God or science? A belief in one weakens positive feelings for the other

Dec 15, 2008
Jesse Preston
Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston led a study that found that attitudes towards God and science can change and yet remain in opposition to one another. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, U. of I. News Bureau

A person's unconscious attitudes toward science and God may be fundamentally opposed, researchers report, depending on how religion and science are used to answer "ultimate" questions such as how the universe began or the origin of life.

What's more, those views can be manipulated, the researchers found. After using science or God to explain such important questions, most people display a preference for one and a neutral or even negative attitude toward the other. This effect appears to be independent of a person's religious background or views, says University of Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston, who led the research.

The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Preston and her colleague, Nicholas Epley, of the University of Chicago, wanted to explore how information about science influences a belief in God, and how religious teaching can also cause people to doubt certain scientific theories.

"As far as I know, no one has looked experimentally at an opposition between belief in science and religion," Preston said.

"It seemed to me that both science and religion as systems were very good at explaining a lot, accounting for a lot of the information that we have in our environment," she said. "But if they are both ultimate explanations, at some point they have to conflict with each another because they can't possibly both explain everything."

The researchers conducted two experiments designed to manipulate how well science or God can be used as explanations. In the first, 129 volunteers read short summaries of the Big Bang theory and the "Primordial Soup Hypothesis," a scientific theory of the origin of life.

Half then read a statement that said that the theories were strong and supported by the data. The other half read that the theories "raised more questions than they answered."

In the second experiment, which involved 27 undergraduate students, half of the study subjects had to "list six things that you think God can explain." The others were asked to "list six things that you think can explain or influence God."

All the subjects were then required to quickly categorize various words as positive or negative on a computer.

"What they didn't realize was that they were being subliminally primed immediately before each word," Preston said. "So right before the word 'awful' came up on the screen, for example, there was a 15-millisecond flash of either 'God' or 'science' or a control word."

A 15-millisecond visual cue is too brief to register in the conscious mind, but the brief word flash did have an effect. Those who had read statements emphasizing the explanatory power of science prior to the test were able to categorize positive words appearing just after the word, "science," more quickly than those who had read statements critical of the scientific theories.

Those who were asked to use God as an ultimate explanation for various phenomena displayed a more positive association with God and a much more negative association with science than those directed to list other things that can explain God, the researchers found.

Similarly, those who read the statement suggesting that the scientific theories were weak were extremely slow to identify negative words that appeared after they were primed with the word "God," Preston said.

"It was like they didn't want to say no to God," she said.

"What is really intriguing is that the larger effect happens on the opposite belief," she said. "When God isn't being used to explain much, people have a positive attitude toward science. But when God is being used to account for many events – especially the things that they list, which are life, the universe, free will, these big questions – then somehow science loses its value."

"On the other hand, people may have a generally positive view of science until it fails to explain the important questions. Then belief in God may be boosted to fill in the gap," she said.

The most obvious implication of the research is that "to be compatible, science and religion need to stick to their own territories, their own explanatory space," Preston said. "However, religion and science have never been able to do that, so to me this suggests that the debate is going to go on. It's never going to be settled."

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Explore further: Stress tied to change in children's gene expression related to emotion regulation, physical health

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Social Security spent $300M on 'IT boondoggle'

8 hours ago

(AP)—Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims.

Cheaper wireless plans cut into AT&T 2Q profit

8 hours ago

(AP)—AT&T posted lower net income for the latest quarter due to cheaper cellphone plans it introduced as a response to aggressive pricing from smaller competitor T-Mobile US.

Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

8 hours ago

(AP)—Potentially tens of thousands of students awarded a Pell Grant or other need-based federal aid for the coming school year could find it taken away because of a mistake in filling out the form.

Recommended for you

What is whisper therapy?

4 hours ago

Consider the stress of modern life, with its cacophonous soundtrack of traffic, electronics and construction. It's no wonder so much of our leisure time is spent in a quest to let go of the workday and unwind. ...

User comments : 17

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VOR
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 15, 2008
I can settle it. As the Voice of Reason, let me take the test. There is no conufusion. Religion is an amalgam of (ancient) Government, spirituality, and mythology. The concept of faith is LITERALLY the (moronic) idea to believe in something that not only unreasonable, but illogical, irrational, and without any factual basis. The fabrication of such stories as the bible was as 'INDUSTRY' of that time in history. That is a well known fact. The only mystery remaining is why otherwise supposedly civilized modern societies continue to have religious populations as large as they are. This statement is not subjectively bent on bashing religion. It's objective. Any statement that supported the claims of religion would have to be heavily subjective. Religion does good and harm, has positive and negative attributes. But its claims of dieties and miracles are utter nonsense.
COCO
1 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2008
Jesse represents the bottom of the barrel of researchers - and topics of mythology and silly fables should not waste time and money - everyone and I suspect God too - knows these are just tales of the ignorant. Let us move on!!
dcman98
2 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2008
VOR states that faith is "LITERALLY" the belief in the unreasonable. While this is the modern definition of faith to some, it is far from the historical definition. The idea that faith is the antithesis to reason was created by Kant, and that is the underlying cause of this great conflict. Ideas such as test everything, or the reliability of reason are based on Christian philosophy (In the beginning was the logos). So many are hasty to cut the branch they stand on.
Velanarris
3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Realistically nothing can be ruled out until you've proven it's non-existance.

Being an atheist and a scientist I'd say I believe the chances for God or a god(s) are incredibly miniscule, however, until I can rule him out there's a definite chance.

As for faith, faith is belief without evidence. It does not necessarily need to be religious.
VOR
not rated yet Dec 17, 2008
The religion of Jaweh (such as Christianity, Judiasm, and maybe Muslim) was perhaps the most significant source of much of our morality and wisdom. There are some big mistakes though. Murder was called a sin, but warfare was validated. War was a way of life across the centuries the bible was developed. While a military is necessary, we are far too tolerant of violence as a society. More tolerant than even of sexuality. The endurance of Christianity is no doubt responisible for this legacy.

"Realistically nothing can be ruled out until you've proven it's non-existance. " sorry V, that statement is self-invalidating. You cannot prove non-existance. This is another clumsy argument for god, which is not to say there aren't some better ones, (but thats certainly not my thing). I can see how faith could be, or at least could have been, complete without the unreasonable aspect. But I don't see relevance of that in a discussion of modern religion. With due acknowledgement to christian-like religion, I also assert that morality is somewhat self-evident and develops acoss all cultures religious and secular. The 'norms' of societies become morality, which is why we must strive as individuals to not just follow, but set a higher standard. There's a certain undeniable objective importance of certain morals, wether society recognizes it or not. The more that morals in this category are established and followed, the more sucessful and healthy the members are. You dont need an archaic package such as religion to know this, but it still works for many. Religion has other rewards such as fellowship. Unfortunately for those of us that find religion intellectually inaccessable, there's no widely established secular or atheist 'church' even though there are plenty of us that would probably attend. Such groups are too small to be convenient. I've checked in my area.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2008
sorry V, that statement is self-invalidating. You cannot prove non-existance.
If I have an empty sandbox I can prove that the sand box contains no sand by showing that the box is empty.

Proof of absence by knowledge of the entire system.
superhuman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2009
Knowledge of the entire reality is obviously inaccessible so such proofs are not possible mr self-proclaimed scientist.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2009
Knowledge of the entire reality is obviously inaccessible so such proofs are not possible mr self-proclaimed scientist.

Yet.

Remember, there were map makers before they discovered the world was round.
superhuman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2009
Lol I always enjoy these bizarre replies you produce when proved wrong.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2009
Lol I always enjoy these bizarre replies you produce when proved wrong.

I'd like to see where I've been proven wrong.

Realistically nothing can be ruled out until you've proven it's non-existance.
Knowledge of the entire reality is obviously inaccessible so such proofs are not possible mr self-proclaimed scientist.
Yet.

Remember, there were map makers before they discovered the world was round.


Looks accurate to me.
superhuman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
sorry V, that statement is self-invalidating. You cannot prove non-existance.
If I have an empty sandbox I can prove that the sand box contains no sand by showing that the box is empty.
Proof of absence by knowledge of the entire system.

Knowledge of the entire reality is obviously inaccessible so such proofs are not possible mr self-proclaimed scientist.

Yet.

Remember, there were map makers before they discovered the world was round.


Now it's accurate, Isn't it funny how you omitted your failed sandbox argument?

I am afraid your map markers revelation is not having the desired impact on the discussion, perhaps you should consult someone more gifted in the arcane art of logical thinking.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009

Now it's accurate, Isn't it funny how you omitted your failed sandbox argument?

I am afraid your map markers revelation is not having the desired impact on the discussion, perhaps you should consult someone more gifted in the arcane art of logical thinking.


There's no flaw in the hypothetical, and no flaw in the logic.

You can disprove existance of an object within a system if you have knowledge of the entire system and the object is absent.

How exactly is that logically wrong?

You state that knowledge of the entire system is unattainable. How is that correct without adding the word "currently"?

Sorry, you're wrong again.

Now we can continue down this path but I'm sure you won't like it, much like you've bailed out of other discussions we've had when a third party drops in to clarify your own argument for you.



Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
superhuman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
You state that knowledge of the entire system is unattainable. How is that correct without adding the word "currently"?


Knowledge of the entire reality will of course never be attainable. I find it funny that someone might seriously think otherwise, it is logically impossible for any entity to have knowledge of the entire reality for great many reasons, for example:
1. such knowledge would require infinite storage
2. it would always be outdated due to limits on information propagation
3. there is no way to prove that the reality you have access to is the whole reality, there might always be another universe beyond the horizon.

Now we can continue down this path but I'm sure you won't like it, much like you've bailed out of other discussions we've had when a third party drops in to clarify your own argument for you.


Haha! I've bailed out of our discussions? I find it cute that you've provided those links but I suggest you reread them cause it seems your memory is failing you.
So far I've proved you wrong in every damn case, thats because contrary to you I only argue about the things I know. You argue about everything yet your knowledge is incredibly shallow and superficial, the amount of errors and disinformation that you propagate is appalling.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2009
Knowledge of the entire reality will of course never be attainable. I find it funny that someone might seriously think otherwise, it is logically impossible for any entity to have knowledge of the entire reality for great many reasons, for example:
1. such knowledge would require infinite storage
2. it would always be outdated due to limits on information propagation
3. there is no way to prove that the reality you have access to is the whole reality, there might always be another universe beyond the horizon.

That's true in our current framework and ability. How can you assume that we'll never be able to attain this understanding?

Haha! I've bailed out of our discussions? I find it cute that you've provided those links but I suggest you reread them cause it seems your memory is failing you.
So far I've proved you wrong in every damn case,
I'm sorry? I don't see that from any of our conversations.
thats because contrary to you I only argue about the things I know.
You mean the things you "think" you know.

http://www.physor...963.html
You argue about everything yet your knowledge is incredibly shallow and superficial, the amount of errors and disinformation that you propagate is appalling.



I think you need a little time to collect yourself and bring a rational argument to my hypothetical. Insults are neither a good basis for sharing information in the course of discussion nor are they a good rebuttal to my above comments.
superhuman
not rated yet Jan 09, 2009
You argue about everything yet your knowledge is incredibly shallow and superficial, the amount of errors and disinformation that you propagate is appalling.

Insults are neither a good basis for sharing information in the course of discussion nor are they a good rebuttal to my above comments.

I am only stating facts, if you find reality insulting that's your problem.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
You argue about everything yet your knowledge is incredibly shallow and superficial, the amount of errors and disinformation that you propagate is appalling.

Insults are neither a good basis for sharing information in the course of discussion nor are they a good rebuttal to my above comments.

I am only stating facts, if you find reality insulting that's your problem.

Examples please. Provide some commentary where I was wrong and did not recant my statements.