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Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds
Cerebral Stuff
Written by sezhoo   
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 09:38

At The LA Times:

Scientists have revealed one of the reasons why some folks are less religious than others: They think more analytically, rather than going with their gut. And thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane — for skeptics and true believers alike.

The study, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, indicates that belief may be a more malleable feature of the human psyche than those of strong faith may think.


emperorbma  - Reason claims a wider berth than it needs   |2012-05-09 13:37:35
The problem here is that "analytical thinking" involves dealing with a set of basic functional assumptions. Analytical thinking generally relies on the assumption of "methodological naturalism." Put basically, this means that one must excludes any resort to supernatural or other statistically insignificant causes simply because they make analyzing the physical process more difficult. Thus far, it is simply a basic analysis device rather than any categorical imperative and religious believers can easily admit the usefulness of this Occamistic principle.  The utility of this cognitive device is that it allow us to better perceive the flow of natural events without being distracted by concerns of doctrines or interventions. However, this analysis device does not necessarily mean that other causes (like doctrine and faith) are nonexistent. A religious person learns when to apply the functional assumptions to serve their intended purpose (analyzing natural processes) and when not to do so. (because using naturalistic assumptions blindly destroys his or her spiritual integrity)

The difference being observed in this study is the limit of knowing when to apply this distinction and when the distinction is no longer required. Catching someone in a transitional phase might well produce different result when gauging opinions. (Even if we believe that we are beings with a spiritual component, we still need to recognize the related physical components and their limitations; and the brain does have a MAJOR processing lag...)

Spirituality and religious thought clearly do not operate on a naturalistic set of assumptions. Anyone who suggests otherwise is ignorant. Natural causes are certainly considered real by a spiritual perspective, but they are not given an absolute precedence over everything and, especially, they are not assumed to be the only causes. Perceiving other valid aspects of existence, such as the work of God, is also necessary for a believer. The utility of analytical thinking should not be seen to exclude the spiritual causes and many religious people do not see these elements as being in conflict when understood correctly. (e.g. The rainbow is caused [physically] by a prism diffracting light. Its [intent] reason for being and significance is defined by God's promise after the flood. Neither statement inherently excludes the other, but they are "logically independent.")

Some, however, believe that the utility of analytical thinking means that all other causes are nonexistent. This form of thinking is particularly strong in those who derive their philosophies from Bertrand Russell and other modern atheists. The other side of the problem, of course, is the ignorance of the distinction between spiritual and natural causes among believers. This leads to the issues where Young Earth Creationists or Intelligent Design advocates attempt to replace science with their religious convictions. Similarly, pantheists who equate God with the universe or deists who claim God is simply the first mover who left everything to continue in pure materialism. Fundamentally these radical positions both involve the same problem: failure to distinguish the causes. The former by ignoring the spiritual; The latter by treating the natural as equal to the spiritual.

This is the fundamental danger of Aristotelian logic as Martin Luther pointed out in the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, when he said "He who wishes to philosophize by using Aristotle without danger to his soul must first become thoroughly foolish in Christ." Luther, per the Lutheran Small Catechism, states that reason is among the many gifts of God which are given for good purposes to sustain us.  However, he also makes very clear that reason is extremely problematic because it is susceptible to the devil's deceptions of pride and arrogance.  (in his colorful terms, it is the "devil's whore") Luther taught that reason as a dangerous "enemy of faith" because it wars against the spirit and does not come to aid in spiritual concerns. Understood properly, for a religious person, reason has a place but it is not at the head of the table.  Neither, as the unbelievers would like to claim, do we put it in the gutter outside. Rather, it is placed in the proper context of our human fallibility and treated as a useful tool by which we can analyze our world.

A rationalist, by hubris, turns methodological naturalism into secular materialism, which undermines the basic observation of the spiritual concerns. Not only are such causes ignored by these kinds of rationalists, but they are treated as the ravings of insane people. The result is a willful blindness to anything involving non-materialistic assumptions. This is fundamentally at odds with any faith*, much less a Christian faith.

*-except, maybe, deism and pantheism; as "god of the gaps" claims. However, the anti-religious have already made their moves to dismantle these so I don't feel any pressing need to do so.
laika  - re: Reason claims a wider berth than it needs   |2012-05-12 00:02:18
emperorbma wrote:
Rather, it [reason] is placed in the proper context of our human fallibility and treated as a useful tool by which we can analyze our world.

Odd that it so often taken up as an answer to existence instead of, as you say, simply a very useful tool. Is attempting to approach life with a single way of looking at things a feature of the human brain or a product of a specific culture?
emperorbma  - "rationalism" is a philosophical chimera   |2012-05-12 04:23:28
laika wrote:
Is attempting to approach life with a single way of looking at things a feature of the human brain or a product of a specific culture?

I would venture that it is probably the latter.  Obviously, there is a mechanism of the brain involved here, namely analytical thought, but other cultures but most ancient cultures do not have an obsession with rationalism as a central dogma which is hostile to religion. There are many religious traditions, worldwide, with advanced mathematics and reasoning techniques which did not interpret them to be in conflict.

Summarized, what basically happened here is that the cultural evolutions that happened alongside the Christian Church eventually led to a revival of some of the more hostile elements from Greek philosophy, but chimerized and having a more materialistic outlook than had ever been expressed in Antiquity. Greek culture and Christian apologetics eventually became Medieval Scholasticism and when the Renaissance came, the unravelling of Scholasticism left a vacuum that pulled some people into a materialistic sort of realism. These were elements that, in antiquity, belonged to separate philosophies.

See, in the time of the Church Fathers, there were already some of the early philosophies that sowed the seeds for modern anti-religious sentiments.  Pythagoreans were a religion of idolizing numbers.  Epicureans were a philosophy of atheistic naturalism (objecting to Platonism). Plato a religiously neutral sort of realism, which the Church Fathers were able to make into a "friendly" sort by focusing on his concept of the "universal form of the good" as a philosophical analog of God. Aristotle had syllogistic reasoning and secular virtue ethics, which Thomas Aquinas and other Scholastics also tried to make "friendly." The synthesis of these Greek elements created an anti-religious form of realism that relied on syllogistic reasoning and was particularly interested in the new Scientific paradigm as an alternative to Christianity. This was exactly the kind of poison that Martin Luther was warning about in the Heidelberg Disputation with his caution about Aristotle.

Notwithstanding, of course, science itself is NOT necessarily equivalent to this philosophical chimera which I'll call "secular anti-theistic materialistic rationalism." It is simply a vehicle that secular anti-theistic materialistic rationalism uses to win ground for itself against religion.  Any dispute or difference in interpretation between science and faith will be hammed up by this philosophy as an example of the "conflict" that proves their claim that "religion is evil" and any historical purported "conflicts" will be dragged out of context and used against religion. (like with Galileo)

The unholy matrimony of these Greek philosophical frameworks would have had to have occured as dissident Scholastics embraced the Greek philosophies in place of Christ. However, coming up with the *exact* course of events besides this conceptual outline is a challenging task. As I see it, we Christians owe the Medieval Church's overzealous use of Greek philosophy for unwittingly creating this problem...
emperorbma   |2012-05-12 04:30:21
To use a philosophy metaphor here:
Philosophy tends to view itself as as a table with all of the disciplines and studies surrounding it. What basically happened here is a group of people on the table got together and decided they want to kick all the religious believers off the table...
SteveGus   |2012-05-16 07:55:18
I've always thought of myself as an analytic thinker. I find myself generally untroubled by doubt of such things as Jesus' resurrection, the Second Coming, or the afterlife. I think this is partly because I recognize that they are uncertain propositions based on faith and that there are good reasons to doubt them. Proof will not be forthcoming, neither can they be researched. So why worry?

I find myself somewhat more troubled that by calling myself a Christian or supporting a church, I am doing harm to my neighbors and my country. Unsavory authoritarian politics is a bigger thorn in my conscience than doubts about the resurrection.
laika   |2012-06-10 16:52:23
SteveGus wrote:
I've always thought of myself as an analytic thinker.

Many of you guys here strike me as thinkers. Y'all seem to be bucking the trend of this study.
PineHall  - Is the conclusion right?   |2012-05-10 10:08:53
I don't think the survey shows what the article claims it shows. Think of all the great religious thinkers through out the ages. They rationally thought about their faith. Was their faith undermined? I think not. The problem with the conclusion and the study is the underlying assumptions (methodological naturalism) that they based their study on as EmperorBMA points out.

From this study's conclusions one could say that educated people are less likely to attend church than uneducated ones, however another study points out that the more education you have the more likely you will attend church.
According to the study, in the 1970s, 51 percent of college-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more, compared to 50 percent of moderately educated whites and 38 percent of the least educated whites. In the 2000s, 46 percent of college-educated whites attended on at least a monthly basis, compared to 37 percent of moderately educated whites and 23 percent of the least educated. The study defines the "least educated" as people without high school degrees.
holmegm   |2012-05-21 12:54:45
In my own life, I found the opposite - the more I thought analytically about things, the more I found Christian doctrine believable.

It was when I just blindly ate the cultural soup that I doubted Christianity. Once I started thinking critically about it, it was the cultural soup that I lost faith in :)
laika  - re: Cultural Soup   |2012-06-10 16:48:26
Yeah, I think I know what you mean about losing faith in the culture.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 10:11

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