Thursday, May 03, 2012

Well, Doh!

How's this for a headline:

Religious Faithfuls Lack Logic, Study Implies
Well, ready to start the battle?

ABC news's website posted this article the other day. In short, here are a couple paragraphs from it:
A rare and controversial study merging science and faith suggests that analytic thinking, a process that favors reason over intuition, promotes religious disbelief.
Through some commonly utilized psychological testing techniques, the researchers, in essence, "forced" their subjects to think logically. When then given "choices" on religious statements people tended to show more DISbelief after thinking logically than before.
“People have this impression that they’re really core, central beliefs that don’t change. But we know people’s religious beliefs can vary across situations and across their lifespan,” Gervais (a PhD researcher) said.

But devout believers may be shocked to hear their faith can wax and wane with tricky tests.

“I suppose some people might find it surprising,” Gervais said, “that really subtle experimental manipulations might be able to temporarily alter religious beliefs.”
Okay, the headline is misleading. A lack of logic or the ability to do analytical, logical thinking is not necessarily lacking among "the faithful." That is NOT what the experiment shows.
Intuitive thinking, a mental shortcut that bypasses reason, is linked to stronger religious beliefs.
Needless to say I started pondering the article and came up with at least two thoughts on why this introduction of logical thinking may "decrease" faith.

The cynical one first:
  • People of reason and logic look at the incredibly illogical ideas and mental gymnastics that some people of faith take when they attempt to make faith "reason-based", i.e. provable by logic or worse, "literal. (think a 6000 year old world.) When logic enters the picture the faith circuit, the unprovable stuff, is bypassed.

But let's look at it another way, perhaps more reasonably (pun intended.)
  • Faith, by definition and nature almost has to be "illogical." If you could prove it, it wouldn't be faith. Faith is an attempt to understand, cope with or even explain mystery. The problem is that once faith (and hence religion) tries to explain mystery it gets lost in the internal inconsistencies of such an action. It loses the awe in the face of mystery.

Of course, I tend to be a mystical/spiritual-type person. I can accept paradox and an inability to answer unanswerable questions. Paradox, I believe, is at the heart of human existence.When you try to explain it, the mind rebels. We can either throw up our hands in despair and run away screaming, we can try to find answers to the illogical side of paradox, and/or we can simply accept it and live with it.

There is a paradox is at the heart of modern physics, for example, embodied in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Wave–particle duality that states that all particles show both wave and particle properties. An understanding that a photon can be either a wave or a particle? (Note: That statement makes no sense! Yet it is central to Quantum Physics.)

There is a paradox at the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ, Christians believe, is 100% human AND 100% God. When Christians have tried to explain it they have gotten into all kinds of logical conundrums and tongue-twisters like the Nicean Creed.

There is a paradox at the heart of all religions. It is possible on some level to "know" the will of God (or the universe, or whatever the Higher Power might be) and to live within that will, however imperfectly.

None of this is logical. It isn't meant to be. If it were, it wouldn't be faith. If God were completely understandable (i.e. no paradox) God wouldn't be God.

At least that's what my faith is. Just don't ask me to prove it.

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