Sunday, September 21, 2008

Religious, or superstitious and anti-scientific. Take your pick.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway points out the strong relation between disdain for religion, and openness to irrationality, superstition, and anti-scientific thought. Bill Maher, for instance, whose movie attacking religion opens early next month ("religion must die for man to live"), thinks aspirin is lethal, disbelieves in the germ theory of disease, and doubts that the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.
"What Americans Really Believe," a comprehensive new study [performed by the Gallup Organization and] 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. ...
This study confirms another done in 1980. And with, regard to superstition, a close association with church seems to be far better than another favorite modern panacea:
Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't [emphasis added]. 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.
So college seems to either increase superstition among its students, or to filter out those who won't put up with superstition and irrationality.