Belief in God Boils Down to a Gut Feeling

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There was an interesting article awhile ago by Stephanie Pappas at about a study done at Harvard university on how/why people believe. They concluded that more religious people – those more likely to go to Church – are more intuitive thinkers, and more likely to trust their “gut” rather than stop and think about the questions. ResearcherAmitai Shenhav said in a statement,

“Some say we believe in God because our intuitions about how and why things happen lead us to see a divine purpose behind ordinary events that don’t have obvious human causes. This led us to ask whether the strength of an individual’s beliefs is influenced by how much they trust their natural intuitions versus stopping to reflect on those first instincts.”

Interestingly, the way they tested these individuals was to give them math problems with unintuitive answers, such as “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

Another way consequence of the results might be that religious people are worse at math than atheists/agnostics. My guess is that if you rounded up all the people who took the SAT test and asked them if they believed in God, those who said “Yes” would statistically and consistently have lower scores in math, reasoning, and logical ability.

Based on the study, you could convincing argue (citing proof from a Harvard-backed study) that religious people are “dumber” than those who are not-religious. However, instead I would simply point out that religious people are probably lazier. They don’t need to be right. They don’t care as much. (Screw this test, I’m going to heaven). They also don’t need to use their thinking or problem-solving skills nearly as much because a) they are presented with a complete belief system in which questioning is frowned upon b) when they face difficult problems in their lives, they ask God to solve them for them and deal with the consequences by saying “Oh well, it’s God’s will.” Religious people are God at accepting the world as it is and making due; Non-religious are determined to fix, change, understand and overcome.

I’m not sure which lifestyle choice leads to a “happier” or more fruitful life, but based on the study, I’m pretty sure we can guess who will have the higher test scores.