CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Interesting piece in the WSJ I have been meaning to discuss.

From the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's monumental "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" that was issued in June, 21% of self-proclaimed atheists believe in either a personal God or an impersonal force. Ten percent of atheists pray at least weekly and 12% believe in heaven.


A study from Gallup and Baylor University finds that traditional Christianity results in lower levels of superstition:

"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.

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.


New stuff? Not really:

This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely.


Does education cause superstition? Surely not. But:

Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.

28 comments:

I have to wonder how "paranormal belief" is being defined here. For example, we are told:

"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."

Yet the Assemblies of God are famous (infamous?) for belief in things like demonic possession, witchcraft and exorcism which I would definitely put ion the realm of paranormal belief...

This demonstrates one of the reasons I hate taking surveys. Far too often I get to a question that I just can't answer. I'd like to see the questions and the answers.

I'm not surprised that evangelicals don't believe in astrology, etc, but did they ask if they believe those things are demonic? Plenty of them do.

I think everyone knows that the Assemblies of God are believers in angels, God, demons, and even exorcism on occasion (though in a different way than is popularized in the media).

"I think everyone knows that the Assemblies of God are believers in angels, God, demons, and even exorcism on occasion"

And don't those qualify as paranormal beliefs?

I'm also a bit confused by this:

"21% of self-proclaimed atheists believe in either a personal God or an impersonal force."

Anyone who professes belief in God (theism) is not an atheist...

The whole thing seems kind of incoherent.

Researchers often distinguish religious belief from "the paranormal" and "the occult," though the X-Files does not.

Anyone who professes belief in God (theism) is not an atheist...

The whole thing seems kind of incoherent.>


People are often incoherent and studies often pick that up.

"Researchers often distinguish religious belief from "the paranormal" and "the occult," though the X-Files does not."

Neither do I.

What do you think; are witchcraft and demonic possession paranormal?

Hermit,

I think that the things like palm reading, believing in ghosts, astrology, ouiji boards, knocking on wood, tossing salt over your shoulder, tarot cards, and alien abductions are all beliefs distinct from religious belief. This also applies more obviously to things like believing in alien abductions, UFO conspiracies, big foot, and the Loch Ness monster.

I also think, and this is what the study is tapping into, that belief in traditional Christianity diminishes belief in these other things.

Believing in witchraft is generally not a religious belief. Believing in demonic possession can be part of a religious belief or distinct from religious belief. That doesn't mean one is more evidenced than the other, but it may mean one is part of a world view and therefore more rational to the religious believer.

Do you define believing in God or Jesus' resurrection or God's speaking to Mohammad as the occult or paranormal as those phrases are commonly used? Or is it only some aspects of religious belief that you also equate with superstition or the paranormal? So Presybetirians would be less superstitious than, say, Assemblies of God?

In some ways this may dovetail with the old magic vs. miracle debate.

A Hermit,

I also think that whatever definitional games you would like to play, the study points to a real phenomenon about how traditional Christian belief diminishes the belief in x, y, and z, even if you do not want to admit a phrase like "less superstitious."

Hermit said:

The whole thing seems kind of incoherent.

Yeah, well, that's part and parcel to atheism. Check the messages posted by atheists here or elsewhere (Ray Comfort's blog is a good example) and you'd see what a bunch of blathering nincompoops they truly are.

Layman said:

People are often incoherent and studies often pick that up.

It apparently didn't pick up any incoherence as far as evangelical Christians and astrology go. Just sayin'.

Speaking of blathering nincompoops, Ray Comfort is a good example.

Many of the atheists that bother to comment on his blog are trolling, just like the Christians that troll atheist boards, and come off as just as incoherent.

layman is correct: "People are often incoherent and studies often pick that up."

Yet the Assemblies of God are famous (infamous?) for belief in things like demonic possession, witchcraft and exorcism which I would definitely put ion the realm of paranormal belief...

This is the difference between definition and connotation. I agree that using the definition, these things are paranormal since paranormal includes things beyond scientific explanation.

However, paranormal has a connotation that would exclude religious experiences from its scope. The reason (I know you won't like this)-- there are good reasons to believe that religious experience have a basis in fact.

There are plenty of studies supporting the other brands of paranormal activity too.

Besides, I saw Ghostbusters. It's all real! Whatever you do, don't cross the streams.

"Do you define believing in God or Jesus' resurrection or God's speaking to Mohammad as the occult or paranormal as those phrases are commonly used? Or is it only some aspects of religious belief that you also equate with superstition or the paranormal?"

Yes I do. It seems to me that believing in one paranormal phenomenon (eg the resurrection of Jesus) but not another (eg astrology) doesn't make one less superstitious, it just means you've substituted one superstition for another.

Hermit,

Use whatever definition that most benefits your ideology. It doesn't change the fact that traditional Christianity lowers the belief in particular subsets of what you call paranormal activity.

Some of this is exclusionary (I believe in the Christian God so I don't believe in astrology), but some of this also seems to arise from a more skeptical mindset, as in the lower beliefs in the Loch Ness monster, big foot, the lost city of Atlantis, and alien abductions.

Jinx McHue said...
"Yeah, well, that's part and parcel to atheism. Check the messages posted by atheists here or elsewhere (Ray Comfort's blog is a good example...

Ray Comfort, the Banana Man? No, he's incoherent...;-)

"and you'd see what a bunch of blathering nincompoops they truly are."

I didn't come in here calling people names, I'd appreciate it if you'd extend me the same courtesy.

"Use whatever definition that most benefits your ideology. It doesn't change the fact that traditional Christianity lowers the belief in particular subsets of what you call paranormal activity."

Sorry, I don't think I'm being ideological here, I'm just trying to understand why substituting one supernatural belief for another should be described as making one less superstitious.

People who believe in Wicca don't believe in Christianity; does that make them more superstitious or less ?

A Muslim believes in Muhammed's ascension to heaven but not in Jesus resurrection; is he being more superstitious or less?

Christians believe in faith healing, but not psychic surgery; are they being more superstitious, or less?

Hermit,

Now you are equating supernatural with superstitious. And apparently with paranormal. It seems increasingly obvious that your are just lumping things together for the sake of your argument.

You are also arguing by reassertion without addressing previous arguments. For example, you now ask if I think Muslim belief in Mohammed's ascension is superstitious. I have already told you that I do not. It is supernatural. It is a religious belief. It is, in my view, incorrect. But I don't label it superstitious.

I distinguish between most religious belief and superstition, whether it is my religious belief or not. Of course, there can be cross over, but it's not enough to simply point out that something is religious and a miracle and equate it with superstition.

People who believe in Wicca don't believe in Christianity; does that make them more superstitious or less ?

I think I have indicated that belief in Christianity does not inherently mean that one is more or less superstitious. It does mean one is less likely to believe in things that the rest of the population make be more likely to believe, such as alien abduction, big foot, loch ness monster, astrology, palm reading, ouiji boards, and things of that sort.

Christians believe in faith healing, but not psychic surgery; are they being more superstitious, or less?

There are plenty of Christians, even plenty of traditional Christians, who do not believe in faith healing.

But as for those who do, no, I do not believe that makes them more superstitious.

In common parlance, when one sees a family dressed up and walking into a building on Sunday morning with a cross on it, most people do not say, "Ah, there go those superstitious folk." They say, "Ah, there go some Christians to church." So too with families on their way to Temple as Jews and Mosques as Muslims.

One important distinction I think is that many religions are comprehensive world views that include rigorous intellectual reflection -- theology and -- that is not associated with mere superstition. I also happen to think that for Christianity there is more evidence for the world view -- though not necessarily for each sub-belief -- than for "superstitious" beliefs. There is a long tradition of rigorous intellectual defense -- apologetics -- of Christian belief for which there is no comparable body for superstitious works.

You obviously disagree with the results, but the important distinction is that there is an emphasis on intellectual reflection and reason as applied to the belief. Now, obviously not everyone within the religion is a specialist in this reason but then not everyone in modern societies is a scientist though they can reap the benefits of science and scientific study.

"I think I have indicated that belief in Christianity does not inherently mean that one is more or less superstitious.

You've been accusing me of redefining things for ideological reasons, but it seems to me that you are the one who is guilty of that trick. You're asking us to exempt your particular set of superstitions (that Jesus rose from the dead, performed and still performs miracles, answers prayers, grant's the gift of tongues perhaps) aren't really superstitions because people think about them a lot.

The existence of apologetics doesn't make Christianity any less a belief in the paranormal than the existence of UGFOlogy or the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization makes belief in UFO's or Bigfoot not paranormal.

Hermit,

As usual you have ignored most of what I said and snipped one sentence conjoined with your own distortions to which to respond.

You are also switching back and forth between terms without offering any explanation as to what those terms mean. Do you equate bigfoot or lochness belief with palm reading and ouiji boards? Are all superstitious? Are all paranormal? Are all supernatural?

It may be true that there is just as little evidence for a religion as there is for palm readings but that does not mean that they are therefore the same kind of beliefs. Of course, I happen to think that there is plenty more evidence -- historical, scientific, philosophical, personal -- for Christianity than for palm reading. So even if that is your criteria, I reject it.

But whatever one's assessment of the case, to equate theology with palm reading is silly, as even an atheist should bring him or her self to admit (without granting any evidential point).

All you are doing is classic question begging. Try for something more than a sound bite.

I'm trying to respond to what I see as the main point here; I'm sorry if you aren't satisfied with that, but it will have to do.

"Do you equate bigfoot or lochness belief with palm reading and ouiji boards? Are all superstitious? Are all paranormal? Are all supernatural?"

Yes. SInce I speak the English language I call all of those "paranormal"...

Thesaurus.com

Main Entry: paranormal
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: supernatural
Synonyms: abnormal, celestial, ghostly, metaphysical, mysterious, mystic, occult, phenomenal, preternatural, psychic, spectral, transcendental, uncomprehensible, unearthly

I think at least a few of those terms apply to religious belief in general, and to many forms of Christian belief in particular; eg speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, resurrection of the dead, angels, demons, etc.

Further insulting on your part will result in deletion of your posts.

To be clear, you see no difference between the terms superstitious, supernatural, and paranormal?

In what sense is big foot supernatural?

And I will continue to note that you simply ignored most of my response. Those points remain unanswered.

"Further insulting on your part will result in deletion of your posts"

????What insult???? I certainly intended none; if you took something that way please point it out and I'll clarify or apologize or add some smileys next time so you'll know when I'm kidding around. I'm sincerely trying to express my honest opinion here, that's all.

"To be clear, you see no difference between the terms superstitious, supernatural, and paranormal? "

According to my thesaurus the terms are synonymous.

"It may be true that there is just as little evidence for a religion as there is for palm readings but that does not mean that they are therefore the same kind of beliefs."

If there is as little evidence then one is as unwarranted as the other. They are both beliefs in extra-ordinary (another synonym for paranormal) phenomenon not supported by empirical evidence. SO yes, I do see them as being in the same category of belief.

I'm sorry if you're offended by that; if you you want to ignore me and delete my comments that['s certainly your prerogative, but I'm not trying to be rude or insulting, just offering another point of view. Something you told me earlier you were open to...

A Hermit,

First, I think that he is referencing your little jibe about speaking English. However, I will let him answer it himself.

Second, in which thesuarus do you find superstitious and either supernatural or paranormal synonyms? For my part, I have already said I agree that the definitions of the supernatural and paranormal are the same (even if the connotations are different which is where you are Layman are having your disagreements), but nowhere that I look do I find either of those words equated with superstitious or superstition.

Finally, I do not see palm-reading and religion as even remotely related or remotely in the same category. I don't think that most people do -- nor should they. But it doesn't surprise me that you do. Perhaps that's why we'll never agree.

"in which thesuarus do you find superstitious and either supernatural or paranormal synonyms?"

I posted a link above...(actually "superstitious" isn't in there, but for what it's worth the definition of superstitious there is as follows:

su⋅per⋅sti⋅tion
–noun
1. a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.

2. a system or collection of such beliefs.

3. a custom or act based on such a belief.

4. irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, esp. in connection with religion.

5. any blindly accepted belief or notion


I honestly don't think I'm being out of line here....

Well, if you would note that definition number 2 says "such beliefs" which references back to number 1. Number 1 is clearly aimed at things like black cats and walking under ladders when it talks about the "ominious significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence etc.

Number 4 references "irrational fear of what is unknown and mysterious." Perhaps that is true in some religions, but certainly not Christianity. Christianity is neither irrational (although you can certainly disagree with it) and it is not based in fear.

Again, you can try to equate superstitious with religion, but I really think that you have to stretch the definition in a way that covers things that it really isn't meant to cover. Given that I will agree that religion is covered under the broad definition of supernatural and paranormal, why not just let this one go?

'Given that I will agree that religion is covered under the broad definition of supernatural and paranormal, why not just let this one go?"

Well that's exactly what I was saying, so OK...;-)

It's odd to me that nobody has mentioned the absurd superstition of believing that the results of polling methods translate into realities in the very sense in which you would expect taking the pollster's data as accurate for each individual polled. There are a number of ways in which error creeps into each poll response: an impulse to choose the first answer of a list (to move along quickly or because nothing beats it), a habit of choosing the last answer on a list (if nothing else is recalled well and especially if an oral poll), etc.

And of course when dealing with heady topics like religion and theology, where the average American just doesn't spend as much time thinking about it as we do, is it so hard to imagine that there are a few people who reject God (perhaps they understood the question as being a particular referent) but still hold out for a place after death? This is news only if someone has claimed that every atheist must be an atheist educated in philosophy of religion, or at least have given it some good hunkered-down thought, which is something I certainly wouldn't want to claim.

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