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Analytic thinking erodes religious belief

Contemplating Rodin’s The Thinker affects religious belief. Mike_fj40 on Flickr

“Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence; it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines. – Bertrand Russell”

Few subjects generate as much friction among scientists as science’s relation to religious belief. Many scientists take a position like Bertrand Russell’s. It’s a position that believers feel insults their intelligence. And between devout faith and atheistic scientism one can discern an infinite number of more conciliatory positions.

One comforting position is the idea that science and religion are such different domains that they need never impinge on one another’s territory. In Stephen Jay Gould’s words they are “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA). It is a position taken by many scientists who also hold religious beliefs, or simply “believe in belief” as Daniel Dennett predicts many closet unbelievers do.

Conciliatory ideas like NOMA allow everybody to carry on with business as usual: nobody calls anybody “stupid” and nobody gets burned at the stake. So science and religion can potter away in their distinct boxes, minding their own business.

At the heart of Bertrand Russell’s quote, though, is a prediction. That religion will decline – if not entirely wither - in societies where reason and science enjoy prominence. That prediction turns out to be correct. Religious belief has slowly dwindled since the Enlightenment. Leading scientists are far more likely than the general public to identify as agnostic or atheist. They are, unsurprisingly, also much more likely to accept scientific accounts of the world, including the idea of evolution by natural selection.

And although there is considerable disagreement about whether education kills religious faith, people’s chances of identifying as religious believers declines with scientifically education and education in rational thinking.

Some of the most exciting progress in this sphere comes from authors who examine religion as a natural phenomenon. My favourite book on the subject is Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, although Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct and Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain are almost equally excellent. By examining the evolved underpinnings of religious belief, scientists are beginning to understand what compels so many people to believe.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a paper by Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan who showed experimentally that merely reminding believers of the effectiveness of the police can lessen their distrust of atheists. Today, I see the same authors have a paper in Science entitled “Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief”.

In a series of five studies they explored the links between thinking analytically – as opposed to thinking intuitively – and religious belief. They first showed that people who are good at solving analytic problems and resisting the intuitive answer to questions are also less likely to be religious, to believe in the existence of supernatural agents such as God, the devil and angels, and less likely to think intuitively about religion.

They then manipulated cues that merely suggest the use of analytic processing by priming them with:

  • artistic works that either do or do not evoke the act of thinking (Rodin’s The Thinker versus Discobolus of Myron),
  • a verbal fluency task containing words about thinking or neutral words; or
  • presenting words in a difficult to read font – a prime known to activate analytic thinking – or an easier to read font.

Discobolus didn’t have the same effect as Rodin’s Thinker. A connection between sport and faith? williamcromar on Flickr

Subtle as these primes are, when Gervais and Norenzayan then assessed their subjects using standard assays of belief in God or in supernatural agents, those primed with cues of analytic thinking believed less strongly.

It’s a small study, limited as always by the constraints on what experimenters can achieve, but it shows not only that there is a link between belief and analytic thinking but that stimulating people to think analytically can cause a drop in belief. Or in the authors’ words:

Although these findings do not speak directly to conversations about the inherent rationality, value, or truth of religious beliefs, they illuminate one cognitive factor that may influence such discussions.

As it becomes clearer that religion is, in some senses, the opposite of rational thinking, we may have to shed the comfort of “I’m okay, you’re okay” ideas, including NOMA. The most fervent anti-evolutionists in the USA understand this implicitly, and their obsession with homeschooling and opposing rational thought is their way of fighting for their beliefs. The most forceful atheists, too, understand this.

We probably can’t keep pottering away in our different sheds forever.


What are your thoughts on science - religion compatibility? Comment or tweet @Brooks_Rob

Join the conversation

58 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I think this ground has already been ploughed enough.

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    1. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      No, it hasn't. Not until religion has been eradicated from every area of public life and silly superstitions are confined to individual minds.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tony Linde

      If you follow your analytical or scientific mind only, then your analytical and scientific mind would be telling you that you are simply a series of chemical reactions that are taking place in the cells in your body.

      However, I haven’t actually known anyone to think of themselves as simply being a series of chemical reactions, and so much for analytical or scientific thinking only.

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    3. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Tony Linde

      Tony,

      spoken like a true "flat lander".. you can not see it so it does not exist.. but even better you wish to impose your own beliefs on others!

      Hurray.. lets burn the witches!

      what we need to eradicate is this self rightious condemation of other people's beliefs and experiences..

      Why do you not get off your soap box, be happy for a start and let people find their own truth,

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    4. Gerry Arborio

      Technician

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      another half-witted non-sequitur. There is more to evidence, Mr Bloom, than your personal experience.

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    5. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Read what I said. That religion should be eradicated *from every area of public life*. I have no problem with what people believe, as silly and illogical as I think it is, nor with their convening to practise their beliefs, but when they try to impose their beliefs on others or expect preferential treatment because of their beliefs or where their beliefs tread on the fundamental human rights of even their own fellow believers, then I will act to oppose them and call on others to do the same.

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    6. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Tony Linde

      @Tony,

      not sure who exactly is chasing you around in public places? or trying to impose their thoughts on you!

      I find commercials far more disturbing and and illogical.. Like Coal Sem Gas mining is good for us.. Coke is the "Real" thing, and all sort of other nonsense that is pushed down our throats every day.. Make a deal.. you to advocate getting rid of all commercials from public space and i would support including religion in that.

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    7. Lisa Milne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Um - he said 'confined to individual minds' - comment invalidated Jo.

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  2. Tim Scanlon

    Author and Scientist

    Nicely put.

    The rise in atheism does appear to be among the thinkers. The bastions of religious fervor remain in the less educated and poorer areas where access to religious doctrine is more common than higher education.

    I'd also note that atheism seems to grow with age, as the person becomes more knowledgeable, feels more comfortable questioning "beliefs" and has had more education.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      There are many studies overlooked. The author of this column seems to be very selective on what studies he choses to write about, but academic researchers are actually required by code of practice to consider different viewpoints and include them in their research and articles. This is obviously not occuring with this author and researcher, and he continuously presents religion in a negative way only, and writes about it in a negative way only, the3rby breaking the code of practice of research…

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    2. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      The author is reporting a set of research which shows that analytic thinking erodes religious belief. None of the studies you list have anything to do with that assertion.

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Interesting, though explainable. The elderly were raised in a much more theistic regime of school and church. Much of the schooling included theism, much of the social activity was religion based.

      Thus the survey is showing that bias in society and functioning. It doesn't really change my point, nor the article's point that the thinking mind tends to be more atheist.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tony Linde

      Everything in other articles written by this author also presents religion in a negative way. Not everything about religion or spirituality is positive, and not everything is negative either.

      The concept that education opens the mind does not equate to some academics forever giving one side of an issue only.

      When that happens, education is a negative.

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    5. Gerry Arborio

      Technician

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Didn't see anything that was inherently negative about religion in this article. Methinks you just don't like the author much.

      There is nothing wrong with taking a position - as long as you do so in good faith and are prepared to concede when your argument is defeated. As I have never actually seen you take a position - other than "academics are a bit dumb, and so are women, atheists, people who believe the earth is round and people who breathe through their noses", none of which you defend with any proper evidence - you have yet to prove yourself the equal of any author whose work you have attempted to smear with your first-year antics.

      You sound like one of those homeschoolers when you say "when that happens, education is a negative". By all means, go down that route. Have a look where that leads.

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Gerry Arborio

      Gerry Arborio
      You seem good at abuse.

      As part of analytical thinking, I am left to wonder what university educated you to give such abuse?

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    7. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Hi Dale,

      I agree with you, not every part of a slaves life was horrible.....yet we are not compelled to give a "Fair and Balanced" view of slavery - slavery actually introduced many to a new world where they could better themselves, slavery also meant that families, mothers in particular could spend more time attending to their children and adding to their community, in many cases it wasnt so much that the slave was owned rather that the slave was paying off his debt that was incurred when he was introduced into a more prosperus society, one where he could better himself if he really tried....I dont know why authors always try to be negative about slavery

      your need to tie almost everything off with a silver lining is absurd, we can do that with any subject but its pointless

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    8. drew washichek

      n/a

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      While the thinking mind may tend to 'be more atheist', I think the more accurate conclusion is that the thinking mind tends to be more questioning and therefore more logical or truth demanding. Actually, maybe a better assessment of intelligence would be how discerning of the truth you are when you are exposed to it. I'm sure you must agree with me on that since you so much as commented so in the previous post.

      If correct, then maybe the experiment is simply reflecting the withdrawals of those that Gemma has termed as having "'blind faith' type religious belief". While those who have the 'experiential type religious belief ' are left only abel to communicate reasonably with those few others who have attained the greater levels of 'intelligence' as defined above... and, as a result, appear to be irrational to those with more tradition world views.

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    9. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Michael Shand

      @Michael,

      I hope that you are not promoting slavery? seriously, slavery still exists today and these people suffer the most horrific lives. If you checkout the lives of modern day slaves you will discover this is a very poor taste arguement.

      articles.cnn.com/keyword/slavery

      Your point,a rationalisation of slavery, is a good example why Athiests can not be trusted. Anything can be rationalised and where does it take us? GFC and modern day slavery which is good for us. Hooray

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Michael Shand
      I haven't mentioned slavery. Are you trying to make up stories and suggest I am?

      I have seen many attempts to demonise people who belong to a religion, such as calling them a “disease” or “God-bothers” that have to be “eradicated”

      I have seen no attempts by academics in this country to reduce, quell or stop that demonisation process.

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    11. Lisa Milne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      But your one eyed take is A OK Dale - or can we expect your pro feminist academic atheist 'balance' piece to be penned soon?

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  3. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    I was raised Catholic, and received a sound scientific education (physical chemistry). So long as I cleaved to the Catholicism, there was a fundamental contradiction between religious and empirical views of the world.

    The situation was finally resolved by reading various "historical Jesus" studies, although most of them were rendered incomplete and inadequate by a combination of their authors' own beliefs, and the programme of book-burning that occurred in Palestine in the 4th century after Christianity was adapted to be the official faith and ideology of the Roman Empire.

    However, once it is understood that St Paul was a pro-Herodian propagandist seeking to maintain the status quo, the origin of all those Jesus stories can be explained.

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  4. Lisa Johnston

    logged in via Facebook

    True faith is highly rational and analytical. It is belief in a rational and intelligent God in whose image man is made. He has made Himself clear in nature and all that "science" explores. He has made Himself explicit in His Word, the Bible. He made the world and keeps it, so scientists are in a sense seeking Him. And many scientists are coming to the realization of intelligent design. I have 8 years of graduate education and was saved several years after completion of that education. I thought faith in the true God of the Bible was unintelligent and uneducated. I was wrong. It is highly intellectually challenging. True faith is based on the true God and His rational explication of Himself, who we are, and His plan. It is brilliant and beautiful. He is brilliant and beautiful. And real.

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    1. Lisa Johnston

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lisa Johnston

      Also, I think most of us are simply following our own inclinations in terms of what we think about and of God. Most have a god of their own design, and since it is not the real One, it is a fiction that cannot hold up nor be rational or consistent. So in that sense, this article has some merit. The fabrications we make about whether there is a God and what He is like can only be irrational and superstitious and weak. But when we submit to the true God and learn from Him who He is, our minds begin to truly come alive as He intended them and created them to. Then we are truly rational.

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    2. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Lisa Johnston

      The bible is a hotch-potch of self-contradictory drivel, patched together from ancient pagan beliefs and superstitions. Humans and other animals are a hotch-potch of evolved organelles that only barely work together. If you think some creature designed and built all this then you'd have to believe it is the most stupid and inconsistent entity outside this universe.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tony Linde

      I think you should read something. It is called “Dangerous Speech: A Proposal to Prevent Group Violence”

      http://voicesthatpoison.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/dangerous-speech-guidelines-benesch-january-2012.pdf

      It may become a part of UN policy for violence prevention at some time. It begins to determine when Hate Speech is likely to lead to mass violence and possible genocide. Your use of terms such as “silly superstitions” and “self-contradictory drivel” and suggestions that religions should be “eradicated” are definitely a characteristic of Hate Speech, and the type of speech that has been used to incite violence towards some other group.

      One-sided, bigoted articles about religion (and so many are being produced by university academics) would also be a part of Hate Speech.

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    4. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      @Dale,

      I understand your frustration with this blind attack, but what people may “hate” to hear, maybe for their own good to hear.. so “Hate speech should be treated with caution” .. i have a little bit of a problem with anything that denies us our freedom of speech.

      However freedom of speech also brings responsibility that I would have hoped academics would treat this freedom with a little more seriousness and respect.. This outright condemnation of other people's rights to believe what they want to believe is unacceptable from people who are suppose to be “wise” or "educated"?

      A wise person would be able to explain their position without having to ridicule others.. I would say ridicule stems from a ridiculous mind..

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    5. Gerry Arborio

      Technician

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Unbelievable! That you, Mr Bloom, who saturate this website with the most inane non sequiturs and half-slurs at anyone who wites something that even slightly opposes your rusted-on reactionary views, should now presume to lecture anybody about hate speech.

      If you loathe university academics so all-encompassingly,and if you are unwilling to defend your positions in good faith, then why bother hanging around The Conversation?

      Who hurt you, Dale Bloom?

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    6. Gerry Arborio

      Technician

      In reply to Lisa Johnston

      Sorry, Lisa, but I just couldn't follow your argument at all. It might all feel rational, intelligent and profound, but it's impossible to understand you. Sorry.

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Gerry Arborio

      Gerry Arborio
      It would not be possible to “eradicate” religion without eradicating religious people, and when someone calls for the eradication of religion, it should be taken seriously.

      The link I referred to earlier contains a proposal that was put to the UN, and it is the result of research that was carried out on speeches and language that have been used to incite violence and to incite genocide, and terms such as “eradicate” or “cleanse” are often found in such speeches.

      Many anti-religious…

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    8. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Why is it that disagreeing with a religious person is considered to be a 'blind attack'. The bible is a book: if it is full of self-contradictory drivel and can be shown to be then what is wrong with saying so. That it is also patched together from ancient pagan beliefs and superstitions is supported by evidence; what is wrong with saying that. Neither statement is hateful nor inciting hate in any way. Such an attitude is typical of the ridiculous situation of our society in which all religion and religious attitudes are somehow supposed to be free from any form of criticism, no matter how ridiculous or hateful they themselves might be.

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    9. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Tony Linde

      @Tony,

      first of all, i have no intension of defending the bible.. nor would I say that Religion = Bible, even though they may be linked, there are many religious people that have never even read the bible.

      Your statement "The bible is a hotch-potch of self-contradictory drivel" is what? a well thought out statement that accurately reflects the state of what is?

      For example, the wisdom of Jesus is hidden in amongst that drivel and whether you would understand the significance…

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    10. Ian Ashman

      Manager

      In reply to Lisa Johnston

      Which God do you follow Lisa?

      And how do you know She is the Real one?

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  5. Gemma Lucy Smart

    MSc Candidate in History and Philosophy of Science at University of Sydney

    Interesting article, and certainly crtical and analytic thinking will almost necessitate a reduction in 'blind faith' type religious belief. I would be interested to know how this translates to forms of Spirituality not classified as Religions in the traditional sense? I am thinking here specifically of the Pagan belief systems, Buddhism and non-specific Spirituality. I wonder if they all fall into the segregation of intuition and rationality as you suggest. I suspect that is how they are sometimes justified, but not always as they are.

    As an aside, work on the hyper-rationality of Psychopaths could be revealing here. With a severely dimished capacity for empathy, some individuals become purely 'rational' being, but of an entirely self-interested sort. Their cold calculated rationality is sometimes argued to be the very definition of evil. Something for the atheist to think on I suspect.

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Gemma Lucy Smart

      Very interesting suggestions, Gemma. I think we've some way to go in understanding the balance between intuitive and analytic thinking and how that balance is optimised (or, sometimes, not). Haven't read Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" yet, but I think that he might have travelled this path already.

      I'd very much like to see this kind of work extended to broader types of belief. If belief and spirituality are tied to intuitive thinking, then we might expect the many advantages of intuitive thinking might be an (another) important adaptive factor behind religiosity.

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    2. Gemma Lucy Smart

      MSc Candidate in History and Philosophy of Science at University of Sydney

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Yes, you're on the money there. And certainly it's not something that hasn't been thought of before. Just off the top of my head I can think of three or four Einstein quotes (for instance) that deal with that directly, and a huge body of work on creativity, intuition, empathy, compassion (etc etc) and their role in science and religious/spiritual belief. Kahneman is on my 'to read' list too, as is the most recent work from Alain De Botton.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Gemma Lucy Smart

      I don’t see the need to read books on the matter. Simply have a look around.

      I have just seen a person walking their dog along the street. My analytical mind would tell me they are walking their dog along the street.

      Full stop.

      What my analytical mind does not tell me is why they have a dog, or why they would want to feed it, pat it, wash it, provide a kennel for it, or take it for a walk along the street.

      Science doesn’t go that far.

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    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Perhaps pscychopathy amounts to unenlightened self-interest (parasitism), whereas owning and caring for a dog indicates a capacity for enlightened self-interest (symbiosis)?

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Arthur

      David Arthur,
      You say perhaps, and that is all science or rational thought could say. Shortly, science may be able to identify a planet in another galaxy, but can’t figure out why someone owns a dog, or prefers a dog to a cat, or likes a certain sport and not others, or likes the colour blue but not purple, or prefers jazz to opera etc.

      There could be 10 reasons why someone has a dog (from acting as a guard dog, to giving the children a pet to look after), and another dog owner may have another 10 different reasons again.

      If someone were to research it, it would be too complex to give a definite answer as to why someone owns a dog. The situation would become even more complex if researchers put their own bias into research, and only report some data but not all data. And noted that this author has yet to mention a study that shows benefits of religion.

      So why are some people religious? There could be 10 different reasons for each person.

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Thanks Mr Bloom. The complexity of a topic is insufficient reason for any disregard of that topic.

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    7. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Gemma Lucy Smart

      Ms Smart, Carlos Duarte has posted an interesting Conversation piece about the emergence of co-operation as both natural consequence and framing driver of evolution (Learning from bees: Cooperation as an emerging paradigm, https://theconversation.edu.au/learning-from-bees-cooperation-as-an-emerging-paradigm-6720).

      I'd go so far as to suggest that awareness of such co-operative interactions could even account for the origin of "pagan" spirituality, from which now-recognised religions emerged…

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Arthur

      David Arthur,
      Why bother researching religion any further. There are unlikely to be definite answers found regards religion, and the vast majority of religious people are not breaking any laws. Religious people rarely bother me, but companies that phone me up several times a week trying to sell me something do bother me.

      There is the US study showing only 15% of scientists believe science and religion are often in conflict. That is probably a much better % than conflicts between the Labor and Liberal party, and I would think the negative portrayal of religion by certain academics is being carried out to purposely alienate sections of society, and that does bother me.

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    9. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Thanks Mr Bloom. I've already researched religion to the extent of satisfying myself that it has insufficient veracity to serve as an adequate crutch; I recall experiencing considerable relief and independence at the moment I first gave myself permission to assert the non-existence of a God.

      That most US scientists at least publicly accept Steven J Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magesteria" compromise doesn't surprise me - it lets them get on with their work.

      Anyway, I'm not bothering you about religious belief. All I did was point out that relationships in this world could be considered in terms of symbiosis rather than parasitism. That such consideration may do away with any need for one's own personal Jesus is not really my concern.

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Arthur

      David Arthur
      I have seen societies where people had basically nothing, and not much likelihood of ever gaining much, and their religion was about all they had to get them through the day/week/year.

      Some political systems have attempted to impose atheism (often accompanied by concentration camps, forced mass starvation and mass murder), but another possibility is that wide scale voluntary acceptance of atheism is a symptom of a society that has it too easy. I would think our society is actually living beyond its means, and at present our society has it too easy.

      We don't need religions because we have it too easy, but that may not last into the future.

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    11. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Thanks Mr Bloom. So, we know it's a lie, but it's a noble lie.

      On this, I have utter disregard for your view. Belief in some hereafter allows us the luxury of destroying the only life support system our heir and successors can ever know, *safe* in the knowledge that after we die, we'll all live happily ever after.

      Grow up! There is no personal eternal life, the only hope we have is that we leave a world for our heirs. Indeed, that is the only purpose that our lives can have.

      For this reason, the deliberate devastation of the world promised by the well-moneyed people who lie to prevent action on climate change and sustainable living are, truly, crimes against humanity.

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    12. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Gemma Lucy Smart

      Hi Gemma, I believe you are using the word rational incorrectly. Maybe look up Straw-Vulcan Rationality.

      It is not rational for a human being (See Social Primate) to be Anti social in the way you describe.

      Having a correct view of reality, or having good epistemic rationality does not equate to not having or understanding emotions. Your fear that if people think reasonably then they will become psycotic is irrational to say the least.

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    13. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Arthur

      David Arthur
      I have not ordered you around or told you to do anything such as “grow up”. I have noticed it doesn’t take long before atheists start abusing someone, or making up various stories about them.

      I see you are trying to connect religions with global warming. A very long bow, as many religious people accept global warming. Some also attempt to connect religion with ignorance about science. Another very long bow, as many scientists are quite religious.

      Religions don’t bother me, but I see definite attempts to marginalise, demonise and vilify various religious people, and that does bother me.

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    14. Lisa Milne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "the atheists" huh - hot damm dale they are just like "the feminists", of and the "academics"! Same tactics, it's amazing what you 'notice'. Re vilifying and demonising, you seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing just that in respect to the "unholy triad" noted above.

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  6. Natalie Bennett

    Lecturer

    Contrary to the claims of your article, I have found that the further I have delved into science, the deeper my faith has become. I am more convinced today of a creator God than I have ever been. So, for me, science has only enhanced my faith.

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  7. drew washichek

    n/a

    Appreciation and acceptance of sound logic should should remove us from our different sheds as it becomes apparent.

    It seems to me that to consider a person irrational because of what they believe is a subjective observation unless you can logically show yourself to be the indisputable standard of correctness. To persuade others to consider a person or group of people as irrational is an attempt to impose a moral/ethical code of conduct or thought. Subjective moral codes of conduct are often…

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  8. Bruce Tabor

    Research Scientist at CSIRO

    "As it becomes clearer that religion is, in some senses, the opposite of rational thinking..."

    Rob, this amounts to an extremely strong assertion - a statement of belief - which is not supported by the evidence you present in this article.

    You have presented studies that show only a weak negative correlation between analytic thinking and religious belief. Setting aside any design weaknesses in those studies, correlation is not causation, and a weak negative correlation would definitely NOT imply these two are opposites. Even if there was a causative link (none is demonstrated here) it would suggest a weak negative influence of analytic thinking on religious belief.

    This issue is important, as you are taking the high intellectual ground of "rationality" yet failing to adhere to it in your own argument.

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Bruce Tabor

      Thanks fot those thoughtful comments, Bruce,

      I must concede that "the opposite of rational thinking" is too strong, and the "in some senses" doesn't do enough to soften it.

      There is also no doubt that this is one small study, and that the primes are rather subtle. But they are experimental and it's much more than a mere correlation - there were four different experimental findings.

      I'm surprised how much heat this article has generated - most of it about topics I didn't really cover and…

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  9. Rob Brooks
    Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

    You might be interested, if you haven't already seen it, in Neil Ormerod's response to this column, published today in "The Conversation" https://theconversation.edu.au/god-why-do-scientists-have-such-a-hang-up-with-religion-6773 .

    The discussion that piece sparked exceeds even the number of comments on this thread. Haven't heard from Dale yet :(, but I'm sure that he'll manage to make a watertight case that Ormerod and I are both wasting tax-payers' money.

    I've left my own brief thoughts on Ormerod's article there. I felt he missed the point of my column, and misrepresented my position. But I'm even more intrigued by the way the majority of readers have called his article for incoherence, lacking logic and ad hominem attacks.

    Fascinating stuff, but I've decided not add any more fuel. Instead I'm writing a column about something entirely different.

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  10. Jason John

    Rev Dr

    I think the research (as you've summarised it) shows that scientists and others who are practiced in logical or analytical thinking are less likely to accept uncritically the core propositions of their culture. This could be religious, political, national(istic) etc.

    This has led some brave thinkers to break publicly from religious dogma in the past when religion was a significant powerhouse in society. Others, as the influence of structured religion has waned (partly as a result of those…

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  11. Michael Webster

    logged in via LinkedIn

    I have read the research, and know the experiments about the math questions well.

    Let's assume that the authors' premises are true.

    1. Rational thinking is distinct from intuitive reason, and religious thinking is intuitive.

    2. The correlation effect discovered by the researchers is broad, and not based on a sample of only 180 Canadian undergraduates.

    What follows?

    First, consider the first question is phrased:

    Q1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more…

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  12. Rusty Yates

    logged in via Facebook

    Probably better to get your dopamine hit from some place other than religion and that pretty much solves the problem. If you can't stand to dump god you can always leach of the guys that improve the world and thank god for all the things science gives you.

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