The world is identical to earth except for the above, which only started happening about 40 years ago. In addition to the miracles there are also a group of humans who have started developing telekinesis and mind reading. The miracles and spirits' strength are not limited to one particularly religion. There is also a dramatic rise in ghost sightings.

The types of miracles: Healing, bringing the dead back to life, calling on divine judgment. Basically the same type of miracles that people claim to have happened to them today, so commonly that veracity cannot be denied.

Visiting spirits: They come and visit us every few years, sometimes they talk, usually they just look around and then leave. But sometimes particularly the benevolent or malevolent ones will either hurt or help The mortals they come across. They have over the past 40 years appeared in some very public places, been recorded on camera countless times, and been seen publicly to do some very impressive supernatural feats. About a year or so back reporter finally managed to get an interview with One particularly malevolent Spirit visiting Earth before a group of priests banished it. It claimed to be a demon Sent From Hell.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jun 15 '16 at 0:39
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    You may be interested in considering the tv show, Stargate: SG-1. Which has a world pretty much as you describe in the last two seasons - the ori are spirit beings that perform miracles, and have people worship them as gods. The terrans insist they are not gods, despite them perfectly fitting the definition. – Benubird Jun 15 '16 at 7:53
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    How can there be religions in a world that has no evidence of their truth? By clever writers, wishful readers, deep metaphors, and 'faith' described as willful belief in something that cannot be proven. What works for the affirmation that does not exist and cannot be explained, could be used for the negation (of the nature!) of something that exists and cannot be explained. Atheists would argue that there is nothing divine about it, just that we ignore the causes. – Oxy Jun 15 '16 at 7:57
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    I would chose Pratchetts approach. In his books, mages didn't believe in gods, they acknowledged them. Another way would be to have atheism as a form of ignorance, probably strange hybrid between New Age and Scientific skepticism. – Tomáš Zato Jun 15 '16 at 9:54
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    The same way you explain religion in a world where religious miracles are not commonplace and no spirits have ever been reliably witnessed visiting Earth – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 15 '16 at 11:44

26 Answers 26

up vote -3 down vote accepted

As a Christian I'd say, How is this all the different from the real world that we live in? There is ample proof of the existence of God -- historical, scientific, philosophical, etc. -- and yet some people still refuse to believe.

Ok, I'm sure any atheists here are immediately raising their hackles at that paragraph. But surely any rational rebuttal would have to be on the order of, "The evidence is not convincing at all". So what constitutes convincing evidence? What is convincing to you may not be convincing to me.

For example, people who believe in ghosts can point to thousands of eye-witness reports, photographs, readings on their ghost detecting instruments, and so forth. Personally, I remain unconvinced. But why? If someone claimed to have discovered a new species of tree frog, and had many eye witness reports, photographs, etc, I doubt I'd question it for a minute.

There are lots of controversial questions in the real world. In many, many cases people on one side or the other insist that the evidence is overwhelming, and that those who disagree are just denying reality. In some cases people on both sides say this about each other. Do I need to give examples? I'm sure you can think of many.

If people are committed to an idea for philosophical reasons, or because they have something to gain by affirming it, it takes a lot more evidence to change their minds than if they have no particular stake.

And in real life, it's often not that hard to explain away evidence.

To get back specifically to the supernatural and atheism: I've often heard atheists say things like, "If there really is a God, I dare him to strike me with lightning right now!" Suppose that someone said that, and at that very moment a bolt of lightning tore through the roof and knocked him senseless. Would news of this event instantly lead all atheists in the world to believe in God? Surely not. I'm sure 99% of atheists would say, "Wow, what a bizarre coincidence that was." If the man wasn't badly hurt they'd be laughing about it. I'm sure plenty of atheists would say that it "probably never happened, just a story Christians made up". Even if there was video posted on You Tube, atheists would claim that it was a hoax. They'd quickly have all sorts of proof that the video was doctored. Etc.

And I can't fault atheists for this. Suppose you saw a story on the news tomorrow that said that something that you are quite certain about, say the existence of gravity, was in fact a big mistake or a hoax. Suppose you saw a headline, "NASA scientists prove that gravity is a hoax: rocks don't really fall when you drop them." Would you immediately abandon your belief in gravity? I really doubt it. My first response would be to wonder if this was some sort of joke. If convinced it was serious, I'd ask if what they really meant was that there was some special or extreme case where gravity doesn't work like we've long thought it did. Etc.

So I'm sure atheists would come up with plenty of alternative explanations for the observed events. Ranging from "that never really happened, it's all a hoax" to "here is a more plausible alternative theory".

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    I'd love to see your scientific proof of the existence of at least one god. Note too that science isn't stuck on theories - it simply looks for reproducable experiments. If one observation of one planet doesn't follow Newton's Laws, we think it could be a coincidence. If all the planets don't follow Newton's Laws, we assume that Newton wasn't quite right. (Hence Einstein.) If every atheist to say "I don't believe in God" was struck by lightning, that's what we call evidence. – Graham Jun 14 '16 at 15:17
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    Just to add a bit more detail on that. There have been a fair number of experiments in belief, and to my knowledge there have been no reproducible claims of any link between religion and outcome. Science looks at how to stop results being swayed by the many problems which plague real-world observations. That's not "explaining away", that's just fact-checking. – Graham Jun 14 '16 at 15:49
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    @Separatrix The discovery of Neptune actually confirmed Newtonian theory. It was found by applying Newton's laws of motion to Uranus's orbit and finding that the orbit matched the expected behaviour with an extra planet further out. It was the orbit of Mercury which didn't follow Newton's laws - it took Einstein's more accurate spacetime model to correctly track it. But still, Uranus's orbit could have had another reason for wobbling, and no-one knew until they looked. Like I said earlier, it's about experiments and evidence, not theories. – Graham Jun 15 '16 at 15:02
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    @Jay Since all evidence presented in favour of young-Earth creationism has since been shown to be incorrect, I wouldn't consider that "scientific proof". It's just another "hey, what if?" which turns out to fail in the face of further observations. Fine to consider the possibility - but scientific proof means that lots of opposing observations are going to disprove it. – Graham Jun 15 '16 at 15:07
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    @graham "Since all evidence presented in favour of young-Earth creationism has since been shown to be incorrect ..." Obviously I and other creationists would disagree with that conclusion. But to get beyond "I say/you say" we'd need to discuss the evidence and experiments and arguments in detail, which the moderators are not going to let us do under the standing rule that interesting conversations are forbidden on this site. Perhaps we could discuss it somewhere else. – Jay Jun 15 '16 at 18:43

Atheism would certainly be a different thing, but I can already see a few reasons to be an atheist yourself in that world.

First of all. If all religions are equal with respect to those miracles, then none of them is right about god or how to serve him. Miracles would be like the rest of the world: a proof that it is more complex than we think it is.

Second, from what you say, spirits are enough to explain those miracles, so there is no real need for a god (or multiple ones) to justify miracles. What do spirits say about gods ? They seem to be the ones in charge. The fact that priests banished a spirit may be seen as a conspiracy to avoid the spirit addressing the issue.

Lastly, from what you say, religion seems to have taken a pretty hardcore turn. I mean, priests from all religions are fighting demons. Chances are, they'll probably fight priests from other cults. That has happened before, and as miracle will be claimed by churches to be proof of their belief, we may end up with a lot of Elijah style contests (they don't end well). Someone with peaceful intentions may want to declare himself as agnostic or atheist as a simple way to say "I'm not trying to kill you".

UPDATE (after precisions from the asker)

Now, some (or all) spirits may well be revered as gods, as they seem to be in charge. Most likely religious people, politicians and scientists would try to talk with them about their origin, intentions, purpose and nature.

As they seem pretty uninterested in answering though, worshipping of them would unlikely thrive in the western christian society (not that it is only society, it's the one I know best). Religions don't like new competitors, and telepathic telekinetic inquisitors from already in-place religions would probably make sure people stay in the "true faith".

Now, I'm assuming we keep the Christianity in charge of things. Why would people not follow? As the definition of atheism as been discussed in pretty much all answers, I'll try to cover most of them.

  • Some people would refuse to accept the existence of that. There are always people who can't accept the facts and there always will be.
  • Some people would refuse to acknowledge the divine/supernatural element (I probably would be in that category). Except for a malevolent non-trustable one, no spirit seems to have claimed a particular myth. Why jump to conclusions when we obviously know nothing?
  • Some people would consider the apocalypse is now in and they have been forsaken by god. The poor lads may renounce their faith (traumatic events can have that impact AFAIK).
  • Some people would accept the divine thing, and refuse to be part of any cult of non-benevolent beings. You don't pray just because of power, or a spirit/mage caused harm to you.
  • Some people would just not care. Probably more than you think. I mean, in a sense, technology as given us powers and most of us don't care how. 20 years later, teenagers seeing people impressed by spirits would go "dude, this is year 2036, chill up a bit" or whatever kids will say those days.

Now, let's address a bit the actual divinity of spirits.

First of, I ripped most of my ideas about the nature of divinity from reading The Chronicles of Amber. A series of books anyone should read.

In those books, people with god-like powers (immortality, world creation, time bending, being superior at anything) are shown as human, sometimes even childish. It does a great deal about showing that divinity is mostly a matter of point of view. They are god to us the way we are gods to our pets (or to insects, if you prefer). The second part of the series even deals with omniscience and omnipotence, then again showing how those powers are not what makes the "essence" of a god.

So, to sum it up. "What is a god?" is to me a semantics question. We'll decide to adapt the definition to whatever we want to worship. Are spirits gods or not? Your call as a worldbuilder. They may or may not be as you wish.

Will they be seen as gods by humans? Some probably will. (I tried googling "weird religions", I won't do that again). Some won't. That probably will depend on the spirits behavior and you haven't developed that yet (if you do, I'll have to add titles and subtitles to this post).

  • a fairly good answer might be able to Question though that if the spirits are responsible for the Miracles then are the spirits gods? – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 15:58
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    The only thing is though, that if the spirits are responsible for the miracles and the spirits are not worshipped as gods, then the the miracles could not be called religious miracles. I might be misunderstanding the asker of the question, but if they didn't mean that they are actually in fact religious in nature it would have far sufficed to simply say "miracles" without classifying it further. After all the word miracle is already heavily associated with religion as is. – Martine Votvik Jun 13 '16 at 21:27
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    @BryanMcClure The problem is what you define as God. For example, a religion that considered the Earth a god. Well, the Earth is a real thing. It allows us to live which is miraculous. Does that make it a God? If Humans had the same power and abilities as a God as we would think it then we wouldn't have that concept of God, we'd have something over and above. Same as this. If miracles are commonplace, then attitude as to what truly constitutes a religious miracles would change as well. – SGR Jun 14 '16 at 7:19
  • @BryanMcClure indeed, and as SGR said what is a god or not is mainly a matter of definition. If you complete your question with a clear definition of god and of an atheist I would be more than happy to complete and precise my answer. Also, do spirits ask for worshiping? – PatJ Jun 14 '16 at 14:16
  • @PatJ not really they don't talk very much but that doesn't mean people won't try to worship them. – Bryan McClure Jun 14 '16 at 15:03

Since nobody has said it yet:

Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Generic statement about sufficiently advanced aliens, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here.

For those who prefer the Hitchhiker's Guide to Clarke, this is more my point:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist,'" says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

It's much easier to believe in something that is vaguely out there, that way you can get some real believing done. If something is here and now and in your face, it's hard to believe in it.

I don't believe in the postman, I know he is there, I don't pray to him to bring a parcel, I know what I've ordered is coming.

Actual proof takes gods to the level of the postman, once you know they exist, you don't believe any more. "God" becomes just another job description rather than a special thing.

We don't kneel down and give thanks to our doctors morning, noon and night for all the times they may have saved our lives in ways we don't truly understand. Nor would we kneel down and pray to these "gods" with abilities we don't understand once they become a regular part of our lives.

Atheism becomes not a denial that they exist, but a denial that they're anything special.

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    if your Doc could refuse serves or if he worked for free you would sing his praise ether out true greatfulness or fear. – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 18:49
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    @BryanMcClure, my doc works for free from my point of view. NHS ftw. They can say true believing is knowing, but they still don't worship the things they know to be true. Heat and light and power on demand are as magical as anything else but they're commonplace. Proof denies belief. – Separatrix Jun 13 '16 at 18:56
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    @BryanMcClure they won't worship these spirits for the things they can do. They'll moan at them for the things they didn't do – Separatrix Jun 13 '16 at 19:57
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    @BryanMcClure: This is the answer I was going to give. The way I was going to phrase it: Atheism could mean acknowledging the existence of gods as entities, but not as worthy of worship. i.e. you acknowledge that these powerful beings exist, but not that they're "divine", or that their existence implies anything about souls or the afterlife. (Although raising the dead is evidence in favour of consciousness separate from the physical brain, if it's possible with memories/personality intact after tissue damage.) I don't think it's different enough from this to post as a separate answer. – Peter Cordes Jun 14 '16 at 15:52
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    +1 for the last point alone - my answer was actually going to be "Atheists wouldn't be denying their existence in a world like this, but rather their role as beings worthy of following." Honestly, I think this answer could be trimmed to completely ignore or downplay the first point, that magic and great tech are indistinguishable, because it seems much less relevant to the question (despite my love for H2G2). – FireSBurnsmuP Jun 14 '16 at 19:51

A world where religious miracles are real is a world where gods are real too. Otherwise they would not be religious miracles, only mystical events falsely believed to be religious.

Then, in this world where gods actually exist, being an atheist would have a very different meaning than it does in our world.

In this world being an atheist would mean that you reject reality and deny what you have seen and experienced. You would have to make up alternative explanations for why miracles happen if they are not granted by god. And if you are in the habit of denying reality and making up your own explanation it seems a given that you will not be very scientifically or logically minded.

So you could explain it by strong sectarian leaders in radical groups who are fighting to gain more power and spewing this nonsense to their followers. Or you could explain it by madness. Neither is entirely implausible. And it might be a lot of fun to write.

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    @MichaelKarnerfors That's an unusual definition of atheism. The only definition I've ever come across, is that atheism is "a disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods" (and minor variations of this). What you're describing seems much closer to agnosticism. – Frxstrem Jun 13 '16 at 17:50
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    @MichaelKarnerfors Okay, then I'll just say this: What you're saying doesn't really make sense, and just because you say a word means something, doesn't mean that it does. And in this case, it doesn't. – Frxstrem Jun 13 '16 at 18:52
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    @Michael Kornerfors I think what Frxstrem means to say is overall do people use the word atheism they mean something different than what you're talking about. Not to say that what you described cant be atheism, but that atheists are not United group and have no clear definition of what exactly atheism means that they all agree upon. – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 19:29
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    I like this answer - in such a world, atheists would be comparable to Holocaust deniers or people who think the moon landing was a hoax. – Mego Jun 13 '16 at 21:07
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    @MichaelKarnerfors I think the crux of your disagreement is actually the word "explain," not the word "atheism." If you take "explain" to mean "justify logically as a rational idea or conclusion," then your comment is about the only way to do that. If you take "explain" to mean "present reasons describing why a particular thing exists or give reasons for its condition," and reread the answer above, it may make a lot more sense. (That is, explain the existence or presence of atheism in such a society—not justify it rationally.) – Wildcard Jun 13 '16 at 22:59

Atheism is rooted in the idea that one should only believe facts that can be tested and observed. In the universe described those creatures that some are calling angels and demons and the people that have those psionic powers are something that can now be observed and tested. Now they know that there are new, previously undiscovered laws of physics that are dictating how these creatures are operating.

Atheists in this world would believe something similar to what notovny said about the spirits. Their existence doesn't presuppose a God or gods, they would see these entities to be aliens that have either come from a different dimension or just a different corner of the universe. Atheists in this scenario would just see the "supernatural" acts as some sort of advanced science that they don't understand yet.

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    Atheism is rooted in the idea that there is no god. – gnasher729 Jun 13 '16 at 22:13
  • @gnasher729 but that's the path most atheists travel to get there. – RedSonja Jun 14 '16 at 6:08
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    @gnasher729 - that's only one definition of atheism. There are many. – Jules Jun 14 '16 at 7:50
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    That is the definition of Empiricism, which is unrelated to Atheism. – trichoplax Jun 16 '16 at 9:41
  • (I like the answer though - I'd just make a subtle distinction between the lack of belief in gods, and the belief in the lack of gods.) – trichoplax Jun 16 '16 at 9:45

Sounds like aliens to me. Since no, one, religion is getting more miracles than another, and they are all so contradictory, it must be something else causing the strange occurrences, possibly extra dimensional in origin. Especially since there are "psionic" powers manifesting, obviously something is reading minds and granting wishes, possibly in preparation to an invasion. </tinfoil>

The non-believers, in universe, have no compelling reason to think there is a divine origin, nothing in the question indicates any reason to think they are. The fact is: that religions will grasp at anything as proof of their version of their religion. Additionally there is no way to prove what the "spirits" are saying, it may be spirits, demons, or aliens. Who can say without study and proof. :)

Atheism could take the form of denying that the so-called "gods", real though they may be, have a right to rule or that humans have an obligation to serve or worship them... though this would depend on the specific nature of the world - are they omnipresent? clearly benevolent? even if they can force humans to serve them, do they seem inclined to (if not, why volunteer)?

Phrased differently, on the one hand, you have people who believe there are gods, and on the other hand people who believe that the very same beings are not gods, without denying any of their actual feats.

A belief that all these "miracles" are just sufficiently advanced technology or wizard's spells or something like that could even attract followers as a religion of its own since it promises that humans can eventually reach the same level

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    +1 for mentioning that spirits are not per se worthy of being worshipped (and no proof of further divine beings (deities), anyway). Spirits interacting with the world constantly and visibly become part of it and could be incorporated into a model without the supernatural (which requires outside interference) – Chieron Jun 14 '16 at 6:42

Atheism just means without gods. In your world it could mean that Atheists just deny that this beings are actual gods. For example: Atheists could claim that your beings are just higher evolved than we are.

  • This raises another question. Wouldn't a creature so higher evolved that it was beyond our understanding and might be capable of creating worlds be considered a god? What's the difference between that type of in an being and the god? pretty much nothing so you could argue that there are the same thing. – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 16:56
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    But this implies that every being is capable to become godlike because to be a God would be just a matter of evolution. I don't think that's consistent with (mono)theism. – BobbyPi Jun 13 '16 at 19:51
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    It could be compatible with monotheism "highlander style". The first to gain such power kills all the others. Also, note that the idea of becoming gods is part of the Mormon religion. – JDługosz Jun 13 '16 at 21:13
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    Really I thought Mormons believe they will ascend to heaven to God and live forever with her family and loved ones (basically). Before that they have to prepare for the heaven. But I don't think they believe that they will become actual gods. – BobbyPi Jun 13 '16 at 21:22
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    Theism comes from greek "theós" which means god; whereas atheism is derived from "atheós" which means godless. The prefix a- negates the meaning of an adjective for example. Atheists just deny the existence of any gods but it is not a contradiction if an atheist follows a Religion that is not based on gods. – BobbyPi Jun 13 '16 at 21:54

Atheism is rejection of faith

First your question is wrong in that it assumes atheism is about the rejection of god/gods/spirits/supernatural creatures. It is not. A-theism is the rejection of theism. Theism in turn is the notion that a human being can know the mind of god(s), and that this human therefore commands higher influence in public discourse.

...or shortly put: atheism is telling the one that claims to speak for god(s): "No, you speak for yourself and other humans that share your faith".

--- EDIT Start ---

If by "atheism" you mens something else in your questions, then please specify that in the question so we know what you mean when you say "atheists".

But let it be known that if by "atheism" you try to attach anything that can be construed as unreasonable, irrational or outright idiotic to the term, here you have at least one atheist that will tell you that you need to label that as such and not "atheism".

If there is one thing we as atheists — in general — pride ourselves in it is rationalism and adherence to observation and deduction, no matter what the conclusion is.

Belief in contradiction of observation, or — as is most often with religion — in absence of observation, is what we oppose.

--- EDIT End ---

So how do atheists react when suddenly miracles start occurring? Exactly the same as before: rejecting the human that claims to know on faith. They will however listen to the one that brings proof, or even better yet: hear it from these creatures themselves.

Do note though that miracles are not proof of divinity, truth or righteousness, nor do they command reverence, obedience or worship. Before any such notions we will want to have a long good chat with these beings and have their viewpoints on morality and ethics. And if they try to push us around with commandments that do not sit well with our sense of right and wrong, you can expect there will be trouble.

And why so? Why does the supernatural not command reverence? Because you and I are supernatural, in the eyes of pretty much everyone of our ancestors a mere 200-300 years removed.

You are dying of a wasting illness that makes your flesh fall apart for no apparent reason? Behold, I give you this greenish-yellow fruit from Persia, that tastes sour (but goes well with gin). Eat it, and your malady will be cured. How it works? Oh it simply makes it so that your body does not melt itself from its own body heat.

Gather around all ye, and watch how I — with this water wheel, some copper wires and a metal core — create a magical force that can create light in the dead of night as if I had harnessed lightning in a bottle; that can make your millstones turn without either thrall or oxen touching it; that can melt metal in an instant either fusing it or making it split apart; or even kill you horribly as if you had the fires of hell coursing through you!

Look here... now smile! Look, I have captured your likeness in this strange device. And not only that: it can capture your motion and your voice as well and repeat them verbatim to you.

The smallest child today can affect "miracles" and feats that even the most learned of days past could only dream about. Something as simple as being vaccinated, and thus untouchable by smallpox, tuberculosis, polio, would appear as totally miraculous by our ancestors. To us, it is an annoying prick in the arm and a swelling for a few days.

So if by some happenstance we are suddenly plonked down in ancient times, would it be wise for those people to start worshipping us and obeying our every command, just because their priests/shamans/elders tell them so? Of course not. we are still no more than human... worldly, earthy and just as flawed as before.

Atheism is the rejection of all those that try to elbow their way ahead in the public discourse by saying "I have faith that I know the mind of these supernatural entities, so you must obey my commands". And that does not change when supernatural things start appearing...

...as popular culture has long since proven:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvVP740Pt3Y

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    Please realize the definition of "atheist" is politically charged, and there's a bunch of maneuvering, equivocation and "No True Scotsmans" on both sides. (So yes, Michael, you likely did step on a sore toe, as @RBarryYoung apparently did to yours.) -- For the purpose of World Building, though, the important thing is that the definition used is consistent with the setting, characters and motivations. Whether or not the used definition is the "real" one, the key thing is if readers will accept it in the context of the built world - even they don't necessarily do so for the real world. – R.M. Jun 13 '16 at 19:18
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jun 15 '16 at 0:41

They deny what they clearly see.

Some of them might accept that what they see is reality, but believe that it is a manmade deception (conspiracy theorists). Maybe it's an extremely elaborate series of hoaxes--some actors, special effects and magic tricks/illusions. This would seem an especially convincing case since the inception of such occurrences has been fairly recent.

Others might also accept that what they see is reality, but believe that it has a misunderstood natural explanation rather than a supernatural one. In ancient times in our world, many natural phenomena were explained away as supernatural (hence mythologies of ancient civilizations) before we discovered their natural explanation. Some people will likely believe that this is what the vast majority of people in your world are doing.

Other people might not accept that what they see is reality. Maybe they believe that they have gone insane, or that their memories of the events have been fabricated. Maybe we are all brains in a vat, maybe we are looking at shadows on a cave wall, or maybe the unbeliever is, himself, dreaming, and waiting to wake up.

Still more people may simply downplay the significance of what they see until it is reduced to an unlikely mechanical triviality. There's nothing physically significant about a resurrection--no physical change was made to the functioning body when it stopped functioning, so why would it have a hard time resuming function? John was cured of AIDS? The viruses must have all died. Crazy glowy lady in the sky? Weird stuff.

Basically, all the reactions real-world people have to something they can't explain. For example, the floating city above China in October 2015. It is assumed to have been an illusion (not reality), but for a while was popularly thought to be proof of a parallel universe (misunderstood natural explanation), and some people even thought it was a test of holographic technology by NASA or the Chinese government (hoax).

  • Interesting that the Daily Mail takes the video at face value and assumes that it's an optical illusion, and repeats an unverified report that thousands of people saw it, without any checking of primary sources. It's "explained" in a rational way, taking the report itself on faith. Others looked at it more critically. The "faith" of re-reporting journalists is far from unique and has been tested directly. – JDługosz Jun 13 '16 at 21:00

Kratos Style, for a start.

In a world like ours, where the existence of deities can neither be proven nor disproven (be it scientifically or de facto), atheism is an exercise of philosophy.

However, in a world where the gods manifest themselves and make their presence perceived in a very concrete way, you can deny the existence of gods in a more practical way. You don't just state that they don't exist, you make sure that they don't.

Granted, this might take some considerable effort. Gods are usually depicted as being more powerful than humans (and elves, and dwarves, and all other sentient populations). They are usually very protective of their existence too. But there are a few stories in our world where deiticide happens, in a number of ways.

One of my favorite stories where gods are dying and/because people are stopping to believe in them is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I don't want to spoil the story too much, so all the information I'm going to mention here will be what you would see in a review of the book. The gods of ancient mythologies are all real, but they are slowly dying because they have fewer believers everyday. There are new gods who are hogging all the available worship, but for some reason the new gods don't want to be seen as deities. The new gods are beings such as the media (whose altar is the TV), technology, market forces etc.

So you see, in that scenario, the ancient gods are starving, and atheistic and agnostic people worship new gods without knowing any better.

Granted, many people in that world do worship a known God - the monotheistic God, so they cannot be called absolute atheists - but in a similar scenario of yours, that one God may be a target for the new gods as well (or any other god-killing force/organization/being of your design).

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    A very interesting idea I could see a group of people trying to do this. Perhaps by killing religious leaders and other he manifest miracleso or just killing religious people in general. And maybe try to capture a visiting spirit. – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 17:08
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    Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Small Gods has a similar model for the rise and fall of deities: they fall when people stop really believing in them. Terry an Neil co-wrote at least one book together. – Peter Cordes Jun 14 '16 at 15:58

The spirits are lying, or deluded, about what they claim to be. Perhaps they are aggregate manifestations spawned from humanity's collective consciousness, or extraplanar entities entering our universe through the prism of framework of what humanity believes.

An atheist could claim that the entities that people are calling spirits, angels, or demons are not the entities that they say they are; that this thing being heralded as an archangel (for example) is not actually an archangel and has no more valid claim to be a manifestation of divinity than a human religious figure would have.

  • Hello, and welcome to the site. I'm afraid that your post doesn't actually answer the question. Angels, demons, and miracles are fact in the OP's universe. He's asking how an atheist might cling to his/her beliefs in the face of such evidence. Could you better explain what you mean? – AndreiROM Jun 13 '16 at 16:00
  • Welcome to the site notovny. The concept you mention in your answer feels like a good start to an answer but I am not sure it addresses the question directly. Mainly meaning that, how would the idea you suggest lead to atheism in the question askers world. I think it just needs a little more elaboration on your part. – James Jun 13 '16 at 16:02
  • Additionally check out the help center if you have questions on the site, and once you hit 20 rep feel free to join us in Worldbuilding Chat – James Jun 13 '16 at 16:03
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    I disagree, @AndreiROM. The OP can only say that people observed this phenomena. Even if an omniscient (and reliable) narrator states it up front, the character can't know that, and only has the facts of what's been observed and conclusions advanced by other people. – JDługosz Jun 13 '16 at 20:44

I'm somewhat surprised no one has mentioned this actually, but, the definition of an atheism is "Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods." (Oxford English dictionary). And, well, when describing most atheists I know, including myself, the important part is "a lack of belief in the existence of a god or gods". Belief is defined as "An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof" (again, Oxford English dictionary).

Going by these definitions, I am an atheist in the face of God, not because I reject their existence, but because I take nothing about them on faith. I do not believe in them, once they are proven me, I require no more faith to see them as real then I need to accept that my dog is lying beside me.

Once they are proven to me, they are no more mystical than anything else, they may wield great power, and I'd be interested to know by what means they do so. But I am not in reverence of them, because power alone is no reason in my mind to revere anything.

Granted, saying that, you'd have to give me proof beyond a reasonable doubt that something was a deity, before I'd accept it. But I would be happy to review any such evidence you showed me.

There are those who subscribe to the idea that gods are impossible, they'd have a lot more trouble. But I think a lot of atheists would be, well, startled, but unfazed in their atheism.

  • The implication of "without proof" is less about the meaning of the word "belief" and more about the choice not to use stronger language (e.g. "I believe God exists" rather than just "God exists"). Saying that you don't believe something you consider to be fact is plain wrong. – Hurkyl Jun 14 '16 at 1:29

I see a few key options.

1) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from miracle. This is the big one, technology can do impressive things, in the past may previous 'miracles' or 'magics' were proven to have technological answers, so why not now? People will presume a technological explanation is the only valid one and just because they don't yet understand the science behind these particular issues that doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. Frankly that is the logical explanation to presume at first. In fact the presumption of technology that is simply not fully understood is likely going to underlay all the other issues...

2) Hoaxes, hoaxes, and more hoaxes. Someone may believe many of these so called miracles are hoaxes or faked. This won't be helped by the fact that many hoaxes will come to light around this time, people jumping on the insanity by trying to make a quick buck with some faked hoax will be common, and thus documented hoaxes will show up quite a bit around this time, encouraging people to presume other non-hoaxes could just be hoaxes that haven't been proved yet.

3) If I sign up now can I order a stylish straight jacket Mass hallucination/hysteria may also be partially used to justify either claims of miracles or similar affects. Someone may consider themselves insane for having seen what can't possibly exist.

4) Logic bomb god, not all religions can exist. Many religions have mutually exclusive facts, such as explanation as to how the world started or who goes to hell. Thus it's impossible for every religion to be correct, thus something must have failed.

5) Naythist: just because you believe religion may be real doesn't mean you are supportive of it. You may still think God is a jerk or doesn't deserve worshiping whatever.

6) That isn't MY religion related, maybe the miracles are inconsistent with how you view religion. As a random example maybe some miracle is done for someone you believe is a sinner (gay person, abortion clinic workers whatever) to the point that it can't possibly be your god who would support those sinners, thus it must be a hoax, or maybe a trick by the devil to mislead you into improper faith.

The problem is what you define as God.

For example, a religion that considers the Earth a god. Well, the Earth is a real thing. It allows us to live which is miraculous. Does that make it a God? Today, we would likely say no, because we understand all the processes and interactions that take place to allow us to live on this big ball of rock.

If these miracles are as common place as you say and potentially dangerous, then there would be people going around the clock trying to understand how they work physically. An Atheist would be someone who aligns with the view that these are simply powerful beings, but not Gods.

Truly, the downfall in the belief would be allowing people to see the miracles at work. Because once humanity sees something it doesn't understand, as long as it can repeat it/see repeats of it you can bet it will understand it eventually.

You suppose that supernatural things must have a creator God, but there's no inherent reason for this conclusion. As you've framed the question, religion will have the same problems it does today, because if miracles and supernatural creatures are happening all over the place, that doesn't much justify any one religion's claim, or indeed the very concept of a God. There may be a universe of supernatural spirits and no God. The lack of evidenced connection between the two, and random distribution of these incidents, will make lots of people confused as to their origin. Supernatural things wouldn't be evidence in support of a religion claim unless it was very specific and had a very obvious connection.

Still, many people from every group are just stubborn and will cling to their beliefs and opinions regardless. It's uncommon for people to change their minds about things, especially big issues. Because their beliefs are part of their identity, and if they lose their beliefs they lose their identity; and that's a hard sometimes painful process emotionally. Especially if it risks alienating all your friends, family and social networks. So your fictional world will mirror this one very closely in terms of psychology, where priests are still priests even though they've lost faith, or communists are still communists even after the USSR fell. Because they're too invested, basically.

Even if miracles are common place, most people may not have actually seen one personally.

  • this raises another question. What is the difference between a all powerfull spirit and a god? Even if there is no "God" god, couldn't the spirit themselves be considered a type of god? – Bryan McClure Jun 13 '16 at 17:02
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    I thought about this too. One thought is that after 40 years, you've had 2 generations grow up with this as a normal state. Most people that consider themselves atheists and skeptics are those that were old enough to be set in their ways before it all started, and unwilling to consider anything else after all that time. That is to say, a very small group. Maybe a group of radicalized atheists, recruiting the young to their beliefs? – AndyD273 Jun 13 '16 at 17:15

The answer depends on your choice of definitions.

First of all, you claim supernatural feats. However, observing the phenomena to be repeatable and real (that is, reliable) means that it is not supernatural. Your question amounts to saying that what was supernatural before is natural after the change. Likewise, the choice of phrase religious miracles seems to lead the kind of answer you want.

That is, meaning A: people are irrational in not accepting the nature of the world around them. That puts them in the same bucket as today's flat-earth crowd. There are plenty of natural phenomena that people refuse to "believe" or put their own quack spin on.

Or, you could mean that they use the word to indicate that they don't take things without evidence, and are willing to change their mind when new facts come along. So, meaning B: they have no trouble accepting that these things are happening, just as they accept that quantum tunneling happens and electrons can be put in "cat states". However, they don't ascribe that to any reason and any connection with traditional religious beliefs (stories based on previous episodes where these things happen?) is a topic of current research and can't be known without deeper understanding, if at all.

Use exactly the same language that religious people currently use to explain their theism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Do you believe in the gods?
No.
But you can see the evidence of their works all around you.
My parents taught me they don't exist, my school textbooks said they don't exist. I have faith in these authorities. They teach the truth.
But what about the evidence?
This is a question of faith. Who are you to question my faith?

You could have a lot of fun with atheists flat out refusing to acknowledge the existence of supernatural events or supernatural creatures. A sort of supernatural luddite community. Constantly in trouble and at a disadvantage, but steadfast in their beliefs. You could even draw on the Mennonite assertion that life is better and simpler without the modern complications of the modern world. Simply replace science and technology with the religious and magical.

  • I don't want to start a big debate, but...what overwhelming evidence that God doesn't exist? The main claims of theism are not falsifiable. You may not think it is plausible that a divine being created the universe, but that is not the same as having evidence that disproves it. – user16107 Jun 15 '16 at 6:29
  • Consider someone asserting that Odin is chief among gods. If that's the tradition he or she grew up in it's a valid belief. True, there's no evidence Odin doesn't exist, but there's a complete lack of evidence that he does. It's not about evidence though. Faith is interesting because it is not based in evidence. The atheist in a world of miracles could be similarly interesting (the theatrical reversal of expectations allows us to examine our own understanding of faith and reality). Consider an atheist who eschews the use of real magic out of a worldview that life without magic is better. Humm. – jorfus Jun 15 '16 at 20:37

You can't prove that something does not exist, and it is often difficult to prove that it does, hence Faith is easier than one might first anticipate, with so much uncertainty about. That Faith has taken so many forms, and is so pervasive throughout human history, is evidence that it may actually provide a very slight evolutionary edge to believers. Many anecdotal stories, from scriptural to Readers' Digest tell of those who overcame great odds, trials and challenges because they found emotional (sometimes physical) strength through Faith.
Essentially, the opposite may be true of the 'atheist'. It was once said that there 'are no Atheists in a Foxhole'. In day to day non-life-threatening moments, some people may choose to deny Faith to promote a sense of self-empowerment, at least until the first volley of shells arrive. You can't actually see air or hold it in your hand, or stamp you name on it, but you feel its force against you, and living without it just doesn't work out at all. Just my observations.

There is some precedence for this idea in The Atheist, a horror comic where present day humans are being possessed by souls from Hell:

The Atheist Comic

From Wikipedia:

Antoine Sharpe - the main character who has the nickname "The Atheist" not for a lack of religious belief, but because Sharpe has an "uncompromising brand of logic."

In a world where fantasy is real, "atheist" becomes a figurative word, a term of endearment, like how we might call someone who fixes our computer/car/appliance a "wizard". They aren't actually atheists, they're just reminiscent of the atheists of legend and yore.

There is no need to explain it.

In fiction, people tend to accept a worldview from real life as plausible, even if it actually makes no sense within the fictional setting of the story. Atheism may not be consistent with the world you describe, but people won't notice because atheism seems inherently believable, based on their real-world experience.

Examples:

  • In 99% of Christmas movies, Santa Claus exists, and presents for every child appear under everyone's Christmas tree, with no other explainable source, yet none of the adults believe in Santa Claus. This is never explained.
  • In the X-Files, Scully continues to disbelieve paranormal explanations for anything they encounter for years, even after running into aliens, vampires, werewolves, people who can shift their shape, etc. This is presented as the "scientific" position even though it is decidedly unscientific and illogical to take this position in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

You can probably just go with this, and offer a weak explanation or no explanation, and you won't have a problem.

Since atheism is something like "not believing in god and angels", someone that is really atheist would rather try to describe the angels in your world just as super-evoluted living beings or either stop to be atheist.

From the point of view of people living in your world, an atheist is someone that does not believe in that world, or do not believe that world is real. And that's kind of funny stuff because is contradicting, but just because I overlooked the true meaning of the word atheist.

Being an atheist is in reality essentially the following statement:

"Atheist is someone that reject claims that cannot be disproved".

That is different from

"Agnostic is someone that does not keep into consideration claims that cannot be disproved".

That's it. You cannot prove nor disprove God Existence, because God was defined as something that cannot be disproved. If there are miracles then you proved their existence, and that's already out of the field of atheism because if you can show a miracle (whatever the definition of a miracle is), then you actually proved it.

Atheism is not about claiming miracles exists, an atheist will claim that miracles do not exist unless you can show one which is deeply different. This is a totally logical point of view, everyone can say X, and you should prove X is true, not waiting for others to prove that X is false, otherwise we could say also X,Y,Z,E,K,J and suddenly lots or religions will arise from nothing.

There will be always space for atheists, because simply in every system (mathematical concept) there are always statements that cannot be proved (a system where you can prove everything is a system starting from fake hypothesis). So in any given world there will be atheist, defined as a group of people that want evidence for any claim.

I'm not claiming in anyway that atheism is right or not.

Conspiracy theory

In your world, there are obvious proofs of divine interference. However, there always will be people who will say, those all proofs are fake and the non-divine entity is making the up in order to make people believe in something that doesn't exist. There are people believing that space flights are fake and even the fact you can see ISS using telescope doesn't convince them.

It will just be quite a small and extravagant group.

It is, perhaps, useful to draw a distinction between atheism as a religious position and atheism as a rational position. In the first case you simply choose to believe that no gods exist in the same way that members of a particular religion choose to believe that their particular god or gods do exist.

By contrast a rational atheist would take the position that there is so little evidence for god(s) that the proposition is not even worth considering. Here the term 'atheist' may even be a bit superfluous as they are simply going with the evidence and lack of belief in god is no different to lack of belief in faeries or goblins.

There is also the dimension that 'theism' in practice implies not only a belief in but also worship of a deity. I would certainly say that the god depicted in the Old Testament is not an entity I would be inclined to worship even if its existence was proved beyond all doubt. I believe that Caligula existed but I don't worship him.

Anybody of a scientific frame of mind would immediately ask what the existence of spirits, angels etc. actually implies rather than immediately accepting it as proof that we are all subjects of an omnipotent god.

The atheists would be like creationists in our world. There are plenty of young earth creationists on earth that deny all evidence for evolution and for the earth being older than 10,000 years despite that evidence being overwhelming.

David Copperfield manages to fly-on-stage and let elephants disappear. Plenty of atheists would see any evidence for religious miracles as fake.

The fact that chriopractics can reduce back pain is backed up by a Cochrane meta-study. You still find plenty of atheists who believe that chriopratics never help anyone.

I have spoken with an atheist who would find it troubling if a person goes to a homeopath even in the hypothetical scenario where that homeopath would be the person most likely to cure the person.

People have all sorts of worldviews that differ from reality.

It is all in the definitions; exactly as in our own world.

Does an atheist disbelieve in any gods, all gods or in the concept of God? Miracles happen everyday if you believe and not at all if you do not.

Countless people have tested God with the result that they became believers. Countless people have refused to believe and have become believers in the non existence of God. Countless more believe in a pantheon of 'utility gods' that are responsible for various aspects of life. If I understand God's position correctly, God does not need any of these 'believer' groups to exist and be in control.

Evolution remains a theory and no conclusive 'proof' has yet been found and yet the majority of people believe in it. In the society you project atheism would be like faith in our world. It takes at least as much faith to believe in evolution as it does to believe in creation, and while the argument for evolution and against God has largely been to use the word science a lot, many scientists are actually believers in God.

But you do not have to be Einstein to believe in God... and you could always ask Him... :-)

In the world you posit you say there are demons, and in conventional thought demons are minions of the devil, but ask yourself if the devil can exist in the absence of God? Who then can the 'opposer' oppose do you suppose? Minus means nothing in the absence of plus. Black loses its edge without white...

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