Whenever the question is brought up how intelligent, educated individuals can be religious (the best example are: theistic scientists), the word most often used to explain that is "compartmentalization".
But how does it work? These people do not suffer from a 'split personality' in a technical sense (where some part of the person does not know what is going on in another part).
Is compartmentalization just a handy concept to offer a pseudo-explanation of a strange phenomenon, or is it real? Are there any psychologists who have published on that topic?
"One of the challenges, however, of being highly compartmentalized is that over time, people may lean more and more into those compartments where they feel most competent, capable and confident. That can cause other compartments to either atrophy from disuse or in some cases, never develop in the first place.
"Over time, these people can appear to be more like “human doings” that don’t feel particularly present as people even as they appear quite competent in a particular function. Think of IT instead of HR (or Romney vs. Obama).
"This may explain some of the challenges that successful problem-solving entrepreneurs have in “relating” to spouses and children who don’t want solutions or advice or to be figured out, but want to be listened to and understood."
"Compartmentalized v. Integrated: The Mind of Elliott Rogers - Does too much Compartmentalization Risk Disconnecting You from People?"
By Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A., Psychology Today, May 2014.
This is really about cognitive dissonance, as others have said. Separating irreconcilable beliefs in order to function. I think we should be honest and admit that we all do this, or are capable of it, on some things. I suspect, though this is not my field, that it's a trait that allows human beings to cope with things but continue on with the contradiction. That said, this compartmentalizing in religious people is often so pronounced they literally say stupid things that impair their mental function and make them look and sound silly. A scientist who says they believe in the silly Jesus story, for example. Out comes a lot of nonsense, yet they can't help themselves. An historian or social scientist who knows the fakery of Jesus and Christianity, but peddles rubbish about their "faith" and spiritual knowledge. I've seen it, pushed them in debates, and watched the compartments in their brains clash. And religions rationalize this for them, prattling on about being "tested by God" or knowledge from another way of knowing, and so on. I've said this before, but when intelligent people start justifying their brand of religion, they seem less intelligent. They are because their cognitively dissonant minds are impaired during this discussion. The neuroscientists will give us more scientific analysis, but that's my layman take on it.
I am not expert on the Psychological analysis of compartmentalization though I have done much study of the Psychology of religion.
Compartmentalization I can say is a real thing. As a correctional officer after 15 years I had developed the us vs. them psychology in maximum security where ours lives were in danger constantly that I began to see the offenders in some aspects as less than human. I realized this when I happened across offenders that had passed away. I had no regard for their humanity what so ever. I had no more passion for the humans that I had found dead than a mouse in a trap. I realized this and felt somewhat guilty for that. If I had come across any other human that had died there would have been an emotional response.
I am glad that I am no longer a correctional officer and have recovered my humanity now 6 years later and have plans to volunteer as atheist clergy As I am an ordained Atheist Pastor(another story.)
As far a religion is concerned I was indoctrinated very young as a young earth creationist, fundamentalist, extremist. It is by no means a split personality. It is simply a disregard for reality when it comes to faith. Lets take gravity. If the religion says that gravity does not exist then to the believer it is simply God magic that makes everyone think that it exist even though it does not "really" exist. I know it does sound crazy. People that are intelligent, of sound mind are very capable of this. This is why you can have perfectly normal, rational people display unthinkable beliefs and behaviors when it comes to religion. This compartmentalization is not a conscious choice or understanding to the individuals that it occurs in. It is normally like when I was a correctional officer a symptom of conditioning.
This is also how good people in Germany during WW2 were able to participate in the holocaust. The pressures and fear made these normal otherwise good people rationalize subconsciously unthinkable actions.
It's really simple: you don't think about A when working with B and don't think about B when working with A. It's not magic. It's not cognitive dissonance. It's just the realization that what I do when I do A may not, need not, apply to what I do when I do B and vice versa
So for example, my father is a very religious man and also a (retired) nephrologist. When he is in church, he isn't thinking or bringing his dialysis machines into his prayers or rituals and when he is in the clinic, he isn't thinking or bringing his prayers to his dialysis machines. There are times when both realms sort of meet, for example when dialysis fails for a terminal patient. In that case, he would pray for the patient but not hope for some divine intervention to make dialysis work for that patient.
Another great example of compartmentalization is his emotions in regards to his patients vs. us. He is a very loving and giving father to us but when he deals with with patients he has to "compartmentalize" his emotions. Likewise, when he is dealing with sickness with one of his kids, he can't treat us as his kids, he has to look at us like patients, unemotional, compartmentalize his feelings for us in order to focus on his knowledge.
Myself, I use compartmentalization in my work as a physicist as well. I realize, as an agnostic, that there are many things that I don't know and possibly can't know. I put all those things in a little box/compartment and don't let them affect me. Every so often, I'll put them out of the compartment to examine, to see if there is new evidence for me to put it in a different compartment or to let it out. If there is, I review. If there is not, I put it back. A good example of this is Russell's Teapot: great philosophical argument but as an agnostic, not one I can test. This is especially relevant considering that we have put objects in orbit around other planets and thus it's possible for the teapot to be orbiting. But ultimately I can't test it. So I put that in the "can't test" compartment and don't let it affect how I view the world. Same with religion. Same with string theory. Etc.
Just put it away, don't let it affect you, pull it out every so often to example, and put it away again. Simple if you need to do it for your job or rational life; impossible to conceive if you don't need it for your job or don't care about a rational life.
I concur with @David1955. It's all about cognitive dissonance and I would add, dissociative thinking. Everyone has these traits to varying degrees. I often refer to scientists as having blind spots - those areas where they haven't applied critical reasoning to this or that topic. Critical reasoning is a time-consuming laborious task and is only used when there is a perceived need for it. Thus, a few scientists are quite content with their fundamentalist Christian views, while at the same time, they can be quite good at scientific research.
While religion is perhaps the largest example of cognitive dissonance, scientists often have small blind spots in numerous other regards. For example, a scientist might become enamored with another scientist's approach to a scientific problem. He then might simply brush off counter arguments as being irrelevant without giving much thought.
All humans have gaps in their thinking. That's where dissociation comes into play. Dissociation is where a person can drive their car to work, while their mind is a million miles away. Once they arrive, they might wonder how they managed the feat. When gaps occur, the human mind is so possessive that it simply fills in the gaps with its own created story.
I don’t know of any psychological analyses, but here’s the opinion of a Nobel laureate in physics:
"There are large numbers of my finest colleagues who are quite devout and believe in God [...] There is no fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. I happen to not believe in God."
It is a healthy, sane and reasonable opinion. Trying to psychoanalyze those with whom you disagree—now that is what is irrational, especially if you have no credentials in psychology.
what has been shown is that the more intelligent you are, the better excuses you make for irrational beliefs, the person who's name i don't know works as a paleontologist yet is a baptist who believes the bible as well. most scientist that have a god belief tend to have a nebulous god not a biblical god.. deist etc.
I have seen astounding compartmentalization at work across other domains, such that nothing surprises me anymore. Some examples from my experience:
Earth-loving pagan types couldn't possibly be racist, right? Wrong!
A self-described "green" friend of the environment couldn't possibly buy bottled water and refuse to recycle, right? Wrong!
A self-improvement and mental health enthusiast couldn't possibly be hopelessly, deleteriously mired in co-dependency, right? Wrong!
I've seen all kinds. I have my own. That this should occur with religion is no surprise, intelligence or no. I don't understand how it works, but I know it can be powerful--and there are no guarantees with human beans.
My brother is a geophysicist and a hardcore Baptist. He sees no contradiction in this. That can only happen by compartmentization. When he's at work, hes a scientist (Technologist really), when he comes home hes an uber Christian. How can he do this.
I contend that he can't. He is beholden to two Gods (metaphorically speaking). In order to his job or live his life, he has to compromise his ideals continually. Instead of doing one thing well, he does both poorly (he is a successful grophysicist- thus a technogist). His science paradigm is compromised when a controversial issue arises. He compromises his religious ideology anytime he does his science. The two patadigms are mutually exclusive and opposed. Doesnt mean you can't be successful, just means your judgement is always suspect.
I know of no research on compartmentalization but I would not be surprised if it exists. Speaking from my armchair I would say that compartmentalization is the ability to ignore cognitive dissonance. People can learn to tune out all kinds of stimuli: the sounds of chainsaws, jackhammers, trash trucks, crying babies, etc.. By comparison, a niggling little detail like the incompatibility between belief in god(s) and scientific knowledge is no great hurdle. We should not be surprised when emotion trumps logic.
These people are choosing to think differently in regard to different sectors of their lives. Down deep, they know that their ways of thinking about these different sectors are incompatible, but their compartmentialization enables them to avoid the discomfort of having to face the conflict. It is simply a coping device to evade internal conflict.
It seems to me the idea of compartmentalization can be akin to specialization. A book that talks about the ever increasing complexities of the world are leading to specializations is titled "Common Fire". I went to a book discussion on this book by the authors Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Sharon Daloz Parks (a couple with an interesting approach to their surnames) [earthlight.org] A big part of the discussion centered on how people become specialists in a field but lose the overall picture of that field. I have a friend who was a nurse practitioner. She told me she had gotten her PhD and I asked why still be a NP and not a doctor. She said doctors tend to specialize in one area whereas NP's see the whole body. I consider myself a Jack of all trades (and master of some). I look for generalities and try to see the world from a holistic angle.
I very much think compartmentalization is real and increasing in our complex society. A recent article in the Atlantic showed how the presidency has gotten far too complex for one person and we see with the present rapscallion how that is very true.
Suspension of Disbelief is another potential explanation.
Sane rational people can sit through 2 hours of a movie or TV show about a zombie apocalypse, dragons, vampires, etc. Sitting through a church service is no different.
The difference is that most people don't let movies about zombies, dragons, and vampires influence their lives.
When they let their life be influenced by stories about zombie Jesus, their compartmentalization is failing.
This is something that has puzzled me all my life. When I was a schoolgirl studying science I asked my biology teacher who was a woman I admired as a teacher, but I knew to have a strong Christian faith, how she reconciled her scientific knowledge with her belief in God. She admitted she had struggled with her belief when she was a student herself but that she had come to terms with believing in both and could reconcile the two by keeping them compartmentalised. I don’t think she actually used that expression , but that was the essence of what she meant. She said she thought that if I ever opened up my mind to God that I would be able to do so too. That never happened in my case, as I am still as sceptical today as I was at 17.
Compartmentalization, it seems to me, is an evolutionary survival mechanism. In order to continue, we learned to compartmentalize psychological horrors and trauma, often locking them in a vault within the labyrinthine chambers of our minds.
And just as we are able to compartmentalize trauma, we would seem to be likewise able to compartmentalize our hopes, joys, dreams and desires, isolating them from the relatively unvarnished reality of our existence. Upon this basic framework may be erected an elaborate superstructure of avowed belief. Thus, the religionist, no matter what the doctrine, may isolate the observed nature of the universe, to include the lack of evidence for the supernatural. Has our ability to compartmentalize for reasons of survival been hijacked by religion?
In my experience, people tend to just treat religion as a special category where they are justified in altering their normal standards of evidence. I've worked with scientists who would, immediately after a 3 hour lab meeting to discuss how to thoroughly prove our model, lament how people always ask for evidence for their religion.
At least for the abrahamic faiths, the defining of god has been done in such a way that it is non-testable(ish). So there is an active push by many churches under this wide umbrella to make and reinforce an artificial separation between the two. This is the heart of many books discussing the faith vs science debate. It was even a huge point in the curriculum of the philosophy/theology and even evolution course within the Catholic college I attended.
The basic idea is that god and the supernatural exist outside our universe, therefore understanding them requires a separate epistemologic toolkit than that used for understanding our universe.
To my mind, the religious are the greatest compartmentalizers of all time, they see scientific facts as pure fiction and religious fiction as facts.
Their best ever example of compartmentalization is to 'combine' the words Biblical/Religious with such pursuits as Scientist/Archaeologist, etc., in doing so they make a joke of the TRUE Scientist/Archaeologist who has studied and worked tirelessly in those fields with as unbiased mind as possible whereas the so-called Biblical/Religious one has merely 'scrabbled' around with the sole intent of find proof of their inane belief/s where there is none but, none-the-less, CLAIMING 100% falsely that they have found it and it is irrefutable.
Definitely not a psychologist...
I agree with others that it is cognitive dissonance. I mean why do they (religions) all seem to "evolve". I think it is because irrefutable truths emerge and they are impossible for rational minds to deny. So dogma is adjusted to fit the new truth and a new branch of the religion is created attracting the like minded. It is pretty obvious with christianity and I am sure is reflected in most if not all religions. I mean eventually more and more truths will emerge and organized religions will dissolve into mythology. It won't happen in the blink of an eye because people are stubborn with beliefs but science and religion are by definition opposites.
As global education levels rise religious fervor will shrink