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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hello; Atheists are better in seeing the bigger picture.

I, an incorrigible atheist, have often been labeled as a narrow minded person as I am unable to appreciate the glory of the almighty. I am unable to participate in holy shopping or celebration activities associated with any religious festival. Neither am I able to respect such religious dictates like never touch a book with your feet as feet is an abominable and disgusting part of your body. Of course, in these cases, I am unable to see the big picture. I am also unable to appreciate the amazing capability of God to create a finite universe in 4004BC that revolves around the earth as its centre. Neither can I sympathize with the wonderful continuity in life espoused by many eastern religions which say with boundless confidence that the soul is never dead. And I am being totally narrow minded in asking what the heck is this entity called soul?

However, this month’s edition of Scientific American reports the following study:

Religion might literally influence how you view the world. Scientists in the Netherlands compared Dutch Calvinists with Dutch atheists, looking for any effects potentially imposed on thinking by the neo-Calvinist concept of sphere sovereignty, which emphasizes that each sector of society has its own responsibilities and authorities. The researchers hypothesize that Calvinists might therefore not be as good as atheists at seeing the big picture. Participants were shown images of large rectangles or squares that each consisted of smaller rectangles or squares. In some tests, volunteers had to quickly identify the shapes of the smaller parts; in others, the larger wholes. The Calvinists scored slightly but significantly lower than atheists did in correctly identifying whole images. The investigators plan to study other religions for similar influences.

Now reading Scientific American itself may be a sign of narrow mindedness as it can be argued that I never bothered to read Hinduism Today or Sunrise. But the way I see it the bigger picture lies in the fact that the universe seemingly has no end (and wow! If you know the multiverse concept), that there are countless species yet to be identified which Noah’s list had no idea about, that the brain and the field of genetics and proteomics is still only barely understandable. To me the bigger picture lies in appreciating the fact that we have understood so much, and yet we have only scraped the surface. The holy books might have solved all these by passing the responsibility of knowing to God. But merely outsourcing the job of seeing the bigger picture to an imaginary entity is just like claiming to have seen Yellowstone National Park after having looked at a photo of it in a cheap calendar.

P.S. Of course, the study doesn’t investigate whether atheists are better people. I believe that atheists are as prone to most human vices as religious people are. Just that they are less likely to kill an infidel

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