Why will the important thinkers of the future be religious ones?

This post is my response to a post on Tyler Cowen's fantastic blog, Marginal Revolution:

Why will the important thinkers of the future be religious ones? - Marginal REVOLUTION
Tony O’Connor requests I cover this: A few times you have said that the important thinkers of the future will be the religious ones. It would be interesting to hear more about what led you to this conclusion. Concretely, I wonder if this would arise because religious populations within liberal polit…

Tyler Cowen is right on all six points, and makes a strong case that it's likely that the most important thinkers of the future will be religious ones, but he misses the biggest point, and the one most directly related to the question, "Why?" That is, religious thinkers are more likely to be using their brains more holistically and effectively.

In his 2009 book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Iain McGilchrist makes the case that the modern and postmodern worlds of thought have been detrimentally shaped by an over-active left hemisphere, which imposes constraints pertaining to requiring certainty and recoils from paradox and "bigger picture" thinking. He has explained that the left hemisphere is best for "narrow, focused attention on something [one] already knows is of importance," while the right hemisphere remains "vigilant broadly for whatever might be, without any commitment for what that might be."1 Such right-hemisphere thinking will obviously be required to break out of the contemporary, stagnant modality.

How does that relate to religious thinking? In the abstract of a 2019 paper, McGilchrist writes:

Although both hemispheres are involved in all experience, the characteristics of right hemisphere phenomenology, in particular its greater capacity to sustain ambiguity, understand meaning that lies beyond language, and perceive systemic wholes, means that it is more likely to be able to accommodate religious thought and experience. Since critiques of religion tend to have the opposite characteristics (those of left hemisphere phenomenology), arguments about the nature and meaning of religion may depend on which hemisphere’s “version” of the world is privileged.2


  1. The divided brain, Iain McGilchrist (TED)
  2. Cerebral lateralization and religion: a phenomenological approach, Iain McGilchrist