January 23, 2012
It’s starting to look as if Newt Gingrich will be the Republican nominee. If so, this might be the first time two non-believers ran against each other for President of the United States.
Oh, that’s right: You still think Gingrich and Obama believe what’s written in the Christian Bible. I understand why you think that. After all, both men say they believe in god, and they do churchy things. The trouble is that Gingrich and Obama both set off my non-believerdar. (That’s like gaydar for non-believers.)
I’ll bet if you did a test in which you showed volunteers pictures of believers and non-believers, the volunteers could do better than chance in picking out the non-believers. That hypothesis isn’t too wild. There have been studies in which volunteers tried to identify political conservatives by photographs, and the volunteers beat chance. And at least one study says women can identify gay men just by looking at them.
You could also walk into a room and pick out the person who is most likely to be good at math. You wouldn’t be right every time, but if you saw a guy who looked like Dilbert, and a guy who looked like David Beckham, which one do you think could help you with your computer problem?
There’s a hypothesis that the ability to believe in God has a genetic basis. That hypothesis is far from proven, but the smart money says there is some truth to it because most mental capacities have a genetic component. There’s probably even a genetic basis for why my favorite color is green.
The skeptic in me takes with a grain of salt any study that purports to demonstrate the existence of gaydar or conservativedar or any other form of human radar. It’s hard to design a test involving humans that doesn’t have some leakage. And the people designing the tests might have agendas. So the strongest claim I can make about my non-believerdar is that it feels to me as if I can identify non-believers with an accuracy that is better than chance. But it’s just a feeling.
Based on what feels like the power of non-believerdar, my assumption is that both Gingrich and Obama believe in the utility of belief while remaining skeptical of the details, up to and including the existence of a supreme being. In other words, I see them as pragmatists. If you plan to be a politician in America, you need to pretend you believe. Everything about Gingrich and Obama tells me they look for solutions that make sense within the context of what is proven and practical.
What does your non-believerdar tell you about Gingrich and Obama? Do you think they believe in the supernatural, or do they pretend they believe for practical reasons?