Science and Reason – The Human mind Written by John Draper Friday, 06 August 2010 07:10
Scientific studies have shown that Intelligence has risen in developed countries and simultaneously belief in religion has declined. The obvious conclusion is that people are getting smarter; smart people tend to reject irrational beliefs, hence with increasing intelligence more people become nonbelievers. But a paper by psychologist James Allan Cheyne at Waterloo University suggests it’s more complicated than that.
But first, let’s note that the effect is significant – in England, for example, church attendance has dropped to less than one-third of prior levels and atheism is no longer rare. Also, because many are reluctant to call themselves atheists but prefer “non-believer”, there may be more atheists than what the many surveys show. Further, studies have shown that the effect is more pronounced amongst elite scientists – only around 7% of them are believers. Is there a connection between science and the rejection of religion?
Cheyne (photo right) shows that the teaching of science (for example in developed countries) actually teaches people to be able to handle abstract concepts and to accept the possibility that they may be wrong. After all, a basic fundamental scientific concept is to wonder whether an idea is right. They then become able to think more rationally and to reject absurd ideas like religion. This tendency was amplified by the need of the average population to be able to do Abstract, Categorical and Hypothetical thinking (ACH thinking) so some degree of scientific education was needed by everyone. The peasants in many underdeveloped countries do not need this skill so can’t think this way. Hence only people in developed countries get “smarter” (by IQ measurements which require ACH thinking) and only people in developed countries reject irrational religions. Note that ACH thinking really is superior – it produced all the achievements of our time.
So as the world is educated and learns to think better and is able to cope with scientific concepts and knowledge – even if it’s in a rudimentary fashion – people will gradually come to see that their religion does not fit and does not make sense.
Cheyne thinks that improvement in thinking in the developed world may have reached its limit but that improvement will continue in the developing world. The implication is that long term, religion will still appeal to around 20% of the population (e.g. as now in Scandinavia). That’s a big improvement over approx 80%. The question I have is, why does this not seem to work in the U.S.? Do they fail to teach science in their schools? Or is it that only an elite get access to a Science education?
The next thought is that once religious zealots understand that a science education truly leads to a rejection of religion, guess what they will lobby for! I guess they don’t want running water, electricity, cell-phones, TV, cars, etc – in short they want to go back to being cave-men. The good news is that science education does not have to be superb to be effective – it just has to teach the fundamentals of science, the value of experiments and the merit in asking questions.
If you are interested in this topic and concept, I recommend you read the full article – it’s quite readable and does not use highly technical terms.