The Data on Science and Religion

This post is a guest contribution by Amy Dapper, the proprietor of Evolve It!, a blog about (sometimes) cool (mostly) science-y things. Amy is a PhD student at Indiana University studying evolutionary theory.

Religious beliefs, or more likely disbelief, tend to be a hot topic on science blogs, particularly those with a evolutionary bend.  However, when these topics come up there is often more opinion than science, which is why I was excited to see an research article in last weeks edition of Science titled ‘Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief’ [1].  The article, authored by Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, uses a series of five studies to build a causal link between analytical cognitive processes and religious disbelief.  I thought it would be fun to delve into the science behind their audaciously titled article for my guest post here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense.

The authors approach understanding the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief and disbelief using the dual-process theory of human thought.  This theory posits that we use two distinct and separate systems for reasoning.  The first, creatively termed System 1, is intuitive and produces a rapid response based only on prior knowledge and experience.  Previous research has found that individuals who rely more heavily on this intuitive cognitive system are more likely to believe in supernatural entities, and thus tend to have stronger religious beliefs [2]. On the other hand, System 2 is rational and produces a slower response based upon logic and reasoning that, when employed, often overrides the conclusions of System 1.  The authors hypothesize that, in contrast to System 1, this analytical cognitive system promotes religious disbelief.

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