People have often tried to insist that I simply must accept the existence of supernatural forces, if not specific deities, because they say that the evidence makes it clear. As I’ve written before, I don’t think they understand how evidence works.
Some of you might know that if you go back far enough on this blog you can find me making a similar argument, because even after I left Christianity I was still ignorant of cosmology and thought the cosmological argument supported the existence of some order-causing force beyond our universe and its natural laws. I know better now, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles. This doesn’t mean I’ve ruled out such a thing; all I’ve done is recognized that there are numerous other possibilities that do not involve supernatural forces, so my only reasonable option is to refrain from believing any of them and keep my mind open to additional data.
I think I’m driven by logic more than emotion due to my place on the autism spectrum, which is why I find it so easy to discard old beliefs when I encounter new data that disproves them. But I wasn’t immune to the emotional draw of religion; I could still fall for it if I remained ignorant of the contradictory data.
Christianity is your own personal mythology, a story in which you are the protagonist on a mission from the most powerful being imaginable. It’s a fiction you internalize and believe because it makes you feel happy emotions. We know that the act of worship triggers the same reward system in your brain as pretty much anything enjoyable–chocolate, sex, music, etc. As proven widely in our modern culture, especially in politics and pseudoscience, you can get huge numbers of people to believe complete falsehoods merely by appealing to their emotions and feeding the reward system of their brains.
So that’s what god is: your emotions, intuitions, and instincts. You elevate them to the status of deity because they’re the only thoughts that don’t seem to come from within your conscious mind. They seem more abstract, like they are some force separate from the physical realm. Like they’re supernatural and simply can’t be detected. Like instead of coming from physical brain activity (as science has proven) they come from a vague and supposedly separate part of you called the “soul”.
But that doesn’t make sense. If you are proposing a supernatural force that affects the natural world, how can it possibly remain undetectable? As soon as something exerts a force upon the reality we can observe, its influence would be observable. This is how we verified the existence of gravitational waves–we constructed an experiment in which the effect they have on spacetime could be observed. It’s how we know black holes are real, because even if we can’t directly see them we can see the gravitational effect they have on things around them.
The claim that interactive supernatural forces can’t be studied serves only as an inadequate excuse for a complete lack of evidence. When we study the phenomena that are claimed to be caused by supernatural forces, we find that either 1) there’s a natural cause, or 2) nobody really knows yet and you could propose any wild idea you want, supernatural or not. The fact that a supernatural force is a possible explanation for evidence does not mean the evidence proves or even supports the reality of supernatural forces.
The implications of this for the hypothesis of a soul should be clear. We have no evidence for the existence of anything, aside from your brain, that is able to control your body or thoughts. People have searched for centuries and still there is no sign of a soul. Meanwhile, actual observations have yielded plenty of verifiable data and solved a lot of mysteries, none of which turned out to be supernatural in origin. Many strange mental phenomena that once were attributed to supernatural influence have been explained by physical events within the brain, and even most religious people accept that their ideological ancestors were wrong about those things. To paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson, the supernatural is simply a receding pocket of scientific ignorance.
We already have the answer to where our consciousness comes from. If you want to understand it, you have to understand the human nervous system, not merely construct a fantasy based on the good feelings you get from an old book of stories. I’ve been there and tried that, and I felt it all and believed it completely, and then I realized that I was just attributing the action of my subconscious mind to an imaginary cause that was completely unnecessary to explain anything, and which didn’t have any supporting evidence.
To be clear, I’m not saying that further investigation will definitely not provide any evidence of supernatural forces, only that such evidence has not yet been demonstrated. If we find effects in the natural world which can only be explained by a supernatural force, that is when you could accurately claim that the evidence supports the existence of the supernatural.
Currently there is no such evidence. The supernatural only fits in gaps that could just as easily be filled with a wide range of other possibilities that are equally supported by the evidence we have. Since many gaps have already been filled with natural explanations, and none with supernatural ones, it appears that we are on a path toward understanding the universe which does not involve anything supernatural.