A question some often ask is “Why do rational sane people believe utterly irrational things?”. However, a far more interesting question to ask is to wonder why skeptics and non-believers exist. Think about it now, every culture we know has embraced some form of belief in the supernatural, so why do we have non-believers?
There are easy answers for most questions, for example, the thought that folks perhaps embrace belief for comfort, but its never that simple. In a similar manner, I find that some answers put forward to explain Atheism are not satisfactory.
In todays Guardian, Wendy Grossman writes about this. I’ll let you click the link and read, but basically she asserts (with credible references to observations made by others), that strong atheism tends to emerge under the threat of theocracy.
Its an interesting suggestion, but the problem I have is that the data does not support it. For example 43-80% of the Scandinavian population are non-believers, yet they face no immediate threat of a theocracy. Yet within many theocratic states that impose belief, non-belief is not a viable movement and does not appear to naturally emerge, and if it does, they quickly chop its head off (quite literally).
I do find some quite rational explanations exist for evolution to naturally select folks who believe in other forces. For example, Michael Shermer during a TED talk paints quite a compelling case in which he describes a couple of scenarios. It goes like this … Imagine a primitive primate out on the savanna hears a rustling in the grass …
- If he assumes a predator and its not, no harm
- If he assumes its just the wind, but its actually a predator, he is out of the gene pool
Michael’s point is that our ancestors are the ones who always assumed other agents were out there and so survived, and that such assumptions naturally lead to a belief in the supernatural.
OK, so if this is correct (and I’m inclined to think it is) then we have been selected naturally for belief in other agents, such as Gods, Aliens, Spirits etc… why do non-believers exist?
OK, let me ask a couple of questions … I’m truly curious … If you are now a non-believer then:
- Were you always a non-believer?
- If not, then why did you change your mind?
Personally, I started out as a believer and have now come to the position of being a non-believer. It has taken time and much thought. It was a matter of letting go bit by bit and appreciating that not only did the believers have no evidence, but that the claims they made were at times more than a little bit silly. The trap here is that you simply end up thinking that they have got their believe wrong and that yours is the correct one, so it does take a bit of time to think your way out of that one. A key point was a discussion I once entered into with a French Philosopher who very successfully cut directly through the religious babble I spouted and explained that I was in the grip psychological mind trick. At the time I did not embrace this, but I retained the thought and eventually used it as a lifebelt to keep myself from drowning in a sea of nonsense and finally made it to a more rational shore.
So what about you, how did you manage to escape, or were you ever a captive?