Reasons to Believe

Does Naturalism Better Explain Hoaxes?

The recent Bigfoot hoax garnered enough public attention to warrant comment all over the Internet. A fascinating article titled, "Monsters, Ghosts and Gods: Why We Believe," cited several experts and their research in an attempt to explain why people believe in the paranormal (psychics, witches, telepathy, channeling) and in such creatures as the Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, or even the chupacabra.

Their analysis can be summarized by one comment: "Many people quite simply just want to believe."

One might expect that a good dose of education will cure the tendency. Not necessarily, according to study team member Rod Stark:

Perhaps amazingly, [paranormal beliefs] are not related at all to education. Ph.D.s are as likely as high school dropouts to believe in Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, etc."

Given that Christians believe in the supernatural, are they susceptible to paranormal beliefs? Baylor University sociologist Carson Mencken, whose national survey results will be published in 2009, said:

Among Christians, those who attend church very often (and are exposed to stigma and sacrifice within their congregations) are least likely to believe in the paranormal. Conversely, those Christians who do not attend church very often (maybe once or twice a year) are the most likely to hold paranormal beliefs.

Mencken also noted that naturalists do not believe in the paranormal because they don't believe in the supernatural. That brings to mind a question: Is naturalism the simplest—and therefore best—explanation for the paranormal? Occam's razor, which is considered a rule of thumb by which to analyze scientific theories, can be paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best."

Could a naturalist tell a Christian something to this effect?

Look, you believe in the supernatural so you have angels and demons in your theology. You may not believe in psychics or telepathy, but you have to sort these out one by one. I, on the other hand, can dismiss all belief in the paranormal or in fictional creatures as superstition that emerged during our evolution. My system is the simpler one, and therefore the most likely to hold scientific rigor.

What do you think?

Subjects: Naturalism