Religious people “cling” to certain beliefs in the face of evidence because those views are closely tied to their moral compasses, new studies have suggested.
Dogmatic individuals hold confidently to their faith even when contradicted by experts because those beliefs have “emotional resonance,” researchers said.
In contrast, militant atheists struggle to see anything positive about religion because their brains are dominated by analytical thinking, scientists found.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio interviewed 900 religious and non-religious people in two studies examining personality characteristics that drive dogmatism.
In both groups, they found people with higher critical reasoning skills were less staunch in their beliefs. But they differed in how moral concerns influence their thinking.
“Emotional resonance helps religious people to feel more certain – the more moral correctness they see in something, the more it affirms their thinking,” said Anthony Jack, associate professor of philosophy and co-author of the research. “In contrast, moral concerns make non-religious people feel less certain.”
Jared Friedman, a PhD student who co-authored the research, added: “It suggests that religious individuals may cling to certain beliefs, especially those which seem at odds with analytic reasoning, because those beliefs resonate with their moral sentiments.”
While empathy is usually seen as a good thing, a burning sense of morality can be dangerous at its most extreme, researchers said.
“Terrorists, within their bubble, believe it’s a highly moral thing they’re doing. They believe they are righting wrongs and protecting something sacred,” said Mr Jack.
He added Donald Trump’s election campaign had been been able to “appeal to members of its base while ignoring facts” by emotionally resonating with people.