Letting go of the soul.

Today’s question comes from Eva who writes…

Message: Hello! I’m so glad I’ve found this site! I’ve recently separated myself from Christianity but its been quite difficult. My question is this. Can an atheist be spiritual? Spiritual meaning believing in spirits and an afterlife ect. Now obviously I understand that athiests believe in pure logic and science and therefore a spirit world per say would seem like an unlikely belief however I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a spirit world out there beyond this life. Would you agree? What are your thoughts?

Hi Eva. First, you’re right. The transition from theist to atheist can be a difficult one. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of our old ways of thinking even when presented with better ways. When I left theism it was a two year journey into atheism. I let go of Jesus, then god, and then finally the soul. Believe it or not, it was the last one that was the most difficult. The idea that we will continue on after death has more to do with how our mind works then anything else. The simplest way to explain this is that the mind always wants to justify itself. For example when we drop a pencil off of a desk and don’t realize it. We reach for the pencil that we swear we just saw a second ago, and it disappears. Our brain thinks the pencil is there, and because we didn’t see it fall, tells us that the pencil is still there. Magicians have been exploiting how our mind justifies itself for hundreds of years. I believe when it comes to souls, our brain, which knows it exists, can’t conceive of not existing because of the very fact that it does exist. It’s like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant and the first thing they do is think of a pink elephant. When we try to think of nonexistence our brain can’t imagine it without a perspective of existence. So it sends our minds into confusion. I believe this is why letting go of the idea of the soul is so hard.

There’s no easy fix for letting go of the idea of a soul. Maybe we have them, maybe we don’t. The truth is that there is no objective evidence for souls and until someone discovers it, there’s no reason to accept it. The way I see it is this, much like Schrodinger’s cat you wont know if there is no soul until after you die (open the box). If there is a soul, you’ll know after you die (open the box). So until you die, or someone comes up with a way to discover it, there’s no point in worrying about it. For me, I live my life as if I have no soul. I live it as if this life is the only one that I have, and that my true immortality exists in how I impact others around me. It’s why I do things like this website.

So ask yourself. How will you live on, after you die? What will be your immortality? Feel free to discuss it in the comment section below.

19 thoughts on “Letting go of the soul.”

  1. Hi Eva,

    I think, like Jake indicated, the afterlife concept (often accompanied by the concepts heaven and hell) is the hardest belief to let go of. Just as a disclaimer, I’ve never held such a belief, so I can’t speak from experience. But I have talked to people who have stopped believing in the deity they were brought up with, but were still terrified of hell. I think the reason for this is that the immortality part of religion is the one that is most relevant to humans. It’s really the CORE in my opinion. Protecting yourself is a hardwired instinct, and when a human learns what death is, we tend to try to find a way to protect ourselves from that eventuality as well. The biggest protection we can give ourselves is just to say it isn’t real. Death is not the end, afterwards your eternal soul can live forever, so there is no reason to fear it! And that works! It comforts BILLIONS of individuals across the world.

    To answer your question, yes an atheist can be spiritual. Atheism is only a stance on deities. It doesn’t claim that all magic, supernatural, or afterlife claims are not true. But through the same skepticism that leads to atheism (Why is the god hypothesis not convincing?), most atheists seem to also come to the conclusion that magic, supernatural, and afterlife claims have no merit either. The questions are, what reason do you believe there is an afterlife? Is it anything more than your desire for there to be one? And does desire for something to be true ever cause it to be true? Those questions are what come to my mind at least.

    Honestly though, while I’m very anti-theist (or anti-religion), I have nothing against having their own fantasies of what they think is true (hey, it’s kind of fun to fantasize). I don’t think there is any harm in you believing that you have a soul or will live forever (as long as you don’t change the way you treat other or yourself because of it). As long as you don’t feel like you are deceiving yourself.

    So just be honest with yourself! 🙂 What seems true to you? And do you feel you have a reason to think it is true? As long as you are content with it, I don’t think it’s harmful.

    1. Thanks Adam and Jake. These comments were very helpful. Ill have to bookmark this site as its been quite informative and comforting.

      1. I too, once separated myself from Christianity. I had focused on pain, hypocrisy, and the arrogance of some Christians. What I found was that I wasn’t accepting how much God loved me. I realized that Jesus was standing right by me agreeing, as He too faced the same from those closest to Him. It was the Holy Spirit that showed me this. Yes there is a spirit world and an afterlife but you are free to choose not to believe in it. Have you died and lived to tell about it? Since the beginning of written history, man has believed in some form of afterlife and/or higher cause. Atheists are a very small percentage of people compared to the rest of the “believing” world. The irony is that they have incredible faith in believing that God doesn’t exist, but they can’t prove it. Nor can they tell you what was the beginning. Don’t let anyone take away your belief in the spiritual.

        1. I’ll just pick up on one point here: of course we can’t prove there’s no God. We also can’t prove that there isn’t a magic talking cupcake living at the centre of the Moon, but that’s no reason to believe that it’s there. What’s the difference?

          1. The difference is that the “believing” world probably wouldn’t put much faith in your cupcake. As shown to Jake previously, your logic isn’t logical. Your cupcake doesn’t have the biggest following the world has ever seen since the beginning of written history. Your cupcake also doesn’t have a compilation of books written over centuries by different authors who all speak on one common thread, some of which is incredibly detailed pushing to the limits of probable math. Does your cupcake’s bible also have factual history, science, archeology, geography–all used today by secular scientist to find and confirm information. No, I can’t prove that you don’t have a cupcake on the moon; however, its not probable.

            There is a vast amount of information on the spiritual. I wouldn’t be so quick to make a stance (as this is the downfall of atheism) just because you haven’t experienced it or seen it with your own eyes. You put far too much faith in what’s right in front of you while ignoring what is all around you.

            1. “The difference is that the “believing” world probably wouldn’t put much faith in your cupcake”

              “Your cupcake doesn’t have the biggest following the world has ever seen since the beginning of written history.”

              Both are argument from population fallacies.

              “Your cupcake also doesn’t have a compilation of books written over centuries by different authors who all speak on one common thread, some of which is incredibly detailed pushing to the limits of probable math.”

              “Does your cupcake’s bible also have factual history, science, archeology, geography–all used today by secular scientist to find and confirm information.”

              Both are argument from authority fallacies.

              “There is a vast amount of information on the spiritual. I wouldn’t be so quick to make a stance (as this is the downfall of atheism) just because you haven’t experienced it or seen it with your own eyes. You put far too much faith in what’s right in front of you while ignoring what is all around you.”

              Subjective evidence is contrary to the already established criteria for existence. Namely objective or quasi-objective evidence which can be verified. To claim otherwise you would also have to take into account every schizophrenics claim.

  2. I believe there is no soul because the soul is tied in with consciousness. We don’t know what consciousness is and therefore we believe there is a soul. The soul is a god in the gasp argument for me. I am long in the waters of pseudoscience and had long discussions with believers who believed in Near-death experiences or Out of body experiences that these prove a soul. When you look at it and even talk to people about it you realize that these things like NDEs and OBEs don’t prove a soul. Therefore I also live my life that there is no soul to begin with. If there was a soul science would already have found it because neuroscience can already in a primitive way record memories and is already looking for answers about consciousness.

  3. Jake: I was unable to reply to your reply, so I commented instead. You said: “Both are argument from population fallacies.” here is a link to debunk that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups. You’ll notice that three of the largest believe in some form of afterlife or reincarnation. Two of the biggest both came from the old testament.

    You also said: “Both are argument from authority fallacies.” To which (wikipedia shows): “Many fields of study compare the Bible and history, ranging from archeology and astronomy to linguistics and comparative literature.”

    Also, your claim about schizophrenia isn’t logical. Most of them, I assume, would fall along the lines of “cupcake on the moon” and “invisible dragons,” To ignore biblical history, geography, astronomy, archeology, medicine, etc. you’d have to ignore statistics, founding fathers of science including Pasteur, Newton, Kelvin, Herschel, Boyle etc., the relevance of the middle east tied to the bible, first comprehension of good medicine/germ practices,…the list goes on.

    No amount of stuffing will make your straw man better.

    1. J, do you even understand what the population and authority argument fallacies are? None of the links debunks the fact that you were making those fallacies.
      Appeal to Popularity (argumentum ad populum)
      Definition: A proposition is held to be true because it is widely held to be true or is held to be true by some sector of the population.

      Appeal to Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam)
      Definition: While sometimes it may be appropriate to cite an authority to support a point, often it is not. In particular, an appeal to authority is inappropriate if:

      (i) the person is not qualified to have an expert opinion on the subject,

      ii) experts in the field disagree on this issue.

      (iii) the authority was making a joke, drunk, or otherwise not being serious

      A variation of the fallacious appeal to authority is hearsay. An argument from hearsay is an argument which depends on second or third hand sources.

      The comic book Spiderman talks about New York city. Since New York is an actual place and because historical events are cataloged in Spiderman, does this mean that Spiderman is an actual person or that his exploits are real? Of course not. This is why objective or quasi-objective evidence is the only valid evidence in claims of existence. Practitioners of the Qu’ran state the same claims about their holy book as you do yours. That it has historical events. That it talks about science that no one had discovered yet, etc. Are you now going to become a Muslim or are you instead going to dismiss their claims as false even though they make the same claims of their holy book that you do?

      1. Jake,

        I understood what you meant the first time. My links still prove your insinuation wrong. They are not an appeal to popularity or authority as such; rather they are the antithesis of the original straw man argument presented by smartLx. Antithesis (that’s greek for being against a position)–thats fun, and I do appreciate your latin; neither my greek, however, nor your latin or their definitions will prove the main points of this argument. My appeal to your name was intentional, and I’m glad you caught it, as I had previously asked you a question on another post, to which I never saw reply (though this is the second time someone has chimed in for smartLx).

        My last reply included muslims as part of those who believe in an afterlife and or a god, showing that facts, from experts that actually do agree, and aren’t drunk, that the majority of the worlds population believes in things unseen and/or haven’t experienced them. Statistics are shown to prove numbers that can’t lie, whether or not you agree with the categories involved. This isn’t an appeal to authority or popularity. Again, your arguments aren’t justified by any proof: the worlds population isn’t going to read spider man and change the world; nor has society embraced spiderman as a means to grow, learn, and experience from. Entertainment isn’t a category of science.

        1. You saying that it isn’t an appeal to popularity or authority over and over, and then appealing to popularity and authority over and over is in no way a justification for your argument. The world once thought the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Did that make it true? Of course not. The only valid criteria is objective or quasi-objective evidence. You can dance around that fact all that you want, but until you can come up with an example of something that exists which is known through subjective means, all of your appeals and statistics mean squat.

          1. Well, I’ll keep dancing, but with clarity. Your flat earth argument- now that’s an appeal to popularity rather than a factual or scientific stat. I agree with you on that point. By the way, had the flat earthers correctly read and understood the bible they would have understood the earth to be spherical in shape.

            1. My flat earth argument isn’t an appeal to popularity. It’s an example to show why your appeal to popularity is fallacious.
              Many holy text claim advance knowledge as if to say that the only way they could have known this is from a divine source. This is not only anti human for it suggests that humans can’t figure something out on their own, but it’s also another logical fallacy called “The argument from ignorance”. In other words you’re saying that because you can’t understand how they knew this, that it must be from a god. It would be more honest to state that you simply don’t know.

        2. Oh J, don’t be silly. I already told you that I wasn’t chiming in for SmartLX. I’ve been reading this site for about a year, and I chime in where I like. Kind of like this :).

          1. Hey Adam, still wanna talk about evolution at all? And I know, a little argumentative humor keeps it from being too dry. No personal attacks intended smartLx.

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