Handle Brain (and all other) Research with Care

Brad M. Griffin | May 14, 2012

I am not a neuroscientist.

I say this every time I quote neuroscience in a presentation, because I think its fair to warn listeners that my interpretation of the brain research I mention could be off-base. We do work down the hall from some brilliant neuropsychologists at Fuller, and feel smarter just by walking by their doors. But beyond that, Im leaning on one neuropsych class in undergrad well over a decade ago, which isnt much to go on.

I bring this up because I have seen a few instances lately where popular interpretation of research feels skewed. Of course all research (including our own) is skewed in some way itself, but public reports can create all kinds of further misunderstandings. Two examples that seem to be open to misinterpretation within the past couple of weeks:

First, analytical thinking experiments (not actual brain research) triggered an interpretation that, as one headline read, Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds. The study abstract states it slightly more positively, Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief. To be more clear, the journal article reports that these studies indicate that analytic processing is one factor (presumably among several) that promotes religious disbelief.

What did this study actually find?

That there is some correlation between triggering analytic thinking (via asking subjects to perform cognitive tasks in a lab) and responding less positively to religious belief statements. In other words, when we get our brains into critical-thinking modes were less likely to voice agreement with statements that are, by their very nature, based on faith. That is different from proving that thinking undermines faith. As one commenter noted, belief responds to context. Faith is elastic, and elasticity and stickinesss are not necessarily opposed to one another.

Just as faith and doubt are not always enemies.

Tomorrow Ill share the second study that could easily lead to misinterpretation.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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