3/14/2010

Just Not the Holy Ghost, Right?

In a comment on my Blasphemy Challenge post, someone intimated that I believed in ghosts, just not the "holy ghost." Actually I don't and thereby lays the tale of how I found my way out of the atheist closet.

After chasing around ghosts with a paranormal group and spending a lot of time delving into what people believed about them I finally concluded that it was almost certainly all something other than spirits and souls. For most people a "ghost" is the spirit or soul of someone who has died. Some will hedge a bit and claim they are "energy" left behind by people or they are "nature spirits" or even "demons" fooling us all. In all those cases, it requires that the entire structure of the universe be somewhat altered from what we know to be true.

Try as they might no one can seem to get a handle on showing that a "soul" actually exists. Despite more than a century of attempts no one can seem to show incontrovertible proof or experimental data even that ghosts exist outside the minds of those who "see" them. Even in my own case, I could never be sure my experiences were not a combination of psychology and wishful thinking.

The more I looked at the subject the more I was convinced that the answers people were seeking lay exactly in the places they were most afraid to look - the mind. When I began to say that I thought psychology offered a better route to solving the mystery of "hauntings" rather than electronic doo-dads and quasi-seances, well, the reaction was not kind for the most part.

At that point I realized I'd stumbled onto something fundamental to the belief in ghosts - it was a form of religious belief. Just as churches promise Heaven (or Hell depending on your adherence to carefully selected and applied rules) - paranormal belief promised an afterlife. What's more, when you mixed in the psychics and mediums who helped troubled souls "cross over" it tied nicely into the religious model.

It was all one big system. If I rejected ghosts as souls - based upon my own observation and study - then why continue to hold out belief that the rest of the model held true? It was that leap that brought me to actually looking closely at religion as something that was exempt from critical thinking to applying logic and reason to its claims.

When that is done, religion simply doesn't stand up. To look at religion as skeptically as I did claims of people being haunted by Old West cowboys was to, ultimately, see the sheer absurdity of it all. That, in turn, led me to read extensive critiques of religion as history, science, and world view. The conclusion is obvious: there is no "god" who directs matters.

Of course, religious folks love to scream "Prove it!" knowing that proving a negative is almost always impossible to do completely. But, that's not the point. My conclusions are based on a preponderance of evidence. There is simply MORE evidence (by magnitudes) that god does not exist than there is that god does exist. Therefore, I can say with some certainty that god does not exist.

So, I don't really believe in ghosts and it was that personal study that eventually led me to apply the same skeptical critiques to religion as a whole and resulted in my saying: I am an atheist.

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