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!
4. Bainbridge and Stark, “Superstitions: Old and New,” The Skeptical Inquirer, pp. 18–31, Summer 1980
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