Atheists use science like believers use faith in times of stress, says study

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A new study suggests that science performs the same function in some people’s lives as faith does in the lives of religious believers. According to Science magazine, individuals placed under stress turned to science as a means of coping with feelings of stress and anxiety in a study which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.


Scientists in the study questioned members of competitive rowing teams and recruited 100 of them, mostly in their 20s, who said that they lacked strong religious beliefs. The rowers were divided into two groups, one set of whom were about to race in a regatta, and a second group facing a much less stressful competition.

Group members were then asked whether they agree or disagree with statements like, “We can only rationally believe in what is scientifically provable,” and “All the tasks human beings face are soluble by science,” and “The scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.”

Athletes who were preparing to compete were, predictably, under more stress than athletes who were under less pressure. In addition, they were statistically more likely to express a strong belief in scientific principles, 15 percent more than their less stressed counterparts.

Written By: David Ferguson
continue to source article at rawstory.com

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  1. “In stressful situations people are likely to turn to whatever worldviews and beliefs are most meaningful to them,” study co-author and Yale University psychologist Anna-Kaisa Newheiser told Science.

    Hardly surprising.

  2. Yep! Those with scientific understanding focus on scientific preparations. High calorie food and specialist clothing on alpine and polar trips, sun-block in the tropics, energy drinks during athletic events, vaccinations before jungle safaris, medical kit in the pack in remote areas, mobile phone or radio, life jackets on boat trips, oxygen bottles on Everest, Wet-suits and dry suits in cold water diving … need I say more?

    As an alternative others could just pray!!! – Probably the only remaining option for the unscientific and the unprepared! -
    The few who happen to survive can always seek stardom among the faithful, thanking their god for the science equipped rescuers turning up to save them.

    • In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:

      Yep! Those with scientific understanding focus on scientific preparations. High calorie food and specialist clothing on alpine and polar trips, sun-block in the tropics, energy drinks during athletic events, vaccinations before jungle safaris, medical kit in the pack in remote areas, mobile ph…

      There’s a certain irony in people resorting to faith when in crisis. Most people initially look to science for help, and if that doesn’t work they’ll pray to their god. When push comes to shove, it’s almost as if they don’t really believe in the fairytales.

  3. It is no surprise that people often turn to their convictions in times of stress. When these moments intrude, I too reflect on humanity’s achievements. But I do not recite lines of certainty, and I don’t bask in dogmatic absolutisms. “We can only rationally believe in what is scientifically provable.” Nonsense. Science is amazing, but I love Literature and a whole host of other disciplines as well. Why does this article seem to be suggesting that people who lack religious faith have a faith based in something else? That we follow in the same footsteps, using our convictions as crutches in times of need? Pondering the wonderful nature of the universe and how we came to this knowledge is not the same as feeling better because the sky god watches over every second of the day. But the “scientists” who conducted this study construct statements that are engineered to incite a specific response. Peoples true feelings and musings cannot be fleshed out with a sample group and a few questions.

  4. “In stressful situations people are likely to turn to whatever worldviews and beliefs are most meaningful to them,” study co-author and Yale University psychologist Anna-Kaisa Newheiser told Science.

    That might be the case. It’s only human to seek solace from something we know. However, the difference between turning to faith or science is, that one of them works, the other doesn’t. That’s why turning to science is not just beneficial because it might relieve stress, but because it’s actually gives a correct view of the world.

  5. Science shouldn’t be called a “belief” in the way that religion is and most Atheists I know would turn to themselves – their inner voice of reason, use rational logic and intuition to solve personal stresses and of course reaching out to family, friends and medicine if its needed, so science and humans do have most of the answers….Atheists certainly don’t side-step their responsibility to do something about their stresses by leaving it to a mythical being to hopefully sort out for them !

  6. Atheists use science like believers use faith in times of stress, says study

    Only in the sense other than that which treating the causes of stress is almost entirely unlike treating the symptoms of stress.

  7. I can hardly see anyone agreeing with statements like, “We can only rationally believe in what is scientifically provable.” If they stopped for even a second to think what they mean. They would be answering “yes” because they think that the “scientific tough minded” answer.

    Nearly everything you do in science is merely highly probable, or probable to X decimal places, rarely provable.

  8. So what exactly? The thing is that science is founded on peer reviewed evidence and facts. Religion is confected centuries of interpretation reformulation and exaggeration of handed down myths. If rational people find inspiration and strength from the wonders of scientific enquiry then great. Those that solace from faith in falsehoods, mouthed platitudes, clasped hands and belief in the frankly unbelievable are the desperate ones.

  9. A lot depends upon how desperate they may be at the time, in many cases. One of the primary causes of stress in this context will of course be at times of major health crisis of some kind.

    In this area, it is quite true to say that many people, at a common sense level, have a somewhat lowered sense of trust in some aspects of the medical profession – due to the constant publishing of flawed and biased (and sometimes blatantly ridiculous) studies in the press, often closely followed by either a retraction, failure of replication or just another equally well-promoted study claiming exactly the opposite. How are people to assess this?

    At a professional level, in various areas, many doctors give a patient conflicting, or partially inconsistent, prognoses, for instance. It isn’t shocking that sometimes people will turn to a desperate solution. If you trust science, it isn’t always clear which ‘science’ one should trust.

  10. Science is a methodology not a belief system. The product of that methodology is technology, which also is not a belief system.
    I fail to see how any study could come to this conclusion, given that the above is true.

  11. Yes, in times of stress, usually brought on by religious idiots and barbarians. To take only a few most recent threads from these very pages on this website: Egyptian teen dies following a circumcision, youth brutally murdered in Syria for blasphemy, babies dying through being unvaccinated, etc. etc. etc.
    No wonder we turn to science in such times. Only in science we can find hope and sanity.

  12. Actually I turn to friends and perhaps philosophy in times of stress. How could one turn to science? You use science to prove or disprove, to discover and to advance. Where exactly is the scientific equivalent of this spiritual dependence on some unknown deity?

    If you’re dying of some disease, you would perhaps be reliant on the efforts of the doctors and scientists using science, but it’s the people you’re placing you’re hope in to do something. If you get lonely or depressed, you either lose yourself in some pursuit or seek out other people to help comfort you. Same with tragedies of many other types.

    At no point is there the cry of SCIENCE HELP ME!! or anything that would be completely equivalent of a religious belief. I’m very curious what they base this rather odd idea on.

  13. Yes, when I was stressed with thirst the other day I went into the ktichen and grabbed a glass of water from the tap, taking advantage of all that science: plumbing, pipiing, civil engineering, chemical engineering, electric pumps, electric generators to supply electricity to the pumps, gas to supply fuel for the electric generators, water wells, water table contour maps, and cultural organisation that it took to bring fresh water into my house. It was completely atheistic situation – no gods involved at all. I first tried praying that my thirst would go away but it just didn’t work, just as it failed to produce any of the other steps that it took to get water into my house..

    You may think this is a facetious story (and it partially is) but in my geology field training I have certainly known thirst – and been stressed as to whether I would make it back to the vehicle in time or get heat stroke first. It seems to me that the simple distinction between doing something tangible about a stressful situlation and just praying that things get better is the reason, for example, that remote communities in Africa don’t have fresh water, even when they’ve got strong young men around who could dig a hole in the ground. Instead of splitting up the group into atheists and believers, why didn’t they call them the doers and the hopers?

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