Those Not-so-Rational Rationalists
|by Regis Nicoll|
For the last few years, the media darlings of disbelief—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett—have argued that irrationality and superstition are the products of religious belief. Now, it seems, not only have they gotten that wrong, but they should have known better decades ago.
As reported in the WSJ, a 1980 study published in the Skeptical Inquirer 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.”
Those conclusions were confirmed in a recent Gallup survey that included questions like: Do dreams foretell the future? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? According to Gallup, “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.”
And while strong religious commitment has a decidedly negative correlation with superstition and paranormal beliefs, contrary to the claims of so-called rationalists, higher education has a slight positive correlation:
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.
Ironically, religious skepticism may also incline one to reject the crowning achievement of modern science and rationalism: Western medicine. Comedian Bill Maher, whose irreverent film Religulous debuts on October 3, has said that he rejects the science of vaccination and germ theory, and believes that aspirin is lethal. I wonder if Mr. Maher has been hanging out with Tom Cruise.