Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lack of Religion and Belief in Hoo-doo (and more quotes by G. K. Chesteron)

Via The Frontal Cortex, here's a story about the results of a survey done by Baylor University researchers which apparently shows that people who believe in mainstream Christianity are less likely to believe in other supernatural phenomena than people who "never worship".

I'd like to find a link to the survey results broken down by question, but the Baylor site is kind of crappy (I think they want you to buy the new book that talks about the results). I can find the actual survey, but the results are either not there or buried among the links. If anyone else finds them, let me know.

This summary from the Wall Street Journal makes me curious for more information:

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

This is interesting, if true. What it might be indicating is that people who reject organized religion might be doing so for reasons that are not entirely rational (e.g. rebellion against parents, bad experiences in church or with clergy, etc.). And it might indicate that people have a strong affinity for hoo-doo, so that if they're not getting it from a mainstream source, they seek it in alternative sources.

But I'd like to see the individual survey results, because something smells fishy. The numbers are actually the opposite of a Gallup poll from the same time frame:

Participants were presented with a list of ten potential paranormal beliefs:

  • extrasensory perception (41 percent of the respondents acknowledge belief in this item)
  • haunted houses (37 percent)
  • ghosts (32 percent)
  • telepathy (31 percent)
  • clairvoyance (26 percent)
  • astrology (25 percent)
  • communication with the dead (21 percent)
  • witches (21 percent)
  • reincarnation (20 percent)
  • channeling spiritual entities (9 percent)

These results are statistically relevant across lines of "age, gender, education, race, and region of the country," according to Gallup. There is, however, some difference between Christians and non-Christians: the former group scores a 75 percent likelihood of belief, while the latter scores 66 percent. But both groups, as these statistics demonstrate, have a paranormal-positive majority.
(emphasis mine)

These latter results accord more with my own personal experience. The majority of people I talk to about such things tend to believe in ghosts, precognition, ouiji boards, and so on. Not so much Atlantis, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster, but definitely categories dealing with "the spirit world". I simply don't buy the Baylor results that only 8% of regular church-going Christians believe in paranormal things. I think there's some conflation of the results going on here, and there might be some real issues with their methodology.

Anyway, G.K. Chesterton's character Father Brown apparently said: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

And Chesterton speaking as himself said: "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything."

Um...right. I'd agree with the premise that if people reject religious thinking on any grounds other than rational ones, they're likely to latch onto pseudoscience and supernaturalism of another flavor. The nice thing about hoo-doo is that it's usually relatively simple to understand the basic concepts, and otherwise shrouded in mystery. People are typically lazy, and prefer a simple, bad hypothesis about the way the world works to one they have to work a bit harder at that may be closer to the truth.

Anyway, Chesterton was full of crap (again). Some people who reject religion open their heads to floodgates of nonsense, but not the ones who reject religion on grounds of reason and common sense in the first place. And if the Gallup poll results above are the more reliable, then Christians tend to be the more gullible in general.


Philip said...

the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

They're just playing with phrasing. This is downright impossible. There's no way angels and demons can't be considered paranormal, and there's not way most evangelical Christians don't believe in them. And there's no way evangelicals aren't more likely to believe in creationism or intelligent design, which is clearly pseudoscience.

In short, conservative Christians are less likely to believe in non-Christian hoodoo than non-Christians, but they're not less likely to believe in hoodoo at all.

There's no question atheists and other non-Christians are just as capable of believing in baloney as anyone else, and Maher should certainly be taken to task for criticizing idiots who don't believe in science while denying the existence of germs. But this study has clear flaws.

Philip said...

Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

This is a cleverly worded one. If I interpret "like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster" to mean a creature that's very different from previously discovered creatures, I could answer yes to this. Oceanographers have discovered some freakishly larger squids recently, for example. And I certainly think they're more likely to be discovered "by science" than by a yokel with a Polaroid.

byronfrombyron said...

Sir, some questions:

If your life is based around reason, what is your reason for living? What is it's purpose?

You think GKC full of crap, but I think you are pointless. After all, if there is no reason for or to life, then why would a reasonable creature continue to live?

The Catholic church freely admits there is a great amount of mystery in the catechism. Of course, you'd have to read the 700-plus page document to really get what the church believes. And since we know you refuse to look at Chesterton properly, what are the chances of that?

Derek James said...

Gosh, why do I bother getting up in the morning?

Hint: You don't have to have your brain stewed in hogwash to believe that the world is a vast, wonderful, awe-inspiring place full of all sorts of cool things to experience and discover.

The idea that you have to believe in a supernatural space daddy to give your life purpose is repeatedly the dumbest fucking thing I ever hear...and that's saying something.

I will give you one thing that doesn't want to make me get out of bed in the morning, though, and that's reading 700-plus pages of Catholic hoo-doo.

Kenny Wyland said...

Personally, these results DO match up with my assumptions. I think Philip has it right when he's separating beliefs based on Christian hoodoo and non-Christian hoodoo. When I was a seriously hardcore Christian in my early and misguided years, I believed in things like haunted houses, communication with the dead, witches, demonic possession, etc.

I know this statement is like 2 inches away from mine on the web page, but it deserves to be quoted for truth:

Derek said... You don't have to have your brain stewed in hogwash to believe that the world is a vast, wonderful, awe-inspiring place full of all sorts of cool things to experience and discover.

The idea that you have to believe in a supernatural space daddy to give your life purpose is repeatedly the dumbest fucking thing I ever hear...and that's saying something.

Byron, is your only reason for living to serve God? Do you believe that you only exist to fulfill his purposes? If so, doesn't that sort of make you a slave? If you have other reasons for living than to serve God, then don't you already have your answer about a reason for living?

I have many reasons for living, none of which are based on an invisible creature that may or may not live in the sky.

I have friends and family with which I enjoy spending time. I enjoy helping people and making their lives better. For example, I created a free on-line blogging site geared towards non-savvy web users.. I study Eastern Medicine to help heal my friends and family.. I am volunteering in the current Presidential election because I want to get involved and help improve the country.

If you look around at the world and the people in it and NOT see a long list of non-spiritual reasons to live... maybe you aren't looking very hard.

Amiya Sarkar said...

Telepathy, extrasensory perception has not been disproved by science yet. They may indeed be there.

Derek James said...

The existence of leprechauns hasn't been disproved by science either.