What Believing in God Does to Your Brain

What Believing in God Does to Your Brain

Having ‘blind faith’ means your neurons are operating in a way that makes you more empathetic.

You might have always found it hard to understand how your devout, church-going cousins have the ability to believe in God above everything else. They somehow never seem to have time for rational analysis.

Conversely, they might find it impossible to understand why you want to use science to defend every single thing you encounter in life, from dish soap, to that mysterious car accident that happened in the mountains, years ago.

Why the difference? You could say it’s the way God made us… and that could be true.

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Looking at the science behind religion, a study conducted by researchers in Ohio has found that when you believe in a higher being, you actually suppress the network in your brain used for analytical thinking, and engage the pathways used for empathy.

This second network is a pathway that gives you greater social and emotional insight into the world, which in turn, allows you to believe in the supernatural. The first one allows you to dissect the world and categorize what you find using reason and logic.

Scientific thinking and believing in God rely on two different forms of thinking.

It’s not that a person can’t be both spiritual and scientifically minded at the same time, though. It just seems that in order to highlight one way of thinking, the other has to be suppressed, at least in the moment, for whatever type of thinking you’re doing.

Who turned out this interesting discovery? Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Babson College are behind the work that was published in PLOS One. They looked at hundreds of individuals, and focused on both people who held religious beliefs and those who did not.

Participants answered eight separate questionnaires, and completed some thought experiments to monitor their thinking, which researchers then reviewed.

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Is one way of approa better than the other? Researchers say no. Some of the greatest scientific minds in history have also believed in religion, and perhaps even more so as they took themselves deeper into learning about the universe’s amazing truths and mysteries.

Scientific thinking and believing in God rely on two different forms of thinking.

But religion and science are two separate entities, and will likely remain so.  As the lead researchers of the study, Tony Jack, noted:

“Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that’s the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”

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“Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight.”

How can you be more empathetic? Try these tips on for size. And to train your mind to be more analytical, click here.

Remember, 90 percent of the 21st century’s Nobel laureates held spiritual beliefs; there’s a need for both kinds of thinking.

Photo credits: Flynt/Bigstock;kikkerdirk/Bigstock; agsandrew/Bigstock


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