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Atheist Student Groups On The Rise At College

There’s an interesting article about the prevalence of atheist college groups, and their slow but rising numbers, here. The article focuses on Iowa State University’s resident atheist group, the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society, and how they go about conducting themselves.

At Iowa State, most of the club’s roughly 30 members are “former” somethings, mostly Christians. Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.

“The goal,” said Andrew Severin, a post-doctoral researcher in bioinformatics, “should be to obtain inner peace for yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers.”

Severin calls himself a “spiritual atheist.” He doesn’t believe in God or the supernatural but thinks experiences like meditation or brushes with nature can produce biochemical reactions that feel spiritual.

When the ISU club began in 1999, it was mostly a discussion group. But it soon became clear that young people who leave organized religion miss something: a sense of community. So the group added movie and board-game nights and, more recently, twice-monthly Sunday brunches to the calendar.

This passes for logic and reason? How can something feel spiritual is there is no such thing as spirit? What basis of comparison is used if spirituality is an illusion? What is being maintained, by materialists such as this, is that biochemical reactions cause illusory feelings. But if biochemical reactions cause these feelings, then they also cause all other feelings, and there would be no getting outside of the explanation of biochemical reactions causing all feelings. So why trust biochemical reactions in other feelings like love or happiness? None of them need have any basis in reality.

There would be no frame of reference outside of biochemical reactions (such as real spirituality) that they would be approximating to. The only comparison that biochemically caused feelings could be compared with, would be other biochemically caused feelings, with no way to determine which of them is true or false. And so there is no basis for comparison even using these reactions as the basis, for there is no more “true” or “fundamental” biochemical reactions than all other reactions, and even if there were it wouldn’t have any purchase on any reality outside of itself.

Has this young man never noticed that we have the same physical reactions, such as crying, when we are very happy as when we are very sad? How can studying the reaction itself provide the answer to why it was occurring? Studying the reaction will never get you any closer to whether it was a result of happiness or sadness. When you approach the matter from above, that our physiological reactions are limited, while our emotions are more varied, the physiological reactions have to work double-duty to accommodate the wider scope of emotions. But on the grounds of the studying the physiological reactions as causing the emotions, we could never discern, by studying the reactions themselves, any fundamental difference between happiness or sadness. Such is the problem with looking at the picture from the bottom-up. Therefore, there is an obvious transcendental nature to our feelings that cannot be studied from biochemical reactions to account as a valid explanation of their existence.

At any rate, I also found it interesting that Hector Avalos, the man who was instrumental in causing noted scientist Guillermo Gonzalez to be denied tenure at Iowa State, is their sponsor:

“This is not a group of angry atheists. It’s a group of very exuberant atheists,” said faculty sponsor Hector Avalos, a secular humanist and well-known Biblical scholar who used to be a Pentecostal preacher.

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28 Responses to Atheist Student Groups On The Rise At College

  1. The only comparison that biochemically caused feelings could be compared with, would be other biochemically caused feelings, with no way to determine which of them is true or false.

    Clive, it should be pretty obvious, unless you are a Christian Scientist or a Scientologist that biochemistry has a real effect on emotions. I have family members who suffered terribly from severe depression to the point of being suicidal. They tried all sorts of self-help programs and (frankly) prayer to overcome the pain they lived under. In the end the only thing that helped them was anti-depressant medication. They pain they had before, and the peace they have experienced since starting the meds, are real.

    So, I am not really sure what you are trying to say here, Clive. If it is your belief that emotions have a spiritual (in the theistic sense) component, fair enough. I hold no truck with that belief. But, I don’t get two things. First, what it is that makes you think any emotion is false at all and, second, how anyone (including you) could tell the difference.

  2. I’d have to agree with hummus here. Feelings are what they are, and they do have physical components. Anyone who knows a woman should know that. Sheesh.

    I for one do not determine things like right and wrong or truth and falsehood by consulting my feelings. Feelings change. They run away when you try to grasp them. They are no use in serving as a guide.

  3. “The goal,” said Andrew Severin, a post-doctoral researcher in bioinformatics, “should be to obtain inner peace for yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers.”

    This sounds more like a self-help group than a “society of rational belief in science, logic, and reason”.

    Not to be glib or disrespectful here, but just how does one “do” random acts of anything, especially something kind, which is more than vaguely intentional and particularly conscientious?

    That statement from this well meaning post-doctoral researcher is revealing. Apparently, he has passed muster on the science part. The rest however, is typical of someone who has had little training in logic and reason.

  4. Not to be glib or disrespectful here, but just how does one “do” random acts of anything, especially something kind, which is more than vaguely intentional and particularly conscientious?

    You’ve got it all wrong. You do random acts of kindness just like nature designs things. Just bounce around in a quantam state (the random part) and wait for something kind to happen (the faux-design part). Given enough time something kind has to happen.

    We just happen to live in the universe that produces lots of random kindness. It must stink to live in those other universes where kind things do not happen as often or at all.

  5. “Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.”

    And my life is guided by my faith, which is completely compatible with science, logic and reason. Amazing, huh?

  6. ellijacket #4,

    I get your point here (glibly stated or otherwise), but clearly this fellow, Severin, had something other than a “quantum state” in mind when he uttered that sentence.

    You may very well be a reductionist, in which case, this brief faux-correspondence is wholly without intention.

    Kindly,
    toc

  7. Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.

    Atheists and logic and reason?

    Was that supposed to be a joke?

  8. toc #6,

    I am a sarcasticist.

    I also don’t believe in random acts of kindness or being good for goodness sake.

    Long live the King!

  9. Anyone who has ever had mood-altering drugs (including alcohol) knows that feelings have a biochemical origin. And as tragic says, feelings are a very unreliable guide to what is right and wrong, or for that matter what is real or not.

  10. Sorry, but Clive has a point. And I’m tired of how atheism is alternately billed as not entailing anything (no particular beliefs or practices, etc), and then atheist groups like these form up with a “goal” of “attaining inner peace” and performing “random acts of kindness”. When, if atheism is merely the ‘lack of belief’, these things have nothing to do with atheism. It’s like forming an atheist club, with the goal of everyone learning how to knit.

    When “attaining inner peace” and “doing random acts of kindness” are examined under an atheist, naturalist system, the result is always the same: Either the words cease to mean anything other than “do this because it’s subjectively fun or entertaining and that’s all”, and thus ceases to mean much of anything, or the words really do mean “there are objective moral and ethical duties, rights and wrongs, purposes and goals, that humans are duty-bound to pursue”, and thus ceases to be naturalism, and likely sincere atheism as well.

  11. Barb:

    And my life is guided by my faith, which is completely compatible with science, logic and reason.

    They claim to believe in “science, logic and reason,” but have no reason for doing so, they do so “by faith.”

    The funny thing is, we have reasons for our faith.

  12. I think the point clive was trying to make here is that the biochemical process that makes someone, for example, “feel suicidal” is vastly different than the one who yields to that feeling and actually carries out suicide.

    Feeling faithful and being faithful are not synonymous…ask your spouse.

    What I have now after becoming a christian that I didn’t have before is the ability to see that a biochemical reaction may or may not be accurate given the situation or circumstance. This ability was a blessing as I once had the biochemical feeling of suicide. I also had an unexplainable phrase that continued to pop into my brain that said, “Go Home and tell someone.” Why would I have 2 contradicting biochemical processes at odds with one another?

    No doubt biochemicals are part of who we are just like blood and water. However having the wisdom to discern through the waves of emotions is God given and specific to humans. Unfortunately not all humans are blessed with this wisdom, skill, whatever you want to call it.

    Can a person have this ability without being a christian? yes, but they’re still unforgiven in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

  13. In one sense, Clive is right. There is something odd about forming a club around not believing or doing something. It’s a bit like forming a society for people who don’t collect stamps.

    On the other hand, as has been pointed out many times before, this country is an extremely religiose society. Opinion polls have suggested that a pedophile stands a better chance of being elected to public office than an atheist. Politicians have proclaimed that they cannot be patriots and should not be citizens. They have been variously reviled, shunned, bullied, harassed, threatened and attacked in some cases by Christians who ought to know better.

    Small wonder they seek the company and support of the like-minded.

  14. ellijacket #8,
    I too, am an Elvis fan. Saw him last week, by the way at a bowling alley in Lee’s Summit, MO.

  15. toc @14,

    That must have been quite the experience. Was he performing his new hit “Random Acts of Kindness”?

  16. 16

    re#10

    nullasalus’

    “When ‘attaining inner peace’ and ‘doing random acts of kindness’ are examined under an atheist, naturalist system, the result is always the same: Either the words cease to mean anything other than ‘do this because it’s subjectively fun or entertaining and that’s all’, and thus ceases to mean much of anything, or the words really do mean ‘there are objective moral and ethical duties, rights and wrongs, purposes and goals, that humans are duty-bound to pursue’, and thus ceases to be naturalism, and likely sincere atheism as well.

    WEEKLY MEETING OF THE ATHEIST SOCIETY

    Student member: So Mr. Moderator, I understand that we are committed to attaining inner peace and doing random acts of kindness. Tell me, do the random acts come as a result of my attaining inner peace, or the other way around?

    Moderator: Well, my answering your question would be an act of kindness, and I cannot answer it because I have not yet attained the inner peace necessary for the kind act.

    Student member: Oh, I see. So are we going to have a discussion then about the merits of atheism?

    Moderator: What would be the point? It wouldn’t be a random act of kindness for me to moderate any discussion of that nature because first of all, it doesn’t come from my having attained inner peace, but is suggested by you, a member of this group, and furthermore, it would not be a random act, for if I did it I would choose to do so.

    Student member: Oh, I see; so how about a six pack, pizza and a movie?

    Moderator: Sounds good to me. All in favor, say aye.

  17. Man that sure is a lot of words you guys wrote about some throw-away line uttered by a college student in a pretty dumb piece of journalism.

    I suppose this is one of the “pro-religious” posts here at UD, as opposed to one of the “Intelligent Design” posts.

    At the end of the day, “atheist” is just a word, and is as open to misinterpretation, hijack, redefinition and clouding as the word “christian”.

    However, I see nothing wrong with an atheist who seeks out experiences that are analogous to “spiritual” whilst recognising that such experiences are purely a product of his own biochemistry. He understands that such experiences are do obviously occur in others, but unlike the others, he understands that they are not supernatural in nature.

    Mental health patients suffering from psychosis often undergo extremely strong religious experiences, causing profound changes to them which are not always forgotten when they recover. I doubt one could convincingly argue that these are not products of the illness they suffer from.

    There is also the case of the alcoholic for whom no intervention or rehabilitation seemed to work, who enrolled in a medical experiment and was (after many tests) administered a hugely high dose of LSD. If you’ll pardon the language, he “tripped balls” and upon emerging from the acid trip, told the doctors that he had spoken with god, who told him to no longer drink – and from that point on he abstained from alcohol.

    Religious experiences are nothing more than regular human emotions, and can be triggered by obviously biochemical factors.

  18. zeroseven:

    Anyone who has ever had mood-altering drugs (including alcohol) knows that feelings have a biochemical origin.

    I wouldn’t say that all feelings have a biochemical origin, just that some probably do. I also think that feelings are capable of being controlled by your mind, and because of this ability you can to some extent dictate what feelings you allow yourself to feel. But there are definitely some chemical things involved. Of that there is no doubt.

  19. You can for instance, induce yourself to feel sad by calling up a memory of some time you were sad or some event in your life that made you sad.

  20. Hummus man:

    …it should be pretty obvious, unless you are a Christian Scientist or a Scientologist that biochemistry has a real effect on emotions.

    Sure. But conversely, it’s also true that psychological factors have real effects on biochemistry.

    I’m glad that antidepressant medications were helpful for your family members. You mentioned that they tried prayer and all sorts of self-help programs, but you didn’t mention that they tried psychotherapy. It’s a well-kept secret (but a well-established finding) that psychotherapy is also associated with specific changes in brain biochemistry. The most recent evidence of this I’m aware of may be found in the November issue of Biological Psychiatry at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1972603 .

    Unlike medication, psychotherapy has no deleterious side effects. Also unlike medication, psychotherapy has no multi-billion-dollar industry to support it. That’s part of why it’s a well-kept secret.

    In fact, a large proportion of the effects of antidepressant medication is explained by placebo, which is a psychological effect as you know. For a classic study of this which has been supported many times since, see http://journals.apa.org/pt/pre.....0002a.html .

    JamesBond, you wrote:

    Religious experiences are nothing more than regular human emotions, and can be triggered by obviously biochemical factors.

    That, of course, is nothing more than an assertion.

  21. Man that sure is a lot of words

    JomesBond got it one. It was a throw-away line from a college student. And whats so bad about random acts of kindness anyway ? Is he to be forever condemmed because his statement lacks theological purity ?

    Give it a rest guys.

  22. Oy. I just noticed that my first link doesn’t work.

    Try this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19726030

    Or mebbe this:
    http://tinyurl.com/yz2xfqu

  23. Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.

    Science, logic and reason lead to the inescapable conclusion that the universe and living systems were designed by a super-intelligence for a purpose. In the case of the design of the universe, it is clear that this intelligence must transcend space and time.

    The goal…should be to obtain inner peace for yourself…

    This is impossible. One can’t obtain inner peace for himself, because the source of this “inner peace” would be an unpeaceful soul. We all have unpeaceful souls; admit it, get used to it, and stop engaging in fantasies about pulling yourself up by your own unpeaceful bootstraps.

    So the group added movie and board-game nights and, more recently, twice-monthly Sunday brunches to the calendar.

    Good luck with movies and board games as a substitute for soul searching and service.

    In the meantime I’ll serve at my church, and make a real, meaningful difference in other people’s lives. Others did this for me, and I intend to return the gift, with interest.

  24. Religious experiences are nothing more than regular human emotions, and can be triggered by obviously biochemical factors.

    I don’t understand why I don’t have religious experiences all the time then.

    Or maybe I do. Maybe every experience I have is a religious experience.

    How do I tell, since they both obviously emanate from the same phenomenon?

  25. “The goal,” said Andrew Severin, a post-doctoral researcher in bioinformatics, “should be to obtain inner peace for yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers.”

    I don’t think we should be heaping scorn on these poor deluded “souls.” For it is clear they are seeking “inner peace.” WHATEVER THAT IS!

    Here’s what I propose:

    : Inner Peace

    The resolution of what one thinks and the way one acts with what one knows (or largely suspects) to be true.

    What does this tell us about atheists who are seeking “inner peace”? It tells us that what they currently think and the way the currently act is inconsistent with what they actually believe to be the truth.

  26. That’s the best thing I believe I’ve heard all day.

  27. “Religious experiences are nothing more than regular human emotions, and can be triggered by obviously biochemical factors.”

    Is that outburst rational, or just a chemical reaction?

  28. “At the end of the day, “atheist” is just a word, and is as open to misinterpretation, hijack, redefinition and clouding as the word “christian”.”

    Atheism: Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods
    Christian: Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the teachings and life of Jesus

    What is so hard to understand about either definition? What, exactly, is a spiritual atheist if, by definition, atheism does not believe in any type of spiritual reality?

    If science is truly the answer to everything (as the New Atheists proudly declare) then why don’t these student atheists with their belief in science, logic, and reason have true inner peace?

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