Critical Thinking is Antidote to Religion

Post by Jim Newman


Another study has come out indicating that intuitively inclined people are slightly more likely to be religious. Psychology Today has their take on the study.

Your answer to the following riddle can predict whether you are a believer in religion or a disbeliever:

Q:  If a baseball and bat cost $110, and the bat costs $100 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

A:  If you answered $10 you are inclined to believe in religion.  If you answered $5 you are inclined to disbelieve.

Why? Because, according to new research reported in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science, the $10 answer indicates that you are an intuitive thinker, and the $5 answer indicates that you solve problems analytically, rather than following your gut instinct.

I am a creative, intuitive person. I am also an accursed intellectual, reviled in all questionnaires asking what trait you find desireable in a mate. My first response within nanoseconds was $1.00 and then knowing that it was a trick or thought based question recalculated. What is interesting to me is the either/or as I mess up enough that I have to check and double check everything. Knowing bias research I have rationally supported my iterative process–riding my elephant of intuitive iteration, perhaps. I would never consider answering a question once, one way. I know I would screw up. Whether this is historical or a mild form of ADHD I don’t know.

            Psychologists William Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, predicted that people who were more analytic in thinking would tend not to believe in religion, whereas people who approach problems more intuitively would tend to be believers. Their study confirmed the hypothesis and the findings illuminate the mysterious cognitive process by which we reach decisions about our beliefs.

It’s true in the face of arguments too many religious people rely on the faith answer–I don’t know, I just believe. The only response is always the desire and subsequent squelching of hitting them with something to see if belief is necessary for that experience. It’s so tedious because they are sing rationality all the way along and then when they get stuck, they whine “I don’t know, I just believe it.” Why crap bullshit in the first place? We cold have been drinking beers instead of arguing if they were going to give up when the going got tough. Don’t waste my precious arguing time if you’re going to change the premise along the way.

            Cognitive theory of decision making supports the hypothesis that there are two independent processes involved in decision making. The first process is based on gut instinct, and this process is shared by other animals. The second cognitive process is an evolutionarily recent development, exclusive to humans, which utilizes logical reasoning to make decisions. Their study of 179 Canadian undergraduate students showed that people who tend to solve problems more analytically also tended to be religious disbelievers. This was demonstrated by giving the students a series of questions like the one above and then scoring them on the basis of whether they used intuition or analytic logic to reach the answers. Afterward, the researchers surveyed the students on whether or not they held religious beliefs. The results showed that the intuitive thinkers were much more likely to believe in religion.

The book “Blink” shows too well that intuitive thinking is actually still vital in today’s society. A stranger approaches looking slightly menacing–you can look them in the face or look away. You can step aside. You can turn and run. You can smile, scowl, frown, or not change expression. You can stand a little more upright or act like you want to ignore them.  You can breathe confidence or temerity. All of this initial social triage occurs pretty instantly. There are many situations where we still desperately need what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. It is less accurate but good enough and it also triggers rational thought as something necessary for the situation.

This is all aside from religion but it also reveals what your personality desires before you acknowledge it as well as other human biases. If you are strong in personal agent bias then you are going to react with that early. If you are strong in contrarian bias you will tend to always see things immediately as different. If you are a highly reactive personality, them you will be more likely to trust your instinct in the immediate. Since we are big combinations of biases and traits, it’s difficult to assess in advance what we will do unless trained in autoresponse to predicted situations by running simulations.

The feeling that there is a higher power is strongly linked to the bias of personal agency and ego death. Hence acid, zen, nature, the groove, near death and a host of other what were called peak experiences release the same “wow, ain’t that fucking amazing” response in humans. It also leads to dualism and the idea of free will since it plays on the separation of mind and world. While big experiences make us feel small, they also make us feel connected. The process makes us award of a relation between the inner world and the outer world in the same sense that I am not thinking about thinking until I think about it and then it feels like there is a thinker in there. All right enough psychoheadspacebabble. The intuitive can also come back and look at the constipated intellect and say hey bullshit time to get back to the narrative, for example.

            To test whether there is a causative basis for this correlation, the researchers then used various subtle manipulations to promote analytic reasoning in test subjects. Prior research in psychology has shown that priming stimuli that subconsciously suggest analytical thinking will tend to increase analytic reasoning measured on a subsequent test. For example, if subjects are shown a picture of Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” (seated head-in-hand pondering) they score higher in measures of analytic thinking in tests given immediately afterward. Their studies confirmed this effect but also showed that those subjects who showed increased analytic thinking also were significantly more likely to be disbelievers in religion when surveyed immediately after the test.

No doubt. This is also related to anchoring another bias. If you want to c0ntrol a conversation be the one who starts it and then it doesn’t even matter if you continue. By setting the tone, parameters, or initial thought, people start from there. My mother used to say if you want the answer to be what you want make sure all of the questions have answers you seek.

Aside from that bias religion relies on belief in the impossible which is harder to accept with rationality so it’s a “duh” moment to say such. What is interesting becomes what backs up the feeling of religion. It’s not that Francis Collins says a waterfall inspired him to believe but more importantly his experience of not knowing what to say to a dieing patient to make them feel comfortable.

            Three other interventions to boost analytic thinking had the same effect on increasing religious disbelief. This included asking subjects to arrange a collection of words into a meaningful sequence. If the words used for the subconscious prime related to analytic thinking, such as “think, reason, analyze, ponder, rational,” rather than control words “hammer, shoes, jump, retrace, brown,” subjects scored higher on tests of analytic thinking given immediately afterward, and they were also much more likely to be disbelievers in religion. This demonstrates that increasing critical thinking also increases religious disbelief.

This has always been the use of reasoned thinking. I think these tracks belong to a tiger. Hmm, no, they aren’t heavy enough in the pad. While it is popular to contrast intuitive and rational thinking as oppositional they are in utility combinatorial. Hence, why I get tired on the females as irrational and men as rational canard though I have to use this language for commnication

            Norenzayan emphasizes that “Analytical thinking is one of several factors that contribute to disbelief.  Belief and disbelief are complex phenomena that have multiple causes.  We have identified just one factor in these studies.”

Professor and Chairman Terrence Reynolds of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University finds it plausible that analytic thinking could make religious belief more difficult. “If one assumes that all rationality is tied to what we know directly through the five senses, that limits our understanding of meaning questions. Religion tends to focus on questions of meaning and value, which may not be available through analytic verification processes… by definition God is a being that transcends the senses.”

They lose it here. Meaning of not religiously derived is painfully gotten by hard thought. If not religious or intuitive then we work hard mentally to determine meaning. Value is the same way. I don’t know many atheist friends that just fall on value. They chose it through thought and experience. It is also why we can even think of an empirical moral landscape.

            Reynolds and Norenzayan agree that analytic reasoning is not superior to intuitive reasoning. “They both have their costs and benefits,” Norenzayan says. One of the consequences of the costs and benefits is one’s tendency to believe in religion. So whether you answered $5 or $10 provides insight into what you believe and how your beliefs are formed.

No pithy conclusion as it is time for me to go to Bush Gardens and simulate death on a roller coaster and enjoy those induced intuitive experiences created by my rational planning–though when I think of the finances I wonder at the suspension of critical thinking for my amusement-park, spiritual invigoration.

Jim Newman, bright and well

www.frontiersofreason and


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2 Responses to Critical Thinking is Antidote to Religion

  1. fred says:

    The answer is $10. You get a $5 discount for buying them together.

  2. JIm n says:

    LOL. Yeah, I missed that one big time. I was thinking $100 and my brain corrected me saying it must be $1.00 since a bat doesn’t cost $100–I shop Dollar General.

    I was typing this post early in the morning while kids were trying to get me to leave for Busch Gardens. Who do I rush? Well, I would rather please my family when it comes down to it than rush a post. This is why I am not ink some genius think tank environment. I never cared for fame, money, glory, or even scientific advancement as mush as the care of my wife, my children, and my small bit of the world. When I worked in Silicon Valley I met all of these brilliant people who had not time for their families and I took the other road. Voltaire said we should tend our own gardens first.

    In fact, that is why I write for Phil though it is a commercial site and volunteer. I can have some freedom and still get some positive work out to the bigger world. I find the freedom to think while working contemplatively more productive than sitting in a white coat lab, sweating grants, and fighting competitive comrades vieing for publication space.

    The worst thing about Spell Check is that your page is still full of crap after the red lines are gone but it lulls you into thinking your done.

    I got a comment on my other site on this post saying I give Atheists a bad name by my typo’s. How shallow it is to judge people by form rather than content. I quit a very early job with Grand Teton Lodge Service Maintenance because I was supposed to wear a red cap. I quit being a consultant making tremendous amounts of money because the uniform suit was dereueger and I got so tired of it the money didn’t matter–that and my desire to spend time with family, and greater philosophical productivity. I was the kid in class with the wild hair, the pulled out shirt, and the right answer. But it’s true my English-humanities teachers always gave me As for content and Cs for grammar. I learned the grammar but typo’s still kill me. I was a lousy programmer because the syntax has to be so fucking exact but I could do a mean design and flow chart.

    Until Phil wins the lottery and pays me huge amounts I’d rather do productive work than corrective work. Piglets await feeding and watering now–do you think they care whether I stutter or comb my hair? Yes, I have a daughter who is a fashion queen and I am an embarrassment to her but she still seems to enjoy the dinners I cook and I am one of the few fathers she knows that actually cooks dinners from scratch often. So whatever…we’re all doing our best, in own free will, predetermined genetically and environmentally controlled way. If I give a bad name to atheists, at least I give a good name to freedom and that’s a bigger tent.

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