Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Are Christians uniquely irrational?

From a recent WSJ article, Bill Maher said "you can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god."

This article summarizes a recent study done at Baylor that found that "in fact, It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians."

Once again, data and assumptions don't match.

Thanks for the link, Ben!


J. R. Miller said...

But to a large degree we are irrational. Western philosophy is rooted in the ideal that all truth is rooted in reason. Christian faith is rooted in the ideal that truth is rooted in revelation. This is why the cross is a stumbling block to the Greek who seeks "reason".

Jay Livingston said...

"paranormal and in pseudoscience"
I wonder what they count as paranormal. God? Satan? Angels? Demons? especially as these entities intervene in terrestrial life. Creationism? The efficacy of prayer? What about things whose existence is impossible to prove scientifically -- heaven, hell, the afterlife?

Brad Wright said...

I agree with you J.R. that at the root of Christianity are irrational, or maybe better, transrational assumptions.

Jay, I agree that much of Christianity doesn't fit into rationality. Paranormal meaning beyond science, then yes.

As I read the article, it suggested not that Christians were completely scientific, but rather many of their critics aren't either.

J. R. Miller said...

Your post made sense Brad. Your observation was addressing this point from the perspective of a statistician, mine was more from the perspective of a philosopher. In the end, we are saying much the same thing but from a different perspective.

David Weakliem said...

It's claiming something a lot stronger--that people who are not religious are the most superstitious, and that liberal Protestants are almost as bad. The concluding passage: "Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: `It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are.'"

The "belief in the paranormal scale" runs from 10 to 50. The mean for mainline Protestants is 28.0, evangelicals 25.4, no religion 27.1, black Protestants 29.3, Catholics 28.2, other religions 30.8, Jewish 26.6. Even by the standards of social science, these differences aren't large, and there's no striking difference between those who believe in God and those who don't.

What's in the scale, anyway? One of the items is agreement that "Some alternative treatments are at least as effective as traditional medicine." A question asked in the survey but NOT included in the scale is "In your opinion, does each of the following ... exist: Demons."

If you reopen your contest for worst statistic about Christianity, I'll nominate this article.