Analytical Thinking Erodes Belief in God

The ThinkerDebora MacKenzie writes on New Scientist:

Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein famously did not believe in a supernatural God, and neither do some scientists today. It now appears there may be a good reason for this: thinking analytically dims supernatural beliefs, apparently by opposing the intuitive thought processes that underpin them.

The vast majority of people believe in a supernatural god or gods, says social psychologist Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of atheists and agnostics who do not. While scientists have begun to study the psychology of belief, we know little about what causes disbelief.

Humans use two separate cognitive systems for processing information: one that is fast, emotional and intuitive, and another that is slower and more analytical.

The first system innately imputes purpose, personality or mental states to objects, leading to supernatural beliefs. People who rely more on intuitive thinking are more likely to be believers, while the more analytical are less likely. This doesn’t necessarily mean analytical thinking causes disbelief, but activating analytical thinking can override the intuitive system — and vice versa…

Read More: New Scientist

  • Antediluvian

    Actually Einstein was a pantheist and Darwin didn’t give up the idea of God.

    • Scruffy

      Darwin felt if there is a god it doesn’t give a shit about us. Einstein felt if there was a god it would be a force of nature nothing like religious deities.

      • Kaynebennett

         deluvial debris we are stardust the oldest exposed rocks are 5 billion years old isua as far as you can go

      • Monkey See Monkey Do

        You can’t reference that cause it’s not true, It’s just your interpretation of how they felt. Darwin and Einstein were agnostic.

    • Bobbie Jean Pentecost

      Even if both of them believed in a personal god (which neither did) it doesn’t matter. The smartest person in the world can proclaim “I BELIEVE” from the rooftops but unless they can prove a god’s existence, their opinions remain exactly that – opinions, unfounded, unevidenced opinions. As it happens, Einstein believed god was the universe and Darwin was an agnostic. 

  • Audio7

    As long as there is ignorance and stupidity in the world, there will always be opportunistic religionists ready to take advantage of peoples’ fears of the unknown.

    • Malk

       those problems are fostered by the people with the religions themselves. Christianity was never intended to turn into gay-bashing, but there are plenty of jerks who use it as a shield to tout their insecurities, etc.

      religion is supposed to be one of the many different ways for people to learn how to evolve, and for many many people it is; for others it is a tool of greed and destruction. generalizing everything into a yes or a no, like this article does, is unintelligent, and far removed from the reality of this world.

    • Maurizio Mezzatesta

      its not just “religions” though, one must factor in how science and even capitalism (and other shitty types of political philosophies) does this as well

      • Bobbie Jean Pentecost

        Science is just a tool for understanding our world. If it ever does anything evil, it’s because of whacked out political ideologies or human corruption.

        • Monkey See Monkey Do

          If you’ll get over the semantics, that’s pretty much what he just said. You can blame eugenics and the misery it caused on the scientifc establishment of the time. The same way you would blame witch-burnings and the crusades on the religious establishment. Without morals and ethics, science can be a dangerous (dis)belief system.

          • moongrim69

            And what pray tell, do morals and ethics have to do with religion?

          • Monkey See Monkey Do

            Religion claims to teach about morals and ethics within their limited understanding of the world.

            Certain aspects of eugenics (forced sterilization, culling the sick) are scientifcally rational, but ethical? hmm

    • moongrim69

      Opportunistic Religionists is a redundancy.

  • Scruffy

    Lol their understanding of thought is flawed. They say our thoughts and emotions are separated when really one’s compiled from the other. Our emotions are how we experience all of our information at once, our conscious thoughts, the words or images in our brain, is what we get by filtering through to get relevant information.

  • kayne

    i  was doa once actually twice in my life. i travelled on an amazing path through space and stardust this amazing being approached me and i was instantly terrorized and then strangely calm and without mo9ving his lips he said go back it is not your time so i struggled and woke up on the floor laying beside my puke if there was ever a jesus i saw him and now i live with guilt

  • Hadrian999

    it depends on the nature of the particular faith, rigidly literalistic, dogmatic faiths may have trouble with analytical thinking, other types of faiths wont necessarily be troubled by it

    • moongrim69

      Could you give an example or two of those faiths that are not upset when someone tries some critical and analytical thinking with their religion?

  • Lafayette Moore

    My reason for shutting out religion, is the people involved in religion. I believe in god. I dont think he should be allowed in every subject or matter the way people allow him in. I dont believe he is the decider of our fate in our current, earthbound state. I dont believe he maps out our lives before we live them. I dont believe he controls our feelings and emotions. If he were all these believers claims hes cracked up to be, the holocaust would’ve never happened, we would not have murderers, rapists, death row etc… we would not have the capacity in our minds to override his presence in our lives, and most importantly, we wouldnt have all of these religious fakers pointing their fingers at the people who have made mistakes, at the people who do not worship in church, at the people who have committed sin. These fakers commit sins every time they point their finger and shout “You’re going to hell!”

  • The only thing to get is money

    Why as a human species are we still arguing about god?  If god exists let him/her, if it doesn’t exist then it doesn’t matter. God never says anything on the matter of his/her existence or non-existence. God is irrelevant. If you were raised to believe in god you believe in god. If you find something that challenges that belief, then you believe in something else. So the issue is not god. The issue is belief.

    • Maurizio Mezzatesta

      well said

    • Johnnyutah

      I think I may print this and get it framed! Very well stated.

    • moongrim69

      Why are we still arguing? Because the True Believers insist on not paying attention to the answers we non-True Believers give them.

  • Maurizio Mezzatesta

    says you

    • moongrim69

      Says him with a great deal of good examples.

  • Happynsane

    I’m a bit skeptical about the experiment cited in the excerpt above. In my long experience of talking with people who hold religious beliefs it’s been pretty clear that no matter how the discussion is framed, in the end their minds “veer away” from rationality into a kind of “I feel it must be true therefore it is true” escape pattern. Most have only a very distorted notion of any particular scientific theory – for example, believing that while evolution has been demonstrated, it must mean that god is guiding evolution – which is, of course, a total misunderstanding of the concept.

    In the end, I’ve concluded that the difference between believers (the vast majority of humanity) and non-believers is that the former lack the capacity to perform consistency checking. That is, concepts that are mutually contradictory can comfortably be held because there’s no ability in the person holding them to compare and understand the implications of each concept and therefore how they contradict each other.

    For an example, I know plenty of people from Russia and Ukraine who subscribe to Darwin’s ideas on natural selection and how advantageous traits spread through a species yet who also believe that there are “gifted” people among us who can see into the future and foretell personal events (the old, “you will meet a tall dark handsome stranger” routine). A moment’s thought would indicate that these two ideas are mutually contradictory: the survival advantage of even a very imperfect and occasional ability to see into the future would result in the gene(s) being spread throughout the entire population (just as color vision spread, speech spread, etc.) so that we’d all have such an ability. But no, this logical conclusion never happens because… no consistency checking. Had these people grown up outside the old CCCP system (which was officially atheistic) they would have believed in different gods than Marx and Lenin.

    So in the end it’s a bit more complex than the article suggests, but at least this is a good start to understanding why a minority of people are able to go beyond the restrictions and limitations of belief and accomplish something approaching rational thought.

  • Natural Thought

    Analytical thinking eroded my belief in Money and Politics.

  • Heididresser

    So who has concluded that prolonged analytical thought is more accurate with matters of belief in God then fast, intuitive thought? There is no way to determine accuracy here.  

    • moongrim69


      Show me your God.

  • GoodDoktorBad

    Which is why many religions today and yesterday shun intellectualism as an evil.

    Rational thought has always been the potential enemy of religion….

  • moongrim69

    Many a Theist is suprised and outraged that so many Atheists are conversant with the Theist’s holy books.
    Often time the Atheist is light years ahead in the understanding of same.

    The Theist is often put out and often complains that Atheists didn’t read the book in question in the ‘right spirit’.

    Which indicates, once again, that they don’t get the point: Atheists are the way they are because they chose to study said holy books in an honest fashion.