Psychology of The Belief in "God"



Once at atheist, always an atheist? Once a believer, always a believer? Can we go back and forth between the two, or be both? Answers to these questions have been pondered by philosophers, psychologists, and scientists for centuries, and the strange thing about them is that they are always subjective, yet fall under a common pretense that one or the other side is  the only truth. The thing about extremely powerful concepts is that they are often polarizing and dividing, lending way to two competitive worldviews. An analogy I often use is political thought, Republican or Liberal? Most often we fall somewhere on one side of the spectrum and when someone approaches things from their competing worldview, extreme judgment follows. To relate this concept to spirituality or a belief in a "higher power," I pose the question - is it necessary they be mutually exclusive? And is it possible to walk a road somewhere in between the two? 

The thing about many recovery programs is that they push the perspective that one way of thinking or line of reasoning is necessary for success in recovering who you are as a person. While this may be true for some, actually many people, there are also those of the worldview that it doesn't have to be one or the other, and both sides are equally valid. Some would call this being "agnostic," which we specialize in dealing with and understanding. We don't push either side, we simply offer more than one perspective and aim to find a _symbiosis_ between the two. 

Let us look at some information published by Psychology Today in regards to the types of people with predispositions to lean one way or the other. If you are the radical religious type and think science is hokey pokey, spectacular, perhaps this will help you understand why. Likewise, if you are of the more scientific way of perceiving the world, that is spectacular as well, because this information may help you understand why. The area of study this type of thinking comes from is often referred to as psychology, which we see as a synthesis of the spiritual and scientific worldviews, as they often tap into both conceptual domains.


"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?
Your answer to this question will help me guess whether you believe in God.

That statement may seem as counterintuitive as the correct price of the ball—$0.05—but with both, it all makes sense once you hear the explanation.

For many, the intuitive answer is $0.10, and they must override their first instinct if they hope to answer correctly. The question, along with two others, is part of the Cognitive Reflection Test, or CRT. (Full test at the end of the post.) The higher your score, from 0-3, the greater your tendency to reflect on spontaneous thoughts."

Psychologists who study the origins of religion say belief in God relies on several intuitions, including a teleological bias (the assumption that certain objects or event were designed intentionally) and Cartesian dualism (the belief that mind can exist independently of the body). So to become an atheist one must second-guess these automatic ways of thinking. And recently a number of studies have supported the idea that belief in God is influenced by cognitive style— how much of a second-guesser you are.

So which one are you? Below is a very short test to help you better understand what type of thinker you are.


The cognitive reflection test

  • 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?

  • If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

  • 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?

    For each answer you got right, add it up and the total is your score on the CRT - in other words, high likely you are to think a certain way.

    •Answers: Five cents, five minutes, and forty-seven days.

Whether you fall on one side or the other, that does not make you any more or less of a person, it just tells you about who you are and how you think. Understanding who we are and the way our minds work is crucial to figuring out the best way to approach recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. If this sounds like an approach you would like to take and you are sincerely interested in better understanding yourself and the combinations of numerous and unique paths will be best suited to your ability to enjoy and engage in life, please reach out to us.


Ultimately this way of thinking about spirituality, faith, and belief can be boiled down to one simple sentence.

"If you believe in the power, the power is the belief."

This is neither a spiritual nor scientific way of reasoning, but somewhere in between. It does not negate the approach of belief from a more skeptical mind-frame, yet it also lends way to the idea that by choosing to believe in something, there are empowering psychological benefits that can help you move forward in life.