Naturalism and Religious Experience (A Summary)
What about traditional religion?  -- Near the end of this page.


(1) Evidence indicates religious experiences are a part of the human makeup.  
Look around and you will see evidence of this in many places.  
Religious experiences do happen and are as real to the person experiencing them, as is pain 
and pleasure, or an emotion, or a sensation -- seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. 
These religious experiences can even feel more real and deeper than ordinary experiences.
These religious experiences can often be life changing.
Many people associate these experiences with a supernatural realm, separate from the natural.

(2) But, all evidence indicates that there is no supernatural realm; 
that there are no supernatural entities in existence.  There is no duality in reality 
-- there is only the natural.

How do you reconcile these two sets of conflicting evidence?   

(3) Also, private prayer can sometimes be beneficial.  
But if there is no supernatural realm and therefore no supernatural entities, who is the prayer to?

Headings below are: 
What about the evidence?,
What about God?, What about Prayer?, What about the External God some people believe exists?, What about religious groups?, What about Science?, What about Dogmatism?, What about traditional religion? 
What about related topics? 
What about Unusual Numbers?

Also Check Recommended Book List for references
Tree Diagram of pages on this Web Site


What about the evidence?

The evidence for only the natural:
 (1) Logically, a supernatural realm that impinges on the 
natural, including our brain, cannot exist.  Click on the underlined words to see why.

(2) There is no evidence for the supernatural - from the non-existence of telepathy to the non-existence of any evidence that religious experiences are not purely a phenomenon of the brain. It may happen that not all things have a naturalistic explanation, but so far there has not been any evidence to believe otherwise.  There is no reliable evidence for the existence of the supernatural or the existence of any supernatural entities.  In the last 180 years science has been used intensively in an attempt to confirm any supernatural entities and processes - nothing convincing has been found. No evidence, no scientific reason to assume another realm beyond the natural.  Until there is definite evidence of a supernatural realm, there is no basis for assuming it.  This is, as all things in science, provisional.
Now if someone came along that was like the person described in "The Man Who Was Magic"  by Paul Gallico, then the possibility of a supernatural entity would have to be investigated.

For evidence: the best existing description of reality is given by the hard Sciences -- Physics, Chemistry, 
Biology, Astronomy, and Geology and their derivatives. No other field of study comes even close to these.
Since all is natural, science and religion are not separate domains.  Science has a lot to say about religious concepts.  
Separating the two, as some would like, does not help take any religious belief, including the belief in a God, seriously.

These hard Sciences show no evidence of a supernatural realm -- that there is only the natural. 
So, a religious experience as any experience, is a natural occurrence in people.  There is nothing supernatural about it.
A religious experience is a purely bodily event and condition. Neuroscientific research done by Montreal neurosurgeon, Dr. Wilder Penfield, M. A. Persinger of Sudbury, Ontario, L. A. Ruttan, S. Koren, K. Makarec, and others have experimentally shown that the source of religious experiences is the brain.   Some of the results are presented in the following book:  Click here to see a review of part of the book and to see a summary of some of the results of the research done.

"Can We Be Good Without God? Behaviour, Belonging and the Need to Believe." by Dr. Robert Buckman, 2000, Penguin Books of Canada Ltd., ISBN 0-670-89222-X
Don't be fooled!  There are other books by the same title -- by other authors!
  -- interesting for everyone, theist and non-theist
  -- Dr. Buckman is a cancer specialist and professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He has written a number of other books including "I Don't Know What to Say -- How to Help and Support Someone Who is Dying"

In conclusion for this section:
All religious experiences ("supernatural experiences") are personal and originate and end in the brain of the person experiencing them.  No one and no group has a monopoly on these experiences or has a religious superiority over anyone else because of them -- each experience is unique to that person and does not represent some external universal phenomenon.   


What about God?  The danger?

From what I see in the world around me, I can logically come to only one explanation for god(s) belief:
Each person's god(s) (if he considers a god at all) is an occurrence or entity in his brain, not an entity beyond this. 
God entities are private to that person and can only exist as long as he exists.

The god(s) that is part of the unconscious brain is personal and internal. 
The strength of the god part of a person varies in degree and may be missing in many people. 
So, the need for this kind of "spirituality" and "religion", would vary similarly.

This personal god and other so called supernatural entities die when the person's brain dies.  You and your mind cannot exist separately from your brain -- it is all one.   All evidence shows that any changes in the brain effects the mind -- if part of the brain is destroyed or damaged then part of the mind is destroyed or damaged.

Since a supernatural god does not exist out there, the god that a person invokes is not the creator of anything out there, including the universe.  This god is only part of the person's brain that will die when the brain dies. The existence of the universe, is the way it is as described by science -- the supernatural is not required.

You often see people use symbols, statues, rituals, and other paraphernalia to externalize their personal god(s), often to convince themselves and others that their god(s) is somehow universal and not just their own personal, internal god -- A potentially very dangerous "to others" activity.  It is when a person assumes their god is some kind of Universal God, even some kind of Creator God, that it is THE GOD, that must be imposed on others, that things can become dangerous.  Its best to become very suspicious of someone that makes these god claims.  Religious conflicts in the world are the result of claiming a god belief in an external, Creator of the Universe God, that belongs uniquely to one person, or in varied personal ways to a religious group.
This doesn't mean there will be no conflict if people do not believe in an external god; it means the damage will be much less without this belief.

In addition some "religionists" present a more attractive personal god of their own than do others; one that is compassionate, relaxed, and loving.  This god may be more attractive than the god many religious "experts" try to foist on people. This god likely reflects the person's own personality -- a loving, compassionate, relaxed and emotionally attractive person. Other influences that determine a person's god would be his cultural background, his contacts, and his experiences. The person's god and his religious experiences with this god are real to that individual and probably motivate a lot of his actions. It is easy to see why there are so many versions of god -- BUT all versions are personal.  

This valuating someone's god came up when my sister, e-mailed me the god belief of her husband-to-be (she is now married to him) and asked for my opinion.  After reading her 2 pages of his description of his god, I e-mailed back saying his god is a lot better than most, and that his god beliefs reflect a good person.  

I also know that the god of the Koran, the god of the Bible, etc. that people consider their own can be an effective motivator for inhumane actions in times of war, for instance; At other times an effective motivator for humane actions.

If you have a belief in a god; then beware that whoever or whatever tells you who god is, or what god is (like), does have a degree of control over you. This can be an evangelist, minister, priest, pope, guru, Bible, Koran, etc.  
Remember they don't know anymore about your god than you do in spite of what they say.  If you believe in a god, your god is your own personal god, no one else's.

If you must join a religious group first find out what kind of god they promote -- your god will
probably become much like the one promoted.

Point of interest: An unusual verse in the Bible about individual's god: 
Micah 4:5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our god for ever and ever.

"50 reasons people give for believing in a god" by Guy P.  Harrison.  A must read for everyone.   I would consider this book the best of the decade.  ISBN 978-1-59102-567-2
Click here for table of Contents

What about Prayer?

It is obviously evident that many people, in almost all cultures believe, talk to, etc. a god(s). 
Since there is no supernatural realm the god(s) of a believing person resides in his brain and is a product 
of his/her genetics and the culture in which the person lives.  
Since our evolution has made this a potential part of our make-up, the question is how does one use it beneficially 
and how does one prevent it from being destructive?  Can one acknowledge its existence in one's brain; 
acknowledge that religious experiences are purely brain experiences, and then ignore them as in a dream?   
What about people that have these experiences and believe they are of an external, supernatural realm? 
-- how does one deal with them?  
In other words, how does a person with this disposition control this aspect of his being? 

Since god(s) is personal, prayer must be private and personal, not public.
Private prayer, in whatever form, may help people solve problems and cope with life as it is. 
One of the few good things about Jesus-- he supported private prayer and condemned public prayer 
-- it appears a lot of Christians do not follow in Jesusí footsteps in this -- Some variety of Quakers are an exception.
The only function of public prayer is for one person to effectively persuade other people to their way of seeing the world 
-- essentially applying political pressure -- a political act. Otherwise public prayer has no meaning. 
To me, as it was for Jesus of the Bible, public prayer is offensive.  
Prayer is a form of talking to yourself.  A discussion with yourself.
-- contrary to popular thinking, privately talking to yourself or discussing things with yourself can be beneficial.

I prefer the word Introspection to prayer. 
Many people, including myself, need time for introspection. Introspection can be described in many ways:
     meditation, time for reflection, private prayer, communing with nature, communing with oneself, 
time out, thinking time, creative thinking time, a time to consider unusual questions, time to philosophize, 
time to be alone, talking with yourself, or whatever. 
In refreshing ourselves this way, some people need more introspection then others. 
Some may not need it at all. Many religionists might not call this true prayer since you aren't praying to some external god.

Private prayer about another person is often fine -- it means you are thinking of that person, and this could be satisfying. 
There are as many personal gods as there are people that pray. As mentioned before some of these gods are not the nicest, but some are kind, compassionate, tolerant and understanding.

A major part of what organized religion does is attempt to make this personal god uniform for all by assuming they are talking about THE universal external supernatural being. A major part of this attempt for many happens in sermons, public prayer, music and other arts (usually beautifully and emotionally done).

Organisms, including humans, have a very strong urge to survive. This very strong urge is used by conventional religious and other  New Age groups who falsely believe their supernatural god(s) and their other supernatural entities are somehow in existent outside their own brains. The product sold by conventionally religious and other New Age groups competing in the spiritual marketplace is "life after death". Whatever else they do, their core appeal, which is difficult for people to resist, is their claim that for you to have life in the hereafter you must follow their religious beliefs and practices, including prayer, and adopt their personal god.

So, in brief, the reasonable stance is non-supernaturalism, therefore nontheism (no external God outside the brain), but PRIVATE prayer, in whatever form (basically discussing things with yourself), may be useful at times.  Any so called supernatural events or entities occur naturally in the brain and are part of the natural, not separate from it. 

Limitations of Prayer


What about the External God some people believe exists?

Reasonable questions when the topic of god comes up.

Control of god belief

Which god are you talking about?

Point of interest: 
Did you know that during the Roman times Christians were called Atheists because they didn't believe in the existence of the traditional gods? Similarly, initially the Muslims were considered Atheists because they didn't believe in the existence of the gods then considered running the Universe.


What about religious groups?

It has been estimated that there may have been as many as 100 000 religious groups in
the recent history of mankind, and that at least 10 000 major organized religious groups exist today.  
There may be as many as 30,000 variations of Christianity, each with different beliefs from the others.
These groups, including the Christian groups, evolve; they all grow, change, and eventually die. 
In the past many very smart people worshipped and believed "the now extinct" gods were real and that the associated religion
was the only true one.  What happened to the gods, Jupiter and Neptune?

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic, is no more to the point than 
the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober man
." G. B. Shaw

Also, keep in mind: "Humankind is born with two things, life from which
each person inevitably dies, and hope which hints that death may not be the end. A conviction
that life does not end with death is a tentative endorsement of the validity of hope.
The product sold by religious and other New Age groups competing in the spiritual
marketplace is "life after death".  Whatever else they do, their core appeal, which is
difficult for people to resist, is their claim that for you to have life in the hereafter
 you must follow their religious beliefs, practices and their god.  You are very vulnerable in this.

Another attraction is the emotional appeal.  This attraction is used by all 
religious and other New Age groups in varying degrees.  What appeals is:

The group is:
"Exactly like family.  
But a real family.  
One that doesn't abandon you because it's too busy or finds something else to do.  
One that doesn't judge you because of who you are.  
One that gives you love and support and understanding whatever the circumstances. 
How could you not believe them?  
How could you even think it?
"  

None of this makes what the group holds as doctrine to be truth -- if truth is what you seek 
you must remember these emotional appeals are used by all religious and other new Age groups 
in some way.  Remember, it is emotional support (very important in life), not the truth of reality that is involved here.

The objects of  a religious experience depends on the culture of the person experiencing it.
In a Muslim environment they will be related to the Koran.
In a Christian environment they will be related Jesus and Biblical events.
In Ancient Rome they were related to the Gods and myths of the Romans at that time. 
And, so on.

Unlike Science;  Politics, Government, Economic activity and most other endeavours 
which are public, Religion and religious experiences are personal and private.  
Religion can and often is used publicly
by people and organizations of people for 
certain political ends to the detriment of the individual.  The individual beware!

An additional note: Religious and charity groups or institutions often have a set of ideals and aims.
At first these are paramount in the operations of these groups, but after a time (some say as low as 5 years) the
overwhelming aim of the group becomes growth and maintenance of the group rather than the original ideals.  


What about Science?

Science only makes progress when it denies the supernatural.  Organized religion usually promotes the supernatural.

The talk about the relationship between religion and science 
is a sham.  Science is a non-theistic (non-supernatural or atheistic) endeavor. It has been so successful 
because it is one area of endeavor that assumes there is nothing beyond 
the natural. Scientists, whatever their private beliefs, assume no supernatural realm 
as it applies to their profession while they are practicing it. Outside of science 
they may believe all kinds of things, for instance the existence of a 
three-headed-god. They may take all kinds of leaps of faith outside 
of their profession -- that is their business. 

I agree that some famous scientists have and do use religious (supernatural) 
terms to explain some exciting science. Because of the beauty of 
scientific investigation and discovery it does evoke intense emotions 
in many people including myself; and emotional words are used to express these.
When expressing these in public it is important not to mislead the public 
in believing they are referring to anything but the natural.

At an international colloquium at the University of Maastricht in 1999, Paul Kurtz
reported that a large survey showed that 60% of U.S. scientists do not believe
in a God, and 40% do believe in some God.  The rate of belief was much less
when considering scientists at a higher academic level.  This must be one of the
most atheistic groups in the U.S.

Ask yourself:
How far would science develop if supernatural causes (e.g. God, gods, miracles,
holy ghost, evil spirits, heaven, hell, angels, long dead deities) were acceptable 
in explaining processes?  The death of science would follow soon thereafter. 

Science also addresses the "should". Science provides values. 
Example: Most people will see the value of taking medication for 
epileptic seizures (offered by science) than to exorcise an evil 
spirit (used by religious specialists, especially before the advent 
of modern science). The discoveries of science promote 
a "should" in the ethical and moral spheres.

In varying rates religious groups do evolve over time to accept certain science and 
secular ethics that were considered sinful and evil at one time. An example of science is Darwinian Evolution.
This acceptance is usually conditional, partial and forced by circumstance, never easily or voluntary.

Unlike religion,  games, government, traffic rules, fashion of dress which are made by humans, 
the rules of science are not.  They are discovered by observation, reason and experiment.  
Newton didn't invent the law of gravity.
Biologists didn't "construct" the DNA helix; they observed it. 
The orbit of Mars is not a social construction.
Einstein didn't make up relativity.  These are part of an objective reality, not dependent on man. 

 More on this
Scientists whose belief system requires the supernatural
 An example of a changing religious belief system

It's OK NOT to believe!
It may surprise you but there are good intellectual and ethical reasons not to believe.
Some of them are presented on the many pages of this website.
Also, you are NOT alone in your doubts or your disbeliefs.
"Good" moral and ethical values do not depend on religious belief, and are often 
degraded by religious belief.  In addition Truth of reality is not the foundation of religion.

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two
conflicting needs; the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us 
and at the same time a great openness to new ideas.  If you are only skeptical, then 
no new ideas make it through to you.  You never learn anything new.  You become a 
crotchety old person convinced that nonsense rules the world.  (There is, of course,
much data to support you)

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an 
ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the 
worthless ones.  If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me,
no ideas have any validity at all."
-- Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism," Pasadena lecture, 1987

The good news is that it is an unnecessary complication
for you to belong to an organized religion or other New Age group.
You can be your own person, potentially making your life happier, more
exhilarating, and giving it real meaning. Whatever good things you see in organized religions,
traditional or other New Age, if you look closely you will find that they are built on
weak foundations.  BUT, each can have a hold on you just like all the
many other cults that each competes with, and each despises. 

What about Dogmatism?

Everyone seems to be dogmatic about their beliefs, whether based on life experiences or not.
However an open-minded person will try to listen to another's dogma which may not change the person's own dogma, but at least it will likely give the person an understanding of the other - maybe even engender a respect, compassion, liking, tolerance for that other person.  In a civilized society this is a necessity.
I am dogmatic about my beliefs, but I am interested in other people's beliefs and often do consider their perspective.

Some dogmas are better than others.  
Those dogmas that are based on empirical evidence (Science) and promote the welfare and freedom of all people are better than those dogmas that don't.

What about traditional religion?

Since our society is dominated by the various Christian belief systems and that 2,100,000,000 people in the world (over 31%, the largest religious grouping -- Islam has 1,600,000,000 adherents or less than 24%, Hinduism has about 1,000,000,000 adherents) claim to be Christians, these are the belief systems that are emphasized in this web site.  However most of what is said applies also to all other organized religions.  Click on the following:

A Critical View of Traditional Religious Beliefs (below is a list of topics):
(1) Belief systems
(2) Holy Books
(3) Persons
(4) Relics
(5) Rituals
(6) Poetry, art, sculpture and music
(7) God
(8) There are absolutes
(9) Science
(10) Ethics
(11)
Nothing experience can be very intense
(12) Introspection
(13) External God of the Universe
(14) Government
(15) Reason and Faith
(16) Suffering and Pain
(17) Evolution
(18) A real, substantial and positive basis


What about related topics?

Christian Stuhr's Corner
               
My Reviews of books, tapes, articles
, tracts
  

e-mails

Articles

Other Items

Recommended Books

Recommended Web Sites

Some of my Photos and Panoramas

Picture Puzzles -- for fun.

Creative Imagination

Free Will

What about Unusual Numbers?

(1) What are your chances of existing?
,
(2)
Is there enough Oxygen in the Atmosphere?
(3)How much Oxygen is there for a person to survive in an air-tight enclosure?
(4)Which is the better Health Care System?
(5)No Aliens Among Us.  Why?
(6)Is Evolution a Certainty?
(7)How large is the observable part of our Universe compared to the total universe?

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By Orland (Ord) Hooge,  
                      Canada

Disclaimer:  I do not belong to any group, humanist or otherwise, except one,
The Humanist Association of Canada.  http://www.humanistcanada.com/
This website is solely my individual view based on my experience.
(with articles and links to like-minded views)
Of existent groups, the closest to my perspective are the Humanists.

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