What Is A Spiritual Agnostic

I'll never forget the first time I saw Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, which was completed in 1434. At first impression, I viewed it as conventional, with stiff and lifeless main characters and a picture devoid of vibrancy or specific meaning. I was quickly put right, and I was taken aback.

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It is, in reality, an extraordinary painting with wonderful detail that gives the viewer a completely fresh perspective on what the artist was trying to portray. The mirror behind the people, for example, reflects the entire scenario in minute detail, including the two witnesses to the action (one of whom is the artist himself), with the precision of a modern digital snapshot. Despite this, I absolutely missed it the first time I watched it.

I've come to the conclusion that the same holds true for how we see the world around us, as well as the incredible story that science has found about our cosmos. When I started to really look into it – the cosmology, physics, biochemistry, environmentalism, sociobiology, and spirituality that have brought us here and made us who we are – I realized there were significant nodal points that were easy to overlook but, once identified and understood, shed new light on the entire landscape.

We live in a secular age in the West today, when religious doctrine and unthinking morality have mostly disappeared, replaced by consumer materialism based on riches and celebrity. So I questioned myself, “What am I truly convinced of?” Is our existence merely a rite of passage that fades away with little or no significance, or is there a higher order of things that gives meaning to our species? And, if that's the case, what scientific data supports it?

I haven't had an intense encounter that has left me with an unbreakable inner certainty. My mother, a devout Christian, wanted me to become a priest, but I chose social work as a probation officer before deciding to pursue social change through the political process, a turn that led me to serve in Parliament for the next 40 years.

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While this decision provided important opportunities to fight for the principles I believed in, it also left me with no time to ponder the deeper purpose of human life and what it is ultimately for – if it is for anything at all.

I've always had a strong interest in science and have read extensively, particularly about cosmology, and I've often wondered how it all fit together, given that reality must be one single indivisible oneness. It has always struck me as odd that some people claim that modern science has ‘disproved' religion, because this is obviously incorrect — science and religion are simply two different paradigms of experience, and neither can invalidate the other.

I chose to write my book from the perspective of a spiritual agnostic, since that is where I believe the majority of people in current society are: hesitant, sceptical, and unwilling to make any intellectual or emotional commitment without seeing “the evidence.”

My book examines each of the critical dimensions – the universe's origin and evolution over the last 13 billion years, the formation of galaxies and our solar system, the possible origins of life on Earth over the last 4 billion years, and the subsequent proliferation of exotic life forms leading to the human species through a chain of the most unlikely improbabilities.

What can we learn from looking at the sometimes buried detail that lights the entire, bringing it to life, like searching for the minutiae of a van Eyck painting? And I discovered that there are patterns that connect the threads in logical, if often unexpected, ways.

This is a truly remarkable story. Hubble, an American astronomer, discovered less than a century ago that galaxies were not static (as Newtonian physics had assumed), but were traveling away from each other at amazing rates. Using the Hubble constant to reverse this process, it appears that the universe began with a cataclysmic explosion 13.7 billion years ago (the so-called Big Bang). But there is one scientific fact that stands out: the universe was built with incredible precision.

The balance between the original outward explosive power at Big Bang and the gravitational forces pulling the galaxies back is precise to one part in one followed by 60 noughts in order to establish this stable cosmos! Roger Penrose, a mathematician, calculated the probability of the universe being random as one chance in one followed by 123 noughts – a degree of improbability approaching infinity. However, while the scientific evidence clearly shows that the cosmos is designed, a simple ‘jump' from this to a creator God is not warranted, at least not based on the current scientific evidence.

The paradox of design, on the other hand, is that it is entwined with regular periods in which the universe is regenerated with inconceivable ferocity and destructiveness, such as supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, and galaxy mergers. Massive bombardments pounded the Earth for 200 million years after it was formed 4.5 billion years ago, and there have been at least six, if not 10, catastrophic extinctions throughout its history.

An asteroid the size of Mars collided with the Earth at 25,000 miles per hour, producing a force equivalent to 50,000 trillion Hiroshima atomic bombs. But, strangely, this massive calamity brought with it necessary circumstances for life on Earth: axial tilt, regulated climate, slower rotation (no winds at 200 miles per hour), and a very powerful magnetic field shielding the planet from harmful cosmic rays.

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On the other hand, the evolution of living forms on Earth is similarly perplexing. The traditional depiction of primate evolution as a smooth upward linear progression from primitive mammal to modern man could not be further from the truth. Without a slew of unanticipated environmental conditions, including photosynthesis, a massive increase in the incidence of oxygen, and the transition from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, life (however it originated) would never have progressed at all.

The Permian mega-catastrophe 251 million years ago nearly wiped off proto-mammals, the progenitors of humans. They barely made it, losing out to their semi-reptilian adversaries, who were subsequently supplanted by the dinosaurs, who ruled the globe for 165 million years before being killed out by an asteroid strike 65 million years ago off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

This could point to a cosmos that is meaningless and devoid of purpose. However, if you look attentively again, you'll notice a quite different picture. There is much subtler evidence of discernible and positive patterns of activity at the micro level, which is consistent with this free play of natural forces of astounding power and aggression at the macro level. There is mounting evidence of a natural process in which matter and energy are spontaneously transferred into new higher organizational states not derivable from lower-level laws at certain complexity thresholds. This is in contrast to neo-Darwinian theory, which predicts simply gene reshuffling through blind, pitiless chance rather than greater complexity.

This isn't merely a property of biological systems. In cosmic systems, new evidence of this shift to a fundamentally different order of organization is also being discovered. The discovery that spiral galaxies have autocatalytic energy and matter cycles similar to those that underpin the ecology of the biosphere is a spectacular new discovery. It's as if we're gradually waking up to some kind of cosmic pattern.

However, we must be cautious about what all of this entails. The evidence for a created cosmos is overwhelming, yet that does not automatically imply the existence of a personal God. A separate set of criteria is required for this.

The awesome sense of numinous power found almost universally in human societies, the revelations proclaimed by the founders and prophets of the world's great religions, the ineffable witness of the mystics, and the authenticity of overpowering personal experience that transforms lives are all sources that religious experience is validated by. Despite this, the universe's story and its connection to religious experience can appear paradoxical – a riddle we can only scratch the surface of.

For three centuries, science has narrowed the significance of humanity in the face of a nearly infinite universe, and possibly an almost infinite succession of universes. It seems strange to place so much emphasis on a species – ours – that lives on a planet within the solar system of a single main-sequence star in a galaxy with 200 billion other stars within a universe with probably 100 billion galaxies. It also appears strange to create a universe for humans in which the species is absent from the stage until the last 0.0006 percent of the near-14-billion-year (so far) performance.

Nonetheless, the evidence today points to an ultimate reality, not of the human race as the pinnacle of evolution, but of a larger cosmic design in which we may well play a significant role.

Michael Meacher is a Labour MP and the author of The Riddle of Human Existence: Destination of the Species. www.michaelmeacher.info

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What does spiritually agnostic mean?

Agnosticism is the belief that God, the divine, or the supernatural exist but are unknown or unknowable. “Human reason is incapable of offering sufficient intellectual arguments to explain either the belief that God exists or the conviction that God does not exist,” according to another description.

“It simply means that a man shall not state he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for purporting to know or believe,” said English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who created the term agnostic in 1869.

Earlier thinkers, such as Sanjaya Belatthaputta, a 5th-century BCE Indian philosopher who expressed agnosticism about any afterlife, and Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher who expressed agnosticism about the existence of “the gods,” had written works that promoted agnostic points of view.

What is spiritual atheism?

The critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual creatures is known as atheism. As a result, it is usually separated from theism, which asserts the existence of the divine and frequently strives to prove it.

Do agnostics pray?

Are atheists and agnostics allowed to pray? Yes, absolutely. It turns out, quite a bit. According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of them pray every day, according to studies. And 11% pray on a weekly or monthly basis.

Alternatively, theirs could be the types of prayers that don't require a recipient. They could be awe-inspiring. A sensation of the ethereal. Nature has brought about an upwelling of tranquility. In the presence of music or art, a transcendent experience. Or even just a sense of stillness.

Is it a sin to be agnostic?

If humans are to have the option of loving God, they must also have the option of rejecting him—of sinning. Agnosticism allows humans to choose freely whether to do good or evil without being aware of God's existence, making it far easier to do good. Death is not a horrible state, but the end of one; and there are significant benefits to human mortality. Though it is desirable that death be followed by a life beyond death, it is also desirable that this not be readily apparent to humans.

Do agnostics believe in a higher power?

You're probably wondering how agnosticism differs from atheism now that you know more about it. The solution is actually rather straightforward: “A person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods,” according to Merriam-Webster, or “one who subscribes to or favors atheism.”

In other words, whereas agnostics are unsure if God exists (or not), atheists believe there is no such thing as a god. Agnostics, on the other hand, don't have an answer to the question “Atheists answer “I don't know” to the question “Does God exist?” with a firm “no.”

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Atheism, like agnosticism, can be divided into subgroups based on why a person does not believe in a higher power. Strong atheists (also known as agnostics) are those who do not believe in God “Atheists who are “positive” believe that there is no God, gods, or any higher force. Atheists who are adamant about their beliefs consider God's nonexistence to be fact.

Weak atheists, as they're frequently referred to, are people who don't believe in God “Atheists who believe in no higher power are known as “negative” atheists. Weak atheism, on the other hand, is best defined as the lack of belief in a higher power, as opposed to strong atheists who actively think that the nonexistence of God(s) is truth. While weak atheists do not believe in God, they also do not state categorically that there are no God(s). A weak atheist's beliefs may be summarized in the following way: “I don't believe in a higher power, but I can't say for sure that there isn't one. I only know that the evidence for God's existence isn't compelling, so I don't believe God exists.”

Examine the definitions of strong and weak agnosticism once more. You'll see that the main distinction between atheism and agnosticism is their belief in the existence of God. While both strong and weak atheists believe there is no God(s), agnostics of all kinds feel there is no way to know whether or not God exists. As a result, agnostics neither believe in nor deny the existence of a higher power, whereas atheists believe in the absence of such a power.

Can you be atheist and agnostic?

Nonbelief appears in a variety of forms. An atheist is someone who does not believe in God, whereas an agnostic is someone who does not believe it is possible to know for certain whether or not God exists. It's conceivable to be both—an agnostic atheist doesn't believe in God but also doesn't believe we'll ever know. A gnostic atheist, on the other hand, is certain that there is no such thing as a god.

Nonbelievers, on the other hand, frequently misuse these terminology, and many people who do not believe in a god dislike labels altogether. Farias co-authored a study for the Understanding Unbelief research program, an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional three-year effort to investigate nonbelief in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Only a small percentage of nonbelievers utilized the phrases, according to the researchers “Many people prefer labels like “nonreligious,” “spiritual but not religious,” “secular,” “humanist,” or “freethinker” over “atheist” or “agnostic.” In the United States, for instance, just 39% of those who stated they don't believe in God identified as atheists (Understanding Unbelief, University of Kent, 2019).

Despite the hazy definitions, academics are focusing on the factors that impact whether or not someone believes. Some well-known atheists, such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, PhD, have famously stated that anyone with strong critical thinking skills should reject religion. People with superior analytical ability, according to this line of reasoning, are more likely to be nonbelievers, because belief in a higher force involves faith in something that cannot be proven. On the other hand, believers may be more prone to intuitive reasoning, trusting their gut instincts that a deity exists even in the absence of hard evidence.

Gervais was one of several academics who released findings in 2012 that suggested analytic thinking was linked to atheism (Science, Vol. 336, No. 6080, 2012). Newer research, on the other hand, questions whether analytical thinking causes people to reject religion. “The contemporary picture is far more complicated,” adds Gervais.

Farias, for example, studied analytic vs. intuitive thinking in two groups: a culturally and religiously diverse group of persons on a spiritual pilgrimage path in Spain and adults from the general community in the United Kingdom. The researchers discovered no link between intuitive thinking and religious belief in either group. Farias employed neurostimulation to improve participants' cognitive inhibition, or their capacity to stop intuitive ideas and impulsive acts, in a separate study. Increased cognitive inhibition should make people more dubious about supernatural belief if belief is linked to intuitive thinking. However, lowering cognitive inhibition had no effect on religious or spiritual beliefs, according to the study (Nature Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, Article 15100, 2017).

“According to Farias, “these experiments demonstrate there is no link between analytical thinking and atheism or agnosticism.”

Other evidence has backed up that judgment. Beyond the United States, Gervais and colleagues studied the relationship between belief and cognitive reflection, or the tendency to override gut emotions and reflect on situations, using a worldwide sample from more than 13 different nations. Only three countries were shown to have a link between cognitive reflection and atheism: Australia, Singapore, and the United States. Even in countries where the ties remained strong, the relationship was limited (Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2018). “Popular theist speech extols how rational and analytical they are, but this isn't backed by our best science, according to Gervais.

Despite the fact that atheists are not inherently analytical, there is evidence that some of them may adopt a scientific worldview. Because religious people commonly turn to their beliefs to cope with stress and anxiety, Farias wondered if nonbelievers would instead place their faith in science during times of stress. He examined two groups of elite rowers, one of whom was about to compete in a high-stress event and the other of whom was training in a low-stress environment. Rowers in the high-stress group reported a stronger belief in science than rowers in the low-stress group, despite the fact that both groups tested low in religiosity. In a second experiment, Farias asked participants to consider their own mortality—a scenario that frequently leads people to defend their beliefs. The primed group also expressed more faith in science than the control group.

These findings show that, like religion, science can provide a source of personal meaning (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 49, No. 6, 2013). “Science has grown godlike in some countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Farias.

Nonbelievers may also find meaning in science and nature, according to other research. While religious people were more likely to cite religious events as a source of spirituality, nonbelievers reported spiritual experiences related to nature, science, meditation, or so-called alternative therapies, according to a study led by Jesse L. Preston, PhD, of the University of Warwick in England “peak” encounters (such as riding a motorcycle or using psychedelic drugs). Though the sources of spirituality differed, both religious and nonreligious people felt awe as a result of their encounters (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 70, No. 1, 2017).