Do religious people understand the world LESS? Study claims belief in God makes you struggle with reality

Annika M. Svedholm-Häkkinen is a prolific publisher on religious matters but this piece suggests to me that she knows very little of Christianity:  A rather large lacuna, one would think. Her findings below sound methodologically acceptable but her interpretation of them is naive.

She falls victim to the logical fallacy that correlation is causation.  She thinks that the unscientific thinking of Christians lies behind their poor knowledge of science.  It probably does, but not in the way she thinks.  Her clear opinion is that her findings show Christians as a bit dumb and intellectually deficient -- with those limitations also explaining their religiousness.  So once again we have Leftist academics trying to show that religion is stupid (Islam excepted, of course).

But an equally possible interpretation of the findings is that faith leads to reduced interest in science. Annika M. Svedholm-Häkkinen is apparently unaware that Christ said, "My kingdom is not of this world" and that Christians follow on from that by slighting physical world matters in favour of an interest in what they see as metaphysical matters.

I am an extreme atheist.  I agree with Carnap that all metaphysical statements are meaningless.  But that is just my opinion. Most of the world does find some metaphysical statements persuasive.  So we will have situations where a Christian spends his time on his knees in prayer rather than hunched over a laboratory bench. The Bible will be of interest where a  Bunsen burner is not. And both will learn different things from those different experiences

So I would argue that the results tell us only that Christians and unbelievers have different interests.  They do not tell us anything about mental inadequacies in religious believers.

I am just speaking basic science in saying that we would need some sort of before and after experiment to isolate the causal direction. A survey cannot do that

I have added the journal abstract after the summary below

A new study has suggested that religious people are more likely to have a poor understanding of the world.

It claims that those with a belief in God are more likely to think that inanimate objects, such as metal and oil can think and feel.

Researchers say that the findings suggest people's lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own rules, 'resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena'.

The study comes from the University of Helsinki, where researchers went as far as comparing religious people with those with autism, after finding they struggle to understand the realities of the world.

People with strong religious beliefs tended to have a worse understanding of physical phenomenon, such as volcanoes and wind, and were more likely to believe that inanimate objects can think and feel.

For example, religious people tended to agree with statements such as 'stones sense the cold.'

Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who led the study, told The Independent: 'The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were.'

The study involved 258 Finnish participants, who were asked how much they agreed with the statement 'there exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God' and if they believed in paranormal phenomena such as ghosts and psychic visions.

They were also tested on a range of other topics, including intuitive physics skills and understanding of basic biology.

The results showed that religious people tend to base their actions on instinct, rather than analytical thinking.

A study in 2013 by researchers at the University of Rochester suggested that religious people tend to have a lower IQ.

It suggested that those with high IQs had greater self-control and were able to do more for themselves - so did not need the benefits that religion provides.

But other studies have also found the religious people tend to be happier than those who do not believe in God.


Does Poor Understanding of Physical World Predict Religious and Paranormal Beliefs?

Marjaana Lindeman and Annika M. Svedholm-Häkkinen


Although supernatural beliefs often paint a peculiar picture about the physical world, the possibility that the beliefs might be based on inadequate understanding of the non-social world has not received research attention. In this study (N = 258), we therefore examined how physical-world skills and knowledge predict religious and paranormal beliefs. The results showed that supernatural beliefs correlated with all variables that were included, namely, with low systemizing, poor intuitive physics skills, poor mechanical ability, poor mental rotation, low school grades in mathematics and physics, poor common knowledge about physical and biological phenomena, intuitive and analytical thinking styles, and in particular, with assigning mentality to non-mental phenomena. Regression analyses indicated that the strongest predictors of the beliefs were overall physical capability (a factor representing most physical skills, interests, and knowledge) and intuitive thinking style.

ACPsy Volume 30, Issue 5, September/October 2016, Pages 736–742


  1. Science is the pursuit of truth by logical means, but I haven't met many cognitive psychologists that I could describe as particularly logical, and certainly could not describe them as scientists, or even scientifically minded. Most are only slightly smarter than social psychologists and they are definitely in the dumb basket. Neither could be called scientists, not even called smart, certainly not in comparison to some of the real scientists, engineers and men of other fields that I have known. Nearly half their findings can't be independently reproduced. In other words they fail the test. Imagine if bridge builders or aeronautical engineers had that sort of failure rate. Cognitive psychologists pretend to understand the mind but can't say they know how it works, they can't tightly and clearly define their terms, they can't even agree on which way flows the power train through the mechanism, whether emotion follows thought, or thought follows emotion, or where the boundary lies between mind and consciousness, or the difference between feelings and emotion,... they are blurry thinkers, none of them able to lay out a map of the psychological mechanism with the functions and interactions of its component parts described. A first year apprentice mechanic knows more about mechanics than a cognitive psychologist knows about the mind, and the apprentice mechanic thinks more logically than a psychologist too. I mean generally of course. There are certainly smart psychologists, but the dumb ones dominate the industry. I don't care much for their claiming Christians are dumb, because psychologists are not shining intellects themselves.

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  3. There are several hundred people who attend my local church and I can safely say there is not a single one (with the possible exception of some of the younger children or one person with a mental handicap.) who believes that a "rock" can feel cold let alone think. In fact, except for a few Muslims, I've never met any religious people who believe that way. I while I'm sure there are some religions that believe such things, I still have to wonder what religion these people in the study belonged to and whether any of them had any mental disorders. Or how they defined religious.

  4. Naram-Sin "... Or how they defined religious."

    Exactly. Claims made from social/psychological studies count for nothing without showing the definitions and categories underpinning the study. If they had clear definitions, and if they were using them honestly, they would reveal them readily, for definitions are beautiful things. Every thing one could know about something is within its definition, so the definition is the starting point, from there the description (a further elaboration of the definition), of its form, quality and function, and its interaction with adjacent and surrounding parts. But psychs can't do that. They do not have clear and organised thought. Most of them, their heads are full of vagueness, their chief concern is looking clever not being clever, and looking good not being good. They are the hypocrites of modern times, just image wearers. And one thing (amongst others) that I have observed always makes psychologists uncomfortable and that is being asked to define their terms, and they hate to be asked to differentiate between one term and another. Commonly they don't define psychological terms by inscribing their boundaries, and by defining the difference between what something is and what it is not. Contrast clarifies. But psychologists avoid contrast in their communications, preferring vagueness. They use the vague and middle-ish meanings of their words so that the edges of their terms are ill defined and overlap with other terms. When asked to define their terms they commonly utter synonyms instead of distinctions. Synonyms are not definitions. Defining by synonym is an example of mental incapacity, a lack of ability to distinguish to fine degrees. Synonyms do not define each other, they mark distinctions between similarities and relationships. Psychologists are fuzzy thinkers, their mental pictures like children's finger paintings, their mental structures are non-existent, just vague formless ideas that come and go with the fashionable trends of a pseudoscience industry. Definitions are the building blocks of clear thinking. Liars and the image conscious shy from definitions.


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