Think again: Religious belief affected by analytical thought

A look at the kind of thinking that determines how religious we are

A new University of B.C. study suggests analytical thinking can be harmful to religious faith.

The psychology report, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reveals that religious belief drops after subjects perform analytical tasks or are exposed to Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker.

However, UBC social psychologists Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan insist they are not debunking religion or promoting atheism. Instead, they are trying to figure out the psycho-logical origins of spirituality.

[A]nalytic thinking reduces intuitions of God, of an afterlife and of experiences of divine presence, say Gervais and Norenzayan, whose latest research surveyed 650 people, most from B.C. Some lived in other parts of North America.

Tip: LiveScience

The article points out that analytical thinking is not the only thing that affects a person’s spirituality. People may not have the brain wiring to find spiritual concepts compelling, they may live in a secular culture, or they may have no social need for religion.

What do I think about this study? I think it makes sense and I think that the other factors also come into play. Society and culture are very complicated things dependent on MANY factors. But, I do suspect that the religious leaders will use this as another weapon to advocate for less thinking. Ignorance keeps people locked into a repressive society. Remember, churches and rulers, long ago, never wanted people to read. They might get ideas about interpreting things for themselves. Knowledge is power.

This also reminded me of the religious right fearing that their children will go off to college and become atheists. That is, they are exposed to new ideas and taken away from their conservative religious framework. That seems very plausible that they may lose some religiosity in the process of learning how to think about things. (However, I’d bet a lot of them go back to religiosity when they have kids.) That idea about higher learning has prompted the popularity of private religious colleges. I often wonder what they teach there. How awful it must be to be trapped in a mindset where you can’t investigate the bigger things in the world through thinking about them. Tell me not to think? I might as well die. But, that opinion is based on my brain and all the factors that influenced me. Your milage may vary.

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  10 comments for “Think again: Religious belief affected by analytical thought

  1. April 27, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Reminds me of Balch and Taylor’s quasi-ethnographic work on HIM (what later became Heaven’s Gate, IIRC they infiltrated it in the 1970s for about 6 months, hence the quasi as ethnography should be done openly, so I’m not sure what to call this). So long as the daily routine was programmed out, and people didn’t have to think or were stopped from thinking due to constant other distractions programmed by others, they kept along with the group just fine. They were living the religion through action, orthopraxy.

    But when there were reasons the leaders (Bo and Peep) had to leave the flock on their own for a bit, that’s when doubts crept in, and that’s when people started bugging out and leaving. This sounds like a clinical test of that sort of observation.

    Here’s Balch’s wiki page with some of his publications on the topic. The article I remember is from the 1995 edited volume The Gods Have Landed which was one of the first collections of studies (possibly the first) of saucer or space religions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Balch

  2. Massachusetts
    April 27, 2012 at 5:46 PM

    It’s tricky because many conservatively religious Islamic cultures have embraced technology, engineering an the fruits of scientific inquiry–up to a point. Beyond that point there’s often trouble and contention if the analytical thought process leads you to question key fundamental assumptions. So there’s a line in the sand, and we see that in our own culture (if we really can say there’s only one here.) For example, the US Senator who appeared here on doubtfulnews because he insisted that climate change must be false because the Bible teaches that only God can affect the weather. I don’t think he would argue with the existence of his cell phone, or the utility of antibiotics. But cross that line (and threaten the economic perks that go with it most likely) and science goes out the window, and to hell with logic.

  3. Massachusetts
    April 27, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    I do have one issue with this study. My understanding is that mathematicians, I mean really good ones, tend to be fairly religious people. They are also highly analytical, logical people. That does appear to be a big contradiction.

    • luvmyGod4eva
      April 30, 2012 at 5:13 PM

      Yes it does! Thank you. :)

  4. luvmyGod4eva
    April 30, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    I think this study is absolute nonsense and tries to imply religious people are narrow minded from an intellectual standpoint. Pundits on the internet may argue about whether Einstein believed in God, but as a practising Christian who questions EVERYTHING, I can only say faith is a personal thing, and has nothing to do with one’s level of intelligence. We all have free will, and I can categorically say folk who truly believe in a “Creator” and what He stands for (essentially all the “graces”) tend to be happier. It is undoubtedly part of our “coping mechanism” and should not be mocked or discouraged by those who cannot prove or disprove it’s validity. (Perhaps they know more than Albert Einstein, which leads me to conclude most atheists are arrogant.) Shortly after this post I will be removing Doubtful News and deleting all unread posts. I find it disingenuous to post so many (often not factual) frivolous stories while (hypocritically) trying to cheapen the core beliefs of millions whose only wish is to be better human beings. :(

    • F89
      April 30, 2012 at 6:45 PM

      Fare well.

    • April 30, 2012 at 9:57 PM

      Nice and open-minded…

    • ron
      May 5, 2012 at 4:40 AM

      Yes, Eva. It is probably for the best that you avoid reading conflicting thoughts and opinions.

  5. Massachusetts
    April 30, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    This is a real study and has relevance to the topics this site frequently discusses. For that reason it was reasonable to post the article. Now, regarding the opinions expressed: Agree or disagree. Debate and discuss. But throwing a tantrum and running away won’t change the fact that this study exists.

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