From Richard Peachey:

On the topic of whether being religious makes you more likely to be sucked into believing fiction . . . there’s a fascinating article that appeared in The Skeptical Inquirer (not a biased Christian publication) about this. Since I couldn’t find the article available on the web, I’ll provide the key quotes below:

William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark, “Superstitions: Old and New.” The Skeptical Inquirer 4(4):18-31, Summer 1980.

[page 19] “Many writers have described the fundamentalist campaign against the teaching of biological evolution in the schools, focusing on hard-core groups of creationists who constitute a small, though active minority. We will show that there is vast opposition to Darwin by masses of ordinary citizens. While antagonism to other parts of science may also be felt by fundamentalists, it is the theory of evolution that receives the most concerted attack. Undoubtedly, this reflects the head-on competition between Darwin and Genesis. We must not assume, however, that fundamentalists reject science as a whole any more vehemently than do other groups. . . .

[page 22] “The results in Table 1 and Table 2 should not be overinterpreted. It would be a mistake to conclude that fundamentalists oppose all science. Here, they have registered opposition to but a single theory, one that directly contradicts the Bible. But it would be an equally great mistake to conclude that religious liberals and the irreligious possess superior minds of great rationality, to see them as modern personalities who have no need of the supernatural or any propensity to believe unscientific superstitions. On the contrary, we shall see that they are much more likely to accept the new superstitions [emphasis is the authors’]. It is the fundamentalists who appear most virtuous according to scientific standards when we examine the cults and pseudosciences proliferating in our society today. . . .

[page 24] “Before we leap to the false conclusion that the students with no religion are rational, scientific secularists, we should look at Table 3, which reports the distribution of responses toward some recently popular superstitions. . . .

[page 26] “As a whole, Table 3 shows two very interesting things. First, it reveals that ‘born agains’ are much less likely than other students to accept radical cults and pseudoscientific beliefs. Second, it reveals that the group with no religious affiliation is receptive to these unscientific notions. On three of the seven items, in fact, those with no religion are the most favorable toward occultism. Those who want to blame fundamentalists for their opposition to Darwin ought to praise them for their responses reported in Table 3. Those who hope that a decline in traditional religion would inaugurate a new Age of Reason ought to think again. . . .

[page 27] “Our questionnaire research suggests that strong religion prevents occultism. Therefore, we would expect to find that interest in deviant cults and in the paranormal was greatest where the churches are weakest — in the Pacific region. In fact, this is the case. . . .

[page 30] “Conclusion

“Traditional religion is not simply the enemy of rationality and science, but it plays an ambivalent role. True, fundamentalists show high levels of rejection of the theory of evolution. But they also reject a wide range of occult of pseudoscientific ideas that may threaten the progress of human culture. Persons with no religious affiliation are often among the first to toy with novel or exotic supernatural notions and are not the secular rationalists we might want to think them. Cults flourish precisely where the conventional churches are weakest, in the western parts of the country. Here, too, numbers of unchurched people seek private contact with the supernatural, as shown in the distribution of Fate magazine ‘mystic experiences’ and ‘proofs of survival.’ Therefore, a further decline in the influence of conventional religion may not inaugurate a scientific Age of Reason but might instead open the floodgates for a bizarre new Age of Superstition.”

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