In their hit single "Science & Faith," Irish pop rock band The Script mused, "You won't find faith or hope down a telescope / You won't find heart and soul in the stars."
A group of scientists found that when it comes to science and faith, it all boils down to how the brain works and empathy.
Empathy, Not Sympathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions of another human being even if you have not experienced the same predicament. Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably but the difference between the two matters.
Sympathy, which is often described as "having a fellow feeling," is showing concern and care for another who's in an unfortunate situation. However, unlike empathy, sympathy does not involve feeling the emotion of the other person as if it were your own. While the facial expressions of both emotions portray concern, empathy involves shared distress.
Religious People Are More Emphatic
In a recent study, researchers found that religious people are more emphatic compared to people who have less belief in the universal spirit. This could also explain why more women tend to be religious because they show more empathy towards things than men.
This is also why atheists are more likely associated with being psychopaths because they have less empathy. The study found that the more religious a person is, the more empathic he or she is.
Suppressed Brain Area In Religious People
The researchers found that religious people tend to suppress the brain area responsible for analytical thinking. But when they need to do some critical thinking, they suppress the other part that controls empathy. This suggests that human beings are capable of being both religious and critical thinkers.
"Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic," said Richard Boyatzis, who was part of the research team.
In a past experiment conducted by the same lead author, Anthony Jack, the MRI scans of study participants showed there are two neuron groups: a group that helps participants think critically and another that helps them emphatize.
When someone is faced with either a social issue or analytical question, the responsible neuron network goes to work and at the same time suppresses the group. The pressure can take its toll, so setting aside a naturalistic view helps one to examine the emotional or social aspect of an issue better.
The researchers stressed that being emphatic or religious doesn't mean a person doesn't believe in science. The finding suggests that if people focus on analytic reasoning based on science, they tend to compromise their ability to cultivate a different type of thinking - especially one that can provide them with moral or social understanding.