Conflicts Between Science and Spirituality Are Rooted In Your Brain

The standoff between science and religion — between fact-based and faith-based ways of thinking and explaining the world — is nearly as old as human thought itself.

In fact, the conflict may be rooted in the very structure of our brains, according to research published last week in the journal PLOS One.

The researchers observed on the neurological level a deep-seated tension between analytical reasoning — which is associated with disbelief in God — and moral reasoning — which is associated with belief in God or a “universal spirit.”

The new study reinforces the findings of a previous study by the same research team which showed that the brain has an analytical network used for critical thinking and a social network that allows us to empathize and engage in moral reasoning.

There is an opposition between the two networks, according to the research team. When people are experiencing faith in a supernatural entity, they suppress the brain network used for analytical thinking. And when they reason about the physical world, they disengage the brain network involved in empathy and moral reasoning.

The findings echo the philosophy of German idealist thinker Immanuel Kant, who held that there were two different types of truths, the empirical and the moral.

“Kant distinguished between theoretical reason (science) and practical reason (morality),” the study’s lead author Dr. Tony Jack, a professor of philosophy and neuroscience and director of the Brain, Mind and Consciousness Lab at Case Western Reserve University, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Kant pointed out these two types of reason can conflict, and that is pretty close to what we now see in the brain. So in some sense the conflict is rooted in the brain.”

Because these two networks suppress each other, we come to favor one mode of thinking —> Read More