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.”
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.”
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
“Religion is such an important part of the world and we have so little understanding of it,” What's to understand? It's all bull-dinky.
Patriarchy existed before religions. it gets confused with morality from religion, but you have morals before you have religion. its from patriarchy. taught to boys before they have a language. later for women.
there is no god. its just men glorifying their own selves.
i think people are looking for evidence of a conscience. not religion so much, but just possessing a conscience. true sociopaths (no conscience) just think a conscience is silly. they know you have one, but they just learn to use it to get to positions of power.
Remember "Dobie Gilas" from the early 60s, with "The Thinker" in the background. With our first "beatnik", Maynard C. Krebs, played by Bob Denver("Gilligan").
WOW, what a retarded article... Actually the more I reason – the more I believe, and I'm an engineer with all skepticism you can imagine... what a waste of web-space.
To what mechanism do you attribute the low amount of faith among your peers?. The more educated a person is the less likely that they believe in a personal god.. Why?
That is what I'm trying to convey. It's not that God can be discovered by intelligence alone, but that intelligence adds to foundation of faith, strengthening it with facts. The more logical reasoning the person has – the more convinced he is of his faith.
But you're NOT conveying anything meaningful to me.. WHY is it that the more educated a person is the less likely he is to believe?. You are one of the rare few who somehow maintain faith as they increase their knowledge, but that is not the typical story.. WHY?!?!?! Why isn't it that the more educated a person is the more likely they are to believe?
Let's consider this example:
World-wide flood: the bible says that it happened and Jesus said that it happened, yet we know that it never did–in fact, it's scientifically IMPOSSIBLE to have occurred..
This presents a dilemma for the believer; he must find a way to maintain belief while understanding that the facts make his belief impossible.. The more educated a person is the more likely he will "side" with the facts; the less educated a person is, the less the facts matter and so faith can fill the gaps in his knowledge.
it probably seemed like a world wide flood back when the world was flat and people didn't have a way to travel very far.
Myths have their origins in fact.. Floods happen all the time and certainly they can be extremely devastating to entire geographical areas.. Massive floods happen all over the world and nearly every culture has a "flood" myth.. Exactly what we would expect to find.
momoya.... how do you know it's impossible? Just because science can't prove it doesn't mean it can't happen. That is why this is called Faith. Evolution was once the sole reason why we exist (that's what I was taught in school), but now it's just a theory among many others. I
What "facts" strengthen your believe in God? There are no facts that support the existence of God. The Bible is a work of fiction.
That's the magic of "faith.". It can make anything possible.. It's why the mormons believe in magic underwear and why muslims believe in a flying horse and why christians believe in talking snakes and virgin births.. Faith makes all beliefs seem reasonable to the faithful who maintain that belief..
The question is why god would trick us by making a flood physically impossible but demanding our belief in it.. Why would god ask us to believe in something that the very laws of physics state is an impossibility? Doesn't that strike you as pretty stupid?
Be careful! Too much analytical thinking can cause you to doubt this article on analytical thinking! If one's assumptions and beliefs are based on blind faith or are weak in their foundations OF COURSE analytical thinking is going to upset the apple cart. But it could also strengthen one's worldview.
The New Testament teaches us to "think on these things", "test all things", "and he reasoned with them" (Acts 17). Truth dares to be questioned. I suggest we all analyze what we believe more often!
My views were similar to yours as I studied and prayed and fasted and ministered for nearly 50 years.. The more I learned about the bible and proper logical reasoning, the less I was able to believe it's multifaceted stupidity.. The bible is a horrible book for describing god or any sort of esoteric knowledge because of its many, many inconsistencies that cannot be logically resolved.. (I spent almost two decades working with other scholars on this point).. The bible makes great sense once you understand what you're reading: a collection of revised myths that were revised both before the jewish people borrowed them from surrounding cultures and after they incorporated them into their mythos..
I've come to the opposite conclusion. I find the Bible amazingly coherent and unified. I've looked at the many instances of alleged contradiction and troublesome passages and have not found one instance that cannot be reasonably reconciled.
But I'm not surprised that you've come to your conclusions if the "scholars" and research have led you to believe the Jews (especially in the New Testament) adopted pagan stories or myths into their Judaism. Scholarship shows that nothing is further from the truth!
Further, similarities do not prove same source! Similarities are just that.
The bible is rife with contradictions and proofs of the inclusions of neighboring myths.. I've spent decades and decades attempting to reconcile it's ridiculous statements..
Can you please name one contradiction you have resolved and explain your process?? After all, I've proven that I can change my mind on the matter.. Maybe your methodology wasn't one of the many I considered and tested.. I'd like to work with it myself if you can explain how to do so.
a lot of people just stick their head in the sand. its too creepy. they don't want to know the truth.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how you found the bible "coherent". There is so much there that is contradictory. For you to say you found no inconsistancies tells me you are relying solely on faith, because there is absolutely no possible way a rational, thinking person could come to your conclusions.
Momoya, you are right on here.
Indeed, Susan.. Most believers remain faithful for reasons of emotional comfort.. Their faith is comfortable and comforting; therefore, they section of those parts of their brain where faith resides and instead rely on emotional 'evidence.'. In every other area of their lives they would laugh off this sort of 'evidence,' and so they can never give sound logic as to why they believe as they do..
Believers are like fish swimming in a murky pond who all have faith that if they just swim a few more yards everything will clear up.. The atheists are like the birds above who understand that the entire pond is a murky mud puddle and the fish are just blindly swimming in circles.
For starters, the Inerrancy of Scripture is a peripheral issue in Christianity. But, I think the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy is most thorough and I hold to it. And I think it is remarkable how well the Bible holds up under scrutiny.
Secondly, my approach is to examine whether a plausible, reasonable solution to a discrepancy is available according to the data. I think this can be done without stretching credulity or being preposterous.
A simple example is the death of Judas. Did he hang himself or fall off the cliff onto the rocks below? When we combine the data it is likely he hanged himself over one of the local craggy cliffs and the limb or rope broke. He was found on the rocks below.
Another, "Yom" can mean a long period of time so the language of Genesis does not demand six 24-hour days for creation. I find this fascinating and typical of passages that are criticized most.
If I were a betting man I would bet all I have that you cannot bring up one instance of an alleged error in the Scriptures that I haven't studied. That doesn't mean I have all the answers or that there are not problems, just that there are reasonable solutions to issues that threaten the inspiration of Scripture. Some solutions are better than others.
Finally, most Christians become discouraged when they hold to a "wooden literalism" or are just misinformed on good exegesis available. There is no reason to jettison the reliability of Scripture for the Christian.
It is the analytical scientists who are deciphering the secrets and building blocks of creation, such as DNA. So many advances are being made that religion and physics are coming closer together. Blind belief gets us nowhere, but science moves us forward. Many Eastern faiths have always been much closer to the scientific truths of the universe than Christianity.
My ex-roommate's favorite Bible story is the one in which Jesus calls Peter to walk to him on the water, and Peter does. When he becomes afraid, he begins to sink and calls for help. Jesus catches his hand and says "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
I always thought that was such a silly question. Doesn't it take a truly unreasonable person NOT to doubt that he is walking on water?
Not if Christ, the Son of God, who performed miracles in front of them and awed the crowds with his love and profound teaching is staring you in the face!
You seem like a great audience member to have at magic shows. 😉
Here, hank, choke on your own god's disgusting morality:
yawn..... not this red herring again.
So, hank, what's your point on morality, now?.
If might makes right and morality is subjective in the being of god, then there really isn't any objective morality–even by your own "faith.". LOLOL!!
now your offering up the euthyphro dilemna?
double yawn... that's been debunked since plato.
Nope, not all.. I am using common sense; something that you seem to be severely laking in.
Are you going to actually put forth some ideas, or are you going to just get more and more snippy and unreasonable?.
Why don't you put forth an argument for your view? Show HOW we KNOW that there is a firm moral code with convincing EVIDENCE, and not just some flimsy morality where the mightiest gets to do whatever he wants and have morality subjective to his status as god which then provides you absolutely no method of determining what is "right" and "wrong" for all situations.
WOW! I didn't know you could paste a movie in "facebook". I'll look through my old 8mm home movies from the '50s.
Religion is a wonderful support system for people who cannot stand on thier own. If you need someone to tell you and make you morale than religion is for you. If you need to feel a part of a group that makes you feel superior to others – than religion is for you. That IS the basis of any faith based group. If you cannot think for yourself, if you need something to enforce right from wrong, if you to feel you are a better person than others than religion is for you.
Unless u r a former member of a cult I don't see why your insights into religion applies to mine. I hold my beliefs very personally. I worked them out myself. Others do so all the time.
To say that religion is for the weakminded is a reflection on ur current superiority complex not on ours.
"I worked them out myself. Others do so all the time."
Yep, you make it up yourself with no objective truth, it is all subjective.
@Hank, your attempt to bring faith into a logical argument is fatally flawed. You are saying god exists because an objective morals are necessary for our survival and god provides those objective morals. That is a nice, concise belief structure, but it is hardly sound reasoning. People belief in god as the objective source of morals. This allows us to have a functioning society. If the judeo-christian moral code no longer supports our society, then one of two things must happen; our society will collapse, or the moral code will need to change. A core tennant of that belief system (and most belief systems) is one of the supremacy of that system. In our current pleuralistic society a continued adherence to this belief will be increasingly distructive. The only answer is for our multiple belief systems to adjust their moral codes to allow for each other. Without that, we risk real or symbolic murder and enslavement of the beliefs that lose by the belief that emerges as victor. Would it be morally sound for the Christian majority in this country to return to a legacy of murder, suppression, enslavement, and disenfranchisment of non-believers? That's the objective moral code you seem to revere.
this video is the same garbage that same harris spews. you can't declare something immoral simply because it harms someone. then you are stuck with the question why is harming someone wrong?
Because we all agree it is wrong to harm someone.. It's called empathy.. You don't want to be harmed, so you don't harm others.. Duh.. Are you really so fvcking stupid that you can't come up with a better rebuttal than that?
because you don't like to be harmed doesn't mean it is "wrong" to harm. why can't you understand that? it's not that complicated.
hilarious when atheists lose the argument they resort to name calling.
"Wrong" and "right" are what we agree on, hank.. I thought I had already explained that to you.. Nobody wants to be murdered, and we all agree, so we call that "wrong" and put it into law.. It's logical.
I’m staging a National Day of Irreverence. My goal today is to break every one of the ten commandments in Exodus 20. For those of you who don’t know what the ten commandments are (xtians mostly) go look them up. I AM NOT suggesting that anyone go out and break the law but using the infamous “Way of the Master” version. Lust after a woman to commit adultery in your heart, covet things instead of stealing, and hate (someone who cuts you off in traffic or a minister who says that you should beat your kids if they are gay) instead of murder.
Enjoy your National Day of Irreverence and pass this on to as many people as you can.
if atheism is true, then there is certainly nothing wrong with any of those things atll. since objective morality does not exist in a world without god, then have fun on your little irrelevance day.
but why stop at legal "sins". if you don't get caught, there is nothing evil about stealing or murder. so why shouldn't someone practice those things as well on your irrelevance day if you know that you won't get caught?
Subjective morality handles human situations just fine today as it has for the last 200k years or however long ho.mo sapiens has been around.. You're not familiar with what we call: "logical reasoning" are you?
but that's exactly my point. you said that you believe that some things are "right" and "wrong". but subjective moral relativism tells us that something that might be "wrong" with one society is "right" with another. if some society thinks there's nothing wrong with murder or stealing then it who is to say they are truly wrong? no one.
Actually, that's not your point at all, hank, but you don't seem to understand how logic works, so whatever..
Yes, actions and behavior are "right" and "wrong" regardless of the fact that those denotations are not eternal.. Everything is context.. A movie only lasts an hour and a half, but there's still a structure to the movie even if it doesn't go on forever and ever.. Societal pressures define "right' and "wrong" for their specific culture.. Usually it's based on empathy and general opinion.. Most societies declare murder wrong because nobody wants to be murdered.. If nobody wants to be murdered, everybody recognizes this fact, and determine that murder is wrong.
U seem 2 forget most gracefully that de conscience in man is intuitive unless psychology wasnt taught in Seminary those days. Judgement or what is called relative morality is only an attempt 2 justify one's actions in de face of conscience. It isnt independent of it. U bash gay priests! Why?
Nii, if you can't make any more sense than that pile of random words then get thee elsewhere.. You're nothing but a distraction; gtfo.
You ridicule religion to the point where u don't make any sense. Lust as adultery is meant to portray something that u r too young to understand. If u want to break the 10 u can but unfortunately don't get slapped with a restraining order for stalking or any other legal implications.
How about adding the seven deadly sins as well?
Yes reason and logic will quickly put the gods, devils, spirits, ghosts etc to rest if you have an I.Q over 10 but what then will feed your ego?? hmmmmm..
are you really insulting the intelligence of theists while you believe that your life has meaning in a meaningless universe? oh the irony....
Intelligent theists LOL good one dude.
way to dodge my point. keep living that fairy tale answerman!
I have no religious belief whatsoever. See how simple that was.
i'm afraid it's not that simple. as nietzche and russell point out, you must now face the implications of this belief: the ultimate meaninglessness of your life, the lack of objective moral values, and the fact that your life can exist "only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair".
@Hank. Maybe your life is meaninless because you dont have a sky fairy buddy. Get with reality.
@hank ... one does not need to be religious to have a strong sense of morals, to know right from wrong, or to know how to treat others.
believing your own life has meaning while existing in a meaningless universe is the fairy tale. not the "sky buddy" as you call it.
If atheism is true, morality is nothing but an evolved construct to aid in the survival of herd animals. it's not "evil" to kill another human. it just hurts the survivability of the herd. why do so few atheists recognize what they believe?
why are atheists so afraid to apply this analytical thinking to their own existence? why do they live this fairy tale that their lives have any meaning at all? at least bertrand russell had the courage to accept the "unyielding despair" of a life without God. I can't say the same for most atheists.
To hank: I disagree with the notion that a lack of religious belief equates a lack of objective moral values, or that life is meaningless. I find great comfort in knowing I am not a slave to religion, and still have compassion for humanity. However it happened, we are here, so let's make the best of it, and respect each other's beliefs and needs as human beings.
i find it odd that you forgot to mention WHERE this objective moral foundation lies.
I checked and the National Academy of Sciences is a very restricted organisation. It is not an umbrella body of American Scientists let alone worl.dwide scientists.
Hank: For me, it's rooted in human suffering, something we all have experienced in different degrees, rich or poor. Reinforced by the idea that we treat each other how we want to be treated. Don't get me wrong, I know not all atheists share this belief, they take "survival of the fittest" to an extreme and turn it into "I'll screw you b4 you screw me". Overall, one of the most important choices humanity has to make is whether to let someone else define their lives (organized religion) or define it for themselves (freedom). Even though within that freedom it is quite alright to believe in a higher power.
This study is incomplete. How many of the participants have studied their religion? How many have asked the question, why do we believe this? Blind faith without reason is not a strong base for one's faith. I am a particle physicist and a Christian. I actively apply rigorous logical thinking in my study of the Bible. If anything, it strengthens my faith. I would posit that most people who question their religion after "thinking analytically" are those who did not study their faith in the first place. Perhaps that should be worked into this study.
You may or may not be a particle physicist, but clearly your analytical skills and historical knowledge is lacking if in depth study of your faith does not raise questions. How about the complete lack of historical evidence for most of the old testament accounts that give legitimacy to Christ's status as the Messiah? How about the lack of certainty in terms of the veracity and authors of the gospels and the epistles which were written decades after Christ's death? The fact that Bible has been proven to include later interpolations by unknown scribes? The fact that the accounts and doctrines contract themselves? I am only a student (in a science), but I know that if one applies the scientific method and honest scholarship to the study of scripture and Christianity, one would not come to the conclusion that Christianity is the rational choice of religion above all others. Contrarily, Christianity is one of many religions that had mass appeal and spread through much more earthly means.
I wonder if you might share a little bit about what it's like to be a particle physicist who believes in a personal god when the vast majority of your peers (92-94%) make no such claims and either lack belief or think of an original "energy" rather than a thinking "god.".
In other words, how do you study something that you can't measure or make predictable / falsifiable hypotheses?? When a fellow particle physicist asks you how you study what you can't apply the scientific method to–what do you answer?
92-94%??? citation certainly needed on that.
Even Wikipedia doesnt back up de assertion that most scientists r atheist. De fact that atheists make all sorts of unfounded assertions about scientists is a great source of worry to me. u don't have to be bright to be atheist or vice versa. If u can study de Bible analytically u discover its beauty
Its beauty in being the foremost psychoanalytic text ever written is not in doubt. If you read it like a story book it works. As a theology text it works too. however it is its powers of psychoanalyses that make it truly beautiful. Faith, love, hope are intuitive thoughts. They are not analytic.
According to The National Academy of Sciences the percentage of believers in a personal god is certainly lower than 10% and probably much lower (about 4-6%).
Religious belief is learned, why else do parents put their kids into religious education classes at such an early age? Religion and spirituality are such nebulous topics that no one can expect a child tocomprehend what he is being taught in these classes, but the whole point of a religious mindset is to keep the believers in this dependent, childlike state. If a believing adult begins to question his beliefs he will either choose to keep on believing because thats just what he is supposed to do, or he will leave his faith behind. There really is no moddle ground. Either you swallow the whole story, or you do not. Far too many people select what they want to believe, and forego the rest. How can this be? Believers delude themselves and deminish the religious experience when they choose to do this.
If one wants to investigate as much as possible behind Christianity then it follows that one should also read the history of the early church and not just read ONLY the bible. Reading early church histories led me to conclude that the driving forces were church authorities but also the Roman Emperors who used Christianity to unify the Roman Empire. some of the important councils for determining the books of the bible were essentially directed by Roman Emperors like Theodosius I.
Thus the bible was created by men for political reasons. Analysis is thus shown to be contradictory to faith which just says "believe without thinking of why or even what exactly do you believe".
You do realise that those you accuse of doctoring the Bible will have used analytic thinking to do it. However they had a motive to do so which is intuitive. I post and by my words alone, people detect my emotional state by their intuition. It is done all the time at poker tables n everywhere.
I agree wholeheartedly with this article because this is a truth that I've been living and struggling with for awhile. Spirituality is heavily based on faith which truly goes hand in hand with intuitive thinking if you define intuition as the perception of truth independent of reasoning. Analytical thinking relies on evidence based arguments, and applying that to the spiritual realm that says that a deity exists in the sky that no one on this earth has ever seen will truly leave you confused and searching for answers that you may never receive. I do also agree though that it depends on how devout your faith was to begin with. Those who are devout believers probably seldom struggle with analytical arguments of, "does God exist", or "is He all powerful" because they simply believe wholeheartedly that He is real. And as anyone can attest to, the mind is an extremely powerful thing. If in your mind, you have a strong spiritual connection, nothing can break that, though I do think that strong spiritual believers question their faith at times, but the difference is that the outcome of the questioning doesn't lessen the belief system but often times makes it stronger when they find their answer. On the other side of that, if your mind is clouded by doubt and plagued with the mental struggles that sometimes characterize analytical thinkers, can you ever believe that 'truth' independent of what your reasoning says? Being an analytical thinker myself, I wonder if it's possible to toss out the need for reason, evidence, and proof and just 'have faith' when it comes to spirituality. I think that is a concept that I will forever struggle with.
Why would you want to, "toss out the need for reason, evidence, and proof"? To feel comfortable in ignorance or to fit in? Some people think it is those who reject religion that are closed minded but it is the person that rejects evidence and immovable in their beliefs that is truly closed minded.
Never reject your analytical side.
If u reject the key brain function for the second-best u r being close-minded. The PC is analytic but is neither instinctive or intuitive and hence is dead. Open-mindedness is to seek the development of all sides to your thinking. Intuition is with you no matter what. You use it all the time.
crap, religious belief is not "intuitive"
but if you read the bible analytically you may well question your faith, if you are honest
Why? Are u now disputing the results of a scientific experiment? If u wud, then kindly define intuition as the scientists understand it vs how u understand it.
I have to agree with Ausie, there are many factors to belief but I don't think intuition best describes it. If anything I think their use of the words "intuitive thinking" is a way of trying to draw focus away from what this article is really saying, 'If you think reasonably then religion is a bit ridiculous."
So they try and take away the sting by saying, "O it's not that thinking that lowers belief, it's a type of thinking."
I neither agree with u or Aussie but rather with de scientists.
Psychologists 'll tell u that humans 've a trinitarian personality. We do 've intuitive thinking. If u've not read psychology then u'll not really understand religion. Intuitive reasoning is superior to analytic since we emote to be.