Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spiritual Atheist 3.0

Ta-Wan
Solving the spiritual/atheist paradox


First a fact: We all have a natural quest for meaning in our lives.

Second an assumption: You, being an intelligent and rational person, will look towards science for explanations.

If you look towards ancient scripture, then please move on.

If you're still reading, then you are the modern Spiritual/Atheist. You live in a paradoxical place, but you don't fall down here as the truth of the matter is no such paradox.  We just don't explain the situation well enough normally to see that it is actually quite a sane position.

It is natural -- even given our innate desire for answers to our biggest questions -- to discount a "spiritual" approach as fallible and something that will be proven as fanciful once science furthers its goals. Yet, as said, we all naturally have a tendency to wish to know where, why and how we fit into the mystery of life. We perhaps feel that the inner desire is in our evolutionary baggage or excuse it in some other way. If we strongly embrace it, then we may feel it contradicts our scientifically-obtained knowledge and we may indeed feel a split in our Spiritual/Atheist persona.

Spirit, as first defined by the Greeks, was breath and so, no breath, no life. Spirit then evolved as a term to become a thing separate to the living organism, something that may even outlive the body. This most people would agree now is untrue given modern science and so spirituality in this discussion is not a spirit that is a thing in any way but a label. The term Spirituality can be tinged a little and placed alongside Religion as something thinkers should be steering clear of.

As said though there is an inner drive in us all to for answers and many people cannot even get by in life at all without some ad-hoc solutions to theses 'Spiritual' questions. Whether 'Spiritual' is the right word then is in the semantics and how one interprets the word. I'm using the word to point to that part of us all that wishes to know. In this way, I perhaps unfairly include even the most rational scientists in this group as they are driven by this same inner wish for fulfillment. As we progress though, you'll see that in the end I see no genuine divide between all of the groups I've mentioned.

I suppose the greatest perceived split between the Scientific and the Spiritual approaches are of Science's apparent wish to find bits within bits and Spirituality's apparent wish to unite all. Science has been seen to be occasionally unholistic as in its method of wishing to find the bits that make the things, or the cause of the things as in these quests it is seen to be blind to the infinite regress of such an approach. Spirituality, on the other hand, can often be seen to be too wishy-washy as it so easily embraces all into a wholeness, while not processing so called real knowledge or making real testable claims.

Science does though have a well accepted goal of unification and spirituality does care for the parts, the most obvious 'bit' it cares for is the very individual entity doing the inquiring, the one seeking answers. A true Spiritual/Atheist cannot accept things that science has no way of proving or if they do then they should have left this conversation earlier with those folk who look toward ancient scripture for comfort. They can though hold some views that grate with science and seem on the surface unprovable. Let's take some glaring cases that in being so outstanding save us the effort of talking through smaller points.

Let's look at these seemingly unscientific and very mumbo-jumbo-esque statements: "There is no self, All is One, There is no Death."

That should stir the more scientific folk to rise to defence, if not attack. These statements are though quite scientific and our explaining this leads to the unification of the seeming paradox. If I make such bold claims as these though, I must state quite clearly how they are scientific or my last few minutes have been a waste of time.

Scientific claims are "falsifiable" that is, given the description of the method used, anyone with sufficient apparatus can follow the experiment and either agree with the claimed results or disagree. So then: 

"All is One" = the scientifically accepted idea of the Universe. Uni being One and Verse being anything from turning, to song to motion. So then, any scientific person who accepts a universe fully agrees with a spiritual person who sees Oneness. 

"There is no self" = the scientifically provable case that there is no precise place where a person is. There is no one place in the brain, no one organ, no chance of a body surviving without a suitable environment (such as Earth), no ongoing air supply, food source or so on. The apparent self is an ongoing and ever shifting process and not a fixed thing. Self then is either non-existent or ill-defined. Science should have no problem with this and so there is agreement again here with the Spiritual perspective.

"There is no death" = the scientifically provable case of the previously mentioned flow of life, that all is an ever shifting process and not fixed. We could very well say that a self comes to life at a time in space, as science and even common convention may incline us to, but we may also say that the universe, moved, shifted and changed and, for a time, we seemed to be, and for a time, we seemed to no longer be. While science is the sticking point here, it is the very exactness of science which brings for the agreement in the end. It is impossible to define a fixed moment where a fixed person came to be or where one ceased to be. Take the case of the medical coma for such a grey area.

This may sound flowery and unscientific, but if you follow my message rather than the literal wording which, I admit, rubs up against the social norms, then the idea portrayed here is that:

There is a valid stance which accepts all of science, but still fulfills our natural desire for a spiritual explanation. There is a view that fully accepts the findings of science and waits for more to come with no fear of it overturning presupposed unproven claims. There is a view of wholeness that loves the bits, the technology, the medicine, the intellectual wonder that science brings, but is also already complete and validated. A place that is fully content, ever complete in an ocean of change and apparent uncertainty.

There is a person called a Spiritual/Atheist who is not living in contradiction of anything, is not trapped by dogma, is not unfulfilled by life and so left ever seeking. This person is here as much as the next person, lives life, enjoys, learns, suffers, thrills and will die, but is not drawn to the unprovable, in need of the yet-to-be proven, but is simple and takes what their mind creates as life but is free of complex explanation or mystical unprovables.

You can check out Ta-Wan's other musings here.

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