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Atheism, evolution, Religion

Theists in Foxholes

I’ve been gnawing on a rather gristly thought for the last couple of days, and I think I’ve finally broken it down into something manageable.  The Friendly Atheist posted a brief blog about an atheist who was attacked and stabbed by a knife wielding assailant.  The man did not cry out to god, nor did he have any kind of flashback of his life.  No, he did what I believe most people would do.  He defended himself with all he had in him.  He kicked and fought and tried desperately to stay alive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this little story in the context of evolutionary biology.  Perhaps yesterday’s post dealing with the evolutionary origins of fear was a subconscious effort on my part to put all the pieces in place.   Now, don’t take this blog too seriously — it’s just me thinking aloud more than anything else — but I’m beginning to suspect that there may not be any theists in foxholes.

Theists are fond of trotting out the old argument that when death is on the line and we are facing our own mortality, our innate reaction is to seek out God.  I suggest that science tells us otherwise.  When the face of death is immenent, we most certainly do not pray.  Our innate survival instincts kick in, and we do anything and everything we can to stay alive.  In fact, it’s very commonly reported that people who were struggling to survive did not consciously think anything at all, but rather just acted.  Sometimes, they have a very hard time even remembering what they did, and in what order.  Instinct takes precedence over intellect when only instinct can save us.

Yeah, I know… that’s not really what theists mean.  They mean that when we are facing death and have the time to think about it, we innately turn to God.  Well, I don’t see any evidence of that, either.  When I was talking about hell, I mentioned that the threat of hell is only effective on people who already believe it’s a real threat.  I believe it’s the same with God.  For those of us who see no evidence for a god, and realize that the concept itself is an epistemological absurdity, turning to God at the end of our life would be the equivalent of calling out to David Copperfield to perform a magic trick and keep us alive.   Just like hell, the concept of “no atheists in foxholes” only has any meaning to theists.  To us atheists, it’s a bunch of hooey.

One more thing is tickling my brain:  If God is so super-awesome, and is all about performing miracles, why didn’t he program us with an innate “pray” instinct for when death is imminent?  It’s all fine and dandy for us to pray when we have a day, or an hour, or a week, until we die.  There’s still time.  But when we’re going to die in a few instants, isn’t that when we need God the most?  If he’s so loving, why’d he program our minds to shut down just when we ought to be asking forgiveness?

No, the answer is that theists only have the luxury of theism when their life isn’t really on the line… at least, not this instant.  I think perhaps there are no theists in foxholes.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Theists in Foxholes

  1. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

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    Posted by Mike | March 1, 2009, 10:05 am
  2. Even the religious don’t pray when they realize that their own survival depends on quick, decisive, competantly-engineered action on their own part. If there’s no time for summoning some authority figure (whether officer Krupke of the local police, or Yahweh, or Elbereth, or Joe Pesci, or whatever), then people respond actively and try to save themselves. Unless they figure it wouldn’t do any good (either there’s no time, or they don’t know how); then sometimes they pray.

    Posted by Robbie Hatley | March 1, 2009, 11:59 pm
  3. I never thought about it like that. Thanks for the thought!

    Posted by AnnieT | March 3, 2009, 11:15 pm
  4. Annie, I never thought about it like that either. This was a new thought for me. (I love it when that happens!)

    Posted by hambydammit | March 4, 2009, 4:53 pm
  5. Well, to be fair, there’s the account of Neva Rogers – who allegedly turned to prayer as her proverbial ace in the hole when approached by a gunman in her classroom.

    Of course, she got her brains blown out regardless of her invocation, so it’s not exactly the best example for a theist to turn to when telling someone about what prayer can do for you in a sticky situation. 😛

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 11, 2009, 9:00 pm

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