Posted by: Tobias | August 9, 2008

Steven Pinker is a much smarter man than I am

In an interview in Salon, the Harvard psychologist says the following:

Q[UESTION]: I find it puzzling how the recent atheist manifestos by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have all turned into bestsellers in a country that’s overwhelmingly religious. According to various polls, half of all Americans believe the Bible is the literal truth. A recent Newsweek poll found that 91 percent believe in God. How do you explain the enormous popularity of these books?

PINKER: Part of it is that the people who buy books — at least that kind of highbrow trade book — are not a random sample of the population. The opinions sampled by these polls are probably soft. When people are asked a question, they don’t just turn a flashlight into their data bank of beliefs and read out what they see. When people say, “Yes, I believe in God and the Bible,” they’re kind of saying, “I’m a moral person. I have solidarity with the community of churchgoers that I was brought up in and that I currently belong to.” I think that if you were to probe a lot of people’s religious opinions, they would not be as religious as the numbers would suggest.

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Responses

  1. Good point: (once again) I am not very familiar with Newsweek and the quality of its surveys but it looks like to me as if the poll wasn’t very well constructed, I would say a good analyst would have pointed out to flaws in development stage of the survey. However this is easy to say when someone else makes the point before you think of it yourself.


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