What it Means to Be an Enchanted Naturalist

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 23, 2010 in Inspirational,Video

This is what it means to be an enchanted naturalist:

Hat tip to Sabio.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabio April 23, 2010 at 6:25 am

Thanx for the HT, Luke. I am always curious of three issues:

(1) Is it possible to cultivate this attitude or if some of us are just lucky enough to be born with it. For it seems an enchanted life is much more pleasing that a cynical, pessimistic life. (or whatever the opposite would be).

2)How do we nurture this attitude to avoid atrophy?

3)Is it possible to innoculate others with this attitude?

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lukeprog April 23, 2010 at 6:54 am

Sabio,

Those are three questions for a psychologist. I’m not sure. But I’m optimistic.

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Mike aka MonolithTMA April 23, 2010 at 10:34 am

Breathtaking! Great choice of music as well. I plan on watching that again, probably several times. Really inspiring!

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Reginald Selkirk April 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm

I understand what he’s trying to say, but I am not taken with the verbiage he has chosen. “Spiritual” is ambiguous, sometimes it is used to include belief in the supernatural. “Enchanted” is not much better, as it evokes unicorns and leprechauns. I suggest he take up Carl Sagan’s term for it, “a sense of wonder.”

And at 3:35, the astronomical image clearly shows Satan’s face.

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al friedlander April 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I was actually able to cultivate a similar mindset shortly after my ‘conversion’. Problem was, for me -personally- anyway, it relied heavily on a sense of ‘mysticism/existentialism/etc’ that I knew, was inherently dishonest to myself. In short…I wasn’t able to keep it up for long, and eventually caved in to the inevitable pessimist within.

(I’m more than aware this doesn’t necessarily happen to many other atheists/agnostics, just saying for me personally)

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John W. Loftus April 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I too stand in awe of the universe and the mystery of it all, on my good days. But let us not forget that the universe operates by blind indifference. It will strike down a child with Leukemia and then turn around to save one person from a tragic fire that destroyed a city block. So I’m not sure what it means to be an enchanted atheist given the blind indifference of the universe in which a killer pack of wolves eat a deer alive while she’s still standing on her feet, or one where an evolved human animal will blow himself to bits along with everyone around him, except to say that on some days I am, while on other days I am not. On some days I want to curse it, while on other days I want to worship it. But in the end it’s just blind indifference, neither to be cursed or to be worshiped. Those reactions are human ones; the result of blind indifference too. The universe does not care. It just is.

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Jeff H April 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Ooh, music from the Shawshank Redemption! I recognized it immediately :)

John,

I agree with your sentiments. At times I feel so excited to be alive, and at other times I feel so out of place with a world that seems disastrous and cold-hearted, and humans that are greedy and corrupt. I would tend to say, though, that being an enchanted naturalist is very similar to being an optimist – you recognize and fully agree that it’s only your perspective on the matter, but yet you choose to take that perspective anyway. The world can be blind and indifferent, but it is our deep appreciation of the good and the awe we have even toward the bad that makes someone an enchanted naturalist. The universe just is – you’re right about that – but our universe is what we make of it.

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Al Moritz April 24, 2010 at 11:55 am

Nice video, Luke. The awe of nature and of the universe that you describe, however, can also be experienced from a theistic perspective (and my knowledge as a scientist is not unhelpful for me either, personally). It is not an ‘either — or’ proposition. Certainly, this may not quite mesh with your own experience, since you come from Bible fundamentalism, but it is true nonetheless.

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othereric April 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

i suppose i understand the desire for optimists to express their shiny happy personality as much as i want to rain dark cynicism upon everything, and maybe this kind of thing is necessary to fight the public perception of grouchy atheists…
but sabio’s question #3 fills me with nightmare images of an atheist cheer squad, pinning smiling supernova pins to people as they dance by.

i really don’t think these issues of personality contribute much to the public discussion of worldviews, and the threat that this site might transform into a propaganda centre for enchanted atheism would make this particular atheist cat want to bolt for the exit.

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Justfinethanks April 24, 2010 at 2:05 pm

It is not an ‘either — or’ proposition.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the video was trying to argue that “atheists feel wonder and awe about the natural world and theists can’t/don’t.” To the contrary, it stated the feeling was indeed universal amongst humans (religious or not), but criticized religious tendency to “prostitute the awe” and make it representative of something else.

So no one is arguing that you or any other theist can’t have transcendent feelings about your experiences here on Earth. But plenty of people DO argue that atheism necessarily leads to despair. This video (I imagine) is trying to rebut that notion, in arguing that you can have the awe and thrill without the “man behind the curtain.”

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Al Moritz April 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

“But plenty of people DO argue that atheism necessarily leads to despair.”

I have never bought that argument. I could easily envision being a happy atheist, who is not even afraid of death. It is just that atheism does not rationally convince me — but on the emotional level I would have no problem with its implications.

I also find the argument silly that atheists need to be amoral people. In fact, it contradicts mature theology. For example, the Catholic theology of natural law argues that moral law is written into the heart of all humans, by the simple fact of how humans were created by God, ‘in His image’ (divine command theory, in contrast, which says that morals are merely a product of arbitrary divine decree, is insanity). Therefore, it is logical that also humans who deny God should know how to behave morally — it is in their nature. Issues like abortion are problematic, obviously, but some atheists are even against abortion.

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Justfinethanks April 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm

It is just that atheism does not rationally convince me — but on the emotional level I would have no problem with its implications.

Well, that certainly puts you in the minority of theists, I imagine. Mostly because the “atheism is perfectly compatible with being a happy fulfilled person, but it’s just not rational” is a terrible way to do apologetics, for the sad fact that people are typically convinced of particular worldviews for emotional reasons, not rational ones (and I’m certainly not excluding atheists when I say that). So to paint any opposing worldview in a emotionally harsh light is just plain good marketing strategy.

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Al Moritz April 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm

“for the sad fact that people are typically convinced of particular worldviews for emotional reasons, not rational ones (and I’m certainly not excluding atheists when I say that).”

Which explains certain atheist argumentation. Behind the facade of ‘rationality’, and the painting of the opposing worldview as ‘irrational’ or ‘delusional’, is often just a plain ole’ defense of emotional reasons.

“So to paint any opposing worldview in a emotionally harsh light is just plain good marketing strategy.”

But it makes no rational sense, and may even be dishonest (except in those cases where the person making the argumentation is truly convinced of it). I want to be convinced on a rational level, not on an emotional one.

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Justfinethanks April 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Which explains certain atheist argumentation

Actually, it explains all argumentation. What do you remember most distinctly from the recent health care debate in the US? Detailed, dispassionate reports produced by the Congressional Budget Office? Or the phrase “death panels”?

Aristotle identified that there were three elements in good rhetoric: credibility, emotion, and reason. Everyone with something to sell, whether it be apologists, Madison avenue creatives, or politicians fully understand that the second is the most important and ultimately persuasive.

So, it’s pretty unfair to paint atheists as using this tactic, when everyone who is making a sincere attempt at converting people does.

I want to be convinced on a rational level, not on an emotional one.

Excellent. I want that too. But I’m not even sure it’s possible. The human mind operates with a litany of cognitive biases, which are necessary for us to function, but also “protect” us from facts we find uncomfortable. I think having a set of beliefs that comes from “pure reason” is one of those things that is noble to strive for, but is basically impossible.

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Al Moritz April 24, 2010 at 6:28 pm

“So, it’s pretty unfair to paint atheists as using this tactic, when everyone who is making a sincere attempt at converting people does.”

Except that, as I said, atheists usually (pretend to) use the weapon of (alleged) ‘rationality’. And that with emphasis.

“Excellent. I want that too. But I’m not even sure it’s possible. The human mind operates with a litany of cognitive biases, which are necessary for us to function, but also “protect” us from facts we find uncomfortable. I think having a set of beliefs that comes from “pure reason” is one of those things that is noble to strive for, but is basically impossible.”

These are good points. I do know the facts that I find uncomfortable, and I know them all too well, even though I judge them not to be lethal objections to my position. I do not know if I have cognitive biases that ‘protect’ me from them, but there appears to be one thing to be the case, which is a good point that Eric Reitan makes in his book “Is God a delusion?”:

It may well be that theists and atheists have different basic intuitions (as an example I might give the differences in how they react to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, but other examples could be given too). Basic intuitions often (inevitably have to) form the basis of rational reasoning, even though they themselves cannot be rationally proven or disproven. So if the two sides have different basic intuitions, they both can come to equally rational, yet different conclusions (now leaving the question of influence of emotionality totally aside).

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Justfinethanks April 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I do not know if I have cognitive biases that ‘protect’ me from them.

Well, you probably do, that work on an unconcious level. They’re difficult to notice, and it takes work to bring them to the surface.

For example, I have certainly noticed that whenever I encounter a point in favor of God belief that I can’t answer, I file it away under “requires more research” rather than converting on the spot. On the one hand, I recognize that this is a basic operation of a confirmation bias: downplaying facts that threaten my preconceptions while easily accepting facts that align with them.

On the other hand, I recognize that this bias exists for a reason: to keep my perception of the world stable. If it didn’t exist, I would basically change worldviews daily, which would basically make me a crazy person, incapable of maintaining a job or relationships.

So instead of denying it all together, I try to recognize when I am employing it, and try to see if it genuinely warranted or if I’m overextending it unnecessarily. I’m not sure how successful I am, but I like to pat myself on the back for at least trying.

It may well be that theists and atheists have different basic intuitions

This is an excellent point. My favorite illistration of this has to be how atheists and theists react when God is compared to Santa Claus. To an atheist, this is a perfectly sensible comparison as they basically have the same feelings about both entities and have the same kind of relationship with them. When an atheist hears “I prayed to God,” they basically react in the same manner as if you heard a grown man say “I sent Santa a letter.”

But to theists, this comparison is simply dumbfounding. One is a robustly defined being that has being seriously explored by great minds for thousands of years and the other is a silly fable. How could anyone who knows what they are talking about confuse the two?

It comes down to intuitions. To me and many other Atheists, God sure seems a lot like Santa. They have a lot of similar properties: the invisibility, the moral judgement, the wish granting.

But I suspect to you and other theists this comparison is insulting and perhaps even ignorant.

These intuitions are very powerful, and as you point out, precede our rational considerations. If the facts contradict our intuitions, it simply takes ten times more work to accept the facts than if they aligned with our intuitions. And that’s part of why discovering what’s true is so challenging. Not just because the facts are hard to understand, but also because its tough to accept the facts as being true once we understand them.

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Al Moritz April 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Again you raise very good points, Justfinethanks. I wish that more people on both sides would be aware of the things we discussed here, and we could avoid much silly banging each other on the head over issues like who is more ‘rational’, ‘delusional’, ‘plain irrational’, ‘believing in magic’ etc. (not that I have not been guilty myself of being quick with judgments of irrationality when it comes to atheistic arguments).

The discussion might then also better avoid simplistic stereotypes like ‘all religion is dangerous’, or ‘all atheists are immoral, or nihilists’, and be more rationally constructive.

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elaine April 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I just love the enchanted naturalist. It’s magical and materialist at the same time. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Sagan would have embraced it, too.

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beniamino September 9, 2010 at 8:28 am

I agree with all through sentiments and feelings – the thrill and the vibrant LIFE – the sense of wonder and the overwhelming joy and thanksgiving combined with the profound sense of humility – the very senses you expressed – the WOW! The only difference is mine does not end with physical death but only becomes immeasurably better because I have found all these things in a personal, intimate, dynamic and awesome love relationship with the ultimate lover of my soul – my redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you my friend.

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beniamino September 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

Thanks

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