To Keep Your Faith, Get Analytical Reply

A student response to popscience in the news
by Br Carlos Valenzuela, LC

Last month, the web site ScienceMagazine.org published an article, “To Keep Your Faith, Don’t Get Analytical,” claiming that those who believe in God or accept religious belief tend to rely more on intuitive rather than in analytical thinking. In this article Gregg Miller comments on the results of an experiment made by the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. My aim in this article is to show a different perspective based on the results of the experiments, diverging from the one offered by Science Now.

Miller’s article hinges on a stark distinction between intuitive and analytical thinking, the former defined as fast and effortless, the latter, as slower and more deliberate.

The general point of view that the author presents is in my opinion divisive. He presents intuitive reasoning as opposed to analytical thinking while in the original report of the experiment, the researchers defined reflexive thinking as “critically examining of the dictates of the intuition”, and therefore includes intuitive knowledge. This suits better with our natural experience that shows us that for certain problems we rely on intuitive knowledge while for other situations we make use of our reflexive capacity.

For example, if we are driving through a city that we don’t know, we will probably rely more on a map than on our intuition, but if we know the city, we would rely more in our intuition guided by our memories. In other words, our natural way of thinking and acting includes both manners of thinking.

We must accept that in certain individuals we find one of the two modes of thought as dominant over the other, just as some people’s memory relies more on images for recalling situations in the past, while others may rely more in sounds or touch. It is like recalling a memory of your mom. Some of us may remember her face while some others may remember the sound of her voice but this does not make the visual person deaf or the sound person blind. In the same way, we can say that some of us may rely more on one way of thinking than on the other without abandoning it.

To say that “all religious people, to the extent that they believe in God, may be influenced by their tendency to rely on intuition against reflection” as the thesis of this article states, would deny the possibility of having a very reflective person with strong religious beliefs, whereas examples to the contrary are abundant. The reflective capacity of Saint Thomas Aquinas is free of any doubt; his ability to deduce logical and rational conclusions and make subtle relations overwhelms the reader of any of his works, and yet he is a also saint. Albert of Swabia was an authority on anthropology, architecture, astronomy, botany, chemistry, climatology, ethics, geology, geography, magnetism, mechanics, medicine, mineralogy, navigation, philosophy, theology and many other disciplines, and yet he was bishop of Regensburg, and a saint.

Hence, an alternative conclusion to this study, and a more realistic one, I might add, would have been to suggest that intuitive and analytical (or reflexive) thinking are complimentary rather than opposed to one another.

Finally, in order to understand real implications of this experiment one would need to clarify what the subjects of the experiments and surveyors understand by the words “religious” and “religiosity.” The human psyche is undoubtedly complex and deserves carefully study. To conclude from these experiments that analytical thinkers are more prone to lose their faith appears rather disproportioned to the nature of the study.

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