Atheists still believe in the supernatural, new report finds

Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you aren't superstitious.

  • A new report indicates atheists and agnostics still believe in supernatural phenomena despite not believing in gods.
  • They tend to hold these beliefs at lower rates than the general population.
  • This is in line with previous studies that show non-believers are just as prone to irrational thinking as their religious counterparts.

Atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers are among the most disliked, untrusted, and misunderstood people in our society. Most Americans wouldn't vote for a qualified atheist if they ran for president. Many parents hope their child doesn't marry one. Most atheists in the United States have a story about coming out to somebody who then either accused them of being a Satanist or was utterly unable to comprehend what an atheist was.

To get a better idea of what non-believers of all stripes are actually like and to try to correct for the above facts, the U.K.-based Understanding Unbelief Project has released the Understanding Unbelief white sheet. A study of "unbelievers" in six countries on four continents, the report covers topics such as how confident people are in their beliefs compared to theists in the same country, how they choose to identify themselves, and what they value.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the section of the completed report that indicates, despite their skepticism on the subject of God, many unbelievers still hold superstitious beliefs.

What!?!

Despite rejecting or at least questioning the notion of gods, unbelievers aren't wholly divorced from superstitious belief.

Image source: Understanding Unbelief (2019)

As you can see in the above graph, up to a third of self-declared atheists in China believe in astrology. A quarter of Brazilian atheists believe in reincarnation, and a similar number of their Danish counterparts think some people have magical powers.

Agnostics were more likely to believe in supernatural phenomena than atheists across the board. Notice how the graphs have similar patterns but with different point values.

Understanding Unbelief (2019)

The general population, however, continues to believe in these phenomena at a much higher rate than non-believers.

Image source: Understanding Unbelief (2019)

The study also found that non-believers are not all nihilistic, moral relativists, or unable to appreciate the inherent value of the world around them. While this isn't news to atheists, it will be news to many people who think them incapable of having a robust moral system, an appreciation for nature, or a sense of meaning in life.

Why is this? Are they just hypocrites?

Physicist Michio Kaku suggested in his Big Think interview that a tendency toward magical thinking could be inherent to the human mind:

"We still have Flat Earthers, we have people that don't believe in vaccinations, and what do we do about it? Well, first of all, I think there's a gene. I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking. And I think that, when we were in the forest, that gene actually helped us. Because 9 times out of 10, that gene was wrong. Superstition didn't work. But 1 time out of 10, it saved your butt. That's why the gene is still here, the gene for superstition and magic. Now, there's no gene for science. Science is based on things that are reproducible, testable -- it's a long process, the scientific method. It's not part of our natural thinking. It's an acquired taste, just like broccoli."

If Kaku is correct, then non-believers would be just as pre-disposed to superstitious thought as everybody else.

The data suggests this is the case. Despite their claims to the contrary, non-believers — many, at least — are not any more rational or scientific than the rest of the population, and can easily fall for the same logical fallacies everybody else does. Given this, it makes sense that somebody who is sure there is no invisible man in the sky is still somewhat convinced by the idea of Karma; anybody can use the post hoc fallacy.

The study also hasn't really found anything new. Plenty of famous critics of religion haven't been entirely above religious sentiment themselves. For example, Pierre Curie, the husband of the more famous Marie Curie, was an atheist who had an enduring, somewhat scientific, interest in spiritualism.

So everybody chill out — across the spectrum, we all tend to believe in the uncanny.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Michio Kaku: Genetic and digital immortality are within reach

Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.

Videos
  • Through the Connectome Project we may soon be able to map the pathways of the entire human brain, including memories, and create computer programs that evoke the person the digitization is stemmed from.
  • We age because errors build up in our cells — mitochondria to be exact.
  • With CRISPR technology we may soon be able to edit out errors that build up as we age, and extend the human lifespan.
Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Robot pizza delivery coming later this year from Domino's

The pizza giant Domino's partners with a Silicon Valley startup to start delivering pizza by robots.

Nuro
Technology & Innovation
  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: