This isn't a big shocker, really. But it was still surprising to read that people who don't believe in God actually are more likely to hold other unfounded beliefs, like aliens visiting Earth.
So says psychologist Clay Routledge in a New York Times piece, "Don't Believe in God? Maybe You'll Try U.F.O.s."
People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.
An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.
When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.
Well, I know quite a few atheists who don't believe in U.F.O.s or ghosts. This includes me and my wife. We get along just fine without either religion, or irrational fact-free substitutes for religion.
I'm not saying that everything we believe is true. Far from it. We simply do our best to put our faith in what is known to exist within the natural world, rather than embrace supernatural entities or far-fetched physical phenomena such as alien visitations.
I agree that we humans have a strong drive to find meaning in our lives. However, there are plenty of ways to do this other than those mentioned in in Routledge's essay.
Family. Friends. Volunteer work. Art. Civic activism. Politics. Nature. Gardening. One's profession. Writing. Meditation. To name just a few.
Routledge says we have a quest for significance. Agreed. I just disagree that believing in a religion or U.F.O's is a good way to feel that our lives have meaning. How about working to make this world a better place? Isn't that a significant thing to do?