Atheism and Theism’s Common Ground
At EdenKeeper we primarily focus on showing the connection between established religions and environmentalism. But a connection to nature and a sense of awe in its wonders is by no means limited to a belief in god(s) or an acceptance into a named religious order. All that it requires is a sense of humility — an acceptance that there is a force bigger than one’s self.
Many readers may be surprised that this is a sense, or belief if you will, that atheists have too. Atheists are not closed to a spiritual experience with the world around them, as some would believe.
In a recent article for NPR, Tania Lombrozo discusses the emotion and study of “awe” and how humans, both theist and atheist, make sense of an “awesome” experience.
“When it comes to vastness, the natural world provides no shortage of material,” writes Lombrozo. “In fact, studies have typically used nature documentaries, a full-sized replica of a T. Rex skeleton, and even commercials depicting waterfalls, whales and astronauts in space as elicitors of awe. In one study, more than 70 percent of card-carrying atheists reported feelings of awe (‘as if you were part of something greater than yourself’), with nature (54 percent) and science (29 percent) identified as the most frequent triggers.”
Lombrozo’s article makes an important point that people who identify themselves as theist often forget: you don’t need to believe in God to be inspired by nature. You can love humanity and the planet, feel the mystery of it all, and believe in atheism.
But the article sets up a false dichotomy (whether intentionally or unintentionally) between science and religion that perpetuates a myth often wrongfully attached to theists: that you can’t believe in God and science.
“Scientific discovery is often fueled by the recognition that something isn’t adequately understood, with a subsequent desire to resolve the mystery,” writes Lombrozo. “Similarly, awe experiences within religious contexts can involve confrontation with the mysterious and unknown, though the intended consequence might be acknowledging rather than eliminating one’s ignorance.”
She continues, “For some, uncertainty could prompt inquiry rather than disquiet, a scientific rather than a spiritual journey.”
But a scientific journey can also be a spiritual journey, and awe experiences within religious contexts can lead some to resolve the mystery, not just acknowledge it. Just because a theist believes in God doesn’t mean they can’t accept the science behind evolution and climate change. Nor does it mean that they aren’t interested in using the scientific process to unravel God’s mysteries.
Lombrozo’s article highlights the characteristics that are often wrongfully attached to atheists and theists. Atheists aren’t moral-less, fact-driven robots — they can feel a profound sense of awe in the world around them. And theists aren’t ignorant children who still believe in Santa Clause and the spaghetti monster — they just decide to name their sense of awe in the world around them as a belief in God.
In that sense, atheism and theism may be more alike than their followers would care to admit. Whether you believe in God or not, you can be awed in the nature around you.
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