Does Analytic Thinking Really Erode Religious Belief?

Does Analytic Thinking Really Erode Religious Belief?

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Neuroscience is new enough, and our desire for brain facts is strong enough, that dubious claims about brain types circulate widely. Take, for example, the latest Neuroscience-of-Religion news item to make the rounds, this one claiming that critical thinking undermines religious belief. Based on two studies from The Journal of Experimental Psychologies and Science, it was picked up by several news outlets. In the Scientific American article that activated the echo chamber, Daisy Grewal claims that we possess two different ways of thinking: intuitive thinking, which relies on shortcuts, rules of thumb, and commonsense ideas; and analytic thinking, which questions our rapid-fire intuitions, but is much slower and more energy intensive.

According to some “clever techniques,” Grewal states, psychologists have examined whether analytic thinking “leads people away from believing in God and religion.” Presumably belief in God here represents intuitive thinking, and sober scientific analysis represents the energy-intensive act of systematically questioning one’s beliefs. Grewal’s claim is that the act of analytic thinking corrodes religious belief, such that sentence-scrambling or even being reminded of reflection leads people to become less religious. Yet there are two fundamental problems with this scientific story, and they will take us from St. Thomas Aquinas to Canadian undergraduates.

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