Is atheist awe at nature like theist awe?

When theists and atheists feel awe, is it the same thing? I imagine that theists and atheists both get a feeling of awe and amazement when we see a beautiful sunset, mountain valley, etc. But the believer sees this as God’s handiwork, and attributes the beauty to Him. Is it a similar thing?

Posted: October 15th 2010

Mike the Infidel www

As a former believer, I can tell you that it’s almost identical. The only difference is that I don’t go a further step and feel awe at the thought that it was all made with us in mind.

Posted: October 18th 2010

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Reed Braden www

It’s very much the same, but it’s right in front of you, so it’s not an awe diluted with occasional doubts like religious awe.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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I loved nature from the first, when I was a tiny kid, bare-chested and bare-footed, running up and down the dunes at the family summer shack. More than awe, it was a sense of peace and belonging that nature provided that I love so. After all, humans evolved in the natural environment.

God belief never made any sense or held any attraction for me, so I never courted it despite being raised in a religious family and community. I never tied god-belief to my love of nature and as soon as I was able, it was tied to science and art, so I could understand it better and to demonstrate my appreciation of it through writing and painting.

Usually, when I am really moved by nature, I breathe a sign of relief that gods have nothing to do with it and though the imagined concoctions of one of the many species which have evolved certainly cause problems that I am only too aware of, it could be worse, these awful creatures could have existed! Nature then deeply calms me, as bad as the human condition can be at times, at least we do not have temperamental celestial tyrants running the show, spoon feeding us pre-digested beauty, wiping the drooling from our lips in belabored mercy, but instead we have fabulous nature itself and the tool, that is, science, to deepen our understanding of it and to improve our living conditions, and art, to share our love and appreciation of it with others.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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Dave Hitt www

Having been religious in my earlier years, I’d say it’s about the same, but just a little better. Putting a god into the equation doesn’t improve the feeling at all. Instead, it adds a feeling of worthlessness – we’re little and tiny and powerless in the face of the majesty of a god.

As an atheist I’m still little and tiny – but not powerless. I can do things that make a difference without worrying about annoying a deity. And I can enjoy awesome human creations, like, say, the Allman Brothers 1972 concert at Fillmore, without the distraction of giving the credit to a god.

So it’s a little better, but not much. Awe is still awe.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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SmartLX www

Similar, yes, if not entirely the same.

There are several elements that make up awe. One component is a sense of the sublime, which means a realisation that something is unfathomably bigger, greater and grander than yourself. God is an obvious target for this idea, but then so is a mountain, an ocean, the Moon and a whole bunch of other things we can actually see.

Another component of awe is a sence of transcendence, the idea that there is something beyond that which you currently comprehend. Again, God supposedly transcends practically everything, but any realisation of something you don’t understand can produce the same feeling. Astronomers and microbiologists get it all the time when the stars and tiny cells reveal these whole other worlds nobody knows about. Lay people can get it by tapping into dormant reserves of their own imagination, or suddenly empathising with other people more and becoming less self-absorbed, or by embarking on a study of any unfamiliar subject or concept.

Basically, theistic awe is awe of God through His supposed works, i.e. everything in the universe, whereas atheistic awe is direct awe of aspects of the universe itself. We all think the universe is amazing and literally awesome. We simply disagree on how this is so.

Posted: October 16th 2010

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