Does atheism make people superstitious?

Does atheism make people superstitious? September 24, 2008

What if I claimed that Christians — who believe in miracles, prayer, faith healing, demons, and inspired books — were less superstitious than atheists, who deny all those things? That would be absurd, right?

Not according to Mollie Hemingway. In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, she claims that atheism makes people more superstitious than Christianity. To support this claim she cites a new study:

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology….

While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in [the paranormal], only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Her conclusion from this data 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.”

It seems that according to Ms. Hemingway, anyone who does not attend church is an atheist. But that’s simply not true. Many folks who believe in UFOs and New Age nonsense do not attend church, yet are not necessarily atheists, either.

The very core of the New Atheism movement is skepticism. It teaches that one should only believe things when there is sufficient evidence. And as anyone with an ounce of skepticism knows, there is no credible evidence for hauntings, communication with the dead, ESP or UFOs. 

In fact, I am very confident that your average evangelical Christian is far more superstitious than self-proclaimed atheists.

For instance, ask a Christian if they believe it is possible to communicate with people who are dead. Their automatic answer will likely be no. That’s what the poll would record. But after they answer, remind them of the story in the Bible where Saul asks the Witch of Endor to conjure up Samuel from the dead — which she does successfully. After complaining about being disturbed, Samuel foretells the future (1 Samuel 28).

I think you will find that virtually all Christians believe that story to be true, meaning they do think it is possible to communicate with the dead (and for fortunes to be told). Now do any atheists believe this story to be true, or any other stories of people conjuring up dead people? Who are the superstitious ones, atheists or Christians?

Ask a Christian if they believe in Ouija boards or psychics or UFOs, and they will say no. Press them, and you will find they often do believe there to be some kind truth to these claims, but they think that demons and devils are behind them. Who in the New Atheism movement believes such things?

Consider all the great debunkers of this century, from Carl Sagan to James Randi to Michael Shermer. All atheists. Where are the great Christian debunkers?

How can one say Christianity “greatly decreases belief” in superstition, when in fact they believe a book was written by God; that a witch conjured up a dead prophet; that a man-god was born of a virgin, raised people from the dead, rose from the grave, and will return again; that the shadow of an apostle healed the sick; that a invisible god in the sky listens to the prayers of billions every day through ESP!

If that is not superstition — believing in the supernatural without a shred of evidence — I don’t know what is.

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