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« Texas Man Walks Again | Main | Re: Those Not-So-Rational Rationalists »

September 24, 2008

Those Not-so-Rational Rationalists

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.

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Jason Taylor

Which is but to say that nobody is consistent.
It also might be noticed that polls cannot show nuances.
For instance,"Do you believe in fairies?" could mean, "Do you believe that it is absolutely impossible for there to be fairies." Which is of course ridiculous. OF COURSE there could conceivably be fairies. There is no mathematical disproof.
It could also mean, "do you believe in the existence of fairies in any way that would meaningfully modify your normal thought and action". Would you, for instance, leave pieces of bread out in your kitchen for the house-fairy(except of course as an amiable salute to tribal tradition). Or would you refrain from saying "I don't believe in fairies" out of serious fear of killing a fairy?
The answer is of course no. It is when they start to seriously do things like that, that one can say that one "believes".
While there are in fact several self-described rationalists that do such things(there were some stories from Victorian times, though I can't remember them off the cuff and would have to look them up), polls cannot show that because polls are a crude instrument.
The most key examples of the inconsistency of rationalists in my opinion though is the remarkable emotion they vest in their position and hostility toward disagreement. And the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" argument. That argument is simply an appeal to intuition, which argument a "rationalist" has under the canon of his own philosophy disallowed.


I notice that people want a "heaven" and people want a "messiah".

After some (especially that most gulible group - college freshmen) dump Christianity - they start to sniff around for
that society -
that person
(or persons) who can be their "heavenly community" and their "secular messiah".

And because those seeking the "messiah" and the "heavenly society" usually have thrown out any kind of spiritual guidelines, they are open WIDE open to any ideological gust of wind to blow them around...

So they will buy into the metaphysical version of the "Brooklyn Bridge" and get suckered into - false ideas.

Samuel X

It goes without saying that there's a TVTrope about this.

It goes equally without saying that whether the trope is Truth In Television or not is under hot contention.



"Do dreams foretell the future? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead?"

Belief in the bible does not preclude any of these things. There are even instances of the first and third happening in the bible. And certainly demons can haunt a place if they wanted to.

The bible also talks about sorcery, witchcraft, etc. these things are real. There is nothing wrong with believing in their existence; practicing or approving of such is a different story. Psychic healing? I dunno but it's not inconceivable for a demon to heal a person (or cease afflicting a person with a malady) in order to lead people astray.

Andrea Newell

Actually, I don't think the Bible per se excludes alien life simply by not mentioning its possibility. There are plenty of things known to be in existence that are not mentioned in the bible. The Bible's purpose is not to provide an exhaustive list of everything that God made, but to teach us what God wants us to believe and how he wants us to behave.

That said, a true student of the Bible is probably more likely to attribute the uncanny to the mysterious ways of God rather than some unknown third party like ghosts or UFOs, witches and so on. The Bible teaches us not even to fear those spiritual beings whose existence it confirms.

Most of all, a committed Christian should be skeptical about any theory of spiritual phenomena that sets itself up as a rival to God. There is nothing in creation that God can't handle.

To quote one of my favorite philosophers: "God is bigger than the boogyman, and He's watchin' out for you and me."


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