Tract #58: Can Atheists Believe in the Supernatural?

Tract #58, Can Atheists Believe in the Supernatural?, is ready for you to print and hand out. Download it, see page #3 for printing instructions, and let me know your comments! Thanks!


Can Atheists Believe in the Supernatural?

A moral atheist uses reason to conclude that it is likely that no deities exist. But does this imply that nothing supernatural exists? Can a moral atheist believe in things that are not deities but are also not part of nature?

The big question here is how one would have any knowledge of a supernatural thing — reincarnation, fate, the soul, etc. — if it was not part of nature. Is it a gut feeling? A philosophical deduction? Something else? Whatever the evidence is, why does it act as proof that the supernatural exists without also possibly acting as proof that a deity exists?

But odds are that if a moral atheist believes in something seemingly supernatural, it’s not because of mere feeling or philosophy, but because there is some kind of more tangible evidence — an inexplicable psychic feat, ghost sighting, etc., The problem is that as soon as you start talking about evidence, you’re talking about something that can be scientifically tested, and when you talk about scientific testing of strange things, you’re not talking about the supernatural, you’re talking about the paranormal.

Something paranormal is apparently inexplicable by our current knowledge of science, but it’s still part of the natural universe. If such a thing is investigated scientifically, it will eventually be understood and no longer classified as paranormal.

For example, there was a time when a hot rock falling out of the sky might have been considered a paranormal occurrence. But today, we understand that rocks in space may occasionally enter Earth’s atmosphere, and we consider that part of science.

Similarly, if it was found that a certain group of people could predict coin flips with statistically significant accuracy, we would consider these people to have a paranormal ability. With further study, we would likely discover the mechanism for this ability and it would no longer be considered paranormal — simply rare but explainable.

There is nothing wrong with a moral atheist believing in something paranormal, so long as the atheist is being consistent in terms of how much evidence is required for something to be considered likely.

For example, if the atheist thinks that three eyewitness account are sufficient evidence that the ghost of a Victorian woman still lives in what was her house, the atheist must consider carefully what three eyewitness accounts of visions of Jesus imply.

You will find that, in practice, moral atheists are not accepting of the supernatural, paranormal, or other extraordinarily hard-to-evidence beliefs. This is to be expected, since their entire philosophy has its roots in skepticism. But this does not mean than an atheist can’t be convinced by sufficient evidence. Being intellectually rigorous means always being willing to change your mind in the face of proof that what you believe is wrong.

Posted on November 29, 2009 at 10:11 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: About atheism, Tract

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