Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Are Religious People Less Smart Than Atheists?

OK, if that isn't an incendiary title, I don't know what is! :)

I took that title loosely from this article that reviews a new study on how various groups of people think. To be fair, the paper being cited actually debunks that myth that religious people are less intelligent than non-religious people.

However (you know that was coming, didn't you?), it points out that religious people tend to rely heavily on intuition when there is an apparent conflict between intuition and logic. In other words, the more religious a person is, the more likely he/she will abandon rational thinking and rely on his/her intuition.

This is actually consistent with an earlier study that I mention on here. In that study, it was discovered that non-scientists are more likely to ignore scientific facts and evidence in favor of a view that support their values. Flat-Earth believers, anyone?

The problem in all of this is that (i) logic and rational thinking are the best methodology that we know of to come up with a valid conclusion, (ii) facts and evidence are being ignored or dismissed, and (iii) our intuition has been known to be terribly wrong and unreliable.

In science, intuition can only go so far, and we often abandon our intuition once it has been trumped by facts and evidence. This is why science evolves and improves over time. So when someone goes against that, and lean more on faulty intuition than logic and rational thinking, we then are into no-rules and no-holes-barred territory. Is this why a lot of people still believe in irrational and uncorroborated ideas and opinions?

I don't know. To me, dealing with public opinions and why such-and-such group of people or individual thinks that way is more mysterious than any of the physics research that I've done. Human beings are irrational creatures by nature, I suppose.


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