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Can you be a psychologist and believe in God?

Can you be a psychologist and believe in God?

January 25, 2023

The question that heads this text may be surprising for some, but the truth is that it is a doubt that often assaults people who study psychology , especially during his first years of university or before deciding on this career. And yes, there is a logic behind this kind of concerns.

After all, the study of cognition and psychological mechanisms, historically, has been more related to atheism than other fields of knowledge. For example, the atheism of figures such as Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner is well known despite being rare at the time, and today two of the five great representatives of the absence of faith in the divine are researchers of the mind : Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.


On the other hand, there are indications that indicate that analytical thinking , necessary in any field of science and therefore also in psychology, weakens faith in God. In more general terms, in addition, it has been seen that the psychologists who teach in American universities are the least religious group of professors. What happen?

Professionals of psychology and consistent believers?

After all, one of the great sources of religious faith is the idea that one's own mind and one's conscience exist outside the material world. It is very easy to assume naturally that "the mind" is something separate from the brain , something spiritual or originating in an extra-terrestrial reality. Now, psychologists are in charge of discovering how the mind works and what rules guide it, and they do it just as a geologist would study a rock: through the scientific method.


That is, for a psychologist, no god enters the equation of how the mind works. Does this mean that you can not be a psychologist and a believer at the same time? In this article I will not try to solve the question of whether there is a superior intelligence or not (that depends entirely on what one chooses to believe), but I will reflect on the way in which religion is related to the work of psychologists in his professional scope and on the way in which this can be mixed with personal beliefs.

The debate of atheism and agnosticism in science

If we look closely at the kind of concern from which we started, we will realize that the debate is really broader. When we ask ourselves if psychologists can be believers, we are really wondering if scientists in general can be believers.

The reason is that one of the pillars of scientific progress is what is known as parsimony principle , according to which, other things being equal, the simplest explanation (that is, the one that leaves less loose ends) is better. And, as far as religion is concerned, belief in a specific god can be tremendously difficult to sustain without generating more questions than it is intended to answer.


Although the idea that the universe, human beings and what some people call "psyche" are the creation of a superior intelligence is not a totally outlandish and rejectable idea on the part of science as such, which is practically impossible to defend from science is that this god fulfills a series of concrete characteristics that are written in sacred texts . That is why it is considered that scientists, during their working hours, should practice as if they were agnostics or atheists.

That is to say, that religious belief can not occupy a relevant role in the theories and hypotheses with which one works, because religion is based on faith, not on reasoning derived from deductions about what kind of explanations are most useful in describing reality with what and what is known and proven. Faith is based on ideas that we believe a priori, whereas in science any idea can be revised or discarded if, when contrasting ideas with reality, better explanations appear. This also applies to psychology.

Beliefs or proven facts?

According to what we have seen about how we work in science, if we defend the idea that our minds are really entities created within a simulation carried out by a large computer the size of the universe, it means committing ourselves, basing the ideas with which works in psychology in the belief that not only that god exists, but also is as described in the Bible (which watches us to see if we act right or wrong, who loves us, etc.) is tremendously unfortunate.

And it's unfortunate because, scientifically, give good ideas very gimmicky about how we behave without having evidence that endorse them is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.For example, proposing solutions to a patient based on the idea that certain acts will cause a god to reward that person with "healing" is not only a violation of the psychologist's code of ethics, but is totally irresponsible.

Now, do not believe in a god and get involved in their religion does not mean doing it 24 hours a day? For some people, this may be the case; As I said, everyone lives their religion as they want. However, the important thing is to keep in mind that religion, based on beliefs that one decides to embrace by their own decision, it can not be imposed on others . And science, which is a collective effort to create knowledge that does not depend entirely on faith and beliefs, can not be distorted by the influence of religion.

There is not one way to believe

So to the question of whether psychologists can believe or not in God, we must answer: it depends on how it is created.

For those who believe in God means believing literally religious dogmas and act accordingly all the time, the answer will be no, because Psychology, as a science, involves questioning all ideas and not taking any explanation for granted. on the functioning and origin of mental processes, all without making value judgments based on religious texts about certain behaviors and tendencies (homosexuality, polygamy, etc.).

Who, on the contrary, is clear that no action derived from the belief in a god can harm others, religiosity does not have to be a problem. Maybe the cognitive dissonance of leave some beliefs aside that are believed fundamental and structuring of one's identity is uncomfortable, but it is a sacrifice without which there can be no progress in this scientific field.

The idea, in short, is the following: in the hours of work psychologists must maintain religion (not morality) totally on the sidelines. If you think you can not do that because it involves a great cognitive dissonance to believe that you have to be a devotee always and submitting all ideas to faith, psychology is not for you.


Why We Believe in Gods - Andy Thomson - American Atheists 09 (January 2023).


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