“The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbours.”
- Sam Harris
Some atheists are delighting in a groundbreaking University of B.C. psychology report that suggests analytical thinking can be harmful to religious faith.
The ABC News headline on their story, for instance, reads: “Religious faithfuls lack logic, study implies.” Nature News went with: “Is rationality the enemy of religion?” Many atheist and science blogs boast that the UBC study proves religion is unadulterated fantasy. They denounce religion with the same passion as celebrity atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.
But psychologist Ara Norenzayan, co-author of the UBC study, said this week he has spent most of his time telling global journalists what he and Will Gervais were not trying to say in their report, titled “Analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief.”
Even though the two psychologists found religious belief went down, temporarily, after subjects performed mathematical computations and other mental challenges, the duo’s report makes clear “analytic” thinking is just one way humans under-stand reality.
Another way is “intuitive” thinking. The UBC duo’s innovative study opens the door to what could be an enlightening cultural discussion of the many different ways humans think and feel – and how they influence our convictions about life, love, truth and spirituality.
Such “non-rational” realities – including intuitions, emotions, the unconscious and creativity itself – are just as real, if not more so, than many things understood through rationality alone.
Many great thinkers have been aware of this distinction. Albert Einstein was one of them.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Einstein said. “For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Even though Harris and other atheists claim science is essentially analytic, another novel study has thrown a wrench into such simplistic stereo-types separating scientists and religious people.
The recent psychological study of more than 200 climate change scientists, performed by Susan Weiler, discovered three out of four of the scientists were highly “intuitive” – com-pared with only one of four in the general population.
In other words, as Einstein suggested, authentic scientists may well be rational and analytic – but they also have imagination, vision, empathy and a sense of values and esthetics. All of which helps guide them in their intellectual pursuits.