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Friday, April 27, 2012

Guarding the Guardians

I love studies that discuss why religious people think the way they do.
 Unfortunately, not all such studies are created equal.
Consider this one, from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

The study purports to show that the more analytical one's thought processes are, the less religious a person's beliefs will be.

Sadly, the study doesn't prove what the scientists claim it proves.

While it does seem to show that people capable of solving math problems are less inclined to religious belief, it doesn't show that the ability to solve math problems (or engage in other analytic thinking) causes this decrease in religious belief. That is, the study doesn't prove causation, just correlation.

Which is not a real surprise. I distinctly remember following this exact line of reasoning while I was in honors math and science classes in Catholic high school. In all the histories I read describing the lives and accomplishments of all the scientists I studied, none of these histories mentioned religious belief at all. All the really brilliant people I knew about were atheists. The only time religious belief was mentioned was when someone actively rejected it.

Thus, I knew Isaac Asimov, one of the most brilliant science writers of the 20th century, was an avowed atheist, but did not know that Isaac Newton, the most brilliant scientist of the last 400 years, was an avowed believer who wrote more theology then he did science.

I knew Fred Hoyle, the astrophysicist who came up with the incorrect Steady State theory, was an atheist, but did not know the George Lemaitre, the astrophysicist who came up with the correct Big Bang theory, was a priest.

No one told me that at least two Popes were each among the leading scientists of their day, nor that one of these, Pope John XXI, was an authority on both medicine and logic. His classic work on logic, Summulae Logicales, was the standard textbook on the subject for over 300 years. He died while working in his private scientific laboratory.

For my entire childhood and most of my adult life, I was completely unaware of how Catholic theology formed the empirical sciences.

So, let us assume that the students being tested lived in a culture very much like the one I grew up in just thirty years ago, a culture which constantly told them that thinking, rational people did not believe in God.

When such students are presented with priming concepts oriented towards rational thought, that would simultaneously prime them to think of what they associate with rational thought - disbelief in God. If they were doing that, you would get exactly the results this study shows.

In short, all this study shows is that schools are successfully linking the idea that rationalism is opposed to religion. It doesn't show that rationalism actually undermines religion.

Now, here's the interesting part.

For some reason, according to both the LA Times and Science magazine, the scientific authors of the study insist on the irrational non sequitor that logic is the cause of disbelief, rather than noting the much more logical conclusion that one is simply correlated with the other. The editors of one of the leading journals in the nation, Science, published this study, complete with its irrational non sequitor.

I wonder why that is?

Perhaps scientific studies into religion causes irrational thought among the scientists who attempt to implement those studies?

What, exactly, happens in the brains of scientists when they contemplate creating studies that don't prove what they say the studies prove?

Someone should investigate that.

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