How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God

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Why are some people more religious than others?


Answers to this question often focus on the role of culture or upbringing.  While these influences are important, new research suggests that whether we believe may also have to do with how much we rely on intuition versus analytical thinking. In 2011 Amitai Shenhav, David Rand and Joshua Greene of Harvard University published apaper showing that people who have a tendency to rely on their intuition are more likely to believe in God.  They also showed that encouraging people to think intuitively increased people’s belief in God. Building on these findings, in a recent paper published inScience, Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia found that encouraging people to think analytically reduced their tendency to believe in God. Together these findings suggest that belief may at least partly stem from our thinking styles.

Gervais and Norenzayan’s research is based on the idea that we possess two different ways of thinking that are distinct yet related. Understanding these two ways, which are often referred to as System 1 and System 2, may be important for understanding our tendency towards having religious faith. System 1 thinking relies on shortcuts and other rules-of-thumb while System 2 relies on analytic thinking and tends to be slower and require more effort. Solving logical and analytical problems may require that we override our System 1 thinking processes in order to engage System 2. Psychologists have developed a number of clever techniques that encourage us to do this. Using some of these techniques, Gervais and Norenzayan examined whether engaging System 2 leads people away from believing in God and religion.

Written By: Daisy Grewal
continue to source article at scientificamerican.com

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  1. The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe. That same bible also teaches that man is not able to do anything to merit his own salvation and that it is of God’s choosing who will ultimately believe in him.

    If this truly is the case, then the effort made in the study here is clearly in vain.

    • In reply to #1 by Kaubell:

      The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe. That same bible also teaches that man is not able to do anything to merit his of own salvation and that it is of God’s choosing who will ultimately believe in him.

      Strange how god gives the gift of faith some much more in some regions of the world and gives it so much less in others.

    • In reply to #1 by Kaubell:

      The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe. That same bible also teaches that man is not able to do anything to merit his o…

      I’ve read Kaubell’s post a few times, and I must say that I’m at a loss to know what he is arguing for or against. It seems like a standard Lutheran line, “by faith is man justified, and from faith unto faith, for it is written that the just man shall live by faith alone.” Your RC theologian will say that Luther smuggled in the word “alone,” which was not in the original texts. There’s also a bit of Calvinist predetermination in there, you’re either of the elect or the damned…your joyless Christian observance, not entirely divorced from the avaricious accumulation of wealth, reflects your election, but it does not cause it.

      What I can’t get is whether this post was meant seriously, to support fundamentalist Lutheran/Calvinism, or if it was intended to show that the whole thing is nonsense.

      Roedy 5

      Good post Roedy. In our chaotic, random lives, intuition is the only way to go for practical purposes.

      ‘”Beauty is truth and truth beauty”, claiming whatever you wish were true is true.’

      Xtians are using this argument more and more frequently, “I feel, think and intuit that God is watching me, I talk to God; therefore God must exist.” It’s not much different from the ontological argument, which was debunked by David Hume, getting on for 300 years ago. There have been many attempts to revive it since, it’s a good one for the opposition as it has no substance, being entirely dependent on the proposer’s inner mental life and imaginative/self delusional skills, so it is not susceptible to disproof based on fact or logic. Besides which, it immediately marks out the believer as a superior person to the atheist, who obviously lacks a spiritual dimension and a third inward eye.

    • In reply to #1 by Kaubell:

      The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe.

      This does rather look like the circular argument – that “the Bible is true, because the bible says it is true”.

      It’s a bit like “quackery must work because the leaflets promoting quackery say it works”.

      Independently written historical records however conflict with these stories. That is why critical thinkers who look at evidence, reject the myths.

      • In reply to #8 by Alan4discussion:

        This does rather look like the circular argument -…

        Alan,

        I have a calculus book. In it, the author claims to teach me calculus as I progress through the book. There are formulas, examples, and proofs. Effectively, the book contains truth, claims to contain truth, and is regarded by others as truthful. In the sense that you are objecting, it is a category error to treat the Bible as a similar book. There is an unchecked presupposition here that truth is explicable with naturalistic testing. I know that the derivative of x^2 is 2x because I can perform the math at any time and utilize this knowledge in other interactions in the world.

        The Bible’s claim is not solely in the natural, but the supernatural, which is outside the limitations of such testing. Now, rejecting the concept of the existence of the supernatural is one issue, but to say that a supernatural claim is rejected because it is not able to be naturally demonstrated is to miss the point of the distinction.

        If it is the case that the supernatural exists, then it is not an issue of circular reasoning when there is a text that contains and describes supernatural truths.

        Further, the bible also makes this startling statement in speaking of supernatural things:

        At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;..”

        This should certainly be cause for deep consideration about the nature and values and characteristics of the “God” of the bible. There is a coherent unity in all of these statements, and it is that rejection on an “intuitive” level that there is much testimony in the Bible.

    • In reply to #1 by Kaubell:

      The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe. That same bible also teaches that man is not able to do anything to merit his o…

      Really puzzled by this one. are you saying that it is God’s Will that I am an Athest?

  2. Here are some really good pop science books about all this:

    Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

    The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle

    This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession – Daniel Leviton

  3. My experience is intuition kicks in where I can see no logical way to make a decision. e.g. Which of two woodland paths should I take. It is as if I tell my brain to turn off filtering and allow even the weakest signals in. I am not in censoring mode. I have nothing else to go on. There is no harm in going with an intuition even if I can see no argument for it.

    I have met people who use this mode as their standard mode — for example dousing to make every decision, overriding common sense. Others consult their inner Jesus.

    Keats most famously went overboard on intuitive thinking, “Beauty is truth and truth beauty”, claiming whatever you wish were true is true.

    I will also trust intuition when it tells something me like “Don’t ride your bike this morning” in very strong terms. Even if I think it is likely wrong, the penalty of delaying my trip is minor, and penalty if the intuition is right could be major. Maybe it notices I am unusually absent minded this morning, or that some part of my body may soon malfunction, or that the recent weather generates slippery streets. I very little conscious understanding of how I decide, know, remember, compute, intutit… So I don’t have quite the same distrust of intuition that many rational people do.

  4. In Dan Gardner’s book “Risk” he write extensively about 2 systems of thinking/reacting to things.
    They are however linked but used depending on many factors, including time, experience etc ….
    He referred to them as “Gut” and “Head”.

  5. Kaubell:

    The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God.

    The Bible also teaches a lot of other stuff. The penalty for picking up sticks on the Sabbath is death, as is eating a prawn sandwich, or defying your parents, and as for wearing mixed fibres, – shock horrors !

    Of course the Bible teaches me that I should kill witches, and that I would be safe in drinking battery acid, if only I believed in Jesus !

    Sorry, such gobbledegook is not for me !

  6. Left brain/right brain functions. It seems to me that if following one path (or mode of thinking) leads you “towards” God/god/whateveryoucallit, and the other leads you “away” from G/g/w, then both are functions of the mind, and both share necessary space in the skull. It seems to me that people who are (and often rightly, I’d say) pissed off at religions en masse subsequently cut out many of the truths in the texts. Ones that point to facts about the right brain aspects of thinking, or possibly even R/L brain thinking. No doubt, religions have caused untold horrors and damage. But perhaps if we, as individuals and as a community/culture, take down our own hostilities towards religions, take them for what they are worth : off the pedestal, and onto the level playing field, we might actually learn a thing or two. Likewise for science. Science is not the new deity. Balance seems pretty integral here. There is no need to reject one for exclusive relationship with the other. There is the need to realize this for the self. Yes, we are individuals, and yes we are all interconnected. I’m all for supporting using logic and rational thinking. It serves me very well. I also am very very grateful that I can use my intuition as well. Believing in a Creator/Creative force doesn’t arbitrarily make you a mindless idiotic slave: not thinking for yourself does that. Believing solely in the capacity of science to answer all our questions and solve all our problems could possibly lead you to being a halfwit, since only half the brain is engaged. Just a thought….

    • In reply to #11 by stevepennicook:

      Left brain/right brain functions. It seems to me that if following one path (or mode of thinking) leads you “towards” God/god/whateveryoucallit, and the other leads you “away” from G/g/w, then both are functions of the mind, and both share necessary space in the skull. It seems to me that people who…

      1. The right-brain-left-brain dichotomy is exaggerated. Human brains are unusually asymmetrical compared with other species, but they’re not two different personalities. People who lose one hemisphere can function just fine with the parallel circuitry of the other side, with minor effects on certain cognitive abilities.

      2. “Balance” is bogus. If parts of the brain were designed by natural selection to promote lying, backstabbing, and even rape and murder, nothing about the fact warrants the notion of “balance” as though functions of the brain are automatically good things. You don’t even need to point out the naturalistic fallacy here; you can get the point across just as well with amoral functions. Ask any psychologist; there are bits of the brain that are deliberately designed to do things that in the modern world are borderline idiotic. That’s how cognitive biases come about. Furthermore, natural selection’s products – including the human brain – are not there to help us achieve “balance” of any sort, certainly not between science or religion.

      3. Religions don’t have anything to teach us, and that’s because they’re all effectively a combination of pseudoscience, pseudoethics, misappropriated feelings, and tribal badges. Cultural practices might hand out some good tips. Emotions might. Secular philosophy and science and logic and mathematics and history et al. have more than enough to keep one occupied in the learning department. Heck, literary studies, politics, and the social sciences are worth looking into to get an all-round understanding of things. Religions and other superstitions have bugger all to teach. They’re to learning and education what con artist scams and pyramid schemes are to financial common sense.

  7. In reply to #1 by Kaubell:

    The bible teaches that saving faith is the free gift of God. So if it is the case that the Christian God is the one and only God… then it is only by consequence of receiving that gift of faith that one could believe. That same bible also teaches that man is not able to do anything to merit his o…

    Really puzzled by this one. are you saying that it is God’s Will that I am an Athest?

  8. A fair summary of the article is that when we confront our “intuitions” with the “better” analytic methods of thinking, the natural response is for religious beliefs to diminish. This is presumably due to their inability to stand to scrutiny as their underlying presumptions are set in things that are supernatural and unable to be substantiated with evidence.

    To be honest, if this really was the end of the story, it would be so powerful in eradicating irrationality that we should expect to observe a world that is very much different than what actually is. At this point, there are two options, either “everyone else” is stupid… or there is more to the story.

    Now, concerning what more there may be, it is very important to keep something in mind. When considering the “hypothesis” of a God… we must be very careful to not prematurely limit our subsequent considerations base on our own naturalistic boundaries. True, we cannot perform a test that via repeated and unchanging results we are able to observe quantitative “evidence” for God’s existence. However, think about it, what would this evidence look like? By what means could you say that it most definitely is GOD or NOT GOD. It seems to me that to presuppose such evidence could exist has deeply irrational roots. Further, you must conclude that the God you have identified could be likened to a performing monkey who shows up to dazzle any willing observers with his tricks. What kind of God is this?

    Again, I submit that it is essential to not limit our considerations with silly preconceived limitations. It is just as essential to give full consideration to the scenario that God does exist and he has set his existence beyond the absurd requirements of “evidence through scientific experimentation”… can you really disagree that this is not an option? We are hypothesizing a being that is able to will the entirety of the universe into existence out of nothing at all. Would he not have the ability to create an impregnable barrier between whatever he wanted… natural/supernatural?

    The moment that such things are possibilities in this hypothetical explanation of reality, one must realize that what we determine is possible or not really has no bearing on the potentiality of what may really be.

    On this foundation, lets consider the incredible God claims that the Bible makes in John 6. The preceding context is that Jesus has recently performed miracles and there are thousands of people gathering around him eager for more. Jesus then dispenses some teachings and all but a remnant depart in anger and frustration. Specifically, in verse 44:

    No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

    Implied here is the trinitarian nature of God, and that being raised on the last day is in reference to salvation. This is an incredible claim!

    It is saying that God himself is the only means by which a man can come to Christ, and none will do so without being drawn by God the Father.

    Now in the context of the article… there is a claim that religious beliefs can be eradicated by focused logical and analytical thinking. In the same “Reality” we have a book, which posits the idea that God exists, and no scientific testing could validate the existence, and that this God has desired to interact with his creation on very specific terms, and that these terms are beyond the inherent qualities of the specific creatures.

    My point is, you cannot have meaningful scientific methodologies when your presuppositions are unchecked and the concept of God is limited to a “Great grandfather in the sky” or someother such non-sensical fabrication of our own imagination which we must initially concede at the start of such a hypothesis.

    And finally, it is an absurd claim that all intuitive religious beliefs could be invalidated with focused scrutiny if it is the case that those beliefs themselves are supernatural in origin.

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