According to a study published recently in Science journal, analytic thinking may be a threat to religious belief– and provide clues about the relationship between religion and the brain. Religious beliefs are often categorized as intuitive thinking, which is tied to emotions and comes naturally to humans, while problem solving and logic questions are known to involve analytic thinking, which requires more effort and conscious thought.
The researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada provided test subjects with questions designed to promote analytic thinking processes, then asked questions to discover the strength of their religious beliefs. The results, while subtle, showed that the act of analytic thinking caused a decrease in religious feeling in many people.
Religious belief tied to emotion
While people with strong religious beliefs may insist that nothing could make them waver in their faith in God, it seems that religious belief, like other intuitive thinking, is affected by many different circumstances in our day-to-day lives, including experiences, emotions and intellectual challenges. A person’s faith may change subtly over time — and that isn’t a bad thing, but rather a sign of growth.
Ara Norenzayan, co-author of the study, said: “There’s much more instability to religious belief than we recognize” (CNN Belief Blog). Although the study may not have permanently affected anyone’s religious beliefs, particularly devout worshippers, it does illustrate the differences between analytic and intuitive thinking, and how religion may fit into that dichotomy.
How do the results of this study fit in with the fact that most historical religious figures were scholars? Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Saint Teresa of Avila, Gandhi, and dozens of others were rigorously schooled, yet they turned much of their attention towards religious matters.
One religion that seems to bridge the gap between these two modes of thought is Judaism. With its long tradition of intense scholarship tempered with faith, this religion seems to embody the best of both worlds by embracing both analytic and intuitive thinking. Jewish scholars spend lifetimes studying Torah and the Talmud; no one could accuse them of avoiding analytic thought processes. But they are also the embodiment of faith, and it is their religion that calls them to scholarship.
Some people may take this study as yet another opportunity to attack religion and people who worship frequently. They are missing the point. Religion doesn’t make you stupid, and not believing in God doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or more intellectually adept.
What do you think about the relationship between scholarly thought and religious belief? How have these issues affected your own life? Feel free to share in the comments.
Photo credit: Edwin Martinez1