Home > Uncategorized > An Atheist’s Perspective: Birth

An Atheist’s Perspective: Birth

This post is going to be a bit clunky, as of the time I write this my wife is having contractions and we are expecting to have another child either tonight or tomorrow. Yes, I’ll be bringing another atheist into the world very soon. I say this not to stick whatever curious religious readers I have out there, but because I deny the idea that we, as a species, are born with the inherent idea that there exists a greater supernatural being out there. This is an idea that we are taught.

The way I see it is that as an individual we learn the idea of cause and effect. Our initial experiences give us this concept. I want to move my arm, and thus my arm moves; after awhile, as the brain develops we understand the idea of external causes. Now, the accusation that is immediately cropping up is that my claim is going to default us to Aquinas’ first Cause argument or some quasi-Aristotelian/Augustinian prime mover argument. This is not my claim.

As we get older we develop the idea that external causes produce external effect and this happens in the world that is outside our perception. We will understand that rain comes not from the sky but from the clouds, the clouds are a product of some other phenomenon. However, at no point do I think our brains would create the idea of a supernatural cause if it were not told to us that such a cause existed. Instead, we might assume that there is some unknown cause and either shrug calling it, “one of those things” or begin to investigate the cause.

Hegel assumed a development to the ideas in history; that our ancestors probably gave thanks to the river for fish and such. Then they began to believe that it was not the river for which they owed their lives but something that governed the river, from that they assumed a whole plethora of gods to govern all things (and yes I did use “plethora” correctly there). I think the reasoning might be a bit more practical than what Hegel claimed. I would claim that rather than some forward driving “geist” the reasoning is probably much more simple. All things and live and die, said Empedocles, and it is only through custom that we call death “cruel fate.” We call it cruel because we need something to blame…or perhaps praise. We can’t praise a river when we get fish and water from it, just as we can’t blame the river for a flood. When bad things happen we look to connect the dots–to create patterns where they don’t perhaps exist. In doing this, creating the patterns, we were forced to ascribe consciousness or personhood to the thing that is the seeming cause. A river god is to blame, and when our gods became to numerous to count we merely subsumed them under the banner of one chief god whose role was more like the tribe’s chief than a supremely divine being. This god had superior strength and was more often than not opposed by a god or gods whose virtue lay in intelligence and cunning.

From there, still following Hegel, we devised the supreme god which eliminated the needs for all others. From there we have stopped until we possibly elevate rationality and reason to divine levels. We teach this to our children and then on and on it goes until the present day. Yet if that teaching is suddenly stopped, if we don’t give the smallest and most credulous of us the notion, by what means would they created it of their own? There seems to be no reason to go outside the natural realm, to multiply pluralities beyond necessity would take the creation of a fiction since we have no evidence to suggest otherwise.

A child is born knowing nothing. Everything that they experience is both new and normal, which is why it always frustrates me when I am suggested that I buy children’s music for my daughter. She doesn’t like children’s music unless she’s exposed to it, and since I don’t want to listen to it I’m not going to. My daughter listens to “adult music” not because I am a mean heartless individual who wants to deny her the opportunity to listen to the music she is innately predisposed to, but because that predisposition does not exist.

Just as she did not have any notion of “god” until she was exposed to it, same with my imminent second daughter. Now, I don’t deny her the wonder of faeries or magic or whatever other stories that we read, but to her they are as real as anything in the religious texts. In some ways they are nicer because even compared to Grimm’s tales they seem to be more tame. I’ve read my eldest daughter “The Iliad” when she was an infant and that story was just as real to the Ancient Greeks as any religion now. Same with the various Norse myths as well as Beowulf (for which I received some chiding from an English major about reinforcing stereotypes).

The world’s myths can offer a person something, I won’t deny her (soon to be: them) any of them. I won’t however teach them as true stories since we can’t be sure of any of them. We can be sure that the material world influences the material world, but that really seems to be all that we can know for sure.

  1. March 4, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Reblogged this on Vagrant Rohitt and commented:
    “However, at no point do I think our brains would create the idea of a supernatural cause if it were not told to us that such a cause existed. Instead, we might assume that there is some unknown cause and either shrug calling it, “one of those things” or begin to investigate the cause.”
    And I wonder why people are still falling for it. Wonderful article 😀

    • rdxdave
      March 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks, I was meaning to respond to you, but baby and all. I don’t think that people are “falling for it,” I think that theism is what they are taught and after awhile they identify it as part of their self, which is why they are so against letting it go. As I said in the post, what you grow up with is what you perceive as normal. It’s encouraging though, that some recent polls have shown that younger Americans do not have the allegiance to the religion they grew up with and are switching out. If only we could get them to switch to nothing.

      • March 11, 2014 at 10:54 am

        That is the tough part. Making people think logically for once. Well, they say we preach atheism, isn’t it? I wonder what makes them think on this as a religion. The thing I wanted to point was that when people grow up they have mental ability to question what they hear or see. I became an atheist when I grew up. So if I had the ability to question those beliefs at the age of 10, why can’t even adults let all bias go and think neutrally and logically for once? That point, however, you explained without my mentioning only.

        BUT, the poll’s results are even more troubling. They switch out to another religion. That means they are still not thinking clearly and are still delusional. So, no progress made here. I can compare it to that time when I did not like my own religion(hinduism) and all the traditions but the idea of a simple and elegant cross around my neck was a welcome idea. So, in order to stand out and to do something different I started wearing a cross. I laugh looking back at it now, but that survey is indeed troubling if this is what it points out.

      • rdxdave
        March 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        I think what makes them think of it as a religion is that they can’t conceive a group of people with a similar mindset who aren’t being told what to think. I would also add that what their preachers tell them about us doesn’t help. They are clearly told that we are organized and trying to destroy them.

        The poll isn’t as troubling as that. If they are willing to break from their tradition, what they were born with, it’s a sign that at least they are willing to question something. I agree that the result isn’t what I would like, but it’s a step in the right direction. If they reflect on the difference between their new religion and their old one, they might realize that the same doubts will always be present.

      • March 12, 2014 at 6:26 pm

        Echoes what you said. Pretty much offensive and sad.

        Okay, I hope that happens. And soon. I’m optimistic even that it would happen. I found out that some of my close friends were also atheists and that helps a lot. Some place to rant about. Yeah. Just tired of all these religions and stuff. It is mostly like playing tennis with a wall. 😛

  2. rdxdave
    March 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    That site is pretty bad I wonder if that person has ever met an atheist other than the stereotype that they were undoubtedly taught.

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