A guest post by Robin Collins
Does analytical thinking undermine religion? I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times about social psychologists who are investigating this question. The Times presents the views of Will Gervais, lead author of “Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief” published in the April 27th issue of Science. He states that instead of treating science and religion as separate, there is now an academic effort “to understand religion and why our species has the capacity for religion.”
In this study, experimental results suggest that analytical thinking may tend to override the intuitive process thought to be associated with religious belief. A possible conclusion is that even our most fundamental beliefs and values may not be as firmly fixed as we have assumed. I tend to be analytical, so this research got me wondering how I look at faith. A definition of faith found in the English Standard Version of the Bible is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I think of faith as a different form of sight, one that penetrates beneath the surface of life, but with certainty, not merely guesswork or wishful thinking.
An example of this faith can be found in the following story:
One day a child I knew became seriously ill, and coincidentally his behavior had not been so great either. From previous experience, his mom believed the two conditions to be related. Accustomed to praying when she saw he was troubled – mentally or physically – she made a great effort to help him in this way, but without the needed results. At this point the symptoms were acute. Then came a flash of insight to love him in a fresh way by releasing the belief that his unruliness was making him sick. She immediately called a Christian Science practitioner to prayerfully support this fresh idea. Off the phone, she felt a strong impulse to pray out loud the Lord’s Prayer. She did so fervently and found that each biblical phrase opened a specific aspect of divine goodness. By the last line of the prayer her child sat up and asked for something to eat. He was completely well. Upon hearing what happened, the practitioner paused in profound silence – she also had prayed with the Lord’s Prayer. Both had “gotten the memo,” proceeding independently, reasonably and with deep inspiration. Subsequently, the boy’s behavior improved, and the mother’s outlook on life and relationships was significantly altered.
Can that family’s experience shed light on conclusions about faith from research on human thinking? Were logic and intuition working in parallel or inherently entwined? Was religious conviction undermined, or underpinned, by rational thought?
An early investigator of the relationship between divine inspiration, rationality, and health was Mary Baker Eddy, who, through her own experiments discovered that logic and practical science were included in true faith in Deity. In her book Science and Health, she wrote that she found the Hebrew and Greek meaning of the English translated word “belief” had “…more the significance of faith, understanding, trust, constancy, firmness. Hence the Scriptures often appear…to approve and endorse belief, when they mean to enforce the necessity of understanding.” Eddy’s testing of Christianity as divine Science included the cure of all sorts of diseases and illnesses, deformities, physical and mental impairments, and moral issues.
Is rationality a faith-buster or a faith-booster? I plan to keep an eye on the latest research.