According to a Harris Poll, about three-quarters of Americans believe in God. Previous polls showed that 82% believed in God – so why the decline? It is thought that people who are more disposed to analytical thinking are less inclined to believe in some sort of deity. The published results of fives studies by social psychologists Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan suggest this might just be the case.
Before going further, lets jump into the quiz, which may just predict if you believe in God or not.
Make note of your answers before scrolling down to the solutions.
1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? ____cents
2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____minutes
3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____days
These questions were taken from a study of 179 Canadian college students. After completing the quiz, the students were asked about their innate religiosity, religious beliefs, and beliefs in supernatural entities (like God, angels, and Satan).
The more religious the students were, the less likely they were to have demonstrated effective analytical reasoning on the three questions. Conversely, the better the students did on the questions, the less likely they were to have strong beliefs.
Quiz Solution (and what it means to you)
So, how did you do?
The three questions seem pretty easy. That is, an obvious answer springs to mind. Those answers are 10 cents, 100 minutes, and 24 days. Gervais and Norenzayan label these as the “intuitive” responses (ie: the wrong answers). If those were your answers, then you probably believe in God.
If, however, your answers were what the authors labelled as “analytical” (ie: the correct answers), then you’re probably like the quarter of Americans who do not believe in God and and are not religious.
1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Solution: The ball costs 5 cents and the bat costs $1.05, for a total of $1.10. Here’s a little algebra to work it out:
x + (x+1) = 1.10
2x +1 = 1.10
2x = 0.10
x = 0.05, or 5 cents
2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
Solution: It would take 5 minutes for 100 machines to make 100 widgets.
If it takes 5 minutes for 5 machines to make 5 widgets, it doesn’t take 20 times as many machines to make 20 times the widgets. It will take the same 5 minutes for 100 machines to make 100 widgets. In fact, it would take 5 minutes for 1,000 machines to make 1,000 widgets, and so on, because each machine spits out one widget every 5 minutes. That is the rate of widget production for the machines, and it doesn’t change no matter how many machines you are running at once.
3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
Solution: The pond will be half-covered in lily pads on the 47th day.
The lily pads grow at an exponential rate, not arithmetic. On the day before the 48th day, the pond was only half-covered in lily pads. The day before that, 1/4 covered. The day before that, 1/8. And so on.
Sooo…. Are religious people unintelligent?
No, and the authors insist the following:
[W]e caution that the present studies are silent on long-standing debates about the intrinsic value or rationality of religious beliefs…or about the relative merits of analytic and intuitive thinking in promoting optimal decision making.
Gervais and Norenzayan draw on Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s view that human cognition can best be conveyed as the interaction of two “systems.” System 1 is the fast, almost instinctive process that makes instant, gut, unreflective judgments, while System 2 is the slow, effortful process that draws on our powers of analytical reasoning. They continue:
Available evidence and theory suggest that a converging suite of intuitive cognitive processes facilitate and support belief in supernatural agents, which is a central aspect of religious beliefs worldwide… Religious belief therefore bears many hallmarks of System 1 processing.
The authors reason that since “religious belief emerges through a converging set of intuitive processes, and analytic processing can inhibit or override intuitive processing…analytic thinking may undermine intuitive support for religious belief.” Seeing people through the Kahnemanian lens thus “predicts that analytic thinking may be one source of religious disbelief.”
The Cognitive Reflection Test
The quiz is more formally known as the Cognitive Reflection Test.
The Cognitive Reflection Test has been found to correlate highly with measures of intelligence, like the IQ test, and with many measures of economic thinking, such as numeracy, temporal discounting, risk preference, and gambling preference. It has also been found to correlate with measures of mental heuristics, such as the gambler’s fallacy, understanding of regression to the mean, the sunk cost fallacy, and others.
Time to Reflect on Your Reflections
There are many reasons why people might decide not to believe in God.
However, it would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that religious believers are unreflective fools.
The quiz is an interesting tool that helps us understand human psychology and the mind, and its results may shed light on the part of us that causes us to believe and why we don’t.