Can Religiosity Be Explained by 'Brain Wiring'? An Analysis of US Adults' Opinions


Studies examining how religion shapes individuals’ attitudes about science have focused heavily on a narrow range of topics, such as evolution. This study expands this literature by looking at how religion influences individuals’ attitudes towards the claim that neuroscience, or “brain wiring,” can explain differences in religiosity. Our analysis of nationally representative survey data shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that religiosity is negatively associated with thinking that brain wiring can explain religion. Net of religiosity, though, individuals reporting religious experiences are actually more likely to agree that brain wiring can explain religiosity, as are individuals belonging to diverse religious traditions when compared to the unaffiliated. We also find that belief in the general explanatory power of science is a significant predictor of thinking that religiosity can be explained by brain wiring, while women and the more highly educated are less likely to think this is true. Taken together, these findings have implications for our understanding of the relationship between religion and science, and the extent to which neuroscientific explanations of religiosity are embraced by the general US public.

Sharan Kaur Mehta
Sharan Kaur Mehta
Postdoctoral Fellow

My research interests include Race and Ethnicity, Racism, Religion, Gender, Identity, Activism