Why do some people believe in God?

Some people are more religious than others and this may be because of their upbringing or culture.

However new research suggests that how religious you are might depend on whether you rely on your intuition or your analytical ability.

Researchers Gervais and Norenzayan, at the University of British Columbia, found that encouraging people to be more analytical reduced their tendency to believe in God whilst encouraging people to think more intuitively increased people’s belief in God. This was regardless of how religious they had said they were several weeks before the experiments.

Their findings suggest that belief is linked to our thinking styles.

System 1 thinking is linked to shortcuts and rules of thumb whereas system 2 thinking relies on analysis, requires more effort, and is slower.

Using a number of activities known to increase analytical thinking, for example by asking participants to complete surveys printed in hard-to-read fonts, they found that the participants who used the slower analytical system 2 approach reported less belief.

Solving logical problems may require us to over-ride our intuitive system 1 thinking to use our analytical system 2 thinking.

You may think that this is only common sense. After all we tend to think of scientists as less likely to be religious or as atheists but that’s not necessarily so.

A survey of elite scientists in the USA found that about half claimed some religious affiliation but that a higher proportion (about a quarter) of them didn’t believe compared to the general population (it seems almost all Americans claim to believe in God).

However it seems that the more logical and analytical you are the less likely you are to believe in God or have a religious belief.

US research has shown that non-believers and agnostics tend to be better educated and less prejudiced than believers and more likely to encourage their children to be independent thinkers. They also appear to be more moral.


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