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What do atheists think about visions?

How does the atheist integrate the undeniably real experience of religious visions? Even if god doesn’t really exist, people very frequently report receiving guidance from God. If God doesn’t exist then where is the guidance coming from?

Posted: June 14th 2007

George Locke

Of course you can’t deny that people have visionary experiences, but the jury’s still out as to the cause.

Sometimes these experiences lead to misery, as for schizophrenics, sometimes they lead to personal growth, which happened to me, as a matter of fact. I’ll skip the details but suffice it to say I no longer feel, as I once did, that these experiences are totally worthless. For a time, I did not classify myself as an atheist, but then I realized that the source of the knowledge I gained was not the supernatural, but my own unconscious.

If you ask me, the claim that these visions come from sources outside ourselves is actually an insult to humanity. Rather than uniting us with our 'spiritual nature’, religions tell us that we must rely on gods, not ourselves, for guidance.

And by 'spiritual nature’, I do not imply the existence of spirits. I’m just saying that the human facility for pattern recognition occasionally produces language-like 'communication’ from dreams, plants, clouds, tea-leaves, etc. I’m not promoting tea-leaf reading per se, but I am promoting cultivation of one’s intuition, tempered with reason and skepticism.

Posted: November 28th 2007

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SmartLX www

They’re not undeniably real. I deny that they’re real. Therefore, at most, they’re deniably real.

Some people undeniably think they’ve gotten visits and messages from their gods. (They say they know, but by definition you can’t know something if it’s not true. You can only think you know it.)

I know an old Australian Aborigine who at the age of 17 was about to hang himself in a prison. He heard the voice of his ancestors telling him to stay alive and make something of himself, so he did. Was it his ancestors? No, they were dead. Was it a warden or a nearby prisoner who didn’t want a confused kid to die? Maybe. Was it his own mind, acting out of self-preservation and speaking to him in voices he would respect and obey? That’s my guess.

The most damning evidence against the reality of visions is that people of all religions claim to have them. Hundreds or thousands of mutually exclusive gods are supposedly talking to people all over the world. That’s impossible by anyone’s standards.

I think in most cases, God or whoever seems to tell people to do things because subconsciously, they themselves have told God to tell them.

Posted: November 22nd 2007

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bitbutter www

A person’s sincere belief that they have had a visionary experience is undeniably real. Of course it doesn’t follow that claims made about the world on the basis of such an experience – for instance 'revelations’ – need to be given any special weight.

People throughout the ages have reported hearing voices, seeing ghostly figures, and feeling unaccountably compelled to do unusual things. It’s not surprising that some people attribute these experiences to the activities of a god.

Experiments suggest that these experiences are the result of (rather than the causes of) physical changes in the brain; an incredibly complex system that neuroscience is only just beginning to explore.

So it looks very much as though visions 'come from’ the brain, but much more research needs to be done to uncover the details of how this works.

It’s important to note though that while most atheists are “naturalists”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_%28philosophy%29, lack of belief in god doesn’t preclude belief in other supernatural entities or processes—an atheist can also be a supernaturalist.

Posted: June 16th 2007

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brian thomson www

“Undeniably real?” Have you already made up your mind, or are you actually interested in what others have to say on this topic?

It’s not hard to see the connection with dreams, as a product of the mind and your memories. Remember, your brain is where all your perceptions of the world are processed and stored; it’s a physical organ, with limitations and malfunctions.

For example, if you search Google for “visions seizures,” you will find much literature on the topic. Some of which relates to Ellen G. White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, linking her visions to a serious head injury she had suffered as a girl (summary here).

An extreme example is the “near death experience;” how much stock should you put in such experiences, considering the circumstances? At “near death” your brain is in extreme distress, fighting to stay alive, synapses misfiring. So it’s not surprising that you “see” strange things, at that time, including wish fulfillment.

People pick up and store more information than they realize consciously, but isn’t it odd how visions are always relevant to the person and their particular faith? Christians see Jesus – the Virgin Mary if Catholic. Assuming you’re a Christian, do you think you’d ever have a vision of Allah, or Buddha? Or vice versa?

Posted: June 16th 2007

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