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The researchers compared believers in God to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the physical and the mental.
Religious people are more likely to have a poorer understanding of the world and are more likely to believe objects like rocks and paper have human qualities, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki compared believers in God or the paranormal to people with autism after finding they tend to struggle to understand the realities of the world around us.


Comment: Right there they have conflated two distinct things and thus potentially corrupted their results. Religion and paranormal phenomena are not equivalent. An uneducated "believer" doesn't really compare to an unreligious parapsychologist with academic degrees, for example. What was the overlap between these two groups? Where there some who believed in the paranormal but not God? Vice versa? How did their results compare?


Religious beliefs were linked with a weaker ability to understand physical and biological phenomenon such as volcanoes, flowers, rocks and wind without giving them human qualities.

Believers were more likely to think that inanimate objects such as metal, oil, clothes and paper can think and feel, and agree with statements such as "Stones sense the cold".


Comment: Funnily enough, that's probably closer to a philosophically sound way of looking at the universe. Stones may not 'think' as humans do, but it's a valid hypothesis that every 'thing', from subatomic particles to humans, 'senses' in some way. Panpsychism trumps materialism any day of the week.


Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who completed the study, said: "The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were... and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena".

The study defined "mental" as having human characteristics such as thoughts and sprit.

Researchers said their findings suggest people's lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, "resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena".

This confusion between mental and physical qualities "has [also] been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children", they added.


Comment: Probably because it's more intuitive and closer to reality than radical materialism. That's not to say such views are fully objective, just more so than those held by the kind of scientists doing this kind of study.


The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Ms Lindeman and Ms Svedholm-Häkkinen asked 258 Finnish people to report how much they agreed that "there exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God" and whether they believed in paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and visions of the future. They then matched their answers with a range of other factors, including exam results, survey answers and performances on different tests.

They also found that people who believe in God and the paranormal are more likely to be women and tend to base their actions on instinct rather than analytical thinking.

Previous studies have suggested religious people tend to have a lower IQ and are more likely to believe literally in what scientists called "bullshit statements" including phrases like "Earth wants water" and "Force knows its direction". However, they are also found to be happier and have greater life satisfaction than non-believers and are seen as more generous and trustworthy.