"Look Who's Irrational Now"

Interesting recent article from Mollie Ziegler Hemingway entitled, Look Who's Irrational Now

In part, she states:
"The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won't create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that's not a conclusion to take on faith -- it's what the empirical data tell us….Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. 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."


  1. Interesting. I wonder if there's any data that tracks the prevalence of supernatural beliefs in general, rather than particular subsets of them. How does education level correlate with the whole list, including such things as noncorporeal sentient beings (gods, holy ghosts, or lingering-spirit ghosts), healing (miraculous or psychic), demonic possession (excorcizable in the name of Jesus or 'garden variety'), esp (divine revelation or mundane clairvoyance), nonlethal death (resurrection, reincarnation, or out-of-body experiences), transmutation (water-into-wine miracles or alchemical rituals), and so forth.

    As it is, though, it's rather like an article on gun control which includes the line "surprisingly, while increased military duty and membership in a hunting club has a powerful negative effect on possession of small sidearms..." Sure, they're not packing pistols, but that's because they're toting around rifles or semiautomatic machine guns! It doesn't mean that hunters and soldiers are much less likely than your average Joe to do anything with firearms.

  2. Well, the article is perhaps a little bit biased, in the sense that it does not consider the possibility that religion could be regarded as a superstition..

    "Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't."

    This only shows is that there is a mechanism that differentiates between authoritarian superstition (religion) and libertarian superstition. It's hardly surprising to find that people whose beliefs are controlled by a central religious dogma have less freedom to indulge in conflicting superstitions. Higher education is no guarantee against believing in bizarre things, but religion is very specific about what things to believe or not believe in.

    From the skeptic's point of view, however, that just the same difference.

  3. Completely tangential and off-topic (i.e. if this is moderated to the trash bin, I'll have no grounds for complaint)

    Two things having "The same difference" is not the same as them "being the same".

    You get $10, I get $100. Let's assume that's unfair.

    You get $100,010 and I get $100,100. Same difference. Not the same situation.

    And more on-topic: perhaps not from every skeptic's point of view, but at least from many of them, the difference between authoritarian superstition and skepticism is not the same as the difference between libertarian superstition and skepticism (even if from the theistic point of view, there may be no appreciable difference between godless libertarian superstition and godless skepticism).

  4. Errr....well I wasn't aware that the expression "same difference" had a strict meaning, I thought it was just an idiom implying that the difference is unimportant. If I used it incorrectly, I plead guilty! (English is my third language)