Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rationality And Belief In God - Article In Nature


An interesting article, titled “Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds” appeared in the LA Times on April 26. It is about an article in Nature, published the same day titled “Is rationality the enemy of religion?” authored by Psychologists Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, which reports a study of the correlation between people who are good at thinking through correctly certain math type problems and their religious convictions.
Both articles have provocative and misleading headlines, most probably purposefully. Most headlines are provocative on purpose so as to grab the maximum number of readers. However the content of the LA Times article is also misleading. The authors of the study quite clearly state that the correlation is just that - a correlation, not any indication of a causation. However the LA Times article implies causation - that the ability to think logically makes logical thinkers non-believers.
Analytical thinkers in objective matters and a belief in God and spirituality, which is a subjective matter, may well be negatively correlated. I can think of at least one reason why that might be and it does not imply that analytical thinking leads to disbelief.
Good analytical thinkers are more likely to be scientists. Scientists deal with objective matters only and can quite easily be very biased against all subjective matters, because subjectivity can invalidate scientific experiments, masking or polluting discoveries.  
Objective matters deal with well-defined phenomena and are not about the experiences of people. Subjective matters deal with the experiences of people. This distinction is almost always ignored in all discussions of faith in God, or our spirituality, a completely subjective matter. This lack of distinction is itself indicative of a shortage of analytical thinking ability when subjective matters are involved.
A bias against the subjective in scientists is quite evident in the pronouncements and writings of such people as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. When a great scientist like Hawking seems to make fundamental reasoning errors in the subjective field, we have to wonder why.
Consider the very likely possibility that the reason for the discovered correlation is that analytical thinking, on the problems of the existence of God and spirituality, a clear subjective topic, is negatively correlated with analytical skills in thinking about objective materialistic, well defined problems.
Therefore it is quite possible that those who are good at the objective analytical thinking are less likely to be good at the subjective. They could even be not so good at objective but “out of the box” analytical thinking. That would explain the results described in the Nature article and would not be any indicator of the causality implied in the LA Times article.