Now there is solid evidence that the clash between reason and faith originally begins in the brain.
The age-old conflict between science and religion exists due to certain characteristics of the human brain. The face-off between reason and faith has found modern expression in the challenges laid out before each other by creationists and evolutionists.
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Whereas the former are religious by nature, the latter are more or less looking for proof instead of blindly following tradition. Both sides are armed to the hilt with arguments for and against creationism and evolutionism respectively and they apply their thinking very selectively.
It has now been found that in order to show belief in a supernatural entity or entities, human beings have to shut down the analytical centers of the brain. Instead the empathetic network must be activated.
When it is physical stuff out there in Nature and the universe that is in focus, people turn on their analytical skills. However, when faith is concerned, this same analytic brain sometimes thinks the whole matter to be rather nonsensical.
Yet that is the paradox that sometimes the opposite happens as well. The brain switches off the analytic network and creates an atmosphere in the psyche that is social and emotional to begin with. Thus warm feelings enter into the equation instead of cold rationality.
"When there's a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd," said Tony Jack, an associate professor of philosophy at Case Western Reserve and research director of the university's Inamori International Center of Ethics and Excellence.
"But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight."
Tony Jack led the research funded by his university.
"A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown and claims that people who have faith (i.e., are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others. They actually might claim they are less intelligent.," said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor and professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve, and a member of Jack's team.
"Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic," he said.
Of course, the study has mixed results since it also shows that those who choose faith and shut out the analytic functions tend to be less intelligent than others.
That is a sort of price which must be paid. Yet, and here is the paradox once again, the religious people make up for this lack of intelligence by possessing more empathy and having a social life. Empathy is the watchword since those possessing it are more or less likely to be religious.
Women tend to be more religious than men since they have more empathy. The strange thing is that atheists are more likely to show psychopathic tendencies.
They may not be serial killers or psychotic murderers but they are lacking in empathy for others. This seems to be the biggest disadvantage of a rational analytic approach which favors intelligence and science.
MRI scans of the human brain reveal these two neural networks responsible for analysis and empathy. The tension between them remains a central dilemma in human existence.
While the two world-views do not negate each other completely, they seem to be pretty much kings of their castles on a psychic level. Religion is a non-material way of looking at the world.
It depends for its stability on such acts of worship as prayer, meditation and spiritual practices. Science on the contrary is experimental and deductive. It is based on hypotheses and does not take anything for granted.
Jack said the conflict can be avoided by remembering simple rules: "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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The new study is published in the online journal PLOS ONE.