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.
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.
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Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.
- Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
- In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
A new paradigm for machine vision has just been demonstrated.
- Scientists have invented a way for a sheet of glass to perform neural computing.
- The glass uses light patterns to identify images without a computer or power.
- It's image recognition at the speed of light.
A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.
- The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
- The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
- It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
"A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain," Musk said, referring to tests of the device.
- Neuralink seeks to build a brain-machine interface that would connect human brains with computers.
- No tests have been performed in humans, but the company hopes to obtain FDA approval and begin human trials in 2020.
- Musk said the technology essentially provides humans the option of "merging with AI."