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Does analytical thinking cause religious faith to diminish?

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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5 Responses to Does analytical thinking cause religious faith to diminish?

  1. Well, analytical thinking will cause you to question things, which is only natural. This is not saying people abandon their faith, they just question it a little. A faith that has survived questioning is a stronger, more mature faith anyway.

  2. analytical thinking based on sound premise and logic increase knowledge/awareness of G-d, thus replacing faith w/ knowledge.
    fools who base reasoning on false premise end up even more blind to the truth.
    ‘the foundation of wisdom is awareness of G-d’ = ‘Reishis Chochmah Yiras Hashem..’.)

  3. Reminds me of those dry words of Keynes in his review of a recent publication of Hayek, Pearlman:

    “The book, as it stands, seems to me to be one of the most frightful muddles I have ever read, with scarcely a sound proposition in it beginning with page 45 [Hayek provided historical background up to page 45; after that came his theoretical model], and yet it remains a book of some interest, which is likely to leave its mark on the mind of the reader. It is an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in bedlam.”

    Quote from Wikiquote.

  4. We choose our assumptions with our heart; it is our life’s work. The criterion Einstein used when selecting his hypotheses was, he replied, when questioned on the subject, aesthetic. Even in physics, there are imponderables, and ‘reason awry’ will never penetrate them.

    The strands of the intelligence are coordinated by the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t mean He won’t do so, simply to ‘scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts’ via their false assumptions.

  5. The simple answer is “no.” There are plenty of religious people who are fully capable of analytical thinking and reasoning. The Bible explains that these concepts were used by the first century Christians. Paul was said to “reason with them from the scriptures”, as well as use references to prove Christ’s identity to unbelievers.

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