Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds


Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds

Those who think more analytically are less inclined to be religious believers than are those who tend to follow a gut instinct, researchers conclude.

religionThose who think more analytically are less inclined to be religious believers than are those who tend to follow a gut instinct, researchers conclude. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images / April 26, 2012)
By Amina Khan, Los Angeles TimesApril 26, 2012, 9:05 p.m.

Scientists have revealed one of the reasons why some folks are less religious than others: They think more analytically, rather than going with their gut. And thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane — for skeptics and true believers alike.

The study, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, indicates that belief may be a more malleable feature of the human psyche than those of strong faith may think.

The cognitive origins of belief — and disbelief — traditionally haven’t been explored with academic rigor, said lead author Will Gervais, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

“There’s been a long-standing intellectual tradition of treating science as one thing and religion as separate, and never the twain shall meet,” he said. But in recent years, he added, there has been a push “to understand religion and why our species has the capacity for religion.”

According to one theory of human thinking, the brain processes information using two systems. The first relies on mental shortcuts by using intuitive responses — a gut instinct, if you will — to quickly arrive at a conclusion. The other employs deliberative analysis, which uses reason to arrive at a conclusion.

Both systems are useful and can run in parallel, the theory goes. But when called upon, analytic thinking can override intuition.

Studies suggest that religious beliefs are rooted in this intuitive processing, Gervais said. So, he wondered, would thinking analytically undermine religious belief as it overrides intuitive thought?

To find out, his research team had college students perform three thinking tasks, each with an intuitive (incorrect) answer and an analytic (correct) answer.

For example, students were asked this question: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The intuitive answer — 10 cents — would be wrong. A little math on the fly reveals that the correct answer would be 5 cents.

After answering three of these questions, the students were asked to rate a series of statements on belief, including, “In my life I feel the presence of the Divine,” and “I just don’t understand religion.” Students who answered the three questions correctly — and presumably did a better job of engaging their analytical skills — were more likely to score lower on the belief scales.

To tease out whether analytic thinking was actually causing belief to decrease, the researchers performed a series of additional experiments.

First, students were randomly assigned to look at images of Auguste Rodin‘s sculpture “The Thinker,” or of the ancient Greek statue of a discus thrower, “Discobolus.” Those who viewed “The Thinker” were prompted to think more analytically and expressed less belief in God — they scored an average of 41.42 on a 100-point scale, compared with an average of 61.55 for the group that viewed the discus thrower, according to the study.

Two additional experiments used word games rather than images. In one case, participants were asked to arrange a series of words into a sentence. Some were given neutral words and others were presented with trigger words such as “think,” “reason” and “analyze” to prime them to think more analytically. And indeed, those who got the “thinking” words expressed less religiosity on a 10-to-70 scale: They ranked themselves at 34.39, on average, while those in the control group averaged 40.16.

In the final experiment, students in the control group read text in a clear, legible font, while those in the other group were forced to squint at a font that was hard to read, a chore that has been shown to trigger analytic thinking. Sure enough, those who read the less legible font rated their belief in supernatural agents at 10.40 on a 3-to-21 scale, compared with 12.16 for those who read the clear font.

So does this mean that religious faith can be undermined with just a little extra mental effort? Not really, said Nicholas Epley, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study. But it does show that belief isn’t set in stone, but can respond to a person’s context.

“There’s an illusion that our brains are more static than they actually are,” he said. “We have fundamental beliefs and values that we hold, and those things seem sticky, constant. But it’s easier to get movement on something fundamental.”

As for whether this should alarm the layperson, Epley shrugged. “Even deeply religious people will point out they have had moments of doubt,” he said.


To Keep the Faith, Don’t Get Analytical


To Keep the Faith, Don’t Get Analytical

by Greg Miller on 26 April 2012, 2:35 PM |

Think about it. According to a new study, The Thinker’s reflective pose (left) promotes religious disbelief, while other poses do not.
Credit: Source: Wikimedia

Many people with religious convictions feel that their faith is rock solid. But a new study finds that prompting people to engage in analytical thinking can cause their religious beliefs to waver, if only a little. Researchers say the findings have potentially significant implications for understanding the cognitive underpinnings of religion.

Psychologists often carve thinking into two broad categories: intuitive thinking, which is fast and effortless (instantly knowing whether someone is angry or sad from the look on her face, for example); and analytic thinking, which is slower and more deliberate (and used for solving math problems and other tricky tasks). Both kinds of thinking have their strengths and weaknesses, and they often seem to interfere with one another. “Recently there’s been an emerging consensus among [researchers] … that a lot of religious beliefs are grounded in intuitive processes,” says Will Gervais, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada and a co-author of the new study, published today inScience.

One example comes from a study by neuroscientist and philosopher Joshua Greene and colleagues at Harvard University, published last September in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. They asked hundreds of volunteers recruited online to answer three questions with appealingly intuitive answers that turn out to be wrong. For example, “A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” Although $0.10 comes easily to mind (it’s the intuitive answer), it takes some analytical thought to come up with the correct answer of $0.05. People who chose more intuitive answers on these questions were more likely to report stronger religious beliefs, even when the researchers controlled for IQ, education, political leanings, and other factors.

In the same study, another group of volunteers wrote a paragraph about a time in their lives when either following their intuition or careful reasoning led to a good outcome. Those who wrote about intuition reported stronger religious beliefs on a questionnaire taken immediately afterward. If intuitive thinking encourages religious belief, as Greene’s study suggested, analytical thinking might encourage disbelief—or so Gervais and his adviser, social psychologist Ara Norenzayan, hypothesized.

To test this idea, the duo devised several ways to subconsciously put people in what they considered a more analytical mindset. In one experiment with 57 undergraduate students, some volunteers viewed artwork depicting a reflective thinking pose (such as Rodin’s The Thinker) while others viewed art depicting less intellectual pursuits (such as throwing a discus) before answering questionnaires about their faith. In another experiment with 93 undergraduates and a larger sample of 148 American adults recruited online, some subjects solved word puzzles that incorporated words such as “analyze,” “reason,” and “ponder,” while others completed similar puzzles with only words unrelated to thinking, such as “high” and “plane.” In all of these experiments, people who got the thinking-related cues reported weaker religious beliefs on the questionnaires taken afterward than did the control group.

In a final experiment, Gervais and Norenzayan asked 182 volunteers to answer a religious questionnaire as usual, while others answered the same questionnaire printed in a hard-to-read font, which previous studies have found promotes analytic thinking. And indeed, those who had to work harder to comprehend the questionnaire rated their religious beliefs lower.

Because people were randomly assigned to the analytical-thinking and control groups, and because the results were consistent across all their experiments, Gervais says it’s very unlikely the findings could result from one group being more religious to begin with. Moreover, in two of these experiments, the researchers administered religious belief questionnaires to the participants a few weeks beforehand and found no difference between the groups.

The effects of the analytical-thinking manipulations were modest. “We’re not turning people into atheists,” says Gervais. Rather, when the questionnaire responses of all subjects in an experiment are taken together, they indicate a small shift away from religious belief.

“It’s very difficult to distinguish between what a person believes and what they say they believe,” says Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and Nobel laureate at Princeton University who has done pioneering work on the contributions of intuitive and analytical thinking to human decision making. “All they have shown, and all that can be shown, is that when you’re thinking more critically you reject statements that otherwise you would endorse,” Kahneman says. “It tells you that there are some religious beliefs people hold that if they were thinking more critically, they themselves would not endorse.”

To Gervais and Norenzayan, the findings suggest that intuitive thinking, likely along with other cognitive and cultural factors, is a key ingredient in religious belief. Greene agrees: “Through some combination of culture and biology, our minds are intuitively receptive to religion.” He says, “If you’re going to be unreligious, it’s likely going to be due to reflecting on it and finding some things that are hard to believe.”

“In some ways this confirms what many people, both religious and nonreligious, have said about religious belief for a long time, that it’s more of a feeling than a thought,” says Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. But he predicts the findings won’t change anyone’s mind about whether God exists or whether religious belief is rational. “If you think that reasoning analytically is the way to go about understanding the world accurately, you might see this as evidence that being religious doesn’t make much sense,” he says. “If you’re a religious person, I think you take this evidence as showing that God has given you a system for belief that just reveals itself to you as common sense.”

Poepol of the Week Award goes to noChimp


This is a classic example of rotting brains. This wanker tells the whole story. The sad part is that he was mentally ill, tried to get help from his universities’ counselling service, and the councilor took advantage of this young man’s condition to point him straight back into religion. It worked. Read the crap he writes here:

Why Creationism?

23 April 2012, 15:16

Whilst at university, I threw off all my parents’ religion, partying and going wild with my friends. However, as I was also battling with depression, I decided to make use of the free counselling service offered by the university. After introduction, my counsellor told me I needed to go to church. After the 3rd session of her telling me this, I decided to go to church once, so that I could get her off my back. As I walked through the church door the following Sunday, God spoke to me. Although it was a mere one sentence, it cut right to my core, changing my life forever.

As a young Christian who believed evolution, I attended a seminar by Duane Gish on creationism. He said a whole lot of hair brained stuff, or so it seemed at the time. However, he did say some interesting points, and as a result I bought the only book I could afford, one on the earth’s magnetism. It was the weirdest book I had ever read, showing that the magnetism of the earth was exponentially decaying, and that if the earth were not young, then 10,000 years ago it would have been a magnetic star. I dismissed the book as pure bunkum.

However as my engineering classes were right next door to the geology department, I decided to pay them a visit and ask about the earth’s magnetism. I was quickly introduced to a graduate who was doing his doctorate on the magnetism in South Africa. Looking at the graphs of the magnetism of South Africa over the past 100 years, we saw it followed the exact pattern I had read in the book. When I showed the fellow the book, and that the book was talking of a young earth, his reply was “We all know the earth is billions of years old, you must go, I have another appointment.” The sudden hostility caught me totally by surprise, I had touched (more like hammered) a raw nerve. (I have since read much about geomagnetic reversals and the problems with them, but that is another discussion). I left his office thinking “Is he not wanting to know truth, or is he trying to protect something he is not sure of?”

I was given a pile of Nature magazines, which I devoured, they were at my level. They were strongly evolutionary, calling creationists “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. What struck me was that in almost every magazine 2 or 3 times a statement would be made that if true hit against some part of the evolutionary chain, eg. A discovery of a protein in a cell being so complex that it needed the cell to form the protein, however the cell could not exist without the protein. After bumping into hundreds of these anomalies, I was convinced that life and the complexities in life needed a designer, and that no amount of random processes could ever account for life. (Please note that other than the one book on magnetism, I had not seen any creationist literature at all, this conclusion was drawn after reading evolutionary based material.) Being an engineering student and not a theologian, the theological ramifications of the different viewpoints was never an issue.

Now after 30 years later, having read many creationist publications as well as evolutionary publications, I am more convinced than ever that the evolutionary model stands on shaky ground. This conclusion is based purely in what I see in nature around me, how the evolutionary model has to change their viewpoints with many of the new discoveries eg. Mt St Helens erupting, soft tissue found in a T Rex bone, the different weight and consequently different place in history given to Lucy by different research groups, and the fanatism of the evolutionists, as if they are trying desperately to protect ground that is eroding under their feet. (I personally saw a professor explode at someone for mentioning a flaw in the evolutionary model).

As I look at our origin, there are a few possible models:

  1. Atheistic evolution – it all happened by random chance
  2. Theistic evolution – same as 1 above, except whenever chance cannot explain a process, God intervened.
  3. Aliens from outer space put life on this earth – this was big twenty years ago, in movies, the SETI project, and even music and literature; however it has fallen out of favour in recent years.
  4. Creationism

The intelligent design movement is not actually separate, but would accept points 2,3, and 4 above as being possible ways to explain life today.

The creationism model is not without flaws and many of them, however evolution as the alternative (both theistic and atheistic) is so full of flaws that it falls apart at the seams (see, aliens seem more remote now than ever with NASA shifting its attention from intelligent life to any possible life (looking for water, instead of radio signals). So although I am a creationist, it is not because I think creationism is just so perfectly right, but because the alternatives are just so horribly wrong.

Poepol of the Week Award goes to Jacob Zuma



Church has role in society, Zuma says

2012-04-19 22:36Durban – The church has a role to play to help the country succeed, President Jacob Zuma said in Durban on Thursday.

“The church has to participate in society, with government, to ensure programmes are put across to succeed, to make sure we are soldiers of God and to help the country become better,” he said.

He said apartheid had helped create a culture of violence. During the struggle, the ANC linked up with churches to debate how to bring about change.

“The country needs more prayer and blessings to succeed. One of the aspects we pride ourselves on is the fact that this organisation was founded in a church in Mangaung.

Among those present were men of God. We always say we were blessed at birth in the history of the ANC.”

Zuma said during the liberation struggle the party always knew it was with God, and no one could stop it from achieving its goals.

“Only when each South African can put food on the table can we say we have achieved freedom.”

Zuma was speaking at a prayer service in honour of Bishop Denis Hurley at St Paul’s Anglican Church. Hurley died in February 2008 when he was 88 years old.

During his 45 years in office Hurley “spoke truth to power”, both in the church and society.

Zuma laid a wreath for Hurley at the Emmanuel Cathedral Church as part of the ANC’s centenary celebrations. Hundreds of Zuma supporters cheered outside the cathedral gate.




This is a transcript of Richard Dawkins speaking:

“As it happens, the story of Joshua in Jericho is the subject of an interesting experiment in child morality, by the Israeli psychologist, George Tamarin. Tamarin presented to more than 1,000 Israeli schoolchildren aged between 8 and 14, the Book of Joshua’s account of the Battle of Jericho. He then asked the children a simple moral question: Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not? They had to choose between A (total approval) B (partial approval) and C (total disapproval). The results were polarised: 66% gave total approval, and 26% total disapproval, with rather fewer, 8%, in the middle with partial approval.

Here are three typical answers from the Total Approval A group. ‘In my opinion, Joshua and the sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to…

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