Evangelicals more rational than non-evangelicals?

Edward Willett @ 22-09-2008

ghost If we could just get rid of religion, we could march forward into a glorious future where everyone would think rationally and believe only what can be scientifically proven, right?

Wrong. At least, that’s what’s suggested by “What Americans Really Believe,” a study by Baylor University. In what seems to be a case of “you’ve got to believe in something or you’ll believe in anything,” the study shows that (in the words of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, writing in the Wall Street Journal):

…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.

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. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

Other studies have shown the same thing: according to a 1980 study published in Skeptical Inquirer, irreligious college students were by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely. Two years ago, another study published in Skeptical Inquirer showed 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.

Perhaps this is evidence for the “God gene,” something within the human genome that tends us toward belief in things we haven’t seen (or seen evidence for) ourselves. Perhaps it’s a by-product of our ability to imagine things that aren’t real–and thus a by-product of our ability to create fantasy and science fiction tales.

And perhaps it’s an indication devout atheists need to dig a little deeper into why people believe what they believe, because by aiming at the same oft-ridiculed Christian evangelicals, they’re missing a much bigger–and more gullible–target.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]religion, atheism, paranormal, pseudoscience[/tags]

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6 Responses to “Evangelicals more rational than non-evangelicals?”

  1. SMD says:

    I don’t think this proves that any group is more rational than the other. One group believes in ghosts and bigfoot, the other believes in God. Both are equally impossible to prove (well, ghosts might be a bit easier, but only because there is some “scientific” basis for the existence of whatever they are, but no scientific basis that says what we call ghosts are actually the spirits of dead people…strange Earth phenomenon, certainly. Dead people, probably not, but that’s not what’s being considered here, I suppose).
    I just don’t see how one group is more rational than the other. People who believe in God sometimes see signs (like weird images in windows that they think look like the Virgin Mary) and so do the people who believe in UFOs or whatever. The difference is that UFOs are real, but likely not in the way other people think of them. A UFO is just an unidentified flying object. I’ve seen plenty of strange things flying in the sky. I don’t know if they were aliens, but I certainly had no idea what they were. So, they were UFOs. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, or a new airplane I’ve never seen before, or a weather balloon. Regardless, it was a UFO and lots of people do see things that they can’t explain. We just run to the alien thing too easily when the government starts telling us that they don’t know what it is either. Because we expect the government to go “oh, yeah, umm that was our new plane…it’s a secret, so shh”…bah.

    I’m rambling…

  2. brian t says:

    From the Baylor University website you link to, the “About Baylor” page:
    “Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is a private Baptist university, and a nationally ranked liberal arts institution.”
    “Baylor students are a part of a Christian community of faith.”

    What did you think they would say?

  3. Edward Willett says:

    Provided the survey was carried out properly, what difference does it make who commissioned it? Gallup did the actual survey.

  4. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Given that fundamentalist Christians take the Bible literally and reject evolution along with physics and geology, I fail to see why their belief system would be preferable to that of people who believe in astrology and ghosts. As Karen Armstrong points out in The Battle for God, fundamentalist Christians do not think in terms of metaphor and myth; they need for their truths to be literally true, not metaphorically true. Therefore, they refuse to “believe” in evolution, because it is important for them to believe the Bible is literally true.

    I suspect the same difficulty with myth and metaphor underlies a lot of the urge toward pseudoscience. Perhaps both the fundamentalists and the new agers are looking for certainty in an uncertain world.

    Personally, I’d argue for learning to live with uncertainty, but that seems to scare a lot of people.

  5. Claes says:

    When it all comes down to it beliving in a big common religion is the same as beliving dreams foretell the future. And in my oppinion a belive that “[…] creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?” is less superstitios than beliving in an omnipotent god, allthough waybe a little less “crazy”.

  6. Claes says:

    …a little ‘more’ “crazy”. …And well put SMD, bytheway.