Why even very intelligent people have arbitrary faith-based “beliefs” as opposed to just cold, hard facts seems to be a kind of coping mechanism. Analogous is that the very first phase of the “grieving process” is protecting oneself from uncomfortable feelings and internal sensations arising from inevitable unsavoury facts, especially as it pertains to ones own death or that of a loved one.
In such case, the fanciful becomes the stalwart crutch of the fragile psyche of the advanced brain. As the OP brought out, “Belief can, and often does trump fact.”
I believe that religion was something contrived by man as a way to satisfy specific needs emerging from the basic deficiencies, or weaknesses, of human character; namely, the need for fatherly security, redemption, and a primal sense of the “eternal.” I believe that Sigmund Freud was right in that the concept or notion of an almighty “God” is something invented by people to satisfy, or replace, an innately yearned-for “father figure,” which engenders an albeit false sense of survival and permanence.
It is the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction” – and any kind of profound comfort for the “soul” of the human condition becomes the only palatable goal of which is sought by all levels of intellect alike.