I like arguing with religious people, but it is only rarely that I find a really challenging religious argument, largely because religious belief, although it often has a superficial logic, is rooted not in logic, but intuition. And so, most religious debates end up being more about a clash of logical premises, than logical arguments.
But just because religion has roots in intuition doesn’t mean intuition is all bad.
The findings, Gervais says, are based on a longstanding human psychology model of two distinct, but related cognitive systems to process information: an “intuitive” system that relies on mental shortcuts to yield fast and efficient responses, and a more “analytic” system that yields more deliberate, reasoned responses.
The study in this article is interesting to me, because it makes a point which I have long argued. Critical (analytic) thinking is what we should be encouraging, while atheism is just one possible result. I know some atheists will argue that atheism and science/rationalism go hand in hand, but I don’t think this is necessarily true.
Science uses human intuition too, when forming hypotheses and coming up with new theoretical models. The important part is, you don’t just stop there. You then must analyse what you have come up with and try see if it fits with observation and other established theoretical models. Both intuition and analytical thinking are useful, and when used in concert, can be very effective.
Analytic thinking undermines belief because, as cognitive psychologists have shown, it can override intuition. And we know from past research that religious beliefs—such as the idea that objects and events don’t simply exist but have a purpose—are rooted in intuition. “Analytic processing inhibits these intuitions, which in turn discourages religious belief,” Norenzayan explains.
This is why I’m not so much a cheerleader for atheism, which is a conclusion(a good one), but more for critical thinking, which is a part of science, philosophy, and yes, even theology.
When people embrace things like creationism, first causes(creator gods), or even liberal or conservative political ideology, they are relying on their intuition, not a thorough and complete analysis of the facts. This is where political spin doctoring comes in. Whether you are left or right, politics is almost always about fitting the facts into your ideology, not the other way around.
One of the more amusing examples of this I can think of, is the recent convergence in American politics of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism with the Christian Right, via the Tea party.
Essentially, what you have is a rather jarring mix of conflicting premises.
It was in 2005 that Rep. Ryan, while speaking at a Washington gathering to honor author and libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, shared the news of Ms. Rand’s impact on his life and career. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
“I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas, who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. Don’t give me Ayn Rand.
I should note that Ryan is a Catholic, not a fundamentalist, but stands on the christian conservative side of the equation. And yes, I know that Rand’s Objectivism(I abused my brain with Atlas Shrugged once) is not the same as Libertarianism(Objectivists and Libertarians find this confusion much less amusing than I do), but I think they are close enough to be considered as a unit when compared to the vagaries of Christianity.
What I think they do have in common, is the way they base their disparate ideologies on ‘common-sense’ intuition. Whether its Rand’s naive moralizing, the libertarian preoccupation with individuality, Fundamentalism’s focus on literal interpretations of the Bible, or Christianities more general reliance on ‘first cause logic’ all seem to believe that they are taking a stand that is obviously true. Of course, the left does this too. Human Rights is a relatively new concept, but if you talk to liberals they won’t tell you where those rights come from, only that they do of course exist, have always existed, and must be protected.
Intuition is not something to be escaped from though, its something we should use, but not abuse. It can save our lives in a crisis, but when we have time to think, we can use a bit of critical thinking to balance out our gut feelings and preconceptions, even if we still end up disagreeing.