April 27th, 2012
04:01 PM ET
Study: Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief
By Becky Perlow, CNN
(CNN) - When was the last time you sat down and questioned your decision to believe in God?
According to a new study, that simple act could decrease your religious conviction – even if you’re a devout believer.
In the study, published Friday in the journal Science, researchers from Canada’s University of British Columbia used subtle stimuli to encourage analytical thinking. Results from the study found that analytical thinking could decrease religious belief.
“Religious belief is intuitive - and analytical thinking can undermine intuitive thinking,” said Ara Norenzayan, co-author of the study. “So when people are encouraged to think analytically, it can block intuitive thinking.”
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Some of the more than 650 Canadian and American participants in the study were shown images of artwork that encouraged analytic thinking, while another group was shown images that were not intended to produce such thinking.
One of the images used to trigger analytic thinking was of Rodin’s statue “The Thinker.” A previous study showed that such images improved performance on tests that indicate analytic thinking.
In addition to the artwork images, the religion study used other stimuli to promote analytical thinking.
After exposure to such stimuli, researchers gauged participants’ religious beliefs through a series of questions. Subjects who had performed analytical tasks were more likely to experience a decrease in religious belief than those who were not involved in such tasks. That included devout believers.
“There’s much more instability to religious belief than we recognize,” said Norenzayan, noting that life’s circumstances and experiences, from traumatic events to joyous occasions, can lead people to become more or less religious.
“Religion is such an important part of the world and we have so little understanding of it,” he added. “So regardless of what you think about religion, it’s important to understand it because it’s so important in the world.”
Norenzayan is quick to mention that the experiments did not turn devout believers into total atheists. But he speculated that if people habitually think analytically, like scientists or lawyers do, it would lead to less religious belief in the long run.
Robert McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture at Emory University, and author of "Why religion is natural and science is not," found the study particularly interesting because he thought it was difficult to make even a minimal change in religious belief.
“It’s not likely you would argue someone out of a religious belief very often because they don’t hold those beliefs on argumentative or reflective grounds in the first place,” said McCauley, who believes religious beliefs rely primarily on intuitive thinking.
Analytical thinking alone does not necessarily lead to a decrease in religious belief, emphasized Norenzayan.
“There’s a combination of factors [as to] why people become believers or nonbelievers - this is only one piece of the puzzle,” Norenzayan said, explaining that his team doesn’t think analytical thinking is superior to intuitive thinking.
“It makes the story we need to tell about religion and religious belief all the more complicated,” said McCauley. “That’s what great scientific research does – ask more interesting questions.”
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These stories lead to predictable discussions. Atheists want to point out how ridiculous and illogical religion is, and religious people justify their faith and express sympathy for the atheists. Such strong professions of our opinions likely results, in part, from our desire to feel better than others by calling them wrong. I have been guilty of religion bashing many times, and I really should just not let religion bother me.
A better mantra...
Religious people. I hope community, good morals (hopefully...), and the belief that you will go to heaven after death will bring peace to your life.
Atheists: Take solace in your own belief (or non-belief, if you will) and only express frustration with religion if it is starting to creep too much into politics and/or education (e.g. teaching of Creationism vs. evolution).
Religion is a crutch for the weak minded.
No kidding. Why else would b4bignothing be such an adherent?
Yea, your such a strong minded person you just had to come here and make that post right? From my perspective, you seem weak minded.
@ bob: no, broad generalizations are a crutch for the weak-minded.
Notify the authorities when you figure out how to use "you're" and "your" correctly, moron. Until then, go back to school. Shut up and learn something. Or be discredited instantaneously.
"Religion is a crutch for the weak-minded." Hmmm...
You mean, the "weak-minded" like Sir Frances Bacon, who gave us the scientific method? Or weak-minded like Isaac Newton? How about Louis Pasteur? Gregor Mendel? Mohandas Ghandi? Martin Luther King, Jr.?"
I could continue, but you get my point. It does not serve your position to use such a broad brush.
Finally we have a differentiater between believer and non-believer – analytic thinking. Next time I will watch with amusement when a believer babbles.
So you read a story about one study and that is enough for you eh? It would appear that analytical thinking is just a pipe dream for you..
Can you think of any other field, such as science, economics, engineering, or law, where logic and critical thinking DECREASES your propensity to accept the tenets of the field? Say it all.
Religion is for those who cannot or are too timid to think.
@ Colin: skepticism – for instance.
"Religion is for those too timid to think." You mean, like Copernicus, Galilei, Newton, Bacon (who gave us the scientific method), Faraday, Pasteur, Leeuwenhoek, Mendel, Carver, and Darwin (who remained a deist his entire life)? Or maybe you mean Francies Collins, who headed up the Human Genome Project. Or perhaps you are referring to Mahatma Gandhi and MLK, Jr.?
Your knee-jerk anti-theism is not supportable.
Well at least we know reading CNN does not encourage critical thinking.
That's a stupid statement no matter how you slice it.. Poor logic.. Poor assumption.. Implying versus being clear.
I believe that the haves and the have-nots live in fear of each other. I'm in awe of the religious and non-religious who have reached their own personal nirvana and shine with an inner peace and tolerance for all. I can't see anyone blogging but I worry that our society is in a desperate shortage of those people.
No sht Sherlock. How can you rationalize mythology like Yahweh/God as a "burning bush"?
t's amazing how uninformed people are; they keep mixing Communism and atheism. Communism or Nazism is a delusional doctrine quite similar to religion. Atheism is not a belief system as such. It's not a dogma like any of the above. Actually, there are no atheists (the word "atheist" just means that the person doesn't believe in God specifically) – just rational people that reject delusional beliefs of any kind. Communists were atheists because it suited their dogma (religion and Communism are two very similar dogmas, and as such cannot and will not ever exist together as one competes with the other for the brainwashed minds of the people). Nazis used Christianity to suit their dogma. That doesn't necessarily make all Christians Nazis (although many of them were, including the pope)!
Your grasp of history is poor. Lenin, Stalin and Mao were not simply atheists, but anti-theists. And over 100 million people were killed or died as a result of the SPECIFICALLY ATHEIST AND ANTI-THEIST policies. I know atheists would love to whitewash the history of atheist – not simply "Communist" – atrocities. But neither sophistry nor semantics can change the facts of history.
According to numerous scholars – both faith-based and secular, including R.J. Rummel, who knows more about the history of death than anyone in the world – the number of people who died in all the holy wars, Crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, etc. – in all of recorded history – is ~50-75 million. Yet as noted above, the number who died under Lenin, Stalin and Mao – as a result of specifically atheist and anti-theist policies – was ~100 million, in just 75 years.
So let's stop regurgitating phony canards about the history of atrocities, and the number of deaths caused: atheism outranks reilgion by quite a bit.
Faith is substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen
Doubt is the cleansing of faith hoped for, and the foundation of faith not seen.
If you can't see it, don't believe it!
There's a much higher chance of bringing mammoth back before Christ will make his re-appearance.
duh: "Both the russians and the germans under stalin and hitler were overwhelmingly christian.......
You're right 'duh'! Which is EXACTLY WHY these two wicked lost unbelieving men tortured and murdered so many of their OWN CITIZENS – because their victims were believers!
And that includes any and all soldiers under their command who mustered up the guts to profess their faith; professing faith to these atheists was a quick ticket to torture and martyrdom!
Um.......the people who DID the killing and torturing were christians, you f'ing moron. please try to keep up.
duh: "'f'ing moron"? So now the mask comes off, you're just a common garden-variety troll.
No need prove anything to the likes of you Tom Tom/alter ego.
Ahhhahhha. Pathetic dolt. Grow a brain cell, bfartalot.
Prove it b4bigbang. You dont have a single shread of evidence to support your claim that the majority of Russian and German soldiers were Christians. Being a Christian and saying your a Christian is two different things. I am doubting you know how to distinguish between the two.
Duh: Respectfully submitted, you have no idea what it means to be a follower of Christ. If you did, you would know that there is a huge difference between someone who has, by culture, taken on the religious traditions of christianity vs a committed disciple who tries to make it a life goal to love God and love others. Otherwise the same argument can be made of atheists–if one or one hundred atheists commit terrible crimes does that make you a crime and can we blame it on your religion (oops, slipped into a bit of sarcasm there, sorry).
I doubt bigbanger can figure out which hand, right or left, he uses to jag off.
Liz, does that make me "a crime"?
No, it doesn't. Care to make your argument in literate English?
Or, put another way, religion is for those who do not think.
...some might even call people that don't think analytically "idiots".
Disappointed by CNN by their complete and utter lack of a two sided story. Growing up Christian I have to say that I rarely thought about my faith. However several Christian mentors have encouraged and pushed me towards critical and analytical exploration of what, and why I believe. There are a good number of Apologists, learned men in logic, wit, and philosophy who's hobby is exploring their faith. CNN fails to take note of this. Also, CNN fails to take note of the millions of "ignorant" or "unthinking" atheists or agnostics, who believe in no higher power because that's what their parents said. Hoping CNN will TRY to be more unbiased in the future and present both sides, as there always are. Peace.
Robert, your post sounds more like an emotional backlash to being told what you alwys feared – the believer doesn't think, (s)he believes out of emotion.
"who believe in no higher power because that's what their parents said. "
Bingo. They don't think. They just follow in their parents footsteps. I think you may have just described the average Christian.
You are correct. As an apologist (www.carm.org), I use critical thinking constantly. In fact, in doing so, I demolish the emptiness of atheism, the weakness of relativism, and numberous false idiologies, cults, etc. To do this I use logic, analysis of presuppositions, an examination of assertions made by critics - as well as an intellectual examination of the historical reliability and teachings of the Bible. It is easy to do on my website and on my radio show (ww.carm.org/radio). Thinking critically has deepend my faith and trust in Christ as the Messiah, died, buried, and risen. Furthermore, I find those who say that thinking critically weakens Christianity really don't think very critically at all!
Exactly. Also, anyone notice which camp the theology 'experts' come from that ARE allowed to post articles on CNN? Always the liberal camp. Like that Prothero guy. I don't recall a SINGLE article on Belief section written by a fundamentalist Christian.
Wahhh, wahhh, wahh.
If you idiots want to read propaganda, go elsewhere.
Matt Slick I could take you on any day of the week half drunk with the flu!! Your arrogance is astounding, by the way.
The reason for this is because the Religious Right has used their ignorant dogma to oppress so many people through out the ages.
Matt Slick, it looks like you need to reread the article, take it apart, study it, put it back together the way you found it, think about it some more. . . .THEN comment.
Atheists are people that believe in reason, logic, evidence and facts. They are "rationalists". The word atheist just refers to one very minor specific area of their thinking. Referring to those people as "atheists" is like saying that a tail wags the dog.
I agree that critical thinking can lead one to question the existence of God. Yet, if one does not stop there, they will–if they are totally honest within themselves–cross a threshold that carrys them to a much deeper belief. But this can not be accomplished without studying the Bible. A careful study with an open mind should be considered to answer the only question that really matters. For, if there is no God– regardless of what we achieve–the universe will give in to entrophy.
Yeah mmmkay genius. What. ever. you say.
it's funny when stupid people try to sound thoughtful
Sure, it will give in to entropy, but not in your time.
Unfortunately most Christians do not read the bible instead they follow a flawed and biased interpretations of their religions.
If Christ were alive today he would say to the Religious Right the same thing he say to the Religious Right of his day, the Rabbi's... HYPOCRITE, HYPOCRITE, HYPOCRITE, HYPOCRITE, ...
well duh....you mean there is no scientific proof that we will all resurrect like Christ did? that is exactly how God designed faith, won't be proven, can't be proven, yet many still believe. That is how faith works. That is how religion should be. If these things could be proven in a lab they wouldn't require much faith would they? Spiritual things can only be understood and proven spiritually, through prayer for instance. Religions that are really just businesses or costumes for zealots, control freaks, or power hungry narcissists will not get God's stamp of approval in response to a sincere prayer. There may is a special hot place reserved for those that take advantage of well meaning followers. If you really want to know what to believe, prayer is required and a spiritual response from God. You won't get a spiritual response or result in a lab. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
"proven spiritually, through prayer for instance;" Are you serious??? what kind of proof are you smoking? please...
What? Your words leave me even more confused. It is a good thing the study participant did not read some of your writings because they would all be dumbfounded at the conclusion.
Actually, it is quite simple. Let us do a thought experiment. Suppose that God chose to reveal Him/Her/Itself to every living human being: perhaps a face in the sky (I'm being simplistic), or something that would provide absolute proof of God's existence. Then what would be the point of "faith?" After all, if God proves His/Her/Its existence to you, then you no longer have any CHOICE to believe in God: you are now "obligated" to. But God does not want "automatons" who believe in Him/Her/It simply because they "must." The most amazing aspect of the free will given to you by God is the free will to accept or reject the God who gave you free will. "Faith" is using your free will to believe in God WITHOUT requiring "absolute proof" of His/Her/Its existence.
Let me try another thought experiment. Suppose there is a person who is completely blind from birth. During their life, they can learn many things about the world: hot and cold; wet and dry; various shapes; sounds; etc. But how would you explain "color?" How do you "explain" "red?" "Blue?" "Magenta?" "Periwinkle?" The question is rhetorical. You can't. Because the "language" doesn't exist for you to "cross the barrier" from sight to blindness. Thus, if you tried to describe color to a blind person, and they chose not to believe you – "Sorry, I don't believe that there is any such thing as 'color' since I have no absolute proof of its existence' – they would be within their rights to do so. But does that mean they are correct, and you – who "knows" that color exists – is wrong?
So it is with faith and the existence of God. The "language" does not exist for a believer to explain the existence of God, and so atheists are within their rights to say, "Sorry, I don't believe that there is any such thing as 'God' since I have no absolute proof of His existence."
"you are now "obligated" to. But God does not want "automatons"
Being obligated and being an automaton are two completely different thing you know.
And why is "faith" needed to be a good and moral person? It's not really a desirable attribute and we currently lock some people up due to their faith in the intangible, albeit only when they profess belief in some fringe intangible and are willing to become violent to pursue their faith, whether it be extremist Islam or invading alien conspiracy theorists/schizophrenics. Faith becomes a liability when faced with reasoned investigation.
I have a hard time understanding why some people think that science and spirituality must be at odds; that logical thinking cannot co-exist with the empirically unprovable. I'm a questioner, hardly the gullible type. I like to get to the bottom of things. Yet I still know as well as I know my own name that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy. It seems so obvious to me that it always surprises me that anyone even debates it.
How well do you know your own name?
Easy,Chicago7, the "Immaculate Conception" could not have happened, no way Jesus or anyone else "rose from the dead" after 3 days, oh, and then moved a giant boulder to get out after coming back, the Red Sea never parted, there was no Noah's Ark, nor did someone named Jonah get swallowed by a whale and regurgitated 3 days later... shall I go on? The problem arises when people who believe in the empirically unprovable try to shape the world around them, by law, to coincide with those unprovable beliefs, and they try to force those who do not believe to live under their restrictions. That's why the two cannot peacefully coexist.
Science has been attacked by religion for centuries because it proves many aspects of religion wrong with an unbiased view.
@giveit2mestr8: Personally I'm not a follower of Judaism or Christianity so your biblical examples are lost on me. However I do think we are spiritual beings, more than just a bag of flesh and blood, so I'm still subject to the criticism of the "logical" thinkers on this board I suppose. I came to my conviction that the universe is a meaningful place that transcends the purely physical through experiences that left me no other way to see it. I have to stretch my imagination further to think that existence is without purpose than to think that, as I said before, there is more to all there is than can be seen. Science itself is always changing its view when new things are learned that prove its previous assertions false. All I'm saying is that we may think we know everything but we don't. Closed-minded smugness like I've been seeing on this board won't change that, whether on the part of believers or non believers.
"There is no way the Immaculate Conception could have occurred." Really? Ever hear of parthogenesis? And while it is true that we know of no cases in which parthogenesis has occurred in humans (though it occurs quite frequently in other species), there is no geneticist who would agree with you that it is 100% impossible for it to occur.
One way of looking at it;
Atheism cannot prove the non-existence of God, nor can theists prove his existence. Best pick one and pray you are not wrong. If you're a theist you will gain everything or lose nothing if you are wrong. If an atheist, you will gain nothing, or lose everything if you're wrong. Think about it because you are betting the farm. Pretty serious stakes...
And if you really think that Christianity cannot stand up to analytical thinking, I invite you to spend some time at:
http://www.rzim.org. Was a real eye-opener for me. Please do, if you dare.
Maxx, Pascals Wager has been refuted many times long before either of us even heard of CNN.. It's a stupid argument.
Also, it is up to the person making the claim (God exists) to prove that claim.. What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidnece.
Post by Maxx is an instance of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.
Well Maxx, you have about 30 other religions to follow, to meet the criteria you are laying out on the table. What if the Muslims have it right? The Mormons? The Catholics? What if us atiests have it right, and you spent the only life you're going to get, following something that doesn't exist! It's a bet I'm wiling to make.
Insisting on proving nonexistence of something is irrational. You can only prove or disprove something that actually exists. Either it does (if it exists) or does not (if there's no evidence of it, there's no reason to believe it does, and if it's illogical, and the probability is infinitesimal). Not much left why one should believe in something as primitive and irrational, as well as delusional, as God.
Perhaps one cannot prove that there is no God, but one can certainly find gaping logical holes in the concept of God as presented in the Bible. God is presented as the creator of all things. He is, we are told, perfectly loving and just. And yet we are also to believe that millions of people of other faiths, such as the Hindus, who were presumably created by God as well, are damned to hell for following another religion. Such a god would not be a just, loving god, but rather a capricious, unreasonable monster.
There may be a God but he is far different from the God we read about in the Bible. Likewise for other versions of God as presented by other monotheistic religions. And he is a rather hands-off god, as evidenced by episodes in history such as the Holocaust.
Your reaction, Momoya, is interesting. It shows two things: (1) a misunderstanding of the concept of REFUTATION, and apparently, of (2) Pascal's Wager. Using your own type of argument, ATHEISM has been refuted many times. Refutation and disproving a concept are two completely different items. Anything can be refuted...it is a matter of objective reasoning to evaluate the refutation.
Secondly, Pascal was speaking EXISTENTIALLY, on which basis, it cannot, in a real sense, be successfully countered. In an existential sense, to live in a state of personal fulfillment, happiness, and joy, even if one is wrong about transcendent issues (theistically), is to experience no actual loss, and to live in a negative, meaningless, and empty manner, even if accurate concerning the concept of no-afterlife, is to potentially lose a great deal over the course of one's existence. The existential manner of his argument is sound. Counter arguments usually involves issues relating to the actuality of transcendence, and the type of "God" one might meet-but that misses the point of Pascal's famous wager. To live as if life has real meaning, is far greater than living as if life is meaningless.
Another way of looking at it:
Theists devote there time on earth to a belief system that is a fallacy....I call that something very serious in the 'lose' column.
Pascal's Utterly Refuted To Death Wager needs to die the death it richly deserves.
And atheists do not need to disprove the unproven.
What kind of a monster do you worship that sends innocent human beings to hell for not believing in something that has never been proven? Or worse, what kind of an egomaniac hideous monster do you worship that would condemn innocent babies born in some remote country or tribe that have never heard of your "god", simply for not believing in your "god" because they've never heard of it? I might believe in your god if it didn't have such immoral human qualities.
Let me be more clear, then.. Pascal's Wager is stupid for use in any classical sense for any defined god.. If you want to use it as some sort of model for happy living or fulfillment, then have at it.. Who cares?
Atheists can however disprove religions like christianity and islam and judaism very easily. Besides I think that an infallible god might realize that you are just praying to get out of hell and be mad at you for lying.
"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." You seem to be mangling Carl Sagan's comment that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." But don't forget that he also said, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"
"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
Two + 2 = Four
2 + Two = 4
"an infallible god might realize that you are just praying to get out of hell and be mad at you for lying." Christians have pretty much admitted that they would be vile r a p i n g murdering, thieving evil doers if it was not for their God telling them not to. It's only God that gave them morals they claim so without him they would murder us all I guess. Problem is they also sometimes seem to think their God has given exceptions to the murder rule if they think they are doing it for him, so I guess the rest of us are just shlt out of luck...
My critical thinking has done nothing but strengthen my faith in God. See The Truth Project for an example of such thinking.
That's only because you can't think properly.
Better project to look at is Project Reason
Just go there.
Xtianity has stripped you of the privelege of thinking for yourself.
Nooooo, really Edwardo? ? ? Who would've thunk it?
Cosmology (big bang/hyperinflation), DNA, and self-consciousness are the primary areas of analysis and critical thinking that established theism as the only logical conclusion in my personal, rational pursuit (as many former atheists such as Anthony Flew or CS Lewis also admitted). Follow the evidence where ever it leads...not just to where you are comfortable.
CS Lewis has very, very stupid arguments, and Anthony Flew's position is only marginally deistic at best.. Just admit it, you have a faith.. Ok.. But you can't prove anything, and you know it.
Will you please tell me what religion you are so that I may tell you why critical thinking has led me to disbelieve that particular religion.
Really? NO WAY!
Bartholamew Mewmew. . .I like your name.