I recently participated in a Q&A panel with representatives from different viewpoints: Muslim, Non-denominational Christian, Mormon, and Secular (me).
One of the audience questions asked whether the religious representatives found their religion stifled their ability to think critically.
Another question asked how they felt if they encountered contradictions to their religious teachings while in a university class.
I was surprised by their responses. All said that they did not feel like their religion prevented them from thinking critically. The Muslim considered it propaganda that there are conflicts between science and religion. The Non-denominational Christian felt that science (such as evolution) was guided by God. The Mormon believed that we don’t know everything now, but that eventually all would be revealed and ultimately science and religion would be in harmony.
I responded that for me, since I am not part of an organized religion or dogmatic tradition, I felt completely free to research on my own and come to my own conclusions.
As for conflicts in the classroom, I emphasized that the point of going to a university is to have your beliefs/assumptions challenged and to learn to think critically about them. I also pointed out how religion and science followed different methods of logic. Religion starts with a truth claim and then tries to back it up with ‘evidence’. It will even amend these claims as contradictory scientific evidence comes to light. Science, on the other hand, starts with a question and a hypothesis as a possible solution. It then conducts tests to see if it proves the hypothesis wrong, then conduct further tests either way.
Years before this, when I had finally arrived at atheism, I found these two conclusions amazingly refreshing:
1) I was finally free to be able to think for myself
2) I was finally able to base my opinions on empirical scientific evidence
So my ending impression of the panel is where I began. Surprise. Astonishment that these panel members had rationalized away the possibility of contradiction. And I guess that’s what it takes to a large degree to remain in an organized religion. Otherwise, you may just end up like me, running to atheism.