Evolution, ID and the Fear of Death

A recent study shows that peoples’ views on Evolution and Intelligent Design can be influenced by death anxiety. There’s a recent study out of University of British Columbia and Union College. They told A diverse group of people to think about their own death and write about their feelings. So they were trying to raise these subjects’ anxiety about death. They had another group of people think about something else. Then everyone read Richard Dawkins on evolutionary theory and Micheal Behe on Intelligent Design theory. The people who thought about death were more sympathetic to Intelligent Design theory and less inclined towards Evolutionary theory than those who didn’t think about death. So a few minutes thinking about their own mortality sent people running from sound science into the waiting arms of feel-good psudoscience that make them feel they have Purpose. We don’t like to think that this is how human nature works. We like to think that people base their beliefs on reason and evidence, not on fear. But there it is. The people at the Discovery Institute know this well. Along with their scientific sounding research they always sprinkle in a little fear. Always moaning about the meaningless of a naturalistic worldview and the depression that naturally follows. It’s the same thing you hear in church on Sundays; how losing faith in the One who Loves you and has a Purpose for you leads to despair and darkeness. I doubt if these subjects would have abandoned their reason so readily if this hadn’t been repeated to them since Sunday school.

David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute blogged about this. His take?

“Yes, they’re right! They find their study to be “consistent with research demonstrating humans’ basic need to maintain a sense of meaning.” Again, obviously, right! ID speaks to this need. Evolution, when honestly presented, negates it. Dawkins’s old Oxford colleague, chemist Peter Atkins, expressed this well in his 1984 book The Second Law:

‘We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.’

Only someone who’s fooling himself about evolution’s ultimate meaning, or who possesses a stunted soul and so just couldn’t care less, could read such a passage and not feel the need to seek out an alternative view.” (emphasis mine)

What an astounding admission. Fear. Fear is behind the attempts to discredit evolution and seek out an alternative view. We’re afraid. Science attempts to do what subjects in an experiment are unlikely to do; dispassionately look at the evidence and go where it follows. The Discovery Institute throws it’s lot with the individual who, fearful of life’s lack of apparent meaning and of his own eminent demise, seeks comfort in comforting fantasies. Intelligent Design seeks to be treated as a science, but it’s proponents just can’t stop themselves from stepping all over their fundamentalist ways of fear and argument from consequences.

Now here’s something interesting. This tendency to reject evolution after contemplating death was negated in another control group who also read Carl Segan on the joy of a naturalistic viewpoint as only he can. This group was positive about evolution More so than the control group who didn’t think about death. Anyone who wants to convince someone that evolution is true should remember this. I’m not saying that feeling better about death is a reason to believe that evolution is true, but it helps get people past the fear they’ve been taught their whole lives. Everyone should be prepared to talk about how a naturalist view of the universe inspires you Maybe all that Micheal Behe and his friends at the Discovery Institute need is to pour a glass of wine and watch Symphony of Science.

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