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Mandeblind's avatar

How do atheists explain sentiments and natural beauty?

Asked by Mandeblind (420 points ) April 24th, 2012 from iPhone

I am an agnostic, more towards atheism. But I have a lot of unanswered questions.

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38 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

A mountain is still a mountain whether you believe in god or not; people can perceive the mountain different ways, not dependent on belief in god. And what do you mean by “sentiments”?

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tom_g's avatar

What exactly are you asking?

Aethelflaed's avatar

It’s right there, in your question. Natural beauty. Not, supernatural beauty.

JLeslie's avatar

I grew up as an atheist. If I had never been exposed to religious people or theists, it would not even occur to me there might be a God. I still appreciated beauty, accepted that the world exists in all its splendor. I don’t understand what God has to do with it? God seems to me to be the way to answer questions we don’t yet understand about the universe, but eventually we come to understand more and more,

poisonedantidote's avatar

Humans find things beautiful when they are beneficial to survival. A nice fertile piece of land with a river trees and mountains is beautiful, the baron desert that kills from starvation is not. That is not to say that a desert can’t be beautiful, it could have beauty just by appealing to our sense of exploration and wonder, but generally speaking, healthy people who can reproduce are seen as beautiful, and fruitful landscapes are beautiful. If it benefits us, it has beauty.

Mandeblind's avatar

What I am asking is, for those who did not understand, what explanations do atheists give to human beings (and some animals) having “feelings”, and intelligence or simply mind. Do they simple say, we can not know why and how?
For nature, how does an atheist explain the banana, or butterfly, or birds singing? Do they say it simply exists, and stop the questionin there?

Qingu's avatar

Sexual selection is well documented in nature. We’ll never know if female birds of paradise really do think that male birds of paradise are “beautiful,” but they certainly behave as if they do.

As for the beauty of sunsets, oceans, mountains, I don’t think we have all that clear of an answer on where that comes from, but I suspect it’s related to music. Humans appear to be unique in that we can appreciate music. Even chimpanzees cannot clap to a beat. Our musical ability seems obviously linked to our mathematical ability. And I suspect that our sense of aesthetic beauty is also tied into our brain’s wiring for mathematical and geometrical patterns.

Mathematical ability has obvious evolutionary advantages.

nikipedia's avatar

Of course the questioning doesn’t stop there. The answers to your questions are the entire fields of biology, psychology, philosophy, etc. If you want to ask a specific question (e.g., how did bananas evolve from single-celled organisms?) perhaps we can help you, but if you want someone to explain beauty, feelings, intelligence, the conscious experience of mind, something about bananas, something about butterflies, and something about birds singing, that is a bit much for a fluther quip.

downtide's avatar

Natural beauty – created by physics only. Just because something is apparently random doesn’t mean that it can’t also be beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

Sentiments – caused by changes of chemical and electrical impulses in the brain as a result of external stimulii.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We don’t. Clearly, our emptiness prevents us from appreciating beauty.

Blackberry's avatar

@Qingu “Our musical ability seems obviously linked to our mathematical ability”

I never thought about that. Since music is a pattern, it makes sense why that pattern of sounds is appealing to us, but if a pattern doesn’t go in order it sounds bad. Is it like that?

flutherother's avatar

It is a good question as atheists don’t have a satisfactory explanation. Atheists either don’t try to explain or they look to science which can’t explain. Once you accept that such things as feelings and beauty exist the explanation has to come from something which is mysterious itself and that is God.

wundayatta's avatar

There are a number of aesthetic theories, I’m sure. I was recently talking to a client who wanted to study a theory about why we find certain landscapes more beautiful than others. They identify regions in a landscape. They look at complexity and organization and some other things I don’t remember. They are trying to see if these things correlate to our aesthetic preferences.

I’m sure color and vibrancy and symmetry and many other things are correlated with aesthetic preferences in other areas, like human beauty or created beauty.

In any case, it’s not really a religious issue. The feelings inside us and our aesthetic preferences are things that scientists tend to study. I’m not sure religion has much to say about it, and I doubt if religion tries to explain these things. If anything, religion ducks the issue by saying that “god” gave us these preferences. That explanation, of course, explains nothing.

Qingu's avatar

@Blackberry, you could say that the definition of music is sounds that, unlike “noise,” follow mathematical patterns. Almost all music has a beat (rock music is usually 4/4, waltzes are 3/3)—a beat is a repeating pattern in time. We recognize musical notes and scales because they are mathematical proportions of sound waves.

Our brain is wired in general to recognize patterns; pattern-recognition is arguably what “intelligence” is. The sensation of “beauty” seems like it could simply be a brain’s way of rewarding pattern-recognition.

@flutherother, why don’t you explain what exactly it is about our answers you find “unsatisfactory.” I’m having trouble thinking of a more unsatifactory answer than “God did it.” That doesn’t explain jack shit.

flutherother's avatar

What is unsatisfactory about explanations for how we feel or for the beauty of a sunset is that they don’t explain. Even if we could trace the network of brain cells that make up a thought and could understand the chemistry of the neurons and how and why they interact with each other it would be an incomplete explanation. I am not anti science. Science interests me a lot but it doesn’t have all the answers. Saying there is something divine about creation isn’t unreasonable. It is just an acceptance that there are limits to our understanding.

ucme's avatar

Clarity of thought.

Qingu's avatar

@flutherother, but we’ve partially explained it. We’ve more fully explained similar phenomena, like the sensations of taste and touch.

Saying “it can’t possibly be explained,” when they are in fact being explained, strikes me as foolish.

Do you not understand the explanations we’ve offered? Or do you not accept that they are sufficiently proven as explanations? If not, what sort of proof would convince you?

tom_g's avatar

@flutherother: “Saying there is something divine about creation isn’t unreasonable.”

Even if you had entered this thread and every atheist was just shrugging their shoulders and stating, “I don’t know”, asserting that there is something divine about “creation” is unreasonable because you’re making a claim for which there is no evidence.

The fact that there are many well-articulated explanations above makes the statement especially unreasonable.

@flutherother: “Once you accept that such things as feelings and beauty exist the explanation has to come from something which is mysterious itself and that is God.”

Asserting something doesn’t make it true.

flutherother's avatar

When I say these things can’t be explained I mean fully explained. I don’t think science can do that. Maybe I expect too much.

Qingu's avatar

I love how religious people oscillate between saying “we can’t know why X” and “God is why X.”

No better demonstration that God is simply a label for Ignorance.

flutherother's avatar

There is a lot to be said for the sceptical approach. I don’t put all my faith in science or in God.

Qingu's avatar

What parts of the explanations given in this thread are you skeptical about, precisely?

All you’ve said is that you are skeptical that there are explanations. But people have offered explanations and you haven’t explained why you think they are wrong.

YARNLADY's avatar

Some people explain all those things as being manifestations of chemical reactions in our brain. We use various words to describe the experiences, but emotions are really nothing more than neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The distribution and amount of these substances along the brain synapses brings about electrical activity in the neurons.

flutherother's avatar

I haven’t said the explanations are wrong because I don’t think they are. I am interested in what science says but there are questions, such as why does a sunset inspire feelings, that science just isn’t good at answering.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@flutherother This is just me guessing, but perhaps because humans are more committed to survival if life is, in some small way, pleasant. If all you’re ever doing is hunting for food and fighting off attacks, then what’s to stop you from just ending it all? Maybe our brains evolved to enjoy certain things, because it increases the chance that each individual and the species as a whole will survive.

Blackberry's avatar

@Aethelflaed @flutherother Yeah, it’s still a mystery. What happens when we don’t have to think with primary instincts anymore? We’re eventually going to take the time to question every facet of our surroundings.

Mandeblind's avatar

You guys all gave great answers…
But how do you explain seratonin and such? You can explain our feelings and such with science/medicine, but how do explain why we have such hormones etc. that makes us work such way?
I think you can not explain everything with science, but just because you cant doesnt mean theres a god.

Qingu's avatar

@Mandeblind, chemicals in the brain are actually pretty easy to explain. They have evolutionary advantages. Look at organisms with very simple nervous systems, like starfish. How do you get your nervous system to “go into action” in response to stimuli? You need chemical messengers.

A nervous system that can respond to more stimuli in different ways has advantages over one that only responds one way to a few stimuli. Thus, it’s advantageous for more, and more detailed, chemical messengers to evolve.

wundayatta's avatar

While it is true that we do not yet have a scientific explanation for everything, that does not mean we won’t ever have one. Science is work, and work takes people and people take time. I’m sure that there will be explanations for hormones, if they don’t already exist.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@wundayatta Sort of like how most religions didn’t have all the answers over time, but rather evolved over centuries, gathering more and more answers.

Sunny2's avatar

Why does everything have to be explained? Why are some of us so uncomfortable with not having all the answers? Particularly, why do we make up answers for questions we can’t answer? God is the answer to all questions for many. Not me. I can live comfortably with quite a lot of ignorance.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Sunny2 Some people are more interested in this sort of thing than others.

Mandeblind's avatar

For everything they dont understand, they say its god. thats why many gods were created… But the creator of god is man in the first place. So man is superior of all gods.

wundayatta's avatar

@Aethelflaed Except science has a method that can be checked and verified. The religious method of acquiring knowledge can not be checked. It’s all about personal revelation. As far as I know, not even religious people claim they can be inside each other’s heads, so there is no way to verify the source of someone else’s revelation. Perhaps I am wrong about that, though.

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