Monday, 28 March 2016

Religious Belief May Promote Scientific Creativity and Insight, New Study Suggests

David Livingstone meets Henry Morton Stanley. Image courtesy International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960, public domain.

Joel Kontinen

Religious faith might not be a bad thing for a top scientist. The pioneers of modern science (for instance Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur) were Christians. In spite of what atheists might claim, “from 1901 to 2000, 654 Nobel laureates, or nearly 90 percent, belonged to one of 28 religions.”

A new paper published in PLOS ONE attempts to fathom the assumed dichotomy between science and belief. The researchers believe they were able to explain this by the structure of our brains.

They also found that people of faith tend to be more prosocial and empathic than those who take a more analytical approach to the great questions of life.

Even some atheists acknowledge that religion is good for us.

However, religions do differ. Christianity is the most pro-social religion, but political correctness would not allow the researchers to say so. Christians have done much to make the world a better place. William Wilberforce and David Livingstone fought against the slave trade, for instance.

"Having empathy doesn't mean you necessarily have anti-scientific beliefs. Instead, our results suggest that if we only emphasize analytic reasoning and scientific beliefs, as the New Atheist movement suggests, then we are compromising our ability to cultivate a different type of thinking, namely social/moral insight," says Jared Friedman, a co-author of the paper.

The study throws cold water on those who emphasise the bad consequences of religion: “Religious belief is associated with greater compassion, greater social inclusiveness and greater motivation to engage in pro-social actions.”

The paper’s lead author, associate professor Anthony Ian Jack, also issued a warning: "Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that's the business of science.”

This perhaps reflects the same journal’s recent episode featuring the Creator’s design that attracted much attention – and ire – from some atheists.


Case Western Reserve University. 2016. Conflict between science, religion lies in our brains. Science Daily (23 March).