Yes, Religious People Can Be Critical Thinkers

Research suggesting that you can’t have both faith and deep thoughts has been debunked.

Emma Haak
Emma Haak
Mar 20, 2017 · 2 min read

If you’re under the impression that religion and critically thinking are mutually exclusive, you should reconsider your stance. A pivotal 2012 study claiming that the more people learn to think analytically, the less religious they become, has been proven false. Even the researchers behind the study are now saying they got it wrong.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The researchers originally reported that when they taught people how to think more analytically, those same people also became less religious, suggesting that the two traits — religious and rigorous thinker — couldn’t coexist. The research gained traction at least in part because, as Science Us writer Dalmeet Singh Chawla explains in a piece about the turnaround in thinking, “its findings played into already-held beliefs in the public domain about religion and analytical thinking — namely, the assumption that religious people think less deeply.” It’s an unfair but not uncommon opinion, even though we all probably know people who prove the assumption wrong.

In the last 5 years however, the methods the original researchers used in their experiments have been put under the microscope, so to speak, and have been found to be ineffective at actually influencing analytical thoughts, rendering their results more or less mute. It’s another example of the replication crisis happening in psychology right now — older research not standing up to modern study analysis and techniques.

It’s important to note that the debunking research didn’t prove unequivocally that religion and analytical thinking aren’t connected in some way — just that the methods used to get the original, headline-making results were flawed. But we can all take this as a reminder to check our assumptions and remember that just because someone holds different or deeper religious beliefs than we do doesn’t automatically make them any more or less analytical than us.

Read more on Science of Us.

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