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Skeptic asks, why do people who abandon religion embrace superstition?

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Astrology Signs Chart From Denyse O’Leary at MercatorNet:

Belief in God is declining and belief in ghosts and witches is rising.

… It is a robust, longstanding phenomenon that liberals/progressives (especially millennials), including the “sciencey” ones, show more interest in occult ideas than others do. Is that counterintuitive, as many imply, or are we missing something? Vyse offers an interesting take:

So here’s the religion angle: It’s clearly not science that holds superstition in check in Western society. It’s traditional Western religion, which insists on transparent truths (truths that all may know) and forbids attempts at occult, secret truths. Vyse notes that traditionally religious people would be much less likely to resort to the occult following an electoral disaster. In a universe that is in fact run by transparent rather than occult forces, that enables them to adjust to adverse events, whatever they may believe about currently cool science issues like Darwinism or climate change. More.

See also: And now for something completely different… Darwinian PZ Myers laments the sad state of atheism today

43 Replies to “Skeptic asks, why do people who abandon religion embrace superstition?

  1. 1
  2. 2
    PaoloV says:

    True knowledge

    2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

    We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

    MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV):

    arguments. Thoughts, ideas, speculations, reasoning, philosophies, and false religions are the ideological forts in which men barricade themselves against God and the gospel

    Reformation Study Bible provided by Ligonier Ministries:

    every lofty opinion. False wisdom and sophisticated arguments were some of the weapons used by the servants of Satan in their attack against Paul. The apostle had earlier stressed the difference between the wisdom of the world and the spiritual wisdom of the cross, and he warned the Corinthians against being deluded by the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18–2:16). Now Paul sees that his opponents have made such inroads with their false wisdom that he must oppose it again in the strongest terms and, at the same time, regain the loyalty and obedience of the Corinthians.

    every thought captive. If every thought, then the whole person—our every idea, motive, desire, and decision—belongs to Christ.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    PaoloV says:

    No excuse.

    Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

    MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV):

    God has sovereignly planted evidence of His existence in the very nature of man by reason and moral law (1:20, 21, 28, 32; 2:15).

    invisible attributes. This refers specifically to the two mentioned in this verse.

    by the things that are made. The creation delivers a clear, unmistakable message about God’s person

    Reformation Study Bible provided by Ligonier Ministries:

    what can be known about God. Paul stresses the reality and universality of divine revelation, which is perpetual (“since the creation,” v. 20) and perspicuous (“clearly perceived,” v. 20). Divine invisibility, eternity, and power are all expressed in and through the created order (see “General Revelation” at Ps. 19:1). The invisible God is revealed through the visible medium of creation. This revelation is manifest; it is not obscured but clearly seen. See theological note “Mankind’s Guilty Knowledge of God.”

  5. 5
    Allan Keith says:

    It would be interesting to see people who never believed in religion have a higher incidence of believing in ghosts and witches. Is it possible that people who believe in religion, or who ceased to believe in religion, have some inner need to believe in the supernatural?

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    people who never believed in religion

    AK,

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this, but there is no human person of rational age who does not have religious beliefs.

    Andrew

  7. 7
    Allan Keith says:

    Hi Andrew, what I mean is whether people who have been agnostic or atheist for as long as they can remember, are more likely to believe in ghosts and witches, or whether this is more prevalent for people who were strongly religious and then lost their faith. In short, replacing their faith with something else.

    For example, I was not raised in any faith and I have never had any strong belief in any higher being, although I cannot rule it out. As well, I don’t believe in ghosts, witches, non-dying souls or astrology. Paranormal activity I am open to but, so far, none of the evidence for it is compelling. But, obviously, I can only speak for myself.

  8. 8
    PaoloV says:

    Allan Keith at 5:

    Using your own terminology, people who “believe in religion” are in major trouble.
    A religious zealot named Saul persecute the people of The Way in the first century of this age.
    In the name of religion Christ Jesus was crucified.
    All humans beings believe in something. Atheists strongly believe that there’s no God.
    Darwinists believe in fairytale just so stories.
    The only belief that matters at the end of the day is the genuine saving faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of our Lord.
    The rest is worthless.
    P. Verspi

  9. 9
    asauber says:

    I was not raised in any faith and I have never had any strong belief in any higher being

    AK,

    I’ll take your word for it, but I suspect that you have traded for strong beliefs in lesser beings.

    Andrew

  10. 10
    Nonlin.org says:

    Allan Keith,

    Atheism is a religion. Theism or a-theism is not what defines a religion – see Buddhism, Jainism, etc.

    Religion is just the sum of axiomatic beliefs one holds. And you do hold axiomatic beliefs.

  11. 11
    Allan Keith says:

    Nonlin,

    Atheism is a religion.

    Then why am I not given tax free status?

  12. 12
    asauber says:

    Then why am I not given tax free status?

    You don’t have a job or provide anything useful, so they figure it’s irrelevant. 😉

    Andrew

  13. 13
    bb says:

    AK,

    Then why am I not given tax free status?

    If you’re implying that individual Christians get one, your observational skills are lacking. Churches are tax exempt, and there are some Atheist churches, so there you go. Taxes have nothing to do with the issue.

  14. 14

    Atheism is indeed a religion, complete with its own set of dogmas and mythologies.

    Many a/mats, including most of the a/mat commentators on this site, are involved in their own sort of missionary work, obsessively visiting theistic sites to engage in arguments and spread their a/mat mythology.

    It is a fool’s errand, of course, but they seem to enjoy it.

  15. 15
    groovamos says:

    From reading the linked article I see that “News” is certain of what does and does not exist.

    I spent a few minutes writing on this thread: https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/why-millennials-and-liberals-turn-to-astrology/

    Where I explain the astrology plays no part in my CONSCIOUS life (iow that I know of) except to note that, paraphrasing:

    1) Materialist science can say almost nothing of the human unconscious.
    2) Mainstream conservative religion cannot say much more.

    Can religion be the basis to say that if one believes in God, one can be sure He placed no representation of the planetary system in the human psyche? Why? Because theologians of the West don’t approve of the possibility?

    In the linked thread I note the clinical evidence from deep psychotherapy of astrological information seen by people in induced visionary states, and these people see it as a metaphorical gift from God.

    I also mentioned that astrology has been a field of exploration in many civilizations in long past millenia in places like Egypt, Babylon, and the Indian subcontinent. Curious people would find that in itself interesting I would think. Conversely, to think we as moderns are more in tune and with our minds and intuition than the ancients would be baseless and frankly laughable.

    People who have studied anthropology and mythology have been open to the question of the metaphorical value of astrology. One of them was Joseph Campbell who cast his own horoscope and Carl Jung who wrote to the Hindu astrologer, B.V. Raman on the 6th of September of 1947. Jung wrote:

    “Since you want to know my opinion about astrology I can tell you that I’ve been interested in this particular activity of the human mind since more than 30 years. As I am a psychologist, I am chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope sheds on certain complications in the character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand. From such experiences I formed the opinion that astrology is of particular interest to the psychologist, since it contains a sort of psychological experience which we call ‘projected’ – this means that we find the psychological facts as it were in the constellations.”

    I’m going to end this with a reminder of the CSICOP scandal that saw half of its board members quit; came about over the organization conspiring to fraudulently debunk the Mars effect, probably the best statistical evidence in favor of astrology. Go look it up.

  16. 16
    polistra says:

    The distinction between transparent and hidden forces doesn’t correlate AT ALL with “religion” vs “superstition”. In fact it’s an inverse correlation.

    Biblical religion is full of mysteries and puzzles and unknowables, which are described as such in scriptures and sermons and songs.

    Astrology is perfectly open and observable. The process is strictly scientific and replicable. Anyone can read the star charts and draw the same conclusions based on well-formed rules and logical principles.

    The conclusions are often vague or wrong, but that’s NOT the question here.

  17. 17
    mike1962 says:

    Nonlin: Atheism is a religion.

    Allan Keith: Then why am I not given tax free status?

    Like any church, the IRS has granted atheist organizations tax exempt status in 2013. Although some atheists groups apparently resent the gesture:

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/aug/21/atheists-incensed-after-irs-grants-them-tax-exempt/

  18. 18
    Allan Keith says:

    Mike, it looks like someone at the IRS was trying to make a point.

    There is nothing wrong with atheist organizations having not for profit status, as many other organizations do. To call them a religion and their CEO’s ministers is rediculous. But, personally, I don’t care what they do. I really don’t see the point of atheist associations or organizations.

  19. 19
    PaoloV says:

    Atheism is a manifestation of a spiritually dead person.

  20. 20
    News says:

    Allan Keith and all, there is no reason an atheist organization could not have tax exempt status if it is a not-for-profit association organized around a belief. Some groups may find it convenient to call themselves a church because that is a ready-made sort of organization (they might offer an atheist chaplain to the armed forces, for example).

  21. 21
    Allan Keith says:

    News@20, I don’t disagree. I work for a not for profit in Canada. All that means is that the work you do is for the public good. This applies to amateur sports associations, yoga clubs and publicly run golf courses.

    If I were a church or religious organization, I would be offended by those who equate atheism with religion. I do not begrudge most religions having their tax free status (Westboro excepted). Most do amazing work. Work that may not be done without them (eg, Salvation Army). What charities and good works are atheist associations involved with? None. That is why I am confused as to the rationale of religious people claiming that atheism is a religion.

  22. 22
    Seversky says:

    mike1962 @ 17

    Like any church, the IRS has granted atheist organizations tax exempt status in 2013

    I’m wondering if that grew out of this decision.

  23. 23
    Seversky says:

    Nonlin.org @ 10

    Atheism is a religion.

    No, it isn’t. As someone once said, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Atheism doesn’t build places of worship such as churches, temples, mosques or synagogues. It doesn’t hold regular services or other forms of religious observance. It doesn’t have a formal doctrine or set of principles or holy text. It doesn’t prescribe how its adherents should behave. Atheism is not theism, nonbelief is not belief, irreligious is not the same as religious.

    If you want to stretch the meaning of religion to encompass any sort of shared belief you certainly can. You could say supporting a particular football team is a religion or being a fan of a rock band is a religion. You could say me being a Trekkie or a fan of Star Wars is a religion. ( Actually, I think I could go with Jedi Knight as my faith at a push. Or Pastafarian) The problem is, though, if you make the meaning of a word too elastic. It eventually loses all meaning.

    The fact is you need a word for someone who is not a follower of any organized faith and does not share any of their beliefs. Atheist does as well as any other word although non-believer of freethinker also work.

  24. 24
    Allan Keith says:

    Sev,

    No, it isn’t. As someone once said, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    Are you demeaning the hobby of not collecting stamps? I am very proud of the stamps I haven’t collected. In fact, I would humbly claim that I have the best collection of stamps never collected. 🙂

  25. 25
    PaoloV says:

    Atheism is a manifestation of spiritually dead people.

  26. 26
    Allan Keith says:

    PaoloV,

    Atheism is a manifestation of spiritually dead people.

    Quite possibly. But if there is no god, what does that make those who blindly follow it? Delusional?

  27. 27
    Charles Birch says:

    I’ve never been very convinced by the notion that atheism is ‘not a belief’. That seems more like a dodge to me.

    Would an atheist be convinced by a theist who, asked to justify his beliefs, simply replied:

    “Theism is not a belief, it’s just the lack of belief in atheism”. ?

    Further, if atheism is not a belief, why do atheists spend so much time discussing their non belief?

    It’s a bit like non-believers in purple flying camels setting up websites to discuss the nonexistence of purple flying camels.

    Of course, it might be argued that a lot of people DO believe in purple flying camels and need to have rational “a-camellers” persuade them otherwise. However, in reality most rational people would just assume that the camel believers were nuts and would simply ignore them and get on with their lives.

  28. 28
    kairosfocus says:

    CB, insofar as atheistical belief that one “knows” that there is no God is a facet of a broader worldview or ideology it is indeed a belief. What has been rhetorically exploited is three things: [1] belief is frequently tied to theism, [2] many imagine that theism is poorly founded, [3] many do not realise that knowledge (esp. soft form) is a species of belief — warranted, credibly true and reliable belief may legitimately be deemed knowledge and that is what most of our working knowledge is. So, the not belief claim functions rhetorically, not on substantial rational reflection. The atheistical knowledge claim, ironically, is far weaker than most atheists imagine, is very much a belief, and has little basis for claiming to be knowledge. By contrast, across time and today, millions have met, come to know and have their lives transformed through encounter with the living God. That’s one of the points of difficulty for atheism, it is reduced to suggesting or implying a degree of mass delusion that is implausible to the point of being bigotry against theists. KF

  29. 29
    asauber says:

    It doesn’t have a formal doctrine or set of principles

    But it does have doctrine and principles.

    And everyone already knows this.

    Andrew

  30. 30
    mike1962 says:

    Seversky: As someone once said, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    However, when atheists organize into a group for the purpose of “support” and promoting their atheist beliefs, that’s another matter. I don’t know too many people who organize around not-stamp-collecting.

  31. 31
    eddified says:

    Allan Keith, I suspect you are a polyathiest with a hidden agenda:

    https://i.redd.it/folpip0wr9zy.jpg

    (Relax, it’s a joke)

  32. 32
    Charles Birch says:

    mike1962 @ 30

    Nor do non-stamp collectors spend many hours online, arguing the virtues of non-stamp collecting with stamp collectors.

    Nor do non-stamp collectors write books with titles such as ‘The Stamp Collecting Delusion’.

  33. 33
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, the Spartans used to respond to such hypotheticals: “If.” KF

  34. 34
    groovamos says:

    Mike and Charles — ha good ones. Gonna take Seversky some time to come up with a knee slapper to put those down.

  35. 35
    ScuzzaMan says:

    Atheism is indeed a religion, complete with its own set of dogmas and mythologies.

    And its own Grand Inquisition and volunteer crusaders seeking Darwin’s glory in the blood of heretics …

  36. 36
    Seversky says:

    Charles Birch @ 32

    Nor do non-stamp collectors write books with titles such as ‘The Stamp Collecting Delusion’.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of such a book, working title “Philately Will Get You Nowhere”.

  37. 37
    Seversky says:

    Charles Birch @ 27

    I’ve never been very convinced by the notion that atheism is ‘not a belief’. That seems more like a dodge to me.

    On the other hand, saying that theism or nonbelief in a God is the same as its negation, atheism or non-belief, sounds like a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction to me.

  38. 38
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, pardon but you are not seeing the significance of ideologies or worldviews; by our nature we are forced to have some sort of world picture, typically one of the live options supported in one’s culture (even on a minority basis). In this context, disbelief that there is a God who is Creator and the root of good etc is not normally an isolated belief, it is usually coupled to something like evolutionary materialism and to scientism, given patterns in our civilisation. It is the wider pattern that holds the functional equivalent to a religion and it is the framework that makes such disbelief seem plausible and socially viable. KF

  39. 39
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Evolutionary materialistic scientism is a capital example of how plausibility and social viability are not equivalent to soundness — the problem highlighted by Plato’s Parable of the Cave, with long term consequences highlighted by his Parable of the Ship of State. For, scientism on even simple consideration is self-refuting: the claim that in effect science circumscribes knowledge is a knowledge claim and it is an epistemological thus philosophical claim. It undercuts itself, though it seems plausible given how we are taught and socially reinforced to have a high view of science. Evolutionary materialism is materially similar, it is unable to bridge the gap between essentially mechanical computation and rational, responsible, significantly free contemplation required to have a reliable mind and thought life that credibly reasons, warrants, knows, decides etc. Similarly, it undermines morality, thus the moral government of our thought life through duties to truth, logic, prudence, justice and fairness etc. This is because it has no world-root level IS that bridges to OUGHT. As a result, it invites views that boil down to might and manipulation make right, rights, truth etc in the community. This has been borne out repeatedly by history, especially over the past several generations.

  40. 40
    ET says:

    Is Atheism a Religion?:

    Contemporary Western Atheism unquestionably has six of the seven dimensions of religion set forth by Smart, and the remaining dimension, ritual, has also started to develop. Thus it’s fallacious to assert, “Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair colour”. Perhaps a better analogy would be calling a shaved head a ‘hairstyle’. Other than the denial of the divine, there is little difference between Atheism and other worldviews typically labelled as religions.

  41. 41
    asauber says:

    the remaining dimension, ritual, has also started to develop

    Displays of hostility towards Christians?

    Already here.

    Andrew

  42. 42
    Mung says:

    Good one Andrew. 🙂

  43. 43
    Nonlin.org says:

    Seversky@23,

    Of course atheism is a religion. As explained:
    “Theism or a-theism is not what defines a religion – see Buddhism, Jainism, etc.

    Religion is just the sum of axiomatic beliefs one holds. And you do hold axiomatic beliefs.”

    All those other behaviors you list not only apply to atheism as well, but are also just ancillary. Now, if you want to address what I said, be my guest. Who knows maybe you have some valid counterarguments (unlikely).

    And get rid of the “stamp hobby” canned answer – it’s way past expiration date.

    Sports, rock band, etc. are not axiomatic beliefs. Do you get the difference?

    Furthermore (this will give you nausea):http://nonlin.org/philosophy-religion-and-science/

    Science = Observation + Assumptions, Facts Selection, Extrapolations, Interpretations…

    Assumptions, Facts Selection, Extrapolations,

    Interpretations… = Sum of Axiomatic Beliefs

    Sum of Axiomatic Beliefs = Religion …therefore,

    Science = Observation + Religion

    And of course you are “a follower of an organized faith and share their beliefs” – that’s what makes you an atheist and not just sports fan.

    You’re too easy: http://nonlin.org/atheism/

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