within Naturalism because everyone is just a by-product of their physiological makeup.


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