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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it does take a belief in the impossible to believe that all of the elements came from hydrogen, and that these elements "magically" came to be with no outside catalyst, even though this random phenomena has never been observed to actually happen on it's own, remember people, the big bang supposedly didn't happen in a controlled environment such as a lab where scientist can manipulate the variables and thus make theories true.......
A mathematician once said "if you do not agree that 1+2=3, then it defies logic to convince you that 3=3.”
How much magic does it take for the most complex and powerful intelligence imaginable to never have an origin? When you really think about it God is a far more impossible thing to believe in, which is exactly why you are told to just accept his existence as an article of faith.
I'm not sure what your point is.. How does imagining a big dude saying magic spells get us anywhere meaningful?
I wrote a long reply to this detailing basic cosmology, explaining why "heavier elements did not form in the big bang", providing a basic background for the theoretical foundation (GR -> FLWR metric) as well as the experimental foundation (WMAP, hydrogen-helium mass ratio, and I forgot to include COBE but I should have), butttt since apparently something tripped CNN's censors, it got eaten, and never to be seen again.
So instead I'll just lament how it annoys me how so many people are willing to play armchair physicist knowing absolutely nothing about physics.
That sucks, Andrew.. You aren't suggesting that "magic spell" inserted in the theory of cosmological evolution somehow gains us massive amounts of new great knowledge, I take it?
"Magic" seldom is a very satisfactory answer to physicists, no matter how much we students might want to use it as an answer on tests.
LOL! Summary of article: Being religious is stupid if you take the time to think about it. What a revelation.
Numerous studies indicate a strong negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. People don't like to talk about it.
When Cain slays Abel what mega-historical global social evolution is being referenced?
Ummm, Van Halen parting ways with David Lee Roth?
Why does your pet interpretation get to be right? That's the thing about religion, it can't be tested so anyone can claim they are right. Not true of science, hence all the progress it makes as religion continues to stagnate.
I don't say I'm right, mandarax....I say it's my point of view.
I believe that Cain represented agriculture (he was the farmer) taking over from Abel (the nomad).....one of the greatest social revolutions in the history of mankind.
Agriculture made cities, specialization of labor and speedy progress possible.
But Cain wasn't a hunter/gatherer, he was a herdsman. Herd animals are also domesticated and played an immense role in trade, labor, food, and the agricultural revolution itself (as plow pullers and millstone turners). It's a neat thought, but they were both specialized in domestic subsistence.
– Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
– Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
– Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
– Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
He is able and willing. It only takes a little faith to realize He may have a greater purpose in allowing evil. CS Lewis has an excellent discussion of free will. He says imagine if you had none. What would feel like? Wouldn't you be like an automaton.? And in that case what would be the value of your love if it had no choice but was compelled. God gave us free will but it means He permits us to commit sin and evil, even though He desires us to do good. Kind of like a loving parent, who wants their child to learn.
No thanks.. I'll be having no part of a god who complacently witnesses such dregs of suffering as life evidences.. Yuck!!
In human relationships, children eventually grow up and are able to assume the role of parent. God never lets people become fully adult, able to judge and implement what is good and evil for ourselves. How many adults have to live by their parent's rules forever?
What does the eating of the apple symbolize?
It can be interpreted differently depending on the "reading.". Are you using a Post-colonial lens, or Marxist, or Feminist, or what?
How about an answer.....it's really very.....very.....simple.
I have always believed that is one of the most powerful allegories in the Bible. It symbolizes to me, quite accurately, how gaining knowledge will undermine your faith. It recognizes knowledge as the enemy of religion, and thus makes seeking it appear to be a sin.
Mandarax is close to my view.
I think it represents the coming of self-consciousness (an evolutionary change) and the birth of the bi-cameral brain.....therefore, the fig leaf. Adam and Eve never knew they were naked until the birth of self-consciousness.
@ mandarax: no, that's a cynic's take. the Bible states clearly that God is the real source of knowledge/truth/etc.
eating the apple is enacting this defiance: "i can get knowledge & I don't need you."
according to the Bible, that defiance is actually the sacrifice of the intellect on the ultimate scale.
It also puts the blame where it rightly belongs, women.
Russ, exactly. The Bible says that all knowledge comes from the Bible (you see the problem there, don't you?). Looking outside the Bible will make you question the Bible. To make sure you heed that warning, it makes knowledge not gained from the Bible (you know, the stuff that makes computers work and planes fly and plastic containers possible) evil and grounds for punishment.
Computers help to control mass populations.
Plastic is polluting the planet.
Planes help to spread infectious diseases more efficiently.
It seems that everything has two sides (or more).
@ mandarax: two things...
1) i meant literarily. authorial intent should decide what "eating the apple" really means. so yes, as with any piece of literature, what did the author intend? you look within the literature.
2) the Bible does not teach that knowledge only comes from within the Bible (existence/creation teaches: Ps.19, Rom.1). And ultimately, if there is a God/source of all Knowledge/Truth, wouldn't it make sense that in order to get knowledge, you go to the One who defines/makes it?
Cross reference the Greek myth of Pandora. Isn't her story of releasing all the woes upon the earth pretty much the same thing being taught by Eve and the apple? Just goes to show that the common opinion of ancient Mediterranean society was that women were the blame for everything that went wrong, which neatly justified their lower standing next to men.
Eating the apple symbolizes an attempt by man to attribute to themselves qualities that belong only to God. In particular, the ability to decipher good from evil. The decision to eat the apple is therefore a defiance of God and results in a perverted version of justice to exist.
Ricky, I'm not claiming they are all good or all bad. I am claiming that they WORK. They are based on cu.mulative knowledge gained through the scientific method in just a handful of decades.
For those who believe in evolution.....What's next?
We'll see in next few hundred millenea...
Evolution is not a belief.
Well, gross evolution i.e. that which is driven by external factors has pretty much stopped because of medicine etc. since the weak won't just naturally die out. That pressure is off us as a species. I doubt our species will be around long enough to see any noticeable evolutionary change though.
There have been huge evolutionary changes in the past 10,000 years....esp the last 5,000.
Read Julan Jaynes, the Origins of Consciousness.
For momoya....think of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
Supra, I'm not sure what you mean by "gross evolution" but I don't think I agree. Evolution is simply change in frequencies of alleles within a population. It is going on all the time. If you mean speciation, that could happen at least two ways: one population of humans becomes separated from the rest biologically (perhaps in future space colonization), or by a very gradual process wherein at some point an individual from the future population is sufficiently different that they could not successfully mate with an individual from today (though the latter would be hypothetical, because none would be around to mate with). That's my understanding.
A famous Russian Math and all around science genius who also happens to be a devout Muslim Christian Buddhist discovers a way to quantify the theory of evolution and it then becomes the Law of Evolution. This happens in the year 2020 and all the quacks pushing for the nonsensical intelligent design jokes in our schools must simply bag groceries and admit that they are smoking cocaine mushroom heroin buds.
Yes, ricky, allegories are nifty.. You've seen Star Wars and The Matrix and all that jazz.
In fact, analytic thinking alone leads human beings to nowhere. Everyone lives by faith and logic thinking. You have to have faith to live: either believe in no God, or else. If one really cares about truth, evidence will lead to you God.
I believe the virus has full control of this one.. baaaaaaaaaa. You've stepped a little too far away from the corral, dear.
Live by faith and logic ? Thats an oxymoron... If you understand logic, then faith has no place in your life.
You know this is right on, well people really do not know enough about religion. That is unless you actively seek out the answer, but people really do not. Really, people have made up ideas as to what their religion believes and they form their own opinion on matters. Therefore, when they stop and think about it they are really thinking through what they believe and they sort through what makes sense and what does not. When it comes to it the world works in a less mystical way. The bible says God created the world, well how did he do that? The bible says that God said it will and it did. Science says that there was a big bang. Well to people who didn’t even understand gravity how would you explain a big bang. With light, God said let there be light. Really that is all they had to know. Now, of course we know what that light is. Back to my point, people think that how God does things with magic, and well sometimes it is so but not most of the times. Really, people need to learn more about their faith and then that time thinking will not matter because then they will know what they truly believe.
Did you get your grass on the street or is that home-grown.
Religion began around aboriginal campfires asking the only fundamental questions:
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?
The only thing that's changed is the scenery.
And we still don't have a definitive answer, momoya.
Though, my guess is that it's the same place.
When a child wakens in the middle of the night because of a strange sound, what parent hasn't at least been tempted to make up a nice, harmless explanation even when they hadn't a clue themselves? That's likely how gods were first imagined, right?
Andrew, be gentle.
Sorry folks, but this is nothing new...God asked us to do this very thing (via the prophet Isaiah) 2800 yrs ago: Isa 1:18
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
How, exactly, does this tie in?
Really – this is really big news. If you question fairy tales they seem like fairy tales – wow reallyy?
If you want to invent your own religion I suppose you should rely mostly on intuition. But if you want to be a Christian, you're called to think about what God has said. The Bible and God's will require reflection. Sounds like they inappropriately classified "devout believers". Someone can claim to be devout, but if you don't associate critical thinking with your beliefs, perhaps you aren't really living them.
While it's unclear from this article, it definitely sounds like a study that sought a particular result and achieved it. Where's the critical thinking about experimental design?:-P
Experimental design? What the heck is that?
It's just that these are professional psychologists. The magical mumbo jumbo was ruled out long ago, so it is not maintained as part of the experimental design. That's how good research proceeds.
We have not succeeded in solving all your problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole new set of questions. In some ways, we feel we are confused as ever, but we believe we are now cornfused on a higher level and about more important things. The Management.
Andrew. Ouch. Be gentle.
it takes faith to believe that there is a God and it also takes faith to believe that life came into existence from a random and extremely unlikely occurrence that even physicist and some scientist don't even believe is physically possible
Life is obvious; therefore, it takes no faith to believe in its existence.. The phrases "random chance" are really confusing since sensible people don't believe in "random chance" but the proven mechanisms of natural selection of gene mutation.. How does saying, "A big dude said a magic spell" help your understanding or knowledge of life ?that a study of the proven mechanisms does not
You are mistaken, because one of those (the latter, though you described it poorly) is constrained by evidence, and will change as new evidence is identified – that is the opposite of faith.
Good thinking ! Pick and choose the Scientists that agree with you, and ignore all the rest.
In fact, analytic thinking alone leads human beings to nowhere. Everyone lives by faith and logic thinking. You have to have faith to live: either believe in no God, or else.
One survey (American Academy of Sciences) found that literally 99.8% of life and earth scientists accept evolution.
Claims of experts being unsure of evolution are greatly exaggerated, if not entirely fabricated.
... Physicists don't have any problem with that. Well, we do, but they're a lot more nuanced than you seem to think. We cannot, for example, properly explain galactic formation, dwarf galaxies and some disk galaxies are hard to figure out how they'd form under our current cosmological models. Dark matter is part of this problem, as we know there is "something", and we have a number of guesses as to what that could be, but so far none have been confirmed. For example, the current best fitting model is the Λ-CDM model, which does a good job fitting the WMAP data, but still has a hard time creating some of the structures we see.
So a lot of what physicists are wondering about has to do with "well, we can see at least 20% of the ingredients we're missing (the other ~70% in dark energy, IE, cosmological constant is a whole second mess), so we can somewhat replicate what the flavour will be, but we can't quite get the perfect texture, we're missing the right chunks".
Physicists are improving that too, but their problems have nothing to do with "well how can this come from nothing". That, in particular, is a strawman of the big bang, which is really just a expansion of space-time from a "singularity". I put singularity in quotes because really, we can't describe what happened in the universe before one planck time, because we have no model of quantum gravity. So since there isn't actually physics to describe the universe under a planck time, all this "what was there before the universe" becomes, more or less, a silly question from a physics standpoint. The answer is a very obvious "we don't know yet, we can't answer questions at that timescale without unifying quantum theory and general relativity."
Then don't get me started on the string theorists, who do not have a fully flushed out quantum gravity model contrary to their overzealous popular media claims.
Still, even with all we don't know about the universe, especially related to the formation of some galaxies... the milky way isn't that extreme or strange, and physics as it stands very easily explains, from the electro-weak big bang epoch to now, how a planet like earth could have formed. We have the accretion models, we have understandings of heavy metal rich solar systems, we have really everything needed to pass the torch of "life" over to the bio-chemists and biologists.
Wow, Andrew. Fascinating – thanks!
Andrew, I was shocked to see this fairly good post considering some of the other posts you made on some of the higher-numbered pages here. It's like...oh, nevermind. I'll catch up with you somewhere and we can go at it hammer and tongs.
Religion began around aboriginal campfires seeking answers to the only fundamental questions:
Where did we come from?
Where are we going?
Nothing has changed except the scenery.
The fundamental question still remains unanswered . . . WHAT DO WOMEN WANT ? ? ?
We know a lot more than we did so our imaginations have more depth and scope.. Theorizing is great fun.
Those two fundamental questions have been answered within the mind of anyone who embraces religion and has become comfortable with the answer. Life makes a lot more sense when that is done. Confusion reigns in the mind of those who have not embraced a religion.
So any religion will do?. Really? Fine, I've been waiting to break out my own religion.
momoya, Christianity is a good place to start, but pretty much any religion will do. I do however suggest that you stay away from religions based on 'self', they tend to be not very fulfilling.
The use of supernaturalism to manipulate and control people is the world's oldest confidence scheme, it relies on the ritual abuse of children at their most impressionable stage by adults who have themselves been made childish for life by artifacts of the primitive mind.- Your Mom on a CNN comment about 4/12/12.
I posted this comment with my regular name around 8 AM. Seems it was too true for someone. It has disappeared. Perhaps this exact same factual statement above will remain longer
Hell is filled with critical thinkers, they are thinking how the hell did I get into hell. Oh hell I must have thought the wrong thing , how the hell do I get out of this hell I thought didnt exist, what the hell was I thinking. Now is the time to be critical not when you find out the hell you didnt think existed but was made up by man to control your behavior. The carnal mind is emnity with God, you cannot understand God or faith with your mind it is in your spirit, but most of you are to smart for God. PP
How much do you worry about winding up in Muslim hell?? That's precisely how much me and believers of other gods feel about your threats..
I'd rather spend an eternity in hell burning with those who care about the beauty of thought, than an eternity in heaven knowing my idols like Dirac or Feynman are burning in hell, and all I'm left with are sycophants praising a vain malevolent deity. Your heaven IS my hell.
please believe in your hell, hopefully itll leave you so emotionally devoid that youll spread it to your children, your children will feel the same way and eventually theyll kill you or themselves, or both. god i hate people like you.
If you do not believe in critical thinking and science, then do not use a computer.
Andrew, sorry but believers and non-believers are not distinguishable by their level of intelligence as you suggest. As a believer this is no great mystery, but you seem to stumble over this as though this belief was somehow essential to your religious worldview.
... I'm saying that since Dirac and Feynman, two of my greatest idols, were atheists, they would be in hell. So yeah, I'd rather spend an eternity in hell with people I respect, than an eternity in heaven surrounded by believers offering sycophantic praise to a vain god who requires blind faith from his sheep. There are no uncertain terms, between a heaven granted only to the faithful, and a hell granted to skeptics, I'd take hell any day of the week, this guy's heaven sounds like my hell.
By the way, I just have to say this while I'm sipping out of my UBC water bottle. Go us! ... Even if it's not the physics department.
"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."
The fact that people with reasonable IQs — who are familiar with contemporary man-made technology, and who are also familiar with the technology evident in living systems — can accept the transparent fantasy that Darwinian mechanisms can produce such biological systems, is a testimony to the ability of some to abandon all reason, even when bludgeoned over the head with evidence and logic. The great irony is that those of us who follow the evidence where it leads are labeled enemies of science, when the real state of affairs is precisely the opposite.
We choose our assumptions with our hearts, which can be sensitive to the truth or blank it, often with great emotional intensity, as many of them do, since it is their world-view that is in the balance.
Because I am *sure* you are well researched in biology to be able to accuratly make said statment, right? This isn't just, *gasp* literally the textbook definition of an argument from ignorance. Right? "I cannot concieve of how this mechanism could produce complex systems, ergo, it doesn't, and damned any evidence to the contrary".
You are, of course, well versed on things like endogenous retro-viral DNA markers, and how they could be used to test for a nested hierarchical structure to life on this planet, right? You read the peer reviewed papers when they discover new fossils, so that you can see how they predicted where to dig, and what features were expected, and what were novel, right? You've done all of this, and you've at least got an equivalent of a graduate student education on evolutionary biology to make an informed decision about the inability for evolutionary processes to properly explain the complexity of life, right?
Of course you do, because otherwise you'd be spouting ignorant rethoric based on your unwillingness to actually do the proper research necessary, and find your story of 'god made us from dirt' to be far more simple to understand. Why try learning complex evidence that takes students and researchers lifetimes to pick up, when saying "no, it can't work, sorry" is SO much easier?
Accurately and statement*
I am slightly (see: Highly) incompetent when it comes to spelling.
What alternate theory do you propose and what hypotheses are you currently testing to provide weight to the system responsible that you will define for inclusion into evolutionary science??
You weren't just going to say that we need to add the phrase "magic spell" somewhere and that's it, were you?
Huh? Are you saying the "bible" is proof that science is wrong?
You may have a large vocabulary, but when it comes down to it you are incredibly ignorant. Evolution is incredibly sensible, and even observable. Why do you think you can get a cold or flue every year? Evolution. Until you say why it is illogical, which will put you in conflict with virtually every scientist, you just look stupid for refuting the accepted theory. Just read a book on evolution not written by a devout Christian, it will explain it better than we can.
There are no facts proving God exists. The bible is not fact. They have proved that the majority of the facts in the bible are actually incorrect via archaeology. Same reason why Jesus has the same exact back story as Horus and countless other deities that are no longer talked about. Jesus died for our sins? Well... so did about 5 other people. Evolution is an accepted theory and they have forced evolution in the lab (look up the fruit fly experiment). The problem with the human species is our hubris nature and, for whatever reason, the incorrect notion that we are the center of the universe. I accept a Hawkings God but not a God these religions try to force down our throats.
Somehow I doubt that MrHansen suggests that evolution doesn't happen. I agree that some things are difficult to explain according to the mechanism of evolution. Its hard to see how life could spontaneously evolve into a species that require both a male and female for reproduction. I can see the benefit from the point of view of genetics/diversity, etc but how exactly was there suddenly a population that went from self reproducing to reproducing with male/female functions? I don't see how it is possible that this sudden mutation would occur. It seems most likely that it would result from a more complex organism spontaneously splitting into two pieces that each carried a reproductive function. But even this is difficult to conceive of.
In any case evolution doesnt really contradict Christianity. Newer scientific findings are more of a bother for those of us who think we know more about the world than we really do.
Mike those are really interesting questions that are hopefully driving lots of really good science right this minute.. What do they have to do with a god existing or not?. When we do discover those answers, do you suppose there might be some hard evidence for a god, finally?. I'm just curious as to why you bring up those particular mysteries.
Mike Blackadder, wikipedia has a nice (well cited) article on the evolution of s-xual reproduction, I suggest you take a look at it, because you don't seem to have a strong grasp on how it happened.
Andrew, considering that I hadn't read about it before, I don't think I was overly ignorant of the subject. I guess it's not a surprise that there are theories for how s-xual reproduction occurred, and don't know enough to tell if they are spouting nonsense. It sounds like its pretty much impossible to test the theories, so well accept them on faith for now.
momoya, like I said previously, evolution doesn't really contradict Christianity. It's sort of irrelevant. It's an interesting topic. The particular point that I raised was on my mind only because I'd heard that this particular problem in theory of evolution resulted in a prominent atheist Antony Flew changing his mind about the existence of God. But I think sometimes people just change their minds due to intuition...
Momoya, it makes much more sense that some god invented male and female genders so that they would have to have s3x to procreate so that the same god could then make all kinds of rules about having s3x so that everybody becomes slightly crazy over a necessary bodily function...
"It sounds like it is pretty much impossible to test the theories"?
No, no it's really not... like I said, there's a wikipedia article (well cited) on evolution of s-xual reproduction. They key is that little "well cited" part, because it means that you can click the citations and lo and behold, the page will take you down to a link to a peer reviewed paper. That peer reviewed paper is the evidence, and you can read that to see how they tested and came up with their theories.
Rather than just say "it is impossible", why not, you know, do the research and answer the question? Unless you're well educated in the subject, you're generally not qualified to say what is, or is not possible to test. Hell, you probably don't even know the methods of gathering evidence in the first place.