Apr 30, 2012

Analyticial Thought Undermines Religious Belief

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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"Our intuitions can be phenomenally useful, and analytic thinking isn't some oracle of the truth," says Will Gervais, co-author of a new study demonstrating how analytical thought reduces religious faith. His phrasing is inadvertently hilarious. An oracle is, by definition, intuitive, and is the conduit for divine information. And this study bolsters earlier research showing that intuition and faith are as closely linked as the analytical is to not-faith.

The University of British Columbia study not only affirms that analytical personalities are less likely to be religious, it demonstrates that taxing the left brain decreases belief amongst more intuitive personalities.

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

. . .

Analytic thinking undermines belief because, as cognitive psychologists have shown, it can override intuition. And we know from past research that religious beliefs—such as the idea that objects and events don't simply exist but have a purpose—are rooted in intuition. "Analytic processing inhibits these intuitions, which in turn discourages religious belief," [Ara] Norenzayan explains.

Says Joshua Greene, who published similar findings last year, "Obviously, this study doesn't prove the nonexistence of God. But it poses a challenge to believers: If God exists, and if believing in God is perfectly rational, then why does increasing rational thinking tend to decrease belief in God?"

That kind of misses the point, really. By Greene's own admission, millions of "very smart and generally rational" people believe in God. His assessment presupposes that rational equals intelligent and that rationalism is superior to our intuitive nature. I would humbly suggest that these aspects of ourselves are complementary opposites that make up the whole of us.

Neo: The Architect told me that if I didn't return to the Source, Zion would be destroyed by midnight tonight.
Oracle: Please... You and I may not be able to see beyond our own choices, but that man can't see past any choices.
Neo: Why not?
Oracle: He doesn't understand them - he can't. To him they are variables in an equation. One at a time each variable must be solved and countered. That's his purpose: to balance the equation.
Neo: What's your purpose?
Oracle: To unbalance it.

~ The Matrix: Revolutions

Graham Hancock has repeatedly pointed out that the "alert, problem solving" mental state serves a wonderful purpose but it is not the sum of our consciousness and to stay in that state all the time is really quite limiting.

In this recently posted Karen Armstrong lecture, the former nun and "freelance monotheist" explains that the purpose of religion is to move us beyond "words and concepts" and "tip" us into transcendence. Or, to quote Joseph Campbell, we become "transparent to the transcendent." A religious experience is quite marvelously irrational.

One very rational woman discovered this when a stroke shut down much of her left brain function. I posted this wonderful lecture by Jill Bolte Taylor a while ago. I repost it here because it elucidates so brilliantly the necessity of both left and right brain function, and how it is through the non-rational, non-linear, right brain function that we can begin to transcend the ego and experience our divine unity with all things -- which is to say, "God."

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