Have you heard the top religious news of the week? Two new studies have the Internet spewing headlines just like mine. It’s an exercise in distortion. Here are summaries of the two actual two stories.
This study published in Science magazine found a causation between analytical processing and disbelief. The abstract explains:
“Scientific interest in the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief has grown in recent years. However, to date, little experimental research has focused on the cognitive processes that may promote religious disbelief. The present studies. . . provided evidence of causation, as subtle manipulations known to trigger analytic processing also encouraged religious disbelief.”
Now consider how it’s being “reported” by some like in this Oped piece titled Does Religion Make us Dumber? This writer is summarizing the study above and the Pew Research finding that non-believers test higher on their religion quiz.
Sigh. Seriously? The headline not only reversed the causation of the first study, but also generalized intelligence as “analytical thinking” which both Howard Gardner and I would argue is not the only intelligence in the world.
So, yeah the study doesn’t imply that the the Dali Lama, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandala and Martin Luther King Jr. are/were stupid. Sure, you ask, but do they engage in thinking analytically? I don’t know, but these philosophers who adhered to a religion certainly dabbled in analytical thought. I’m not debating the study results or even the causal relationship, I’m just saying it’s never a simple correlation as headlines like to imply.
Now let’s take a look at the another religious headline this week: Highly religious people are less motivated by compassion than are non-believers.
It’s accurate, but leaves a key point out (motivated to give money) that makes it seem loaded. Want to take bets on how long before the headlines read: Religious People Found Less Compassionate or Religious People Less Charitable? Neither is proven true in the study. It simply reports that non-religious people are moved to give via compassion more so than the religious.
Here’s the study takeaway:
“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”
I write this to point out how the media wants science and religion divided, just as it wants to divide the religious and secular. Everyone loves to fuel an adversarial relationship, but in this case, it simply does not need to exist. So stop it.