1. Illinois
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    11 May '07 02:534 edits
    This is Thomas Carlyle, following Plato, picturing a man, a deep pagan thinker, who has grown to maturity in some hidden cave and is brought out suddenly to see the sun rise:

    "What would his wonder be, his rapt astonishment at the sight we daily witness with indifference! With the free, open sense of a child, yet with the ripe faculty of a man, his whole heart would be kindled by that sight . . . This green flowery rock-built earth, the trees, the mountains, rivers, many-sounding seas; that great deep sea of azure that swims overhead; the winds sweeping through it; the black cloud fashioning itself together, now pouring out fire, now hail and rain; what is it? Ay, what? At bottom we do not yet know; we can never know at all.

    "It is not by our superior insight that we escape the difficulty, it is by our superior levity, our inattention, our want of insight. It is by not thinking that we cease to wonder at it . . . We call the fire of the black thundercloud 'electricity,' and lecture learnedly about it, and grind the like of it out of glass and silk: but what is it? Whence comes it? Whither goes it? Science has done much for us; but it is a poor science that would hide from us the great deep sacred infinitude of Nescience, whither we can never penetrate, on which all science swims as a mere superficial film. This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it."

    __________________________________________________________________

    Growing up, the more seriously I considered the naked existence of the universe, the more open I became to the fact that I simply didn't have a good reason to be an atheist. Yes, I could find no proof of a creator, yet the universe always left such a profound impression on me; always with the sense of, as Wordsworth described, 'something far more deeply interfused.' Most notably, certain experiences I had which bordered on pure dread. I found very little literature to corroborate what I encountered; most significantly, "Cosmic Consciousness" by Dr. Richard M. Bucke. Another was, Rudolph Otto, and his book, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. Here is an excerpt from a website concerning his theories about the mysterium tremendum which I will quote at length:

    __________________________________________________________________

    "In The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, Rudolph Otto identifies and explores the non-rational mystery behind religion and the religious experience ("non-rational" should not be confused with "irrational" ) he called this mystery, which is the basic element in all religions, the numinous. He uses the related word "numen" to refer to deity or God.

    "Forced, necessarily, to use familiar words, like "dread" and "majesty," Otto insists that he is using them in a special sense; to emphasize this fact, he sometimes uses Latin or Greek words for key concepts. This fact is crucial to understanding Otto. Our feeling of the numinous and responses to the numinous are not ordinary ones intensified; they are unique (I use this word in its original meaning of "one of a kind, the only one" ) or sui generis (meaning "in a class by itself" ). For example, fear does not become dread in response to the numinous; rather, we cease to feel ordinary fear and move into an entirely different feeling, a dread that is aroused by intimations of the numinous or the actual experience of the numinous.

    "The word "absolute" is used in its metaphysical sense of "existing without relation to any other being; self-existent; self-sufficing" (OED), its adjectival form, "absolutely," is used with the same meaning. Finally, by "creature," Otto means a "being which has been created."

    "The numinous grips or stirs the mind powerfully and produces the following responses:

    "Numinous dread. Otto calls the feeling of numinous dread, aka awe or awe-fullness, the mysterium tremendum. C.S. Lewis's illustration makes clear the nature of numinous dread and its difference from ordinary fear:

    "Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a might spirit in the room" and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.

    The mysterium tremendum implies three qualities of the numinous:

    a. its absolute unapproachability,
    b. its power,
    c. its urgency or energy, a force which is most easily perceived in the "wrath of God."

    Stupor. Because the mysterium tremendum is wholly Other, i.e., is unlike anything that we have encountered or ever will encounter, it arouses in us a mental state of stupor, a "blank wonder, an astonishment that strikes us dumb, amazement absolute."

    The shudder. In this state, the soul, "held speechless, trembles inwardly to the farthest fibre of its being ... it implies that the mysterious is beginning to loom before the mind, to touch the feelings."

    "Creature-consciousness and the simultaneous experiencing of the self as nothing. Creature-consciousness is the awareness of ourselves as having being or of existing. The nothingness is not a sense of guilt for a transgression, but the sense of being profane, which is the opposite state to the holy or holiness, which is an absolute quality belonging just to God. Only the person who is "in the spirit" can experience profaneness, which Otto describes as a "piercing acuteness... accompanied by the most uncompromising judgment of self-depreciation, a judgment passed, not upon his character because of individual ‘profane' actions but upon his very existence as creature before that which is supreme above all creatures." I think of profane nothingness as feeling, "I am nothing in the presence of that which is all." In this state, we are moved to praise the might of the numen, because its might demands praise and even more because it is absolutely deserving of praise. This sense of nothingness, which Otto calls "disvalue,"becomes a sin or sacrilege if the numinous is perceived in or confined to a moral framework; it has no necessary connection to moral judgments.

    "Sense of unworthiness and need for "covering." Accompanying the disvaluation of self is the feeling of being unworthy to be in the presence of "the holy one" (we fear that our presence might even defile him). Being profane, we need a "covering," in Otto's term, or a consecration or grace, "that renders the approacher ‘numinous,' frees him from his ‘profane' being," so that he is no longer unfit to relate to the numen.

    "The numinous has another aspect which co-exists with the mysterium tremendum, the power to fascination. The numinous fascinates or draws us to it with a force that is nearly irresistible. Otto calls the alluring quality of the numinous the mysterium fascinosum. At its most intense, this fascination becomes "exuberant" and transforms into the mystical "moment" or direct, complete contact with the numen, a state which few people experience. The numinous dread and the fascinating "combine in a strange harmony of contrasts," which Otto calls the mysterium tremendum and fascinosum

    "Human beings as a species have the a priori capacity of mind to perceive or experience the numinous. This is not to say that the ability to perceive the holy, let alone the perception itself is innate; it merely means that every individual has the potential to perceive or experience the numinous. The numinous state of mind or the feeling of the numinous must be evoked in us or brought into consciousness; it cannot be taught.

    "The human soul has parallels with the divine or numinous; it too is "mystery and marvel," undefinable, and "wholly alien" to our understanding. Insight into the soul comes, when it does, as an eruption, a flash or burst of illumination. The numinous-ness of the human soul is what enables the mystic to apprehend the numinous."

    __________________________________________________________________


    My questions are: Have you ever experienced this 'Numinous'? If you are an atheist, what led you to rule out the possibility of a God altogether? Do you forsee an absolute limit to what we can know about existence? Do you accept Nescience? What is the significance of beauty in your particular world-view? Or holiness? Most importantly, does the mystery of existence disturb the surety of your atheism? EDIT: should it?
  2. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 May '07 03:07
    Originally posted by epiphinehas
    This is Thomas Carlyle, following Plato, picturing a man, a deep pagan thinker, who has grown to maturity in some hidden cave and is brought out suddenly to see the sun rise:

    "What would his wonder be, his rapt astonishment at the sight we daily witness with indifference! With the free, open sense of a child, yet with the ripe faculty of a man, his w ...[text shortened]... eism?
    Yes, I think I've experienced the notion of the 'numinous'. In my job I spend a bit of time with students in wilderness settings. I get a sense of the numinous in nature when I'm in such places - mountain tops, dark nights with clear skies, beautiful places ...
    I rule out God because I have a sense that in a world that allowed such concepts - that is, the supernatural - I could be sure of nothing. (Not that I'm really sure of anything now of course.)
    I see the limits that nature prescribes - like quantum mechanical limits - but I don't see anything stopping us from continuing to develop our understanding of the universe and its nature.
    Nescience as ignorance? Yes, I accept there are many things that I'm ignorant about. (Is that what you mean?)
    Beauty is what leads me to the numinous.
    I place no significance on holiness, but I do recognise beauty in 'holy' relics and monuments and places.
    No, the 'mystery of existence' helps to reinforce my atheism.
  3. Joined
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    11 May '07 03:48
    Originally posted by epiphinehas
    This is Thomas Carlyle, following Plato, picturing a man, a deep pagan thinker, who has grown to maturity in some hidden cave and is brought out suddenly to see the sun rise:

    "What would his wonder be, his rapt astonishment at the sight we daily witness with indifference! With the free, open sense of a child, yet with the ripe faculty of a man, his w ...[text shortened]... eism?
    Hi.

    Most importantly, does the mystery of existence disturb the surety of your atheism?

    This is a difficult question for me to answer, but I will try my best. The most perplexing mystery of existence to me is the "why". Why do we exist? No matter how hard I try, I cannot rationalize it from either a scientific or religious viewpoint. Perhaps in time science will be able to explain it, but I don't know. Religious scripture also does not satisfy me. Why would God create us? This is also a dead end.

    Personally, I don't believe it's all that important to know why or how we came to exist. To me, it's enough to know I exist. I'm an atheist because it is the most sensible position. I accept the possibility that the supernatural does infact exist, but there is no reason for me to believe in it now. I have not experienced it, and I doubt all others who have said they have, given there is no empirical evidence to support their claims.
  4. Illinois
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    11 May '07 03:48
    Originally posted by amannion
    Yes, I think I've experienced the notion of the 'numinous'. In my job I spend a bit of time with students in wilderness settings. I get a sense of the numinous in nature when I'm in such places - mountain tops, dark nights with clear skies, beautiful places ...
    I rule out God because I have a sense that in a world that allowed such concepts - that is, the ...[text shortened]... monuments and places.
    No, the 'mystery of existence' helps to reinforce my atheism.
    I see the limits that nature prescribes - like quantum mechanical limits - but I don't see anything stopping us from continuing to develop our understanding of the universe and its nature.
    Nescience as ignorance? Yes, I accept there are many things that I'm ignorant about. (Is that what you mean?)


    I should clarify: not ignorance in the sense of not knowing how the universe works, but the impossibility, despite the accuracy of our explanations, of ever know what it is. I think what the Carlyle snippet is saying is that we may be able to delve into the mechanics of nature and explain many, many things by way of its functioning, but our science brings us no closer to knowing what it is (where it came from - where it's going), implying that 'awe' and 'wonder' are preeminent experiences over and above our eventural rational scientific inquiry, and that we, in fact, never escape the problem of Nescience through familiarity nor filling our libraries (and brains) with books of knowledge.

    The 'mystery of existence' helps to reinforce my atheism.

    How so?
  5. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 May '07 04:59
    Originally posted by epiphinehas

    The 'mystery of existence' helps to reinforce my atheism.

    How so?
    Hmmm.
    Tricky.
    I guess I would explain that by saying that this notion of the 'numinous' that you're talking about gives me a sense of my connection and disconnection with the universe at one and the same time.
    I experience the meaningless of the universe and in doing so, I'm empowered to discover and create my own meaning for my existence.
    This could also be one of the reasons I reject the supernatural, since I think that notion of creating meaning for yourself disappears.
    This all probably sounds pretty vague, but I guess what I experience at times is akin to a religious experience in others - I just label it differently.
  6. Donationrwingett
    Ming the Merciless
    Royal Oak, MI
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    11 May '07 05:25
    Originally posted by epiphinehas
    This is Thomas Carlyle, following Plato, picturing a man, a deep pagan thinker, who has grown to maturity in some hidden cave and is brought out suddenly to see the sun rise:

    "What would his wonder be, his rapt astonishment at the sight we daily witness with indifference! With the free, open sense of a child, yet with the ripe faculty of a man, his w ...[text shortened]... d it?
    Have you ever experienced this 'Numinous'?

    No.

    What led you to rule out the possibility of a God altogether?

    I haven't. I have ruled god out for all practical purposes, but cannot rule him out altogether.

    Do you forsee an absolute limit to what we can know about existence?

    I don't know. There's no telling how much we may come to know, and how deeply we may come to know it.

    Do you accept Nescience?

    No, of course not.

    What is the significance of beauty in your particular world-view? Or holiness?

    Significant in what way? I have absolutely no use for 'holiness.'

    Does the mystery of existence disturb the surety of your atheism?

    My atheism is not built around any 'sureties.'

    My question to you is that if there are areas into which science allegedly cannot reach, then what makes you think anyone else can reach them any better? You seem to have this conception that whatever does not belong to the realm of science by default belongs to the realm of religion. This is not so. Religion would have to demonstrate its ability to answer certain questions quite independently from science's alleged inability to do so.
  7. Joined
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    11 May '07 09:06
    Originally posted by epiphinehas
    My questions are:
    Have you ever experienced this 'Numinous'?
    No, not by its definition. I've expereinced similar symptoms, but have no issue reconciling them with purely natural origins.

    If you are an atheist, what led you to rule out the possibility of a God altogether?
    Only strong atheists do this. Most atheists are weak and therefore don't rule out the possiblity of god, they deny him until that possibility becomes a reality.

    Do you forsee an absolute limit to what we can know about existence?
    If you mean amount of data, then obviously. The mere biological structure of the human mind makes this an impossibilty. Even with computers and generations of archives and investigations, we'd never get close to the totality of existence's data. However, if you mean are there concepts we cannot assismilate, then that's a different matter, I don't believe there exists anything in our experience we cannot concieve of.

    Do you accept Nescience?
    No.

    What is the significance of beauty in your particular world-view?
    Nothing more than a qualitative aesthetic consideration.

    Or holiness?
    No such thing.

    Most importantly, does the mystery of existence disturb the surety of your atheism?
    Not in the slightest, it would be absurd of me to presume the universe had anything to offer me in the way of a reified 'mystery'. There is the unknown, but not the 'GREAT UNKNOWABLE'

    EDIT: should it?
    No, I wish more people could deliver themselves from mixing what they don't understand with what they can't understand and coming out with 'the great mysterious' as an explanation.
  8. Standard memberNemesio
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    11 May '07 18:21
    Originally posted by Starrman
    ...they deny him until that possibility becomes a reality.

    I assume you mean 'becomes a reasonable probability...,' right?

    Nothing more than a qualitative aesthetic consideration.

    Do you think there are any objective standards in art? I mean, we are
    biologically predisposed to prefer symmetry, for example. There are
    certain mathematical ratios that reappear in nature all the time that indicate
    'health' or 'normative' and I think influence how we subconsciously judge
    art. That is, I don't think it's entirely personal taste, but includes a part
    of biological disposition.

    Nemesio
  9. Standard memberNemesio
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    11 May '07 18:25
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I have ruled god out for all practical purposes, but cannot rule him out altogether.
    Be careful, lest you lead epipiphaneas astray.

    You've ruled out some 'Divine Influence' for all practical purposes, but
    cannot rule it out altogether. However, you can rule out some interpretations
    as to the manifestation of that 'Divine Influence.' That is, you can conclude
    that a 'Triple-O' god most certainly doesn't exist.

    Nemesio
  10. Donationrwingett
    Ming the Merciless
    Royal Oak, MI
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    11 May '07 18:46
    Originally posted by Nemesio
    Be careful, lest you lead epipiphaneas astray.

    You've ruled out some 'Divine Influence' for all practical purposes, but
    cannot rule it out altogether. However, you can rule out some interpretations
    as to the manifestation of that 'Divine Influence.' That is, you can conclude
    that a 'Triple-O' god most certainly doesn't exist.

    Nemesio
    I am not prepared to go even that far. I will content myself with saying that the 'Triple-O' god almost certainly does not exist. I will allow for the tiniest margin of error, even there.
  11. Standard memberNemesio
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    11 May '07 18:58
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I am not prepared to go even that far. I will content myself with saying that the 'Triple-O' god almost certainly does not exist. I will allow for the tiniest margin of error, even there.
    I stand corrected.
  12. Joined
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    11 May '07 21:20
    Originally posted by Nemesio
    Originally posted by Starrman
    [b]...they deny him until that possibility becomes a reality.


    I assume you mean 'becomes a reasonable probability...,' right?

    Nothing more than a qualitative aesthetic consideration.

    Do you think there are any objective standards in art? I mean, we are
    biologically predisposed to prefer symmetry, fo ...[text shortened]... it's entirely personal taste, but includes a part of biological disposition.

    Nemesio[/b]
    You're quite right, I could happily induce god's existence based upon non formal supporting evidence.

    Your second question is very interesting. Personally (and this is a first guess kind of answer) I'd say that those predispositions are not 'artisitc' though they may be 'aesthetic'. I guess the same qualitative judgements can be made across a number of scenarios, of which art is just one. The additional aesthetic considerations which are employed only in the assessment of art are what fully determine 'artistic'. Now, what exactly is art and when does it employ these considerations is another discussion.

    To the point of biology; I believe everything humans do is biological in origin (and below that, materialistically and below that energistically (word?). Language, personality, talents etc. all determined by biology, played out through causal determinism by the forces of nature. I keep coming back to this point recently, but the more I think about it, the less I believe in free will and the more I believe in a purely physical basis for existence. For another discussion though, I think.
  13. Subscribersonhouse
    Fast and Curious
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    11 May '07 21:20
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I am not prepared to go even that far. I will content myself with saying that the 'Triple-O' god almost certainly does not exist. I will allow for the tiniest margin of error, even there.
    Help my unworthiness on this 'triple O god', is that a referance to the christian 'trinity'?
  14. Joined
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    11 May '07 21:25
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    Help my unworthiness on this 'triple O god', is that a referance to the christian 'trinity'?
    Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent.

    Sometimes I've heard him as Omnibenevolent too.
  15. Illinois
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    11 May '07 23:271 edit
    Originally posted by Zander 88
    Hi.

    [b]Most importantly, does the mystery of existence disturb the surety of your atheism?


    This is a difficult question for me to answer, but I will try my best. The most perplexing mystery of existence to me is the "why". Why do we exist? No matter how hard I try, I cannot rationalize it from either a scientific or religious viewpoint. Perhaps i rs who have said they have, given there is no empirical evidence to support their claims.[/b]
    Why do we exist? No matter how hard I try, I cannot rationalize it from either a scientific or religious viewpoint. Perhaps in time science will be able to explain it, but I don't know. Religious scripture also does not satisfy me. Why would God create us? This is also a dead end.

    I appreciate your honesty.

    If science were to one day explain exactly where we came from and why we are here, how do you imagine that discovery being made? What possible answer would seem reasonable to you? I realize these are heinously difficult questions to answer; I ask them in order to underscore their absurdity. I can hardly imagine the theoretical conclusions of science on this matter being any more meaningful than Deep Thought's "42". Was that your position?

    Being a Christian, I disagree that the bible is a 'dead end' on this issue. What the bible says concerning 'why' God created us is, first and foremost, to fellowship with Him. That being said, I understand you have no reason to believe the bible's claims, and I have no reason to expect you to. No one seeks Jesus Christ unless the Lord first draws him. Having faith then that God's work is not mine, I will proceed...

    Anyway, my intention in this thread is not to preach. I'm curious about the various ways atheists solve the problem of Nescience and how, if ever, they've dealt with what Einstein called, 'the cosmic religious feeling':

    "The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the
    religion of fear to moral religion, a development continued in the New
    Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially the peoples
    of the Orient, are primarily moral religions. The development from a
    religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in peoples' lives. And
    yet, that primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions
    of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we
    must be on our guard. The truth is that all religions are a varying blend
    of both types, with this differentiation: that on the higher levels of
    social life the religion of morality predominates.

    "Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their
    conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments,
    and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent
    above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which
    belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I
    shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate
    this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is
    no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it."

    Personally, I don't believe it's all that important to know why or how we came to exist. To me, it's enough to know I exist. I'm an atheist because it is the most sensible position. I accept the possibility that the supernatural does infact exist, but there is no reason for me to believe in it now. I have not experienced it, and I doubt all others who have said they have, given there is no empirical evidence to support their claims.

    What prevents you from seeking such experiences? If there is something 'far more deeply interfused' to the universe, of which you are part and yet unaware of, would you not want to experience it first hand before you die? -- to become intimately acquainted with whatever is 'behind' phenomena [as in, some unforeseen supernatural creative intelligence]?

    I remember, at times, that the mystery inherent in the very existence of things like whole galaxies and clusters of galaxies ad infinitum left me with such lofty thoughts and visions of design and harmony that I felt thoroughly convinced, without evidence of course, that something significant was going on, of which I was not privy to. It was a conscious decision to suspend disbelief in order to dwell on such a prospect and see it through, and I have never understood why others wouldn't do the same in my position. Unless, of course, neither the initial impression of the numinous nor the proceeding curiosity were present in them.
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