The conflict between science and religion may be attributed to how brains are structured, a new study has found.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Babson College discovered that the dilemma between using information based on faith or scientific evidence to explain many things dates back to many centuries ago.

"When there's a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd," says study lead author Tony Jack.

However, based on what experts understand, belief in supernatural things is equivalent to pushing aside critical thinking to help people attain higher social and emotional insight.

It's Called Empathy

Cognitive psychology studies claim that people who have religious or spiritual belief are less smart than others, with these people possibly even claiming that they are indeed less intelligent, says research team member Richard Boyatzis.

The team has confirmed this relationship in their analysis; however, it also showed that people who are more faithful are also more empathic and prosocial.

Such finding may explain why women tend to be more religious than men. This is because women are more likely to show empathy over things than men.

Conversely, atheists are more aligned with psychopaths as most of these people are found to lack empathy.

Being Objective: Results Of Analyses

The team investigated the relationship between belief in a universal spirit or in God and parameters of critical thinking and moral concern.

The authors conducted a total of eight experiments, which entailed 159 to 527 adults.

The results of the study showed that the more religious a person is, the more emphatic he or she is. However, the authors were not able to establish a cause and effect relationship for that.

They also found that both faith and empathy had a positive association with how many times individuals pray, meditate and engage in religious practices.

Despite its popularity, the team did not note a positive relationship between belief and mentalizing or interpreting behavior via intentional mental conditions such as needs, wants and goals.

Attune with previous researches, the work of the authors showed that analytical thinking dissuades one to accept religious beliefs, but statistical analysis signifies that empathy is more essential to spiritual belief than critical thinking is for disbelief.

Brain Suppression Mechanism

The study is based on the hypothesis that the human brain consists of two brain regions that oppose each other. True enough, the researchers were able to discover that people who believe in a universal spirit appear to suppress the brain area used for analytical thinking. During critical thinking periods, however, people appear to do the opposite.

In a past study conducted by Jack, functional magnetic resonance imaging scans show that the brain has two groups of neurons: one that helps people think critically and another that allows people to empathize.

If a person is faced with a mathematical question or a social dilemma, the responsible network on the brain fires up while suppressing the other.

Jack explains that due to the pressure between these two networks in the brain, pushing aside a naturalistic view helps people look more deeply into the social or emotional aspect of a situation. This may be the reason why supernatural beliefs exist in history - it creates a medium for people to have an intangible way of comprehending things in the world.

Study author Jared Friedman says being emphatic does not necessarily mean that a person have anti-scientific beliefs. What the study findings suggest is that people are compromising their ability to have a different type of thinking, particularly social or moral insights.

Being Both

Being a religious believer does not mean a person cannot be a critical thinker. The truth is, people can be both. This is because humans are made to both socialize and learn using the two networks of the brain.

Despite the conflicts, religious beliefs may actually promote scientific insights, if only done in the correct way and under the right circumstance. Such people who can be both religious and scientific are those who are intellectually elite enough to understand that there is no need for science and religion to clash.

"You can be religious and be a very good scientist," says Jack.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday.

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