Will Too Much Thinking Make You an Atheist?

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.

Religious scholars

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.

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Photo credit: Edwin Martinez1


Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

and you lose all, once your faith is gone! Thanks for article!

Maitreya L5 years ago

", I get a myriad of definitions of the word "kill" and what that ACTUALLY MEANS! LOL FOUR WORDS (4!!!)"

Lol, and people probably have even more definitions for "love", and the King James Bible has 31,102 verses - 788,258 words.

Jade H.
Jade H5 years ago

Okay, I have laughed my way through these comments and can only add my own opinion: when I ask or point out to people that 1) the Ten Commandments are NOT mulitple choice; 2) every time I mention the commandment: THOU SHALT NOT KILL (noting that there is no subtext that allows it under certain conditions, certain people/animals, etc.) to literally anyone, I get a myriad of definitions of the word "kill" and what that ACTUALLY MEANS! LOL FOUR WORDS (4!!!) that people will argue the "definition of" till hell freezes over! ROFL And the Bible chapters contradict themselves over and over. Instead of reading someone else's words or definitions (and there are thousands of them!), connect with Source on your own and see what you get - and if you were raised Catholic...try dialing direct for a change instead of going through the operator (priest) to "translate" God's message to you! It is time to step up and BE the Spiritual Beings we all are! Namaste

wchi wink
.5 years ago

Critical thinking is bound to lead to atheism!

Carol M.
Carol m5 years ago

Richard Zane, Yes , I know the Gospels ,or the christian greek scriptures were written after christianity was started , but the book of Daniel was written in the hebrew - aramic and the old test. the book was completed around 536 B.C.E......Jesus quoted from the hebrew scriptures many times. I have research these things for many years ,I just didn`t take someones word for it, I must say I have enjoyed all of it though. not mentioning you know what. thanks for the advice.

Richard Zane Smith

as you probably know by now the Gospels were written AFTER Christianity was being promoted and proselytized by Paul of Tarsus across Asian Minor. The "fulfilled scriptures" quoted in the Gospels MAY SEEM like fulfilled prophecies , because the authors of the different gospels possibly wrote the stories to fulfill them...to give authority to the new religion they were spreading.
Its possible ,and id say even likely, it was considered a little "white lie" to stretch the truth if it meant more converts to their "Lord Jesus Christ". They had NO IDEA that 2000 years later people would be actually passing around copied versions of their stories to millions of people as "Gods inerrant word."

I know you probably don't like to consider this explanation....but it IS a possibility, considering all the bizarre things that are written in the gospel narratives that don't happen in normal real life. Just something for you to think about. people do tend to stretch the truth in telling, and that is a "fact." if it ISN'T Gods word...i'm sure you don't want to be putting words in Gods mouth.

Carol M.
Carol m5 years ago

William Y. as I have stated to Richard I will try to give an answere to any questions as you have asked me. " Give me one bit of evidence that the bible is God`s word" this is a quote from Irwin H. Lintom , atty. well respected and writer , and not one of JW. " Bible Prophecies are so numerous as to make accidental fulfillment almost indinitely improbable " So just one prophecy that has a perfect record.... Bible prophecies are detailed and always come true, even if they tell" from long ago the things that have not been done." An Example: In the sixth century B.C.E. , the prophet Daniel saw a vision that fortold the rapid defeat of Medo-Persia by greece. It also fortold that as soon as the victorious king of greece "became mighty" his kingship would be "broken" Who would replace him? Daniel wrote " There are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up , but not with his power". Dan.8 :5-8 , 20-22. WHAT HISTORIANS SAY : Over 200 yrs. after Daniels time , Alexander the great became king of greece. Within 10 yrs.,Alexander defeated the Medo -Persian Empire an extended Grecian rule as far as the Indus River. He died suddenly at the age of 32 . Finally a battle in Asia Miner effectively dissolved his empire . The fiur victors of that battle eventually divided the grecian Empire among themselves. However none of them attained Alexanders degree of power. Can any other book claim such a record of fulfilled prophecy? and this is only one of many in the bible.

Carol M.
Carol m5 years ago

Richard Zane, I thank you for your kind words, I will try not to spread Jw stuff on care 2. But will try to give an answere to those who ask why I believe as I do.

Richard Zane Smith

Carol M
I know you probably feel ganged up on...and its not a good feeling.
and I don't think there is any need for immature name calling from ANYONE.
BUT I know why people are angry with you.
its because despite the rational arguments given here, you came out proselytizing again!
You insist on spreading JW doctrine even on care2
even though you can't really give reasonable answers to those challenging you.

I think you must be a pretty tough woman to take all the insults as you have, and i know that is part of your training as a JW....expecting to be insulted...but despite the "negativity" thrown at you is a frustrated feeling from atheists that you preach anyway(from duty?)even when its not making sense, simply perpetuating nonsensical doctrines...that you "feel" are true.

William Y.
William Y5 years ago

@ Carol M. Give me one bit of evidence that the Bible is god's word.