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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Christians Are Just More Rational

Posted by jlwile on September 28, 2009

My favorite atheist, P.Z. Myers, gets very upset over many, many things. A while ago, he got really flustered over the fact that Obama appointed Francis S. Collins to head the National Institutes of Health. You see, Collins is a vocal Christian. Myers can’t stand it when a scientist of faith is (a) significantly more knowledgeable and accomplished than he is and (b) is promoted to a very high-profile position. It destroys his whole “If you believe in religion you are an idiot” argument. Here is what he said when Obama’s appointment of Francis S. Collins became official:

We can also trust him to drape Jesus over every major announcement, use the office as a platform for promoting religiosity, and otherwise taint the whole business with embarrassingly inane nonsense…just as he did with the human genome press conference. Isn’t it about time our government promoted secular values that work over these antique and ineffective superstitions that just make their proponents look goofy? 1

This is a common theme throughout the “new atheist” movement – Christians believe in superstition. Well, like most things the new atheists say, such nonsense is demonstrated wrong by the data.

Dr. Rodney Stark, Dr. Byron Johnson, Dr. Christopher Bader, and Dr. Carson Mencken of Baylor University recently finished a survey on American religious attitudes. Their survey found a number of interesting things, but in particular, it found that traditional Christianity greatly reduced a person’s tendency to believe in nonsense like messages in dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses, communicating with the dead, and astrology. Indeed, if people identified themselves as Evangelicals, born again, Bible believers, or fundamentalists, they were even less likely to believe in such nonsense. 2

As Rodney Stark says:

There’s an old saying that a man who no longer believes in God is ready to believe in just about anything, and it turns out our data suggests it’s true. 3

That old saying is actually supported by an enormous amount of data. In fact, a study done more than 25 years ago and published in the Skeptical Inquirer (certainly no friend to religion) showed that there is a link between decades of evolutionary education and the rise of irrational pseudo-science. The authors of the study admitted that they thought an increase in “freedom” from the “myths” of religion would make people less superstitious. Instead, the data say that when people give up belief in God, all sorts of other nonsense comes in to take its place. 4

Since Christianity is the most rational belief system, it is not surprising that Christians are, on average, more rational than non-Christians. I think Myers hates data like this even more than Obama’s appointment of Collins!

REFERENCE

1. Collins to head NIH
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2. Bigfoot Evolved
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3. Baylor Survey Finds New Perspectives On U.S. Religious Landscape
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4. Bainbridge and Stark, “Superstitions: Old and New,” The Skeptical Inquirer, pp. 18–31, Summer 1980
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Comments

8 Responses to “Christians Are Just More Rational”
  1. Josiah says:

    “Nonsense…messages in dreams.”
    So you don’t believe anything in the book of Daniel, nor about half the story of Joseph (both Josephs), or Joel’s “Old men will dream dreams”, etc?

  2. jlwile says:

    I think you are misinterpreting what I am saying. God can speak to us in many ways, and dreams are certainly one of those ways. However, those are not “messages in dreams.” Those are instances where God is speaking to the person. The dream is simply the vehicle through which God chooses to reveal Himself.

    The phrase “messages in dreams” refers to the idea that the “universe” or your “consciousness” is trying to “contact” you to reveal some truth about you, your future, your past, etc. It is best typified by silliness like “The Not-So-Hidden Messages in Dreams” by Patricia F. Hare. As the author says, “The primary tool of dream communication is symbolism. The images we see in our dreams represent information and ideas we are trying to tell ourselves about.” ( The Not-So-Hidden Messages in Dreams)

  3. Josiah says:

    Yet surely an atheist can and would insist that there is no difference between “God” trying to contact you and some “universal conciousness” or your own mind trying to do the same?

  4. jlwile says:

    Actually, the atheist would see a HUGE difference between the two. “Universal Consciousness” and your mind trying to contact you are based on naturalistic ideas. The “Universal Consciousness” is supposed to be the result of the “energy of life” flowing through nature. It is not APART FROM nature (as is God) – It is A PART OF nature. In the same way, your mind trying to contact you is once again a naturalistic idea, based on the desire to believe that your mind holds information that you don’t consciously know and tries to tell you these things. This is all superstitious nonsense, of course. It is the result of the fact that when you give up belief in God, you are willing to believe almost anything.

    The other difference is that people who believe there are “messages in dreams” think that this is a continuous thing. The “Universal Consciousness” is always trying to talk to you, as is your mind. Thus, this happens all the time. A specific revelation from God to a person is a very rare event that happens only in the most extraordinary of cases.

  5. Josiah says:

    I agree. It is superstitious nonsense. But to someone who doesn’t believe in God OR such “nonsense”, surely the two must be equally illogical. And to someone who beleives in such things in preference to God, or indeed beleives that every case of God granting such messages is actually just an UC or an individual’s mind, such an argument can make no sense at all?

  6. jlwile says:

    Sure – a person who doesn’t believe in God OR such nonsense will view both as illogical, but not equally so. After all, while a Christian might believe that God CAN talk to us through visions, it is likely that the particular Christian doesn’t think God has ever spoken to HIM that way. The person who believes in messages in dreams, however, thinks that HIS DREAMS are speaking to him REGULARLY. It’s one thing for a person to ALLOW FOR THE POSSIBILITY that it can happen. However, it is quite another for a person to think it happens regularly TO HIM. I would think any reasonable person would therefore view these ideas as quite different, even if he believed in neither.

    Of course, the point of the research is that the atheist will BE MORE LIKELY TO BELIEVE that the “Universal Consciousness” or his mind is sending him messages in his dreams than will be the Christian.

  7. Is the position of second favorite atheist open? If so, I’d like to apply!

    Atheists didn’t like the appointment of Dr. Collins because he inserts his religious views into scientific arguments about evolution. Claiming God intervened in the evolution of humans to introduce a moral sense is not a scientific argument. Dr. Collins has launched a non-profit organization to promote his view of the role of God in evolution. He will likely also use his pulpit at the NIH to do the same. That is the objection of atheists. If Dr. Collins would desist in saying his faith informs his view of evolution, then atheists would have no problem with him.

    On the main point of the post, I would guess that if you asked hard-core Bigfoot/UFO/occult/boogeyman believers, they would be less likely to be “traditional” Christians. Traditional Christians and the “traditional” superstitious are mostly mutually exclusive categories.

    In any case, whether “traditional” Christians, non-traditional Christians or non-Christians believe in UFOs and Bigfoot has nothing to do whether Christianity is a superstition itself. Have any data on that?

  8. jlwile says:

    Yes, of course. If Collins basically shut up about his Christian faith, atheists would not have a problem with him. They have no problem with Christians, as long as they either don’t say anything about their faith or are easily made fun of. However, the fact that Collins is so accomplished and so knowledgeable is partly due to the fact that he allows his Christianity to inform his science. This irks atheists because, as I said, it destroys one of their principal (but inane) arguments.

    There are plenty of data that show Christianity is not a superstition. It is supported by a wealth of scientific, medical, and historical data. Read, for example, Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity or The Case for Faith or Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

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