Monday, January 21, 2008

Do atheists believe in anything? Over at his blog, Steve Sailer quotes the notorious atheist Christopher Hitchens as believing that anyone who thinks that race is real is a racist. Steve then cites a G.K. Chesterton scholar who said that when a man stops believing in God, he doesn't believe in nothing, he believes in anything.

Having been both a believer and an atheist, I'm not sure if atheism is a sign that a person is unanchored and thereby vulnerable to kooky ideas, or just indicative of a person with a sharp BS detector.

Let's have the General Social Survey shed some light on the question. In 2006, 1,782 Americans were asked if they believed in God, and if they considered astrology to be scientific. Here are the answers:

Percent who think astrology is somewhat or very scientific

I don't believe in God 28.8
There is no way to know 22.3
There is some higher power 28.9
I believe sometimes 31.5
I believe but have doubts 31.8
I know God exists 34.3

Compared to people of faith, atheists are not more likely to believe in crackpot ideas (at least in the case of astrology). Agnostics, however, seem to have the most acute BS detectors. Some atheists may be the tough-minded type, while others may be the kind who grab onto just about any idea if it irks Mom and Dad (and respectable society).


Anonymous said...

The precept of a reward (Heaven) and a penalty (Hell) were the best marketing tools that various religions ever came up with. The reward makes people want to believe in the religion, and will look over seeming contradictions, archaeological inconsistencies (read Dr. Israel Finklesteins THE BIBLE UNEARTHED to read of the tons of contradictory data he and other archaeologists have uncovered that refute the fundamental interpretation of the Old Testament)and Hell, the penalty, makes believers or those who were raised in the three primary religions springing from the Old Testament --afraid-- to even consider the evidence to the contrary. They are --afraid--to even think critically about their religion.

I wouldn't lump Christopher Hitchens, a drunkard, a sloth, a ill-mannered, fat, sloppy pig of a man in with all rational thinking atheist.

Hitchens is one of those people who immediately tries to establish a moral high ground and concoct arguments to support his status as defender of that moral high ground as the main occupation of his spare time. He is "holier than thou" even though he is an atheist.
Al Gore, if youve followed him closely, has this same psychological personality profile. He always takes positions that he can defend with moralistic-sounding arguments, no matter what. The more supercilious the better with Gore in particular. He is one of the biggest frauds on earth, always was. So was his daddy.

The search and hope for infinity (living forever) and the fear of an afterlife that may not be pleasant that any person in Western Culture will absorb through cultural osmosis of being around Judeo-Christianity and its talk of Hell/Heaven, is probably what leads so many atheists into past-lives garbage (Shirley McClaine), Eastern religions, neo-pagan stuff like Wicca, and modern-made-up belief systems like Scientology.

While there are some people who have been "dead" medically and brought back to life by EMT's and doctors who swear they were met by light-beings surrounding them with love and all that jazz (even though a bunch of these folks weren't religious) and the occasional ghost story that supposedly rational people attest to (like Andrew Jackson and his subordinates describing an encounter with the Bell Witch and being very effected by what they seemingly really believed was a supernatural being----you can look that up), there is no real --proof-- that any miraculous happenstances have ever happened on this earth that we know of. Nobody has been proven to come back from the dead, or levitate, or be clarivoyant in a scientifically measured way.

Everytime dinosaur bones (like that head of a rat the size of a buffalo that was found the other day) are found, or plant fossils detailing how humongous trees used to be and how high grasses used to grow, are dug up, would think that less and less people would deny the evolution of plant and animal life on this planet, but the reward/punishment belief systems are so powerful that they dont seem to dent the invicible need for these beliefs.

James A. Donald said...

You need to cast a wider net. Astrology is not a substitute for Christianity: Socialism, environmentalism, and Global Warming are.

Atheists are neither more nor less likely to believe idiotic things than Christians, and agnostics considerably less likely to believe idiotic things than Christians, for at least agnostics know what they do not know. They are, however, considerably more likely to believe idiotic things that substitute for Christianity.

dearieme said...

I disbeieve in all gods; a Christian disbeieves in all but one. Not even a statistically significant difference.

Anonymous said...

agnostics considerably less likely to believe idiotic things than Christians, for at least agnostics know what they do not know.

And who said atheists are as dogmatic in their disbelief as are Christians in their belief? Who was more prone to recognize the possibility of being wrong than Nietzsche, the atheist par excellence? The results aforementioned still show atheists are less likely to believe in idiotic things than believers (the slippery-slope).

Amongst those who profess no belief in God, there are more than your typical urban, liberal, college-age male. Many of those might be affiliated to Eastern asian religions which, while denying or being indifferent to the existence of God as the creator of everything, do not reject altogether mysticism and metaphysics. One can think of Buddhists, Jainists and certain Hindus as examples of the latter. But not even the Western variants of atheism or agnosticism preclude the belief in the metaphysical; I can use Schopenhauer as an honorable example of that, even if the impact of buddhist metaphysics on his philosophy was large.

Jason Malloy said...

I addressed this ridiculous Chesterton Quote several years ago with citations showing similar things.

And as I previously pointed out on this blog, the GSS has no question allowing people to self-identify as 'atheists' or 'agnostics'. Using one of the several God-belief questions as a proxy for 'atheism' is substandard, because a full half of those people are actually religiously affiliated. Inductivist's method of tagging atheists tends to make agnostics look more rational, but using a different (and more accurate, IMO) method, reverses this.

You need to cast a wider net. Astrology is not a substitute for Christianity: Socialism, environmentalism, and Global Warming are.

Atheists are neither more nor less likely to believe idiotic things than Christians

The evidence contradicts this. Astrology is not the only superstition religious people are more likely to believe; the full range of paranormal beliefs is correlated with relogisity. Religious people are more likely to believe in witchcraft, ESP, ghosts, healing crystals...

This isn't surprising, as many traditional superstitious beliefs are incorporated right in to Christianity and other religions. (Prophecy, ghosts, magic healing, etc)

As for socialism, environmentalism, and global warming, how ridiculous. No one was more socialistic than the early Christians! Read Acts. Religious socialism is quite common historically, and some of the most successful socialist experiments have been religious (kibbutzim, Hutterites).

It is not clear that these values are related to religion in any functional manner. They appear to vary in their relationship with historical and cultural circumstance.

Nor is it in any way clear that socialism is an irrational political preference akin to a belief in astrology. Sweden does better in many respects than the US. One is a scientific question, the other is a settled matter of gross superstition.

Regardless, higher IQ people in America are both less religious and have more rational economic beliefs.

Similar points could be made about environmentalism, and, of course, global warming is a scientific fact. The fact that religiousness is tied to psuedoscientific beliefs like Creationism and global warming denial actually works to embarrass your comment further.

dearieme said...

Heavens above, anyone with the wit to disbelieve in God should have the wit to disbelieve in Global Warming.

Anonymous said...

"and, of course, global warming is a scientific fact."

Horseshit. Scientists debate the hell out of whether the earth is in a >SLIGHT< heating stage (wow!
0.7C' in the past 100 years, we'll all be in Bermuda any day now). Some scientists think we are about to enter a cooling period. Some scientists point to sunspots and solar activity being higher than any observed time in the past and use the shrinking ice caps on Mars as an example of this effect, some scientists point to volcanic activity, some think we are simply in a "natural" warming era, that will be followed by a natural cooling era. The earth recieves more energy FROM THE SUN IN HALF AN HOUR that the United States makes in a year, keep that in mind when you contemplate how little we are compared to how big the sun (109 times the size of earth) is.
The scientific community has NOT come up with a verdict on global warming yet, and it would be supremely stupid to act rashly upon it before we can transition the economy to a place where it would hurt the least amount of our own citizens before implementatin of policies that would cost millions their employment and livlihood.

I may not agree with creationists, but I could never befriend many liberals. Ugggghhhhh

Jason Malloy said...

"The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change".

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position...

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies."

The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Look, I'm not going to sit here and argue with people of bad faith over claims that I can easily check against the journals. Even if global warming was not a fact (and it is), it is within the realm of science, and scientific debate and investigation, while, e.g., astrology and other paranormal beliefs are not.

JA Donald demonstrates why religious people are clearly more likely to believe idiotic things. Their commitment to "faith" hurts their ability and willingness to understand what makes science a different and superior epistemology.

Anonymous said...

There is a whole page on global warming "denial" including the founder of the Weather Channel describing global warming as "the greatest scam in history".

SFG said...

I think agnostics are more tolerant than atheists. We don't feel the need to go raining on everyone's parade. Hey, maybe there's a God. Who knows? Go believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure if it makes you happy. I'm not going to waste my time taking faith away from people, it seems to do a lot for them.