“Look Who’s Irrational Now”

From the Wall Street Journal:

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that 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.

[Link: Look Who’s Irrational Now – WSJ.com]


The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.


Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t.

There are a lot of irrational, unsupported beliefs out there even among educated persons. A long time ago I started saying that certain skeptics’ claims could and should be tested sociologically. For example, it’s been said that belief in religion or Intelligent Design will interfere with scientific curiosity. That’s a theoretical claim of the sort that can be tested sociologically. I don’t know if it ever has. Richard Dawkins’s belief that teaching religion is child abuse can also be checked with the empirical data, and we already know the answer. HIs position on that is thoroughly unscientific. Irrational, even, one might fairly say.

Atheists like Dawkins and Harris have been saying that Christians are less rational than non-believers. I had not thought to call for an empirical study on that, but here it is.

See also Baylor University’s information from the press conference on release of this study, including this:

“We are confident in saying we have a national random sample not skewed in any way and that represents a good cross section of the country,” said Dr. Carson Mencken, professor of sociology and research director for the institute.

I can’t wait to see what certain self-proclaimed bastions of scientific objectivity (Skeptic magazine, for example) will do with this information. My copy of the 200-page report is on the way here; in the meantime I invite your comments. (Please read at least one of the linked articles on the current Baylor report first.)

Hat Tip to Stand to Reason

Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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2 Responses

  1. SteveK says:

    I just read the same article and clicked on over to find that you posted this. Excellent timing. I too am looking forward to hearing the responses – from both sides.

  2. JJS P.Eng. says:

    “I can’t wait to see what certain self-proclaimed bastions of scientific objectivity (Skeptic magazine, for example) will do with this information.”

    They’ll probably be skeptical. Old habits die hard.

    After reading the Wall Street Journal article, I found it interesting that the differences weren’t superficial:

    “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.

    Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did.”

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