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Losing Your Atheism: Intuition Can Strenghthen Belief

I read an article recently entitled: “Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief.” The goal of the research behind the piece was to shed some light on the origins of belief and disbelief. Cool…let’s check it out.

Here’s the opener, as well as the conclusion of the studies: 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.

Put another way, if you’re rational (like you’re supposed to be) your faith should wither away.

Here’s one test they did. They found that 61% of their control group believed in God. After showing another group the iconic “Thinker” by Rodin, the result was 41%. The remaining tests are here.

The article ends with this:

Obviously, there are millions of very smart and generally rational people who believe in God…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?

What’s interesting about the study, and among some atheists in general, is the presupposition that analytical thinking (reason) is superior to faith (intuition). Intuition is seen as silly. Nonsense. It’s viewed as something that needs to be corrected – or at least called out for what it is – not sound. The rational approach neglects to view itself the same way. It’s not even considered.

To this end, “rational” is not the best word to justify the soundness for belief in God. Intuition does a much better job.

The study, even with its holes, is still interesting. But could we turn it around? What if we took a bunch of analytical people and found that 40% believed in God. But then we showed another group of analytical people a beautiful sunset, or a father holding his dying daughter in his arms. If we stimulate people’s intuitions will it increase their belief in God? Would we get 60%?

I have no idea, but it would be an interesting. It would likely prove that we’re all heavily influenced by our surroundings.

Belief and disbelief are the two sides on the same coin. Each one is a belief system.

Reason and intuition have their place. They’re both critical, and remind us to follow our heart, but bring our brains.

To see the limitations of reason, try these tests:

  • Explain the importance of dental hygiene to a 4-year-old
  • Try rational persuasion on a sales call
  • Use reason to get someone to quit smoking
  • Tell your wife that two wives would really be helpful around the house

To see the limitations of intuition try these tests:

  • Use intuition to calculate the distance of Pluto to Mars
  • Use faith to determine the amount of blue cars on a major highway
  • Try using intuition to study the environmental effects of smog pollution
  • Use intuition to guess which capsule contains the cyanide

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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