A 2016 study finds that while religious belief has a negative correlation with analytic thinking, it has a significantly positive association with moral concern. Interesting enough, the negative correlation with analytic thinking can in part be explained by the tension between it and moral concerns. “When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said Tony Jack, who led the research.
“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.”
…”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. In a series of eight experiments, the researchers found the more empathetic the person, the more likely he or she is religious. That finding offers a new explanation for past research showing women tend to hold more religious or spiritual worldviews than men. The gap may be because women have a stronger tendency toward empathetic concern than men. Atheists, the researchers found, are most closely aligned with psychopaths—not killers, but the vast majority of psychopaths classified as such due to their lack of empathy for others.
…“Because of the tension between networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social/emotional side,” Jack explained. “And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it.”
…[Jared] Friedman said, “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.”
“These findings,” Friedman continued, “are consistent with the philosophical view, espoused by (Immanuel) Kant, according to which there are two distinct types of truth: empirical and moral.”
In short, “taking a carefully considered leap of religious faith appears be an effective route to promoting emotional insight. Theirs and other studies find that, overall, religious belief is associated with greater compassion, greater social inclusiveness and greater motivation to engage in pro-social actions.”