Pharyngula

I see stupid people

Halloween is coming, and you can enjoy the haunted house theme of the 78th Carnival of the Godless.The Quackometer tells us that we’ve been very naughty boys and girls, and of course it’s perfectly natural at this time of year to hang around in the Boneyard. That’s nothing, however, I have something far more terrifying to show you.

Yesterday, I naively asked how stupid the Discovery Institute thinks people are. This was a mistake. I suspect the Discovery Institute thinks people are pretty darned stupid. Worse, I’m afraid they might be right.

Both Orac and Mark note the recent series of mind-numbingly credulous articles from CNN. One reports that a third of people believe in ghosts, which is horrific enough, but then CNN has to go and pander to their gullible demographic and publish an article on what to do if your house has ghosts. Their final answer: get an exorcism done, or learn to live with the spirits. Gah.

Here’s one factoid that burned me, though, and made me cringe deep inside.

The most likely candidates for ghostly visits include single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services. By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.

Liberals do have an unpleasant infestation of New Agey nonsense in our midst, and I knew that…but non-church-goers also swallow that nonsense? Just more evidence that the sets of the superstitious and the religious are not equal.

And then Greg Laden has to remind us all of another frightening fact, that one third of the life science teachers in Minnesota are creationists.

So it looks like the answer is that about a third of the American population, spread across the political spectrum, is mostly hopeless, and that should terrify you all.

Comments

  1. #1 John Danley
    October 28, 2007

    You should see the spooky D’Souza masks available this Halloween:

    http://thestubborncurmudgeon.blogspot.com

  2. #2 Buffybot
    October 28, 2007

    Non-churchgoing doesn’t necessarily mean non-religious. This may be definition that only exists in my mind, but I interpret that as vague believers who don’t go to services. I thought that this might be a case of whatever pastor they dredged up and interviewed trying to scare the lapsed back into the pews by hinting that if you don’t bother turning up on Sunday, God will send something to haunt you.

  3. #3 Richard Harris
    October 28, 2007

    “What to do if your house has ghosts”. Hey, see a psychiatrist. Trouble is, (… one third of the life science teachers in Minnesota are creationists.), some of them probably believe this crap, too.

  4. #4 Buffybot
    October 28, 2007

    OT mind-numbing credulity/misuse of biology/exploitive bullshit:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2185358,00.html

    Amazing crime-detecting gizmo has both DNA and quantum physics. How could it not be effective?

  5. #5 Texas Reader
    October 28, 2007

    On CNN this a.m. Wolf Blitzer asked Huckabee if he believed in creationism or evolution. Huckabee skirted the issue by saying her believes in science but “like most of the American people” does not believe the universe emerged at random. I bet his campaign spent quite a bit of time coming up with this straddle-the-fence approach.

  6. #6 QrazyQat
    October 28, 2007

    About a year ago I was watching the local news and there were two stories that caught my eye. One was about a message in a bottle that washed up on the shore of Vancouver Island. The bottle and message were apparently from Europe. The news report was skeptical, they interviewed an expert on ocean currents who noted that it seemed unlikely to be able to have gotten from there to here, especially in the time the message indicated. They closed with the likely possibility that it had been dropped by a European visitor on one of the many ferries or cruise ships that go by the area it was found.

    10 minutes later they had a story on a local “haunted” mansion — completely credulous.

    Amazing how people can just turn off their brains…. sure, mine has a dimmer switch, but the only off switch seems to be the Big One that trips at the end.

  7. #7 dae
    October 28, 2007

    Come on PZ. No wonder the fundies (of whatever sort, including new agers) have so much mojo. No ghosts, no angels, no devils. What kind of dull Halloween do you guys want? Lame Coultergeist and Darth Chaney masks?

  8. #8 nunatak
    October 28, 2007

    This calls for some White Stripes. C’mon everybody, nice ‘n’ loud, so that the rousing sound of jubilant burlesque can be heard all the way to Colorado, home of the truly spooky Hell House!

    One, two, three:

    Little ghost, little ghost
    One I’m scared of the most
    Can you scare me up a little bit of love?
    I’m the only one that sees you,
    And I can’t do much to please you
    And it’s not yet time to meet the lord above

    The first moment that I met her
    I did not expect a specter
    When I shook her hand I really shook a glove
    She looked into me so sweetly
    And we left the room discreetly
    No one else could know the secret of our love

    (Chorus )

    Every morning I awoke
    And I see my little ghost
    Wondering if it’s really her that’s lying there
    I lean to touch her and I whisper
    But not brave enough to kiss her
    When I held her I was really holding air

    (Chorus)

    Though I tried my best to keep it
    There really was no secret
    Must have looked like I was dancing with the wall
    No one else could see this apparition
    But because of my condition
    I fell in love with a little ghost and that was all

    (Chorus)

  9. #9 JeffG
    October 28, 2007

    This is why we should NEVER define our cause (or allow others to define our cause) as merely anti-religious. Idiocy has too many labels to limit our scope.

    We are pro-rationality.

  10. #10 Graculus
    October 28, 2007

    “What to do if your house has ghosts”. Hey, see a psychiatrist.

    Actually, if you are having a “classic” haunting, it is likely to be real. Just not supernatural.

    Ghosts and infrasonics

    Cold chills, paranoia, spectral shapes… and 19 Hz sound waves.

  11. #11 blf
    October 28, 2007

    That silly story in The Observer about a magic box which locates people by using GPS and a DNA sample (#4) was debunked by The Guardian‘s Ben Goldacre, After Madeleine, why not Bin Laden?

    The Observer, which is the Sunday sister paper to the much better Grauniad, published a correction, (also from Dr Goldacre’s Bad Science site) Stylish correction from the Observer readers’ editor.

  12. #12 Jon H
    October 28, 2007

    I’ll second Buffybot.

    For one, a lot of people self-describe as ‘spiritual but not religious’, which covers everyone from crystal-waving New Agers to the weakly agnostic who have a strong sensawunda. I’m not sure what church they would go to if they were so inclined.

  13. #13 Ken Cope
    October 28, 2007

    Right you are, Graculus, but anybody who read The Secret of Terror Castle, with Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, could have told you that.

    Jupiter Jones!

  14. #14 H. Humbert
    October 28, 2007

    So it looks like the answer is that about a third of the American population, spread across the political spectrum, is mostly hopeless, and that should terrify you all.

    You think? I read that as two-thirds spread across the political spectrum is hopeless. One-third believes in ghosts and hauntings, one-third doesn’t because Jaysus wouldn’t let dead people come back (demons are real though), leaving a mere one-third who doesn’t believe in ghosts or creationism.

  15. #15 Jeff Alexander
    October 28, 2007

    So it looks like the answer is that about a third of the American population, spread across the political spectrum, is mostly hopeless, and that should terrify you all.

    I’m too much of an optimist for that. I’d wager that with some proper education and indoctrination the number could be decreased. They’re not all hopeless, just misguided.

  16. #16 ScienceBreath
    October 28, 2007

    Ken Cope, you’ve written a name I haven’t seen since my childhood in the 60s and 70s. I remember desperately wanting to be in Jupiter Jones’s gang, along with Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews. Man, I loved those books.

  17. #17 raven
    October 28, 2007

    Lighten up a little. It is almost Halloween and these ghost stories are part of the holiday. That many people believe them is not the least surprising.

    It is also time for the fundies to start screaming and yelling about how celebrating Halloween is bad, evil, and generally not a good idea. Their attack on science is serious but the attack on Halloween is just part of the Fall season. The fact that Halloween terrifies them tells anyone that they believe in ghosts, demons, zombies, vampires, and all the rest of the traditional holiday characters.

  18. #18 JFlav
    October 28, 2007

    So it looks like the answer is that about a third of the American population, spread across the political spectrum, is mostly hopeless, and that should terrify you all.

    Well, at least it’s not half.

  19. #19 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 28, 2007

    […] the Discovery Institute […] I’m afraid they might be right.

    LEADING EVILUTIONIST IS AFRAID DISCOVERY INSTITUTE “MIGHT BE RIGHT”!!!1! Brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Quotemine Generator®.

    ———-

    The 19 Hz infrasound is very interesting.

    ———-

    bad, evil, and generally not a good idea.

    LOL!

  20. #20 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 28, 2007

    […] the Discovery Institute […] I’m afraid they might be right.

    LEADING EVILUTIONIST IS AFRAID DISCOVERY INSTITUTE “MIGHT BE RIGHT”!!!1! Brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Quotemine Generator®.

    ———-

    The 19 Hz infrasound is very interesting.

    ———-

    bad, evil, and generally not a good idea.

    LOL!

  21. #21 Skemono
    October 28, 2007

    The most likely candidates for ghostly visits include single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services.

    Um… why Catholics in particular? Anyone know anything about Catholic theology that makes them more gullible about this sort of thing than Protestants or Jews or anyone else?

  22. #22 Sean
    October 28, 2007

    Preconditioned to accept manifestations from the Beyond by years of Virgin Mary images in stumps, drywall, cheese sandwiches, tortillas and cat butt fur?

    I would like more detailed numbers on the subject. What kind of overlap is there between the ghost folk and the angel believers? Do evangelical Protestants get the same goosebump sensation as the ghost folk, but just chalk it up to passing demons?

  23. #23 Uber
    October 28, 2007

    Um… why Catholics in particular? Anyone know anything about Catholic theology that makes them more gullible about this sort of thing than Protestants or Jews or anyone else?

    I would guess all the bizarre rituals inherent to it and the more than a hat tip to people returning in the form of saints and/or virgins. Protestants don’t deal with the sheer amount of hooey your expected to swallon in RCC. All their rituals have a spooky halloweeny feel.

  24. #24 Jon H
    October 28, 2007

    “Anyone know anything about Catholic theology that makes them more gullible about this sort of thing than Protestants or Jews or anyone else?”

    Guilt over the years spent consuming the flesh of a dead man?

  25. #25 foxfire
    October 28, 2007

    You want to see something really scary? Watch an episode or two of the Discovery Channel “A Haunting” series:

    http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/haunting/haunting.html

    The general theme is a family moves into a “new” house while experiencing monetary/health/family/other issues and doesn’t even consider stress as an explanation of why they think the faucet turned itself on or why the floorboard creaked (or why one of their kids is freaking out). The “new” house part meaning they just spent months busting their ass fixing it up while they also lived in it or waited for it to get fixed up while living with onerous relatives/friends/whatever.

    So, first choice at a possible stress-related psychological hallucination is: IT’S A DEMON. GET A PRIEST/RABBI/SHAMAN.

    The truly scary thing I find about all this is that the supernatural nonsense appears on the “Discovery Channel”. Oh well, we have ghost hunters on Sci-Fi… what’s next: A rebroadcast of the PBS “Evolution” series on the “Chill” Channel?

  26. #26 DLC
    October 28, 2007

    Ken Cope & Sciencebreath : Okay, you caught me… I still have about a half-dozen Three Investigators books.

    Re: Catholics and “More Woo.”
    Most Protestant or evangelical denominations do not include
    specific ritual for de-ghosting an area, although some of the sects do have some strange practices.

    Re: belief in Woo, in general. : many otherwise rational people believe in such things. I suspect that many of them have not indulged in a critical examination of the facts, simply wishing for such things to be mysterious.

  27. #27 Ken Cope
    October 29, 2007

    Re: Three Investigators books…1964…

    There was only a narrow window for me to read any of those. I could only have read a couple of them before moving on to other reading challenges. I’d already read two generations of Tom Swift books (from Tom Swift and his Air Glider through Tom Swift and his 3-D Telejector) and all the Hardy Boys mysteries (with some Freddie the Pig in there too), Baum and Thompson’s Oz books and even Narnia, while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles (first editions inherited from an aunt, pitched, by one of the ‘rents, “because they were old”). And then, there were all the Heinlein and Asimov juveniles to work through then.

    Nonetheless, that under 20hz pipe organ in Terror Castle stuck with me. I remember plugging in my first subwoofer for home theater (7.1 JBLs these days) and noticing it didn’t go below 20hz, and being disappointed.

  28. #28 Steve P.
    October 29, 2007

    Isn’t 1/3 also about the number of people who still support Bush?

  29. #29 Peter Ashby
    October 29, 2007

    Yes, yes Ken Cope, but did the gain go up to 11?

  30. #30 Ken Cope
    October 29, 2007

    …did the gain go up to 11?

    If the bass had gone down to 11, that would have been a frighteningly Big Bottom.

  31. #31 Arnosium Upinarum
    November 1, 2007

    PZ says, “Just more evidence that the sets of the superstitious and the religious are not equal.”

    Hmmm…that bothers me a bit. It’s easy to construe the meaning of that sentence in highly different ways.

    All superstition may not be religion, but all religion is certainly superstition. They may not be “equal”, but neither are they separated sets. One specific (religion) is a subset of the other more general category (superstition).

    There is a simple explanation for why it appears that many religious people reject other superstitions. If a person adopts a particular religion they will very often quite naturally reject other superstitions just as easily as they reject other religions. It’s often part of the religious culture to do so. But it’s also a deeper routine that runs in human cultures generally: if one selects a “winning” superstition, it means that all the other competing superstitions lost out.

    (Yet another realm in which “natural selection” operates…and the players in the operation are utterly oblivious to it).

    In other words, especially amongst fun-demented-alists and evil-angelicals, a religion is simply a formal superstition which discriminates against rival superstitions, including other religions. It’s just an elaborate and popular superstition with a territorial attitude, and that’s why they so often regard atheism as a rival “belief”.

  32. #32 tus
    March 12, 2008

    i think some people just take horror stories too far.

    i dont mind people beliving in ghost mosts of the time…exorcism is a bit much…esspecialy when its done for possession. this bit of magic ritual still exists…and it would have all but disapeared were it not for “the exorcist” which is a sad thing in and of itself..

    ghost stories are nice, like any kind of fantasy it can be fun, ammusing, sometimes even thought provoking. im a fan of fantasy..but im also a fan of realizing that it IS fantasy…its easy to get pulled into it, to lose oneself to fantasy, to blend reality and fantasy…and sometimes good things come from it, nice works of fiction (some of which piss off religious people like harry potter…ironic i think…followers of one form of fantasy acting against another…) most fantasy writers are at least to some level detached from reality, they see things a bit differently, and the readers get pulled into this world and sepperate themselves, if only for a while…some just dont come back…

    its a tough one this, that sense of wonder and enjoyment which comes from a nice fantasy is good, the detachment from reality can be beneficial…but its also bad at the same time…

    for most cases though…its not too bad, japan has some of the smarter people in the world, are a leader in industry…cant speak to philosophy but certainly a great contributor to science…but still one of the most superstitious of the developed countries. most people would say they believe in ghosts…but would conceed not too seriously. more of a…blind acceptance but skeptical when pushed to answer. religious ritual is frequent but actual importance of religion is considered low.
    an interesting median.

    sometimes i like to entertain the prospect of a ghost in the house, just for fun. develop a method of communication and automate it through a computer and hook it into a text input program and run that through a text to speech program…have a friendly conversation.
    but thats just because im wierd and that idea ammuses me some. ^_^

    if asked i would certainly say no, i do not believe in ghosts…nor dragons, magic, or fairies…but i still love reading about them, and i love the legend of zelda.

    i think most just take it a level further. no real surprise actually, it just means an even greater level of interest in the subject, its what most would experience but a bit further.

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