Witchcraft Evolves, Says New Study
Survey tries to pin witchcraft on religiosity,
but if it evolves, a Darwinist must conclude it improves the fitness of a group
Just when you thought Halloween was over for the year 2022, a paper on witchcraft shows up for Thanksgiving Eve. It claims that belief in witchcraft is widespread around the world, and is correlated with religiosity but not with science. Some definitions and distinctions are in order.
Witchcraft beliefs around the world: An exploratory analysis (Gershman, PLoS One, 23 Nov 2022). This is the original paper. An economist at American University, Boris Gershman, defines witchcraft as “an ability of certain people to intentionally cause harm via supernatural means.” His broad definition of witchcraft allows him to lump all religions, including Christianity, Islam, animism and Hinduism into proponents of this superstition.
Our individual-level analysis shows that witchcraft beliefs cut across socio-demographic groups and are negatively associated with age, education, and material well-being. Furthermore, witchcraft beliefs are positively correlated with belief in god and religiosity, but affiliation with Christianity (versus Islam) does not make a significant difference.
Although Gershman sees explanations for witchcraft as “complicated,” he presents it as correlated with “belief in god and religiosity” in contrast to trust in science and education.
According to standard modernization theory, witchcraft beliefs should decline in the process of development due to improved security and health, lower exposure to shocks, spread of education and scientific approach to explaining life events.
Notably, Gershman never capitalizes “god” which suggests he embraces the materialistic viewpoint that considers every theological category as equally superstitious, while science is not. And yet, oddly, he endorses the common idea from evolutionary sociology that witchcraft evolved as a coping mechanism:
In her seminal paper quoted in the epigraph, Monica Hunter Wilson argued that comparative cross-cultural studies linking witchcraft beliefs to various aspects of societies are essential for understanding the purpose and evolution of these “standardized nightmares.” This paper conducts such a comparative analysis of contemporary witchcraft beliefs at the global scale and reveals their robust association with many individual and country-level characteristics. Consistent with ethnographic evidence on their functional role in maintaining social order, witchcraft beliefs are positively related to conformist culture and are particularly widespread in countries with weak institutions. Witchcraft beliefs are also correlated with exposure to certain shocks such as agricultural drought and unemployment and may provide a coping mechanism for dealing with misfortunes.
Societies with “strong institutions” for education, science and economic progress, his analysis claims, are less likely to have widespread belief in witchcraft. Gershman never considers the influence of Christianity in stopping superstition and advancing science.
There have been notable setbacks in Christian history, such as the Salem witch trials, where 20 accused witches were hanged (not burned at the stake – a common myth; see Live Science), but it was also Christians who argued for stopping the trials (Wallbuilders.com). Christianity attributes witchcraft to Satan, a character Gershman never mentions.
Gershman does acknowledge the beneficial (“prosocial”) religions that feature “moralizing high gods”:
In general, the apparent coexistence of witchcraft beliefs, poor social relations, and pessimistic worldview may be seen as a “cultural package” of mutually reinforcing antisocial beliefs and norms. This stands in sharp contrast to the prosocial cultural package typically associated with religions featuring moralizing high gods.
His reference for that statement is, however, a 2016 paper on “The cultural evolution of prosocial religions.” So if Christianity held out any benefits in cultural evolution, it was purely because of natural selection, not because of true doctrinal teachings.
Which Witch Is Which?
The media jumped onto this study with astonishment without critiquing Gershman’s own worldview assumptions, definitions or explanations.
Witchcraft beliefs are widespread, highly variable around the world, study finds (Science Daily, 23 Nov 2022). This is a copy of the press release from PLoS. It merely summarizes the paper’s results of Pew surveys of 140,000 people from 95 countries and territories between 2008 and 2017.
According to the dataset, over 40 percent of survey participants said they believe that “certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.”Witchcraft beliefs appear to exist around the world but vary substantially between countries and within world regions. For instance, 9 percent of participants in Sweden reported belief in witchcraft, compared to 90 percent in Tunisia.
Using this dataset, Gershman then conducted an investigation of various individual-level factors associated with witchcraft beliefs. This analysis suggests that, while beliefs cut across socio-demographic groups, people with higher levels of education and economic security are less likely to believe in witchcraft.
4 in 10 people worldwide believe in witches (Live Science, 23 Nov 2022). Tia Ghose finds this paper useful to knock religion. In one snarky remark, she says, “unsurprisingly, those who were religious tended to be more likely to believe that some humans possess magical powers” (see Glittering Generalities fallacy in the Baloney Detector).
Belief in witchcraft may be as old as humanity itself. England’s oldest cave art, for instance, may be “witch marks” etched to ward off evil spirits, while the oldest written instance of the Hebrew name of God is found on a 3,200-year-old “curse tablet,” meant to hex someone who broke a vow. The notion that humans can cast curses is present in most major world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, a 2021 Pew Research Center survey found.
Nowhere do these authors hint that materialism itself might have some supernatural beliefs and curses.
The Source and Influence of Witchcraft
Witchcraft is often portrayed as a “nature religion” but that is deceptive. It would not exist without Satan.
What the devil? Satan club to start meeting in ELEMENTARY school! (Bob Unruh, WND, 23 Nov 2022).
An elementary school in California will allow an “After School Satan Club” to begin meeting in its facilities starting in December, according to reports.
The clubs are sponsored by The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Massachusetts, and have been set up specifically to oppose a number of Christian organizations that hold meetings for children who wish to attend after school hours.
The Satan Club excuses its program based on Supreme Court decisions that require nondiscrimination in matters of religion. If Christians can hold a Good News Club on school grounds, then Satanists can hold a Satan Club. The Superintendent said, “If we allow one organization, we must allow all organizations, provided they satisfy the conditions and application requirements as set forth in Policy 707.”
They expect to offer this club to juniors at Golden Hills Elementary School in Tehachapi, about 115 miles north of Los Angeles, starting monthly gatherings on December 5. Most parents, naturally, give this program the evil eye. “The school system is going to hell,” a report at the New York Post said, noting parent’s outrage, calling the idea “sick” and “disgusting.”
To soothe parents’ outrage, the Satanic Temple presents itself as a natural, scientific approach to just “help” the grade schoolers. What could be nicer than a little Satanism for your health?
In the report, Paul Hicks, a volunteer for the Satan Club, claimed he was “not teaching these kids that they need to hail Satan or identify as Satanists. What we’re doing is we’re thinking critical thinking, we’re teaching science, we’re teaching empathy.”
Online, Joe Lathrop noted, “So several people have told me that the new Satan after school club at Golden Hills elementary is not a religion, but a philosophy club … Then why did they choose Satan? … Why not the Jean Paul Satre existentialism club? Why not the Descartes club?”
And yet the New York Post article displayed the club’s logo with a cartoon of Satan in the center, complete with horns and evil eye. They quoted Lathrop, a concerned citizen, drawing this explanation for the school’s submission to the Satanic Temple:
He added, “They put Satan in the name for a reason. People should stop being intellectually dishonest and just own up to the fact that they want kids to worship Satan as a secular god.”
The club’s spokesperson and co-founder justifies the club as voluntary: “Nobody has to engage with it who doesn’t want to, and children are going to need to have permission slips signed by their parents to have any involvement at all.” A similar proposal for an After School Satan Club was rejected last April by an elementary school in Pennsylvania, the report says.
Schools around the country already have Satan clubs, and attendance is mandatory. It’s called science class.* In public school science classes, kiddos and teens are taught magical spells: the spirit of Darwin hovers over the surface of the primordial soup, and life emerges. Then when life strives for upward progress, conflict and competition casts an evil eye on the struggle for existence, but the hero—natural selection—overcomes and wins the battle for fitness. After billions of years, the pinnacle of evolution—the human brain—emerges, promising godlike powers. But the heroic gods must battle through thickets of religion and superstition to fulfill their potential. Once enlightenment evolves, the fittest become science teachers and professors who can retrace the path that brought them to godhood. But the battle is never done. To maintain their fitness, these pinnacles of evolution must wield the sword of censorship against those remnants of past superstitious ways—the creationists.
*Before getting bent out of shape, evolutionists, we’re speaking of origins science. We love operational science that concerns itself with observing and explaining how things work.
Gershman’s definition commits the Association Fallacy. It lumps all religions into a toxic stew of contradictory beliefs that cannot be sustained. Before evolutionary sociologists started messing with history and portraying religion in evolutionary terms, the distinction was clear: Judaism and Christianity followed the true God, but witchcraft was a tool of wicked people who followed the usurper—Satan. Satan was a fallen angel, created along with all the other angels but cursed for rebellion. Henry Morris, Jr., the founder of modern creationism, opined that Satan is an evolutionist. Morris proposed that Satan believes that the true God just happened to evolve before he did. Admiring his own magnificence that was bestowed on him, and visualizing the possibility of becoming just as powerful as his “evolutionary ancestor” (as God might be described in his twisted imagination), Lucifer (now Satan) exalted himself and thought, “I will be like the Most High.” When he tempted the first human pair, that’s when all the world’s troubles began: God allowed the human pair to follow their chosen “god of this world” for a time. But what Satan didn’t know was that God’s master plan for redemption of the human race was already worked out. A “seed” would destroy the serpent’s head, and that seed was Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, Satan is the father of lies, deception, temptation, pain, suffering, and every kind of evil. The God who Made All Things is just, powerful, wise, compassionate, loving, merciful and gracious. No two beings more opposite could be imagined. Should Gershman lump these two into a category of “gods”? He could just as well combine poison with life-saving medicine and call it “therapy.”
Assuming Gershman shares the materialist evolutionary philosophy that is nearly universal in academia, what he fails to realize is that everyone believes in the supernatural, and every one believes in miracles. We’ve explained this numerous times. Thoughts are supernatural. Logic is supernatural (i.e., not comprised of mindless particles and forces). Truth is supernatural. Morality is supernatural. Every word Gershman wrote relies on these supernatural things, which cannot evolve without disintegrating. He states propositions, which he intends for his readers to take as honest. Additionally, he expects his readers to believe that truth is good, and that his motives and intents for his research are moral and noble. If we read his paper as the work of an evolutionist, though, we might conclude otherwise. Perhaps his selfish genes co-opted his neurons to deceive us with clever signals in order to compete against us and prove his fitness.
Gershman, if a typical evolutionist, also believes in miracles. He believes that life emerged by chance, and that his brain emerged through a long process of mistakes by chance. Those are miracles beyond preposterous. They are mathematically so improbable as to be considered insane. The point is that materialists believe in miracles. So which miracles will you believe in: miracles of chance that are insanely improbable, or miracles performed for a purpose by the mind and power of the ultimate Intelligent Designer?
Gershman failed to distinguish between curses and witchcraft. The Bible speaks of divine curses. God cursed the first human pair for their disobedience and allegiance to Satan. The true God used some of his human agents to curse unbelievers or mockers. Moses wrote the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. Elisha cursed the young men mocking his station as the prophet of God. Jesus cursed a fig tree to teach an object lesson. Paul cursed Elymas the sorcerer with blindness when the sorcerer was distracting Sergius Paulus from listening to the gospel (Acts 13). Those supernatural curses were not for selfish gain or for hire (like Balaam’s), but were for the purpose of preventing distractions from the truth and authenticating the messenger. The prophets and apostles did not have supernatural powers in themselves; they trusted in the living God who had chosen them and was working through them for ultimate good. The few instances of curses in the Bible (including the text alluded to in Live Science) were always for preventing evil, and are overwhelmed by the beneficial miracles for healing and salvation wrought by Elijah, Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles.
Moreover, the Bible pronounces judgment in no uncertain terms on the wicked practices of diviners, soothsayers, astrologers, fortunetellers, mediums, necromancers, and all followers of Satan. Why? In love, God wishes to prevent people from being entrapped by the father of lies and sharing his fate in hell. That’s why the Mosaic Law (for Israel, not a universal law) said that a witch should not be allowed to live, because God knew that witchcraft would turn the hearts of the new nation of Israel to false gods. The Creator does not want us to allow the father of lies to tempt us into error, but rather to seek truth.
Jesus located the temptation to follow Satan in the human soul: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:21-23). Our Creator wishes for us to be pure and undefiled, speaking the truth in love.