In “To Keep the Faith, Don’t Get Analytical”(Science, 26 April 2012), Greg Miller reports on the latest new atheist trend in studying religion: The claim that analytical thinking dissipates it:
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 …
In “Study: Analytic thinking causes religious belief to diminish”(Hot Air, April 27, 2012), Allahpundit (probably an atheist) responds,
Lots of news stories about this on the wires today, as you might expect, but I think people are overinterpreting the results. As I understand it, the researchers aren’t claiming that analytic thinking will turn you atheist or that nonbelievers are sharper critical thinkers than the faithful. They’re claiming that intuition is a component of religious belief and that intuition tends to dim when the mind is preoccupied with reasoning, which means religious belief dims with it. Note: Dims, but not disappears. Per the study, you’re talking about small, if statistically significant, differences in belief between the test subjects and the control group.
In other words, faith isn’t strictly analytic; there’s more to it, or so I’m told. It may be that, as your mind adjusts to perform analytic tasks by applying certain known criteria, its capacity to analyze something that doesn’t operate according to known criteria momentarily decreases.
Most religions are not about figuring out invented puzzles but about adjusting to a reality that is bigger than ourselves and often puzzling, and there is no preset answer, just experience. That is where intuition comes in.
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