Thinking rationally decreases religious belief, says study

A new study shows what rational people have long known—analytical thinking, or solid reasoning, decreases religious belief.

According to the University of British Columbia, “The study, which will appear in tomorrow’s issue of Science, finds that thinking analytically increases disbelief among believers and skeptics alike, shedding important new light on the psychology of religious belief.”

Analytical thinking involves breaking a problem down into its constituent parts to come to a conclusion. Researchers used “problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce “analytic” thinking.”

Researchers found that amongst the 650 participants from the U.S. and Canada, there was no decrease in religious belief of those participants who did not engage in tasks involving analytic thinking. Shocker.

The study’s lead author, Will Gervais, a PhD student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology, says their research are based on two longstanding human cognitive systems: intuitive and analytic.

But don’t expect a method of creating sensible agnostics and atheists just yet.

“Our study builds on previous research that links religious beliefs to ‘intuitive’ thinking,” says study co-author and Associate Prof. Ara Norenzayan, UBC Dept. of Psychology. “Our findings suggest that activating the ‘analytic’ cognitive system in the brain can undermine the ‘intuitive’ support for religious belief, at least temporarily.”

Only temporarily? Well, perhaps that would explain why the religious, when confronted with reason, might display some doubt for a moment, but then scuttle back into the darkness like cockroaches. That, or perhaps it’s more reasonable to believe that infinite beings with superpowers and super-awareness watch over an infinitesimal point in an expanding universe as if the fabric of space-time will unravel if people don’t give enough thanks and act like proper servants.

The other Gervais (Ricky) would love this study.