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Researchers find how engagement with science can promote unbelief or beliefs about God

Most of the Americans think that religion and science are not compatible however a recent study suggests that proper scientific engagement can help in promoting belief in God. A team of researchers from the Psychology Department of Arizona State University have found that scientific information can actually invoke a feeling of awe leading to belief in abstract views of God. The work has been published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Kathryn Johnson, an associate research professor at ASU and also the lead author on the paper said that there are several ways of thinking about God. Some people view God in DNA, some view it in the grandeur of the universe and some think of God as described by the Bible. Scientists wanted to find out if scientific engagements created an impact on the beliefs of God’s existence. 

Jordan Moon, a coauthor on the paper and a psychology graduate student of ASU said that although science is viewed in terms of experiments and data, it might mean more to some people. Researchers studied two kinds of scientific engagement, logical thinking and experiencing a feeling of awe to find how people connected with science and what kind of impact it made on their faith in God. 


Participants were first surveyed about their interest in science, commitment to logical thinking and how often they felt awe. Commitment to logic was matched with unbelief. Participants who reported commitment to logic along with experience of awe or an overwhelming wonder leading to open-mindedness were more likely to believe in God. People reported their description of God as an abstract God who is mystical or limitless. This contradicts what is generally found in houses of worship. 

Johnson said that when people experience a feeling of awe upon knowing the vastness of the universe or complexity of life, they think in more spiritual terms. This feeling leads to more ways of conceptualizing God.

In another experiment, the participants engaged with science through videos. Hearing to a lecture on quantum physics led to agnosticism or unbelief whereas a music video on the duality of matter made people experience a feeling of awe. People experiencing along such lines reported a belief in abstract God. 

Adam Cohen, a psychology professor and also the paper’s senior author said that many people think that science and religion cannot exist together. They often think about both science and religion in a very simplistic manner. Both of the fields, science and religion are big enough to accommodate each other. This work could expand the views of both science and religion. 

Journal Reference: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

About the author: Kalpit Veerwal
Kalpit Veerwal is a second year Computer Science undergraduate at IIT Bombay. He is well known for being the only person to score 360/360 in JEE (Main). He is registered in the Limca Book of Records for the same. A blogger in his free time, he has also secured top ranks in various exams held in India and the world.

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