The number of people who claim to have “No religious belief” is fast-growing in America and Europe, but the number expressing religious belief is growing faster.
People who believe in gods, ghosts, or other paranormal things are sometimes derided for these beliefs, but that just seems petty. Surely you can believe in supernatural powers and still be a rational person, educated person, but this does say something about you. Now, researchers have found a correlation between said beliefs and a lower comprehension of the surrounding world.
Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen of the University of Helsinki, surveyed 258 individuals, asking them about their beliefs. Specifically, the participants were asked about their beliefs in paranormal phenomena, as well as whether they thought "there exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God.". The results were intriguing.
“The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were… and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena,” the authors told The Independent.
The authors also interpreted their findings as saying that religious believers exhibit certain characteristics “found among individuals with Autism spectrum disorder.”
Now, there are many points to be made here. Lindeman and Svedholm-Häkkinen based their views on surveys of 258 Finnish people, which is not only a small sample size but also arguably not relevant for other populations. So there are some statistical and relevance questions. Also, no causation was addressed, only a correlation.
What this term/theory really breaks down to is the idea that people who are poor at physical cognition ("low systemizers") are not as good at or interested in things like map-reading, mathematics, intuitive physics, or technical and motor systems. As it turns out, these are the same people who tend to cling to religious beliefs and see the world through a supernatural lens instead of a natural one.
Obviously being religious or spiritual doesn’t mean that you’re less able to understand the world around you. Moreover, results of the study seem to fly in the face of the historical record, since many of the world’s brightest minds have been religious believers. According to the research of John Galbraith Simmons, of the top twenty scientists in history, fifteen were religious believers, two were agnostic, and three were atheists.
Furthermore, not all religious or spiritual beliefs treat science equally.
Buddhism especially has a very scientific-friendly approach in some aspects and the Dalai Lama has often supported scientific beliefs over traditional beliefs. Yet there’s no denying that the dogma of big religions often promotes non-scientific approaches.
Joseph H. Taylor Jr., Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1993, wrote:
“A scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world.”
If this is true, then Lindeman and Svedholm-Häkkinen may end up leading the world to a better understanding of its Creator, in spite of themselves.