Psychologists discover that Carl Sagan is better at manipulating religious believers to accept evolution than Dawkins

A team of Canadian and US psychologists have undertaken research into why ‘educated individuals’ such as educators and elected officials support Intelligent Design Theory, and reject Evolution Theory, for the purpose of discovering ways to manipulate them into accepting that Intelligent Design Theory [IDT] is wrong and Evolution Theory [ET] is right.

Having concluded that support for Intelligent Design is not ‘logical’, ‘reasonable’, ‘objective’ or ‘rational’ the psychologists offer the hope that psychological interventions can be developed to overcome antipathy towards evolution:

‘[Their results]  pinpoint the problem with ET for individuals seeking security in the face of existential threat. ET is typically presented as the highly materialist and utilitarian process that evolution is; as Dawkins explains, “unordered atoms… group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they end up manufacturing people.” Only when individuals are also told, “If there’s nothing in here but atoms, does that make us less, or does that make matter more?”—implying that naturalism can reveal purpose in human life—do individuals reject IDT in response to heightened MS [Mortality Salience: measure of fear of death].

Future studies are needed to examine whether manipulations along these lines, demonstrating the potential for meaningfulness in the natural sciences, generalize beyond psychology students who may already be motivated to find such meaning in science.’

The psychologists conclude that Carl Sagan’s presentation of Evolution Theory, which they term naturalism, is more successful in convincing supporters of Intelligent Design of the errors of their ways than Richard Dawkins’ presentation.

‘”Our results suggest that when confronted with existential concerns, people respond by searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life,” says Tracy. “For many, it appears that evolutionary theory doesn’t offer enough of a compelling answer to deal with these big questions.”

‘The researchers carried out five studies with 1,674 U.S. and Canadian participants of different ages and a broad range of educational, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.’

In each study, participants were asked to imagine their own death and write about their subsequent thoughts and feelings, or they were assigned to a control condition: imagining dental pain and writing about that.

The participants were then asked to read two similarly styled, 174-word excerpts from the writings of Behe and Dawkins, which make no mention of religion or belief, but describe the scientific and empirical support for their respective positions.

After going through these steps, participants who imagined their own death showed greater support for intelligent design and greater liking for Behe, or a rejection of evolution theory coupled with disliking for Dawkins, compared to participants in the control condition.

However, the research team saw reversed effects during the fourth study which had a new condition. Along with writings by Behe and Dawkins, there was an additional passage by Carl Sagan.

‘A cosmologist and science writer, Sagan argues that naturalism – the scientific approach that underlies evolution, but not intelligent design – can also provide a sense of meaning. In response, these participants showed reduced belief in intelligent design after being reminded of their own mortality.

The researchers say these findings indicate a possible means of encouraging students to accept evolution and reject intelligent design.’

Protect the Pope comment: Faced with scientific evidence of ‘fine tuning’ for life in the universe religious believers believe that this is further evidence for God the Creator, and atheists believe that it can be explained by proposing a ‘multiverse’ as a possible explanation. It is natural for science to seek a ‘natural’ explanation for physical evidence, though how you’d attempt to disprove or prove the ‘multiverse’ theory is another matter!

What is disturbing about the research undertaken by these Canadian and US psychologists is their evangelical zeal to find ways of ‘manipulating’ supporters of IDT to accept evolution.  They see belief in God and in Intelligent Design as signs of psychological disturbance, describing it as irrational, illogical, unreasonable. By so doing they are pathologising religious belief as something that requires psychological intervention.

What’s really funny is even they find Richard Dawkins too extreme, much preferring the softer, kinder Carl Sagan as a way of manipulating religious believers


10 comments to Psychologists discover that Carl Sagan is better at manipulating religious believers to accept evolution than Dawkins

  • Pedro

    “By so doing they are pathologising religious belief as something that requires psychological intervention.”

    We can dream. We can dream. :)

    • Deacon Nick

      If we have this dream it’s usually called a nightmare ;-)

    • Anthony

      No, they are pathologising belief in creationism as something that requires psychological intervention, and ID is a form of creationism.

      True religious belief entails belief that God is the source of all existence, who constantly maintains everything in existence with his power at every moment and in all places, otherwise everything would cease to be. God does not create materially in time; he creates in principle. He is the reason why all things exist and continue do do so, instead of not existing.

      Even if the universe were infinite and eternal it would not matter, because God is not defined as one who sets the physical universe going. It is wrong to make that assumption and therefore it is wrong for cosmologists to try to prove that the universe doesn’t have a beginning in order to demonstrate that God doesn’t exist. Even an eternal universe would need God as the source of its existence otherwise it would not exist, and to maintain it in existence otherwise it would cease to be.

      Likewise, it is wrong for biologists to claim that God doesn’t exist by seeking to demonstrate that life on earth developed through natural processes. God is not the divine hand that intervenes in nature to create new forms of life. God is the underlying principle of all existence and therefore of all life. As with everything else, he is the source of existence of all living things, otherwise they would not exist, and he keeps all living things in existence at every moment otherwise they would cease to exist.

      Cosmologists and biologists are barking up the wrong tree. They triumphantly proclaim the non-existence of a type of god that never existed in the first place.

  • Andrzej

    I don’t think that “fine tuning” and Intelligent Design are the same (not to be confused with the statement that there is an “intelligent designer”). Intelligent Design is a somewhat unscientific attempt to read God into the process of evolution and Catholics should be very careful in accepting it.

    Here is a good article on why Catholics ought to be suspicious of Intelligent Design:

    • Tim

      “I don’t think that “fine tuning” and Intelligent Design are the same”

      isn’t the only difference a matter of degree?

      A belief in fine tuning but not ID strikes me as odd. Once you have conceeded that evolution isn’t completely naturalistic and that God intervenes, why not go the whole hog. It strikes me as strange to think that God can and does intervene but them almost impose a quota on the extent of his intervention.

  • Karla

    Why woulde they try to manipulate them, how bizarre.

    This is what Roger Penrose has to say on the Multiverse theory: Penrose, a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association who describes himself as having “no religious beliefs,” said: “Its overused, and this is a place where it overused. It’s an excuse for not having a good theory.”

    Even if the Multiverse theory were confirmed it would not rule out the possibility of a designer, it could explain the method of design, infinite number of throws of a dice.

  • louella

    They can twist and turn anyway they like….but there is always the need for a Creator. No Creator…no creation. Atheists are not being logical…so do not trust their scientific theories and deductions. They are leading the West to its death like lemmings over the cliff edge. Time to stop following them.

  • Tim

    I take from this research the point that people (ALL people – this is not a side swipe at religious people) are less rational than we perhaps would like to pretend that we are. Our evaluation of two competing theories ought to be based solely on evidence, but it isn’t – we have minds that seek meaning and purpose and whether or not we see that purpose determines how likely we are to accept a scientific theory.

    I wouldn’t feel persecuted by this research. It is revealing an irrationalism in all people not just the religious group.

    BTW, Sagan gets my vote anyday over Dawkins. I am not sure he is “kinder” to religion though – simply a better writer.

  • Robin Leslie

    For the reawakening to Cosmology the most reasonable material is
    that of Stephen Toulmin in Return to Reason, Return to Cosmology,
    Cosmopolis, and The Fabric of the Heavens (co-authored by June Goodfield) Sagan is already outdated and Hawking and Dawkins Limited have now exceeded their scientific remit by propagandizing their science.

  • Jesse Fell

    God is the source of being, the reason why anything IS. His relationship to what exists is a mystery to us, however, and will remain so until we have been united with God in the perfected life that we look forward to in faith. Until then, let’s grant to science its supremacy in its own sphere, which is to describe how what exists works. It is futile to attempt to supplant the finding of science with our own suppositions about God’s relationship to his creation. And if we object to the findings of science as far fetched, unappealing, or strange, let’s remember that we are in fact criticizing a sphere of reality that owes its existence to God. Are we really sure that we would have been better creators?

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>